As I see the Facebook and Twitter posts of friends with full and overflowing churches on this Christmas morning I realize that – at least in my corner of the world – the opposite is more often true: overflowing empty seats, lots of space for guests that were invited but likely won’t attend. And yet…

The lostness of our community is not surprising nor is it unusual. According to our International Mission Board there are still over 3,000 people groups who have never heard the gospel, the Christmas message. And yet…

The emptiness of our buildings is not a reflection on God’s absence, for as we gather for worship on this Christmas morning we acknowledge that indeed, Emmanuel, God-With-Us, has been born! With shepherds and with angels we rejoice, knowing that God is not distant and far-off but that “The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, HCSB),.

May your Christmas worship and celebration be filled with the joy that only God provides through our relationship with Him as we come to know Jesus Christ!

Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.” (Luke 2:11, HCSB)


Maybe it’s just because I’ve spent more time than normal in the urgent care facility while my wife is being treated for pneumonia and the flu – all together! Maybe it’s because I am more acutely aware of aging and the challenges just since I turned 60 this year. Maybe it’s because more of the families I share life with as their pastor are sharing the painful side of their Christmas stories of step-children, step-parents, grandchildren, and the ways which family members have of hurting one another.

Whatever the reason, I have been more attuned to the painful side of Christmas. Mary and Joseph were simple, normal young adults living in Nazareth. And then…. Mary is pregnant – though she and Joseph are only betrothed and not yet married. A hastily arranged marriage because an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. A long trip to Bethlehem because some foreign ruler wanted to impose a new tax. A birth in an animal stall because the guest houses were filled with other travelers. Shepherds arriving to see the new born child because of some otherworldly angelic appearance.

A trip to Egypt to escape the wrath of a brutal and murderous tyrant. A return trip home to Nazareth with all the gossip and shame of Joseph and Mary’s predicament.

While we sing of joy the truth is Joseph and Mary may have not felt very ‘joyous’ very often. Probably they felt stress, anxiety, fear, and loneliness.

We gleefully and joyfully attend holiday parties, we exchange festively wrapped gifts, we ooh and aah over magnificent decorations. We eat special food associated with childhood memories and we diligently try to create lasting memories of a special holiday season – one that we can declare as the ‘Most Wonderful Time of the Year!’

Maybe it’s just the pastoral concerns – families enduring surgeries, families facing mental illnesses, families struggling with losses – but this season the ‘JOY’ we are told to experience is different. Instead of finding joy in the material and commercialized vision of Christmas – where true love is always realized, where the perfect gift is always under the tree, and where the challenges are resolved so that all live happily ever after – let us seek for joy in the promise of God’s presence, in His intervention in our lives through the year, and in the building blocks of hope: Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection and return.


Merry Christmas!

Pastor Steve


Sunday our church celebrated the third Sunday of Advent. Advent is from the Latin word, adventus, which means ‘coming.’ Advent is a season of waiting, waiting for the coming Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of David, the One who will be scarred by the serpent but who will destroy the serpent.

Waiting is not something in which we are skilled. Hurry seems to better describe our patterns of life. Waiting seems like a waste of valuable time. And yet…

In the scheme of God’s creation, He built in a day of rest every seven days. In six days God created all that is. On the seventh day He rested. In the 10 Commandments, the ‘constitution’ of God’s people, the seventh day is to be recognized as holy, set apart to the Lord. Over the centuries we read how God’s people drifted into busyness, into patterns of life that had no margin for rest. The gospels record that even Jesus withdrew from the crowds from time to time, that even Jesus admitted to weariness and the need to just sit and rest (see John 4).

Why then do I struggle with the idea of ‘rest,’ ‘waiting?’ I could blame our culture. Since the invention of the microwave meals can be ready within minutes instead of hours. Fast food restaurants are visible at almost every intersection of the highways that we fine necessary for travel. Even the words ‘highway’ and ‘freeway’ point to our constant striving to get somewhere in a hurry. Now we have app’s on our phone to show us the quickest and most direct route to our destination (I admit that last time I was in Southern California I relied heavily on WAZE to navigate traffic slowdowns!)

I could blame our current practice of how to do ‘church.’ Busy-ness = success, right? Or perhaps I could blame the economic climate – higher costs for goods create a demand for more income which leads to a pressure to work more hours, to seek out additional ways to create income.

I could also just be honest. The problem is not fast food restaurants or microwaves; travel demands or economic challenges. No, the problem is me, myself and I. Though Jesus Christ lives in me by the power and promise of the Holy Spirit I still find myself stuck in patterns of thinking that undermine the truth that in Christ God has fully accepted me. I still try and earn my place in God’s family by working harder, longer, and ignoring the simple pleasure of just being in Christ.

I don’t think I’m alone! As we ‘wait’ for Christmas, as we await the unveiling of all that God is for us in Jesus Christ at the final trumpet, let’s live unhurried lives filled with anticipation as John, one of Jesus’ earliest followers, reminds us, “Look at how great a love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children. And we are!” (1 John 3:1, HCSB)


The Missing Ingredient

Christmas is near – I know that because my wife’s birthday in December 7 and she is wonderful about reminding me! But I know Christmas is coming because my email inbox is stuffed full of ‘Special Offers’ for special customers (it’s nice to be special!).

As I drive around our area making hospital visits and attending various parties and functions during the season I know Christmas is near because of the lights on people’s homes. The shopping centers are lit brightly, inviting me to stop in and browse merchandise that will certainly bring happiness to those in my family and give me joy as I give.

But as I see the lights, as I see the shopping centers I also see people. As I find parking spots in the places I visit I see people drifting in and out of the stores, the places of business. As I see their faces I see a hopelessness. I overhear bits and pieces of conversation and wonder – what happened to hope? Oh, I hear it – ‘I hope he/she can use this,’ or ‘I hope this fits.’ But the hopelessness I sense is deeper than that.

Can a gift, can an invitation to a party or an open house heal the deep wounds of brokenness that have been created by the selfishness of 11 months and 24 days? Can one day – Christmas – or one season – “the hap-hap-happiest time of year” heal the hurt of loss? Behind the smiles, behind the masks people wear is a deep sense of hopelessness.

And yet the answer for hopelessness is the One whose birth is the very reason for the celebration. Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of Mary who had been wed to Joseph, is the bearer of hope. In Him we see unveiled the ability of God to fulfill His promises – in spite of generations of failure by His people. In Jesus we see before us the possibility that God will reverse the curse of sin and death. In the birth of Jesus we hear good news for all people – all can enter into a relationship with God through the gift of life in Jesus Christ.

May your Christmas season be one of hope! Hope in knowing that God will finish what He has begun, hope in knowing that nothing can break a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, hope in knowing that no sin is too great, no failure is too large for the love of God given us in and through Jesus Christ!