It is one of our favorite gatherings of the whole year!
Our annual Candlelight Christmas Eve service will be at 6pm onTuesday, December 24. A quiet, reflective evening of eating Christmas cookies, singing some Christmas carols, special music, a memorable Christmas story for the kids, and a reminder of why this time of year is so special.
Pastor Craig shared this recap of his Sunday message in our series The Carols of Christmas.
Some things are fascinating by what isn’t said. For instance, in the Christmas carol It Came Upon A Midnight Clear there is something conspicuously missing.
One thing that isn’t missing is singing. Every one of the stanzas ends with a phrase about the angels singing. But can you spot what IS missing? I didn’t see it at first until I read this quote from respected music professor Dr. C. Michael Hawn: “This may be the only commonly sung Christmas carol in our hymnals that does not mention the birth of Christ!”
This carol just sort of assumes that we know why the angels are singing. But do we know?
The Bible tells us that the angels were singing at Creation and that they are still singing in Heaven for all of eternity (Job 38:4-7; Revelation 5:9-13; 7:9-12; 15:2-4). Then we have this glimpse of the angels singing when Jesus was incarnated as a human baby in Bethlehem (Luke 2:14). Where did they get their song and their inspiration to sing it?
Their song comes from the Choir Leader who is the King of kings. Jesus is singing in Heaven, before the throne of His Father, about the salvation that He brought to mankind through His incarnation, sinless life, death on Calvary, and resurrection from the grave (see Hebrews 2:9-12).
The song that Jesus sings tells the story of how He came to earth just like us—made a little lower than the angels—so that He might taste sin and death and conquer them for us. Now as our victorious Savior, He is not ashamed to call those who put their faith in Him His brothers and sisters.
Now perhaps you see why angels are also singing all the time!
Even today there is a lot of singing around the Christmas season, but there is something missing in most of the songs: a focus on what Christmas really means. The world’s songs are about trees, and gifts, and Santa, and falling in love, but it’s a song that is out of tune with the angelic song.
As Christians, we have a choice we can look around at this out-of-tune singing and lament what’s happening in our world, we can join in these meaningless songs, or we can look up at our Savior and sing the song He is singing.
Christian, will you join with the angelic choir to let the world hear the unmistakable love song that Jesus is still singing today?
This is a recap of Pastor Craig’s message as we launched our new Advent series.
In Longfellow’s classic I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day every stanza ends with the phrase “peace on earth, goodwill to men.” Unless you’ve been living someplace that doesn’t get the daily news, you might be saying, “Peace on earth? Really? I just don’t see it….” Or as Ebenezer Scrooge might say, “Peace on earth? Bah! Humbug!”
A humbug is an imposter, or something empty of meaning.
The third stanza of I Heard The Bells seems almost to slide into that Christmas humbug note: “And in despair I bowed my head: ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said. ‘For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, goodwill to men.’”
Indeed, even for those who call themselves a Christian, Christmas could become a humbug if…
… it’s all about busyness or just trying to “survive the holidays”
… we get more excited about Santa Claus coming down the chimney to fill stockings than we do about Jesus coming down to Earth to be born in a manger
… our main focus is on gifts—both what you’re giving and what you’re getting—and then we regret putting ourselves into debt
Between Malachi (the last book of the Old Testament) and Matthew (the first book of the New Testament) is a time span of about 400 years that is called “the dark period.” God had promised through Jeremiah that He would restore the Israelites and rebuild Jerusalem. There were promises of the Messiah coming to set things right, but after 400 years of darkness, the mindset of most Israelites was probably, “Messiah? Peace? Bah! Humbug!!”
What God really promised through Jeremiah was a peace that came about as a result of two things: (1) forgiveness of sins and (2) restoration of a perfect relationship with God. The Hebrew word for “peace” is shalom, which means one’s personal sense of wholeness and well-being, free from anxiety and fear, knowing that all is well between my soul and God.
This is what God promises—I will cleanse them from ALL the sin they have committed against Me and will forgive ALL their sins of rebellion against Me (Jeremiah 33:8).
This shalom is what comes through the First Advent of Jesus! As Longfellow observed, “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: God is not dead nor doth He sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, goodwill to men.”
And this is what Jesus brought—
She will give birth to a Son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21 NIV).
Now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to Him through the blood of Christ. For Christ Himself has brought peace to us… (Ephesians 2:13-14 NLT)
Therefore, since we are justified (acquitted, declared righteous, and given a right standing with God) through faith, let us grasp the fact that we have…peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One) (Romans 5:1 AMP).
The bells and carols and remembrances of Christ’s First Advent should send our hearts soaring in anticipation of Christ’s Second Advent—when Christ shall return to take all of His own to be with Him forever, where He will wipe away every tear and where we live forever with Him in the New Jerusalem (see Jeremiah 33:9; John 14:3; Revelation 21:1-4).
Let us guard against Christmas ever becoming a humbug—an imposter, something empty of meaning—but let’s make sure the rich meaning of Christ’s peace dwells richly in us!
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men. (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
How many “old familiar carols” have you heard Christmas after Christmas, until the words have almost lost their meaning? If we’re not careful, any song repeated too often can lose the richness of its original intent.
There are some amazing messages in many of our old familiar Christmas carols, because many of those messages are saturated with the old familiar story of Redemption that the Bible tells over and over again.
Please join us this Sunday as we take a new look at the old familiar messages in our Christmas carols. These messages will bring a new appreciation of God’s love that was sung at Christ’s Advent, and reawaken the sweetness of meaning for this Christmas Day.
Here’s a recap Pastor Craig shared of his Sunday message. If you missed this message, be sure to check out the video below!
If someone asked you what a church is supposed to look like, do you describe steeples and crosses, stained glass windows and big wooden pulpits?
Guess what? The first Church in Jerusalem had none of those things!
Luke the historian describes the church this way: “They studied and prayed together, they ate with each other, they fed the hungry, and they took care of the poor. God performed miracles through them, everyone thought well of them, and people were getting saved every single day” (see Acts 2:42-47). Other historians of the day noted that Christians started the first orphanages, the first feeding programs, the first homes/schools for the blind, and the first medical dispensaries. They described how the Christians changed the cultural understanding of marriage and family, and how they gave dignity to women, children, the elderly, and the sick.
They did this by putting their faith into action, just as Jesus described (see Matthew 25:31-40). James reminds us that this required a deeply personal faith and a roll-up-your-sleeves attitude. In fact, James went so far as to say that faith in Jesus wasn’t enough.
Faith without works is dead. Works without faith is useless. We must believe it and live it. We need both faith and works.
Everyone can do this…
if a young kid is hungry, get involved with feeding them
if an elderly lady in your neighborhood needs a friend, stop by for coffee
if a neighbor is sick and can’t cover their usual tasks, mow their lawn
if a high school student can’t go to homecoming because she can’t afford the dress, take her shopping and buy the dress for her
if someone has an extended hospital stay, collect their mail and water their plants
if no one is visiting them in the hospital, go sit with them for a while
Jesus said, “When you do this for others, you are really doing it for Me.”
Luke didn’t say, “Every day the Christians were preaching.” He says, “Every day the Christians were serving. And then every day God was adding to their number people who were being saved.”
Your faith in action speaks a sermon louder and more convincingly than any sermon ever could.
How will you show your neighbors the love of Jesus this week?
I have the high privilege of being able to shepherd Calvary Assembly of God. It’s a privilege and responsibility I take as a charge from God, and the Scripture makes it clear that those who have been given such a stewardship must use it in a God-glorifying way.
Just one way I can use such stewardship is in the weekly sermons I prepare for our church family. I faithfully study and pray to get God’s mind on the topics that we need to grow in Him. Below is a brief overview of each of the series of messages I shared in 2018, along with links to the weekly recaps I post after delivering each message.
The Prayers Of David—The life of David is an open book for us. One of the unique things about David’s life is that we get to read both the historical narrative of his life, and his diary-like thoughts recorded in his psalms, songs, and prayers in the Book of Psalms. David’s prayers are gut-level honest and full of raw emotion. His prayers are also very helpful for anyone who desires to be as close to God as David was, to be one God describes as “a man after my own heart, who will do everything I want him to do.”
Come And See—Survey after survey, and personal interview after personal interview, all report the same indisputable truth—the #1 reason unchurched people don’t come to church is no one has invited them! Wow! Christians have the life-changing truth of what a personal relationship with Jesus Christ can do, and they are for the most part keeping it to themselves. I want to present a very simple way to invite people to hear about our Risen Savior, and it’s just three simple words: Come and see.
A.L.I.V.E.—It is the foundational claim of Christianity: Christ died on a Cross and was raised back to life.It is also the claim many skeptics of Christianity find so difficult to process. This series explores evidence for for the resurrection of Jesus in each of the five letters of “ALIVE.” These messages are specifically designed for those skeptical of the claims of Christianity. The evidence won’t be a bunch of “churchy” platitudes, but court-room-level evidence that will attempt to make the case for what Christians believe about the death and resurrection of Jesus.
God’s Favor—What if I were to tell you that God is for you? What if I were to tell you that God wantsto bless you? What if I were to tell you that God’s favor is constantly pursuing you? Well, here’s me telling you that it’s all true! Why would God do this? Because if you feel distant from Him, how can you glorify Him? If you feel disconnected from His love, how will you draw others to Him? If you feel like your relationship with Him is hanging by a thread, how can you happily abide in His presence? Knowing God’s favor is the key to living the abundant life Jesus purchased for you on the Cross!
What Is Church?—All across the world on Sunday morning, people met for church? But what exactly is church? Is it a place we go to? Is it something that only happens on Sundays? For Jesus, neither the day of the week nor the location determined the way He lived.Peter summed it up this way, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38).
Selah—The word Selahappears nearly 70 times in the Bible, almost exclusively in the Psalms. Although it is primarily a musical term, it applies beautifully to our new summer series. Throughout the Psalms, Selahappears at the end of a verse, at the end of the psalm, or sometimes even mid-sentence. But each one of them is perfectly placed by the Spirit-inspired authors to get us to take a breath and deeply contemplate what we just read or sang.
Aliens And Strangers—Christians are not citizens of Planet Earth. Our citizenship is in a place called Heaven, and yet we are traveling on Earth during our present lifetime. So the question is: How is a citizen of Heaven supposed to act while visiting Earth? The Apostle Peter was one of the most active disciples of Jesus. During Christ’s first visit to Earth, Peter is recorded as speaking more than all of the other disciples combined. And not surprisingly, Jesus speaks more words directly to Peter than He does to all of the other 11 disciples combined. Peter got a lot of training! With that background, Peter gives us invaluable instructions in his first letter to the church. He calls Christians things like: strangers in the world, chosen people, peculiar people, and aliens and strangers in the world.He tells us travelers not only howto behave while traveling on Earth, but whywe should travel in a God-honoring way.
I ♥My Church—If you lived in the early first century AD—and if the donkey carts had bumper stickers—I’ll bet that you would have seen “I My Church” bumper stickers on everything the early Christians owned. Both the Bible and historians of that day talked about the positive societal changes that Christians were making in their communities, and how every place they lived and worshipped got better. Why not today? Why not in your community?
Shalom—God makes a promise in Isaiahabout His perfect peace being made available to His people. Ahhh, who wouldn’t want God’s perfect peace?! Sadly, many people actually block God’s peace from coming into their hearts. You see, God’s peace is always there, but there are things we humans frequently do that keeps us from experiencingHis perfect peace. The Hebrew word for peace is shalom, which is a word packed with rich meaning! There are things God-loving people can do to keep shalom at the center of their lives, and I want to share these things with you.
The Carols Of Christmas—How many “old familiar carols” have you heard Christmas after Christmas until the words have almost lost their meaning? If we’re not careful, any song repeated too often can lose the richness of its original intent. There are some amazing messages in many of our old familiar Christmas carols because many of those messages are saturated with the old familiar story of Redemption that the Bible tells over and over again.
Throughout 2017 we have been reviewing our foundational truths. Here is Pastor Craig’s recap of his message covering our belief statements on the end times events.
Celebrating Advent means both looking back at Christ’s First Advent in Bethlehem and looking ahead to His Second Advent at the end of time. Faith in the First Advent fuels hope in the Second Advent. Let’s take a look at the events leading up to and surrounding Christ’s Second Advent to help us appreciate what was begun at His First Advent.
Overarching all of the end times events is a Christian’s blessed hope: “The resurrection of those who have fallen asleep in Christ and their translation together with those who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord is the imminent and blessed hope of the church.”
The word “rapture” doesn’t appear in Scripture, but we get this word from the Latin word raptu, which comes from the Greek word harpazo. We first see it when Philip is “caught away” from the Ethiopian’s presence in the desert (Acts 8:39). This is the same word Paul uses when he says that Christians will be “caught up” to meet Christ in the air (see 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).
Note that the rapture of the Church is not the Second Coming of Christ. His Second Coming takes place at the end of the period known as the Tribulation when Jesus returns to earth as a conquering King and establishes His Millennial Reign on earth (Revelation 19:11-16; 20:1-4).
During Christ’s Millennial Reign, the devil and his cohorts are locked up until the end of the 1000-year reign and are allowed to tempt people one final time. The devil will succeed in tempting quite a few people, as he will once again muster a sizable army to attack Christ and His followers. This decisive battle will culminate in the final judgment.
“There will be a final judgment in which the wicked dead will be raised and judged according to their works. Whosoever is not found written in the Book of Life, together with the devil and his angels, the beast and the false prophet, will be consigned to the everlasting punishment in the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15).
In light of Christ’s First Advent in Bethlehem, and His soon return (His Second Advent), how are Christians to live? In a word: HOPEFUL!
In all of these passages discussing the end times, hope-filled words are used—
therefore encourage each other with these words
wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior
stand firm … let nothing move you
Jesus says, I am coming soon! My reward is with Me
Jesus also pointed out that Heaven is a place “prepared for you since the creation of the world,” while Hell is “prepared for the devil and his angels.”GOD WANTS YOU WITH HIM IN HEAVEN!
As you rejoice in the First Advent, remember that Christ’s First Coming was to provide a way for you to have your sins forgiven and be able to spend eternity with Him. So as we look forward in hope to Christ’s Second Advent we say with the Apostle John, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
God’s plan has always been for His leaders to organize and oversee His ministry.
The important thing for us to distinguish is “His.” It’s not a man or woman saying, “I will be a leader,” or even a God-appointed leader saying, “I am going to build up my ministry.”
The New Testament gives us a fourfold purpose for the Body of Christ:
Mobilizing for evangelism
Organizing for more meaningful ministry
Caring for one another
We see God’s leaders involved in all of these aspects—
Mobilizing for evangelism—Peter pointed out the need for an apostle to be appointed to replace Judas, thus returning their ranks to the 12 apostles just as Jesus had originally said (Acts 1:15-22).
Organizing for more meaningful ministry—Everywhere Paul founded a church, he also appointed leaders to oversee and shepherd that church.
Making disciple-makers—Paul tells us that God appointed five offices of leaders in the church who had the specific task of preparing church members to do the ministry of building maturity in the church (Ephesians 4:11-16).
Caring for one another—The First Church set the pace for providing care for all who were in need, including organizing leaders to oversee specific care ministries (Acts 6:1-5).
What about a church congregation’s responsibility to their leaders? I see five areas:
Hold them accountable to the Word (Acts 17:11). The Bible has to be THE standard to which leaders are held.
Give them your confidence and submission after they have shown accountability to their biblical mandate (Hebrews 13:17).
As we continued in our series looking at our Foundation Stones, here is a recap of the message Pastor Craig shared yesterday about the mission of the Church.
Before ascending back to Heaven, Jesus commissioned His followers. He gave them a mission which Christian often refer to as The Great Commission.
Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples 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.”
There are several pictures in the New Testament of how the Church could live out this Great Commission, but one of the pictures that I find the most helpful is that of a Body.
The human body is an amazing creation! Just to accomplish the simple task of picking up something between our thumb and forefinger is a miracle in itself. The structure of bones and ligaments and tendons, the interaction of nerves in the fingers coordinating with the optical nerve, not to mention the enzymes and blood vessels that are all doing their part.
Yet if any part is not functioning properly, that simple action becomes more difficult. Maybe it even becomes impossible.
The Church is the same way. Every part of the Church Body has to be functioning in healthy order for the whole Body to be effective.
Here are four aspects of a healthy Church Body that the Apostle Paul lists in Ephesians 4:
Caring for one another
Mobilizing for evangelism
Helping organize for more meaningful ministry
If every part of the Body is doing its part, we’re Living out the Great Commission.
If some parts are missing or unhealthy, we’re Wallowing in the Great Omission.
It’s not about your church (small “c”) or my church. It’s about all Christian disciples being a part of one Church—one Body—going into all the world and making disciples of all peoples. That’s what the Church is supposed to be doing!
In our ongoing series looking at our foundational truths, Pastor Craig shared some insight into the concept of sanctification. Here is the recap he posted on his blog:
If I were to ask five different Christians to give me a definition of sanctification, I just might get five different definitions!
Part of this comes from incorrect either-or thinking. However, Jesus seems to tell us that sanctification requires a both-and thinking.
In Christ’s prayer for His followers in John 17, He uses the word sanctified three times (see verses 17-19). Although He is using the same Greek word each time, He uses a different “flavor” of the word to make it really clear what He means.
First of all, the Greek word for sanctified means the process of being made into a saint. So I sometimes I like to say the word this way: SAINT-ified.
Check out Christ’s prayer. First He says, “I sanctify Myself,” and then He says, “that they too may be truly sanctified.” Same Greek word, but each time is slightly tweaked.
Jesus uses a “flavor” of Greek which means sanctification is something that He has done completely and totally on His own once and for all. In other words, Christians are completely and totally sanctified at the very moment they surrender their life to Him.
But when He talks about His followers, the “flavor” of Greek means sanctification is something that is an ongoing process. In other words, we are being SAINT-ified.
So which is it? Sanctified once, or sanctified through an ongoing process?
It’s not either-or. It’s both-and!
Think about a married couple. From the moment the pastor says, “I now pronounce you husband and wife” they are married. It is done; fully completed. There is nothing the bride or groom can do to become more married.
However, the groom can begin to look at the marriage through his bride’s eyes. Then he can serve her in a way that helps her feel more joy, more satisfaction, and more fulfillment within the marriage. Neither of them becomes more married, but they can get more enjoyment within the marriage.
The same thing for Christians. At the moment we ask Jesus to be our Lord and Savior we are saved from the penalty of our sins. We can’t be more saved. But through the process of SANIT-ificiation we can experience more joy, more satisfaction, and more fulfillment within our relationship with Jesus.
My paraphrase of 1 Peter 1:15-16—But just as He who called you has paid for your once-for-allsaint-ification, sokeep on beingsaint-ifiedin all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
What about you? Are you satisfied with just being saved, or are you striving for a joy-filled, more fulfilling, increasingly satisfied relationship with Jesus Christ? It can truly be a wonderful both-and relationship!