Christmas: Grief … and joy

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By Larry Short

One of the many incongruities of Christmas is this: We sing “Joy to the World” and celebrate the birth of our Savior. But it is also, for many of us, a time of grief and sorrow … a reminder of painful personal losses.

I lost my dad, a few years back, on December 30. Darlene lost her teenage sister, Laurie, many years ago, a few days before Christmas. Many of you reading this, I know, have experienced similarly difficult losses at this time of year.

When we think of the birth of Christ, we envision angels singing Hallelujah! But what else was happening around that time? Think about Herod — seeking to kill the Messiah, and ordering the massacre of thousands of innocent babies in the process.

The arrival of the wise men, and the gifts that they bore, surely brought joy, we think. Gold and frankincense? No problem. But myrrh? An embalming spice, which releases its fragrance when crushed. If I were Joseph, I think I just might have put that third wise man’s gift right back on his camel, with a quick: “Thanks, but no thanks!”

Now think about the words of Simeon, as recorded in Luke 2, who was moved by the Spirit to prophecy to Mary and Joseph when Jesus was consecrated in the Temple at a tender age:

30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,

31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:

32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

and the glory of your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Mary and Joseph must have thought: Okay, Simeon, you should have stopped at “the glory of your people Israel.” Why did you have to go on and say that part about the sword, piercing your own soul? Merry Christmas.

Thus is the human condition: Joy … and sorrow. Life … and death.

Or perhaps I have that in the reverse order. Simeon said “falling … and rising” … because of the birth of our Savior! There’s the grave … and THEN the victory over the grave. The crucifixion … and THEN the resurrection.

It’s Friday … but Sunday’s a comin’!

As my Christmas gift to you, I’d like to leave you with one of my favorite “newer” Christmas songs (not quite a carol yet), which embodies this Christmas conundrum of joy and sorrow: “Joseph’s Lullaby,” by Mercy Me. This YouTube video sets its words against poignant scenes from the movies “The Nativity Story” and “The Passion of the Christ” (difficult to watch … but well illustrative of both the joy and the pain that is wrapped up in this thing we call Christmas).

Merry Christmas!

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Count your blessings

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by Gordy McCoy

Welcome to the McCoy Home. In our dining room is a maple table that was bought in 1971 for our first anniversary. On the center of the table is a beautiful glass jar with several pieces of paper in it. Written on each is either an answer to prayer or a particular blessing. We want to pay attention to what God is doing, thank Him and praise Him for all He is to us. We want to realize His loving provision and His tender care.

Like many others, things have been a little rough for us emotionally and financially, so we decided to focus on the positive things happening in our lives. We needed to watch and see the different ways God was helping us and showing He cares. This is helping us so much.

At first, we were writing His blessings on a tablet. The first week we had 3 pages full. Not because we are blessed more than anyone else, but that we were taking time to notice the details, the not so little things He does. Like the old Sunday School song,

COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS,

NAME THEM ONE BY ONE,

COUNT YOUR MANY BLESSINGS,

SEE WHAT GOD HAS DONE!

A few of our recent blessings:

  • Capri’s adoption anniversary date December 12 … remember how we felt: the relief, the joy, the thankfulness!
  • 40 lbs. of free chicken … He is our provider!
  • Good news at Gordy’s doctor appointment: the blood clots are going away, his blood levels are normal, no more Coumadin, no more surgery because leg is healing well. He is our Healer and Great Physician!

Our beautiful blessing jar came from our new friend at church, Chol. When Linda unwrapped it on Sunday she knew what we would use it for. Chol bought it and wrapped our gift, but we know ultimately Who it was from. We thanked them both.

So yesterday, we brought our oldest granddaughter back to her house after taking her for a gourmet meal at McDonald’s, and Jack was skyping with our daughter in Kansas. We are all talking with her cute little family and she texted Linda. Linda screams with joy because on her phone it says, “Mom, I’m pregnant!!!!!” Wow, God sometimes we are utterly amazed by Your overwhelming generosity of Your grace, mercy and love.

So right now, it is 3:00 in the morning, God prompted me to get up and write this for the Last Word. I had already wrote something else but this is what He wanted me to share.

Another blessing. Thanks, God.

So, count your blessings, name them one by one, count your many blessings and see what God has done. Share them with someone and see how your blessings may be a blessing to someone else.

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Let’s take a risk … so please read

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by Martin Schlomer

Have you ever sensed God leading you to break out of your comfort zone, to take a risk that might make you feel a little uncomfortable? I have had the growing sense for the past month that God would have us, as a church, take such a risk.

As you know, Christmas falls on a Sunday this year. A few weeks ago, I ran an idea by the Elders and the Stewardship Team that felt uncomfortable and risky. Out of this idea came the following proposal to the Elder Board: We would take the Christmas offering as usual; however, half of it would go to meet the regular (budgeted) needs of the Body, and the other half would go to meet the special (unbudgeted) benevolence needs of Christ’s Body at Elim.

You may ask, “Why does this feel risky?” Elim has experienced incredible growth this past year. This has stretched our budget and financial resources. While everyone has pulled together and we have not only met the budget but have also exceeded it, expenses have also kept pace with the income and thus exceeded the budget as well.

While our financial position is decent, our needs will continue to grow in the new year. Yet despite these needs, the Elders passed this proposal unanimously.

The Christmas season is always a time to celebrate God’s lavish sacrifice to meet our enormous need, by sending and sacrificing His Son! Experiencing His gift must surely move our hearts to become like the heart of the poor widow in Mark 12:41-44.

I can’t think of a better way of celebrating God’s gift and sacrifice than by being generous toward others! As you prepare for this special Sunday, please ask our Father what He would have you give, and come ready to celebrate what God is doing in our midst!

God’s richest blessings to you in this holy season …

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Black Friday and the budget

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by Dan Amos

On Thanksgiving night the attention for many turned to the Black Friday sales. I looked through the ads and saw lots of bright, shiny things I would like to have, but prudence reminded me I can’t spend what I don’t have.

Prudence also guided development of Elim’s 2012 budget which we will vote on this Sunday. We serve the infinite God who has every resource at his command. He has the entirety of creation under his personal attention and care. That is, He sees both the forest and the trees; he sees the big picture yet is active in the tiniest detail. But in this life, He has chosen for us to serve him in more focused and resource-limited ways.

The Elder Board, Staff, Ministry Directors and Stewardship Team each year go through an exercise balancing faith and wise stewardship of the resources we expect to have available to further the ministry of the Church through the local body at Elim. A lot of people have spent a lot of time in preparation, prayer, and discernment of the strategic direction of Elim and this is reflected in the budget. This is most evident in the Holistic Outreach part of the budget. The entirety of projected spending to spread the Gospel of Christ in word and deed won’t be found in just one designated section. Our commitment to discipleship is found in every section, such as AWANA in Children’s Ministries, MOPS in Adult Ministries, and significantly in personnel with the addition of an internship for Holistic Outreach.

Previously we had contracted out leadership of local compassion ministries (through support to Bill Bowers) but our involvement has grown beyond that level. We need someone who can devote regular, concentrated time to directing and leading Elim’s people in spreading the Good News to South Hill and beyond. We expect to propose for 2013 for the internship to be expanded to a full-time staff position. This will continue the expansion of our efforts to involve everyone in the Great Commission.

These are bold plans, but the message is life to those who don’t have it.

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