Why We Are Leaving…and Where We Are Going.

Where do I begin…
For months now I have been battling this thing inside of me.
If I’m honest this urge, this calling, this prompting, this restlessness has been there for much, much longer…for both Shanais and me.

Do you recall what happens when you run from God?
If not, just ask Jonah…

There is a deep aching sadness in the leaving…
There is a sadness in the walking away from what is known and moving into what is presently unknown.

I believe the Lord has brought the story of Abram to me over and over again while we have been in this process. The story is about a rich man named Abram. He had lots of family and friends. He had it all. He was not in want for anything. He was comfortable. And then one day God tells Abram to travel out of his known lands and to live in the unknown places. The uncomfortable, unfamiliar lands…the place where he had no friends. The place where there would be no safety.

It was a giant leap of faith.
He had to trust his Creator.
He had to have faith that God would provide the friends, the comfort, the safety. And so he and his wife Sarai went. They traveled into the unknown land with alien terrain and different customs and people. God reminded Him of His faithfulness. Abram and Sarai were both transformed in the leaving. Sure, there were roadblocks and bouts of their own personal faithlessness, and yet God remained faithful to them. Abraham became the father of many nations. Sarah the mother.

When we do not rely on our own resources and lead from our own comforts we are inclined (sometimes forced) to rely completely on the Lord’s provisions instead of our own. It can be dangerous and yet also liberating, because our resources are limited and our experiences to what is known. What we know personally. We can be comfortable in our frames of reference…and yet God’s frame of reference is so much more infinite.

Back to this restlessness…
I could rely on my own resources…and limit my faith journey.
I could remain in what I know to be comfortable…and run the risk of becoming stagnant and run the same familiar patterns but not really delving any deeper. I could remain here (and here is an amazing, place called home)…but I feel it in the core of my being that God is calling me out of this. It is a leap of faith. It is extremely scary. It is heart-aching. Yet, I will follow Him. I will trust that He knows what He is doing. I will lay all of me on the altar and allow God to use me.

Where are we going?
I didn’t set out to find this.
I wasn’t searching for this kind of work.
It’s not something I am completely familiar with.
We are moving to Southern Alabama.
I will be working in one of the poorest counties in all of Alabama.
Have I ever lived there? No.
Do I have any family there? No.
Do I have friends there? No, not yet.

The ministry? – I will be running a Christian Foster Care organization. It’s a huge leap for me. (I keep saying I and me, and what I really mean is that it is a HUGE leap for both of us – Shanais and me.) We are both stepping out of our comfort zones. We are not abandoning God’s mission in this world, but rather embracing it more deeply. I am a fourth generation Salvationist, and you don’t realize how difficult this is for me to do. And yet, I am doing this, and I have a deep sense of peace about it even though it is scary.

Of course there are questions:
Will I do this for the rest of my life? Answer: I don’t know.
Will I come back to the Army as an Officer? Answer: Maybe.
Am I walking away from my faith? Answer: absolutely not!!
My church? Answer: No.

God’s kingdom is so much larger.
God’s love encompasses so many people, both lost and found.

What can you do?
Please Pray!
Would you pray for us?
Some will not understand why we are doing this.
Some will consider it abandoning our calling…I don’t see it that way at all. Rather we are embracing it more deeply. Some might even disagree with us and the decision we have arrived at. That’s fine, we understand.

I hope that I can count on you to still be a friend and a prayer warrior.
I believe God’s love is greater than any one organization or church. He can call us from one place to another and we can still remain in His will for our lives. Some remain called to one place, others to multiple places.

This might change how you view us, but I hope not.
We are still ministers of God’s love and grace. We still call Him Lord of our lives and we still desire to serve Him.

Thank you for loving us and praying for us while in this scary transition. Thank you to the leaders who have guided us along the way…we love you and are forever in your debt!
We are simply trusting that God knows what He is doing…and there’s nothing simple about it.

God Bless You.
-Scott & Shanais Strissel.





In Order To Truly Love, We need this….

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:” -Philippians‬ ‭2:5‬ ‭

Do you remember the golden rule?
Perhaps your parents taught you this principle of treating others the way that you want to be treated.

So how’s it going with that?
Especially when someone pushes all your buttons?
When someone cuts you off in traffic.
When someone talks down to you in a condescending way…

Then this golden rule becomes so much harder doesn’t it?
It is much, much easier to treat people nicely when they treat you nicely, but when they don’t all bets are off.

Let’s add other believers to this…
Isn’t it interesting that sometimes the hardest people to love…(now get this) – are other Christians. Why is that? Aren’t we working for the same cause? Aren’t we all loving Jesus? So why is it so hard to love other Christ-followers sometimes? Could it be that we all have some sort of idea how to best serve Jesus and if some other believe has a different view then watch out. You see, we sometimes think that our way of worshipping or serving Jesus is the only way and so we protect that methodology to the point that it (not Christ) becomes sacred. And so we fight tooth and nail for our method of service and worship instead of coming together in unity and working in our diverse worship and adoration of Jesus.

How do we change our mindset?
Could it be that the walls that need to come down in our churches and in our Christian world view has to do more with the battle of our minds and preconceived notions of what honors God in our practices? Could it be any more simple that this: That we simply love…others…with no “ifs” “ands” or “buts” involved? What would the Church look like if Christians lived and loved out Philippians 2:5 in the real world?

What is the mindset of Christ?

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John‬ ‭15:13‬ ‭‬

Jesus’ love and mindset was to disciple those around Him and He was willing, more than willing to lay down His life for those He called friend. And He calls all those who would seek Him – ‘Friend’.

Does our love for others resemble Christ’s love? Christ’s mindset?
Do we take this ‘golden rule’ to the next level in our relationships with those around us?

The Cold Hard Truth:
There will be those Christians we may not agree with.
We might find that our personalities, hobbies, likes and dislikes are vastly different…BUT…can we love them and have the same mindset as that of Christ. Can we love them regardless, or in spite of all of that? What we might find is that in the process of seeking the very mindset of Christ, in our every day life – we are given the very heart and love of Christ to love them more deeply and more genuinely.

May our relationships and the way we love others be the very mindset as that of Christ’s.

Something more to ponder today.
Blessings on you today!

Woe To The Fruit-Inspectors…

“One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?””
‭‭Mark‬ ‭2:23-24‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Imagine that…
The church people…
The ones who were supposed to know better…
The ones who considered themselves holy…
The ones who went to church school and memorized the Bible…

These Pharisees got hung up on appearances.
These Pharisees that were so caught up with the outside of the cup rather than the inside…(Matthew 23:25)
These hypocrites and actors confront Jesus because His disciples were doing something that wasn’t churchy…

How often do we identify as the Pharisees?
(And maybe we don’t even realize it…)
How often have we been overly critical of other church members?
How often have we criticized visitors at church or people in church who perhaps didn’t look or act like we think they should?
They just weren’t “churchy” enough.
Perhaps we don’t say it directly to them (because we can be cowardly critics) but we utter it under our breath or to our spouses after we say our amens and we are in our vans headed to Sunday lunch.

Jesus walks with what appears to be a bunch of unruly disciples.
and they are doing something that the Pharisees didn’t like. They thought surly disciples should act better. Perhaps Jesus’ reputation was on the line…but Jesus could care less what those Pharisees thought about him or his disciples. They were knit-pickers…fruit inspectors instead of producers of fruit…

Do we know fruit inspectors in our churches? In our corps?
In our Divisions? In our Territories? Are there knit-pickers among you who have driven people away from church? Are you the knit-picker? The fruit inspector? Did God really call you to do that? Who gave you the authority? Are you God?

If we are honest we have played the fruit inspector.
We have assumed that power and authority when it really wasn’t ours to assume. We have unconsciously or consciously judged people based on their appearance and I hope we recognize it and have asked for forgiveness for it.

To the fruit inspectors in the pews who are unrepentant I say shame on you! You hypocrite. You Pharisee. You are what is wrong with the church today.

To those who have been criticized and wrongly judged because of appearances…because you were pickin’ fruit on Sunday (or whatever it may have been)…I want to say I’m sorry that you were hurt, that you were judged and that those who took it upon themselves did that to you.

What is in your heart?
Yes, there will always be “church etiquette”.
Yes, there will always be church politics.
Yes, there will always be spoken or unspoken rules of church (for better or worse).

But what matters most in what is in your heart.
Do you love Jesus?
Do you strive to live for Him?
Do you desire to love others and help others to see Jesus?

Man’s laws aren’t necessarily God’s laws.
Church sometimes puts God in a box and try to make Him conform to our desires and patterns of “what is acceptable”.
We have interpreted what God wants, and sometimes we have failed.

But Grace…
God’s grace is for everyone.
God’s grace covers our grain pick’n…and our lack of understanding of churchy politics. God’s grace sometimes turns man’s concepts and authority on its head. I’m not saying that we should celebrate anarchy in the Church, but I am saying that we sometimes place the practice of worship and what is proper (in appearance) before the act of ACTUALLY worshipping God.

So woe to the fruit-inspectors out there.
Woe to the appearance judges.
Woe to the gossipers and slanderers.
Woe to the hypocrites and outward do-gooders just to be seen.
God knows.
(That’s a lot of woes – but perhaps its needed)

He knows your heart, and I know He is not pleased.

What I must caution all of us cheering on this post is this:
Be careful that you aren’t the fruit-inspector.
It is easy to say “ah yes – those people”…and then realize we too have fallen into this trap.

Guard your heart.
Be aware of the trappings of becoming a Pharisee.
Be careful that your heart, mind, soul, body is God’s and God’s alone.

Final Thoughts.
If this resonates in you – good!
If you have been hurt by fruit-inspectors please know this – you aren’t alone and that the Church is more than those small, narrow minded few. You are loved. You are God’s child. He calls you by name. He desires for you to worry more about your heart and to disciple others, more than what you look like and how you dress.

Something more to ponder today.





Crossing the Bridge of No Return

Crossing the Rubicon
In January of 49 BC, Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon river.
That doesn’t seem to be a bad thing at all…except that he crossed this little river with his devout band of the 13th legion with him. There were strict rules about disbanding army’s before entering Italy and its capital Rome. To enter this way was viewed as an act of treason. It is recorded however accurate it may be, that Julius Caesar uttered the words “alea iacta est” upon crossing the river with his troops. “The die is cast”.

It was the bridge of no return.
This would start a civil war, which would forever change the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire.

Do we as leaders come to bridges of no return?
Do we make decisions that will forever change the landscape of our ministries, our families and the lives of others, including our own? Sure, we may not have the 13th legion by our side, but we have many who follow us.

The troops who did not disband and instead followed Julius Caesar into Rome did so knowing that if they were stopped their fate would be execution.

The weight of leadership is great at times.
How often do we give thought to those we lead and the impact our decisions will be upon them? Perhaps a time or two we have made decisions flippantly and without forethought and the consequence of such a decision has led to low moral or even the loss of team members. The burden of leadership is, at times, a heavy thing to carry.


Titanic Mistakes…
Bruce Ismay was the chairman of the White Starline company that was responsible for the building of the Titanic luxury cruise ship. The Titanic was to be the ultimate ship upon the seas and would be admired by all. One crucial misstep on July 12 1908 moved Ismay and the White Starline across that metaphorical bridge of no return. In an effort to make the Titanic as grandiose as possible, Ismay had the designers make the grand staircase larger. This one design change effected the entire structure of this monumental ship. Because of this adjustment, the bulkheads of the Titanic we lowered which made the flooding compartments lower and the ship was not as stable as it should have been. Also in order to reduce some expenses Ismay decided against “cluttering the deck” with 28 extra life boats on the main areas unless current old regulations demanded they do so…which they did not.

Thus the Titanic was commissioned with 28 missing lifeboats. If that were not enough, the demand of riveters and steel rivets were in high demand and would take more time to install. Since the Titanic’s commission was on a time schedule and in an effort to speed up the process some iron rivets were used instead of steel rivets. Iron is weaker than steel and so some bow plates contained the weaker iron rivets. This decision, coupled with the other decisions made that day in July 12th 1908 led to the disaster we all know today.

Had Bruce Ismay worked with the builders to consider the structure and safety of the passengers and crew first and foremost, they would have been delayed in delivering the Titanic to the public, but perhaps the Titanic would be known to the world as something positive rather than a Titanic disaster.

Questions:
What kind of mistakes do we as leaders make?
Do we treat some discussions and decisions callously or flippantly?
Is there ever a chance that the power of our authority might go to our heads, causing us to be blind to certain consequences which could lead to titanic disasters?

It is said that hindsight is 20/20…but can certain missteps we make be avoided altogether if we only take the time to hear the consult of others and consider all of the variables? Of course we cannot always fear crossing our rubicons…but it should be sobering at times to feel this mantel of leadership that we carry and to count the costs along the way. You and I have most likely served under leaders who were excellent at this and it has encouraged us to lead in such a way as well. And for every good leader we have worked with, perhaps there is always another no-so-good leader who has galvanized us to never repeat their mistakes.

What sort of rubicon bridge are you facing right now?
How do you plan on weighing all of the variables before deciding which direction to go?
Have you become blinded by your power and authority, or has it humbled you?
Do you see those who follow you as a priority or as mere subordinates that you command?

There is a time and place for making the executive decision, but as leaders we ought to understand when the die is cast and we cannot go back once that decision has been made…so tread carefully and hear the counsel of others as the bridge comes into view.

Something more to ponder today.

References:
Bustin, G (2019). How Leaders Decide. A Timeless Guide to Making Tough Choices. (Chapters 2 & 4 – References to Bruce Ismay and Julius Caesar). Source Books.

Advent Pondering #4 – “Peace”.

Do we know peace in our lives?
This is a question that I have often considered, and for that matter do we really know what peace actually is?

When we say “peace” do we mean quiet or rest?
As in, when I get off of work I will put on my pajamas and lay in bed and veg on episodes of Netflix? Is this what peace is, and if so…is that all there is to this so called peace?

Perhaps peace is like this: these moments of respite and quiet are just glimpses or small reflections of true peace on earth. It is like that walk through beautiful lush, green pasture in the spring time that leaves us whispering to ourselves, “this is so peaceful”. This might also happen as we walk on a sandy beach as the waves ebb and flow and come cascading down onto the shoreline in a cadence that settles our hearts and slows our breathing. Or it takes places when we have all of our family under one roof again and after everyone is in bed there is that stillness that settles and we feel content and at peace.

I imagine the birth of Jesus was a visceral affair. A first time Mother, a virgin mother has travel for many miles to a town of Bethlehem for a census. She is very pregnant and about to give birth…there was nothing peaceful about the specific event, and yet following the most humble of births, Mary is recorded to have composed a song. Perhaps this song was crafted years after the event, perhaps right on the spot she forges this prayer that has become forever imbued with we the reader of this holy nativity story. Mary gives glory to a faithful God. It is a whisper of contentedness, a thanksgiving after the pained labor of birth. From the moment God’s redemptive story began to unfold before her eyes at the visit of the Angel, Mary has placed her entire existence into the hands of the Almighty. Here we find Mary, in this moment of exhaustion and post labor delivery singing her praise to a God who never forgets His people.


I imagine Mary’s words spoken…and in between each breath, cadence, and phrase of sentences formed together there is this Shalom peace that binds everything together and in it all contains the love of God wrapped in swaddling cloths asleep in Mary’s arms. It is more than just a peace of walking in a tranquil place. It is more than the sweet exhale of having all of your children under one roof again…it is the very presence of God in our lungs. It is the assurance from the Creator of those precious children. It is the very Artist’s hands who sculpted those pastural scenes coming into our presence and we cannot help but breathe and exhale shalom peace.

Gideon’s Jehovah Shalom Altar…
Gideon built at altar in the place the angel visited him Ophrah. He named that place: Jehovah Shalom. Which essentially means existing peace, or He exists and there is peace.

Is there Jehovah Shalom in your life right now?
Does Jesus exist in your narrative today? Do acknowledge not just the provisions of peace but the provider of that peace…even the small glimpses in our day of peace? The amazing thing is that Jesus is here and now – present with us. His spirit – The Holy Spirit can be the peace that we breathe in and out and the binding of one word upon another in our hearts and lives. Do we know this kind of peace today in our Advent? My prayer is that we all would know the depth and width of that Jehovah Shalom today.

May God richly bless you as you encounter and consider this sacred time in our Christian calendar…but beyond mere observances, may God’s shalom peace be upon you.

Something more to ponder in this Advent season.

One Snowy Night (A Poem)

In the late evening snow
we walked hand in hand
Our foot prints
deep and purposeful
every which way
wandering
from the country lane
and into
pastures blanketed
with white
all of it made
clean, fresh
and whole again.

Our breath made
winter spirits that
danced for seconds
vapored forms weaving its way
upon the descending snow
As the dance ascended
out into the bright
colored sky.

We walked hand clutching hand
careful not to fall
but when we did
we stretched our arms
out as wide as we could go
as if to embrace each falling flake
and then we made
snow angels
and we laughed
unbound,
undone,
unafraid of what tomorrow
could bring
We lived within
that moment.

3rd Sunday of Advent Pondering: Seeking After Eternal ‘Wisdom’…

Perfect goodness can never debate about the end to be attained, and perfect wisdom cannot debate about the means most suited to achieve it.
C.S. Lewis

Oh that’s right, we’re talking about Wise men, not Wise Guys…got it.

I had always envisioned the wise men miraculously showing up just at the nick of time at the nativity of Jesus, but entering just minutes after the shepherds and other townsfolk took their leave.

It didn’t dawn on me as a young man that their journey may have taken them a very long time. Some scholars even suggest that the Magi (aka the Wise men) did not visit Jesus as a new born but rather when He was 2 years of age. Imagine that, devoting your life to the study of the stars only to discover a very, very bright star…or was it something else?

Professor David Hughes in the 1970’s surmised that perhaps the “star” that the Magi saw, wasn’t a star at all, but rather a triple planetary alignment, or ‘triple conjunction‘. This kind of phenomenon only takes place every 900 years or so. This would have been a very alarming event for ancient astronomers such as the Magi to witness. They would have felt compelled to investigate, to seek out and to discover the wonder of such a sign.

Image result for wise men still seek him bumper sticker

What sort of signs and wonders do we need in order for us to seek the newborn Kings? Do we still seek after Jesus? Is there still awe and wonder involved in our search? Or, have we become jaded and perhaps deaf to His still small voice?

Image result for i believe polar express gif
The Polar Express


One of my favorite modern Christmas movies is the Polar Express. We watch it as a family once a Christmas season and it still brings a tear to my eye. There is the simplistic message of “I believe” which comes through loud and clear as the little boy closes his eyes attempting to recapture his child-like faith in Santa Claus and the true mystery of Christmas. At first he couldn’t hear the jingle of the sleigh bell, but he is determined and in an emotional scene he recaptures his childhood with the jingle of the bell.

If only belief in Jesus were that simple.
Some find it easier than others to uncover the wisdom of the season year after year…while others, because of personal history, family tragedies, a hectic work schedule (the list goes on)…find facing the Advent season again daunting and some, date I say, find it almost unbearable. But the thing is Advent isn’t just a season. Yes, we recognize Jesus’ birth, as we ought to in a religious calendar year-sort-of-way…but belief in the Messiah should not be limited to just four weeks of recognition. It needs to go deeper than that. True wisdom takes us from a place of ignorance and shame to the very foot of the Throne room of Heaven in penitent manner of constant worship.

You see, going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sitting in an airport makes you a pilot…what does make you a Christian is love and the deep need to want a relationship with the Creator and Sustainer of all life. Without this desire, we are mere seat warmers, heads to count on the stats line and a member of a social club. True faith runs deeper than an emotion, a preference to a pastor, sermon style, music style or architectural style. Regardless of ambiance, setting, and worship style, faith and love ought to drive us to our knees before the Maker of the Universe who stepped out of Heaven, assumed human form and showed us how to live and love.

Seeking after God constantly IS WISDOM.
Learning, studying, applying and living for Him is wisdom on display.
One might say, “but I’m not smart enough” or “I’m too old to learn“…this is nonsense. Gaining Heavenly wisdom takes place just as a toddler learns to first walk. The child takes one step at a time, and before you know it, they are walking and even running. So it is with Godly wisdom. We never presume to ‘know it all’, for Godly wisdom is infinite and will never be contained in the finite mind. But, we can say to ourselves and to God, “I don’t have much to offer you Lord, but what I do I have I give it all to You, use me.” From this place of penitence and humility we begin (or begin again) our search and study of the Most High. From our search and study comes worship, and from worship – adoration and love.

(In the midst of this pondering I cannot help but think of a friend and session-mate who suddenly and tragically lost his wife Miranda this week. My heart hurts for him, his family and children. I read his post on Facebook and it brought tears to my eyes to read the deep, unimaginable pain in those words, and yet he expressed in those sentences a testimony of faithfulness to God even in this horrible season. Even in this time of mourning, he testified to their love of the Lord and a deep reliance and trusting in Him. This is wisdom that the world will never comprehend and yet we have an amazing eternal promise that all of us cling to in this time of tragedy. To RC and the Duskin, and extended family we send our constant love, support and prayers in this very difficult time.)

Prayer:
Lord, teach us to love you with fresh eyes today.
Help us to seek after You with all of our might.
Thank you for this season of Advent. May we seek after your wisdom that is eternal more than the wisdom of this world that is temporal and fading. Protect us as we labor in the many fields of service this week. May Your light be seen in us and may others be drawn to You. It is in Your name we pray all of these things. -Amen.

Pastor’s Pondering – 2nd Sunday of Advent: It’s All About Worship!

In the same country there were shepherds in the fields. They were watching their flocks of sheep at night. The angel of the Lord came to them. The shining-greatness of the Lord shone around them. They were very much afraid. 10 The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. See! I bring you good news of great joy which is for all people. 11 Today, One Who saves from the punishment of sin has been born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord. 12 There will be something special for you to see. This is the way you will know Him. You will find the Baby with cloth around Him, lying in a place where cattle are fed.”

1At once many angels from heaven were seen, along with the angel, giving thanks to God. They were saying, 14 “Greatness and honor to our God in the highest heaven and peace on earth among men who please Him.”

15 The angels went from the shepherds back to heaven. The shepherds said to each other, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see what has happened. The Lord has told us about this.” 16 They went fast and found Mary and Joseph. They found the Baby lying in a place where cattle are fed.
– Luke 2:8-16 NLV

The second advent candle that we light this week symbolizes the Love of God and that of our love to Him…

A number of years ago, while ministering in a small rural community in Southern Minnesota, I had the privilege of being a part of a very encouraging and loving Ministerial Association. This was essentially a pastoral monthly “get together” to pray for one another and to fellowship. We all became good friends as we shared each other’s burdens and had the commonality of ministry. It was during one of these meetings that I was asked to fill in for a local pastor’s prison ministry while he was away.
Initially I was really nervous, I had never participated in a prison ministry let alone lead it and I wasn’t sure I had anything helpful to contribute. But I planned a message and selected some songs and went that next Sunday afternoon to correctional facility with guitar in hand. After a brief security check I was led into a common room where I waited for the inmates to arrive. The room was sparse except for a black metal music stand in the front and an ominous looking cross hanging on the wall. Two small windows were located on an institutional white wall, both windows barred and they only allowed a small amount of day light in.

I could feel the sadness of this place and was given a very small glimpse into what it must be like to be a prisoner here. When the inmates arrived I thought perhaps a guard or an official would lead or say a few words of introduction, but they did not. The guard simply left and I was all alone standing there amidst a sea of orange jumpsuits and staring faces.

I would like to say that I preached a powerfully moving message and that there were tears shed and it was like a Billy Graham revival service, but it was not. The songs were sung…mostly as a solo…the sermon preached…without any emotional response. It seemed as if I had preached to statues. I felt like a complete failure, as if what I had shared wasn’t what they needed to hear. Perhaps I had missed the mark and at the end of my time there I was escorted out and I left feeling defeated and somewhat sorry for myself. I remember saying to God, “well at least I tried” as I conjured up images of Jonah preparing to speak to the Ninevites.

For a number of months I put this Sunday afternoon in prison behind me and didn’t think much about it…until one day while in my office at the corps, a young man popped his head into my door. He told me he had been an inmate at the local correctional facility and that he had attended that Sunday service I had led. He told me that the message I had spoken seemed to have been directed at him and that he had felt convicted and had given his life to Jesus.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. What I thought to be a complete and utter failure of an afternoon turned out to be just what God had intended for this young man.

Isn’t it interesting what we believe to be rubbish and consider to be failures God can take and use for the amazing, even the miraculous? Isn’t that what faith is after all? Stepping out in faith, doing our very best and trusting God knows what He is doing with our feeble attempts? You see God hasn’t called us to be the most eloquent of speakers, or the most insanely talented musicians playing moving music for Him…no, what He asks of us is our best effort, our trust and faith.

Last week we discussed the fact that God invites us into His amazing story of Salvation for the whole wide world, but you see there’s more to this invitation. There is element of worship. Our love poured out for Him, and sometimes our love poured out seems like feeble attempts and failed sermons preached. Then God comes along and shows you and me that the work of the Holy Spirit is living and active even in our doubts of success while participating in ministry. When we worship God and declare Him Lord of our lives, the sweet aroma and workings of the Holy Spirit go far beyond our finite efforts. We are merely conduits for the Eternal. He invites us into this worship experience and our part is to faithfully go despite our lack of confidence in our own gifts and abilities.

Like the Angels long ago declaring Jesus’ arrival to common Shepherds in the fields, we too are invited into this worship of declaration and praise.

Advent Questions to Ponder:
-When have you been asked by the Lord to step out in faith for Him?
What happened? How did you respond?
-Have you ever had moments of revelation in your life where you thought you had failed and yet God used your efforts and brought about an amazing, unexpected response?
How can you worship the Lord this Advent season and declare Jesus’ birth to those who have yet to hear?
What is stopping or preventing you from doing so?

Prayer:
Lord, help me to understand that it is not about my gifts and abilities, but it is about my love and adoration for You. Humble my heart and help me to declare your majesty and glory to those around me this week. Help me to invited others into this worship setting with You. I want to be used by You for Your Holy purpose this week. Guide me dear Lord. -Amen.

Pondering on the 1st Sunday of Advent: “The Divine Invitation”

Scripture Passage:This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭1:18-25‬ ‭NLT‬‬

I have always loved Christmas, even in the busyness of it all. There is so much to do, so little time and often times we enter Sunday morning worn out, somewhat disheveled and seeking rest. One might argue that we shouldn’t work so hard and we are short-changing the worship aspect of Sunday. Perhaps there is some merit to this, but I look at the journey that Mary and Joseph took in order to be where God had appointed them to be. The journey would have been difficult, and yet because of a government census they went to Bethlehem. It was hard work, it took time and Mary was very pregnant.

The entire story of the birth of Jesus took work, it took sacrifice, and a leap of faith on Mary and Joseph. This was not just a Divine story in which God shows up and there isn’t human interaction. On the contrary, the human interaction took concerted preparation, time and effort.

What are we willing to give in order to experience a Divine encounter today? Perhaps our God encounter will not be as it was with Mary and Joseph, but God has always been an active participant in humanity. He shows up, there is no question about that…what is in question is our ability to see, hear or experience Him because of our very distracted lives. Are we able to take the time to experience God in our every day lives? Do we stop what we are doing on our cell phones or televisions long enough to just listen? Are we missing out on countless Godly experiences because we have become deaf by living distracted lives?

‘The Homework Assignment’:

Perhaps this Christmas season we could do our very best to try and pay attention. Perhaps it will take a great deal of effort for many of us. This doesn’t mean that we cease our work or our passions, it simply means that we allow God entry into all of these avenues of our hectic lives. This will mean that we invite Him into our work week. Whether that is running bell ringers back and forth and back again. Or it means that as we count money, or prepare Christmas gifts for many families in our communities…all of these areas we invite God’s presence to sit with us. And as we run from one event to another, or from one location to the next, we simply say to God, “Lord, what are you teaching me through this?” And, “Lord how can I be your hands and feet in this moment?”

You see, the amazing thing to consider within this Divine Christmas story is that God has invited all of humanity (that’s you and me) to participate in the greatest story of love ever written. We are invited in. We are not outsiders looking into this amazing salvation story. So once we accept our invitation into this Divine story of love, our job is to invite others into this story too. Don’t keep it to yourself, share it with others. Allow others access to Nativity. Seek out those who feel cast out, a pariah, an outsider – and bring them in.

This is what the Divine Invitation is all about. Grace, love and peace shared to a world so in desperate need of such things. Salvation comes to all, and we can be help others see that God’s love has come freely to all.

Questions:
-Who needs to be invited into this Divine Encounter this Christmas that you know personally?
-How can you ensure they feel accepted and loved?
-When can you consciously stop your busyness and allow God’s invitation to enter your heart anew this week?
-Identify the many distractions in your life right now and help to filter out the noise so that you may hear God’s still small voice today.

Something more to ponder today.
Coming next week – Advent pondering #2 for the 2nd Sunday of Advent. Stay tuned and journey along with us!

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