A Fresh Start

by Paul Parker
Fresh Start
A fresh start, a do-over, a clean slate, putting the past behind us, a new beginning, or changing   directions and rewriting the ending. All of these are descriptions of what God does best. He gives us a fresh start if we put it all in His hands.

II Corinthians 5:17 NLT

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”

On Sunday January 3, we are giving everyone the opportunity to receive a much desired fresh start. We are going to receive communion and remind ourselves that everything in the past has been wiped clean through the giving of Christ’s body and blood.

We are going to call for each person to leave your burdens behind and press on toward the goal Christ has set before us.

We are going to call for everyone present to begin the New Year with God fully in control.

We are going to ask God to lead us as a Church to follow His mission and purpose in every way.

If you can make it, please consider joining us in starting fresh. If you can’t be with us that Sunday please be in prayer with us that this can be an effective day in seeing our Church move forward.

 

 



Great Joy and Endless Delight

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As a parent, I take great joy in planning and purchasing the gifts that will bring delight to my children. The Father’s joy and anticipation must grow as we journey through Advent. I wonder if in the midst of the season — while we are rushing around buying gifts, baking cookies and attending parties — God’s greatest gift will pass us by unnoticed.

Will we quickly unwrap the gift, offer our obligatory thanks and rush on to the next event? In our culture of seizing the day, will we pause and catch our breath this Christmas and receive Jesus? Can each of us reach down into the manger, gently pick up Jesus and cradle Him in our arms?

Linger a long while and notice His swaddling clothes wrapped around His tiny newborn body. In awe and reverence, look into His eyes. Receive His look of tenderness, gentleness and love. Just for the moment, slow down long enough to really see with the eyes of your heart and feel the gift of God’s Son with your body and soul.

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son” (John 3:16 MSG).

Imagine holding Jesus close and become aware of your feelings. Express your innermost thoughts and feelings to Jesus. For several moments, listen to hear what He wants to say to you. Pause, and in the silence, let His message echo through your heart and mind. Marveling, remain with Him, awake with Him and enter into this moment of His birth.

Be enclosed with Jesus. Enter into the endless delight Jesus experiences in being with you. For even now, we can hear the echo of our Savior’s words in the garden, “Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matthew 26:38). Be with Jesus this Christmas season for He has promised to be with us always.

As we gaze into His beautiful eyes, it is easy to see how much an infant Jesus needs us to care for Him, to love and cherish Him. Fully God, fully human, in this moment Jesus needs us, and all throughout His life he will need His mother Mary and His father Joseph, His disciples, His friends and His family for He is like us in every way. At Christmas time, we deeply recognize our need of each other, our need of a Savior.

As he is laid gently in the manger, we see that he too was enclosed here on earth — first in Mary’s womb, now in a manger, later as an immigrant in Egypt, as a carpenter and on a cross. What encloses you today? Can you, like Jesus, consent to be enclosed? Can you be everything God created you to be — nothing more, nothing less — within your life and limitations? We too like Jesus can pour out our hearts to God, honestly and openly sharing the experience of being human.

As Charles Wesley wrote in the hymn “And Can It Be,” “He left His Father’s throne above, so free, so infinite His grace; emptied Himself of all but love, and bled for Adam’s helpless race. … Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”

Yet bliss resulted from Jesus being enclosed for us. We can fix “our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

As in the beautiful tapestry “The Adoration of the Magi” by Edward Burne-Jones, can you bring your crown and set it at His feet, surrendering to God’s great love for you? Anticipating God’s goodness, with your hands and your heart held high, lift up your emptiness. Wait in alert expectation. This waiting is very different from the worlds rushing about, seizing, grasping, pushing and shoving. It is fully alive, pulsing, glimmering, a soft breeze, a light scent and a gentle whisper.

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:9–12).

DISCUSS IT:

  1. What would you have said to Jesus if you could have held Him as an infant
  2. What did it mean for Jesus, God’s Son, to be enclosed by human limitations?

 

GLENDA CAMPOS is a spiritual director who attends Living Spring Christian Fellowship in Garden Grove, California. She has served most of her career as an educator, most recently as an English teacher. She also worked as a small group coordinator for First Free Methodist Church in Seattle, Washington.

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Invitation Accepted

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It is always wonderful to be invited. Whether or not we want to attend an event is secondary, but no one wants to be left out. I remember the first invitation I received to a national event for theological scholars. The invitation read, “You are invited to attend an exclusive event for the community of theological scholars in America.” That sounded affirming and self-esteem building. I showed my wife, Marlene, the invitation. Then I declined. I didn’t want to bother attending the event.

Now I have been invited to events that I eagerly accepted. They were events of which I deeply wanted to be a part.

For the early generations in the Bible, the people of God were pleading with God to show up. An eager invitation was extended to Him to destroy their enemies, aid God’s people in time of need, give them wisdom that could only come from Him and inhabit the tabernacle or temple. They even invited Him to be physically present. And, eager to meet His people, God generally accepted the invitation of the faithful. Mind you, it was the invitation of the faithful that interested Him most.

At times, He defeated the enemies, appeared in a cloud, gave the needed rains or poured out abundance at harvest time. The more thankful among them would celebrate His answers to their invitation with Psalms, other songs and special celebrations. However, of all the responses to our invitation, Christmas was the greatest by far. For God to make himself physically present tops the chart. We call it the first Advent of Jesus. The second is yet to come.

His response to that invitation became an invitation of sorts that He gave back to us. For those of us who invite Jesus to be present in our lives, He has never been found neglectful. Christmas is not just about Jesus coming to be with us to accept our invitation. It is also about accepting His invitation to join Him in abundant living and eventually heaven. He invites us though He was rejected by the innkeeper, Herod and eventually humanity (John 1:11 and 1 Peter 2:4). He invites us to share in His inheritance and to have the Holy Spirit to live in and among us.

Jesus stands at the door and knocks (Revelation 3:20). He has been knocking for quite some time. It is not just that we would invite Him in; He wants us to respond to His invitation to be, do and live meaningfully.

There are two invitations at play every Advent season. One is our invitation to Him: “Welcome, Lord Jesus.” We are grateful that He has come into our world. We prepare the day and the symbols, and we hopefully model the behaviors that show how grateful we are that He came and still comes into our world.

But there is a second invitation – His invitation to us. At that time, we should do a soul audit. Have we accepted His invitation to receive His Holy Spirit, to live righteously, to live the good news and share it with others?

The Bible is full of commands and promises. Many of these commands and promises are placed in the setting of this grand invitation to us. Will you accept His invitation to give all and live for Him for the rest of your life? That would be an invitation that Jesus would be sure to accept and attend to with great detail.


 

BISHOP MATTHEW THOMAS has been an active part of the Free Methodist Church since 1979. His ministry roles have included serving as a pastor, church planter, missionary and superintendent.



Strange, Bold and Rich: Why Imagination Is the Legacy of Christmas

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A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.(Luke 6:45)

I’ve been preparing for Christmas bifocally. One lens is aimed at the fabricated miracles of Christian tradition and the other at certified expressions of contemporary faith.

I have spent the last four months researching Nativity legends for a new book while simultaneously editing our first Christmas issue of the FreeMo Journals, a new series of short books that can be used for adult Sunday school curriculum, midweek Bible study or personal daily devotions. Transitioning back and forth between the two projects was exhilarating, but it also confirmed one of my lifelong suspicions: Christians are strange.

You might think I’m lampooning our faith, but, in truth, I am not. There is a surprising amount of science fiction nestled within Christian tradition — a tradition that historically predates science and vilifies fiction. In my work, I discovered stories about monsters being sent to kill the Holy Family, only to fall in adoration at the feet of the Christ. Additionally, there were stories about stone statues coming to life and turning on their pagan worshippers, shaming them for denying the one true God. There are stories about animals speaking, trees uprooting and birds plucking feathers from their own breasts in order to praise Elohim. Some of these stories are loosely based on historical fact — like those that tell us the origins of the Magi. Some of the stories are fabricated entirely — did I mention the Romanian werewolves of Advent? — but all the stories betray a fascination with the fact that God became man.

Our FreeMo Christmas issue also shares some startling stories.


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TERROR, REFUGEES, AND THE MESSIAH WE WELCOME 👣

TerrorRefugeeMessaiahIn December of 2012, Lavone and I were in Bethlehem on what is called Manger Square as the town prepared for its annual lighting of the Christmas tree that marks the official beginning of the Christmas season.  The irony of this did not escape us: at or near “ground zero” for the firstAdvent, are all the elements for the world’s destruction. Sadly neither that part of the world nor the world as a whole have moved closer to the way of the One whose birth we celebrate, the Messiah we welcome.  If anything, tensions run tighter and deeper, conflicts rage, and current events suggest anything but peace and goodwill.

Just prior to Advent 2015 and since, a major world city has been rocked to its foundations by a calculated terrorist assault.  In the last week, San Bernardino and the U.S. as a whole has been rocked by similar terror.  No doubt many wonder if it could happen “here” where we are.

If these alarming crimes stand in the foreground, in the near background we see the deepening crisis of displaced persons, not only from across the northern and southern borders, but also now from across the seas, as multitudes flee for their very lives to wherever they may find shelter.  As the world responds to the crisis, pressures mount among us to “do our part.”

Then, in the more distant background, but still easily perceptible, we see continuing unrest and discord growing out of deeply rooted bias of one sort or another.  Several trials of police officers for crimes against persons of color have just begun or soon will to remind us of a low-grade crisis that could escalate wildly given the right or wrong circumstances.

Now in the middle of it all are a dozen or so political campaigns gearing up for another electoral season that sometimes at least feels more like a surreal version of the “hunger games” than serious attempts at statecraft seeking to determine and realize the common good.  Two responses to these current affairs gaining traction are violent reprisals and the closing of borders and opportunity to outsiders.

Followers of the Messiah, whose birth we celebrate, must not be distracted by these current events and the most common ways people react to them.  We welcome the coming of God whose ways are not our ways and whose means are most unconventional.  In fact, our God’s ways and means require our God to show us, if we ever hope truly to get it.  And, precisely that is what our God does, in giving Messiah Jesus to the world.


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December Events

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Come join us, in the Sanctuary, for this special service with lots of music, the sharing of the Christmas story, and the lighting of candles.

 



Why Parents Should Never Look at Their Phones in Front of Children

A woman’s decision to simply watch her children play led her to an important realization about the harm caused to her family by excessive cell phone use.

In a Nov. 2 post on Facebook that has since gone viral, San Diego mom Brandie Wood shared her observations on an experiment she conducted with her 2-year-old twin sons.

“As I sat quietly in the corner of the room I tallied how many times they looked at me for various reasons: to see if I saw their cool tricks, to seek approval or disapproval for what they were doing, and to watch my reactions.” she wrote. “I couldn’t help but wonder if I was on some sort of technology what message would I have been sending?”

The photo in the Facebook posts shows a hand-done tally of 28. For Wood, that meant 28 times her boys “would have not received the attention most adults are searching for.”

The young mother ended her post by urging other parents to “down your technology and spend some time with your family & loved ones.” She added, “The next generation of children is counting on us to teach them how to be adults, don’t be too busy on social media, you never know who is watching and what message you are sending.”

Wood’s post has been shared over 71,000 times since its posting a little over a week ago.

The full text of Wood’s post is below.

“Today I did an experiment, I watched my boys play. As I sat quietly in the corner of the room I tallied how many times they looked at me for various reasons: to see if I saw their cool tricks, to seek approval or disapproval for what they were doing, and to watch my reactions. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was on some sort of technology what message would I have been sending? 28 times my angels would have wondered if the World Wide Web was more important than them. 28 times my boys would have not received the attention most adults are searching for. 28 times my loves would have questioned if they were alone emotionally. 28 times my kids would have been reassured that who you are online is what really matters. In a world where we are accepted as who people perceive us to be and not who we really are, in a world where validation comes from how many followers or likes we have, in a world where quality time with loved ones is being replaced by isolation and text messages from the other room, I beg you to be different. Please put down your technology and spend some time with your family & loved ones. The next generation of children is counting on us to teach them how to be adults, don’t be too busy on social media, you never know who is watching and what message you are sending.”

Read more at: http://nextshark.com/cell-phone-children/#rmns#rmns



The Free Methodist Response to Sexual Oversaturation and Confusion

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The sexual revolution of the 1960s has morphed in recent years into a sexual evolution. The ’60s revolution brought “open sex,” changing society’s views on sex and marriage from the healthy confines of marriage where the most expressive and intimate forms of sexuality should reside to a less restricted and more open view of sexual expression outside of marriage. “Loving relationship” became the litmus rather than God’s design or intent for sexual expression. The historic and biblical approach to appropriate, God-ordained, societally healthy, marriage-affirming sexuality has been maligned for more than 60 years, being redefined in the marketplace, school curriculum, media and society at large.

More recently, the shift has been evolutionary. Sexuality is no longer just a matter of inside or outside of marriage. Sexuality has little societal restriction, and marriage has been redefined in its entirety. Acceptable sexual expression in society during the sexual revolution was generally assumed to be heterosexual and between consenting adults, even if outside of marriage.

Now marriage has had an extreme makeover by the courts and is diminished by many. Sexual expression during the sexual revolution was generally viewed as moral and a matter of choice. The evolution of sexuality in more recent years has seen moral language removed altogether from virtually all sexual expression — heterosexual, homosexual, transgender and other expressions — making sexual behavior and orientation simply matters of personal preference, human right or genetic predisposition. What was once broadly accepted as moral is now a choice, a human right and genetic. Federal and state governments have exacerbated the situation by de-emphasizing the morality of sexuality and making it a matter of human rights, codifying the primary premise of this evolution and reinforcing its conclusions.


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How to Write a Non-Christmas Christmas Article

If I write a non-Christmas article in December, will I be ignored by everyone who started listening to Christmas music in October? If I write a Christmas-themed thought, will I be ignored by all those sharing the spirit of Grinch and Scrooge?

Silly me, forgetting that most people ignore me all year long. Why would December be any different?

As anyone who writes any article, blog, book, etc. can tell you, there is an attempt, perhaps assumed and unspoken, by the author to reach the reader. Right where they are. If there can be some magical connection point between those who are not even in the same room, then the goal has been achieved.

This is why many simply choose to write whatever is on their heart. If I share my heart in an honest and open way the thought process goes, then whoever miraculously happens to be touched was likely at a point of needing that word. So cast a wide enough net and you may just snag a few more readers along the way.

Others will aim their writing where they think the need is at the moment. These authors are after the same goal, mind you; they simply come at it from another direction. They want to touch the heart of the reader.

And while comments sections abound, and the forms and abilities to contact authors are numerous, it can still cause a moment of fear to spread through the author, wondering what impact his words will make.

Obviously, I can’t speak for any other author about their feelings, but if any of this is accurate for anyone else, it could also have been true for the Author who sent a Word 2,000 years ago. His omniscience aside, He had to wonder how people would receive His Word.

We can read that Word and know exactly what was on the Author’s heart. In fact, we can also know that there would be many who would choose to ignore His Word, His heart, His calling.

And yet…

There would be others. Others who needed what He had to say and received it like a long drink after a tiring journey. Some who were convinced after a short time and others who struggled the entire way to belief.

Unlike many authors who may never fully realize what impact their writing has made, the Author knows. In fact, when the connection point between Writer and reader is made, that is when the real story begins.

by Rick Nier



Screen Addicts

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Hey mom and dad, which do you think is greater: the number of hours in your typical work day or the number of hours your kid interacts with media every day?

According to a new report, you’re being outdone.

Media Rules
Common Sense Media just released their latest study entitled The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens. The massive research project looked at the “media activities” of more than 2,600 8-18-year-olds in America (“tweens” and “teens”) to discover how often they use media, for what purpose, and on what sort of device. Those of you who’ve been reading our Youth Culture Window articles for several years may remember a similar-sounding study produced by the Kaiser Family Foundation called the “Generation M” reports.

The full report from Common Sense is well-written, loaded with helpful info-graphics, and available online (though you may be required to complete a simple registration form). However, it’s also quitelengthy due to the vast number of metrics they studied, for instance, age, gender, socio-economic backgrounds, and much more.

So, I’ll highlight the biggest findings below, and end with a few questions that youth workers and parents should wrestle with as we help our teenagers navigate the growing influence of today’s media.


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