Advent - Week Four - Christ

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For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. - Isaiah 9:6

Babies are born everyday. Lots of them. About 350,000 babies are born each day on this earth. During the time it takes you to read this, more than 500 babies will join the human race. Nothing could have been more natural, even normal, about the birth of a baby boy a couple thousand years ago in the village of Bethlehem to a woman named Mary. Thousands of babies were born that same day in towns all across the globe.

And yet, the birth of Jesus was totally different. This week, more than two thousand years later, we are still celebrating it. This birth would change the course of history.  A king was being born, taking His first earthly breath, but, he wasn’t from this world. This baby Jesus was God Himself. God was coming to be with us! The King of kings and Lord of lords, the God who exists in all places at all times, who has existed in all time, eternity past and future, this God stepped into a specific time in history and to a specific place on this planet. This birth would change everything!

My kids asked me recently which holiday is my favorite. Christmas, of course. It’s not just decorated trees, presents, cold weather, and holiday blend coffee that make it so great. I love those things but that’s not what makes Christmas so special. During this season we celebrate God Himself coming to be with us, taking on flesh and stepping into our reality. Our lives can never be the same knowing that the creator of this universe, our creator, has stepped into a specific moment and place in history to be with us.

What’s so amazing about this story, what God was setting in motion on that day in Bethlehem, is that God is STILL with us! Some of Jesus’ last words on this earth were to reassure the disciples that He is with them, FOREVER. Matthew 28:20b "And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Jesus is with you, always, till the very end! We don’t have to ever be alone. The Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace wants to BE WITH YOU FOREVER! Let Him be what you fix the focus of your celebration and adoration this holiday season! He’s with you! 

Merry Christmas!

Advent - Week Four - Love

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“Really?”  

This was my response upon learning that my parents and sister broke a 40-year tradition of eating Thanksgiving dinner together this year.  The reason?  Two weeks before the holiday, my sister suggested chili as the main dish in lieu of turkey.  This suggestion left my parents befuddled.  Depending on whose account of the conversation you are presently enduring, potato salad made the chopping block too.  In the end, the proposed menu changes and ensuing arguments angered them all, and the decision was made to spend Thanksgiving apart.  They live across the street from one another.

Needless to say, holidays with extended family can be tricky.  They may be loaded with expectations or riddled with baggage.  Minor annoyances become major offenses when unforgiveness festers from years of unresolved conflict.  1 Peter 4:8 says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sin.”  Love covered a multitude of sin in no greater way than at the cross.  While we were still sinners, Christ did for us (Romans 5:8).  This was a demonstration of God’s love; we are, above all, deeply loved by Him.  Because we have been sacrificially loved and radically forgiven, we have the ability to cover a multitude of sin with our love.


No doubt, there will be opportunities this holiday season to be annoyed, offended, and sinned against.  Someone may frustrate, embarrass, or hurt you.  Here are a few tips to prepare you for the battle.  First, it helps me to remember that I, too, relationally sin against other people, so I never have high ground on which to elevate myself.  This truth humbles me when I believe it.  Second, it helps to anticipate opportunities to forgive and extend grace.  If I expect disappointment, I’m not surprised by it.  I’m better prepared to avoid defensiveness and disarm potential conflict if I’m prepared for battle.  Three, because of Christ in me, I desire to love others well independent of their care for me, and the same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in me.  If this power can raise the dead, I trust it can manage to love a disagreeable family member.


Jesus often found himself in a mixed bag of company while celebrating festivals and holidays.  You will too.  May He give us eyes to see, hearts to feel, and courage to move toward others this Christmas with love!

Advent - Week Three - Joy

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Psalm 30:3-5
O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit. Sing praises to the Lord, O you His saints, and give thanks to His holy name. For His anger is but for a moment, and His favor for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, buy joy comes with the morning.”

I can remember years ago as a small child the eagerness awaiting December 25th. Oh the excitement of that cold morning with fog on the windows and eyes wide open from a sleepless night! I remember waking my parents too early in the morning only to have them send me back to bed.  After the 3rd time, they surrendered to my demands. I briskly walked to the living room where presents lay nestled underneath the tree. After every box was opened and trash glazed the floor, I remember that the crescendo was replaced by an emptiness and a hunger for more. The scooter I got lasted 6 months, maybe less. My joy over those gifts was very brief. I wouldn't even call it joy - it was more temporal happiness. That scooter rusted, the handlebars broke, the wheels wore down; it faded away. 

 

This Christmas season our affections are being attacked by what the culture says we need: more and more and more. It's literally singing, "me, Me, ME, MEEEE!" - the very chorus of our nature. 

 

Christian, the question we must ask ourselves is this, Is Jesus Worthy? Is He more worthy than the treasures of this world? If you profess and believe that He is worthy, then the Joy He gives is a reflection of his nature. Never fading. Never diminishing. This joy isn't like what I experienced with the scooter that was trashed after 6 months. Joy in Christ is His strength on our behalf that gets us through our darkest moments, our deepest pain, and our worst sufferings. Jesus promises joy that transcends time, past and present, and gives us eagerness to look forward to our future hope with Him. 

 

Look to Jesus. He is our greatest Joy. 

 

A prayer of Advent 

 “O Lord, our lives are filled with sin.

We forget our neighbors’ needs and

do not love you above all else.

We need a Savior. 

Help us to see the finite pleasure of what the world offers

and the infinite pleasure in Jesus.

Spirit, help us to be thoughtful and courageous

in preparing Christ room in our hearts this advent season.

O come, O come, Savior of the World. Amen.”

Advent - Week Two - Peace

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Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord, Jesus Christ.  - Romans 5:1

This week of Advent we celebrate the peace of Christ - past, present and future.  

We remember the peaceful Bethlehem night when unbeknownst to the world at large the King of Glory was born in a stable.

We rejoice in the peace we have in knowing and being known by that same King, Jesus.

We look forward to the promise of eternal peace when Jesus returns, making all things new.

That paints a beautiful picture, doesn’t it?  Does your Christmas look like that?  Feel like that?

I know for most the Christmas season can be downright chaotic, and for others, it is anything but peaceful.  In fact, for some, it is a constant reminder of something broken.  Something painful.  Something not right.


Did that lift your spirits?  


Don’t get me wrong.  I looooove Christmas!  Lights, trees, singing, presents, food, family… all of it.


Advent, however, is something different.  Advent reminds us that it’s more than just a day that we celebrate.  It’s a season of remembrance.  A prolonged opportunity to reflect on different aspects of the Gospel (Hope, Peace, Joy, Love - found in Jesus).  


As we immerse ourselves in the goodness of God displayed in the coming King the chaos, the hurt and the pain are transcended by the peace we have in Jesus.  The reality is this world is broken, but for the believer, Jesus has overcome the world.  


“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  - John 16:33


Jesus has entered in to our brokenness, reconciled us to the Father and given us new life.  


New hope.  


Real peace.


For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.  - Colossians 1:19-20.


So, even if Christmas makes you crazy, get’s your blood pressure up or sends you into a spiral of despair, would you consider Advent?  Could you pause for a moment each week leading up to this holiday, and reflect on Jesus?  Savor the Gospel.  Be still.  Experience peace.


This is Advent.

Advent - Week One - Hope

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“The hopes and fears of all the years

Are met in thee to-night.”

O Little Town of Bethlehem

When we say, “I hope so” we do not usually mean that same thing as the New Testament does. We may be hoping for a white Christmas, even though the weatherman is predicting “sunny and cold with occasional showers.” This is not hope but wishful thinking.

What then is hope? Imagine a child catching a glimpse of his father sneaking something into the house - something that is difficult to carry and has two big wheels. If later you were to ask the child, “What are you hoping for this Christmas,” he would reply with a big grin, “I am hoping for a new bicycle!” That is hope in the biblical sense. It is being sure that you will receive something you don’t yet have. Someone who “hopes all things,” is not a glass-half full kind of person who is always hoping for the best, but believes the promises of God and is waiting for them to be fulfilled - no matter what.

Hope becomes the lens through which you view everything. Hope describes an underlying confidence that God will be with us and bless us just as He has promised, even when life is at its worst. Christian hope allows us to look at difficult experiences and hard times and call them what they are, but the coming promises of God shape our present experience. As Paul writes, we are “hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair” (2 Corinthians 4:8).  If the end is heaven, then the end shapes the means.

The incarnation, the birth of the Christ-child, is the ultimate “yes” to the promises of God.  First, because it means that God has kept his oldest promise, recorded in Genesis 3:15. God would make enemies of the offspring of Eve and the serpent and that the serpent would strike his heel but the serpent’s head would be crushed. At a cost, the Son would defeat the serpent. The incarnation reveals not only the longest standing promise, but also the costliest. Keeping the promise would mean the Son would have to suffer and die so that forgiveness, freedom, and eternal life could be offered. Romans 8:32 says that “He who did not spare his Son but gave him up for us all.”  Paul draws the logical conclusion; since this is the case, we can be sure God will withhold nothing from us that is for our ultimate good.  

We can have hope because God kept his biggest, oldest, and costliest promises when love came down at Christmas.  


Reflection

What difference will the certain hope of heaven, and a God who will give us all we need, change how you live and who you love this week?

(excerpt from Sinclair B. Ferguson’s Love Came Down At Christmas)

Thank you, Rivertree!

Good news! Great joy! The Gospel and shoebox gifts will go to 232 children around the world this year thanks to your kindness and generosity. Please join us in prayer for the children who will open these shoeboxes.

Rivertree Kids Team Dinner Meeting

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All Rivertree Kids team members are invited to our dinner meeting on Wednesday, September 5th from 6-8pm in the River Rock room.  Please RSVP so we can plan for our yummy Mexican dinner.  We are going to talk about how to be "A New Kind of Leader".  We have a fabulous team but we always want to be growing for our kids!  Childcare reimbursements are available.  

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"PG" Sermon Messages - April 29 and May 6

"PG" Sermon Messages - April 29 and May 6

Parents, if your children normally attend worship with you, you may want to read ahead and prayerfully consider the sensitive nature of this week’s teaching.

Advent - Week Five - Christ

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Christmas always provides an opportunity to give gifts. When I shop, I tend to be in and out of stores quickly. I see it, and then buy it. I have realized over the years that I can end up paying a bit more because I don’t always take the time to shop sales or start early, but there is still a budget and I can walk away without buying because something is too expensive. 

In all my gift giving, I have never given to the point of becoming poor. I have spent more than I planned but it is still a long way from poverty. Then you read a verse in 2 Corinthians and it causes you to wonder.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9

The wise men gave gifts that spoke to the worth and honor of Jesus. There was gold given because Jesus is a King. There was frankincense, an incense used in the temple because Jesus is our High Priest. Myrrh was also given and used by God’s prophets for anointing because Jesus is our great prophet. Everything bends and everyone rightly bows around Jesus and yet in He is the one that became poor. He left the glory of heaven, laid down his dignity, took the form of a servant, and obediently gave himself so that the richness of God would be shared. 

Paul says, “for you know the grace of the Lord Christ.” It is the gift of Jesus that changes everything. When we discover and embrace this gift, a generosity of being is produced that allows us to live differently - to live rich. There are people that have incredible resources but are bound up in what they have and so live in a kind of prison. Christmas reminds us that Jesus has come to give you His richness. You are gifted with what you most need: life eternal, mercy overflowing, extravagant love, grace and favor, God’s presence and approval, a place in his family, and a place in God’s heart. Are you feeling rich yet?

This is the grace or gift of God that is revealed by the birth and sacrifice of Jesus and in the emptying of Himself to make us rich beyond our dreams.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people. Ephesians 1:18

So we approach Christmas morning and every day after with the steadfast and prevailing sense that we are rich. This revelation doesn’t begin in palaces and with those content in their own wealth, but it enters into the most unlikely hearts, those looking for something better, and to their delight made rich by the generosity of our Savior, Jesus.   

Merry Christmas.
 

Advent - Week Two - Peace

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Scripture Reading

Isaiah 9:6-7, Romans 5:1-2, John 14:27, John 16:33, Philippians 4:7, Psalm 29:11

As we look towards the Christmas Season, this is the time of year when we begin to think a lot about giving and receiving gifts. There was barely a chance to finish eating the Thanksgiving feast before I was drawn into a conversation about what our kids want for Christmas and what we can afford to give this year. And honestly, as much as I love receiving gifts, the question I dread the most during the holidays is “what do you want for Christmas?” Doesn’t telling each other exactly what we want take some of the magic out of gift giving and receiving? Sometimes the best gifts you get at Christmas aren’t the ones you thought you wanted. They’re gifts from someone who knows you better than you know yourself.

I’m struck this morning by a passage where Jesus is giving a gift to us. It’s not something we’ve specifically asked for, but it’s something he knows we need and want more than anything. He says that he doesn’t give this gift to us in the same way that the world gives gifts. This gift is Peace. “I am leaving you with a gift - peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

It is interesting that the most definitive teaching on peace in all of Scripture comes from Jesus on the night before he would be crucified. He knew what he was about to face, yet he still took the time to comfort his disciples with the message of peace. This is the peace that Paul speaks about in Philippians 4:7 "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

The peace of God is not based on circumstances like the world's peace, so it doesn't always make sense to the human mind. Paul says it is a peace that surpasses comprehension. It doesn't seem reasonable that such peace could exist in the midst of the problems and troubles we go through, but this is divine, supernatural peace.

The world around us doesn’t know much peace. So much about our lives - the world, our health, the health of our loved ones, our finances, our relationships, the future - are often marked with a sense of uncertainty and void of the peace we so desperately need and want.

But every year, during this time of year, the world takes notice as we begin to celebrate an event that happened more than 2000 years ago. We celebrate that God blessed the world with peace through the Prince of Peace, Jesus. “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end.”

This season, in the midst of the chaos of the holidays, we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace. We celebrate the gift of peace from a savior, Jesus Christ, who says “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth, you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” No matter what you might be going through during this season, or what gifts you give and receive this year, the most precious gift of all is from our Father in Heaven. Let us celebrate together that “to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” His name is the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, and his peace will never end!

Pray for Peace  

Take time to pray for peace for your family, as well as your community, nation, and the world. Pray that people would be able to experience the Prince of Peace in this holiday season. Pray that despite their experiences or circumstances, they would come to know Jesus and the incredible peace he gives as a gift.

Celebrate Peace 

Bring a piece of paper and a pencil to the table for one of your meals as a family this week. After you have talked about any daily things you would like to share, brainstorm together about places you think are peaceful. Some ideas might be sitting on a chair at the beach, taking a walk through the woods, or sitting under a blanket while reading a book. Help your family think about places where you feel peaceful. Write each of those ideas down on the sheet of paper. If you have young children, remind them that true peace comes from God, through Jesus, no matter what our circumstances are. Ask your kids the difference between a peaceful place and the peace that God gives. Discuss the differences you see in the gifts you will give and receive this Christmas and the gift of peace from Jesus. How could you receive and value the gift of peace, even more, this year?

Advent - Week One - Hope

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Hope

It’s hard to believe that the Christmas season is already here.  Autumn feels like a distant memory, and as soon as the Thanksgiving meal was eaten and the dishes were put up, out came the Christmas decorations.  In fact, I saw a lot of homes decorated for Christmas two weeks before Thanksgiving!  

I don’t mind, though.  I love Christmas.  I love the nostalgia it brings.  I love the lights and the decorations.  I love getting together with family and friends.  I love the giving of gifts and the excitement of Christmas morning that I see in my children.  It’s warm.  It’s cozy.  It’s familiar.

But most of all, I love celebrating and remembering how God lavished on us the greatest Christmas gift of all time in Jesus.  I love telling and hearing the story of God’s love.  The story of a journey that began at creation.  The story of hope that God gave to His people in a coming Messiah.  The story of hope fulfilled in the birth of a baby.

That’s what Advent is about.  It’s a time to slow down in the midst of what the world has made into a very busy season, and remember.  To marvel again at the mystery of the ages revealed in the most unlikely of places to the most unlikely of people.  The fulfillment of ages of hoping and waiting is ushered in by an ordinary couple and a group of sheep herders on a quiet Bethlehem night.  It’s the stuff movies are made of, but it’s not a great fictional drama played out on the big screen; it’s the simple, beautiful truth.

I love Advent because it’s where our stories intersect.  You may not share the same sentiment as I do about Christmas.  In fact, you might dread Christmas each year.  I have friends for whom Christmas is an annual reminder of something painful in their lives.  

Advent represents something different.  It’s a reminder of what’s real, no matter what circumstances we may experience during this season.  It’s a reminder of Emmanuel - God With Us.  The Creator of the universe, the King of Kings has entered into His creation; our humanity.  He’s fulfilling a history long promise of restoration.  He’s drawing us near.  He’s holding out hope to you and to me.

So, what are you hoping for this Christmas?  My prayer is that through the celebration of Advent this season, you’ll find renewed hope in the Good News of Great Joy that the angels heralded so many years ago.  That you’ll draw near to the God of hope, who has drawn near to you in Jesus.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."
Romans 15:13

Advent at Home

Whether you’re single, newlyweds, empty nesters or a family with lots of kiddos, you can celebrate Advent at home.  Here are a few ideas to help you engage in the season.

1. Make an Advent wreath.  It’s a simple wreath of evergreens (real or artificial) with four colored candles (traditionally 3 purple and 1 pink) and one white candle.  (you can use any color you have on hand, though).  Each purple candle represents the first three weeks of Advent (Hope, Peace, Joy), and  pink the fourth (Love).  The white candle is lit on Christmas Eve or Day and it represents Christ, the Light of the World.  Light a candle at the beginning of each week of Advent as a visual reminder of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love all of which are fulfilled in Christ

(Side note: There’s nothing magical or mystical about an Advent wreath.  It won’t make you fly or give you good luck.  It will, however, reinforce your remembrance.  Any time we engage more than one sense while we’re learning, it reinforces that teaching.  It makes a greater impression on us, and we retain it.  I think we’d all agree that the Good News is something we all want to remember.)

2. Read the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah in Luke Chapter 1.  Use it as an opportunity to reflect on and/or discuss hope.  What were Elizabeth and Zechariah hoping for?  Had they given up hope?  How did God show himself faithful.  What are you hoping for?  Have you given up hope?  How is God showing himself faithful, even as you wait?  Pray that God will open your eyes to what He is doing in the waiting.

3. For deeper study here are a few options for daily Advent devotionals (click the titles to visit these resource sites):

“Good News of Great Joy” - 25 Advent Meditations by John Piper
“Come, Let Us Adore Him” - A Daily Advent Devotional by Paul David Tripp
"Seasons" - A Church Calendar Resource from the Village Church