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A Place at the Table

I remember, as a child, thinking that Thanksgiving was some kind of preamble to Christmas, and I suppose that it was. Of course, I didn't know at the time what a preamble was. I just felt like Thanksgiving Day was a preview of Christmas Day.

Both days were feast days in our house. Christmas had the added bonus of the tree, the lights, and the gifts. I knew about Jesus back then. I just hadn't met Him yet. I’m so glad that He came to me and changed everything about both holidays.

Still, when I think back, my mind tends to dwell on the dinner table. The whole family was there, including our grandparents. There was a seat for everyone at the table. It was a special time, and I miss it. But I do not look back in sorrow for love ones who have moved and others who have passed into eternity. I look back and I am thankful to have had a place at the table.

These days, with families scattered far and wide, lots of folks don’t get the opportunity I had as a child to sit at that table for that special meal on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Others don’t even care about the sanctity of these special days.

I look at them differently now. I don’t think so much about Pilgrims at Thanksgiving or the family around the table at Christmas. I think about a feast that is yet to come, when there will be a place at the table for me. All of my Christian brothers and sisters will be there. Many will be ones I have known for years. Others will be ones whom I have just met. But the best part will be that Jesus and our Father will be there. Sometimes I wonder if He will serve a bounty of all that the world has to offer. Other times I wonder if He will bless and divide a few loaves of barley and a couple of small fish so that I too may see what thousands of others did on a hillside long ago. It doesn't matter what He serves . . . I will be seated at the table with Him, and that is all that really matters.

He left the banquet halls of Heaven to come to earth. He left His place at the table to make a way for me to come to the Father and to reserve a place at the table for me. Do you know anyone who does not have a reservation? What a wonderful time of the year to make sure that they have sent an RSVP to His invitation for all who wish to come.

There are so many opportunities during this coming season to present Christ to your congregation. Mainstay Ministries offers preachers’ helps with sermon series and promotional materials for each series. We would love to help you share the marvel of this season. We would love to help you invite others to have a seat at the table. Our series on Making Christmas Meaningful or The Christmas You've Always Longed For may be precisely the kinds of things you that will help you set the table for others.


Christmas Depression

Christmas and depression. It would seem as though these two words don’t belong in the same sentence. Perhaps they don’t, but seasonal depression, particularly at Christmas seems to be a growing problem in America, especially within the adult population. It’s not that the season causes it, but rather that it intensifies an already existing condition.

There can be a myriad of reasons for being depressed. Sometimes the root cause is physical; sometimes it is spiritual. But always, the experience is emotional. That experience is monochromatic grey on the best of days, and black on the worst. And the worst days can be the ones when others are filled with joy, yet you can’t feel it. Sometimes it is so painful that the depressed person just wants to be alone. Then, when they are alone, they feel abandoned and may become more depressed.

One of the problems with depression is that many Christians think that it is a secret that needs to be kept in the closet. I would point them to Psalm 42, where David repeatedly asks the question, “Why are you in despair, O my soul?” (NASB). He was the King of Israel and he did not hesitate to make his feelings known. It is clear that he could not determine the reason for his depression, but it is just as clear that he did know the rescuer from despair.“ Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him!”

If our hope is built on anything less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness, we have no hope at all.

Preacher, the odds are that there is going to be at least one person – probably more than one – in your church who is depressed and will be even more so at Christmas. The Great Shepherd, needs you to understand that as you minister to His flock. Encourage your people this Christmas by sharing the Season of Wonder sermon series from Mainstay Ministries. It will help you to help your people renew their hope in God and leave their despair at the cross.

A Season of Wonder, complete with posters and other advertising collateral, is available at www.SundaySolutions.com. Our prayer is that, as you use this anointed material, the Holy Spirit will work through you the restore the joy of salvation to those who are discouraged, that He will reveal the joy of salvation to those who have not yet met the Savior.



God with Us

There was a day, about 2,000 years ago as we measure time, that Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, very God Himself, left the splendour of Heaven to dwell with us, His prized creation. He left everything behind to dwell in captivity so that He might set the captives free.

He came to the captive nation of Israel. She was captive under the regime of the Roman Empire. She was suffering as the result of repeatedly wandering away from His clear direction. This special nation had become secular rather than divinely led, choosing to find prosperity the world’s way, only to become spiritually impoverished and ultimately conquered by Rome.

He came to be held captive in a human body. Flesh and bones. God Himself living in a tabernacle built of clay, His movements restricted by physical limitations and by time. He became like us in order to be with us. Although His capacity as God was never diminished one iota, He held His power captive in obedience to the Father, doing only what the Father told Him to do and saying only what the Father told Him to say. His power was evidenced when He raised the dead. His obedience, when He gave Himself up to death.

He became captive to a Roman cross, allowing Himself to be nailed to it and hung publicly from it as the ones He came to save delighted in His degradation and demise.

He became, for a while, an apparent captive to death and the grave, only to break forth with great power, raising Himself from the grave, breaking forth to freedom from man’s most feared enemy – death.

He became captive so that we might be captive no longer. His mission did not end at the cross, at the tomb, or with His return to Heaven. He was preparing to return again, via His Holy Spirit, not merely to dwell among us, but to dwell in us. Not just to dwell, but to live in power and to reveal His power through us.

As this Christmas season approaches, would it not be a perfect time to explain to your church that “God with us” means so very much more than a baby in a manger? What a marvelous time to remind others that, not only is He alive, but that He desires to be alive in us. Mainstay Ministries’ Sunday Solutions includes complete sermon series packages for the Christmas season that are sure to reach the longing hearts of your people. You might consider The Amazing Emmanuel, a series about God with us, to share the Good News that He can and will live in us when we open our hearts to Him.



Making a List & Checking it twice

You probably feel an overwhelming urge to complete the title phrase by saying, “Gonna find out who’s been naughty or nice, Santa Claus is coming to town.”

This is not a tirade against Santa Claus. The Jolly Old Elf is a part of American culture. Whether the fantasy man with the reindeer and sleigh should really be a part of Christmas is a total waste of time regardless of which side of the argument you favor. All I know is that, as a child, the story generated a sense of wonder about the season that I was able to comprehend before I understood what the real wonder was and how much greater it was and is.

The irony for me is the “making a list and checking it twice” thing, because that is one of the things from which the incarnation of the living God set us free.

Over the several centuries from the maturing of the nation of Israel in the Sinai desert, the God’s chosen people failed to understand that their salvation did not come by keeping the Ten Commandments and the Levitical laws. They failed to grasp the big picture of why the sacrificial system was necessary. It was because God knew that the people could not completely keep all the rules. The important point was that He promised to bless them when they kept His commandments and forgive them through their faith in the efficacy of the shedding of the blood of innocent, sacrificial lambs.

“Making a list and checking it twice” was never a part of God’s plan. The Psalmist understood when he said, “If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3) What good would it do for Him, or for us, if He kept a list and checked it twice?

In fact, Jesus came to lay all the lists and list checking to naught. That’s why the Pharisees hated Him. He kept breaking their rules. By doing so, He was demonstrating that keeping track of sins is not what life had been, or ever would be, about. He was on a journey that led to Jerusalem and to a cross where He would present Himself as the sacrifice for ALL sins. Jesus put an end to all the making and checking of lists. Never does scripture tell us that He counts our sins against us. The message is that He offers us the opportunity to be reconciled to Him through His Son. When He forgives our sins, He forgives all of them, past, present or future. He came to set us free – free from the burden and penalty of sin and free from having to live up to a list – free to become new creatures in Him.

This year you have the opportunity to make Christmas more meaningful by helping your parishioners to understand that Jesus is not making a list and checking it twice. He’s made a promise and He’s keeping it for all eternity, that “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13) Visit Mainstay Ministries at http://www.sundaysolutions.com/Making-Christmas-Meaningful-s/2027.htm and prayerfully consider the helps that we have created especially for pastors to make Christmas more meaningful, including the sermon series of that name, and others.



Swaddling Clothes

“She brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger.” Luke 2:7

He had forever been wrapped in glory, clothed in light brighter than a trillion stars. He created all things. Nothing that was created had been created without Him. The heaven declared His handiwork. He made the rivers to run, the mountains to rise, and the snow to fall. He was before time, and there was never a time when he was not.

But there came a day when the Holy God, the Creator of Everything, created within the womb of a young Jewish virgin, an earthly body in which He would live for more than thirty years. He left the Throne Room of Heaven and entered into His own creation in the form of a child. The Son of God became the Son of Man.

Having put aside His regal robes and the splendors’ of His dwelling place, He came to redeem men from the curse of sin. To the surprise of everyone, the Almighty came as a helpless child. His emergence into the world was not with blaring trumpets and thunderous applause. He came forth naked and He needed someone to cloth him. What He had done for the entire universe, He now could not do for Himself, so His mother wrapped him “in swaddling clothes,” torn strips of cloth wrapped firmly around a new-born child as a form of protective restraint. Then she placed Him on a new throne, a feeding trough for farm animals.

There was nothing the least bit remarkable about the birth of this child. Except that He was – and is – the Son of God.

He lived His brief, but entire life, demonstrating the character of His Father to all who met Him. Consistent in all His ways, He lived without sin, even though He was tempted in every way that we can be. He didn't do it to prove a point. He did it to fulfill a promise. He did it to make a way for sinful, helpless men and women to be reconciled to God from whom we had been separated by our own sin. He did it so that He could be the required, perfect sacrifice – the only acceptable sacrifice – to pay the penalty for our sin.

When, upon His death, they took Him down from the cross, where He had willingly shed His blood and died, and they wrapped Him in strips of cloth binding His body in much the same way as His mother did on the day He was birthed. It is possible that she was a participant in the burial preparations, so it would be the second time that she had wrapped him – and the last time that Jesus would ever be bound by “swaddling clothes.”

There is so much more to the Christmas story than most of us will ever comprehend or imagine. There is a congregation waiting for you to share the mystery and the joy of the season. They need to hear. Go, tell it on the mountain. Go, tell it in the pulpit. Go, tell it everywhere.



The Things She Pondered in Her Heart

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. ~ Luke 2:19

The familiar passage in the second chapter of Luke seems to tell us of a mental journal that Mary kept upon the arrival of the shepherds at the manger and of the results of their contagious exhilaration in sharing the events of that night with all of their fellow Jews.

Have just delivered her first born, no doubt that Mary was not in any condition to get up and move about. While others rejoiced outwardly, she thrilled inwardly at not only giving birth as other young mothers do, but as she watched, almost as a spectator, and treasured what she was experiencing an pondered it all in her heart.

She must have pondered about the day that the angel came, and how her life had been so radically changed from that moment. She must have pondered about the experience of becoming pregnant and still being a virgin. If that is difficult for us to comprehend, think about what it must have been like for her. She must have pondered about the nine months that the promised Messiah of Israel had inhabited her womb. Surely she pondered about the unexpected cradle into which the long-expected Redeemer had been laid. She may have even pondered about the angel host that revealed the birth of God in the flesh to the shepherds on the hillside.

Luke records the end of Mary’s first nine months of pondering. She must have pondered every day of her life thereafter. There was so much that she hid in her heart as she watched her son grow into a man of whom she was so very proud.

And, oh what she must have pondered while she watched her son die on a Roman cross. And, oh, how she must have pondered over those very next days. She had watched him being taken down from the cross and being carried to a tomb close by. But none of her pondering could compare to what she must have thought when she saw her son fully alive again, or later how she must have rejoiced at Pentecost when he came alive in her again in the fullness and power of His Holy Spirit.

Perhaps we should follow Mary’s example and ponder on all these things, and all that our gracious God has done for us. There is no better time than the Christmas season to do so. Mainstay Ministries’ Christmas resources are available to help you to lead your congregation in pondering the loving kindness and mercies that He has shown in our own lives. We invite you to go to our website at www.SundaySolutions.com and prayerfully ponder one of our Christmas sermon series, such as The Amazing Emmanuel, A Season of Wonder, or Making Christmas Meaningful. We are already praying that you and your congregation will be blessed as a result of using our ministry aids.