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2013 Advent Calendar!

Advent 3Slow down.  Quiet.  Tomorrow is the first Sunday in Advent!

 

Each day during Advent 2013, we will feature a special calendar entry on our “Food for Thought” page with days and ways to keep faith with the season.

This calendar during Advent is much more than the place to count down Christmas shopping days.  It includes suggestions for each day such as do a good deed, pray, be thoughtful in the holiday rush, write a nice note, or think about the real meaning of Christmas.

It’s a gentle and fun to read reminder of the true meaning of the season.

Advent posters with our entire calendar for Advent 2013 are available on the table in the back of our Sanctuary.

Be Grateful…for All of God’s Blessings

BlessingsThe author of this psalm isn’t identified.  But he apparently wrote it to celebrate a great victory in battle, which he compared to God’s rescue of the Israelites by parting the Red Sea.

He recalls the praying that preceded God’s delivering actions, and reaffirms his commitment to follow through on promises made to God when his back was against the wall.

Interact with God’s Word

Psalm 66:8-12

  1. What disasters (vv. 11-12a) does the writer of this psalm attribute to God’s initiative?

 

  1. What positive aspects does he see (vv. 9b-10) from these hard times?

 

  1. What outcome (v. 12b) has triggered the exuberance of this psalm?

 

  1. To what conclusion (v. 9a) does this combination of trial and triumph drive the psalm writer?

 

  1. What response should this realization evoke in us (v. 8)?

 

  1. Have trials you have undergone helped you realize that life is a gift from God to be cherished, and not a right to be taken for granted?

 

Spend Time in Prayer

Ask God to enable you to see His design behind your disappointments, and to become sincerely grateful for His interventions in your life.

Psalm 66:8-12

8 Let the whole world bless our God and loudly sing his praises. 9 Our lives are in his hands, and he keeps our feet from stumbling. 10 You have tested us, O God; you have purified us like silver. 11 You captured us in your net and laid the burden of slavery on our backs. 12 Then you put a leader over us. We went through fire and flood, but you brought us to a place of great abundance.

 

 

Prayer for the Week: Move me, Lord, beyond appreciation for desires granted to gratitude for all Your wisdom allows.

Be Grateful…for Rotten Potatoes?

Throwing StonesKey Bible Verse:  Always give thanks for everything to God … in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Ephesians 5:20

Bonus Reading:   Genesis 37:18-35; 50:15-21

I was driving a busload of rambunctious boys back from summer camp.  In the rearview mirror I saw Dez, our program director, struggle to limit insults and punches.  

Entering Camden, a newer boy demanded, “Drop me off here, mister.”  As I braked, he bolted out the door and, to impress with his toughness, screamed, “I’m gonna *#$@! brick this bus.”  I shifted into first and slammed the gas pedal to the floor.

Projectiles struck the side of our former school bus.  “He’s throwing potatoes!” one kid yelled.  As the bus lurched past our attacker, half a sack of rotten potatoes rocketed through the open rear window, pelting seats and rolling down the aisle.  What a stench!

“Dez, I can’t believe I stopped in front of a bag of rotten potatoes,” I moaned later as I headed the now empty bus back to the center.  “Why would God allow that?”  I resented the prospect of scraping mushy potatoes off the seats and scrubbing the outside of the bus.

“That kid said he was going to brick the bus,” Dez reminded me.  “If he had, windows would be broken, kids injured, and the bus a dented mess.  Maybe God did intervene by substituting soft potatoes for bricks or bottles.”

—Bruce Main in Spotting the Sacred

 

My Response: When things don’t go my way, do I look for ways God is still at work?

Adapted from Dad Was a Carpenter (Harper-SanFrancisco)

 

 

Prayer for the Week: Move me, Lord, beyond appreciation for desires granted to gratitude for all Your wisdom allows.

Be Grateful for…Thanksgiving Day

Happy ThanksgivingBible Verse for Thanksgiving Day:  Since everything God created is good, … receive it gladly, with thankful hearts.  – 1 Timothy 4:4

In September 1975, I left California to enter college in Massachusetts.  For the next 75 days, I lived in a freshman dorm, a rather Spartan existence, but not an unpleasant one.

Since I couldn’t afford to go home for Thanksgiving, I traveled by bus to central Connecticut to join some family friends for the holiday.  On Thanksgiving Eve, as I retired to my room, I slipped off my shoes and socks to unpack my bags.  I felt the carpet under my bare feet, enjoying the softness and the feel of the threads between my toes.

Suddenly it dawned on me that I hadn’t felt a carpet like this since I’d left home.  For two-and-a-half months, I’d felt only dusty linoleum underneath my bare feet.  But now, in a real home, I delighted in the sumptuousness of wall-to-wall carpet.

I had grown up in a home with carpet—bronze shag, to be exact.  But I had never appreciated the feel of carpet beneath my feet until that moment.

How could something so ordinary feel so enjoyable?  I wondered what else I’d been taking for granted.  That weekend in Connecticut added several other items to my list of newly discovered appreciation, including ceramic mugs, quiet nights, and a bathroom heater.

—Mark Roberts in No Holds Barred

 

Thought to Apply:  I feel a very unusual sensation.  If it is not indigestion, I think it must be gratitude.  – Benjamin Disraeli (English prime minister)

Adapted from No Holds Barred (WaterBrook, 2005)

 

 

Prayer for the Week: Move me, Lord, beyond appreciation for desires granted to gratitude for all Your wisdom allows.

Be Grateful…for the Entire Food Chain?

Prayer 7Key Bible Verse:  Let them praise the Lord … for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.  Psalm 107: 8-9

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 65: 9-12

A steaming dinner was served on fine bone china.  I was impressed, starved, and ready to indulge.  “Please bow your head,” our host said.

“Lord,” he began, “thank you for Your gift of this culinary masterpiece.  Thank you for the sacrifice of those who labor in the potato fields under the hot sun, day after day.  May they experience Your grace amid their monotonous, backbreaking work.  We pray for the provision of life’s basic necessities for the families of the immigrant laborers who picked the beans.  They encounter low wages, and difficult working conditions.  We pray for those who advocate on their behalf, and for justice.

We pray also for the truck drivers who deliver our food, often away from their families for days on end.  And for those who’ve cooked this meal and will wash our dishes.  We’re grateful that they’ve given us the gift of time so that we may engage in exercises of mind and spirit.  And now, may we savor both this food—come to us from so many hands and over so many miles—and each other’s company.  Amen.”

Silence.  Slowly the heads rose and eyes opened, looking a little tentative and stunned.  We’d just been jolted into recognizing the miracle of our meal.

—Bruce Main in Spotting the Sacred

 

My Response:  Is gratitude moving me beyond self-centered greed to considering the lives and sacrifices of others?

 

Thought to Apply:  Even the hen lifts her head toward heaven when swallowing her grain. —African proverb

Adapted from Spotting the Sacred (Baker, 2006)

 

 

Prayer for the Week: Move me, Lord, beyond appreciation for desires granted to gratitude for all Your wisdom allows.

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving 2

Thanksgiving Cornucopia

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

As we gather this day as a community to celebrate together and be thankful, you are invited to consider using all or a portion of these meditations in your prayers as you celebrate with family and friends this week around your Thanksgiving table. The churches of the Beaver Falls United Methodist Charge: Central/Riverview wish you a safe and wonderful holiday and we pray God’s peace and blessings upon you on this special day!

Blessings,

Pastor Heidi

These elements of our table remind us of God’s mighty acts in Jesus Christ:

The tables spread with beautiful decoration and linens in preparation for our feast remind us that our God spares nothing in loving and blessing God’s people. We prepare both our hearts and our bodies to receive these gifts of the bounty of His creation and His steadfast love.  We acknowledge that we are strengthened and enabled to receive these gifts of God’s kingdom by the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit made possible through the sacrifice of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.  We pray for those whom we have failed to include around our tables today and for those who have excluded themselves. We pray for God’s mercy and that we might make clear God’s invitation to all to God’s table of abundance.

We are provided bread on our tables, an essential daily sustenance which reminds us that God desires that no one leave this table hungry.  We receive this bread that satisfies our hunger and are reminded to be thankful for God’s provision in Christ.  As we have been so nourished and strengthened, we ask now for strength to follow the call of Christ to share the love of our Lord and our bread with those who hunger in body and spirit.

We consider the water that has been provided to satisfy our thirst and we remember the call of Christ, first to the woman at the well, and now to us to receive the living water Christ provides that we may never thirst again.   We drink in fellowship today, as we pray for those who are alone and without access to even this basic element of life for body and spirit. 

We consider the fruit of the vine which we have received.   We are reminded of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, whose body was broken for us upon the Cross in order that we might live forever and blameless before our God.  This demonstrates for us that a life of faith requires a changed, broken heart.  Both pressure and time are required as the fruit ferments to produce fine wine.   And so we pray for strength to persevere in our faith as the oppression of a sinful world and the consequences of our own sinfulness press down and threaten to crush and cause us to turn away.  We pray for softened hearts willing to receive Your love and discipline and yield the desired fruit of Your Spirit.  Break our hearts of stone! 

We observe tables that are filled with a Cornucopia of the harvest –representing the gift and abundance of Your creation and Your gracious provision for Your people.  The abundance of our table, like Your love, is pressed down and filled to overflowing. We give you all thanks and glory and honor and praise.  We are reminded that You call us to care for all the earth and it’s creatures.  We pray for Your mercy for the times when we have misused your creation and ask for wisdom in discerning the most honorable use of these gifts for the well-being of all.

As we partake of the various bounty of the meal, we are thankful for the turkey.  It causes us to consider the sacrifice of others-both humans and creatures, for our prosperity and good health.  We live in land that we did not labor for, enjoy the bounty of crops and vineyards that we did not plant and occupy houses and towns that were built by others.  We pray for those without benefit of food and shelter and petition you for the means and strength to share with others out of the abundance You have provided to us.

At our table are salt and other seasonings. We have stuffing that is savory and sweet pumpkin pie.  You, O Lord, have given us a life in You that is filled with variety and creativity.  You provide for us more than necessities.   We are in awe of this variety.  We pray for those times when we have preferred blandness and refused to welcome variety in learning, praising, worshipping and receiving Your people whom you have sent to us.  We ask mercy for times when we have grown flavorless and failed to receive joyfully the grace and gifts you have provided.

Even potatoes are symbols of the danger of remaining in darkness and , at the same time, the miracle of faith in You.  Without the light of Christ we have no ears to hear or eyes to see the wonders of your mercy and love.  Surrounded by the darkness of our ignorance and sin we are like potatoes buried in the dirt.  But what a miracle! We will soon begin to prepare our hearts for the Advent season and the celebration of the coming of Your light, Jesus Christ, into the world. We cannot understand how we are able to be transformed by the love of the Incarnate God with Us!  Transformed by light and the grace of our Savior, we may choose to have eyes of faith that are focused beyond darkness, beyond what can be seen and place our trust in You.  We pray for strength to continue to grow in knowledge, love and service of Christ though surrounded by darkness.

As we serve and are served by one another and as we fellowship together, sharing all that we have, we remember that God condescended to us to be present with us in human form.  Christ came as Savior and as servant and slave to all in love.  We pray for Your peace as we witness confusion, panic and countless acts of destruction and selfishness in our homes and in our streets.  Help us to be agents of peace who are able to point to you as Author of Salvation, in whom all may find comfort and healing.  We pray for a spirit of humbleness as we recall, with contrite hearts, all those in our lives, our churches, our neighborhoods and the world whom we have failed and harmed by putting our own selfish needs and desires ahead of others.  Embolden our faith that we might conform our hearts to that of a servant performing ever greater acts of peace, love and service to our neighbor, our world and our God.

Thanksgiving 3

Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving 4Key Bible Verse: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  Philippians 4:6, NASB

Dig Deeper:  Psalm 100

Thanksgiving is definitely one of my favorite holidays, especially considering the five “f’s” it includes: faith, family, food, football, and the four-day weekend.  As far as I’m concerned, that’s a tough combination to beat.

And talk about positive and upbeat!  Pausing to express gratitude for one’s blessings breathes life into anyone’s soul.  Even in times of trial and heartache, when it’s most difficult to see life’s glass as half full instead of half empty, stopping to give thanks makes a difference.

Thanksgiving’s such a great holiday—it’s a shame we celebrate it only once a year.  Maybe we should change that fact.

Consider again Paul’s words in today’s Key Bible Verse: I see the phrase “with thanksgiving” as a secret that Paul has learned, enabling him to find contentment in spite of his circumstances.  Thanksgiving is a critical ingredient.

When we humbly bring ourselves and our requests before God (supplication), we should do that “with thanksgiving.”  What a privilege to be able to bring our requests to him, and what a benefit to know that he’ll answer in a way and in a time that are perfect for us.  These truths provide us with good reason to give thanks.

—Don Cousins in Unexplainable

 

My Response: During my prayer times over the next several days, I will consciously thank God for at least one blessing in my life.

 

Thought to Apply: All our discontents about what we want appear to me to spring from the want of thankfulness for what we have.—Daniel Defoe (British writer, journalist)

Adapted from Unexplainable (Cook, 2009).

 

Thanksgiving Prayer:  Dear heavenly Father, thank you for providing for my daily needs; help me to find my contentment in you and you alone, so that I might experience the kind of peace that’s unexplainable apart from you.

Be Grateful…for Taking a Hit?

Wounded SoldiersKey Bible Verse: Whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus … giving thanks … to God.  Colossians 3:17

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 66: 8-12

Rooming with John Listemann at officers’ school in Quantico, Virginia, I’d learned he was a Christian and a nice guy.  Assigned to the same battalion at Camp Pendleton, I’d observed an aggressive, technically proficient leader.

On a December morning in 1965 in Vietnam, John and I went to war.  His war lasted one day. Moving on patrol down a jungle trail, we rounded a corner and ran into an ambush.

The first round, a 50-caliber round, hit his kneecap with a loud crack that threw him up in the air.  As he dropped, the second round hit him below the heart and exited his side.  I was also wounded, but nowhere nearly as bad.

I saw John about 30 meters away on his back, his leg blown off.  I crawled up to him to see if I could do anything.  Before I could ask, he turned to me and said, “How are you doing, Chucker?  Are you okay?”  “I’m okay,” I assured him.

“Are my men safe?” he asked.  “John, your people are okay,” I replied. As I looked on dumbfounded, he turned his head skyward and said, “Thank you, Lord, thank you.  Thank you for caring for my people.  Thank you for caring for me.”

(We both survived, were evacuated, and I later became a Christian.)

—General Charles Krulak, U.S. Marine Corps (retired)

 

My Response:  Have I expressed unexpected gratitude?  What was its effect?

 

Thought to Apply:  A really thankful heart will extract motive for gratitude from everything, making the most even of scanty blessings.  —source unknown

 

Prayer for the Week: Move me, Lord, beyond appreciation for desires granted to gratitude for all Your wisdom allows.

Be Grateful…for Dad’s Death?

Father in Hospital BedKey Bible Verse: “Death is swallowed up in victory …” How we thank God, who gives us victory.”  1 Corinthians 15: 54,57

Bonus Reading:  2 Corinthians 5: 4-9

I sat on my father’s hospital bed, his body beside me.  I reached over and lifted off the now useless oxygen hose that awkwardly hung around his head.  Three tubes protruded from his abdomen.  The silent heart monitor clung to the index finger on his left hand.  His unseeing eyes stared heavenward.  My father’s dead!  I was stunned.

I thought my prayers had failed.  Through the five days of Dad’s hospitalization, I’d prayed for a miracle.  Still, death prevailed.

Later, as I walked out the revolving hospital door, a beautiful late May afternoon greeted me.  A robin sang in a nearby tree. A row of forsythia bushes was in full blossom.  The brilliant sunshine warmed my tear-stained cheeks.  I opened my eyes to a fatherless world.  Then, a thought occurred to me: What a beautiful day to die.  Dad would have been grateful to die today.

As I walked to my car, I said a prayer of thanks that Dad didn’t suffer long, that his hospital room was filled with family, that his departure had been peaceful and pain-free.

I thought of Jesus’ words, “Don’t be troubled” (John 14:1).  How could my broken heart be thankful?—yet I could.  Gratitude is a choice.

—Cliff Denay Jr. in Michigan

 

My Response: Jesus’ charge (above) came right after announcing His imminent departure.  How is gratitude linked to trust?

 

Thought to Apply:  The pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts, nevertheless they set aside a day of thanksgiving .—H. W. Westermeyer

 

 

Prayer for the Week: Move me, Lord, beyond appreciation for desires granted to gratitude for all Your wisdom allows.

Be Grateful…for Being Laid Off?

Laid Off WorkerKey Bible Verse:  No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Jesus Christ.  – 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Bonus Reading:  Habakkuk 3: 17-19a

People who want to volunteer here at UrbanPromise Ministries aren’t unusual.

Sadly, many lack skills or don’t follow through on their intentions.  So when the caller said, “My name is Jack Harvey.  Could you use any volunteer help?  I’ve been laid off from my job,” I was dubious.  “What did you have in mind?” I asked.

“I can do most anything—fix vans, cut lawns, clean bathrooms …”  Since I’d just let my maintenance man go because of budget cuts, this was beginning to sound good.  “How ’bout tomorrow?” I said.

By ten the next morning our new volunteer was propelling the mower through six-inch-high grass.  I paused, on my way to lunch, to thank him for his efforts.

“Jack!” I yelled over the whine of the engine.  He throttled the mower down.  “Thanks for being so generous with your time.  I really appreciate it.”

“God gave me this time as a gift,” he replied.  “I want to use it to bless others.”

As I headed off to my car I reflected on how, instead of turning bitter, stressed, or anxious, this young man had decided to view his current circumstances as part of a larger drama being directed by God, and his time as a gift to be shared.

—Bruce Main in Spotting the Sacred

 

My Response: Do I see a setback as a curse/punishment, or look for the gift/blessing?

Adapted from Spotting the Sacred (Baker, 2006)

 

 

Prayer for the Week: Move me, Lord, beyond appreciation for desires granted to gratitude for all Your wisdom allows.

Be Grateful…for Swabbies?

Thankful SoldierWho Said It…Charlie Plumb

A U.S. Naval Academy graduate, J. Charles Plumb flew 74 successful missions over North Vietnam.  But on his 75th mission, his F-4 Phantom jet was struck by a surface-to-air missile.

Charlie ejected, parachuting into enemy hands.  He was tortured and confined for six years, functioning, for two of them, as prison camp chaplain.

Plumb, whose awards include two Purple Hearts, the Legion of Merit, and the POW Medal, is now a motivational speaker.

 

What He Said…… for Swabbies?

Susan and I were eating at a Kansas City restaurant.  Two tables away, a man I didn’t recognize kept staring at me.  Then he walked over: “You’re Captain Plumb!”  “Yes sir,” I acknowledged, rising.

“You flew jet fighters from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk,” he said. “You were shot down!”

I asked, “How in the world did you know that?”

“Because I packed your parachute.” I gasped in surprise and held out my hand.  He pumped it: “I guess it worked!”

“It sure did!” I assured him and expressed a long-delayed word of thanks.

That night sleep evaded me.  What had that man looked like with a Dixie-cup hat, a bib in back, and bell-bottom trousers?  How many times had I seen him without bothering to say “Good morning,” because I was a fighter pilot and he a lowly sailor?  

How many hours had he spent weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of those chutes?  I could have cared less—until the day my survival depended on it.

Adapted from Insights Into Excellence (Executive Books, 1989, 1991, 1993)

 

Prayer for the Week: Move me, Lord, beyond appreciation for desires granted to gratitude for all Your wisdom allows.

Forgiving: Take the Risk, Find the Joy – Cultivating a Heart of Grace

Forgiveness 4Forgiving those who’ve hurt us is about so much more than simply saying, “I forgive you.”

It’s about understanding our shortcomings and sinfulness before our loving and merciful God.

 It’s about cultivating a heart and attitude of grace, mercy, and humility.

And it’s about striving to live out—through the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit—the commands and principles found in today’s study passage.

 

Key Study Passage:

Romans 12: 14-21

  1. Read this passage two or three times, and then write down or discuss the traits of a man who lives out these verses.  Think about or describe someone you know who takes the commands of this passage seriously.

 

  1. What sayings of Jesus does Paul allude to in verse 14? (See  Matthew 5:44; Luke 6: 27-28.)

 

 

  1. Why is it so important to live in “harmony with each other” (v. 16)? (See John 13: 34-35.)

 

  1. According to the last part of verse 16 and the first part of 17, what helps promote harmony?

 

 

  1. Instead of seeking revenge, what are we commanded to do? (See vv. 19-20.)

 

  1. Write down or discuss a practical way to practice verse 21.

 

Spend Time in Prayer:

Turn three or four commands from today’sdevotional passage into prayers that would be appropriate for your current situation (i.e., prayers of thanksgiving, confession, specific requests for personal help/guidance).

 

Romans 12:14-21

14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,

“I will take revenge;
I will pay them back,”
says the Lord.

20 Instead,

“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
burning coals of shame on their heads.”

21 Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, thank you for being a loving God who daily extends grace and mercy!  Forgive me for those times I refuse to let go of anger and bitterness.  Give me the grace and mercy needed to forgive those who’ve wronged me.

Forgiving: Take the Risk, Find the Joy – Facing My Hard Heart

Forgiveness 3Key Bible Verse:  “But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”   Mark 11:25

Dig Deeper:  Matthew 18: 21-35

The greater the hurt or injustice, the less I want to move toward forgiveness.  It seems as though it lets the people who hurt me get away with it.

That’s when I turn to what I call the prayer of permission.  It’s a prayer I pray when I have no desire or motivation to do what I know I should do.

It’s a simple prayer in which I give God permission to change the way I feel about a person or situation.

I don’t ask him to help me forgive.  I’ve usually asked that and gotten nowhere, because I didn’t really want to forgive in the first place.  So I back up one step and give God permission to change the way I feel, to make me want to forgive.

The beauty of this prayer is that it forces me to squarely face the hardness of my heart and my subconscious resistance.  I quit fighting.

Once I do, the result is almost always a rapid shift in my thinking.  Forgiving no longer seems like such a bad idea.  And once it no longer seems like a bad idea, it’s not so hard to do.

—Larry Osborne in Ten Dumb Things Smart Christians Believe

 

My Response: The next time I struggle with forgiving someone, I will pray my own version of Larry’s prayer of permission.

 

Thought to Apply: I choose peace.… I will live forgiven. I will forgive so that I may live.—Max Lucado (pastor, writer)

Adapted from Ten Dumb Things Smart Christians Believe (Multnomah, 2009)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, thank you for being a loving God who daily extends grace and mercy!  Forgive me for those times I refuse to let go of anger and bitterness.  Give me the grace and mercy needed to forgive those who’ve wronged me.

Doing some online shopping?

Doing some online shopping?

Pick “a little something” out for Central Church while you”re at it.

 

What if you could buy the things you need online and give to your church at the Cash Registersame time? At no cost to you or your church? CHA-CHING!

You’re going, “NO WAY!” But this isn’t a too-good-to-be-true type of thing. This is the UMCmarket, a shopping portal that pays a commission of 1-9 percent to your church with zero effort on your church’s part and no increased costs to you.

The United Methodist Church*, in partnership with some of the largest online retailers, have built a shopping tool that provides a cash benefit for your church when you purchase through the UMCmarket — items you’d probably be buying anyway. The retailer does not markup the price any — you still pay what you’d pay as you did before.

How does it work? Simply create an account at UMCMarket.org and designate the church of your choosing.

Cash from Hat

Then when you’re ready to buy, just log into your UMCmarket account and shop at any of the partner retailers and, PRESTO, a percentage of the sale is given to the beneficiary you designated in your account settings.

We just blew your mind, right? Seems too complicated or you don’t want to have to remember to log into your account every time you go shopping? Don’t worry. There’s even an add-on for your Web browser to make the process even easier. VOILA! You’re done and ready to shop!

Camera

Buy a camera from Amazon? SAY CHEESE! Your church just got a shot of money. Book that trip at Expedia? WHOOSH! A veritable money-postcard is delivered to your church while you’re sitting on the beach. Order that dress you’ve been keeping an eye on at Macy’s? CYMBAL-CRASH! A virtual Thanksgiving Day Parade marches into your church’s office like a float made of money.

TICK-TOCK. What are you waiting for? Sign up today at UMCmarket.org.

Learn more by watching this video:

UMC Market Donate Video Icon

Or by contacting us at info@umcmarket.org

2013 Advent Worship and Events

Central UMC’s Advent/Christmas Worship and Events 

Advent 1

2013 Advent/Christmas Worship Theme:

“Behold! Our Journey with Christ:  The “Advent”ure of a Lifetime!”

Our congregation invites you to come and celebrate the season with us in worship and fellowship. 

Each Sunday will emphasize a different aspect of our theme:

 

Saturday, November 30:

11:00 AM  Deck the Halls – Come and fellowship with us as we prepare the church for the season.

 

Sunday, December 1: 

11:30 AM  Hanging of the Greens Service – A celebration of Hope & the Symbols of Advent and Christmas.        

Worship focus:  “Mary and the Angels”

 

Sunday, December 8: 

11:30 AM  Celebrating God’s Peace            

Worship Focus:  “Joseph and the City of Bethlehem”

             

 6:00 PM  Church Christmas Dinner

 

Sunday, December 15:

  11:30 AM  Celebrating the Joy of God’s Grace       

Worship Focus:  “Mary’s Visit to Elizabeth”

 

 

Saturday, December 21: 

6:00 PM     Meet at the church for Christmas Caroling in Beaver Falls

 

Sunday, December 22: 

11:30 AM      Celebrating the Love of God.          

Worship Focus:  “The Journey to Bethlehem”

 

Tuesday, December 24:  Christmas Eve

4:00-5:00 PM  Free Community Dinner at Central

5:00-5:30 PM  Special Concert of Christmas Music

5:30-6:30 PM   Luminaries & Christmas Eve Candlelight Service – A Celebration of the Light of the Savior Come to Earth.    

Worship Focus:  “The  Manger and the Birth of Jesus” 

 

7:00 PM       at Riverview UMC – Luminaries & Christmas Eve Candlelight Service – A Celebration of the Light of the Savior Come to Earth.     

 Worship Focus:  “The  Manger and the Birth of Jesus” 

 

Sunday, December 29: 

11:30 AM      A Service of Lessons and Carols – Recounting the prophecy of a Messiah and Birth of Christ in Scripture interspersed with the beautiful carols we love to sing.

 

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 

11:30 AM      Epiphany Sunday     

Worship Focus:  “The Magi and the Star”

 

 

 

Mission Focus for Advent: 

Local:              Tower of Hope Pregnancy and Parenting Center

International:      Heifer International

Forgiving: Take the Risk, Find the Joy – God’s Gift

"After the Battle of Grunwald: The Solidarity of the Northern Slavs."

“After the Battle of Grunwald: The Solidarity of the Northern Slavs.”

Key Bible Verse:  Dear friends, never take revenge.  Leave that to the righteous anger of God.  For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord.  Romans 12:19

Dig Deeper:  Romans 12: 14-21

Sam (not his real name) sat in my counseling office one rainy morning, holding his head in his hands and sobbing uncontrollably.  In the middle of his tears, he cried out, “But I just can’t forgive him for what he has done to me.  I just can’t let him get away with that.”

It took a lot of persuading to convince Sam that his unforgiveness was never going to affect the person responsible for his pain—a guy who lived many miles away.

Sam spent more than half his life drinking the poison of unforgiveness, fully expecting to poison the one who’d brought him so much pain.  But all he managed to accomplish was to make himself sick.

By allowing the one who caused his pain to rent space inside his head, Sam experienced daily torment for many years.

Sam was unwilling to forgive until he finally understood that forgiveness was God’s gift to him.  He was the one who stood to benefit by forgiving the one who’d hurt him.  

In his prayer that morning, Sam asked Jesus to make him willing to remove his hands from around his perpetrator’s throat.  He made the decision to leave judgment and revenge in God’s hands.

The one who was set free in my office that morning was Sam, not the one responsible for Sam’s pain.

—Lew Gervais

 

My Response:  Why is it healthy to believe that God is the final judge and the final avenger?

 

Thought to Apply:  There is no torment like the inner torment of an unforgiving spirit. —Chuck Swindoll (pastor, writer)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, thank you for being a loving God who daily extends grace and mercy!  Forgive me for those times I refuse to let go of anger and bitterness.  Give me the grace and mercy needed to forgive those who’ve wronged me.

Philippines Typhoon: The Church Responds

Typhoon HaiyanTyphoon Haiyan, possibly the strongest storm ever to make landfall, battered parts of the Philippines on Friday, November 8, 2013.

With sustained winds of 195 mph, the category 5 storm cut a swath of devastation across the tip of Cebu and tore through the three large island provinces of Samar, Leyte and Bohol.  

UMCOR, the relief agency of The United Methodist Church, is working with partners in the Philippines to provide assistance following the typhoon.

United Methodists across the globe are in solidarity with the people in the Philippines and all those affected, offering prayers, support and aid.

Click on this link to see a special message from the makers of “Chuck Knows Church” concerning aid efforts in the Philippines.

Read the latest news about the Church’s commitment to long-term recovery efforts.  Donate to the cause at UMCOR’s website: Disaster Response, International (#982450): Typhoon Haiyan (sub-designation).

You can also text the word UMCOR to 80888 to give an immediate $10 donation.

Forgiving: Take the Risk, Find the Joy – The Choice

Forgiveness 2Key Bible Verse:  “And forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.”  Matthew 6:12

Dig Deeper:  Matthew 6: 12-14

A Christian acquaintance whose wife had an open fling with another man told of how he felt the inner sanctum of his heart had been trashed.  Even after she returned and said it had been a mistake, he felt the inevitability of divorce.  But while sorting out his options, he was surprised to be given, as a Christian, not only the grace to forgive at a specific moment, but more importantly, the possibility to live in forgiveness.

Of course, it was work.  But all told, in the midst of his anguish, he eventually could not think of anything important that he would lose by forgiving—except his “pride.”  He could choose to see his wife as having temporarily lost her bearings.  How human she was, to trade lifelong integrity for momentary flaring desire.  How outrageous! How deserving she was of being despised!

But at the same time there was another option: the pain-discovered possibility of the unique joy in forgiveness.  What, my friend asked himself, would be gained by not accepting this option?  And what was his Lord calling him to?  What was the satisfaction of wounded pride worth, in the long run?  Is forgiveness any more illogical than vengeance?

—John Ruth in Forgiveness

 

My Response: If I were the guy in this story, would I be willing to do the hard work of forgiveness?  Why or why not?

 

Thought to Apply: Forgiveness is God’s command. —Martin Luther (leader of the Protestant Reformation)

Adapted from Forgiveness (Herald Press, 2007)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, thank you for being a loving God who daily extends grace and mercy!  Forgive me for those times I refuse to let go of anger and bitterness.  Give me the grace and mercy needed to forgive those who’ve wronged me.

Thanksgiving

Our pastor, Rev. Heidi Helsel

Our pastor, Rev. Heidi Helsel

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

As you prepare to celebrate with family and friends this year, may you come together in peace and enjoy the fullness of the blessings of God!   Let us take time to remember and say thank you for God’s blessings as we consider and prepare for the holiday season.  A season which, rather than urging and helping us to focus on being thankful for all that we have already received, often beacons us to focus on what we are lacking.  Often the peace that God means for us to experience during this time of celebrating our blessings escapes us.  We become more and more anxious over the things that the world counts as “necessary” for life, like that new car, a better job, a more beautiful spouse or at least the 15-function coffee maker. 

            God calls us to a different, more peace-filled kind of wanting, a desire for more of God and what only God can provide. God’s grace washes away our mistakes and our endless hunger and thirst for things that don’t satisfy.  By choosing to receive God’s grace we can come to trust God to meet our earthly and heavenly needs.  When we embrace the fullness of the reality of our blessings, we are freed from our self-interest and we can begin to work for the needs of others i.e., the need for God’s grace, for compassion, for mercy and especially, for love. We become slaves to Christ instead of to self. Therefore, we can have peace in following Christ from a sense of fullness instead of the resentful obligation born of the endless wanting that comes from spiritual emptiness.

            As we consider what it means to be thankful, let us not forget our calling to take up our cross and walk with God, humbly.  Let us, as Wesley might encourage us, “do all the good we can, in all the ways we can, to as many as we can.” (paraphrase).   Our Charge has received many blessings this year and I believe that God will continue to bless our ministry together.  These blessings will increase as we allow God to give us eyes that see beyond our own needs.  As we are able to live into the reality of what we have already been given, we will gain greater vision and hearing to acknowledge with whom we might share the love of Christ.  Let us not grow weary in “doing good”.  The fruits of perseverance are hard won, but Christ is walking with us always.  We may struggle and yet we are full- of love and mercy.

            I’d like to ask that as we consider our Thanksgiving gifts to the church this year, let us entrust God with the treasure God has given us to use these gifts to bless our communities in ways we may not have considered.  The needs of the community are many.  Happy Thanksgiving! Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Your Fellow Servant in Christ,

Pastor Heidi

New Advent Study – The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem

The JourneyThis Advent, beginning on December 1, the first Sunday of Advent, Central Church will embark on a Churchwide study of “The Journey.”

The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem” explores the story of Jesus’ birth with fresh eye and ears in order to discover the real meaning of Christmas.  Author Adam Hamilton draws upon insights gained from historians, archaeologists, biblical scholars, and theologians and from walking in the places where the story occurred.

The aim of this study, like the aim of the book upon which it is based, is to help you better understand the events that led up to the birth of Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem; to see more clearly the theological significance of the Nativity; and to reflect upon the meaning of these events for your life.

The focal Scripture texts will be Luke and Matthew’s accounts of the Annunciation, Mary’s visit with Elizabeth, Joseph’s dream of an angel, the walk to Bethlehem, and the visits of the shepherds and, later, the magi.

Our Sunday School will be studying one chapter each week, beginning on Sunday, December 1, and Pastor Heidi will preach on that same chapter during our worship service that immediately follows our time together in Sunday School.

Our Churchwide Advent program for all ages will help people come to a deeper understanding of what the Christmas story teaches us about Jesus Christ and about God’s will for our lives.  Please plan on joining us for this time of study and wonder during the Advent season.

If you are unable to travel to Central Church each week, please consider embarking on your own Advent adventure using Adam Hamilton’s The Journey as your guide as we travel through Advent together.

Help Wanted!

Central - Ladies Restoom Floor - 11-19-2013Our Trustees have started a project to replace the tile floor in the downstairs Women’s Restroom!

But before the new tile can be installed, the old tile has to be removed.

To aid us in this work, we have a new hammer, chisel, and high-powered heat gun to help loosen and remove the old tile.  It’s tedious and time-consuming work, and our Trustees would appreciate your help if you can spare an hour or two.

The work is essentially a one-person operation, so anytime that you have a few minutes to spare, please come down to the Church and take up a tile (or ten)!

Once all of the old floor tiles are removed, Jeff and his merry band have volunteered to lead the effort to get our new tiles installed, so let’s all pitch in to get this project moving along before the rush of the Christmas season fills our schedules!

Forgiving: Take the Risk, Find the Joy – The Road of Faith

Forgiveness 3Key Bible Verse:  “Love your enemies! Do good to them.”  Luke 6:35

Dig Deeper:  Luke 6: 35-37

[continued from yesterday]  “I know lots of young people my age who are bitter, who are acting out violently,” said Cathy.  “Some of them are even dead now.… Fighting terror with terror is not the way.”

To forgive another person takes a tremendous act of faith, because in forgiving we choose to surrender our need to control a situation to satisfy our longings and intentions. To transfer a situation from our hands into God’s requires one to believe that God has witnessed the wrong and that God will not dismiss that wrong as something trivial or insignificant.  

In the process of forgiving we say, “I give this situation to God and believe that in the eternal scheme of things, God’s justice and grace will bring about a resolution better than I could ever make.”

Fortunately, a mother in Northern Ireland years ago decided that her home would not become a haven of anger and hatred, a breeding ground for young terrorists.  Instead, she took the road of faith.

Because of that choice, her 20-year-old daughter now serves as a missionary to children in the inner city.  She is a young woman who loves instead of hates, who gives life instead of destroys it, and who lives each day as a witness to the power of forgiveness.

—Bruce Main in Spotting the Sacred

 

My Response: What messages am I communicating to my family about revenge and forgiveness?  To friends?  To neighbors?  To co-workers?

 

Thought to Apply: Never does the human soul appear so strong and noble as when it forgoes revenge and dares to forgive an injury.  —Edwin Hubbel Chapin (preacher, writer, editor)

Adapted from Spotting the Sacred (Baker, 2006)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, thank you for being a loving God who daily extends grace and mercy!  Forgive me for those times I refuse to let go of anger and bitterness.  Give me the grace and mercy needed to forgive those who’ve wronged me.

Forgiving: Take the Risk, Find the Joy – Aren’t You Angry?

Frustrated Mother and DaughterKey Bible Verse:  And don’t say, “Now I can pay them back for what they’ve done to me!  I’ll get even with them!”  Proverbs 24:29

Dig Deeper:  Ephesians 4: 31-32

The university class I was teaching had just finished reading some fascinating and troubling material on the impact of sustained violence on children in various parts of the world.

“They didn’t write about Northern Ireland,” complained Roz in her thick Belfast brogue.  “There’s three of us from Ireland in this class.  We grew up with violence all around us.”

“My father was killed by an IRA bomb when I was 6,” another young woman said abruptly.  The class was silent, and I was caught off guard.

“Aren’t you angry, Cathy?” I asked her, wondering how a young woman whose father was brutally murdered could not be.

“No,” she said without an edge to her voice.  “I was raised in a home by a mother who taught me to forgive, so the seeds of anger and bitterness never had a chance to grow.  My mother modeled forgiveness for all us children.”

She had no hint of repressed bitterness in her voice.  Rather, she had chosen to forgive, which obviously had made a profound difference for her.  That choice had separated her from others her own age—others who had chosen to hold on to their anger, allowing it to fester into suppressed rage. [continued tomorrow]

—Bruce Main in Spotting the Sacred

 

My Response:  How can I tell if I or someone I know has truly forgiven or is simply living with “repressed bitterness”?

Adapted from Spotting the Sacred (Baker, 2006)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, thank you for being a loving God who daily extends grace and mercy!  Forgive me for those times I refuse to let go of anger and bitterness.  Give me the grace and mercy needed to forgive those who’ve wronged me.

Forgiving: Take the Risk, Find the Joy – What Forgiving Others Isn’t

Forgiveness 2Who Said It … N. T. Wright

N. T. Wright is a leading New Testament scholar currently at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Prior to his position at St. Andrews, N. T. served as the bishop of Durham in the Church of England.

He is the author of numerous books including Justification, Surprised by Hope, Simply Christian, and Evil and the Justice of God—the book from which today’s devotional is taken.

N. T. and his wife, Maggie, have four adult children and three grandchildren.

 

What He Said … What Forgiving Others Isn’t

Forgiveness doesn’t mean “I didn’t really mind” or “it didn’t really matter.” I did mind and it did matter, otherwise there wouldn’t be anything to forgive, merely something to adjust my attitudes about.

Nor is forgiveness the same as saying, “Let’s pretend it didn’t really happen.”  This is a little trickier because part of the point of forgiveness is that I am committing myself to work toward the point where I can behave as if it hadn’t happened.

But it did happen, and forgiveness is looking hard at the fact that it did and making a conscious choice—a decision of the moral will—to set it aside so that it doesn’t come as a barrier between us.

In other words, forgiveness presupposes that the thing which happened was indeed evil and it cannot simply be set aside as irrelevant.  Along that route lies suppressed anger and a steady distancing of people who no longer trust one another.

A much better plan is to put things out on the table and deal with them.

Adapted from Evil and the Justice of God (IVP, 2006)

 

This week’s Key Study Passage:  Romans 12: 14-21

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[a] Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[b] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[c]

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Footnotes:

a.       Or willing to do menial work

b.      Deut. 32:35

c.       Prov. 25:21,22

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, thank you for being a loving God who daily extends grace and mercy!  Forgive me for those times I refuse to let go of anger and bitterness.  Give me the grace and mercy needed to forgive those who’ve wronged me.

Develop Your Spiritual Insight – Identifying False Teachers

Identifying False TeachersJude devotes his short letter to warning Christians everywhere about those who live in opposition to God and his followers.  They twist God’s words, he says, seeking to deceive and destroy the unwary.  

But since God’s Word and the gift of eternal life have infinite value and have been entrusted to us, he urges us to work at grasping his truth and faithfully defending it.

Interact with God’s Word

Jude 1:12-13, 17-21

  1. How are people whose interpretations veer from balanced biblical teaching like reefs? … like irresponsible shepherds? … like clouds that produce no rain? … like fruitless trees? … like ocean breakers? … like planets?
  2. To what apostolic warnings (v. 17) might Jude have been referring?  (See Acts 20:29-30; 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:1-5.)
  3. Why did Jude (v. 18) consider him and his readers already in “the last times”?
  4. How (v. 19) do people who “follow their natural instincts” instead of relying on the Holy Spirit create divisions in the church?
  5. What defenses against error (v. 20) does Jude mention?  What is the doctrinal and ethical core that comprises our “most holy faith?”

 

Spend Time in Prayer

Ask God for a balanced understanding of his Word that helps you confidently navigate complex situations based on your grasp of the basic principles he has revealed.

Jude 1:12-13, 17-21

12 When these people eat with you in your fellowship meals commemorating the Lord’s love, they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you.  They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves.  They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain.  They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots.  13 They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the foam of their shameful deeds.  They are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness.

17 But you, my dear friends, must remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ said.  18 They told you that in the last times there would be scoffers whose purpose in life is to satisfy their ungodly desires.  19 These people are the ones who are creating divisions among you.  They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God’s Spirit in them.

20 But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, 21 and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life.  In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to so saturate my outlook with your Word that I readily spot whatever counters its teaching.

Develop Your Spiritual Insight – Deceptive Spirits

False ProphetKey Bible Verse:  Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teaching that come from demons.  1 Timothy 4:1  

Bonus Reading:  Jude 1:12-13

The Greek word translated as “deceptive” in today’s Key Bible verse is planos, the word from which our English word “planet” is derived.  The ancient Greeks called those bright orbs deceivers.  

Why?

In ancient times, the navigators of ships knew that they could, with reliability, sight in on most stars to accurately determine their location and thereby sail the right course to their destination.

They also learned that the “deceivers” (planoi)—the wandering stars—would only lead them to confusion or destruction if they tried to determine their position by them.

They, of course, didn’t know that those “stars” were actually planets that revolved around the sun.

It isn’t difficult to see why the Holy Spirit stirred the apostle Paul to use this word to warn us about the demonic enterprises of these last days.

We dare not take our directions from the no-such-thing-as-absolute-truth relativism of our culture’s attitudes toward almost everything.

And we would be wise to see the profound analogy between the erratic movement of a non-light-producing planet and the deceiving spirits of this world.

—Jack Hayford in The Anatomy of Seduction

 

My Response: Why is succumbing to deception often followed by moral compromise?

 

Thought to Apply: We are oftener deceived by being told some truth than none. —Fulke Greville (English courtier)

Adapted from The Anatomy of Seduction (Regal, 2004)

Develop Your Spiritual Insight – A Godsend?

PreacherKey Bible Verse:  “But you may wonder, ‘How will we know whether or not a prophecy is from the Lord?'”  Deuteronomy 18:21

Bonus Readings:  Deuteronomy 18:22; Jeremiah 14:14; Galatians 1:8

Phil told my wife and me about attending a meeting of two or three thousand people where a priest said, “A young man is here fighting leukemia.”  Phil was fighting leukemia but thought that in such a crowd there probably were several fighting leukemia.

But the priest continued, “This man is also going through a divorce.”  Phil thought, Well, that’s two for two.”

Then the leader predicted that this young man would have chemo treatments and return “next September to testify to answered prayer.”  That’s what happened: Phil returned to testify to his perfect healing.

Was this priest a true prophet of God?  I don’t think so.

Though an inaccurate prediction disqualifies a prophet, a correct prediction doesn’t automatically prove that the man or woman is to be followed.

I asked Phil, “How would this man answer this question: What does a person have to do to enter heaven?”  Phil answered, “He’d say that you have to follow God and be a good person.”

That, of course is “another gospel.”

—Erwin Lutzer in Who Are You to Judge?

 

My Response: How does a spokesperson’s lifestyle bear on the validity of his message?

 

Thought to Apply: The gift of discernment has been neglected in charismatic circles, but is the gift that most needs to be sought and cultivated, because its exercise is the key to the right use of all the rest.—Tom Smail

Adapted from Who Are You to Judge? (Moody, 2002)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to so saturate my outlook with your Word that I readily spot whatever counters its teaching.

Develop Your Spiritual Insight – Religious Campus Tour

Religious CampusKey Bible Verse:  They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly.  Stay away from people like that!  2 Timothy 3:5

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 119:160; Luke 22:70; John 10:30; John 14:6; Acts 4:12

Let’s listen in on a few classes at a so-called Christian college.

  • An Old Testament Studies classroom: Professor Rationalist says, “These legends—the creation account, Noah and the Flood, Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, Jesus’ miracles—are symbolic stories to teach principles. Scientists offer no verification that any of these events really happened.”

 

  • A New Testament Studies classroom: Professor Skeptic says, “Jesus was a popular teacher in his day, but we have no evidence that divinity should be ascribed to him.”

 

  • A Religion 101 classroom: Professor Universalist says, “There are many religious roads, but they all lead to God.  All sincere people of faith—Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, New Age—will arrive at the same glorified place.  It’s bigoted to believe otherwise.”

If anything, deceptive teaching is harder to discern when professors mix their own non-literal views of Scripture and religious humanism beliefs with biblical Christianity.  

Don’t think that Satan considers colleges with a Christian heritage off limits.  He’s prepared to use any tactic to distract and deceive you from being on that narrow way that leads to life.

—David Wheaton in University of Destruction

 

My Response: One clue that a professing Christian may not be a possessing one is …

 

Thought to Apply: God never meant for man to scale the heavens by strides of human wisdom.—William Cowper

Adapted from University of Destruction (Bethany, 2005)

 

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to so saturate my outlook with your Word that I readily spot whatever counters its teaching.

Develop Your Spiritual Insight – Secular Campus Tour

Secular CampusKey Bible Verse:  There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.  – Proverbs 14:12

Bonus Reading:  Genesis 1:1; Romans 3:10-12; John 17:17

Poke your head into a few university classrooms to sample what the professors are saying.

  • A biology classroom: “As a result of a cataclysmic explosion, the universe came into existence ten billion years ago.  The fossil record shows that invertebrates made the leap from water to land two million years before humans.”

If you believe Professor Evolutionist’s claim that you are the product of random chance and evolution, what degree of purpose and meaning could your life possibly have?

  • A sociology classroom: “Humans are inherently good.  If everyone were given enough education and financial resources, the result would be a united utopian world.”

If you believe Professor Humanist’s thesis, how do you explain the never-ending cycle of sin in the world—crime, violence, greed, pride, rape, lust, etc.?

  • A values and ethics classroom: “What’s wrong for you may be right for someone else in the same situation.  Who are you to judge someone else?  Divisive religion-based concepts of right and wrong only foster guilt and hate rather than tolerance.”

If you believe Professor Relativist’s assertion, on what basis will you make your moral choices?

Now contrast their trendy groupthink with God’s Word in today’s Bonus Readings.

  •  Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
11     there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”[a]

  •  John 17:17 –  Sanctify them by[a] the truth; your word is truth.

—David Wheaton in University of Destruction

 

My Response: Is my worldview shaped by current experts or scriptural perspectives?

 

Thought to Apply: Intelligence and education can ascertain facts. Wisdom can discover the truth.—Max De Pree

Adapted from University of Destruction (Bethany, 2005)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to so saturate my outlook with your Word that I readily spot whatever counters its teaching.

Develop Your Spiritual Insight – In vs. Of

Liquor WarehouseKey Bible Verse:  Be innocent as babies when it comes to evil, but be mature in understanding matters of this kind.  1 Corinthians 14:20

Bonus Reading:  1 Cor. 5: 9-13

I know a man who desperately needed to buy a warehouse, but when a liquor company offered to sell him one, he balked.  He asked me if he should buy it.

“There’s no sin in purchasing real estate from the sinful,” I told him, “unless you cheat someone else or use it sinfully yourself.”

“Yes,” he objected. “But what about using my money to prosper them.”

“Look,” I explained. “We live in a complicated world.  You buy groceries at stores that sell liquor, fly on airplanes that give it away in first class, and stay in hotels that have bars.

In the world isn’t the same as of it.”

On the other hand, a deep, close bond in business or a relationship with an unsaved partner is rife with danger.  Unbelievers, sensing they’ll also be blessed for the sake of the righteous, often want to partner with Christians.  Potiphar and Pharaoh saw that hope in Joseph, Nebuchadnezzar saw it in Daniel.

The biblical admonition, “don’t team up with those who are unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14) is ignored at great risk.  Ahab was spared because he was with Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 18: 1-27), but Jehoshaphat nearly died because he was with Ahab.  Don’t link your destiny with another uncommitted to the God you serve.

—Mark Rutland in God of the Valleys

 

My Response: To function in the world without becoming aligned with it, I need to …

Adapted from God of the Valleys (Servant, 2000)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to so saturate my outlook with your Word that I readily spot whatever counters its teaching.

Develop Your Spiritual Insight – Steep Learning Curve

Used CarsWho Said It … John Ensor

John Ensor is Executive Director of the Urban Initiative Program of Heartbeat Inter-national.  H.I. trains Christian communities in providing life-saving, life-changing assistance to women and couples unprepared for pregnancy.

John is completing a two-year effort to establish ultrasound-equipped Pregnancy Help Clinics in needy neighborhoods of Miami, a city with nearly 40 abortion facilities.

John previously served as a pastor and founded a network of six clinics in the Boston area.

 

What He Said … Steep Learning Curve

Because I wanted it badly, I looked right past the red flags.  I ended up back where I started, but poorer, embarrassed, and feeling used and stupid.

I’m talking about a used car.  I went online and was defrauded out of $4,000.  

Proverbs 14:15 had me fingered: “Only simpletons believe everything they’re told!  The prudent carefully consider their steps.”

The webmaster knew about people at their predatory worst who feed on the gullible.  So right there on the website, in a section about online fraud, he spelled out the sure signs to look for.

He also provided straightforward guidelines for doing things right when buying a used car online.  But never dreaming I’d be a victim of fraud, I failed to read the link before barging ahead.

One Proverb (Proverbs 14:12) warns about the path that seems right but ends in death.  I think this refers to our tendency to follow our own judgment without informing it with the wisdom of others or instructing it with a sense of right and wrong, wise and foolish.

Adapted from Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart (Crossway, 2007)

 

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to so saturate my outlook with your Word that I readily spot whatever counters its teaching.

Grasping God’s Grace – God’s Gift

God's GracePaul begins and ends his letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 1:2and 6:24) with a prayer that they would share in God’s grace.

The most important things in life—forgiveness, a right relationship with God, acceptance into God’s family, eternal life, the transforming power of his Holy Spirit—are all God’s gifts for those made his own by his grace.

Believers should respond by joyfully praising God for this grace and by letting their lives reflect their gratitude. In the Greek language, significantly, the words grace, joy, and thanksgiving are related.

Interact with God’s Word

Ephesians 2:4-9:

  1.   When, according to verse 8, was God’s grace applied to your life?
  2.   What (v. 5) was your status before God’s grace penetrated your life? What is it since you were saved?
  3.   How much of this transformation (vv. 8-9) can you take credit for?
  4.     When someone gives you a gift, do you say, “That’s very nice—now how much do I owe you?” What is the appropriate response?
  5.     Have you felt obligated to try to work your way to God?
  6.     Do you think of yourself as “Exhibit A” of the “incredible wealth” of God’s grace and kindness (v. 7)? Should you?

 

Spend Time in Prayer

Thank God for taking the initiative to provide for your salvation even though you had done nothing to deserve it.

 

Ephesians 2:4-9

4 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, 5 that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead.  (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)  6 For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.  7 So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.

8 God saved you by his grace when you believed.  And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  I’m blown away, Lord, by your gift of salvation, which I could neither earn nor repay.  I’ll be forever grateful.

Grasping God’s Grace – Bow-wow

Man Feeding DogKey Bible Verse:  How kind the Lord is! So merciful, this God of ours!  Psalm 116:5

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 116:8, 12-13

We used to have two dogs.  They belonged to my son, but when he wasn’t home, I took care of them.

These dogs had a good life.  They found food sitting on their plates, got fresh water every day, and had a warm spot to sleep.

One day I was trying to get one of the dogs to move while I fed it, and it growled at me.  I looked at that brother and thought, You’re a fool. I’m here feeding and watering you at no cost to you.  I don’t want to do it, don’t need to do it, don’t feel like doing it.  And you’re growling at me?

That dog didn’t understand that he ate, drank, and had a place to sleep by grace.  The only thing that dog should have said to me when I came out was, “Thank you, bow-wow,” because everything he had was by grace.

When you decide to live by a kingdom agenda, you no longer say, “This is my food, and you’d better give it to me, God.  You’d better supply my drink and keep clothes on my back.  This is my house, and you’d better keep it paid for.”

The only thing you say when you get up in the morning is, “Thank you, God, bow-wow.”

—Tony Evans in The Kingdom Agenda: What a Way to Live!

 

My Response:  Do my expectations of God reveal a taking for granted of his amazing grace?

 

Thought to Apply: Thou hast given so much to me, give me one thing more—a grateful heart … whose pulse may be thy praise. —George Herbert (English pastor & poet)

Adapted from The Kingdom Agenda: What a Way to Live! (Word, 1997)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  I’m blown away, Lord, by your gift of salvation, which I could neither earn nor repay.  I’ll be forever grateful.

Billy Graham’s Last Crusade: ‘My Hope’ – Tonight!

Billy Graham - My Hope CrusadeBilly Graham will celebrate his 95th birthday tonight in appropriate fashion, launching his largest-ever and likely last crusade.

Local Viewing Information:

7:00 –    7:30 pm (EST) –  Billy Graham Birthday Special – UP (Comcast channel 190)

8:00 –    8:30 pm (EST) – My Hope – TBN (Comcast channel 290)

10:00 – 11:00 pm (EST) – My Hope – FNC (Comcast channel 34)

For other viewing opportunities, please click on this link:  Watch Billy Graham

More than 28,000 churches have pledged their involvement in “My Hope America with Billy Graham,” an event which pivots from the evangelist’s famous stadium-filling events to living rooms nationwide.

Based on Matthew 9:9-10, “My Hope” encourages Christians to invite non-Christian friends into their homes to watch a TV program featuring Graham. The video will feature clips of past sermons as well as a new message Graham has prepared—possibly his last.

However, this is not the first time the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) has held the “My Hope” campaign. In fact, America is one of the last places to host the program.

The televised campaign—instituted through churches—has reached 57 countries since 2002, with more than 298,000 churches participating and more than 4.4 million Christians serving as “My Hope” hosts. The result: more than 10 million people have become Christians, claims the BGEA.

In Spain, the campaign launched in 2011 with more than 1,000 churches training approximately 8,500 individuals. In Zambia, the numbers were much higher: approximately 60,000 people in almost 6,000 churches participated in the “living room” crusade.

Among many examples the BGEA recounts from other countries, “My Hope” was so successful in Haiti that more churches had to be built to accommodate the number of new Christians. The BGEA registered more than 120,000 decisions for Christ in Haiti.

Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic were two of the last hosts in Latin America, where “My Hope” was first launched (in Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador). The BGEA has recorded more than three million “My Hope” decisions in 17 Latin American nations.

The largest and most complicated country to benefit from the “My Hope” program: India, where more than four million people responded to the initial “My Hope” program aired in 14 different languages.

“My Hope” concerned many Christians in Russia in 2004 because of a possible ban on evangelism. But the project continued, with showings in churches, prisons, hospitals, and other venues. The previous year, Russia’s “There is Hope” project required a different setup to account for the country’s 11 different time zones and large population (145 million people).

In Malawi, the country known as the “Warm Heart of Africa,” meetings often took place outdoors, using battery-powered projector units. Along the Amazon River in Brazil, where most villages did not have a Christian church or TVs to watch the broadcast version of “My Hope,” one missionary distributed DVDs and constructed churches along the way.

Among the many American responses to the campaign, Hawaiian pastors say the island’s hospitable and relational culture is a good fit for such an evangelism approach. A North Carolina college ministry showed the “My Hope” video to 1,000 students on Halloween night, while others are promoting the crusade through skate park ministry and throw-back tent revivals. At the Dakota County Jail in Minnesota, the program has led to inmate conversions.

A national broadcast of Billy Graham’s message to America will air tonight.

Local Viewing Information:

7:00 –    7:30 pm (EST) –  Billy Graham Birthday Special – UP (Comcast channel 190)

8:00 –    8:30 pm (EST) – My Hope – TBN (Comcast channel 290)

10:00 – 11:00 pm (EST) – My Hope – FNC (Comcast channel 34)

For other viewing opportunities, please click on this link:  Watch Billy Graham

Grasping God’s Grace – The Table

Dining Room TableKey Bible Verse:  “I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”  Jeremiah 31:34

Bonus Reading:  Hebrews 10:11-18

It was going to be a short job—swapping out one light fixture for another.  While installing the new light, I needed a slightly different angle to get at a screw.  Standing on a chair, the thought occurred to me that our oak dining room table would make a perfect support for me to reach the screw, or so I thought.

Stepping lightly on the table, there was a sudden, sickening sound of splintering wood.  The table came crashing down.  I could do nothing to stop it.  It was broken.

For the rest of the evening I was angry—angry at my wife, at the light, at the table, but mostly with myself.  I couldn’t forgive myself.  But that is what God’s grace is about—forgiveness.

Jesus extended His grace and forgiveness to everyone he came into contact with.  It didn’t matter if they were an unclean leper, a convicted thief, a crazed demoniac, or a prostitute.  Jesus loved them all, forgave them all and held out his grace to them all.  It was up to them to grasp God’s grace.

God’s grace is an astonishing gift.  Sometimes we need it when we sin greatly.  Sometimes we need it when we break the dining room table and can’t forgive ourselves.

—Joe Williams in Ohio

 

My Response: Am I underrating God’s grace by continuing to blame myself for what he has stopped remembering?

 

Thought to Apply: Wonderful Grace of Jesus,/Greater than all my sin;/How shall my tongue describe it?/Where shall its praise begin? —Haldor Lillenas (hymn writer)

Adapted from The Barbarian Way (Nelson, 2005)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  I’m blown away, Lord, by your gift of salvation, which I could neither earn nor repay.  I’ll be forever grateful.

Grasping God’s Grace – A New Lease on Life

Writing ChecksKey Bible Verse:  He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  – Titus 3:5

Bonus Reading: Ephesians 2: 4-9

A young man and his wife opened a coffeehouse as a ministry in a run-down part of town.

The lease for the property was reasonable.  They invested money, long hours, and sweat in improvements, steadily gained customers, and then took the risk of expanding to a similar neighborhood across town.

Their first landlord now decided her now-improved property should bring a much higher rent.  The couple had understood their lease wouldn’t change, but an attorney said the contract language was “open to interpretation.”

Since they couldn’t justify the expense of going to court, they were forced to move out of the first store.  But the new store couldn’t begin to pay the mountain of debt from both start-ups.  They saw no hope of avoiding bankruptcy.

Then the young man’s mother, a small business owner herself, visited and asked to see the shop’s books.  As each debt was identified, she wrote out a check—to a total of some $50,000!  Their debts were erased.

Now when conversation in the coffeehouse turns to faith, this young man tells the story of his mother’s sacrifice.  That, he explains, is an earthly picture of how his heavenly Father erased his ultimate debt.

—Sam House in HomeLife

 

My Response: I’ll thank God for delivering me from my moral bankruptcy.

 

Thought to Apply: Our faults are like a grain of sand beside the great mountain of the mercies of God. —Jean Baptiste Vianney (French priest)

Adapted from HomeLife (Lifeway, 4/03)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  I’m blown away, Lord, by your gift of salvation, which I could neither earn nor repay.  I’ll be forever grateful.

Grasping God’s Grace – Bargaining Chips?

God's Grace 2Key Bible Verse:  He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.  Ephesians 1:7

Bonus Reading:  Romans 3:22-24, 11:6

An old tale tells of a man who died and faced the angel Gabriel at heaven’s gates.  

“Here’s how this works,” Gabriel explained. “You need 100 points to make it into heaven. Tell me all the good things you’ve done, and on the basis of how much good there is in each, I’ll assign a number of points.  When you reach 100 points, you’re in.”

“Okay,” the man said, “I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart.”

“That’s wonderful,” says Gabriel, “that’s worth three points.”

“Three points?” said the man incredulously. “Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my money and service.”

“Terrific!” said Gabriel, “that’s certainly worth a point.”

“One point?” said the man, beginning to show a bit of panic. “Well, how about this:

I opened a shelter for the homeless in my city, and fed needy people by the hundreds during holidays.”

“Fantastic, that’s good for two more points,” said the angel.

Two points?” cried the man in desperation. “At this rate the only way that I’ll get into heaven is by the grace of God!”

“Come on in,” said Gabriel.

—Bryan Chapell in Holiness by Grace

 

My Response: How can I guard against reverting to a saved-by-works mindset?

 

Thought to Apply: Grace is the free, undeserved goodness and favor of God to mankind. —Matthew Henry

Adapted from Holiness by Grace(Crossway, 2003)

 

Prayer for the Week:  I’m blown away, Lord, by your gift of salvation, which I could neither earn nor repay.  I’ll be forever grateful.

Grasping God’s Grace – Family Values?

"The Feast in the House of Levi" - Pablo Veronese

“The Feast in the House of Levi” – Pablo Veronese

Key Bible Verse:  Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach.  This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain. Luke 15:1-2

Bonus Reading:  Luke 15: 11-32

In the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice hangs a painting by Pablo Veronese that got him in trouble with the Inquisition.  It depicts Jesus at a banquet with his disciples, complete with Roman soldiers playing in one corner, a few drunks, and North African blacks.

Called before the inquisition to explain these irreverences,  Veronese showed from the Gospels that these were the very kinds of people Jesus mingled.  The scandalized Inquisitors made him change the painting’s title and make the scene secular rather than religious.

In doing so, of course, the Inquisitors replicated the attitude of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day.  They too were scandalized by the tax collectors, half-breeds, foreigners, and women of ill repute who hung out with Jesus.

They too had trouble swallowing the notion that these are the people God loves.  While Jesus was captivating the crowd with his parables of grace, Pharisees stood by grumbling.

In the story of the Prodigal Son, provocatively, Jesus brought in the older brother to voice proper outrage at his father for rewarding irresponsible behavior.  What kind of virtue would throwing a party for such a renegade encourage?

—Philip Yancey in What’s So Amazing About Grace?

 

My Response: Is an us vs. them attitude of mine undercutting God’s grace?

Adapted from What’s So Amazing About Grace? (Zondervan, 1997)

 

 

Prayer for the Week:  I’m blown away, Lord, by your gift of salvation, which I could neither earn nor repay.  I’ll be forever grateful.

Grasping God’s Grace – He Had It Coming

God's GraceWho Said It … Glenn Stanton

Glenn Stanton is a director of social research and cultural affairs at the Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family.  As a media spokesperson for Focus, he had been interviewed by hundreds of print and media outlets.

A husband and father of five, Glenn says that he and his wife, Jacqueline, have little sleep but much joy!

Glenn has written The Little Big Book for Dads and The Fatherhood Movement: A Call to Action.  He won the Amy Foundation writing award in 2001 and was featured in the PBS documentary, Affluenza.

 

What He Said … He Had It Coming

Our friend Steve, as our mothers might say, is a good Lutheran boy.  When he was in college, he got himself arrested for driving while intoxicated.  He felt horrible for being so foolish.

He had to call his parents from the police station and was afraid his father would hammer him even more than he had hammered himself for his irresponsibility.  He explained his situation to his dad and waited for the angry lecture.  That’s not what Steve got.

His dad said instead, “Son, how can I help you through this?” Steve’s heart melted.

Steve says this incident is one of the most powerful pictures he ever experienced of God’s grace.  It was a small picture of the story of the prodigal son and the forgiving father.

This kind of grace is a powerful part of the nature of God. Satan condemns and oppresses us.  God forgives and offers us freedom.  Grace is Satan’s most bitter pill, because he wants us condemned.

Adapted from My Crazy Imperfect Christian Family (NavPress, 2004) by permission.

 

Prayer for the Week:  I’m blown away, Lord, by your gift of salvation, which I could neither earn nor repay.  I’ll be forever grateful.