Thursday, December 30, 2010

He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

Galatians 3:14

The New International Version

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The True Meaning of Christmas

Question: "What is the true meaning of Christmas?"

Answer: The true meaning of Christmas is love. John 3:16-17 says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." The true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of this incredible act of love.

The real Christmas story is the story of God's becoming a human being in the Person of Jesus Christ. Why did God do such a thing? Because He loves us! Why was Christmas necessary? Because we needed a Savior! Why does God love us so much? Because He is love itself (1 John 4:8). Why do we celebrate Christmas each year? Out of gratitude for what God did for us, we remember His birth by giving each other gifts, worshipping Him, and being especially conscious of the poor and less fortunate.

The true meaning of Christmas is love. God loved His own and provided a way—the only Way—for us to spend eternity with Him. He gave His only Son to take our punishment for our sins. He paid the price in full, and we are free from condemnation when we accept that free gift of love. "But God demonstrated His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

A really neat story about the True meaning of Christmas!

Teach the children...
Late one Christmas Eve, I sank back, tired but content, into my easy chair. The kids were in bed, the gifts were wrapped, the milk and cookies waited by the fireplace for Santa. As I sat back admiring the tree with its decorations, I couldn't help feeling that something important was missing. It wasn't long before the tiny twinkling tree lights lulled me to sleep.

I don't know how long I slept, but all of a sudden I knew that I wasn't alone. I opened my eyes, and you can imagine my surprise when I saw Santa Claus himself standing next to my Christmas tree. He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot just as the poem described him, but he was not the "jolly old elf" of Christmas legend. The man who stood before me looked sad and disappointed, and there were tears in his eyes.

"Santa, what's wrong?" I asked, "Why are you crying?"

"It's the children," Santa replied sadly.

"But Santa, the children love you," I said.

"Oh, I know they love me, and they love the gifts I bring them," Santa said, "but the children of today seem to have somehow missed out on the true spirit of Christmas. It's not their fault. It's just that the adults, many of them not having been taught themselves, have forgotten to teach the children."

"Teach them what?" I asked.

Santa's kind old face became soft, more gentle. His eyes began to shine with something more than tears. He spoke softly. "Teach the children the true meaning of Christmas. Teach them that the part of Christmas we can see, hear, and touch is much more than meets the eye. Teach them the symbolism behind the customs and traditions of Christmas which we now observe. Teach them what it is they truly represent."

Santa reached into his bag and pulled out a tiny Christmas tree and set it on my mantle. "Teach them about the Christmas tree. Green is the second color of Christmas. The stately evergreen, with its unchanging color, represents the hope of eternal life in Jesus. Its needles point heavenward as a reminder that mankind's thoughts should turn heavenward as well."

Santa reached into his bag again and pulled out a shiny star and placed it at the top of the small tree. "The star was the heavenly sign of promise. God promised a Savior for the world and the star was the sign of the fulfillment of that promise on the night that Jesus Christ was born. Teach the children that God always fulfills His promises, and that wise men still seek Him."

"Red," said Santa, "is the first color of Christmas." He pulled forth a red ornament for the tiny tree. "Red is deep, intense, vivid. It is the color of the life-giving blood that flows through our veins. It is the symbol of God's greatest gift. Teach the children that Christ gave His life and shed His blood for them that they might have eternal life. When they see the color red, it should remind them of that most wonderful Gift."

Santa found a silver bell in his pack and placed it on the tree. "Just as lost sheep are guided to safety by the sound of the bell, it continues to ring today for all to be guided to the fold. Teach the children to follow the true Shepherd, who gave His life for the sheep."

Santa placed a candle on the mantle and lit it. The soft glow from its one tiny flame brightened the room. "The glow of the candle represents how people can show their thanks for the gift of God's Son that Christmas Eve long ago. Teach the children to follow in Christ's foot steps... to go about doing good. Teach them to let their light so shine before people that all may see it and glorify God. This is what is symbolized when the twinkling lights shine on the tree like hundreds of bright, shining candles, each of them representing one of God's precious children, their light shining for all to see."

Again Santa reached into his bag and this time he brought forth a tiny red and white striped cane. As he hung it on the tree he spoke softly. "The candy cane is a stick of hard white candy: white to symbolize the virgin birth and sinless nature of Jesus, and hard to symbolize the Solid Rock the foundation of the church, and the firmness of God's promises. The candy cane is in the form of a 'J' to represent the precious name of Jesus, who came to earth. It also represents the Good Shepherd's crook, which He uses to reach down into the ditches of the world to lift out the fallen lambs who, like all sheep, have gone astray. The original candy cane had three small red stripes, which are the stripes of the scourging Jesus received by which we are healed, and a large red stripe that represents the shed blood of Jesus, so that we can have the promise of eternal life."

"Teach these things to the children."

Santa brought out a beautiful wreath made of fresh, fragrant greenery tied with a bright red bow. "The bow reminds us of the bond of perfection, which is love. The wreath embodies all the good things about Christmas for those with eyes to see and hearts to understand. It contains the colors of red and green and the heaven-turned needles of the evergreen. The bow tells the story of good will towards all and its color reminds us of Christ's sacrifice. Even its very shape is symbolic, representing eternity and the eternal nature of Christ's love. It is a circle, without beginning and without end. These are the things you must teach the children."

I asked, "But where does that leave you, Santa?"

The tears gone now from his eyes, a smile broke over Santa's face. "Why bless you, my dear," he laughed, "I'm only a symbol myself. I represent the spirit of family fun and the joy of giving and receiving. If the children are taught these other things, there is no danger that I'll ever be forgotten."

"I think I'm beginning to understand."

"That's why I came," said Santa. "You're an adult. If you don't teach the children these things, then who will?"

(Author Unknown)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Gods Christmas Tree

God's Christmas Tree
Study By: J. Hampton Keathley, III


Since this is the Christmas season I'd like to share some thoughts that are particularly significant to help us, as it is often said, remember "the reason for the season." At this time of the year in homes all across America you will find a Christmas tree with presents underneath. It is one of the symbols of Christmas that stands out in this country as much as any and more than most.

Some question the origin of the modern Christmas tree, but to be perfectly honest, there is a great deal of confusion here with a number of answers proposed.

Regardless, the Christmas tree has become a part of our season, and any pagan connections it originally may have had were lost long ago-- just as were the names of the days of our week which also had their origin in pagan beliefs. At any rate, Christians believe we can use this season in a positive way to remember the birth of the Savior, who He is and why He came into the world.

Simply stated, the truth of Christ's birth or the Christmas Season is that God the Son, the second person of the trinity, became the babe of the cradle, that He might become the man of the cross, that He might die as our sinless substitute to release us from the penalty of sin, and reconcile us to God that we might receive eternal life and live abundantly through His life, and all of this as a gift by faith in Christ.

In this study we will look at the birth of Christ from the viewpoint of God's Christmas tree--the Cross. And we will open and investigate some of the presents that lie at the foot of that tree to remind us of the gifts God has given to us in Christ and that He offers the world that lies in darkness and sin.

Can we legitimately call the cross of Jesus Christ a tree? Can we think of the tree as that which reminds us of God's Son and the life He gives us? Yes, in fact, God's Word actually refers to both Christ Jesus, His person, and His death on the cross, His work, by either the word "tree," or by terms associated with a tree.

Concerning the cross, there are two Greek words that are used in the New Testament.

Click here for more about this article.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


What Makes a Vital Church? April 13, 2010 Harold Percy 2 Comments

Harold Percy was recently the speaker at the annual Institute of Evangelism dinner at Wycliffe College. This is the text of the talk he gave that evening.

It is no secret that our churches across this country are generally having a difficult time connecting with people and attracting them into the lives of their worshipping communities. It seems to be mystifying and bewildering to many that forms of worship, church life, and governance that worked effectively for generations no longer do so.

George Hunter, in one of his books on church life and North American culture, offers the picture of a corn farmer whose family has been successfully raising and marketing corn for generations. He ask us to imagine that one morning, as this farmer and his crew wake up to go into the fields to harvest the corn, they discover to their amazement that overnight the cornfields have turned to vineyards. Instead of acres and acres of rich, ripe corn waiting to be harvested, instead there are vines dropping with juicy grapes waiting to be picked. A preposterous picture to be sure, but go with it for a minute. Hunter says that in this situation there are a number of options open to the farmer. Of all these options, surely the most disastrous would be to think, “There can’t be that much of a difference between corn and grapes, so let’s just start up these corn pickers and drive into the fields and harvest the grapes.” This could not possibly end well! In fact, the harder they worked at this, the more damage they would be likely to cause.

Hunter says this is the situation facing churches (for our purposes, particularly mainline churches and especially the Anglican Church) in North America. For generations we had a way of “doing and being” church that fit perfectly into the surrounding culture and so was very effective. But in recent years the changes in the culture have been rapid and significant. The result is that the churches are much like the corn farmer, surrounded no longer by corn but by grapes. The harvest has changed, and changed dramatically. And, if we as the church are going to be effective in what we are called to do, we must change as well. To insist that we can continue to do just exactly what we have always done, and hope that our results will eventually change, is folly. Corn pickers can’t harvest grapes. We need to rethink what we are doing and how we are doing it.

Dallas Willard wrote, concerning church life in America, that “your church is perfectly designed to get the results you are presently getting.” If we want to get different results we need to do some serious thinking about what needs to be changed, and what we need to be paying attention to. The following acrostic on the word VITAL provides a convenient framework for me to make a few observations about some of the things I think we need to be paying attention to if we are going to revitalize our congregations and carry on effective ministries.

Visionary Leadership

The “V” stands for visionary leadership. We need visionary leadership at every level because the nature and scope of the changes required go far beyond simply tinkering a little bit with what we already have. It is clear that the traditional parish model which is organized around liturgy and pastoral care simply doesn’t work anymore. No matter how good we get at these, it won’t help. What we need is new DNA, and leaders who get this, and can model and communicate it.

The number one job of leadership is to explain why the organization exists and to communicate this clearly and effectively. We have congregations all across this country who don’t know why they exist, with leaders who are unable to tell them.

I read somewhere that the two most radical questions any organization can ever ask itself are these: Why are we doing what we are doing? And why are we doing it the way we are doing it? These are questions that have to be asked on a regular basis in every congregation, parish, and diocese across the country. It is hard to know just what to do if you aren’t clear on precisely what it is that you are trying to do. What should be the result of all this work and effort we are putting into church life?

For my money the answer to the first of these questions would be something like, “The church exists (or this parish exists) to let the whole world (or this particular community) know that Jesus is Lord; to explain what this means, to live what it looks like, and to invite everyone within our sphere of influence to become an intentional follower of Jesus and learn to live the new life of his Kingdom.

Again, for my money, the worst possible answer to the second question (why are we doing it this way?) is “Because we have always done it this way.” A better answer is “because we have tried and experimented in all kinds of ways and currently this is what seems to be most effective, but we are always looking for ways to get better at this.”

The leadership in a vital congregation needs to be able to inspire the people of that congregation with a vision of who they can become as they work this out, to dream of what such a community of people might look like in their particular context, and to nurture such a community into being. That is always an exciting journey for everyone involved.

The challenge is that our systems of formation and oversight do not produce and nurture such leaders. In fact, they probably weed them out more often than not in the early stages. We send clergy out into the field, full of passion and dreams and hope, but without the necessary training and ongoing coaching in the transformational leadership skills required to take hold of a parish and lead it through a process of transformation to vitality. So, as they try or suggest various things, they get beaten up, discouraged, tamed, even skittish, and often end up simply trying to hang on and survive. This is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Inspirational Worship

The key here is simply to remember that people mostly prefer parties to funerals. Over the years I have come to the conclusion that we put far too much emphasis on the set texts and forms of our liturgical worship and expect far too much of the liturgy in return. We need to get over our obsession with “doing liturgy properly”—not that we should strive to do it badly, but because there are more important things to be thinking about. We simply overplay this in terms of its importance and what it can do.

One of the problems with the way we think about liturgy is that it is rationally driven. It is explained by means of logic and reason: “this piece goes here, because we have just done so and so, and this is what should follow.”

I don’t have a problem with this, except to say that of much greater importance is the tone and pace and feeling of what is happening, no matter how the pieces are linked together. It simply is a fact that the majority of our churches bore the pants off people with the tone and pace of the service. It is just quiet, somber, and weary. I have often marveled at how Anglicans can be such jolly, life loving, vibrant people on the parking lot or in the coffee hour, but so totally dull and dreary at worship. There is nothing in scripture to suggest that worship needs to be a funeral march. So much of what we do and how we do it is just lacking in imagination and energy.

When the people we are hoping to connect with do eventually come to church to check things out, most of them aren’t asking whether the pieces of the service fit together theologically, nor even, “What did I learn?” The first and most important question for them is usually, “How did I feel?” Did I feel that I was in a community that is life-filled and loving? Did I feel welcome? Did I sense that in some way I was actually in God’s presence, and that God and I were connecting? Did God speak a word into my life in that service? Was I touched? Was I challenged? Did I get excited? Did I leave with a new or renewed sense of purpose or hope; a new or renewed perspective on my life and its possibilities? Was I convicted of things in my life that need changing? Do I feel that I have been forgiven?

They aren’t asking if the priest adopted the proper postures or stood in the right places or if the hymns were proper hymns, or if their grandmother would have been pleased with the way the service was conducted.

Training In Discipleship

This has to do with the teaching and coaching that enables people to make an intentional commitment to be followers of Jesus and to learn to live the new life of his kingdom. I believe that this is at the very heart of the life of a vital congregation, but for various reasons we have let this slip badly. In fact, in many of the churches I have visited across this country most of the members have never even heard that this shot is on the board.

This work has been badly neglected. We have life long parishioners who don’t know how to pray with their families or in their churches, and life long parishioners who are functionally biblically illiterate. And these are just the basics.

I think this might be the result of thinking that this work is done by the liturgy, or that it is done as we breathe in the air of a Christian culture, or that people have just learned these things somewhere else.

But most parishes make the mistake of starting in the middle: simply assuming the people in the pews are already mature, well formed, holistic followers of Jesus, and know how to make the connections between faith and life on a daily basis. This is not a good assumption. We need to get back to the absolute basics of the faith, and take it from there, helping people to grow through a deliberate process of personal transformation.

Again, for my money, my hunch is that we put far too much effort into what we call pastoral care and not nearly enough into discipleship training. I believe that our clergy need to be delegating most of the pastoral care to gifted and trained care givers in the congregation who are longing for ways to make a difference, and to spend their own time working at developing the processes by which disciples are formed and nurtured in their congregation. “Pastoral care” should be changed to “congregational care”, and in the seminaries I believe that the departments of Pastoral Care should be changed to Departments of Congregational Leadership.

Authentic Community

I am not talking here about churches that seem more like comfortable Christian clubs, but about communities of growing disciples who are meeting together to encourage each other in their journeys of discipleship, caring for each other deeply and tenderly, and learning what it means to “love one another, to weep with those who weep, and to rejoice with those who rejoice.”

Loving Outreach and Evangelism.

All of this brings us to point where we are prepared to begin seriously thinking about how we will reach out in the name of Jesus to serve our communities and to invite others to join us in the adventure of learning to follow Jesus. The means and ways to this are limited only by our imaginations. I believe that Jesus would still say today, in our parish neighbourhoods, “the harvest is plentiful”.

But in order to be effective in this, we require visionary leadership, inspirational worship, training in discipleship, and authentic community. When we have these, we will be able to do this, as an authentic expression of who we are; ministering out of vibrant, life filled, dynamic congregations in which the message of Jesus is modeled and shared: “Come and see, join us in Christ’s mission, learn to follow Jesus with us.” Such congregations, and only such congregations, are ready for sustainable evangelism, whether “attractional” or “fresh expressions” or whatever. Without these, all our efforts will be hit and miss—like playing pin the tail on the donkey, with the tail ending up all over the place.

I love the thought of communities of Christ followers meeting together for prayer, bible reading, holy communion, and then going out to walk through their neighbourhoods asking “how can we help”—and thinking seriously about what it would mean to share Jesus in that place.

My friend Tom Bandy said it well, I think: “Love your church, of course: but love Jesus more.”

Related Posts:

The High Price of Evangelism
Reviewing the Decade of Evangelism
What is Natural Church Development?
Evidence of God At Work – Learning from Conversion Stories
A Response to the Interview with Ed Dallow

Church - General, Discipleship, Evangelism - General, Good Idea! Articles, Lectures, Worship

Author Info:
Canon Dr. Harold Percy is the rector of Trinity Anglican Church, Streetsville, and was the first Director of the Wycliffe College Institute of Evangelism. He is the author of Following Jesus: First Steps on the Way (1993), Good News People (1996), and Your Church Can Thrive (2003). Harold and John Bowen, the present Director, are proud grandfathers to Owen Percy, born February 28 2010 to Benjamin Percy and Anna Bowen. Click here to read all articles by Harold Percy