THAT THEY MAY HAVE LIFE

The thing I love about Christianity is how it’s filled with paradoxes.  I love how it’s complex theological ideas keep brilliant minds debating and deliberating while at the same time Christianity’s message is so simple it is received, responded to and lived out even by children.

I love that it teaches that in order to gain life, one must give up their life.

I love that it teaches that only by admitting I am tainted by sin I can be washed clean.

Christianity is a religion that is rooted in one choice I must make. But this decision is not merely an idea I must choose to believe or a rule I must choose to follow.  Rather, it is a person, and that person is Jesus.

So really, the thing I love about Christianity isn’t the paradoxes.  It is Jesus, the ultimate paradox. He lived the perfect life so he could die as he took on our sins, giving up himself so that we can have new life.

Hear this truth in the following verses:

John 10:10 reads, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

John 10:28 reads,  “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me.”

John 14:6 reads,  “I am the way the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

By saying, “Yes!” to Jesus, I choose relationship over religion.  I choose freedom in Christ over bondage to self.  I choose life over death.

 


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Martha has been a wife for 17 years and is the mother of three children ages 10, 9 and 5.  When she’s not folding laundry, c
ooking meals, helping with homework, kissing boo-boos, grocery shopping, cleaning house and running errands; she loves to hold babies at Immanuel MOPS!

IMMANUEL: GOD IS WITH US

Here at Immanuel Church we just celebrated our 120th birthday a few short weeks ago. The word “Immanuel” has been a part of our name for 89 of those years.

As our Swedish founders recognized that they needed to change the language used in services, they also knew that the name Swedish Baptist Church needed to change as well to better open the doors to all who needed to hear about Jesus. So, they chose to rename their local body with the word Immanuel in its title. The Hebrew word means “God is with us,” and so He has been for over a century.

The prophet Isaiah proclaimed, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” This was a continuation of the promise that God first spoke in the garden of Eden when he told Eve and the serpent in Genesis 3, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

God’s promise to humanity would take thousands of years to begin its fulfillment.  Yes, BEGIN its fulfillment.

The promise made to Eve was added to in the promise made to Abraham and then to Jacob and then to David. The town of Bethlehem was even promised to be the birthplace of a ruler of Israel from “ancient times.” The Messiah, Immanuel, God is with us.

When Matthew concluded Jesus’s genealogy at the beginning of his gospel, he gave us (ever so briefly) Joseph’s decisions around whether to marry Mary or not and the intercession of an angel in his dream. It is here that Matthew let us know that this all happened to fulfill the words of the prophet “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).”

And so it begins: Immanuel, God is with us.

Jesus lived life for 33 years “with us” here on planet earth. Christmas puts into full motion God’s rescue plan for a humanity that could not reach Him on their own. He comes to be “with us.” Even after Jesus’s death & resurrection, He confirmed to His disciples then and to us now that “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Thus, he instructs us, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” He will still be Immanuel, God is with us.

So we return to December 2015 and that by the fact that our very name as a local church, we are Immanuel, God is with us. And He has been. And He will be.

One hundred twenty years of committed Jesus followers experiencing God’s growing, pruning, blessing, leading and walking alongside. It is in the seeking to be with Him that He continues to reveal that He is with us. In His being with us, we are drawn to seek after and to be with Him. Growth does not happen without this circle of relationship, and yes it is just that, a relationship. Why, you ask? Because He is Immanuel, God is with us. Proximity allows for the beginning of real relationships.  So it was with God when Jesus came to be “with us.” So it remains as in Jesus’s physical absence as each Christ follower is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. He is still with us.

Is this a season of joy?  He joins us.  He is Immanuel, God is with us.

Is this a season of sorrow?  He joins us.  He is Immanuel, God is with us.

Is this a season of uncertainty?  He joins us.  He is Immanuel, God is with us.

Is this a season of wondering if Jesus is even real.  He joins us.  He is still He is Immanuel, God is with us.

So, in this Christmas time when we often reflect upon the past and begin to look towards the future, may it be with this filter…..

We are Immanuel because He is Immanuel, God is with us.

Amen.


Ben Ondo is the father of four (Noah, Jacob, Sarah, & Caleb) and the husband of Robyn (of whom he says he truly married up!). As a long-ben-sketchy-square.2.pngtime member of Immanuel, Ben has served in a number of ministries over the years. Currently he serves as an Elder, Coordinator of VP3 with Robyn, member of the 2nd-5th Grade Sunday morning Worship Team, and occasionally you’ll catch him on stage on a Sunday morning as well. Ben loves Immanuel and desires for her to continue growing into a community where all “help others to know Jesus and grow to be like Him.”

BEAUTY AND LIGHT-BEARING

It’s 45 degrees and raining, and I’m outside attempting to make our house festive by hanging the Christmas lights because, darn it, this year, we’re going to have lights and pretty and shimmery adorning the outside as well!

We will not be the neighborhood “Scrooges” again this year. We WILL have pretty, and we will have light lighting up the December darkness.

However… there’s no Christmas music playing or excited children gathered around to cheerfully hand me the next strand of lights. 

No, they’re inside arguing themselves into oblivion while my saint-like husband is at the helm, cooking dinner; two had offered to help. But I said I’d rather decorate alone than listen to their bickering. 

But what if I fell off the ladder, one mused?

“So be it!” I declared in a moment of supreme maturity and drama before shutting them inside the house. 

(Can you hear the tiny violin playing the saddest music as our heroine begins her decking of the halls?)

It didn’t take long before I realized there was nothing perfect or iconic about the not-so-quintessential-fairytale-Christmas happening with the hanging of these lights; there’s just me, the cold rain, a wobbly ladder and a little epiphany ready to unfold around the time I’m totally soaked and at the end of my figurative and literal strand.

So here’s the truth about this situation.

I am really angry with my children because they are acting like a bunch of angry bees.

I am angry they are ruining a perfectly good Norman Rockwell Christmas scene. 

I huff up the ladder, in all of its wiggly glory, and exhale in frustration.

As I string the lights, I continually try to steady myself. 

It’s sorta exhausting. 

I figure this out by 1/18 of the way through. 

(But our heroine, she perseveres in her exasperation and continues to climb the wobbly ladder time and again to hang another section of the strand.)

At this point, I almost face plant into the front shrubbery. 

It’s only then that I begin to realize something: wobbly ladders are a whole lot like pedestals; God help the fool who climbs onto them. 

Oh, and I feel quite foolish as I climb down carefully as possible. I am angry with my children for falling short of my vision for a beautiful Advent. 

And I am standing on the shakiest of ladders, perched up on my high horse hanging lights on hooks carrying around an anger at those who fall short when I, too, am at risk of falling as well. 

This is where the guilt comes in:

I never should have been up on that rickety ladder alone anyway. 

I never should have … 

I should have just smiled through the kids’ complaining and arguing and controlled myself.

I should have …

Slowly, I plant my last foot on wet cement of our front porch. 

I exhale. 

I don’t know about you, but I can get lost is a whole sea of should-haves and could-haves.

Before I do, though… grace. 

I breathe it in. I exhale it out. I let go of that which doesn’t serve any of us, and I regroup, ready to reenter the house and try again. 

But before I do, I take a few steps back.

A few steps back from the reentry. 

A few steps back from the micro lens portrait. 

A few steps back from the porch and into the darkened cover of night. 

And I realize though we didn’t get there perfectly, not all is lost. 

There is still time to redo, regroup and rebuild.

And the intent of beauty and light-bearing remains. 

Because the lights, just like the Light of the world, they are shining, glimmering beautiful against the inky sky. 


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Hyacynth Worth is beloved to God, wife to John, mom to two boys and two girls and author of Undercover Mother. 

HOW TO ENJOY THE HOLIDAYS AGAIN

“Where’d the magic go?”

That’s the heart’s cry of countless adults every time the holiday season rolls around. We long for the days when wonder was the only feeling we had come late November. We were excited and believed anything could happen, that dreams could come true! But somewhere along the line something broke. Not only did the magic seem to go away, but even the basic sense of joy disappeared.

I think it’s because the older we get the more responsible we become. Now that we’re grown-ups we have stuff to do. We don’t get to just be there; we don’t get to just enjoy, we have to produce. There are cookies to bake, presents to buy, boxes to wrap, and parties to attend. The most wonderful time of the year is often the most stressful time of the year. It’s why we get annoyed when we come across the rare person that’s giddy when the radio starts playing Christmas carols before Thanksgiving (Confession: I listen to Christmas music all year… I just can’t help it!). But I don’t think it has to be this way. I think that even for the person who likes Christmas the least, it can be a season of joy, fun, and beyond all that, full of wonder. So here are a few ways to bring the magic back. Maybe a few ways to be a little less responsible.

  1. Slow down. I know, you just thought about closing your internet browser because I sound like an idiot talking that way. I get it. You can’t stop. You can’t just not go to the office party. You can’t just not buy gifts for your family. You can’t just not bring a dish to pass for the block party. You can’t just not. But I don’t mean physically, I mean mentally. In those moments, the very moments that make the memories, stop to cherish them. Protect that moment in your mind. Look around the room. Smile at each face and thank God for them. With each of the eight dozen gifts you’ll wrap, thank God for the one you’re giving it to. Ask Him to bless their holiday. Slow down without stopping, because I know you can’t do that
  2. Sing loud for all to hear. I know, that’s not original to me. Buddy the Elf was the one that famously said, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer, is singing loud for all to hear.” Yes, the songs can be cheesy. Even the ones at church can be super high and out of your range, but sometimes we need to force ourselves to participate. Did you know singing uses a different part of your brain than speaking? And science is showing that music significantly lowers anxiety. So just try singing Jingle Bells and Silent Night this year—see what happens.
  3. Spend time with kids. The Bible tells us that bad company corrupts good character. Well maybe we’re hanging out with too many grown ups. That magic we’ve lost is still very present in kids, and if you spend any amount of time with them they’ll share it with you. They’re still completely irresponsible, so they aren’t stressed out when it comes to this time of year. No, they’ve actually been looking forward to it! Ask them questions about what they want for Christmas. Ask them what their favorite ornament on the tree is. Ask them about what they’re getting or making for someone else. I promise you’ll smile.
  4. Watch your favorite Christmas movie alongside someone else. The best movies are ones you share with others. It’s tradition in our home that we watch at least one Christmas movie as a family every week between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s always a mess of popcorn kernels, spilled hot chocolate, and too many questions to find answers for…but it’s great. Even if you aren’t married or have kids, invite some friends over and make a night of it. Watching Elf? Dress up. Watching A Christmas Story? Have a bb-gun shooting contest…just don’t shoot your eye out, kid.
  5. Make it spiritual. Confession: I don’t see the jingle bells and holly as the opposite of Jesus. I look at it as the biggest birthday party imaginable for the greatest one imaginable. Think of how much decorating you do for your kids’ birthday parties. Streamers, balloons, and cake are that much different than tinsel, ornaments, and cookies (did you think I’d say fruit cake?). The “holidays” for me, whether the world wants to see it the same way or not, are the largest and most extravagant celebration ever. And He deserves every bit of it.

Nothing too game-changing here. But hopefully it makes your season bright. Merry Christmas everyone! And just think, on December 26, Christmas is just 365 days away…

 


JP

After serving as the Student Ministries Pastor for 10 years, Josh Petersen is now the Lead Pastor of Immanuel Church. He’s married to Heidi and together they live with Jake, Logan, Cole and Sawyer at the circus they call home.

LETTING GO OF OUR CROWNS

I am a control freak. I’ll admit it. I want to be in control of every aspect of my life and letting someone else have control is the most stressful thing for me – because what if something goes wrong? Or, what if things aren’t done the exact way I planned it? Do you ever feel like this?

I hear people say all the time that we need to take charge of our own lives and that our future depends on us and I think when we hear this it’s easy to agree, but I don’t think we should. I mean, have you ever thought about what it means to have our future totally in our hands? That is a ton of pressure! If we’re being honest, humans mess things up constantly. Just look at the world we live in. That is why we are not supposed to be the ones in control. God is supposed to be the one in the drivers seat. So why is it so hard to give God control? I honestly don’t know. Because ideally, God would be the one in charge. He would make all the decisions because He knows and wants what’s best for me. But I always get in the way. My pride and my fears always make me want to take control back. I want to wear the crown. This reminds me of King Hero’s response when Jesus was born. Matthew 2:1-12 tells us about when Herod learned that there was a new king in town, a baby named Jesus. Herod had been appointed to king, and this child was to inherit a kingdom. Herod, clinging to his crown, took drastic measures to make sure he wouldn’t lose his title to a child. We’re all like Herod sometimes. We fight and fight to maintain control and we don’t even deserve it. Herod’s crown wasn’t real. Neither is ours. God is the one with the kingdom. It’s time we let go of our crowns. They’re fake anyway.


Gracie Adamek attends the College of Lake County and hopes to one day be a special education teacher. She likes to sing, act, knit, and write. She hopes you enjoy your time here, reading these blogs, and is very grateful for the opportunity to glorify God through her words