ICYouth: Giving the Best Christmas Gift: Jesus {Alexus}

Every Friday, we’re taking a peek at how God is working in the lives of our high school students. These servants of Jesus are walking daily by faith as they navigate the hallways and relationships inside their school walls and beyond. Our weekly series will highlight what God is up to in their lives in their voices. Leave them some encouragement by commenting?

by Alexus Jones

As I write to you, it is the afternoon of Thursday, December 20, 2012. I returned home from a busy day to the sudden realization that tomorrow is December 21, 2012. Because it’s quite possibly the most well-known supposed “End of Time” in history, I haven’t been too terribly worried. The Bible does in fact say that no one will know the date of the End, and 12/21/12 is far too famous to be a plausible choice.

However, the humbling thought did cross my mind; what if today really was my last day? How have I lived it? I woke up this morning at 6:02 a.m.. It was raining. I then got ready for school. Within the next few hours, I sat through three exhausting final exams—Wind Ensemble, Spanish III Honors and AP Biology. Then I played some Christmas songs with a group from my school for an old folks’ home—something I really hadn’t planned on doing until someone asked me to play music for it. Now I am at home, studying for tomorrow’s finals and writing a blog post. What if that were my last day on Earth? How would I feel about that?

As much as I long for Jesus’ Second Coming, I cannot help but be saddened at the people I would be leaving behind. There is beauty and horror in the words, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life,” (John 3:16). As glorious and stunning as this verse is, the inverse never fails to petrify me. If John 3:16 is true, then whoever does not believe in Jesus, shall perish and will not have an eternal life with God.

The apathy of most Christians is staggering. I see the same apathy in myself every day. I walk around the halls of my school with people that I’ve grown incredibly close to, and yet I seem to have accepted that any day that I don’t share Jesus with them is another day that they could die and be eternally separated from our loving Lord and Creator. How can I be ok with that? How can anyone be ok with that?

It’s essentially like discovering the cure to cancer. You’ve discovered this antidote that can eternally rid your body of the mortal illness that has murdered so many people, and you’ve crawled away from death’s door. You celebrate your freedom from this ailment, but your friends, family, and loved ones continue to wither away because you’ve hidden your cure.

At the heart of the matter, that’s basically what our friends are doing; they are dying. Every day, the virus of sin slowly eats away at their bodies until the day that it overtakes them and steals all of life from them. Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior, is the one thing that we believe to take that virus away. Someone had the courage to first share that remedy with you and I so we could know God, even though it was entirely likely that any one of us would push it away.

Someone else—maybe even the same person—had the patience and love to aid each of us in taking the first steps of that walk of faith so that we each could better know God. Then someone else showed each of us and taught each of us how to read the Bible so we could know God that much more. And two thousand years ago, a man unjustly hung on a cross of shame, and that’s the only reason that we can know God at all. There are so many people— pastors, parents, siblings or even strangers— that have taken risky steps so that you could know God — so that I could know God. Don’t you think that it’s about time we start taking the same risks for the people we adore?

Start small. This week, make it a point to start planting seeds in your friends’ hearts. Invite a non-Christian friend to Sunday morning or Christmas Eve church service. Take someone out to tea and bring up Christianity. Buy them a Bible as a Christmas gift. As we begin our conversations remember that a Christ follower’s most important job is to share the Good News of Christ. We shouldn’t base our success on a person’s reaction; simply sharing His Message is a success. You may not be the person to ultimately bring them to Christ, but you can easily be the first to plant a seed that will continue to be fed and watered by God through others.

God bless, and may your Christmas be fruitful and merry!

Alexus Jones is a junior at Lakes Community High School. She plays in the high school youth group worship band and works backstage on Sunday mornings at Immanuel Church. She is a singer/songwriter who desires to glorify God with the abilities that He’s entrusted to her.

World Outreach: What to Wrap Today

starWith Christmas quickly approaching, let us take time and remember the purpose of the holiday. Jesus reminds us in Psalm 46:10: Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.

When we follow Jesus we “realize that we are truly incapable of controlling life, we must surrender our will to God’s will. It may be a matter of finally saying we trust Him. This will open the door so that we may experience the fullness of all God wants and has for us. After all, He is our Creator and has a perfect plan for us when we let Him orchestrate it.”

God wants no greater present than our presence. What a glorious gift to unwrap this holiday season. What gift from God did you find or experience this past year? What gift do you hope to give or share?

The Marriage Course: A Perfect Gift

by Linda Hawn, Immanuel attendee

Whether you’ve been married for days or decades, The Marriage Course can benefit and strengthen your marriage; I speak from experience.

marriage course logo NEWWe’d heard quite a bit about The Marriage Course during Sunday services, and I was very curious about it.  At the time, we’d been married 28 years and everything was going well, but I’m a medical laboratory technologist and I’m analytical by nature; this was an opportunity to focus on our relationship and see what we could be doing differently or better to keep our marriage healthy.  My husband Paul knew I wanted to sign up and, since it was early February, he agreed to it.  Happy Valentine’s Day to Lin from Paul!  Shopping done, and no gift wrap needed!

Here’s how a typical Marriage Course evening went for us.  We were greeted by members of the Marriage Course team and orders for specialty beverages were served with dessert during a class break.  Music played as we headed into the lobby and a delicious spread of hors d’oeuvres awaited.  Here’s a tip – you don’t need to eat supper before you go to class.  Every week has a different theme.  It was fun to see what was waiting for us.

After grazing and chatting, we moved into the classroom.  It was filled with tables for two, complete with flowers and candles.  The course involved watching a DVD and was interspersed with breaks along the way, which gave us a chance to talk just the two of us using questions, quizzes and exercises from a workbook to direct our conversations.  There was no group discussion.   Whew, sigh of relief.

The DVD series was produced in the United Kingdom so we heard lots of English accents.  What is it about English accents that’s so intriguing to us Americans?  Anyway, I digress.  I had told Paul that if he was bored during class he could draw up a tic-tac-toe board, and I would play along.  We didn’t need to play tic-tac-toe.  Paul found that the video and workbook facilitated the discussion periods and led us into conversations we’d never had before.  There were a few times when our jaws dropped and we were looking at each other in surprise, saying things like, “Really?” and “I never heard that before.” and “I’m sorry, I didn’t know …”   I won’t share those moments of enlightenment; no group discussion, remember?

The topics of the seven classes are:  Building a Strong Foundation (we considered it Shoring up our Foundation), Communication, Resolving Conflict, Forgiveness, Family – Past & Present, Good Sex and Love in Action.  During class, it was just the two of us at our table.  There was suggested homework to do and date nights were encouraged.  The team supporting the sessions created a comfortable environment, and they put a lot of effort into making each week special for the couples.  We were really catered to.

The Scriptures have a lot to say about the sacredness of marriage and how our unions are to reflect the oneness of Christ with His church.  In a world where evil tears good things down, please consider taking advantage of this opportunity to get some new tools to build your marriage.

Click HERE to register for The Marriage Course! The next session beings January 18, 2013!

Advent: Waiting for the Light

by Marion Medina

The days before Christmas are shorter than any other time of year. The darkness closes in earlier and we compensate by stringing lights and lighting candles. Advent is the season of waiting for the true light to come. The four weeks before Christmas represent a dark, 400-year period in the history of the nation of Israel in which people watched and hoped for a Messiah who would deliver them from oppression.

The events in New Town, CT last week remind us of how profoundly the darkness is closing in around us, not just in shortness of day, but in deeply tragic ways. Something has gone terribly wrong with the world, and this time, innocent children bore the consequences.

And so we wait. And we cry out, “How long, O Lord? When will you set things right in this world?”

Things were right once for a short time. At creation, people were meant to live under God’s good and gracious rule, but rebellion has been the course people have chosen from the very beginning. When we go against the natural order of things – living under God’s rule – the consequences are destruction, chaos and death.

God saw the darkness closing in and came to live among us in Jesus. Jesus showed us how to relate to God, to others and even to the physical world around us. Then He carried the very consequences of our rebellion to the cross and tasted the destruction that was rightfully ours. But He didn’t stop there. He took back His life and defeated the ultimate consequence – death.

When we surrender our lives to Jesus we place ourselves back under His rule, and we become part of what He is doing to set things right in the world. Jesus said,

“You are the light of the world – like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

The Light of the world calls those who follow Him to be the light of the world. We have a choice to make as the shock of last week’s events fades and our sadness turns to anger. We can blame, shake our heads at society, argue politics, hate, or we can sit silently before our Messiah and ask how He would have us shine in this darkness. His answer may surprise us, but His way, the way of love, is the only way that will lead to true light.

May our light shine brightly in the darkness this Christmas, and may the Light of the World be honored in all we do and say.

Cover photo by Alita Maini.

Marion Medina is the director of evangelism and community outreach at Immanuel. She enjoys running, nature, exploring, traveling and spending time with the people she loves. 

The Monday After: Christmas Wrappings: Wrapped in Mystery {Anita}

You know that Sunday feeling, right?

We leave church inspired by and filled with  Truth, encouragement and passion on Sundays … and somewhere along the course of the day, after the music fades and our cars leave the parking lot, pieces of the message tend to fade, too; somewhere along the way, we often lose that Sunday feeling. 

The Monday After {the Sunday Sermon} is our attempt to carry the Sunday message into Monday mornings by walking together and sharing how what we’ve heard on Sunday morning is making a difference in our Mondays, our weeks, our lives. Each Monday, a voice from the pews will give personal perspective to the words we soaked in on Sunday. 

So follow along each Monday as we seek to integrate that Truth into our daily lives; leave your thoughts in the comments below. 

The Monday After Sunday, December 16, 2012: Christmas Wrappings: Wrapped in Mystery

By Anita Everly

My heart was already pained early last week. A friend’s news regarding a heinous act of two teenagers in her neighborhood left me feeling kicked in the gut. Another day a personal pain too difficult to keep composed drove me away from the dinner table in tears. And the truth of the darkness of this world set in thick as fog over me, well before the tragedy of Friday morning became yet another reality of this fallen world.

I was desperate for God’s light, here and now, and begged Him to show me the good.

For a moment, the darkness seemed bigger than God.

I forgot the part of John 16:33 when he said: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Even so, He sought me.

I checked my email mid-week, and a reminder was there of Emmanuel. God with us.

And in the midst of my funk and the scurrying about at home, the words from the Christmas music in my CD player belted louder than any others all day, “O Come O come, Emmanuel.”

“Emmanuel. Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

God with us.

I’ve sung those songs hundreds of times and read the words with belief in them, but it started to salve over my hurting heart like brand new. That’s just how amazing the truths of God are! They can be like new to an old girl like me and speak great hope into a week in the life.

In the midst of the messy and broken and evil, God IS with us.

It didn’t take long for Him to remind me of His constant presence. The next morning my son ran downstairs and said with excitement, “Mom! Come look at the sunrise out my window!” Anxious for a glimpse of joy, I quickly ran upstairs with him to capture the majesty of our Creator through the little window. My son was beside me in awe of His sunrise.

God with us.

On Friday morning as I dusted, I noticed the manger scene arranged by my son. The plastic figurines were scrunched up so close around Jesus, the sheep right at His head. I marveled again at the pure love and ease of a child, snuggling everyone up as close as possible to Jesus. Shouldn’t we all want to be that close to Him all the time?

As I paused to look at the figurine of Jesus, I was struck by the familiar and the unfathomable, all intertwined in one.

He was fully man and fully God.

Here on earth.

Emmanuel. God with us.
Even when His human form was no longer tangible.

Songs continued to play throughout the week and He reminded me over and over of His presence in this world. Hope. Peace. Joy.

The arrangement of the song “Holy, Holy, Holy” by Matt Maher says:

From the cradle to the cross, God with us. God with us. For this broken world you love, God with us. God with us. You gave up Your only son, God with us. God with us. So that all would come to know our God with us.

And the Christmas song by Francesca Battistelli, “You’re Here,” sung so beautifully by Jacqui yesterday morning, was one I had been singing throughout the week. This song reminded me:

You could have left us on our own

But You’re here.

Hallelujah, You’re here.

Hallelujah, You’re here.

God with us.

You are here.

That in His great love He would step out of eternity to be with us is amazing.

And that He meets me at my place of need in very specific ways in the ordinary of my day — through an email, a sunrise, a plastic figurine or a song–that He is that personal to bring me hope, peace and joy is nearly unfathomable.

But that is the mystery of Christ.

Emmanuel. God with us.

Anita Everly is the wife of David and mom to their three sons.  She can be found watching the lives of her men unfold, creating a home, and encouraging other women in life and motherhood.  She is striving to live life on purpose because she is crazy in love with the One who is crazy in love with her.