The Bread of Life Never Grows Stale

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AdventBy Cindy Waple  

The Bread of Life never grows stale. I saw this recently on a church sign and thought what a wonderful message for the Advent season. Advent, which means “coming,” is the season of preparation to celebrate Jesus’s birth, in whom all of God’s promises are fulfilled. In addition, it is a time to celebrate Christ’s coming into our own lives as our Savior and Lord and to prepare and await His second coming.

Advent is like an icebreaker—those large ships built to cut through the ice on the frozen Arctic waters. Advent breaks through the onslaught of the economic-driven and worldly messages of Christmas that promise happiness by receiving the right gifts being offered now at the lowest prices of the season. Advent also breaks through the familiarity and rote traditions, bringing a new and fresh vision of God’s faithfulness. Advent breaks through empty messages and unrealistic expectations of a Pinterest-perfect Christmas with the enduring truth that the sovereign, holy, almighty God of the universe, our Creator, because of His immeasurable love for us, took on the form of man and came to dwell among us—Emmanuel, God-with-us. Advent invites each one of us to step out of the holiday-prep-merry-go-round and take time to stop and pause, to consider afresh with eager expectation the gift of Christ.

Here are a few ideas and practices that Brian and I engage in during Advent. First, be intentional and make space for God and those opportunities that are energizing and life-giving, not life-draining. Try to under-schedule your time this season, rather than over-scheduling. Take time for Advent devotions and perhaps schedule a half-day (or full-day) retreat. A friend and I did this recently using a guided Advent-retreat resource. It was a wonderful time of rest and perspective shaping as we worshipped, prayed, read Scripture, and spent time in silence, listening and reflecting. This is a great way to slow down and cherish the Good News of Christmas.

Second, I have been captivated by the idea of “one thing.” During this season of many lists—to do lists, wish lists, gift lists, and so on—I am encouraged by David in Psalm 27:4, where he writes: One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in his temple. There was only one thing David wanted—to be with the Lord and enjoy the beauty of His presence. What if that was the only thing on all our lists? Or what if that was the first thing on our lists? I wonder how long (or possibly short) our lists would be if that was our primary focus.

Lastly, the greatest way to enter into Advent, to prepare our hearts, to break through the hype and ward off staleness, is to consider Christ Himself. What do you really need the most this Christmas? What is going on in your heart?

  • Are you struggling, disappointed, or tired of the trials and the hardness of life? Isaiah 61 reminds us that Christ “comforts the brokenhearted.”
  • Are you grieving a loss—loss of a loved one, a job, health, or a relationship, or a loss that comes from change and transition? Jesus promises a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair (Isaiah 61:3).
  • Is your hope diminished because of unanswered prayers for healing, for prodigals, nagging sin, the lack of transformed lives? In Christ, we have been born into a living hope (1 Peter 1:3). He is our sure and steadfast anchor (Hebrews 6:19).
  • Are you tired and weary? Christ is our Strength, our Refuge, our Rock (Psalm 62:5-8).
  • Are you in need of peace? He is our Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).
  • Are you in need of love? His love for us is inexhaustible. (Ephesians 3:17-18).

This is a list that, thankfully, goes on and on. Here is the truth—whatever your deepest and greatest need, it is found only in Christ.

In a few weeks, the tree and lights will come down, the credit card bills will begin to arrive, and the gym will be overly crowded for a week or two as we try to hold to our resolution to finally lose weight. Christmas will be over, but the truth of Christ will not. We have Him and His promises into eternity. With our focus on the one thing, the only thing that is necessary (Luke 10:42), the Bread of Life will never grow stale. This Advent season, may your heart be renewed and refreshed as you ponder the good news of Christ, and “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit Romans 15:13.

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Freedom in Christ

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by Cindy Waple

This week we paused to celebrate Independence Day. It is on this day we are reminded that the freedoms we enjoy as citizens of the United States were gained for us during the Revolutionary War and continue to be secured for us by the men and women serving in the military today.

We, as Americans, do enjoy great freedoms including the right to openly practice our Christian faith. One only needs to listen to the news to know that this freedom is not experienced by Christians throughout the world – there are many countries where openly proclaiming the name of Jesus and/or the Gospel will result in excommunication from family, imprisonment and even death.  We must never take for granted our freedom nor forget it came only at great cost and sacrifice.

But, as Christian’s we enjoy a freedom that far exceeds our rights and privileges as Americans. As Christians we have a freedom that also came at a great cost and sacrifice. However, this freedom was not born out of the ideology of men but rather out of love – the love God has for each of us.

Paul writes, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. (Galatians 5:1, 13 NIV).

It is important that we understand exactly what we are free from. First and foremost, I am free from the penalty of sin. I live knowing that I am fully forgiven and accepted by God and that my future is secured and sealed in Christ. That is the truth and joy of the Gospel.

However, our freedom in Christ is not just for the future – it also has implications for today. For in addition to being free from the penalty of sin, we are also free from fear, worry, pride, jealousy and envy. We are free from the need for acceptance and the praise of men and women; we are free from the need for success, power and even perfection.  We are free from everything and anything that keeps us from loving God and living fully in the abundant life that is ours in Christ.

How do we live in this freedom? We begin with a simple prayer of desire –  Lord, You created me to live in freedom. May Your Holy Spirit guide me to follow You freely.  Instill in my heart a desire to know, love and trust You more each day. Amen.

Happy Independence Day – today and every day after!

 

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Assimilation

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by Cindy Waple

Assimilation:

The Difference Between Attending and Belonging

Assimilation may be a big word, but it simply means successfully integrating people into a new environment. For Elim, “assimilation” means welcoming newcomers with the love of Christ and providing a process to become active members of our community — where they can know God, grow with others in Christ and go and serve South Hill and beyond.

As the Strategic Planning Team discerned our five strategic objectives for the next 1-5 years (communication, assimilation, spiritual transformation, community, and holistic outreach), we affirmed the importance of making every visitor feel welcome and having a process in place where newcomers can move from simply attending Elim to actually belonging as vital, functioning members of our community. This process includes not just greeting, but following up with visitors; introducing them to leadership at Elim and providing opportunities to learn about Elim’s vision and mission; assessing spiritual gifting and strengths; helping them join small group communities where they can continue to grow in Christ; and facilitating them serving in ministries that are in line with their gifting and calling.

For visitors who have not received Christ, we want to provide every opportunity for them not just to hear the Gospel and learn about Christ, but also to experience His love and grace through the body at Elim.

Much of what happens around assimilation is already taking place within Elim: visitors are greeted and engaged by the leaders and members as well as invited to small groups, Bible studies, Pulse, etc. However, the assimilation ministry will provide an intentional process to engage visitors and newcomers, ensuring that every visitor receives a proper welcome.

Mark and Barb McCullough have graciously agreed to lead this important ministry and are looking for those who would like to join them as this ministry forms. If you feel called to this ministry we invite you to contact Mark and Barb.

We are excited about the assimilation ministry that is forming! However, it is important to note that each of us has a role to play. We all have the responsibility of welcoming visitors when we see them on Sunday morning, and reaching out to them, perhaps even inviting them to your small group or Bible study. As we share Christ’s love with newcomers and welcome them into the community at Elim, not only will we see lives touched and transformed by God’s Spirit, but we also will be transformed.

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