by Johnathan Arnold
John and Jane Saint go to church three times and hear three sermons each week. In total, they hear 156 sermons each year. Since John and Sarah have been going to church for 30 years, they have heard nearly 5,000 sermons. But, amazingly, John and Sarah admit that they do not understand the Bible very well (even though they read it daily) or know why they believe much of what they believe. They are not unlike many Christians.
The church has recently awakened to this reality and is taking more responsibility for bridging the gap between experience and knowledge. A new watchword in evangelicalism is “discipleship,” by which most mean systematic teaching in a small group setting similar to the class meetings of the Wesleyan heritage. These small groups typically cover a series of Bible studies or follow a pre-written curriculum.
Since some churches have been successful with the small group model (a dialogue), it has caused many to question the primacy of preaching (a monologue) for the ever-connected modern audience. It was recently said that “in the contemporary church, small groups will increasingly become the primary way that the church goes forward, even more-so than preaching.” This is tragically misplaced thinking. We should not be intimidated by small group discipleship; however, we should be alarmed when it is pursued at the expense of preaching.
Dec. 4: Administrative work.
Dec. 7-10: Lakeland, FL to visit Bro. Handfield. His wife passed away unexpectedly. Please keep him in your prayers. Sis Handfield will be greatly missed. We appreciated her faithfulness to God and love for her church family.
by Johnathan Arnold
Why did Jesus come? Why Advent? However we answer that question, it will lead us to the cross: Jesus came to die. But why did Jesus die? To save us from our sins? Why does Jesus save us from our sins? There is only one place to which this why-quest can ultimately lead: God Himself. 2 Corinthians 4:15 reveals that everything which God does for our sakes, He does with His glory in view. The supreme end is “to the praise of the glory of his grace…that we should be to the praise of his glory…unto the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14, emphasis added). God’s glory is the ultimate purpose of Advent, and it is the believer’s supreme delight.
by Johnathan Arnold
God has always been a light to His people. Light imagery abounds in the Hebrew Scriptures. In Exodus 13, “the Lord went before [Israel] by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light.” Exodus 14 puts it beautifully, “And it lit up the night.”
In Ezekiel 1, the glory of the Lord appeared “with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually…downward from what had the appearance of his waist…[was] the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him.” Habakkuk said of God, “His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from his hand.”
Fast forward to chapters 7 and 8 of John’s gospel. Jesus is at the Feast of Booths, otherwise known as the Feast of Tabernacles. One of the key ceremonies during the Feast of Booths was the lamp-lighting ceremony, where four large lamps were lit and a celebration ensued that involved dancing, singing, and the holding up of burning torches. Jesus took advantage of this opportunity to illustrate an important truth about Himself.
by Ryan Martin
Micah jumped off his dad’s lap, his fluffy slippers padding across the soft carpet to the Christmas tree. He reached for the red velvet box under the lowest boughs of the tree, right next to the manger scene. Micah’s dad laid aside the Bible he’d been reading to his son, just as his wife set steaming cinnamon buns on the table.
by Sheldon Habecker
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” We all have sung those famous words or at least hummed them as we scurry around like frantic chickens with our heads cut off trying to make Christmas “perfect.” Some nearly die, trampled underfoot, while trying to secure the perfect gift. Some battle the emotions of a dysfunctional family or separation. Some face the heightened stress that brings out the worst in people. Some are disappointed if all the kids and grandkids don’t come home. Some have such high expectations, no one can meet all of them. Consequently, we feel our Christmas is ruined. So how do we have a happy Christmas? What if I told you, it’s not really about YOU?
by Stephen Miller
Almost 200 years ago, the carol “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht” was heard for the first time in a village church in Oberndorf, Austria. The congregation at that Midnight service in St. Nicholas Church listened as the voices of the assistant pastor, Joseph Mohr, and the choir director, Franz Xaver Gruber, rang through the church to the accompaniment of Mohr’s guitar.
by Jeff Stratton
Ours is not a culture of hope. If you have any doubts about that, ask the convict who just received a sentence for life in prison. Ask the single mother who is working several part-time jobs to try to feed herself and her children. Ask the university student who failed his semester exam, or the factory worker who just learned that his job has been terminated. Ask the baby who is about to be aborted because her mother doesn’t want her. Ask the child whose parents are separating, or ask the man who was just informed that he has cancer and has three months to live. No, hope is not a common commodity today. But has it ever been?
by Daniel Durkee
"Congratulations! It’s a boy!” I can still remember as the doctor blurted out those words that forever changed my life. God has blessed Michelle and me with three wonderful sons; however, I have learned that being a successful father means a whole lot more than simply producing children.
by David Wise
The stories of Israel’s past glory days made the present reality of Roman rule even more difficult to bear. Joseph and Mary were very aware of their nation’s ancient golden age and were yearning for the fulfillment of those prophecies that spoke of an even greater glory. Yet, all around them, they saw very few signs of hope.
by Matthew Ellison
The “Christmas Chapter” is one of my favorite chapters in the greatest love story of all time. Anyone reading this grand event will be warmed with joy one minute and be shedding tears of gratitude the next. One rejoices with Mary as she realizes that she will be the earthly mother of the Messiah, yet sheds tears as he reads of the division it brings into the life of two people madly in love with each other, as she and Joseph were.
How can anyone read about the shepherds on the dark hills, guarding the flocks of sheep under their watch and care, and not sense the complete moments of fear that must have gripped them as their peaceful night was interrupted by a bright light and talking celestial beings? Surely, they must have initially been scared nearly to death. But yet, imagine the great calm that must have gripped their hearts as they realized they were talking to God’s messengers. The point is, this “Christmas Chapter” is full of beauty. It is an emotional roller coaster for sure...but then again, aren’t all love stories?
Nov. 22: Administrative work
Nov. 23-25: It was wonderful to have family drive from Ohio to visit for Thanksgiving.
by Nathan Purdy
My childhood memories on the Emerald Isle include walking with Shadow, our sheepdog, through the rolling fields on my Dad’s farm. I grew up in a farmhouse, surrounded by picturesque fields dotted with sheep and bordered by hedgerows. Drives into a local village could be interrupted by a neighbor leading his sheep down the main road, as he moved them from one field to another. Memories linger of the day my sister and I received our own pet lambs - Lucy and Skippy. In a child’s way, I loved it all.
by Johnathan Arnold
Discouraged? Bored? In need of guidance? Open your Bible to a random page, skim to a random verse, and see if God speaks to you. You consciously hope it’s not a verse like Judges 4:21, where Jael drives a tent peg through a guy’s head. You subconsciously hope it’s something really generic like Philippians 4:13. (It does say that we can do “all things,” after all.) The unfortunate, underlying assumption is this: if “all Scripture" is profitable, whatever text I turn to must be about me.
We are often guilty of mishandling God’s Word for similar reasons: we hear a Bible verse that on the surface appears to speak to our immediate needs, then spread that meaning without ever investigating its context. If we really like the meaning that we read into a text, we will likely go the rest of our lives without ever discovering the amazing richness of God’s meaning, which is far better than anything we could construe. Consider a few examples.