How did this become the norm?

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By Brian Sharpe

My wife and I have norms in our marriage, parenting, and extended-family lives. We all have norms. These norms sometimes collide when we first get married or we take on roommates or even when dating someone.

Tomina and I started one norm early in our marriage because it was needed, but it hinders us now—our sleeping habits. When Tomina and I were first married, I was still in school. She worked full-time; I was a full-time student and worked part-time at a church. Tomina was as a waitress at Applebee’s. She would work from 3 p.m. until closing many nights of the week. I generally had classes in the morning and then worked at the church as needed.

When Tomina and I were first home from our honeymoon, she made the statement, “We will go to bed at the same time!” I didn’t question this statement. In her family, her parents went to bed at different times, and she wanted to change that norm. So, we agreed to go to bed at the same time. This was a great idea. The problem was, she would get home at midnight to 2:00 a.m. every night she worked. This meant that I was staying up until then to wait for her to come home. Then we would catch up on the day and go to bed. I would then get up a couple hours later and go to school. I would take naps, but it started a norm in our marriage. We were both naturally night people, but that was further solidified by our schedule. This is a norm that I have had a hard time breaking, even now that I am 40.

We all have norms. Every relationship has them. Unfortunately, they can be seen as ruts. Over the years, Tomina and I have had hard conversations about the norms in our marriage. We have talked a lot about how to love each other well. It is easy to settle into patterns and then coast on autopilot. The problem with this is that it can turn into complacency, and it can ultimately lead to a lack of intentionality. Now, this isn’t the intention of norms, but it is often the outcome.

This idea of norms affects even our relationship with God. A norm may be that when I am scared or in trouble, I run to God. That isn’t a bad norm, unless that’s the only time you run to God.

A norm could be that I go to church every week. Again, this isn’t a bad thing, as long as we understand why we go to church. We go to church to connect with God and other believers for mutual encouragement and growth. The book of Hebrews says we go to spur one another on to love and good deeds.

A norm may be that we read our Bible when we think about it or when we schedule it. This is a good norm, as long as it makes it on the schedule. A norm that we don’t want to talk about is the norm of not spending time with God in the studying his Word. That’s the downside of norms: we may create a norm in which God is only part of our lives when we are at church or when we are around people of faith, but not in our everyday life. This is a huge problem, because if we love God and are followers of God, we will spend time with God in some fashion or another in our everyday lives. We need to make sure that being with God and cultivating our relationship with Him is a norm in our life.

The other part of this is, if we have kids or are speaking into kids’ lives, we need to help them know the “why” of what we are doing to cultivate our relationship with God. First-generation Christians are excited to get to know God. Second-generation Christians get to hear the stories of what God has done with the first-generation Christian. But for third-generation Christians, being a Christian is normal to them, so they lose sight of why we do things, and in forgetting the reason, the practices become less important.

We need to stop and take inventory of the norms in our life. Our character qualities sometimes become the norm; for example, I am an angry or stubborn person. We need to evaluate these norms and make sure that we are reflecting Jesus in our marriages, parenting, friendships, and work. We need to make sure we are passing down reasoning for our norms for future generations to understand them.

What are the norms in your life? Are they what you want them to be? Are they a reflection of who Christ is calling us to be?

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Christmas Traditions: O Come Let Us Adore Him!

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By Tom Chase

I want to share just a few of the things we do and have done as a family around Christmas. These traditions have helped restore and maintain meaning to this incredible time of year when we celebrate Jesus!

Several years ago, we began celebrating Saint Nicholas Day on December 6. What is Saint Nicholas Day? It is a day set aside to remember the man Nicholas of Myra. He was a Christian saint who was born March 15, 270AD, and died December 6, 343. He was a follower of Jesus and a leader in the church (a bishop). He wore red robes and a pointed bishop’s hat. Names like O’ Saint Nick, Sinterklaas, and Santa are all personas derived directly from Nicholas.

Nicholas had compassion, a soft spot, for orphans. He would make little wooden toys and spiced cookies for them. Today we give gifts, and many make gingerbread men cookies.  When I was little, we had a cookie cutter of a gingerbread man. I always thought it was strange, though, because it had a pointed head — ah, the bishop’s hat from Nicholas.

Another story of Nicholas tells about a merchant sailor who lost all his ships and wealth at sea. He had several daughters, and this loss would mean his daughters would be unable to marry, as a dowry was required. Nicholas learned of this loss and what it would mean. One of the girls intended to sell herself into slavery so the other sisters could marry.  Nicholas put his plan into action — he came at night and dropped bags of gold coins through an open window. Some of the coins landed in stockings hung by the window. Because of his generosity, the girls were then able to get married.

Hanging stockings by the fireplace filled on Christmas morning, gingerbread men, and giving gifts to one another all have beginnings here.

Saint Nicholas Day becomes a time when we celebrate and remember a passionate follower of Jesus who would be happy to celebrate with us the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the world, because that is what Nicholas did with his life!

Years ago, when I was still a child, we began celebrating Christmas like it was Jesus’s birthday. I know we don’t know the exact date He was born, but Christmas has been set aside to remember that God came and was born — He became a man. As a small child, I wondered, “If it’s His birthday, where are the presents for Him, and where is His birthday cake?” That year we baked a cake and decorated it for Jesus’s birthday. If I remember correctly, we put candles on it and sang “Happy Birthday” to Jesus!

We have celebrated in various ways over the years, including by playing birthday-party games, such as Pin the Star over Bethlehem. But the one consistent part that began that first year is a present for Jesus — a wrapped package under the tree with His name on it. The package has a removable top; on Christmas day, we as a family sit down and write on a piece of paper what we want to give to Jesus in the coming year. These notes are individual and private, shared with others only if the writer desires. These notes are then placed in the box, prayed over individually, and placed again under the tree — Happy birthday, Jesus!

Over the years, before writing the new gift, I will often go back and read previous years’ gifts. What an amazing reminder of how God has met me in the gift given previously. When my kids were small, writing a note was too involved for them, so we would just encourage them to draw a picture and/or color it for Jesus. This time is incredibly precious to me — Happy birthday, Jesus!

Another thing we did, especially when my children were small, was to enact the Christmas story. We got a small, nonbreakable nativity set in which baby Jesus could be removed from the manger. A couple of weeks before Christmas, we would set up the stable and place the empty manger in the stable with some animals. At the other end of the house, Mary and Joseph would start their journey to Bethlehem. Each day at night, we would advance Mary and Joseph along and ask the kids where Mary and Joseph were on the trip, then talk with them about the story — like where and why they were going, and Mary’s condition (expecting a baby!).

As the days went by, the kids enjoyed looking for Mary and Joseph. They would travel along the tops of picture frames, bookshelves, and any flat surface along the way to Bethlehem and the stable. Mary and Joseph would arrive at the stable Christmas Eve day, and we would explain why they ended up in the stable. We would talk about how Mary was going to have the baby on Christmas morning. Each of our kids, when young, ran to the stable on Christmas morning, saying, “The Baby’s here!” They didn’t run to the tree — that came later — but they got the message, and so did I. The shepherds can show up later on Christmas to see this thing God has done. If you want, in the days that follow Christmas, the wise men can follow a path similar to Mary and Joseph’s and arrive to celebrate the coming King — worthy to be worshipped and adored!

I share these traditions not to add more things to an already-busy time of year. I know I have longed for meaning in all the busyness, not just more things to do. My hope and goal would be for us (you and I) to find freedom in celebrating the real meaning of Christmas found in the person of Jesus. Feel free to add and subtract any of these. And don’t feel like you have to do all or any of these things.

I would love to hear some of your traditions and the meaning behind them, with the hope and goal of worshipping our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

O come, let us adore Him,

O come, let us adore Him,

O come, let us adore Him,

Christ the Lord.

 

We’ll give Him all the glory,

We’ll give Him all the glory,

We’ll give Him all the glory,

Christ the Lord.

 

For He alone is worthy,

For He alone is worthy,

For He alone is worthy,

Christ the Lord.

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Called To Be Sheep!

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By Bill Naron

Image courtesy University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

The other night, my wife and I began talking, and not just small talk. We were talking about the topic of service. I know, so typical, let’s talk about service the week going into Thanksgiving. Well, give me just a few moments to be super cliché. So, back to my wife (Sam) and my discussion, which went super late into the night. We talked about what it may look like to begin to try to infuse attitudes of service into the fabric of our family. So, wouldn’t you know that after this conversation my biblical character calendar would be talking about hospitality/service, and I would stumble upon a story in one of my favorite blogs about a family who began serving together. I just have not been able to stop thinking about this topic!

Mark 10:45 (KJV) says, “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” It says that Jesus Himself came to this earth to minister, or serve. He did not need to be served, but was sent to us to serve us people who were not worthy, people who were undeserving. He came to meet us in the place that we were in, no matter where that was. This makes me think of how every morning I drive down Portland Avenue, and it comes to a point where the road goes under an overpass of I-5. At this point, at any given point in time, there are numerous homeless people, and it just seems that more and more are filling the area day after day.

As a passionate follower of Jesus who desires to grow and change to be more and more like my Father and less like the world, I believe we must pull back the curtains and examine our hearts. I get the hindrances; there is just not enough time—we have soccer, piano, violin, and the list go on. Maybe we just do not feel called to do so, it is not in our ability, or maybe we feel it poses a lot of risk and danger. But Jesus Himself says that even He did not come to be served but to serve. And 1 Peter 4:10 says that with the gifts we received we should serve others.

If I am a passionate follower of Jesus, serving those around me is my calling, serving those in need is in my abilities, meeting people where they are at and serving and giving is something that is commanded of me! For Sam and me, the discussion has been, What would be a practical application of serving and a way that we can speak this core piece of the gospel to those around us? I believe that this is what needs to be done, especially if you have a family with small children. Find simple, practical things that can be done, such as making up care bags to keep in your car to give to those in need as you cross paths with them.

The next thing that was a huge epiphany for me was that I need to be willing to help and give to anyone who expresses a need, not expecting anything in return. It means that homeless guy on the side of the road. It does not matter what he does with what I give him; what matters is my heart in giving it to him. We are called to give and to serve and to not worry about receiving thanks or about whether they are really in need of it or not. Jesus served us, and we did not do anything to deserve it, and by that He set the example for how we are to serve.

In Matthew it talks about the Father separating the sheep from the goats in the end; He says to the sheep that when He was hungry, they fed Him, and when He was naked, they clothed Him, and when He was a stranger, they took Him in. To the goats He says to depart away from Him, for they did not do these things. And when the righteous asked when they had seen Him in these states, He said that what was done to the least of his brothers was done also to Him.

The challenge I see before us is this: if we view people through the eyes of a loving and caring Savior, then whatever service we do unto them, we are also doing unto Him, out of obedience to Him, and out of an abundance of love for our Father. So, the question is, Are we going to be sheep or are we going to be goats?

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One Dark Day in Texas

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By Larry Short
You may not recognize this wonderful couple, but they are your brother and sister in Christ, Bryan and Karla Holcombe. They and seven other members of their immediate family lost their lives Sunday in the mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs.

 

Joe and Claryce Holcombe are retired schoolteachers, now in their 80s, and are living in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Sunday they hosted a prayer meeting of nearby pastors and churchgoers at their home as they awaited details about the tragic shooting at the First Baptist Church nearby.

The news wasn’t good. The Holcombes’ only son, Bryan, was Associate Pastor there and was filling in for the church’s pastor that fateful day. As he walked up onto the stage to lead worship, a deranged gunman named Devin Kelley burst into the church sanctuary and began spraying automatic-weapon fire.

Bryan was killed, along with 26 other members of the small congregation. One of them was Bryan’s wife, the Holcombes’ daughter-in-law, Karla. The couple had been married nearly 40 years.

And the bad news didn’t end there. Bryan and Karla had two children (the Holcombes’ grandchildren), Marc Daniel and John. Marc Daniel was also killed. John, who was recording the service from the back, took shrapnel to the leg but survived.

But John’s wife, Crystal—who was pregnant with their sixth child—also died in the hail of bullets, along with her unborn child.

John and Crystal’s other five children were also in the service. Three of them—Emily, Megan, and Greg—were killed in the spree.

Marc Daniel and his wife had one child, Joe and Claryce’s sixth great-grandchild, one-year-old Noah. She, too, was killed in the gunfire, alongside her dad.

Joe and Claryce, a couple who love and trust the Lord, lost nine members of their immediate family in Sunday’s massacre: their only child and his wife; a grandson and the wife of another grandson; and five great-grandchildren, including one yet to be born.

The “family tree” below dramatically illustrates what I have just shared.

The enormity of Joe and Claryce’s loss is truly difficult, if not impossible, to grasp. I was therefore very interested to read what this couple—living a nightmare reminiscent of the heartbreaking tragedy that befell Job’s family thousands of years ago—had to share about their personal loss and tragedy.

“It’s of course going to be difficult,” Joe Holcombe said about the days ahead, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune.

But he said, “we are Christians, we have read the book. We know the ending, and it’s good.

“They’re in heaven,” he added. “And they’re a lot better off than we are.”

It Could Happen Here

As I reflected on this tragedy, I was confronted with the stark reality that something like this could easily happen in our own church. The First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs was really no different than we are, and only slightly smaller. They are a church where people learned about Jesus together, worshipped the Lord together, and simply lived life together, much as we do. None of them could have ever foreseen or anticipated the seemingly random violence that would tear through their congregation on this particular Sunday in November.

So, what should our response to all this be? Should we stay home, cower in fear?

Absolutely not! Like the Holcombes, we are Christian. We have read the book. We know how the story ends!

And we also know the Author of the book. He is the one who has told us, “Do not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another; and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” And, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”

We are called to be the light of the world, a city on a hill, shining God’s glory for all the world to see. And the world is seeing that glory, today, shining through the lives of people such as Joe and Claryce Holcombe and their surviving family members, who have suffered such unspeakable loss but still choose to trust God regardless.

They are truly our brothers and sisters, and we must pray for them—and for one another—during these dark days. For, as the author of Hebrews says, another Day is drawing near!

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The Ordinary Things

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By Brian Waple

As I sit here pondering what I’m going to write, it occurred to me that it is in the ordinary things that we find God. Now, this is not to say that God isn’t present in the spectacular and majestic and extraordinary—He most certainly is. But, as we go through our days, as routine as they are, we have opportunities to see God working. And we have the privilege of joining Him in those things, being present to what He is doing, and being a part of the blessing that comes from Him. And when we think about that, shouldn’t we be thankful?

I was having breakfast with my son the other day. We talked about some pretty nasty events going on in the world and how things seem to be verging on the chaotic and hopeless. As we were speaking, I was reminded that God is in all of that, the good and the bad, just as He is present in our conversation. And then it dawned on me like a lightbulb turning on—be thankful. Be thankful for the opportunity to spend the morning with my son and speak with him of things secular and spiritual; be thankful that he has a good, reliable car and is willing to do all the driving around Seattle on a wet Saturday morning (Praise God for that!); be thankful that he is happy with his life and is able to take care of himself and is respected for what he does; be thankful that Cindy and I have a weekly opportunity to spend the day with our granddaughter and be a part of her growing and developing; be thankful that she has parents who love each other; be thankful that there is no strife in my immediate family and that we get along really well. And be thankful that God loves me so much that He has blessed me with an incredible wife who cares about me, looks after me, and is willing to spend the rest of her life with me.

These are things I normally take for granted—these ordinary, some would say insignificant, non-Facebook worthy things. But they are moments when God speaks to us in the ordinary and shows us how much He loves us and how much we really are blessed. And our attitude should be one of thanks. In his book The Voice of Jesus, Gordon T. Smith writes, “Gratitude is fundamental for the Christian believer because through thanksgiving we open our hearts to the Spirit of God” (p. 85). Wouldn’t it be a shame to close our hearts off to the generous blessings of the Spirit of God simply because we refuse to be grateful?

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NLT). During your day, take a moment to think about how God is being present to you and blessing you in the ordinary things. And then take some time to give thanks.

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The Gospel Message

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By Tom Chase

As I sit to write this week’s Last Word, I am struggling to put into words what I believe He would have me write. In part, because I believe the message is still being formed in me. God is stirring in me a newer and greater concern for the lost. He is doing it in the following ways:

First, the Men’s Bible study group has just completed its study of the Book of John. He’s a guy that was with Jesus. He witnessed His life, His person, His death, and His resurrection, and he was and is totally convinced that Jesus is the Savior of the World, the Son of God! John writes:

We have seen his glory,
the glory of the one and only Son,
who came from the Father,
full of grace and truth.

(John 1:14b)

Reading through John, it is hard to miss his intent to communicate the truth about Jesus and to give evidence about the One whom he has heard and seen and touch and examined. All these things he didn’t keep to himself, but shared so others (me and you) might be convinced too. He proclaims his purpose in writing:

But these are written that you may believe
that Jesus is the Messiah,
the Son of God,
and that by believing
you may have life in his name.

(John 20:31)

Wow! I want to be that kind of guy, too, because I have heard and seen and touch (maybe in different ways) and examined (historically and evidentially) and am convinced that Jesus is the Christ, my Savior, and the Savior of the world!

Second, Brian Shape shared with the elders a video clip from Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller, a group that professionally perform illusions and sleight-of-hand magic. Penn is also an atheist and an advocate for atheism. In the video a “Gift of a Bible,” Penn shares a story of a man who gives him a Bible. Penn appears to be genuinely moved by a person, a rational someone, willing to go out of his way to communicate what he really believes for the benefit of another. His point—and I believe he is right—is that if we really believe Jesus is the Savior of the world and that if it is missed and not accepted, one dies and goes to Hell, it becomes paramount to tell others about that reality. Penn’s says, “how much do you have to hate someone to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell someone.”


Penn’s message is incredibly sobering. It makes me stop and think, What is it that has stopped me in the past? Is it because of social awkwardness or how it would make me look or feel? Is it that I don’t want to be pushy? I will not keep sharing if someone does not want to hear, but that presupposes that I have started the conversation!

I should be talking about the most important thing in my life. I should be consistent to proclaim what is real and true, in a respectful and genuine way. Penn says that one nice guy won’t change his belief that there is no God, which makes me wonder, How many would it take? Then I wonder why the church, as a whole, has been so defensive and less communicative. I cannot tell everyone, but I should be telling (talking about my God) to those in my sphere of influence. The guy Penn describes in the video takes this a step farther and includes a performer from a show he (the believer guy) was incidentally involved in. Lord, make me bolder. Lord, make this true in me, that I would start conversations about You! That all that I have heard and seen and touched and examined and am convinced about You in my life would naturally flow out of me! Lord please make it so!

Third, a close-up view inside the foster care system in our state and our community has revealed a system filled with great hurt and dysfunction. Our system is overloaded and overwhelmed. The truth is that our system is overloaded and overwhelmed because our society is broken, reeling in hurt and dysfunction, and in desperate need of a Savior. We know Someone who can change the heart of man—His name is Jesus. We do have the answer! But to give that answer will require boldness, conviction, and willingness to get involved in the messiness of life with others. Have we been called to do that?

Then Jesus came to them [passionate followers of Him] and said,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Therefore go and make disciples [passionate followers of Him] of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

(Matthew 28:18-20)

So, the answer for me is yes! He has called me to do that.

What about you? If while reading this, you, too, have been challenged with a renewed desire to reach those around you, then allow the Lord to develop within you habits to reach those around you!

I know the words of the following song, “Forgiveness” by Michael West reference forgiveness, that is, forgiveness we extend to others.


The Gospel message (sharing Jesus), though, is all about forgiveness, too—restoring one’s relationship with God the Creator. Our call is to love someone enough to share this life-changing reality and forgiveness that could be theirs if heard and accepted. My prayer is something like this:

Show me how to love the unlovable
Show me how to reach the unreachable
Help me now to do the impossible
Forgiveness [extended by Jesus]
I finally want to set it free
Show me how to see what your mercy sees
Help me now to give what you gave to me
Forgiveness [extended by Jesus]

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