How to Pray for Your Child Who Is Away From God

March 8, 2018 by  
Filed under In The News

Parents and grandparents are watching their kids pull away from God. What can one do?

By Melanie Redd | 
      I had the chance to be involved in a couple of Christian parenting events this past week.
Much great information was shared, and lots of good discussions took place. It was a joy to be included in these events.

However, there was something I heard over and over that broke my heart.

Parents and grandparents are watching their kids pull away from God.

Children who once walked closely with Jesus are now out in the world frolicking and playing.

They’ve walked away from the Lord.

And, these parent’s (and grandparent’s) hearts are breaking.

Most of us have a family member who doesn’t walk closely with Jesus anymore—maybe a child, maybe a grandchild, maybe a parent, or maybe even a spouse.

We’ve watched these loved ones drift away, fall away, pull away and even run away from God.

Our hearts are broken over them, but we aren’t exactly sure what to do about it.

Can I suggest that you begin to super soak this person in prayer?

  • Invite your friends to pray.
  • Invite your family members to pray.
  • Ask your Bible study group to pray.
  • Pour out your prayers for this prodigal soul.

How should you pray?

I’d like to suggest seven ways you can powerfully pray for that one who is away.

First, pray that they will NOT ENJOY the pleasures of the world.

Verse – “Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father.” (1 John 2:15, MSG)

Prayer – “Father, I pray that _________ will not love the world or the world’s ways. I pray that they will not love the world’s goods. Lord, don’t allow this world to squeeze out Your love in _________’s heart. Instead, open _________’s heart back wide to You.”

Second, pray that they will find the world to be EMPTY.

Verse – “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, MSG)

Prayer – “Father, as _________ is out in this world seeking fun and pleasure, would You help them to come up empty? Make things so empty, so meaningless, so dry, so desolate, and so hollow to _________. Make them absolutely miserable in their sin and in their pursuit of this world.”

Third, pray that they will TASTE THE KINDNESS of the Lord.

Verse – “if in fact, you have [already] tasted the goodness and gracious kindness of the Lord.” (1 Peter 2:3, AMP)

Prayer – “Lord, would You allow _________ to really get a taste of Your goodness? Would You give _________ a sweet taste of your gracious kindness? Send into _________ ‘s world a great sense of how kind You really are.”

Fourth, pray that they will EXPERIENCE THE LOVE of God’s people.

Verse – “A friend should treat a troubled person kindly, even if he abandons the fear of the Almighty.” (Job 6:14)

Prayer – “Father, would You send some loving Christian friends into _________ ‘s life? Would You allow _________ to experience the kindness of God’s people especially now as _________ has pulled away from You? Like never before in _________ ‘s life, he/she needs godly people around him/her. Place these people in _________ ‘s world and use them to impact him/her.”

Fifth, pray that they will know HOW MUCH God loves them.

Verse – “May you have power together with all the Lord’s holy people to understand Christ’s love. May you know how wide and long and high and deep it is.” (Ephesians 3:18, NIRV)

Prayer – “Oh, Lord, would You allow _________ to understand Your love? Would You help _________ to know how wide, how long, how high, and how deep Your love is for him/her? May _________ began to grasp how very much You love him/her?”

Sixth, pray that they will BE DRAWN BACK to their first love.

Verse – But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first.” (Revelation 2:4-5, NLT)

Prayer – “Father, would You bring _________ back to his/her first love? I remember when he/she first came into a relationship with You. They were so excited. Would You encourage them to repent, turn back, and do the works they did at first? Would You bring _________ back into a close relationship with You?”

Seventh, pray that they will FALL DEEPLY in love with Jesus.

Verse – “And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5, NLT)

Prayer – “Lord, would You draw _________ to Yourself? Would You encourage _________ to fall deeply in love with You? Inspire _________ to love You with all of their heart, their soul, and their strength. Put people around them who sincerely love You. Use these people to prompt _________ to love You more.”

Special word… it may take awhile for your loved ones to come back to the Lord.

Pray on!

Don’t lose heart.

Don’t give up!

In James 5:16, the Bible reminds us…

“The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.”

 

The World Is Watching and So Is God

February 21, 2018 by  
Filed under In The News

The world’s alarm clock is ringing but are we as Christians ready to wake up?

By Kathleen Cooke | 
 The world of high school students has changed since I attended, and it has even changed since my two daughters who graduated in the early 2000′s attended. I knew high school students well then, as my husband and I were Booster Parent Presidents and often chaperones for almost 150 students for our daughter’s high school choir program. However, students today are much different because of the latest cultural disruption — the smartphone. This age is one of instant and unrelenting technology that beams terrorism, radical political division, financial and environmental destabilization at us 24/7 in the palm of our hand. We can’t escape seeing and knowing. Young minds can’t escape bullying or the threat of becoming ostracized as texting and social media overpower their ability to be individuals. So most teens isolate their own thoughts and in a world (one that is escalating in violence) they dare not express themselves until they can’t. Then they implode committing suicide or explode using gunfire and taking many with them. What’s truly scary is that they’ve been able to practice using video games.
The world as we know it has not just changed for high school students, it’s changed for all of us. In her book, researcher of kids born after 1995, Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. and author of iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy-Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, said, “Cultural change also has many causes, not just one — it’s not just parents, but technology, media, business, and education working together to create an entire culture that is radically different from the one our parents and grandparents experienced. Cultures change, and generations change with them, that’s the important point. It’s not a contest to see which generation is worse (or better), the culture has changed, and we’re all in this together.”

The world is watching. Christians are being called to be “seed planters” of hope. To do that we must be willing to not separate ourselves from the culture but to stand in the midst of the chaos and demonstrate a life of Godly choices and actions.

The world of Chloe Kim must have been explosive as she left the gate to roar down the half-pipe on an Olympic stage with millions of people watching. Her focus and endless hours of training brought her to that pivotal moment. Nothing in our efforts is ever certain until it’s proven and seen by the entire world. In my devotional, Hope 4 Today: Stay Connected to God in a Distracted Culture, I wrote about becoming a “Hope Rebel.” Paul had this attitude in Romans 12:12: ‘Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.’ He wanted us to know how to grow our hope and see the future, and that the one and only Hope was coming – Jesus.

The question is, are we as Christians willing to show and prove to the world with our daily choices and actions the power and hope of Christ Jesus?

 

Losing Our Young People: How Can We Attract the Next Generation and Keep Them

February 21, 2018 by  
Filed under In The News

Our youth are looking for a church that isn’t contained in four walls.

By Sarah Parham | 
      We have all read the reports, the gloomy news that young people are leaving the church in masses. A Fuller Youth Institute study shows that roughly 50 percent of young people who grow up in the church leave the church behind, along with the piles of caps and gowns and high school sports trophies. No one needs a news feed to tell us this. It’s visible in the pews we sit in. It can cause us to lose hope.
But after more than a decade in college ministry, I can say with confidence that many Christian young people I know who are exiting the church are actually in pursuit of the kingdom. They are looking for a church that isn’t contained in four walls. They are looking for something more expansive, more missional. They are seeking a church to go to on Sunday that would be with them Monday through Saturday as well—touching the things they touch, loving the people they love. And this gives me hope!

But how might these young people stay connected to church? How can we, as church members, be an ally in helping them discern how God might use them in His mission in the world?

Don’t have the answers

Young people’s experience of the world is different than any other generation. They cannot stay uninformed of issues and tragedies in faraway places. The problems of other nations are being tweeted and broadcast in their pockets every day. Terrorism isn’t something that happens on foreign soil, but in New York City. Young people want to know what Jesus says about these things.

It can be rather intimidating. Their questions can be hard ones: “Is Jesus serious about taking care of the poor? He talked about that a lot. What is the church doing to help?” We might be tempted to squelch such questions because we don’t have the answers.

But that’s just it. We often don’t have the answers. And that’s not even the point.

In my experience working with college-age youth, I noticed that when they asked hard questions, so often they weren’t trying to figure me out or to pin me or the church to the wall. They were trying to figure themselves out. They were trying to understand where their place was in this big, beautiful and very messy world.

So how can we respond to their questions in a way that satisfies the questions beneath the questions?

Listen to the heart

The transition young people go through is so subtle, adults can miss it. Of course, young children ask why about everything. At some point, though, the why starts to be asked for a new reason.

The question goes from “Mommy, why is that man asking for money?” to, years later, “Why is he sleeping outside when I go home to a nice bed?” In other words, as a person grows into adulthood, the question shifts from “Why is the world this way?” to “Why am I in the world this way?” When we miss the twist in the question, we miss the opportunity to speak into the lives of young people about that most precious thing- a calling.

So at this junction, keep engaging. Listen to what Jesus is doing in this person. What breaks her heart? What inspires him to do more? What are his talents? What are the things that make her come alive—or the things that keep her up at night? What are the things that make him question?

It gets tricky when we hear hard questions over and over again. But be encouraged. So often, when God is moving in people to do something—like calling them to missions, for example—His call may be experienced as a holy unrest. In other words, there begins a stirring in the spirit that things aren’t the way they should be.

So when young people come to us with their questions, what if we return the questions back to them by asking, “What do you think God is saying in these questions? What if the answer lies in you?” By our questions, we might help them see that the things they notice that are not right could be the very things God is calling them towards. As we do this, we might actually help them discover their place in the mission of Jesus.

And, says the Fuller Youth Institute, we might also help them stay connected to the church. The Institute released a study on the phenomenon of young people leaving the church post high school. They found that there is one X-factor for keeping young people engaged in the church. When young people have a non-related adult who knows them well and is actively engaged in their lives, the chances of their keeping the faith and staying engaged in a church/campus group throughout college and beyond increases dramatically.

Set them free

If church people ask me what they can do to attract young people, the first thing I ask is what their missions program is like. I often get quizzical stares. Some proceed to tell me about their church’s youth program, or how much money they give to missions. But that’s not the heart of my question.

The reason I ask about a church’s missions program is because young people don’t want to sit on the sidelines and observe. They want to get involved with something meaningful. They want to be involved in missions and outreach.

And their doing this might actually mean that they will leave our churches to go elsewhere, even to some other part of the world.

So instead of losing our young people, let’s launch them. Let’s listen to their questions. Let’s help them discern how God desires to use them in the world. Let’s resource them, and then let’s set them free to join Jesus in His mission.

This, after all, is the ultimate goal of a missional church.

 

There Is a Pharisee in All of Us

February 12, 2018 by  
Filed under In The News

How many of your sins has the Lord washed away over the years?

By Dan Delzell | 
One group of folks in the New Testament who had an extremely high opinion of themselves were the Pharisees. These religious leaders were good at seeing the sin in others, but somehow oblivious to their own sins. And so one day when a Pharisee named Simon invited Jesus to have dinner at his house, it provided a teachable moment of such significance that it ended up being recorded in the Bible.

You see, this event in the earthly ministry of Jesus actually helps to diagnose “the Pharisee in all of us.”

“When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind Him at His feet weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.” (Luke 7:37,38)

It is obvious from the text that Jesus welcomed this woman’s adoration and love. In fact, the Lord went on to commend her for both her manner and her motives. Simon, on the other hand, took issue with the interaction between this woman and Jesus.

“When the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, He would know who is touching Him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.” (Luke 7:39)

What a stunning display of arrogance and audacity! And yet the unpleasant truth of the matter is that there is at least “a little Pharisee” in all of us.

“Prove it,” you say. OK. If you are open to a little self-examination, then feel free to administer this test by asking yourself these 5 questions:

1) Is there any category of people who are “bigger sinners” than me?

2) Does the story of Simon the Pharisee have relevance for others, but not so much for myself?

3) When Scripture identifies examples of sin, do I tend to think about the sins of others rather than my own sin?

4) Is there anyone I am mad at right now who needs to change more than I do?

5) Would I be shocked to see Jesus accept certain sinners if they came to Him in repentance and faith?

If you answered “Yes” to one of these questions, then you have identified “a little Pharisee” in you. And if you answered “Yes” to more than one question, then the Pharisee in you is probably a lot more active than you realize.

So is there hope for us, even in the midst of pharisaical tendencies? Of course. Just look at the woman who came to Jesus that day. The Lord declared that “her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47)

What about you? How many of your sins has the Lord washed away over the years? Do you love Jesus much, or little? Perhaps you have never experienced love for Jesus after first having your sins forgiven through faith in the Messiah. Spiritual conversion involves turning away from sin and turning toward Christ in sincerity and truth.

The apostle Paul described repentance and “godly sorrow” this way: “See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.” (2 Cor. 7:11)

Godly sorrow is what the woman was experiencing as she wept at the feet of Jesus. Meanwhile, Simon had no such sorrow for his pompous attitude and his judgmental spirit. Rather than weeping over his own sins, he smugly looked down on this woman and even questioned the legitimacy of the Savior’s ministry. It’s a perfect example of what pride does to the human heart. It makes Pharisees out of all of us.

Whenever you or I, like Simon the Pharisee, are self-righteous, we tend to see the sin in others but not in ourself. On the other hand, when we are like the woman in the story, we bring our sin to Jesus in a spirit of repentance, humility, and gratitude. And if that describes your heart today, you are probably spending little if any time focusing on the sins of others. After all, you have more than enough on your plate confronting and confessing your own sins.

Jesus said to the woman that day, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:48) And then the Lord told her: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:50)

If we will learn from this woman’s humble heart, we too can know that our sins are forgiven and that the Lord has saved us through faith. But once forgiven, we must continue to be on guard against our pharisaical tendencies. These self-righteous attitudes can come out at a moment’s notice and when we least expect it.

Good thing for us that Jesus is a friend of sinners.

Where Is the Power for the Church Today?

February 12, 2018 by  
Filed under In The News

The Gospel doesn’t need us.

By Darin Smith | 
After a month of tumultuous political discussion on my social media feed, I had to ask the question:

Where is the power for the church today?

Clearly, if this month proves anything, it proves that it does not find its power in politics. We must discard the budding belief that power politics are what it is all about. I’ve been reminded lately that politics and political parties aren’t where Christ-followers look for hope. Instead, I am thankful that we have an all-sovereign, all-powerful King to find hope in times such as these.

Romans 1:16says that “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”

Practically, in today’s modern church landscape, what does this mean for us if politics aren’t the answer? Here are nine brief reminders for us:

1. We need to stop trying to make the Gospel relevant—it’s always relevant.

To center on and proclaim the Gospel is to be as relevant and powerful as the apostolic early church (Rom. 1:4).

The Gospel doesn’t need you. The Gospel doesn’t need bright lights or a fog machine. The Gospel doesn’t need the government or politics.

The Gospel doesn’t need us. It saves us, captures us, equips us, compels us, and trains us. It wants us.

It doesn’t need my help or yours—we need not worry. The Gospel will be just fine. The Gospel ultimately wins.

2. When we lose the magnificence of the Gospel, we substitute icon, formality, and allegory.

The power of the Gospel is complete. Nothing “poses a threat” to the Gospel. The Gospel is God’s power loose in the world. It will not be prevailed against. Ever. R.C. Sproul said, “You can’t improve upon the Gospel because God put His power there.”

3. An excess of P.R. & church-growth schemes won’t save Christianity from being irrelevant.

Can you show me in the Bible that we need more ingenuity and creativity? Only the Gospel has such power. We can have the best music, the best performers, the best communicators, the best programs, but without the Gospel properly shared and lived, there’s no power of God.

Christ said, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). Thus, we must trust the Gospel means he’s ordained to build his church.

4. Don’t let techniques, transitions, and technology replace the Gospel.

When it comes to excellence in the worship service, there’s a difference between adorning the Gospel and trying to help it. A church’s increasing attempts to excite me in the worship service become increasingly boring.

Pastor, if you’re dreading corporate worship Sunday, it may be due to the entertainment standard you’ve set for yourself. It’s called “corporate worship” and not “individualistic entertainment” for a reason.

Idol makers rioted against the church because business tanked (Acts 19). This wasn’t accomplished by protesting, but by the spread of the local church and Christians with the Gospel.

According to 1 Cor. 2:2, our vision is the Gospel. Our strategy is the Gospel. Our method is the Gospel.

5. Our Christian subculture’s obsession with spiritual fads and religious hoaxes distract from the only power stewarded to us: the Gospel (1 Tim. 4:7).

To infer from Jesus’ get-together with big crowds that churches must focus on consumer-driven tactics is to have selective-hearing in the Gospels. The pillars of Paul’s mission strategy were verbal witness and evangelism, personal and corporate discipleship, and church planting (Acts 14:21-23). What is your strategy?

1 Thessalonians 1:5 reminds us: “Our Gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” What was God’s strategy for making the church bold? According to Paul, it was to imprison her leaders (Phil. 1:14).

The Gospel changed me, rescuing me from shame, sin, hell, depression and hopelessness. No advertising stunt can do that. I’ve found that in all my pastoral care for aching people in the local church, nothing cheers, emboldens, & transforms like the Gospel.

Christian, programs will never make a church evangelistic. Only the biblical Gospel will mutate an ice-cold church into an evangelistic church.

What great news! The power of God isn’t in us but in his Gospel. Our job is to preach, proclaim, and propagate it. The Holy Spirit will take it from there.

7. Let’s stop supposing the Gospel’s power ceases at one’s conversion.

The Gospel is God’s divine power for justification through glorification. It’s the power of God for a conversion experience and for total life transformation. The Gospel clarifies the eternal worth that we need to know. The Gospel doesn’t change, but neither does our need for it.

8. Fetching “the Gospel” out twice a year for special occasions reveals something about a church.

Even the most caring, loving, and kind church will lose people who love their sin if it preaches the Gospel and true repentance.

When the Gospel is truly preached, people are brought to the church without entertainment, events, or promises beyond those given by the Gospel. The Gospel isn’t a platform, trick, stage, or merchandise to me. It is sustenance, liquid, sunlight, and protection for every church conversation, gathering, prayer, program—and everything in between.

9. Pastor, preach as if you yourself are the greatest sinner in the congregation in the greatest need of the Gospel. It’s probably true anyhow.

Our daily evangelistic endeavor is to proclaim the Gospel to our spouse, our children, our friends, our church, our neighbors, our world, and ourselves. And we repeat this process.

Luther’s counsel to pastors in modern terms was simple: “First we need to get the Gospel into their heads and then just keep pounding it down into their hearts.” If those who believe the gospel you preach aren’t being altered by that same Gospel, you might need to reconsider what you’re preaching.

Christian, let’s not lose hope, lose heart, or lose our nerve. Let’s boldly pray that through the simple-yet-fathomlessly-eternal message of the Gospel, God will continue to use our churches to reach those without Jesus as Savior (2 Tim. 2:24-26)—and that without the power of politics.

‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ Should Not Be Taken Out of Hymnals, Says Popular Pastor Blogger

January 22, 2018 by  
Filed under In The News

 

By Michael Gryboski , | 

 

 


 

A Michigan pastor whose columns on the intersection of faith and everyday life has argued that hymns like “Onward, Christian Soldiers” should not be removed from hymnals.

Shayne Looper, pastor of the nondenominational Lockwood Community Church of Coldwater, wrote in a syndicated column published Saturday that “there is still a place in our hymnody for hymns and gospel songs that make use of military metaphors, like ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’ or ‘Soldiers of Christ, Arise.’”

Looper argued in part that hymns with military metaphors were acceptable because the New Testament itself is full of such metaphors.

“Take, for example, the Apostle Paul. He repeatedly chose military metaphors to make important points regarding Christian living,” wrote Looper.

“He referred to his co-workers as fellow-soldiers, and in so doing evoked an image of the kind of all-for-one, one-for-all camaraderie that is characteristic on the battlefield, and ought to be in the churches.”

Looper also argued that military metaphors are also important because “Christians need to be reminded that they are part of something bigger, the advanced guard of a kingdom that is coming but has not yet been established.”

“They are on duty. The Christian life is not a walk in the park with the savior but a mission for the king. It calls for alertness, determination, cooperation, endurance, and strength,” he continued.

“The Christians who have made a difference in the world — who have cured diseases, cared for the poor, freed slaves, and ended wars — were not people who valued comfort above kingdom. Nor are they today.”

Multiple hymnal editions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have excluded the song; in 1989, The United Methodist Church almost removed it, but changed direction only after a strong outcry.

“This hymn, with its ‘hut-two-three-four’ tune and its warring call for Christians to raise the battle flag, has long outlived its usefulness,” reads a 2012 column published by the Christian Century.

“In a world grown weary of religious strife, a world where the word crusade arouses more anger and embarrassment than resolve, few are nostalgic for a hymn that celebrates Christian soldiers marching to war.”

Grammy-Award Winning Gospel Music Pioneer Edwin Hawkins Dies at 74

January 22, 2018 by  
Filed under In The News

 

By Michael Gryboski , | 

 

Edwin Hawkins, the multi-time Grammy Award-winning Gospel music mind behind such famous songs as “Oh, Happy Day,” has died. He was 74 years old.

Bill Carpenter, Hawkins’ publicist, reported to media that Hawkins died at his home on Monday in Pleasanton, California, the cause being pancreatic cancer.

A native of Oakland, Hawkins was raised with a musical background, having performed with family and church groups throughout his life.

Expand | Collapse
(PHOTO: THE RECORDING ACADEMY / ILYA DREYVITSER / WIREIMAGE.COM)Neil Portnow, The Winans, Sandi Patti, Edwin Hawkins, and Walter Hawkins pose at the Grammy Salute to Gospel Music event at the historic Lincoln Theatre in Washington, DC., on Wednesday, June 18, 2008.

The website AllMusic called Hawkins a “trailblazing force behind the evolution of the contemporary gospel sound.”

Along with Betty Watson, Hawkins founded the Northern California State Youth Choir, which in 1968 recorded the influential album “Let Us Go into the House of the Lord,” which included the hit song “Oh Happy Day.”

“Among the highlights of Let Us Go into the House of the Lord was the track “Oh Happy Day,” which unexpectedly found a home on underground FM play lists across San Francisco; the single soon began earning airplay on mainstream R&B and pop outlets across the country,” noted AllMusic.

“… in the spring of 1969 it reached the U.S. Top Five on the on its way to selling an astounding seven million copies and taking home a Grammy award.”

A reworking of a 1755 hymn of the same name, the 1968 recording of “Oh Happy Day” was added to the National Registry in 2005.

“What made ‘Oh Happy Day’ resonate is anyone’s guess. The original version by British educator Phillip Doddridge was published in 1755 — four years after the composer’s death — and was sung in a yearning plea similar to some Appalachian songs,” explained Bill Carpenter in an essay published by the Library of Congress.

“Hawkins unintentionally transformed the song from a church hymn into more of a mainstream pop record with a catchier arrangement of the chorus that featured subtle jazz drumming, some Latin percussion and an echoey upright piano groove that buttressed the slick but passionate choir harmonizing against soloist Dorothy Morrison’s earthy, straight-from-the-church vocal technique.”

Beginning in 1979, Hawkins also oversaw an annual conference known as the Edwin Hawkins Music & Arts Seminar, whose purpose was to help advance knowledge of sacred African-American music.

Alongside his brother Bishop Walter L. Hawkins, who passed away in 2010, Hawkins organized nondenominational conferences along the themes of worship and music.

“In my travels, I meet many talented young folks whose only outlet is in the church. There needed to be ways to help them further develop their skills and abilities, to the glory of God,” explained Hawkins in an entry on the conference’s website.

“I decided to help them find themselves in the arts. I felt it incumbent upon me to marshal the finest artists and musicians, who are able to teach this diverse perspective of music and arts. Happily, it has resulted in a nation and international interest in music and arts.”

 

Christmas Around the World: A Look at 6 Different Countries’ Traditions — From Festivities to Secrecy

December 26, 2017 by  
Filed under In The News

 

By Stoyan Zaimov 

Christmas is celebrated by Christians in different ways around the world — some honor the birth of Jesus Christ on different dates; some observe the holiday by featuring giant Christmas trees, markets, and Nativity plays; while others are forced to celebrate in the deep secrecy under the most oppressive regimes.

It remains one of the holiest of days for believers, marking the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, and is a day for faith and family, bringing hope to believers in many corners of the globe where they might not have much cause to celebrate otherwise.

 Some traditions, such as the elaborately ornamented Nativity scenes in Italy, go back 800 years, while in other places, like in Russia, Christians have only been able to resume their Christmas celebrations in recent decades after nearly a century of being suppressed.

Here are six countries where Christians mark Christmas in different ways, including the  town of Jesus’ birth:

 

1. Egypt

 

(PHOTO: REUTERS/MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY)Egyptian Muslims and Christians celebrate Coptic Christmas eve mass, at Tahrir Square in Cairo, January 6, 2013.

 

Coptic Christians in Egypt make up only a minority, around 10 percent of the population, but have longstanding Christmas traditions, such as the Feast of the Nativity.

The Copts observe the month of “Kiahk,” starting from Nov. 25 through Jan. 6, where they fast and eat a vegan diet, not eating anything made from animals.

As Bishop Angaelos, general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, explains, 40 of the 43 days of the Advent fast signify the period of time that Moses waited to receive the Word of God in the form of the Ten Commandments.

The other three days commemorate the number of days Egyptian Christians fasted for the miraculous moving of Muqattam mountain over 1,000 years ago.

Throughout the month of Kiahk, all liturgical and worship hymns lead up to the birth of Christ.

Like other Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches, Christmas Day for Copts falls on Jan. 7, with believers going to church for a special liturgy on Coptic Christmas Eve, which is midnight on Jan. 6.

“Family and friends congregate around the Eucharist, the most tangible manifestation of our Lord’s sacrifice to, and love for, mankind to fully appreciate and receive the Word Himself,” Angaelos explains.

“The liturgical service is then followed by a fellowship meal where the faithful break their fast and continue to rejoice in the Nativity in a spirit of joy and love.”

 

2. Italy

(PHOTO: REUTERS)A traditional Italian nativity scene in this undated photo.

Italy begins its Christmas season with the religious Feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, which is also a national holiday where Catholics celebrate the conception of Mary.

The Castel Sant’Angelo museum in Rome fires off a cannon to mark the start of festivities, which includes parades, bonfires and fireworks.

Nativity Scenes, which are used in many Western countries and worldwide as representations of Jesus’ birth, are especially popular in cities like Naples. The tradition of the crib scene is believed to have originated in the 13th century when St. Francis of Assisi asked a local villager to create a manger to help re-enact the Nativity. It has played a huge role in Italian Christmas art and decorations ever since.

The Vatican hosts a full Advent and Christmas calendar, lighting its Christmas tree early on in December, with a midnight Mass at in St. Peter’s Basilica on Christmas Eve serving as one of the highlights.

After delivering the homily on the meaning of Christmas on Christmas Eve, the pope then delivers his annual Christmas message on Christmas Day at noon, sending out his traditional blessing to Rome and the world.

3. Mexico

(SCREENCAP: YOUTUBE/CASALASMARGARITAS)One of the Mexican Christmas celebrations are “Las Posadas” and “Patorelas” seen here performed by children in a video posted December 15, 2011.

Mexican Christmas celebrations are often centered around Las Posadas, with nine days of observance counted down from Dec. 16 through Christmas Eve.

The tradition, which is also popular elsewhere in Latin America, is based on Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem and their search for a place to stay before the birth of Jesus, with “posada” meaning “inn” or “shelter” in Spanish.

The Posadas celebrations include Christmas carols, with people acting out the roles of Mary and Joseph in different homes each night during the nine days.

The get-togethers include Bible reading and prayer, with guests breaking pinatas and children given candy.

In Mexico the holiday continues through Jan. 6, marking El Dia de los Reyes, the day of the kings or the wise men, which is when children receive their gifts.

4. Russia

 

(PHOTO: REUTERS/ALEKSEY DRUZHININ/SPUTNIK/KREMLIN)Russian President Vladimir Putin (5th L) and believers attend the Orthodox Christmas service at a local church in the settlement of Turginovo in Tver region, Russia, January 7, 2016. Most Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas according to the Julian calendar on January 7, two weeks after most western Christian churches that abide by the Gregorian calendar.

 

In accordance with the Julian calendar, the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7. While the religious holiday is not as popular as New Year’s Eve celebrations, it is growing in a country where it was banned for most of the 20th century due to Communism.

Two important meals are observed by practicing Orthodox Christians, one on Christmas Eve, which consists of 12 meatless dishes, representing the 12 apostles.

“Kutya is a concoction of grains and poppy seeds sweetened with honey, which serves as one of the main dishes of the Christmas feast. Vegetarian-style borsch or solyanka, a salty stew, may also be served along with salads, sauerkraut, dried fruit, potatoes, and beans,” Tripsavvy.com explains.

Midnight mass at Christmas Eve is attended by prominent figures, including President Vladimir Putin in recent years.

Meat is allowed to be consumed during the big Christmas Day celebrations, including side dishes such as aspic, stuffed pies, and various deserts.

5. North Korea

(PHOTO: REUTERS/DAMIR SAGOLJ)A North Korean soldier guards the gate on banks of the Yalu River, north of Sinuiju, North Korea, April 1, 2017.

Although in total secrecy, Christians find a way to mark the birth of Christ even in North Korea, the country that has been ranked as the most oppressive place for believers in the world for 15 straight years by major watchdog groups, such as Open Doors USA.

As South Korea’s National Intelligence Service reported in December, leader Kim Jong Un has prohibited any gatherings involving singing or alcohol in a measure to ban anything that could be suggestive of celebration.

Open Doors explained that despite the heavy oppression and careful monitoring by authorities, in a country where simply owning a Bible could get one sent to a prison camp, Christians do manage to gather and celebrate Christmas in remote areas.

“Christmas is mainly celebrated in the heart of the Christian,” said  Brother Simon, who coordinates the work of Open Doors in North Korea, in 2007.

“Only if the whole family has turned to Christ is it possible to have something like a real gathering. For fear of retribution it is necessary to keep your faith hidden from the neighbors.”

On rare occasions, as many as 60 or 70 North Koreans may gather together at secret locations in the mountains for service, the watchdog group added.

6. Bethlehem, Israel

(PHOTO: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)A general view shows Manger Square, near the Church of Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, during Christmas celebrations in the West Bank town of Bethlehem December 24, 2013.

Some of the biggest Christmas celebrations fittingly take place in the Israeli town of Bethlehem, where the Bible says Jesus was born.

In past years the big influx of tourists to the town has brought in over 100,000 people to mark the birth of Christ.

Multiple services and processions are led by various Christian denominations, including Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian, Armenian and others. The town’s streets are strung with Christmas lights, with Christmas plays, markets and trees adding festivity to the scene.

The main processions pass through the world-famous Basilica of the Nativity, which is believed to be the site of Jesus’ birth.

As Abu Batrous Naameh, a priest from the Syrian Orthodox Church, said last year, “celebrating Christmas in Bethlehem allows one not only to reconnect to the time of the birth of Jesus, but also the place.”

“We consider this day as if it were the same day, 2016 years ago, and remember Jesus, who sacrificed himself,” Naameh said, according to Jerusalem Post, adding that “the new year is an opportunity to make a pledge for peace with all people around the world and in the Holy Land.”

 

Who Is Jesus, Emmanuel, God With Us?

December 26, 2017 by  
Filed under In The News

Good enough to judge, but good enough to save.

By Cary Schmidt | 
“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)

Jesus is… God enough to judge, but good enough to save.

Big enough to execute cosmic justice, but small enough to cry from a manger.

Angry enough to vindicate all evil, and righteous enough to absorb judgment.

Holy enough to be comprehensively good, and loving enough to offer me His goodness.

Tough enough to endure the cross; tender enough to walk with me in suffering.

Outside and above me enough to rule the universe; with me enough to guide my steps.

Powerful enough to speak all things into existence; gentle enough to speak comfort into my doubts and fears.

Frightful enough to make the powers of darkness tremble in terror; beautiful enough to win my heart.

High enough to be worthy of all the worship; lowly enough to call me friend.

Authoritative enough to never owe us answers, but gracious enough to give us His word.

Hard enough to withstand the forces of Hell; soft enough to care about my day.

Righteous enough to judge me; gracious enough to save me.

Judge enough to indict me; advocate enough to defend me.

Strong enough to hold all things together; caring enough to hold me together.

Supernatural enough to do the miraculous; normal enough to help me do tomorrow.

Dominant enough to vanquish the universe; close enough to vanquish my self-centeredness.

Big enough to build an eternal kingdom; intimate enough to invite me into it.

Ancient enough to weave the fabric of history; present enough to weave a plan for my salvation.

Colossal enough to hold the universe; caring enough to hold my hopes.

Commanding enough to control galaxies; compassionate enough to command my heart.

Eternal enough to have no beginning and no end; human enough to be wrapped in flesh and die for me.

Everlasting enough to create time, and real enough to enter time and snatch me from its sin-cursed claws.

Timeless enough to defeat death with life; present enough to live His life through mine.

Transcendent enough to come from another world; earthly enough to understand mine.

High enough that no one can touch Him; low enough to be touched with my pain.

Divine enough to reveal an eternal world; human enough to invite us into it.

Loud enough to thunder His love to the world; soft enough to whisper His love to my soul.

Fiery enough to incinerate evil with His white hot holiness; warm enough to wrap His redeeming arms around me.

Regal enough to command angel armies; simple enough to receive the worship of shepherds.

Royal enough to be called the Son of the Highest; accessible enough to be called the Son of Man.

Kingly enough to reign over all kings; lowly enough to become the servant of my salvation.

Forceful enough to break through the barriers of sin; meek enough to teach me to trust Him.

Fast enough to create a cosmos in six days; patient enough to cultivate my growth in His grace.

Terrifying enough to say “Fear not,” but friendly enough to say “Follow me.”

Speaking enough to transform my life; quiet enough to care about my prayer.

Present enough to hear my cry; personal enough to cry.

Sufficient enough to not need me; generous enough to let me need Him.

Abundant enough to do anything for Himself; generous enough to give Himself away.

Separate enough to stand alone forever, but personal enough to want me forever.

From supremacy to peasantry, from transcendence to tragedy, from splendor to suffering, from throne to thorns…

…from the heights of Heaven to the horror of a cross to the hallmark of an empty tomb—this is Jesus.

This is Emmanuel—God with us!

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

 

Holy Decisions Spark Holy Desires

December 7, 2017 by  
Filed under In The News

By Dan Delzell | 

     Have you ever noticed that the word “holy” tends to get a bad rap? After all, “holy rollers” are said to be too extreme in their spiritual views, while other religious folks get described as “holier than thou.” In both cases, the word “holy” is used to describe something off-putting.
In the Bible, however, the word “holy” is a beautiful term that describes a key aspect of God’s nature. In fact, the third Person of the Trinity is called “the Holy Spirit.” There is absolutely nothing within the God of the universe that is not perfect in holiness, righteousness, and truth.

When God created Adam and Eve, the first two human beings had nothing but holy desires within them. And yet somehow, when the crafty serpent seduced Eve’s mind, she began to entertain evil ideas. This was introduced to her from the outside. And Eve’s choice to contemplate forbidden fruit led to impure desires, which in turn led to this infamous decision:

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” (Genesis 3:6)

As we grow in our life of Christian discipleship, we tend to start making better decisions. The old adage “three steps forward, two steps back” gradually develops into “four steps forward, one step back.” That is, if we choose to obey God in those areas of our thought life, speech, and behavior that present us with daily options to choose good over evil, and holiness over wickedness.

Even the “one step back” is something the Holy Spirit is very concerned about in our life. After all, He is always holy and therefore only promotes righteousness and holiness. We, on the other hand, still make sinful choices at times. Our sin may involve something as simple as thinking wrong thoughts about another person for 30 seconds, or giving into some other “vain imagination.” (Romans1:21)

As believers, we are instructed to guard our thought life. “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5) Eve lost the battle in her mind before she and her husband made the choice to eat the forbidden fruit. Eve’s misguided thinking preceded the sin of eating the fruit God had placed off limits. And eating this fruit brought desires into human beings which God did not want man to experience. Nevertheless, those desires came flooding into man’s heart the moment Adam and Eve opened the floodgates to sin.

“Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin.” (Romans 5:12)

And one of the biggest proofs that the soul of man “died” in the Garden of Eden is the fact that human beings ever since have experienced sinful passions of various kinds and given into so many unholy desires.

There is no getting around this fact: Holy decisions spark holy desires, whereas unholy decisions spark unholy desires.

Susanna Wesley stated it beautifully: “Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, takes off your relish for spiritual things, whatever increases the authority of the body over the mind, that is sin to you, however innocent it may seem in itself.”

So how are things going in your life of discipleship? Do you find your soul being filled with God’s love and with songs of praise? Or do you find yourself spending most of your time battling unholy desires. While temptation is certainly going to be a part of every believer’s life, we at times make it harder on ourselves than it needs to be. That is, we make choices which cause us to be consumed with unholy desires, rather than staying under God’s mighty flow of grace, goodness, and purity.

The solution? Well, we can place all of our transgressions under the blood of Jesus by asking the Lord to wash away the sins we committed in our thought life and behavior. And then we can seek to remain “under the waterfall” of God’s abundant wellspring by choosing to say “no” to unholy options, while saying “yes” to praise, worship, obedience, thanksgiving, prayer, service, and trust.

There is not one of us who can pull off such a feat in our own strength. But God is more than able to do it in us and through us. As we yield our mind, body, and decisions to our Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit produces the fruit of holy desires within us. And once we find ourself back in the flow, it is much better to stay in the flow than to continually move in and out of God’s will by unwise decisions.

This of course is the plight of every Christian, or if you prefer, the opportunity of every Christian. There is actually no need to see this dynamic in a negative light. After all, we as believers have been redeemed from sin, death, and the devil. And it is marvelous to celebrate this good news as we bask in the glow and the flow of the Holy Spirit’s power through faith in Jesus Christ.

No matter how far you may have drifted from a place of spiritual peace and confidence in Christ, this could be your day to once again choose holiness over sinful thoughts and forbidden behavior. And when you do, you will be quickly reminded of why it is always better for a believer to obey God than to make the same mistake Adam and Eve made in the Garden of Eden.

I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same. But the pressing question is this: “Will I learn from my previous missteps and sinful choices, or will I continue jumping into the same pit over and over again?”

We often hear people say, “It’s only natural.” Well, here is a spiritual principle that is not only natural, but also supernatural: Unholy decisions spark unholy desires, and holy decisions spark holy desires.

It was true in the Garden of Eden, and it is true in our lives today. If you don’t think so, just try writing down your decisions over the course of an entire day, and take note of what desires flow from those decisions. You will find that your life is no exception to the rule.

God’s living water refreshes man’s soul with grace, forgiveness, and holy desires. And without the cross of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, we would be lost forever in a sea of unholy passions and wicked desires. Tragically, many people have gone to their grave in such a condition.

Will we learn from our own experience, as well as from the experience of those who have already left this world? Or will we simply allow ourselves to be swayed by whatever temptation or desire presents itself along our path on any given day?

God gave Adam and Eve free will. Unfortunately, human beings don’t always use such freedom to pursue God’s best for our lives. By the grace of God and the working of the Holy Spirit in our heart, let’s begin anew today to “hate what is evil” in our thought life and behavior as we “cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:9)

How else could we ever hope to make progress in our life of Christian discipleship?

 

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