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DON’T FORGET TO BRING IN YOUR ORNAMENTS THIS SUNDAY FOR OUR VSCC FAMILY CHRISTMAS TREE

 

2 VERSIONS OF THE CHRISTMAS STORY

 

 

Version 1: Jesus brings us good stuff like Santa

Version 2: Jesus offers us new life through the Holy Spirit

 

Let’s start by taking a look at the characteristics of each.

 

Version 1: Jesus is like Santa

>Jesus is born in a manger in a stable surrounded by his parents and some animals … with shepherds and Magi as special guests.

> We discover that Jesus is also the Messiah, the Christ.

> We are glad because finally someone will forgive us our sins.

> We are also glad because Jesus serves as our mediator between us and his often angry & judgmental Father (God).

> We are also glad because Jesus will be our own pathway to heaven.

> And, we are content with this rather secular and limited description of our new religious leader.

> Can we open Santa’s presents now?

 

Version 2: Jesus is God, and brings to us the Holy Spirit

> The birth of the Christ in Bethlehem offers us the opportunity to give “birth” to Him in our own hearts.

> Jesus has come to liberate us from our bondage to material things and worldly ways.

> Jesus is born to show us more fully the ways of our God, so that we will not be confused or misled.

> Jesus’s birth shows us the true Goodness of God, who holds all the wisdom and truth in the universe.

> God came to be born on earth to demonstrate that God doesn’t just live outside of us as a human being, but more importantly, Jesus lives within each of us, and we can never be separated from God.

> The babe in the manger proves that God is always just, and always unconditionally loving and forgiving.

> And, through Jesus, we come to believe that God is the one and only true god, and is the creator of all things, no exceptions.

 

Neither of these versions is necessarily bad or wrong in themselves. But what a difference it makes in your life, and the lives of your loved ones, when you can expand your Christmas celebration of the birth of Jesus to incorporate the Spiritual Reality of Who God is, and what God has actually done for us with the birth of Jesus.

 

Many Christians still worship Jesus at Christmas as if Jesus was kinda like Santa (Version 1). If you’re one of those, then this Christmas is the time to stretch your perspective of what God has done and come to realize that Jesus didn’t come just to bring us some good stuff (forgiveness, salvation, a savior, etc.), but God came to us as Jesus to rescue us from ourselves and give us the freedom to be our true selves, as limited and fallible as we are.  

 

If you still have doubts, come to Bethlehem this year and see what God has done to save us and the world we live in.

 

Advent Blessings to All!

Meet me in Bethlehem,

Pastor Bob <><

 

  

 

 

 

 


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HELP DECK THE VSCC FAMILY CHRISTMAS TREE

Dear Vine Street Christian Church Family,

 

The tree decorating season has come to our church, and we are creating our own church family Christmas tree.  

The Worship Team invites ALL of our VSCC family and friends to bring a personal favorite or a special family ornament. Or, make an ornament during worship, Or, just bring in a used French fry bag. It won’t matter. Be creative. Or not.

It’s going to look great on our tree.

Bring your ornament(s) starting this Sunday!

And YES, you will get yours back, starting Dec. 26th.

  Reflections on Christmas Trees:

Have you noticed the beautiful Christmas tree in our Sanctuary? It’s up in the overflow space, or what we are beginning to call, “the heavenly loft.” I love where it stands; in the front corner of the loft, serving as a bridge of light connecting the loft and the lower pews. But most of all, I love how it reflects so brightly on our prayer wall. It’s a beautiful sight!

 Our VSCC Family Christmas tree resembles, a bit, the “Charley Brown” Christmas tree featured above. Remember how that tree in the picture started out? A tiny twig. And now look what it has become today. And especially notice those around the tree. Folks – that’s a happy group of people. Indeed, I think it’s beyond happy. That is what Joy looks like.

 You see, a true “Christmas” tree is a lot more than just a decorated tree (real or not) with ornaments and lights. A Family Christmas Tree looks like that smile of pure satisfaction on Charlie Brown’s face. It sounds like a joyous chorus of peanuts singing in perfect harmony. And, for some mysterious reason, it has a Spirit that penetrates all in its range.

 And that would be the “Spirit of Christmas.” Can’t really put it in words. Hard to describe. Creates Joy in your heart. And, brings you closer to your Lord, who is just about ready to be born in your heart … if there is any room in your inn.

 O’ VSCC Family Christmas Tree,

O’ VSCC Family Christmas Tree,

How brightly shines your Spirit.

 Happy Advent & Joyful Christmas

Pastor Bob <><

 


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NEVER LET GO OF “THE THREAD”

 

          One of my all-time favorite poems is William Stafford’s “The Way It Is.” I discovered this little gem in my life after I had made my commitment to follow Jesus. These words remind me that when I’m hanging by a thread, there’s only one thread I want to be clinging to – and that’s the hem of Jesus’s garment. And … by the way … and whether you know it or not … we’re always hanging by a thread!

           

Remember that great Gospel story about the woman who suffered for 12 years with bleeding. In Luke 8:43-48, after twelve years of suffering, this woman finds the gumption to make her way to Jesus, work her way through the crowd, desperately reach out her hand for something … anything … that might help her.

And her desperation and determination lead her to the hem of Jesus’s garment. The story tells us that as she touched the hem of His garment, Jesus felt power go out from Him, and the woman felt the power, instantly, go into her. Her healing began. She touched the thread of His garment, and her new life had begun.

 

I wonder what the thread that you’d never let go of would be. What is the one thing you cling to all the hours of your day – and all the days of your life? Is there one constant source of help you can count on every time? Who, or what, do you keep with you at all times, and never let go of?

Is your thread still of the world … or is it now of the Spirit? Have you yet surrendered your trust in yourself and your worldly things, and turned to God for your freedom?

It’s time to do that. This is Advent. A time of preparation, which gives all of us another chance to turn more of our life over to the One whose power is in that thread, on the hem, of His garment. Let Him be your thread. And no matter what happens … never let go of the thread.

 

“The Way It Is

 

There’s a thread you follow.                                                                 It goes among things that change.                                                          But it doesn’t change.

People wonder about what you are pursuing.

You have to explain about the thread.

But it is hard for others to see.

While you hold it you can’t get lost.

Tragedies happen; people get hurt

or die; and you suffer and get old.

Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.

You don’t ever let go of the thread.

 

~ William Stafford ~”

 

Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord!

And hold on to that thread!

Pastor Bob <><

 

 

 

 


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From Connected to Committed to Compelled

In his article titled, “Change a City; Take a Continent; Win the World,” Pastor Muriithi Wanjau (Pastor of Mavuno Church in Nairobi, Kenya) compares the challenge that churches face in “making disciples” to a popular side-dish in Kenya and Tanzania called “ugali.”

Ugali is a “starchy, polenta-like food” that goes by many names in African countries. In Zambia, it’s known as “nsima,” in South Africa it’s called “pap” and Zimbabweans call it “sadza.”

Pastor Wanjau says that there is no one right recipe for this dish. Any recipe you might come across is just one of the many ways this dish can be made.

Then he claims that the church can be the same way about making disciples. It seems that every place of worship has its own recipe. Here are some examples:

  • A church that sees the world as “ignorant” will focus on teaching and education.
  • A church that sees the world as sick and in need of deliverance will focus on counseling and healing.
  • A church that sees the world as evil will focus on separating itself from that world.
  • A church that sees the world as lost will focus on rescuing people from hell through personal salvation.
  • A church that sees the world as needy and hurting will focus on compassion.

I think we all can agree that each of these “callings” is valid and “good.” Wanjau’s concern is that sometimes the good can become the enemy of the “best.” So … what is the best?

He says that Jesus left us all with a calling that precedes any of these. The one true “all encompassing core-calling that Jesus left for His followers (is) to turn ordinary disciples into fearless world-changers.” And being a disciple of Christ, he reminds us, is our life’s work.

When we make this our own life’s work, then we move from a life of complacency to “a life of fullness and riches in His Kingdom.” How does this happen? Wanjau lays out a 3-step change process that emerging disciples will go through as the Holy Spirit transforms then into becoming an ambassador for Jesus in every single part of our lives.

As people (and churches) that are used to serving their own desires, discipleship will first teach us the power of community. Guess what – it’s not all about us! Being “connected” with other believers and seekers helps us see the world and God through different eyes from our own.

It’s an amazing part of the walk to discipleship to learn that wisdom about God is given to all people, and that we can only grow in our knowledge of God by being in community with people who have their own vision and experience of God. That is why we respect and honor all faith traditions and spiritual practices that lead to the one true God.

As one continues to grow in discipleship, one moves from connected to “committed.” Once we begin to follow and trust the power of the Holy Spirit, as will happen to us in our worship and our service, we begin to realize – in our own humility – that even folks like us can make a giant impact for God and God’s Kingdom.

The change happening within us is now undeniable and irreversible. God has claimed our heart just as we have claimed Jesus as our Lord. No turning back … No turning back.

Having caught the “vision” of what God is really wanting from us, we then move from being committed to being “compelled.” We are compelled to live for Christ, and we are compelled to share our own experience with God and others. We just can’t help it. It’s who we are now! And, each of us has our own way of walking that path, but always submitting to the Spirit of Christ.

It’s at this point when all the earthly labels we wear, based on all our roles and responsibilities in life, become secondary to the one goal of identifying ourselves as followers of Jesus. It’s now that we can say, “I live for Christ and Christ alone.”

Without broad proclamations or even personal intentions, we begin to be molded by Christ into change agents. Do you see yourself as a change agent yet?

First, we begin to change, and then it spreads: our church changes; our families change; our neighborhoods change; our schools change; our town changes; and we find that we are living in the stream of change that is the coming of God’s Kingdom. And that is a stream of great peace and joy.  

That’s how the world gets changed for Christ! And we are all a part of that. No longer do we believe that God created us to “be born; grow up; make money; and then die.”

God has so much more for us that that! Wanjau says that we “are born to be fearless;” and born to be “world-changers” – 2 things we could never be without God.  

So, whether we know it or not (and many do not), we are here to change the world; one person … one church … one family … one neighborhood …. and one town at a time.

I’d say that the Vine Street church family is well on its way to changing the world. Wouldn’t you? If you don’t feel a part of that yet, let it begin with you … and Jesus. There is only one “Way,” and the path is narrow, and the climb is steep. But “Oh My God!” – the view is unbelievable!

 

Many blessings along the path,

Pastor Bob <><

 


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ORIGINAL GOODNESS BEATS ORIGINAL SIN EVERY TIME!

A couple weeks ago in my Sunday message, I recited the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. For Jesus’ audience on that day, this news that they were blessed was indeed “Good News” to their ears … and to their hearts.

It was probably the first time many of them had even considered that they might be blessed by God. Imagine that! No … seriously … imagine what your life would be like without knowing that you are valuable to God, that God loves you and that God forgives you. I can’t even imagine.

Richard Rohr’s theme this week for his daily email devotionals is “The Shadow of Original Sin.” In them, he has reminded me of how much the Beatitudes reveal the radical and earth-shattering truth that God is both the creator of all and the personal healer and savior of all.

As the words of the Beatitudes come out of Jesus’ mouth, they dispose of the long-held and heretical belief that God favors some over others; or that God’s love must be earned; or that God punishes us and might send us to hell. The Beatitudes counter all that “judgmental and punishing God” malarky, and instead tells us: “God loves you” just as you are. It’s called “Amazing Grace.” And because of it, you too are blessed.

There are many that still believe, ultimately, we are a cursed people. But Rohr sees it differently; he contends that God’s “Original Goodness” toward us, by creating us in the image of God, is far more powerful than original sin. Holding that we are “fallen” and broken people driven by our sinful nature, misses the truth that we are all blessed and loved beyond our imaginations, and God will never leave us or forsake us. Eternally.

Yes — the reality of our human existence includes our “fallen” and sinful nature. It comes from our own self-will. And it can be the primary influence in how we live our lives. We all know the truth of this statement.

But Good News! There is more to the story … just like there always is with God. God knew each one of us before we ever put on human skin, much less acquired our sinful nature. And it’s like God knew that we would need a power stronger than our own to overcome our sin. And so, God, in all God’s wisdom, created each one of us “in his image.”

With the image of God within us, we now have access to a power that redeems us of our sinful nature. God doesn’t eliminate our self-will, after all, who would we be without the me. But God brought a remedy for sin to earth. A man complete in himself, but also fully divine. God in the form of a man. The Son of God.

I personally experienced the unconditional redeeming love of Jesus as it battled and brought down sin within me that had grown to such an extent that only God, and God’s angels, could save me. As soon as I realized that only God could help me, I surrendered, and once again, God’s love won. It happens every time.

I still sin. Every day. But with Christ in my heart and the “original goodness” from God in my soul, sin will never beat me. Sin will never win. And that’s true for each and every person. We may not be able to eliminate our sin, but we can defeat it on a daily, or hourly, basis.

So that’s my case to you this week. Not only am I blessed by God and held in his hands forever, but so are you. God’s blessings are for everyone. And if you are suffering, or poor, or sick, or in pain, or hurting … or just plain old “missing something,” then you are especially blessed. And God is ready to show you how blessed you are … today … just ask Him.

In His Name, I am

Pastor Bob <><


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BROTHER PAUL’S HAIKU

As I have kept seeking spiritually, poetry has become increasingly important and inspiring for me. I often find myself these days with a book of poetry in my hand. Trust me … it wasn’t always that way. But today it is. I even have some “signature” poems that I like so much I have adopted them for myself. Three of these are “The Woodcarver” by Chuang Tzu; “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry; and, “Snow Geese” by Mary Oliver. Feel free to “Google” them and let me know what you think.  

But, by far, my favorite Haiku poet is my friend, Brother Paul Quenon, a monk at the Abbey of Gethsemane. Paul meddles in many things; photography, making soup, singing in church, traveling outside the Abbey, and a variety of other useful and/or odd hobbies for a monk. I love to read and mediate on his Haiku, and he has published several books of poetry.

Below are some of my favorite Haiku poems by Brother Paul that I want to share with you. The first one was written at the end of an email I received by Paul. He mentioned that he was working on a new book of poetry and photographs, so I guess he wanted to try one out on me. I loved it instantly. I’ve never forgot it. Though I have never seen it published, I cherish it as I do the Gospel itself. I call it “Love Crazy Jesus” because that’s the first line, and because it’s the truth. Jesus is love crazy! I hope you like it too! And the others. 

So, take a little time in quiet … Explore the poems below … and see which ones speak to you in your heart. And then … listen to them again … closely.

 

Love crazy Jesus

Look who he chose for his friends

Me, You, and Judas

 

With big, white flashlight

moon is walking its night-rounds

asking: who are you?

 

After long rainfall

Leftover music dribbles

Dancing on puddles

 

Boy with camera

Shoots at the moon, wants moon tucked

snug in his pocket

 

Memory of our bull —

How he let me rub his eyes

Between us a sweet trust

 

I’ve nothing to do

So I’ll get down to nothing

Expeditiously

 

Grandmother’s house odors:

linoleum, iron, dry lace

cooking gas, roast beef

 

A solo cricket

plays his one-stringed violin —

stroke, pause, stroke, pause, pause

 

Robin keeps chuckling

at that story he found so

wickedly funny

 

Loopy night friends flit,

circle my desk lamp – mad moths,

imps and fairies all

 

Smart Mockingbird learned

to mimic my alarm clock

Woke me twice last night

 

 

It’s not a weed.

It’s a misplaced plant, he said

Let’s leave it misplaced

 

Peace came to my door

Without luggage or sandals

With just its name — peace

 

“Narrow is the way”

How narrow? Tight as the vent

babes squeeze through at birth

 

All of Brother Paul’s poems above, except for ‘Love Crazy Jesus,” are found in the book, “The Art of Pausing: Meditations for the Overworked and Overwhelmed” by Brother Paul Quenon, Judith Valente and Michael Bever.

Enjoy some serenity along the path,                                                                                                                                                Pastor Bob <><

 


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