What Gift to Give? by PASTOR MICHAEL CISLER North Kent Bible Church Here we are again, sneaking up on Christmas. Maybe you have already started your Christmas shopping or maybe you won’t do so for another three weeks. Either way, take a moment to consider what gifts you give to others and what gifts they give you. In Isaiah 58, God speaks through the prophet Isaiah concerning what He desires in fasting. Fasting had turned into a practice that was more about other people seeing our fake righteousness, than the desire that God had for it from the beginning. In this chapter, God talks about wanting people that are involved in loosening the chains of injustice, setting the oppressed free, feeding the hungry, providing shelter for the homeless, and meeting the needs of those in need. In Isaiah 58:10 it says, “…and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” Now what does this have to do with Christmas gifts? Are there people in your life for whom it is difficult to find just the right gift? Are there people in your life who just love whatever you give them? Have you ever considered replacing some of those gifts with gifts that could help others in need? What if, rather than buying a $30 sweater for a sibling, you donated that $30 in their name instead. It is amazing what $30 can do to bless those in need. North Kent Community Services can turn $30 into an astonishing amount of food to give to our neighbors who may need some assistance. In fact, through some organizations a donation of $20 can buy enough food to feed 100 orphans in Malawi, Africa for an entire week. I think now is a good time to begin talking to others with whom we exchange gifts for Christmas. Consider encouraging them to give to others in need in your name. Consider giving to them a donation to others in need in their name. “…and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise […]
A weekly inspirational message
Thankful by PASTOR RON AULBACH BridgeWay Community Church Johnny Carson may have said it best: “Thanksgiving is an emotional holiday. People travel thousands of miles to be with people they only see once a year. And then discover once a year is way too often.” Now, I hope that isn’t true for you. Beyond giving thanks for turkey, stuffing, banana cream pie, uncle Eddie’s unique personality, and a competitive Lions team, we need to be thankful for all ways we’ve been blessed. As easy as it is to say, “Be a thankful person,” there are real enemies that rob us. The first enemy is isolation. We were created for community and God says it is not good for us to be alone. When we isolate ourselves, we lose the connection we were created for and we forget how wonderful the people around us are. So, make time during these holidays to have coffee with an old friend or to call a relative you miss. Another enemy is busyness. The schedule can be so full, that getting through the day is all we feel like we can do. We’re told, “Busy people get the most done.” So we over commit and instead of being thankful, we resent our busy lives. As tempting as it is, resist the need to fill the calendar. Use the extra time to pray to God, and thank Him for the life you’ve been given. Finally, guard against the enemy of entitlement. It’s so easy to think that people are here to serve us. “I deserve it!” I order my coffee at Starbucks, where my addictions are most satisfied, and how do I respond? Am I thankful for the person who got up much earlier than I did to make it? I may have paid for it, but does my heart express with words how thankful I am? Followers of Jesus Christ should be the most thankful people anyone ever meets. God gave of His son, so that we might have eternal life. So “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and have a wonderful holiday season.
Christmas: a more joyous occasion by PASTOR DICK RILEY Rockford United Methodist Church Once upon a time, just a few days before Christmas, two men who were neighbors decided to go sailing while their wives went Christmas shopping. While the two men were out on the water, a storm arose. The water became very rough and both men struggled to keep the sailboat under control. As they maneuvered their way toward land, they suddenly hit a sandbar and the boat became grounded. Both men jumped overboard and began to push and shove with all their strength, trying to get the boat into deeper water. With his legs almost knee-deep in the sandy mud, the waves bouncing him hard against the side of the boat, the wind ripping into his face, and the water chilling his bones, the one man turned to his buddy and said with a knowing grin, “This sure beats Christmas shopping, doesn’t it?” I can’t help but think how often, not only Christmas shopping, but also the whole Christmas season becomes an experience in frustration, exhaustion and depression. Too often, the joy of Christmas is lost because our focus becomes centered, not on the Christ whose birth we celebrate, but rather on our desire to have joy—whatever it costs us! As we move closer and closer to the Christmas celebration, perhaps if we made a more conscious effort to put Christ first—to put Christ above everything else—Christmas might become the most joyous occasion in our lives and in the lives of those around us. It might actually become that most joyous occasion that God intended. Let’s try it! Go to the church of your choice this weekend, and begin to get in the spirit!
‘Tis the season to give by REV. LAURIE TENHAVE-CHAPMAN First Congregational Church, Rockford Recently I had time to kill between meetings so I went to a small, upscale mall to bide my time. I thought I would be joining throngs of shoppers, bustling around with packages. I was wrong. It appeared that I had missed a PR campaign that unveiled a new purpose for this public space: Geriatric Walking Center! Older couples with varied degrees of mobility looped around me as I tried to get some work done. Every now and then I’m struck with the reality of our depressed economy. As sneaker-clad septuagenarians circled me in this once-vibrant mall, entering nary a store, I was reminded that it’s not business as usual. When we start to write “November” on our checks, we begin to move mentally toward Thanksgiving. With whom shall we share this special holiday? Who will host? What foods do we wish to have on the table? Are there travel arrangements to be made, a dog to be boarded, table linens to buy? In the past few years, perhaps financial restraint has led us to answer those questions somewhat differently. Much that we used to take for granted now feels like a gift. There is a tremendous opportunity for us in these financially lean times to embrace all that is good about our lives. Affluence has seldom led to a more grateful people. Hard times call us to greater creativity about how to use our gifts. A resilient resourcefulness, that has perhaps lain dormant, brings us into new places with new people that we wouldn’t have otherwise encountered. We are also discovering that our lives are more than our work. If we are having to “settle” for underemployment, unemployment or less-than-optimal jobs, we need to recognize that the greatest blessings have to do with human relationships. Family, friends, a warm house and grateful hearts gathered around a Thanksgiving table are what matter most. Whatever your circumstances I invite you to give thanks to God for the bounty in your own life. Look for ways you can be of service to others, even if your own means are limited. Items may be “repurposed”; spaces may be used for different functions. But giving God […]
Peace of Mind or Peace with God? by PASTOR MARK W. LOVE St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Rockford It is becoming more and more obvious that many of the ears of today are listening for the spiritual but are unable and therefore unwilling to hear the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. What they would call a spiritual quest is in truth an emotional quest—cast in spiritual terms. The contours of both their spiritual struggles and the solution to them are determined purely by subjective feelings and sensations of peace and wellness. Michael Horton writes in Christless Christianity: “Once you make your peace of mind rather than peace with God the main problem to be solved in your life, the gospel becomes radically redefined,” (p. 39). Where the Gospel is redefined, so also must sin and sinfulness be redefined. What is forgotten in this quest for peace of mind or sense of wellness is the very captivity of the mind to sin, which is hostile to God (Rom. 8:7; Col. 1:21). If I as a sinner cannot make peace with God, why am I so easily deceived into believing I can make peace with myself? At this point, self has become the almighty I must answer to rather than God the Almighty. The deeper reality of this deception is that where I have made my own peace of mind or peace within the main issue and purpose of my life, there I have made my sinful self the god to whom I and all others must answer. Having made God in my own image, I must go in search of those preachers and pastors who will shepherd not me, but the things I have done, the things and people around me and what they do so that I may have peace of mind and a happy heart. Horton describes the sad consequence of this quest. “‘How can I, a sinner, be right with a holy God?’ is simply off the radar… Once the self is enthroned as the source, judge, and goal of all of life, the gospel need not be denied, because it is beside the point,” (p. 40). How gloriously merciful our Lord is in that He makes us new creations born not of […]