by Faith Parker
“Joy to the world the Lord has come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And Heaven and nature sing”
This beloved Christmas carol, by Isaac Watts, is based on Psalm 98. It is an exuberant, all creation rollicking Hallelujah for the coming salvation of the LORD. God has remembered us and the world is rocking with delight!
As delightful as the carol is, the joyful words can feel distant to our experience. There is often energy in the holidays, but not necessarily joy. Life spins into lists of must dos with not a space to spare. Perhaps that is why the third line in the stanza stands out. “Let every heart prepare Him room.” This is the one thing, which necessarily precedes singing with joy.
How does one make room for Christ? How can a space be made where there is not space for one more thing? Humbly. There can be no joyous reception if the room is already occupied. Pride has no room for another. It is too busy with its own inflated concerns, but humility gives way.
by Mark Willey
I am really excited about a new sermon series on the promises of God , that will run most Sundays from October thru January.
Called “The Key of Promise”, the series takes its name from an event in Pilgrim’s Progress. Christian and Hopeful are thrown into the dungeon of Doubting Castle. For four days they are brutally beaten by the cruel lord of the castle, Giant Despair.
On the eve of their execution, Christian remembers a key. In his exhausted weakness he exclaims, “What a fool I am, to lie in a stinking Dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty. I have a Key in my pocket called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, open any Lock in Doubting Castle.” The key works! And the two pilgrims escape the horrors of imprisonment to Doubting Castle and Giant Despair.
God’s promises are His means of delivering us from the darkness of our fear, worry, self hatred, rejection, and a multitude of other struggles that land us in the prison cell of despair and doubt.
This series focuses on some of the great promises of God to his people. They bring us hope and inspire our faith. We will repeatedly see two things that enable you to endorse these promises in your life.
Written by Mark Willey
You hear it all the time. “No worries”. A gracious response to you when your mess up was at someone else’s expense. How lovely it would be if our lives could be lived in this mantra, “NO worries”. But, then life hits. So, when Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:5-7), it is an attention getter. He reminds us…
The blizzard hit on Sunday morning. A lone farmer showed up at church. The young pastor prepared to close up for the day. But, the farmer replied, “If I bring out my load of feed to the hogs, and only one hog shows up, I still feed the one that makes the effort”. So, the pastor preached to his lone congregant. The pastor found himself preaching with great liberty. Flying in rarified heights of oratorical glory, he ended up preaching well past his normal sermon time. Somewhat sheepishly, he noted the clock on the wall and hurried to say goodbye to the farmer. The farmer replied, “Pastor, I would feed that one hog. But, I would not feel the need to dump the whole durn load!!”
There are times when we need to heed the farmer’s advice. We can dump too much. We have truth to share. Truth about God. Truth about a person’s issues. Truth about our read of a situation. We never want to be unwilling to “speak truth in love” (Ephesians 4:25). But, sometimes we need to hold on to our “truth”. How do you know when it is time to not dump the whole load?
Harold and I walk into an expansive fitness center. “Wow,” we say. Large signs – “Performance”, “Motivate”, “Achieve” – hang from the walls. Banners list the benefits of connecting with a personal trainer. On a wall-TV, experts recommend best routines for this “fitness journey.” My head swivels right to left and back to center.
One muscular manager steps out from behind the front desk and hands me a schedule of classes. He then confidently motions us to walk with him around the facilities. He proudly points out rows of earnest exercisers, every level, every age. I see a couple men pass each other and pause to talk. The manager pulls my attention back with his comments. “When you come in, you know what to expect. We’ll supply everything you need to accomplish your goals. Assessments. Group fitness classes...” As we walk past floor-to-ceiling glass, we see a group of glistening women stepping in synch. Music is pumping, and the coach shouts, “Hey, I didn’t design this to be easy. But it’s so worth it!” Our tour guide tells us, “Instructors will give you everything possible for the best outcome.” We next walk past a snack-bar – One man is gulping down an energy drink, and he nods at us. Our tour guide says, “We recommend these health drinks too. And have I mentioned our website and podcasts? Knowledge builds motivation, you know.” Okay, I’m impressed. Harold’s grinning and nodding. The manager next pulls out gym membership papers and hands Harold a pen…
“I hope the rain will stop!”
“I hope that my kids will behave this time.”
“I hope I finally get a promotion!”
“I hope that I’ll feel better soon.”
So what does “hope” mean in those statements? It seems that the speakers are dissatisfied with their current situation and “cherish a desire with anticipation” (that’s Merriam-Webster’s definition, by the way). In the musical “Annie”, Orphan Annie sang well about that kind of hope: “I just stick out my chin and say, Oh… Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you, tomorrow. You’re always a day away.” She hoped.
Now consider Fellowship Community Church’s mission statement: “We exist to be a community of hope in Christ.” As an affirmation of that statement, “Community of Hope” banners hang in our parking lot. Though they look nice, do you wonder what that phrase means? Could it simply be reworded, “We’re a bunch of discontented people”? I hope you laughed about my rewording just now, because “hope” in the Bible has a different, much more exciting, deeper, richer meaning. Merriam-Webster tells me that the “archaic” meaning of “hope” is trust. And check out the definition of “trust”: a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone. For those of us at Fellowship, that Someone is Christ. That’s not future hope. Not just Annie’s “I love you, tomorrow” hope. It’s right now. Today. This minute. And synonyms for this kind of hope? Confidence. Certainty. Assurance. Wow, I like that! With the first definition, we were left uncertain and chewing our fingernails. But with this second definition, hey, our shoulders go back, our smiles grow wide, and our hearts beat steady and firm. We stride into 2019… with hope!
Let’s now consider Fellowship’s vision statement: “Fellowship Community Church seeks to help build communities that experience hope in Jesus Christ and share that hope with our neighbors here and around the world.” How does this work? Consider FCC’s Living Nativity. Don’t you love it?! Hundreds of us – all volunteering in the middle of a hectic month – happily get involved, from set-up and decorations to parking lot to costumes to cookies to tour guides to golf-cart drivers to clean-up. Community. Men play prophets. Angels soar. Young shepherds collapse on the ground. Children run to Jesus. Loud-voiced guys try to control their boat during a storm. And disciples gaze up at Jesus who rises into the clouds. Meanwhile, someone (okay, lots of people) push those behind-the-scenes buttons, check the loud-speakers, and propel that angel choir into the sky. And bless those helpers who secretly bring us hot chocolate, hand-warmers, and food.
One heart. One mind. Lots of hands. Community. A community of hope in Christ.
While we are home in New Jersey on an unexpected furlough from our mission in Nicaragua, we were borrowing a car to get around. But then a very kind and generous person gave us a car, a 2004 PT Cruiser. Of course, then I had to get insurance for it. Sharon from Hardenburgh Insurance went the extra mile for us and got us a good rate even after having a “lapse” in coverage while we were away. (That’s not good for your insurance rating.)
A few weeks later, I got a letter from the insurance carrier that my premium went up because they found a violation on my record that I hadn’t reported! The letter said that I had gotten a speeding ticket in Virginia on September 2, 2016. I know I didn’t get a ticket! And I was in at language school in Costa Rica on that date! This is a testimony on my record that really don’t want nor deserve!
After weeks of trying to figure out how to clear my record of this obvious clerical error, Cassandra tells my son Nate of the situation. He says, “Oh yeah. I remember that. We went to visit Liberty University. On the way back, Dad made us stop at Appomattox. After that, he got a speeding ticket on the highway home. Dad told me not to tell anyone.” Wow! Bomb dropped. (We were at my in-law’s house and, presumably, I didn’t want him running in and making a big announcement about it as soon we walked in the door.)
Usually, getting stopped by the police with your son in the car would be a very memorable event, but I still don’t remember any details or circumstances about getting this ticket. I would deny with my dying breath that it ever happened.
I recognize that in just two words in the title of this article I may have already lost you. (The word “A” probably had small impact). “Reading” is already spooking some of you. “Plan” may be the final death blow.
I don’t feel particularly qualified to write this article. At best, I am a learner in developing and practicing a Reading Plan. But, the concept has been empowering to me. Many of you are trying to develop a Weekly plan, or an Exercise plan, or a Financial plan. Plans help keep us on target. They help get us back on track when we feel completely out of control. If you want to be a reader, a Reading Plan will help!
What is a Reading Plan?
It is just what it sounds like. Rather than flitting from random book to random book, you have a system - usually a list – to determine what you should read next. The plan could be specific titles (all of CS Lewis’ works) or a broader topic/genre (Civil War history, 25 Christian Classic books). A reading plan keeps you from stagnating, because you don’t know what to read next, or how to get started! It also keeps you from only reading the book that is right in front of you, which might be only because someone else read it.
You can certainly be reading other books. You could make every other book a just for fun book, and the other book part of your plan. Over the years, my reading plans have included: books on Abraham Lincoln, World War 2, English Puritan Classics, CS Lewis writings, Civil War Battles, Louis L’Amour Westerns, Early Church Writings, Biographies by Arnold Dallimore, Great Books on preaching, etc. But, I sprinkled in other books I had on my desired reading list, or just books that seemed to be fun reads. The Reading Plan is the foundation for your reading, but there is always space for the latest book that “everybody is reading!”.
Benefits of a Reading Plan
“Cannons to the left of them, cannons to the right of them, cannons in front of them, into the jaws of death rode the 600”. So begins Tennyson’s famous account of the “Charge of the Light Brigade” in the Crimean War. He was describing the heroic, yet costly attack of British calvary. The 600 rode thru a narrow valley, with Russian cannons smashing them from both sides.
Maybe you feel a little like those 600 riders. Life often feels dangerous. You don’t have to be horseback, on a battle field to feel threatened. There is enemy fire all the time for the Jesus follower. Warfare is real. And the ammo used is sometimes very damaging. Criticism, slander, ridicule, harshness can come from without, and inner voices hammer us with our own insufficiency, our lacks, ……cannons on the right, on the left, and right in front of you!
I want to encourage you with a Psalm written for such a time. King David writes to people in “times of trouble” (verse 9) in Psalm 9. He himself feels those troubles; “O Lord! See my affliction from those who hate me” (vs. 13). Psalm 9 highlights 3 steps we can take in the midst of hard times, when enemy attacks are real.
1. Recount God’s Blessings (vs. 1)
“I will recount Your wonderful deeds” David was surrounded by trouble. He was weary from being in charge, being strong for everyone else, being faithful in the countless roles he played. He was besieged by dissatisfied citizens, jealous associates and enemies, and rebellious kids. He could easily recite a list of reasons why he should be worried, tired, and irritable. But, he decides to “give thanks with my whole heart…. to recount all of Your wonderful deeds”(vs. 1). The word “recount” meant “to keep a tally, a running total”. Imagine how natural it would be for this tired leader to find reasons to be discouraged or angry. But, he determines to keep track of God’s “wonderful deeds” instead.
The most cheerful people are surely those who keep a running total of the good things. Some people seem to find that easier by a positive disposition. But, ultimately, for all of us, it takes practice. Keeping track of the blessings of God is learned behavior, taught at the feet of a God who wants us to see the “wonderful deeds” that He did today in our personal world. Did you see them? They were there! And they will be tomorrow!
2. Reflect on God’s Name (vv. 2-12)