Tag: christmas

A Christmas Letter from Danny Mulkey

If you’ve seen one sheep, you’ve seen them all. Sameness, day after day, season after season, year after year. The shepherd’s high school motto was probably something like, “Once a shepherd, always a shepherd.” All of life was pretty much “same-old, same-old” for these guys.

THEN ONE NIGHT THE COURSE OF THEIR LIVES WAS CHANGED FOREVER.

A real, live angel walked up to their campfire, glowing in the awesomeness of the glory of God. As the shepherds reached for their Ray-Bans, the angel gave them the greatest news in all of history. The Savior had finally come, born right in their home town. The words had barely left the angel’s lips when suddenly the sky cracked wide open and a whole army of worshiping angels spilled out into view, praising God and giving Him glory!

GOD’S GIFT OF JESUS TO THEM AND TO US WAS WAY MORE THAN A GAME CHANGER. IT WAS A HISTORY CHANGER.

Do you think those shepherds understood the sweet shock of the events of that night? Not likely.

Okay, so that was a long time ago, but doesn’t a spark of the majesty of that night still linger in our hearts?  Don’t we long, even just a little, for the rekindling of the glorious reality of Jesus?

Well, what are we waiting for? Christmas 2017 is a great season to carve out some time to get alone with Jesus, to listen to Him speak to our hearts, to hear His encouraging, identity-stamping words and to let Him empower us to make His great news known to folks we connect with in every area of our lives.

The Gospel of Luke tells us these shepherds, after seeing the glory of God and hearing the birth announcement of the savior of the world, responded by getting in the presence of Jesus and by sharing His Great News with everybody around.

As a church, we are called to do just what the shepherds did. It’s not complicated, we can simply:

  • Remember // The gift of Jesus and His presence
  • Rejoice // Give thanks and glory to God, non-stop
  • Retell // Share Jesus’ Great News

We, the Elders of Antioch Community Church, pray you all will be filled to the brim with His peace and joy this season.

Merry Christmas,

Danny Mulkey – Caleb Zone Pastor and Elder

Isaiah 9:6 // The Promises that Never Fail

God does not do things like we do. His ways are upside down to us. That may be one of the reasons the season celebrating the birth of His Son captivates people. A child born in a barn.  A child who comes into our lives low. No legions of soldiers or loyal subjects at His command. He introduces His upside down Kingdom from the beginning. Don’t be fooled, though.

THE BOY-CHILD MAY BE WRAPPED IN FLESH, BUT HE IS WHAT WE NEED, WHAT WE MUST HAVE.

Seven hundred years before His humble entrance, God told us who He was and what He would offer to all of us. Isaiah 9:6 gives us details because human beings have a lot of questions— Who can I talk to? Who is really in charge? Is there anything more to life than what I am experiencing right now? Where is peace in the midst of the chaos that I see around me? The God of the universe addressed these questions. Instead of just giving answers, He gave a Promise/the Promise of Isaiah 9:6. You have seen the words of this verse during the Christmas season on cards, marquees and posters, or you have heard them sung during Christmas concerts.

“For a Child will be born to us, a Son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”

Messiah, the Promise, carries with Him the answers we need. He is the One who always offers the best advice for any situation. He is our Wonderful Counselor.

He is the One who is in charge. He is the Mighty God and He will always have the last word. The government of nations and of our lives rests on His shoulders.

He is the everlasting Father. No, this life is not all there is. There is an everlasting life option of Heaven if we make the choice to trust in the Messiah. He wants us, but we must choose Him and then we can have a Father who never fails, disappoints or leaves.

AND, WE DON’T HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL HEAVEN TO EXPERIENCE THE FATHER’S LOVE.

He is the One who brings a deep peace to every circumstance of life. The promise is not that the winds of life won’t sometimes blow furiously, but that He will always be the peace who holds us in the midst of the gales.

IN RESPONSE:

Take a few minutes to read this verse out loud and let the promises capture and comfort you. Then, using the links below, worship the Promised One by listening to portions of Handel’s “Messiah.”

By Penny Allison – Adult Pastor and Women’s Ministry

How to Holiday // Contentment

Can you feel it? When I walk into Target, when I see the commercials or hear the music, I can feel it – Christmas spirit. It’s so funny how tangible the energy and momentum of the holidays can be.  And that energy stirs up a wide range of emotions and memories in each of us: some good, some hard.

SOMETIMES THE NOSTALGIA AND THE MEDIA AROUND US CREATE EXPECTATIONS WE CAN’T ATTAIN.

And sometimes the holidays are the most difficult time of the year because we face loneliness or pain in our families.

WHETHER ITS HALLMARK EXPECTATIONS OR HARSH REALITIES, HOW CAN WE FIND CONTENTMENT THIS CHRISTMAS?

“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice.” – Philippians 4:4

Again and again, Paul’s advice in his letter to the Philippians is to rejoice. It’s ironic that he would use this word so much in his letter because he is writing to the church amid great struggle and some acute relational conflict. Paul himself writes this letter from prison, not knowing if he will live. Yet, repeatedly, he takes time to rejoice! He seems to realize that contentment doesn’t end in rejoicing.

REJOICING ENDS IN CONTENTMENT.

Contentment is Reasonable

In Philippians 4, Paul is writing to two women at odds with each other. Apparently the conflict is so severe, Paul feels the need to weigh in. He tells the others in the church to help these women reconcile and then moves directly into his encouragement, “Rejoice in the Lord” in verse four.  Then in verse five, Paul encourages the church to, “let your reasonableness/ gentleness be known to all.  The Lord is near.”

Each of us have different dynamics at play in our families when we are home for the holidays.  Some of us routinely face conflict or tension. Paul’s instruction amid relational drama is to rejoice and be reasonable (also translated to gentle or moderate). Paul is encouraging the people to avoid the emotional extremes that our relationships and circumstances can pull us into.  We want to rejoice and be reasonable, NOT overwhelmed and swept away in our relationships this holiday season.

We do this by zooming out and aligning our expectations:

  • Zoom Out // If you’re feeling discouraged or overwhelmed this season, take time to zoom out from your current circumstance by rejoicing at how God is working in the big picture and in other ways in your life.  When you can look back or look ahead and see how God is at work, it will give you faith for how He can move in your current situation.
  • Align your Expectations // Notice I said align and not lower your expectations. It’s amazing how our imagination and our expectations of what will or won’t happen over the holidays can run wild without realizing it. Take time to sit down and pray, “God, what do You want to do in my family and in my life this Christmas?” Write down what the Holy Sprit says and let that drive your expectations and faith.

Contentment is Not Neutral

“Do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will be with you always” – Philippians 4:6-7

“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me- practice these things and the God of peace will be with you.” – Philippians 4:9

The promise of Scripture is that the peace of God beyond all logic and God Himself will be with us. Yet the Bible is clear that there are things we DO as believers to access the peace He wants to give.  Don’t sit back and wait for contentment to find you this season. To walk in peace we need to be proactive in praying and rejoicing.

  • Take time to pray this holiday season //  You aren’t too busy to find Him, and you’ll find Him in your prayer life.  Spend quality, if not quantity, time rejoicing out loud for what God has done in your life.  Pray specific prayers and ask for specific answers in areas your worried about this season.  You’ll be amazed at what God can do!
  • Practice// Paul encourages the church to keep doing what they’ve learned.  The holidays are a time for rest and celebration.  But too often we push pause on the disciplines of prayer and time with God that actually give us the peace, hope, joy and strength we need. Keep practicing the things you’ve learned in your walk with God.

Contentment is an Atmosphere

“…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content…I have learned the secret of facing abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who gives me strength” – Philippians 4:11b-13

We often see that last verse on the wall of a weight room or maybe scrawled on the sweatband of some famous athlete. Ironically, this verse isn’t about victories and overcoming. This verse is about having the strength and character to face both victories AND defeat. Paul is expressing that he’s learned something about walking with God in good times and in bad times. Sometimes we have to walk through difficult circumstances to truly learn the contentment that Paul is talking about. Contentment doesn’t look like the ideal place or scenario you might imagine. Rather, it is the atmosphere you live in everywhere you go!

My final encouragement this season is to embrace the situation God has placed you in. Learn and get all that God has for you!

  • Embrace, don’t escape // Press into your relationships this season, press into that family Christmas or that difficult, even painful situation.  Leave your phone in the car when you go inside, get good rest and don’t stay up late watching endless media.

IN RESPONSE:

What is one thing you can do to embrace the season that God has put you in this Christmas? If nothing else, God wants to give you His contentment, His peace and Himself this holiday season!

By Chase Moore – Associate Young Adult Pastor

Making the Most of Your Christmas Break // Kids Edition

The Christmas season is a time of celebration, but it can often be a time of stress and anxiety for both children and parents.

CHECK OUT THESE TIPS FROM OUR KIDS MINISTRY FOR MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR CHRISTMAS BREAK:

  • Interview your spouse and older kids // Find out what makes Christmas seem like Christmas to your spouse and to your older kids. What is their favorite thing your family does during Christmas? How are they feeling about upcoming visits with extended family? What special things would they like to make time during their school break (think hobbies, visits with friends, fun times as a family)? What are some ways they can intentionally serve and bless other family members during this special time together? This can help you have the conversations your family needs and focus the way you spend your time over the holidays.
  • Make the most of your car time // If you are taking a road trip, plan to download or borrow intentional, meaningful, fun audio books you can listen to together. Make sure you have your family’s favorite Christmas music on hand as well so you can all sing along together. These create shared experiences that draw you together. Through the years, we have found our kids sharing inside jokes from these books or singing these shared songs as we cook together in the kitchen.
  • Make connections // Proactively plan ahead with your spouse about how to facilitate time with Jesus for each family member while you are with extended family. Whether you are staying with relatives or hosting them, your rhythms and spaces change, and you’ll want to plan intentionally so that time with Jesus actually happens. Also, find time to pull away in the morning and evening, both as a couple and as a nuclear family, even just for a few minutes. This time can allow you to help your children sort through family dynamics or talk in honoring but honest ways about places where your values differ from those of extended family members.
  • Keep food prep shared and simple // Consider taking time in the days leading up to Christmas to spend unpressured time in the kitchen with your kids, enjoying the process of baking and letting them explore and develop their skills, whatever their ability level. As you prepare holiday meals, break tasks down and figure out what each child can do. Even if it is chaotic, working together in the kitchen can be a time of great joy, togetherness and memory-making. If you tend to make similar things each year, making a master grocery list for the week of Christmas will save you time when you pull it back out each year. Our list includes all the ingredients for Christmas cookies, our favorite Christmas Eve chili (keeping it simple), candy for stockings, breakfast for Christmas morning, a special Christmas dinner and supplies for s’mores.
  • Simple gifts // Consider giving and/or letting your kids contribute toward an amount of money you will give to an organization like World Vision. Once you settle on the amount, give them the World Vision catalog and let them know they must agree on what to give. Our kid “committee” spent a long time around the dining room table deliberating and persuading each other, laboring over which was more important – clean water or vaccinations, chickens or goats. They eventually agreed and were very excited about what they were able to give. This process also helps them keep a perspective of thankfulness in the midst of a commercialized Christmas culture.
  • Have a Giving Day // Before Christmas, our kids take some time to clean out their closets and toy shelves. We encourage our kids to think about things they would like to give that would bless another child, not just their unwanted junk. Thinning out their belongings and thinking about what would bless others is another way to cultivate thankfulness and generosity. It makes more impact on kids’ hearts to do this before they receive their Christmas gifts, so they are giving without knowing what they will receive.
  • It’s Classified // Arm your kids with this simple phrase. It will enable you to draw them into gift-giving without having them divulge secrets or feel compelled to resort to lying. You could take one child at a time on a mission to find gifts for another child or other family members. When siblings try to extract hints from this child, all they have to say (repeatedly) is, “It’s classified.” Drawing your kids into searching for each other’s gifts can help them grow in thoughtfulness and love for their siblings.
  • The real deal // Take time on Christmas morning to gather your kids, read the Christmas story from Luke 2 and sing some worshipful Christmas carols together.

Most of all, enjoy Jesus together as a family. You can take these steps to keep your family connected and focused on beholding the King of Kings with wonder through the Christmas season!

By Betty Lewis – Infant and Toddlers Pastor

Neighborhood Christmas Lights

I love Christmas! I love the music, the festivities, the gifts and the amazing light displays.  A few years back we lived in a different state. We had some neighbors that went all out with their lighting display.  The lights were synced with Christmas music that played from speakers in the yard, and you could even tune to a particular station on your radio and listen to the music while watching the synchronized light display from the warmth of your car. It was amazing!

While I thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of their light display, I never met those neighbors. I don’t know their names. I don’t remember anything about them other than their light display. I don’t think that is exactly what Jesus had in mind when He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).

As Christians, we often talk about evangelism with grand and serious language. We tend to imagine evangelism as a great crusade or a door-to-door sales strategy, but Jesus didn’t think about it like that. He never used the word, “evangelism.” He never passed out tracts or put up billboards.

HE SIMPLY ASKED US TO BE INTENTIONALLY KIND TO THE PEOPLE THAT LIVE AROUND US.

He told us to do really nice things for our neighbors. You know, love them like you love yourself or your own family. It may not be rocket science, but it is certainly not common in our current culture.

We pack our schedules with so much stuff that we never have an opportunity to interact with our neighbors. We work hard, squeeze in some church meetings and sign the kids up for every possible extra-curricular activity. Consequently, we roll into the garage just in time to eat a quick bite, help with homework and fall into bed. This is the norm in our culture, but it is difficult to merge this lifestyle with the call of Jesus to, “love your neighbors.”

So, how exactly do we love our neighbors?

HERE ARE A FEW SIMPLE STEPS THAT CAN MAKE A PROFOUND DIFFERENCE IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD:

  1. Be intentional – it will not happen unless you actually make time.
  2. Learn the names of every neighbor on your street, block, dorm hall, etc.
  3. Then get out, introduce yourself and make conversation.
  4. Continue to be social. Create opportunities to interact with your neighbors.
  5. Learn about their lives, family, needs, hurts, desires, etc.
  6. Eventually, after they know you care, ask how you can pray for them.
  7. Someday in the future, when they are having dinner with you at your house, it will be natural for you to talk about the One you love, the One who changed your life, the One that loves them also.

Loving your neighbors is the simple strategy of Jesus to change the world. It works. Start with these few simple steps and watch Jesus create an awesome light display in your neighborhood.

By Weston Nichols – Adult Pastor

And He Shall Be Called… // Part One

Today Carl Gulley kicked off our new series, And He Shall Be Called…, with a message on the coming of Jesus and God’s faithfulness. God proved Himself to be faithful when He fulfilled every promise that was spoken about the coming of our Deliverer – Jesus. God is still faithful and will fulfill every promise He has ever spoken over our lives.

CHECK OUT SOME OF OUR TAKEAWAYS FROM TODAY’S MESSAGE:

  • Christmas is such a big deal because it lists a series of wild promises that all came to pass.
  • If God went to great lengths to see the promises spoken over His Son fulfilled, He will go to the same great lengths to see the promises spoken over your life fulfilled.
  • The God who has initiated with you is the same God who is said to be the zeal of the Lord of hosts (Isaiah 9:7).
  • Our God is faithful, and He will bring these things to pass.
  • If you dare God, He tends to follow through on those promises.
  • God used ungod-following things to start putting His will into play.
  • Mary stood on the beginning of a promise being fulfilled.
  • No one gets peace from Caesar Augustus, they get peace from the One – Jesus.

By Carl Gulley – College Pastor

Elvis vs. Christmas

I’ve never been a big Elvis fan. It’s not that I have anything against him, it’s just a matter of taste. However, there is one song I wish he had never recorded Blue Christmas.

IT’S A FACT THAT THERE ARE MANY AMONG US WHO DO FEEL “BLUE,” AND WITH A GOOD REASON.

We may find the holiday season intensifies our sadness over the loss of a spouse, parent or other loved one.  Or maybe the Christmas Season stirs up painful memories of family discord or even abuse. In fact, most people have a mixture of wonderfully positive feelings and painfully unpleasant feelings this time of year.

The world wants us to focus on our misfortunes and our hurts hence, the popularity of songs like Blue Christmas. But singing sad songs sure doesn’t make you very joyful!

God has a better idea!

IF WE’RE GRIEVING, HE WANTS US TO TURN TO HIM SO WE CAN BE COMFORTED.

If we know someone who is grieving, He wants to use us to bring joy and comfort to his or her life. Here are two of the MANY Scriptures which illustrate God’s desire to comfort us:

“A Father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families.” Psalm 68

“Who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” 2 Corinthians 1:4


IN RESPONSE:

  • 1. Who is one person you know who is grieving, lonely or saddened by the Christmas Season?
  • 2. What are one or two ways you and your family or Lifegroup can bring encouragement and comfort to this person, (i.e., invite them to dinner, take your kids to visit them, buy or make them a present that is personalized with their name or initials, etc.)?
  • 3. Is this Christmas season particularly painful to you, personally?
    • Get connected to a Lifegroup. Just come to NEXT right after one of our Sunday services to get the connection process started.
    • Be honest with God and ask Him to comfort you and to meet every need you have.
    • Wait on the Lord and watch Him work!

By Danny Mulkey – Caleb Zone Pastor

 

 

Five Ways To Reach Out This Christmas Season

Christmas time is here again!

Around this time each year, things seem to get a little brighter and a little more joyful. This is also the time to look back on the hope, joy and peace that came into the world with the birth of Jesus. As schedules start to get filled with Christmas parties and other holiday get-togethers, we encourage you to pause and reach out to those around you. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, just a simple gesture to share the love and joy of Jesus.

Check out five practical ways to reach out this holiday season:
  • 1. Invite family and friends to the upcoming Christmas play. A Christmas Carol Retold illustrates the Gospel in a fun and unique way, and it is great for the whole family. The play is free and childcare is provided for birth – kindergarten. Invitations are available at the Info Desk for you to hand out. You can also invite people through social media with one of these two graphics.
  • 2. Take your neighbors a holiday treat. Nothing says Merry Christmas like some red and green cookies. Get the kids involved, bake some cookies and tell your neighbors how thankful you are for them with a Christmas treat. Need an easy recipe? Here’s a great one.
  • 3. Go Christmas caroling. Sure this sounds a little old-school, but everyone enjoys Christmas tunes. Whether in your neighborhood, at an elderly-care facility or a local hospital, this is a great way for the whole family to spread some holiday cheer.
  • 4. Donate a gift to a local organization. Project Angel Tree collects gifts for children whose parents are unable to be with them this Christmas. You can pick up a name and gift idea from the tree at Richland Mall. Gifts can be dropped off during regular mall hours now – December 19th. For more information, check out the Project Angel Tree website.
  • 5. Invite people to our Christmas Eve services. Did you know people are more likely to attend church around Christmas time than almost any other time of the year? We encourage you to invite others to join us in celebrating the birth of our Savior this season. We will have Christmas Eve services on Saturday, December 24th, at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Childcare will be available. Invitations will be available at the Info Desk in the coming weeks.

Step Into The Story

A few years ago I realized that the classic Christmas carols not only sing about Jesus’ birth – they invite us to step right into the story for ourselves. They are written as though we are standing in the story in real-time. Angels We Have Heard On High invites us to, “come adore on bended knee Christ the Lord the newborn King,” as if it is happening right now. We are standing under a night sky where “the stars are brightly shining,” for “it is the night of the dear Savior’s birth,” in O Holy Night. And O Come O Come Emmanuel paints a picture of an awaiting Israel, God’s chosen people, “that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear,” before ringing out the good news, “Rejoice! Emmanuel has come!”

We are not just singing a song – we are caught up in a story.

I don’t know where you see yourself in this story, but I know where I am standing. I’m on that hill with the shepherds. The outcasts. The dirty ones. The least. I picture myself as the son of a man who told the stories of our ancestors, how they had known God as His special people, how He had miraculously delivered them numerous times over the generations, how our people had turned away from our God and walked into bondage and how He had promised to send a Savior. And how we all have been waiting in desperate hope ever since. I have heard the stories all my life and now as a grown man, I have a dim hope of anticipation for this Messiah as well.

I figure as a mere shepherd I will just hear about His coming in the news of the city, for a king usually makes his entrances in the middle of the town square for all to see. So I am shocked and overwhelmed when a blazing light breaks into my night sky right in front of me! And the triumphant voices of these heavenly beings of light happily tell us there’s good news waiting for us in Bethlehem. I am overwhelmed, but I pull myself off the ground to go with my partners to find the baby described to us. And as we make the trek to the City of David, I realize this is the One for whom we’ve longed for generation upon generation. And I’m going to behold Him: the Deliverer, the Savior of the world. I feel old, and I’ve been waiting and wondering for so long, I am not sure what I will say to this King.

I wrote the lyrics of this song, Down On This Ground, from this perspective:

Wise men came to seek You

Traveling across the snow

Following a star that led them

To a little One to offer their gold

 

Lowly shepherds in the winter

Tried to keep warm in the cold

Angels sang a song about You

And they ran to find You as they were told

 

Little Child, I’ve been looking for You

As I walk through this weary world

Now I come to this humble manger

To see Heaven come down on this ground

 

And on this silent night You’ll hear me singing

With the merry hearts of the awaiting

Wash me as white as that snow

And I’ll lift You up like that star

Refine my heart like that gold

And I will lay my life down on this ground

Little Child, I’ve been looking for you. We’ve all been waiting. Our hearts have been longing for a hope that shines brighter than the darkness around us, within us. We all have inside a desperate cry for salvation. And it’s as though the gift comes when we’re least expecting it. Like a sudden snow, God quietly stepped into our world.

He didn’t come wearing expensive robes riding on a white horse to the middle of the city to make His announcement to the rich and popular. He came as a baby, fragile and dependent. He was laid in animal feed grass, like where I sleep every night. I can see Him lifting His little hand through the dirt and flies to wonder at His own fingers. And I can tell that He is from God. It seems Heaven has come down on this dirty, broken ground to meet me. So my response is natural: I want to be clean on the inside like Him. I can’t get that way by myself, so I will lay my life down on this ground before Him. I don’t have anything to give Him, just my heart – but He can have my all, and I think He’ll take me. And that makes me want to worship Him, to lift Him up like the star shining brightly above us.

If you’ll step into the story, I think you’ll find yourself worshiping Him as well.

By James Mark Gulley

What We’re Reading: Christmas Edition

This week we begin Advent. A time of remembering the 400 years of silent anticipation of the arrival of our Savior. Many people are celebrating the Christmas Season with an Advent Calendar or special book to help them connect to the heart of the season and the eternal truth that great light has come into the darkness. Here are some of our favorite books for this time of year.

Waiting Here for You: An Advent Journey of Hope by Louie Giglio – The Christmas season is one most of us look forward to, yet the rush and crush of the holidays can leave us dizzy. Often, at this time of year, we realize we are all waiting for something: a solution, a relationship, a breakthrough, a rescue. The word Advent means expectation. And Christmas is a time that reminds us: God made a promise and then He fulfilled it. This daily devotional book by Louie Giglio will show you what to do while you’re waiting and how to encounter hope over the holidays and throughout your life.

The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp – Divided into daily readings starting on December 1 and going through Christmas Day, Voskamp artfully draws the reader into the full love story of the season. She reaches back into the pages of the Old Testament to explore the lineage of Jesus — the greatest gift — through the Advent tradition of “The Jesse Tree.”

Jotham’s Journey: A Storybook for Advent by Arnold Ytreeide – Jotham’s Journey is a great book for you to read with your children. Each day has a reading that takes you through ten-year-old Jothan’s journey across Israel as he searches for his family. Along the journey he encounters wise men, shepherds and innkeepers until he finds his way to the Savior born in Bethlehem.

You may also want to revisit last year’s Advent blog written by Family Pastor Van Vandegriff: