Christmas Shoeboxes for Marines in Afghanistan

We are preparing a large package made up of individual shoeboxes to be sent to our own Daniel Pilling’s marine unit in Afghanistan on Monday, November 26.

Items needed include: small paperback Bibles, paperback Christian books such as Pilgrim’s Progress, Slim Jim snacks (jerky), sunflower seeds, nuts, non-perishable snacks, hand warmer packs, Chap Stick, lotion, shaving cream, disposable razors, toothbrushes, deodorant, toothpaste, Q-tips, hard candy, personal cards/thank you’s to the servicemen, and any other small items that will fit in a shoebox.

Plastic shoebox size boxes are preferred.

Bring donations this Sunday and next, or deliver to the church (be sure to call ahead to see if someone is on site).

Questions, contact Bob Travelstead, rctstead@cfl.rr.com, 407-767-0617.

Making the Most of Advent

Last Sunday, November 27, marked the beginning of Advent, traditionally the beginning of the church calendar year. The word advent comes from the Latin adventus meaning coming. Advent focuses our worship for the four weeks which precede Christmas on the significance of Christ’s incarnation. Christians began to organize worship around various seasons of the year as early as the second century. In more liturgical churches the entire calendar often revolves around these seasons of the year.

At OGC we celebrate a tradition in Advent worship involving the lighting of an Advent wreath. Each Sunday before Advent, as well as on Christmas Eve, different individuals/families lead us in the lighting ceremony with appropriate readings from Scripture. An Advent wreath communicates many powerful things. Its circular form stands for the eternity of God. The burning candles represent Christ, the light of the world, (John 8:12). The evergreens in the wreath speak to eternal life. The use of colored candles originated in Eastern Germany prior to the Reformation. Traditionally, the three purple candles symbolize the penitence due from sinners at the prospect of Christ’s coming. The single pink or rose candle calls for joy at the idea of the Son of God incarnate. And the white candle in the center, of course, points to Jesus Christ in all His purity and power.

May I encourage you this year, as in previous years, to form an intentional strategy for making the most of this coming Advent season? Without a plan we can easily fall prey to a worldly tis-the-season-to-be-frantic kind of December that leaves us at best exhausted and at worst resentful.

Here are some suggestions to that end:

  1. Refuse to abandon time for reflection, worship, and contemplative disciplines. Mary, the mother of our Lord, excelled as one who kept all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19). Determine to hold a tenacious line against the tyranny of the urgent and give yourself to the priority of seeing the unseen and eternal (2 Cor. 4:18).
  2. Beware temptations to covetousness and greed which surround the cultural trappings of Christmas. Jesus warns in Luke 12:15 Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses. Madison Avenue bombards us daily with just the opposite message. Ask God to help you not let the world squeeze you into such a treacherous mold (Rom. 12:2).
  3. Zealously call to mind the words of Jesus as quoted by Paul in Acts 20:35It is more blessed to give than to receive. Consider creative ways to practice giving that go beyond the material. Bless someone with the gift of words of encouragement, time spent in fellowship, ministering to a need. Alter your Christmas budget this year in terms of what you normally spend on yourself, family, and friends and give toward a worthy global missionary enterprise or some charitable cause.
  4. Make corporate worship a non-negotiable priority, even if you travel. David spoke of the sanctuary as the place where He saw God uniquely in His power and glory (Psalm 63:2). Ask the Lord to reveal hidden sins in you that grieve His Spirit and hinder your fellowship. Every time you see a purple Advent candle pray for a spirit of insight into the depths of your depravity and give yourself to confession and repentance. But don’t stop there! Ask God to fill you with a spirit of rejoicing and celebration. Every time you see a rose candle offer up praise and thanksgiving for some treasured aspect of Christ in His incarnation and all He has won for you in regeneration, justification, adoption, sanctification, glorification, etc.
  5. Determine to bring Advent worship into the fabric of your home. Heads of households – let us function as believer priests on behalf of our families and lead in Advent devotions that serve to focus our spouses and our children upon things that truly matter this Christmas. Let us watch less in the way of endless Christmas specials devoted to the inane and trivial and read more of the Word that extols the Christ of God and listen more to the music that declares His praises and fellowship more with the people that embrace His Lordship and witness more to the lost who languish without His hope.
  6. Say No more and Yes less so that the obligations of the season do not run away with you. Stay in control of your calendar. Prioritize ruthlessly as best you understand given God’s priorities for you. If you struggle to do that on your own, ask someone else to hold you accountable and give you counsel about what you should and should not commit to during this last month of the year.
  7. Arm yourself with Paul’s promise in Phil. 4:13 that in Christ you can do all things – including making the most of Advent. This may prove especially true for you if you have experienced some significant loss this year or if you are battling some form of depression for whatever reason. Navigating the demands of the holiday season cannot be accomplished in one’s own strength. It takes the power and all-sufficient grace of Christ (2 Cor. 12:9).

May He grant us ever-increasing amounts of grace to sing these words of the hymn writer and mean it:

Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in his hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand.



Why Giving Makes Sense at Christmas & Always

Last night’s Christmas Eve message from 2 Cor. 8:1-9 is now on the web. You can listen to the audio here.

Here is the quote from Octavius Winslow (1808-1878) with which I closed the sermon:

And shall we not pause and bestow a thought of admiration and gratitude upon Him, who was constrained to stand in our place of degradation and woe, that we might stand in His place of righteousness and glory? What wondrous love! what stupendous grace! That He should have been willing to have taken upon Him our sin, and curse, and woe! The exchange to Him how humiliating! He could only raise us by Himself stooping. He could only emancipate us by wearing our chain. He could only deliver us from death by Himself dying. He could only invest us with the spotless robe of His pure righteousness by wrapping around Himself the leprous mantle of our sin and curse. Oh, how precious ought He to be to every believing heart! What affection, what service, what sacrifice, what devotion, He deserves at our hands! Lord, incline my heart to yield itself supremely to You!

May the Lord do a deep work in all our hearts toward the end of our sacrificial giving in all aspects of our lives because we know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Six Reasons to Subscribe to Tabletalk

I have no shame. But it IS my day off and I will cut and paste from anywhere to save my Friday.

Got an email today from Ligonier Ministries with the suggestion to give a subscription to Tabletalk Magazine this Christmas.

In case you have already bought your Esther’s Well coffee for Digoland and copies of Operation World 2010, here is another great idea for redemptive holiday gift giving, for the following six reasons (other than the fact that the pastor of OGC uses it every day, of course):

1. A Bible Study For Each Day
Tabletalk’s daily Bible studies offer structure for your devotional life. Bringing the best in biblical scholarship together with down-to-earth writing, Tabletalk helps you understand the Bible and apply it to daily living.

2. Great Authors, Thought-Provoking Topics
Each issue contains challenging, stimulating articles on a wide variety of issues related to theology and Christian living, written by eminently trustworthy authors—names like Sinclair Ferguson, John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul.

3. True to Historic Christian Faith
Tabletalk avoids trends, shallow doctrine and popular movements to present biblical truth simply and clearly, in keeping with historical Christian faith and orthodoxy.

4. Friendly, Approachable and Convenient
Readers find Tabletalk approachable and inviting, with many saying it’s like having coffee each morning with their favorite teachers. Its compact size means it fits right in your Bible.

5. A Valuable Guide
Beyond the daily Bible studies, Tabletalk includes carefully selected daily readings to take you through the Bible in a year.

6. It’s Affordable
An annual subscription is just $23 ($37 international), more than 36% off the cover price and only $1.92 per month. And you can try it out for three months absolutely free.

Subscribe to Tabletalk today.

Making the Most of Advent 2010

Tomorrow, November 28, marks the beginning of Advent, traditionally the beginning of the church calendar year. The word advent comes from the Latin adventus meaning coming. Advent focuses our worship for the four weeks which precede Christmas on the significance of Christ’s incarnation. Christians began to organize worship around various seasons of the year as early as the second century. In more liturgical churches the entire calendar often revolves around these seasons of the year.

At OGC we celebrate a tradition in Advent worship involving the lighting of an Advent wreath. Each Sunday before Advent, as well as on Christmas Eve, different individuals/families lead us in the lighting ceremony with appropriate readings from Scripture. An Advent wreath communicates many powerful things. Its circular form stands for the eternity of God. The burning candles represent Christ, the light of the world (John 8:12). The evergreens in the wreath speak to eternal life. The use of colored candles originated in Eastern Germany prior to the Reformation. Traditionally, the three purple candles symbolize the penitence due from sinners at the prospect of Christ’s coming. The single pink or rose candle calls for joy at the idea of the Son of God incarnate. And the white candle in the center, of course, points to Jesus Christ in all His purity and power.

May I encourage you this year, as in previous years, to form an intentional strategy for making the most of this coming Advent season? Without a plan we can easily fall prey to a worldly tis-the-season-to-be-frantic kind of December that leaves us at best exhausted and at worst resentful.

Here are some suggestions to that end:

1. Refuse to abandon time for reflection, worship, and contemplative disciplines. Mary, the mother of our Lord, excelled as one who kept all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19). Determine to hold a tenacious line against the tyranny of the urgent and give yourself to the priority of seeing the unseen and eternal (2 Cor. 4:18).

2. Beware temptations to covetousness and greed which surround the cultural trappings of Christmas. Jesus warns in Luke 12:15 Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses. Madison Avenue bombards us daily with just the opposite message. Ask God to help you not let the world squeeze you into such a treacherous mold (Rom. 12:2).

3. Zealously call to mind the words of Jesus as quoted by Paul in Acts 20:35 – It is more blessed to give than to receive. Consider creative ways to practice giving that go beyond the material. Bless someone with the gift of words of encouragement, time spent in fellowship, ministering to a need. Alter your Christmas budget this year in terms of what you normally spend on yourself, family, and friends and give toward a worthy global missionary enterprise or some local charitable cause. Plan on participating in the free Christmas wrapping outreach at Walmart on Dec. 17 from 10 AM to 4 PM.

4. Make corporate worship a non-negotiable priority, even if you travel. David spoke of the sanctuary as the place where He saw God uniquely in His power and glory (Psalm 63:2). Ask the Lord to reveal hidden sins in you that grieve His Spirit and hinder your fellowship. Every time you see a purple Advent candle pray for a spirit of insight into the depths of your depravity and give yourself to confession and repentance. But don’t stop there! Ask God to fill you with a spirit of rejoicing and celebration. Every time you see a rose candle offer up praise and thanksgiving for some treasured aspect of Christ in His incarnation and all He has won for you in regeneration, justification, adoption, sanctification, glorification, etc.

5. Determine to bring Advent worship into the fabric of your home. Heads of households – let us function as believer priests on behalf of our families and lead in Advent devotions that serve to focus our spouses and our children upon things that truly matter this Christmas. Let us watch less in the way of endless Christmas specials devoted to the inane and trivial and read more of the Word that extols the Christ of God and listen more to the music that declares His praises and fellowship more with the people that embrace His Lordship and witness more to the lost who languish without His hope.

6. Say No more and Yes less so that the obligations of the season do not run away with you. Stay in control of your calendar. Prioritize ruthlessly as best you understand given God’s priorities for you.

7. Arm yourself with Paul’s promise in Phil. 4:13 that in Christ you can do all things – including making the most of Advent. This may prove especially true for you if you have experienced some significant loss this year or if you are battling some form of depression for whatever reason. Navigating the demands of the holiday season cannot be accomplished in one’s own strength. It takes the power and all-sufficient grace of Christ (2 Cor. 12:9).

May He grant us ever-increasing amounts of grace to sing these words of the hymn writer and mean it:

Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in his hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand.

When the Light of the World Will Really Be Marveled At

menorahs

Last night in my Christmas Eve message on John 8:12 I spoke of Jesus as “being so full of Himself.” I continue to imagine what it would have been like to have heard Him say sentences like “I am the light of the world.” The Jews listening to His words beneath the menorahs in the temple that day would have connected the historical dots. Jesus claimed to be the fulfillment of everything the Feast of Booths typified, including the shekinah glory of God that led the Israelites faithfully through their wilderness wanderings (Exodus 13:21-22). When He said, “I am the light of the world,” He was claiming to be the splendid radiance of God’s glory on display in a human body. Full of Himself, indeed, and rightly so.

As bright as that glory did shine in our Lord’s earthly ministry, it was a glory veiled by the humiliation of His incarnation. We celebrate this mystery, Immanuel, God with us, each Christmas, beholding the glory of the only begotten, full of grace and truth (John 1:17-18). Each Christmas Eve when I preach I try to strip back something of the curtain of our fleshly existence that dims that glory before our eyes that we might see it more clearly with eyes of faith. We marvel, but as those who look through a glass darkly.

It shall not always be so. 2 Thessalonians 1:10 speaks of a day when Christ shall come again “to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed.”

Isaac Ambrose (1604-1664), the Presbyterian minister known for his exceptionally holy life, described the day of Christ’s coming this way:

When the saints shall but look upon Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, they exceedingly admire Him. . . . All that believe shall break out into admiration of Jesus Christ. At the first sight, they shall observe such excellence in Jesus Christ that they shall be infinitely taken with it. Here [on earth] we speak of Christ, and in speaking, we admire. But how they will admire [Him] when they shall not only speak or hear, but also see and behold Him, Who is the express image of God, and the brightness of His Father’s glory (Heb. 1:3)! O the luster that He casts forth each way! Is not His very body more sparkling than the diamond before the sun? Yea, more than the sun itself now shining at noonday? How should the saints but wonder at this sight? Oh! There is more beauty and glory in Jesus Christ than ever their thoughts and imaginations could possibly reach! There is more weight of sweetness, joy, and delight in Jesus Christ than either the seeing eye, hearing ear, or the vast understanding heart (which can multiply and add still to any former thoughts) can possibly conceive (1Co 2:9)! Every soul will cry out then, “I believed [I would] see much glory in Jesus Christ when I saw Him.  I had some twilight or moonlight glances of Christ on earth: but—O blind I! O narrow I!—[I] could never have faith, opinion, thought, or imagination to fathom the thousand thousandth part of the worth and incomparable excellence that I now see in Him!”

Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus!

More on Making the Most of Advent

Here are some final thoughts on navigating the Christmas holiday to the glory of God:

First, determine to bring Advent worship into the fabric of your home. Heads of households – let us function as believer priests on behalf of our families and lead in Advent devotions that serve to focus our spouses and our children upon things that truly matter this Christmas. Let us watch less in the way of endless Christmas specials devoted to the inane and trivial and read more of the Word that extols the Christ of God and listen more to the music that declares His praises and fellowship more with the people that embrace His Lordship and witness more to the lost who languish without His hope.

Second, say No more and Yes less so that the obligations of the season do not run away with you. Stay in control of your calendar. Prioritize ruthlessly as best you understand given God’s priorities for you. If you struggle to do that on your own, ask someone else to hold you accountable and give you counsel about what you should and should not commit to during this last month of the year.

Third, arm yourself with Paul’s promise in Phil. 4:13 that in Christ you can do all things – including making the most of Advent. This may prove especially true for you if you have experienced some significant loss this year or if you are battling some form of depression for whatever reason. Navigating the demands of the holiday season cannot be accomplished in one’s own strength. It takes the power and all-sufficient grace of Christ (2 Cor. 12:9). 

May He grant us ever-increasing amounts of grace to sing these words of the hymn writer and mean it: 

Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in his hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand.

More on Making the Most of Advent 2009

Here are two more thoughts on navigating the Christmas season this year.

First, zealously call to mind the words of Jesus as quoted by Paul in Acts 20:35 – It is more blessed to give than to receive. Consider creative ways to practice giving that go beyond the material. Bless someone with the gift of words of encouragement, time spent in fellowship, ministering to a need. Alter your Christmas budget this year in terms of what you normally spend on yourself, family, and friends and give toward a worthy global missionary enterprise or some charitable cause.

Second, make corporate worship a non-negotiable priority, even if you travel. David spoke of the sanctuary as the place where He saw God uniquely in His power and glory (Psalm 63:2). Ask the Lord to reveal hidden sins in you that grieve His Spirit and hinder your fellowship. Every time you see a purple Advent candle pray for a spirit of insight into the depths of your depravity and give yourself to confession and repentance. But don’t stop there! Ask God to fill you with a spirit of rejoicing and celebration. Every time you see a rose candle offer up praise and thanksgiving for some treasured aspect of Christ in His incarnation and all He has won for you in regeneration, justification, adoption, sanctification, glorification, etc.

Fight the good fight of a sanctified Advent in 2009!