A tourist once visited a church in Germany and noticed the carved figure of a lamb near the top of the church’s tower. He asked why it was there and was told that when the church was being built, a safety rope had broken and a workman had fallen from a great height and plummeted headlong into the church yard below which was cluttered with large stones. His co-workers had rushed down, expecting to find him dead. But miraculously the man was still alive and only slightly injured. How had he survive the fall unscathed? Well between two of the large rocks a lamb was nibbling on some grass. The falling man landed directly on top of the lamb, which broke his fall and undoubtedly saved his life. However in the process, the lamb itself was crushed and killed. In gratitude for the lambs sacrifice and his own deliverance, the workman carved a lamb on the church at the exact height from which he had fallen.
In the same way, we are like the workman plunging toward eternity with nothing but certain death waiting for us, both physically and spiritually. Make no mistake, it is what we deserve, but God’s grace intervened and a perfect Lamb was sent to break our fall.
John the Baptist gave testimony of Him when he pointed to Jesus of Nazareth and declared: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” The Old Testament ears of his audience, accustomed as they were to animal sacrifice for the atonement of sins, would have well understood the implications of John’s declaration. In order for a lamb to take away sin, it must die in the place of the transgressor. In this way Jesus, the Lamb of God, died in our place in perfect atonement for our sin.
And as incredible as this sounds, Jesus sacrifice for us was not a last ditch rescue operation. In fact His sacrifice of mercy & love on our behalf was decided upon even before creation. The last line of Revelation 13:8 refers to Jesus as: “The Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” In other words – though it was yet too happen in the future... In God's mind, it was as good as done from the very beginning. His purpose and plan for mankind’s redemption would not be altered or thwarted.
1 Peter 1:19-20 say’s: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”
So this Christmas as you visit the oh-so familiar nativity scene once more, take pause and consider that the babe in the manger is none other than the Lamb of God slain before the world even began.
Consider that the Godhead foreknowing even before creation the incredibly high cost that a redeemed family of children would demand... agreed that the price was not too high... and so the course was set... the Son was given... the Lamb was crushed... Our fall was broken... and we are saved.
So allow me to ask, Where are you at in your life right now? Do you feel like you’re in free fall and that the ground is coming up at you fast? Then let me encourage you to exercise your faith and look to Jesus. He is a Savior who will not only break your fall, but He will catch and hold you safe and secure in his arms for today, tomorrow, and eternity.
My prayer is that just like that workman who carved a grateful memorial to the lamb that had unwittingly saved his life, that you will give your entire life as a living memorial to the Lamb who chose the cross for you.
This Christmas time may the wonder of God’s gift of grace move your heart once more to greater gratitude, deeper devotion, and wholehearted worship.
From our family to yours, Merry Christmas!
Pastor Danny & Leanne Groening, Declan & Theodore
Killarney Mennonite Church
The devotional book entitled 'Blessed by God' shares the following true story of a man named Bill who was kneeling in prayer in the front room of his house at 6:30 in the morning. He had just confessed his sins and was asking God for a blessing that day, needing to feel loved by Him.
His little boy, Timothy, who was just 22 months old, had just gotten up, and Bill noticed out of the corner of his eye that Timothy had sneaked quietly into the front room. He was always quiet in the morning when his dad was praying because his mom asked him to be, but that day, he ambled straight over to Bill, put a hand on his clasped hands, and said, "Hi special one. Hi, special one. Hi, special one."
Never once had he called his dad that before. Six times he called Bill "special one." He said it enough for Bill to actually get it - that God was speaking to him and giving him a blessing, through his own little son."
Did you know that you too are God's special one?
It seems hard to believe, but it's true! Through faith in what Jesus (God's special Son) has done for us, we get to enter into the same "special" category as Him.
Listen to what 1 Peter 2:9 states: "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."
Do you feel unimportant, discouraged or weary today? Then just lean back, close your eyes and hear God whisper to you:
"Hi, special one."
“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about” Luke 2:15.
This past March, my wife and I were given the unique opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the shepherds and: “Go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened.” The rock covered hillside in the picture above is the actual location of the angel's announcement to the shepherds.Of course, in Bethlehem today there is no longer a humble stable to visit, for the large stone 'Church of the Nativity' now stands above the place it is believed that Jesus was born. But as impressive as it was to walk through a lavishly decorated 5th century church, I found it difficult to envision the events of the Nativity in that setting. There was no barn, no animals, no straw and no manger. In single file we walked around the right side of the lavishly ornate church altar and descended down a narrow stairway into the 'Grotto of the Nativity'. Far from the Christmas-card image, the place of Christ’s birth is a dimly-lit rock cave.
But even there, the rough and humble surroundings of the first Christmas have given way to marble facings and gaudy decorations. In the words of biblical scholar E. M. Blaiklock, the cave is “hung and cluttered with all the tinsel of men's devotions”. The original manger carved in the stone is still there, although you can't really see it. At some point in the late 4th century they decided to encase the rough stone cut manger in marble and place a silver manger above it. St. Jerome, whose own cave was nearby, did not approve: “If I could only see that manger in which the Lord lay! Now, as if to honour the Christ, we have removed the poor one and placed there a silver one; however, for me the one which was removed is more precious . . . .” Today, the silver manger is gone but the marble encasement remains, flanked by golden lanterns, with an ornate silver star encircling a small hole above the original manger. The closest I could get to the real manger was to get down on my hands and knees and reach down through the hole and touch the stone beneath...
All of this got me thinking – Why do we feel the need to dress up the nativity? Does Jesus humble entrance into this world still make us uncomfortable? Does the smell of straw, animals, and manure make us want to clean things up, just a little? Do the unsanitary conditions in which Mary and Joseph had to endure labor and delivery of the Christ-child almost make us a little embarrassed? I mean we're talking about the 'Prince of Peace' after all.
But you see if Jesus had wanted to be born in a palace, he could have arranged it. If he had wanted to be born into a royal family, with ideal circumstances complete with an abundance of power, prestige, and possessions, he could have easily made it happen. But he didn't. Instead, Jesus chose to leave all of that behind in heaven's glory, and to enter the world in the most humble (even embarrassing) of circumstances. Why?
Because Jesus came to meet us exactly where we are.
He didn't come to impress us – He came to be one of us. He didn't come to rule over us – He came to serve us. He didn't come to condemn us – he came to save us.
You see Jesus didn't dress himself up when He came to us... and that means we don't have to dress ourselves up in order to go to him.
And yet just like they covered up and decorated Jesus humble manger with lavish decor, we often feel we must do the same with our lives. And so we work hard at being a nice person who does nice things and believe that is what will make us acceptable to God. But it's not.
In order to become acceptable to God we have to completely humble ourselves to go to Jesus in the exact same way that the shepherds did 2,000 years ago – we go to Him just as we are.
Remember when the shepherds heard the angels good news, they had no time to get changed or clean-up and so still smelling like sheep, they went to Him. Humble men went to the humble stable and met the humble Savior. Had they arrived at a palace they would have been kicked out before even getting in the door... but in the smelly stable the smelly shepherds fit right in! So not only were they were not kicked out, but they were instead welcomed and given the honor of being the very first visitors to see Jesus face and welcome the Prince of Peace into the world! So touched were they by that encounter, that they left that day transformed, singing God's praises, and telling anyone who cared to listen all about it.
The shepherds went exactly as they were and you can to – Angry, addicted, afraid, broken, bitter, bereaved, depressed, disillusioned, doubtful, heartbroken, helpless, numb, stubborn, tired, or unsatisfied – Go to Jesus exactly the way you are and He will receive you.
No decorations required.
But also remember, that though Jesus receives us as we are, he does not leave us as we are. For when we give him our complete selves (good, bad, and ugly) He takes our lives and begins making something beautiful – for our good and His glory!
May God bless you and yours richly this Christmas!
~Pastor Danny Groening
"Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
and clever in their own sight." Isaiah 5:20-21
The moral decay of the American AND Canadian civilization has been well documented. We have systematically removed Him from almost every public sector and have naively come to believe that our nations peace and prosperity has come from our doing rather than from God's gracious hand. And though God is slow to anger, delights in showing mercy and abounds in love and faithfulness - there comes a point where He say's: "ENOUGH!" And judgement follows. It happened in the day's of Noah, it happened with the cities of Sodom & Gomorrah, it happened multiple times in the day's of ancient Israel, and the Bible points to the reality that that it will happen again at the end of the age.
So it begs the question: Are we seeing the beginning of the end? Are we living in the last day's that Jesus spoke of? While I can't say for certain... the signs are beginning to emerge more clearly every day. We have only to look at what the Supreme Courts of both Canada and United States are deliberating on to see how far we have collectively drifted from God's ordained designs for all of life. Just in case you are unaware what those issues are, Canada is deliberating on doctor assisted suicide and the United States is deliberating on legalizing same-sex marriage for the entire nation. These issues simply serve as examples of how far our civilization has turned from God.
So the question is - How long can we continue to reject God and His ways and still expect His blessing?
I think the time has come for all Christians to sit up and start paying attention to what's happening in the world around us. Because I suspect that the day is close at hand where we will stop reading about end times prophecy only in Scripture and will start reading about it on the front page of our newspapers! We live in VERY INTERESTING TIMES. And make no mistake about it - though evil always flourishes for a season, God always has the final word!
So I encourage you take the next 9 minutes to listen to what Rabbi Jonathan Cahn said in Washington, D.C. on April 29th. Consider that though this warning is directed towards America - that we in Canada should also pay attention - because we to need to repent, turn from our sin, and towards God.
“Really? You went where!?!” That phrase accompanied by various surprised expressions has been the response my wife and I have received from a number people after telling them that we went on a trip to Israel. Of course, most people’s main concern is for safety. It’s no secret that Israel has seen more than its share of war and bloodshed through the centuries. Its strategic location situated at the crossroads of the ancient trade routes that connect Europe, Asia, & Africa has resulted in the land being fought over countless times which also includes various conflicts in recent history.
But though the nation is constantly in the news and is repeatedly issued threats by nations like Iran, we were struck by how secure and peaceful the country was and how safe we felt the entire trip. Whether strolling through the market district of Old Jerusalem or looking across the border into Syria from the Golan Heights, there was never any concerns or cause for alarm.
Now to be fair, even with safety issues put aside, Israel is still NOT on most people’s top five vacation destinations list – but I think it should be! Though a tiny nation, stretching only 424kms in length by 114kms at its widest point, Israel is incredibly diverse in geography, culture, religion and where else in the world can you stop on the side of the highway to go for a camel ride?!? Oh, and did I forget to mention the history? There are literally layers upon layers of history in Israel dating back nearly 4000 years!
Our tour guide shared with us that when the city of Jerusalem wanted to build a light-rail mass transit system the original timeline for construction was three years – it ended up taking fifteen! The reason for the delays was that almost every time they put a shovel in the ground they uncovered a piece of ancient history. So with each new discovery they had to first call in the archeologists to excavate, then the historians to examine, and finally the theologians to determine if there was any religious significance. Only once all three groups were satisfied could the construction continue.
But it’s not only Jerusalem that’s rich with history; the entire country is the same. Of course, for me as a Christian the already rich history takes on even more significance when considering the biblical importance of the events that occurred in those places.
Perhaps the most profound sensation was being able to walk on the same ground (or water) as Jesus. Well I didn’t quite walk on the water, but I did go for an early morning swim in the Sea of Galilee! It was a little chilly, but at least I didn’t need to a chop a hole in the ice to get in!
The boat ride we took on the Sea of Galilee is one of my favorite memories from the trip. As we headed out the wind was blowing up some gentle swells, which made me wonder – Exactly how did Jesus walk on the water? I mean even without the problem of sinking the water is not exactly smooth, so did He walk up and down the waves or did He stride from the top of one wave to the next? However He did it, just being out on the water and picturing it happening was something that will stay with me the rest of my life!
There is so much more that I could share which time and space do not allow, however if you would like to learn more about Israel or how you can begin planning your own pilgrimage to the Holy Land please feel free to stop by my office or give me call. Until then – Shalom – May God’s Peace be upon you.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen!” “See the place where they laid Him.” Those words, spoken by the angel to the bewildered woman on Easter morning were running through my mind as I awaited my turn to enter “The Garden Tomb”.
Just moments before we had shared in Communion where we broke bread and shared the cup in remembrance of Jesus broken body and His shed blood on our behalf. I have partaken of The Lord’s Supper in many different times in a variety of locations, but words fail to describe the sensation of sharing Communion on (or at least very near) the location where Jesus death, burial and resurrection actually took place!
This was the final day and climactic moment of our 12 day pilgrimage following the footsteps of Jesus through the modern day country of Israel. We had already seen and experienced so much throughout our travels in the beautiful and diverse country of Israel – the hillside of Bethlehem where the angels announced Jesus birth, Jesus boyhood town of Nazareth, the rolling hillsides of Galilee, the picturesque Sea of Galilee, the Golan Heights, the Jordan River, the Spring of Ein Gedi, Herod’s mountain top fortress of Masada, the Dead Sea, the Garden of Gethsemane and of course, Jerusalem.
Many people have asked me about the trip and my most common response has been: “I will never read the Bible the same way again.” The stories that I have heard and loved since I was a boy simply came alive and are now grounded in a new reality of the time and place in which they happened. But of all the stories, none is more important than what happened on Easter.
So as I stood there in the line, looking ahead at the open tomb entrance cut neatly into the rock, I wondered: What would it have been like to be there that first Easter morning nearly 2000 years ago? What depths of sorrow did the women experience as they prepared to enter the tomb that day? What sort of shock must have electrified their souls when instead of finding a dead body they are told by an angel that Jesus is alive?
I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the scene. The midday sun was shining warmly, the birds were singing in the trees, the fragrance of the garden filled the air and for one brief, beautiful moment – I was there... I could picture the women slowly entering the tomb in sorrow but then racing away in euphoric delight! For in that short span of time – everything had changed! Their fear turned to hope, sorrow to joy, and death to life – Jesus was alive – and because of that fact nothing would ever again be the same!
I opened my eyes to see that I was now just one person away in line from being able to enter the tomb. One of our travel companions, Matt Reimer was just ahead of me, and when his turn came he did something that will stay with me the rest of my life. Instead of entering the tomb, he simply stuck his head inside took a quick look inside, popped back out and with a big grin on his face announced: “Nope - He isn’t in there!”
That is the message of Easter and the hope of all who believe. Jesus isn’t in there because He is Alive! That single truth that has rocked the world ever since. Sure, there are many who deny it and many that still doubt – but what is undeniable are the countless lives that have been changed by placing their faith in the Resurrected Lord & Savior Jesus Christ. My life is one of them. My hope and prayer is that your life is too.
I hate to say it, but summer is o-v-e-r! Oh sure we’ll all try to live in denial for another couple of weeks and keep wearing the shorts and flip sandals until we’re shivering and forced to put on something warmer, but the reality is that September is here. The leaves are beginning to fall, the nights are getting colder and the days are getting shorter. So put away the sun screen, park the camper, and say good bye to the beach. Now dig out the fleece jackets, locate the rake and say hello to the fall and a new school year.
While all that may be sad for many, the silver lining is that it also means that the fall church season is here!
So for this coming Sunday, Sept. 7th I want to invite you to go back to church!
Hebrews 10:25 say’s: “Do not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Habits can be either good or bad. Chewing your nails is a bad habit while brushing your teeth every day is a good habit. In a similar way going to church regularly is a good habit and not going can become a bad habit. But like all habits, we have the power to change them (if we really want to!) So maybe you’ve been away on holidays or for whatever reason haven’t been in church for awhile, but this Sunday why don’t you change that? Going to church to meet with God and spend time with other people is one of the most positive habits you can ever form in your life. It’s the one place where you can take the time to confront the real issues of your life, hear what God has to say about them, and receive the encouragement and support of other people who have gone through similar things as well.
If you have children, most churches are starting up their fall Sunday School and Youth Programs this Sunday as well so it’s a great time to get your child involved in a Sunday School class or teenagers in a youth group.
And if you don’t have a home church but are interested in checking one out, let me personally invite you come down to Bay Avenue Mennonite Church this Sunday (located right across from the hospital) . We are kicking off our Sunday School program for both children and adults at 9:30a.m., followed by the worship service at 10:45a.m. and wrapped up with a BBQ lunch after the service. We are really excited about what God is doing and would love for you to be a part of it!
So whatever church you call home, I want to encourage you to go back to church this Sunday!
Gay rights is one of the most polarizing issues of our time (as evidenced by the comments for and against in any online debate). Healthy debate is a good thing, but what I find troubling is that our culture has dictated that the terms of the debate be fought along a false narrative of “Tolerant” (anyone who supports it) VS “Intolerant” (anyone who opposes it). This is patently false. “Tolerance” does NOT mean “to agree with”, what “tolerance” ACTUALLY means is: “to disagree with but still respect the others right to hold their view.” Someone can be perfectly tolerant (and yes even loving) toward a gay person while still disagreeing with their lifestyle and believing it is wrong. But according to our cultures false narrative: Last week World Vision was “Intolerant” then briefly became “tolerant” and is now once again “intolerant” of homosexuality. Following the same flawed logic when people say to Christians: “be tolerant”, what they really mean is “you need to agree with us or I’ll label you intolerant.” This is ironically (by the words true definition) an intolerant thing to do.
The second thing that I find troubling is when I am told that if I do not agree with the cultures accepted position on this issue that I am somehow being hypocritical or not showing Christian love. This is another false narrative. World Vision did not go from unloving last week, to loving, back to unloving. Last I checked they are showing tangible love to countless children around the globe. What really happened at World Vision was a struggle with whether or not they would remain an organization that is firmly grounded on the clear teachings of Scripture or not.
You see what this issue is truly about for the Christian is our fundamental understanding of the Bible and what it says about sin. Do we study and follow Scripture as the inspired, infallible, authoritive Word of God or don’t we? If we do, then we have to take it seriously about what it says about homosexuality - we simply can’t pick and choose only the parts we like and dismiss the rest. As a minister, I am called to “Correctly handle the Word of Truth” so for this reason I have studied Scripture exhaustively on this subject from all angles. I have read and listened to all the arguments that try to explain how the Bible does not actually say that homosexuality is wrong… but every last one of those arguments does not stand up to cross examination from within the consistent interpretation of the entirety of Scripture. Here is the bottom line of what the Bible says:
"Sin" is anything that falls short of God's glory and perfect design for life in any area. Ex. God's perfect design is everyone shares - the opposite of that is stealing - hence "sin." God's perfect design for human sexuality is that it happens exclusively between one woman and one man committed to only each other for their entire life. That means a)heterosexual sex outside of marriage is "sin" - b) homosexual sex is "sin" in any context because it falls short of God's perfect design. Homosexuality is no worse a sin than any other sin, and just like for any other sin (stealing, sex outside of marriage, etc.) it can be forgiven by the Grace of God. But as with all sins (of which I am guilty of many!) it can only be forgiven if it is acknowledged for what it is and confessed to God. We are all sinners and need God's mercy. This is not my own idea, because after years of intensive study I tell you with complete confidence that this is what the Bible teaches on this subject!
You can agree with it or disagree with it - but please don't do violence to the Scripture by twisting it to say something that it doesn't.
So to any Christian who believes that the Bible is the inspired, infallible, authorative Word of God, and also believes that actively practicing homosexuality is not sinful, I honestly ask you this question: How do you reconcile those two beliefs? Don’t just blindly accept what our culture is telling you to believe and don’t just accept what I am telling you either – honestly dig into it for yourself! Look at the wide variety of texts that speak about this (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Romans 1:18-27, Genesis 2:23-25, Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13). Pray and seek the Holy Spirits guidance. Then if having done that, you still feel the same way, please show me how the Scriptures supports that view.
I realize that the Biblically grounded belief on this subject has already been rejected and is actively being attacked by our culture. I also realize that many Christians, churches and para-church organizations are giving way on this issue. But even if I must stand alone, I will gladly stand alone on the authority of God's Word rather than stand among the many on the authority of people's opinion.
Remember that in the end, we do not get to decide what is sin and what is not – God is the only one who decides that and He has spoken clearly. Thankfully God is also the one that loves us and decided that a sinner named Danny Groening was worth saving, so He sent His only Son to die for my many sins, in my place, so that I could be forgiven and so that I can walk with Him for the rest of my life and keep right on walking with Him into the next.
I also believe that He did that for every last sinner on planet earth and that His incredible love, mercy and forgiveness is available for every last one of us, including the homosexual. And because God's loved has changed me - I choose to love you. I choose to love you regardless of whether you vehemently disagree with me or want to label me as "intolerant". I choose to love you enough to tell you the truth about what sin is with the hope that you can turn to God for mercy, grace and forgiveness. But regardless of how you choose to live your life, I choose to love you. How is that possible? Because true love does not require agreeing with what the object of your love is doing - true love is willing to sacrificially put itself on the line to to help the person get out of sin - all at the risk of being rejected. Remember that God loved us so much, that while we were still lost in sin He sent Jesus, His Son, to get us out of sin's clutches - but He to was rejected. And so He had to die alone in the place of sinners so that we could be forgiven and set free from sin and death. And He is still giving us the choice to accept or reject Him... What do you choose?
This incredible image of a supernova was captured by NASA's NuSTAR space telescope. While pictures of exploding stars are nothing new, it is the uncanny resemblance of the particle cloud to a human hand that has captured everyone's attention and imagination. The result is that this pulsar, called PSR B1509-58 (B1509 for short) has been dubbed "The Hand of God."
Disclaimer: I am not an astronomer, I am a pastor. As such I am not overly concerned about debating the technical aspects of how something like this happens or dissecting the explanations of how this a completely natural phenomena that by sheer coincidence resulted in it looking like a right hand (not a left hand) with a hole its palm. There is no debate as to whether or not this is literally the hand of God or not, because it is clearly a particle cloud of an exploded star and besides, the Bible makes clear that God is Spirit (John 4:24) and when we use physical human attributes to describe Him we are simply using human terms in order to help us understand Him. So what the debate is really over is whether or not this is simply a SUPERNOVA sized coincidence or whether God actually had a hand in this? (no pun intended :P)
What I have learned is that people who choose to reject the existence of God will always point to the "natural" phenomena and dismiss the possibility of anything "supernatural" (that is - something outside of the physical realm) having any influence or control over the physical realm. So no matter how compelling the evidence, these types of people simply cannot entertain it for fear that they may be forced to acknowledge the existence of God and as a result be accountable to Him for their actions. I suspect that if some day a series of exploding stars is discovered that clearly spells out: "I AM the ALPHA and the OMEGA" there will still be people trying to explain it all away as "coincidental".
The Apostle Paul describes these sorts of people like this:
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Now Paul say's that simply by looking at the physical realm around us we can clearly see and understand God's invisible qualities. So I don't know about you, but when I look at that picture - what I can CLEARLY see is that there is a power far greater than "random chance" or "sheer coincidence" at work in the universe. I see the Hand of God. But I'll let you decide for yourself. So consider the following Scripture verses as you look at the picture of the "Hand of God".
Psalm 19:1: The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
(Did you catch the part about HANDS?)
Exodus 15:6: Your right hand, O Lord, was majestic in power. Your right hand, O Lord, shattered the enemy."
(Did you notice how it's a right hand and not a left hand? Take another look at the picture)
Isaiah 49:16: See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.
(what does that hole in the palm of the hand remind you of?)
Isaiah 53:5: But He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed."
John 20:25-27: Thomas replied: Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my fingers where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
(At what point does doubt end and faith begin? Before or after you see the nail scarred hands of Jesus?)
On different occasions Jesus disciples asked Him about what signs would proceed the end of the age and listen to what He said:
Luke 21:11: There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
(What constitutes "great" signs from heaven?)
Luke 21:25: “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves".
(If you were going to put a "sign" in the stars that would be obvious for anyone who saw it, what would YOU make it look like? Maybe something like this?)
Or how about this?
This is a picture from the Hubble Telescope of what they have named the X formation which is located at the very center of the whirlpool galaxy, which is apparently located at or near the very center of the known universe. But though it resembles an X, it also bears an uncanny resemblance to a cross - just another coincidence?
Philippians 2:15: "Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross."
Whether on earth or in the heavens, the cross of Jesus Christ is the sign of God's triumphant victory over satan, sin and death.
Jesus died on our cross, in our place, taking the punishment for our sins upon himself so that we could be forgiven, receive God's free gift of salvation, and enter into a never-ending relationship with Him.
For this reason I choose to agree with the Apostle Paul:
Galatians 6:14: May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in swaddling clothes in placed in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were in the same country shepherds...”
Are you still with me? Or were you already beginning to tune out? Chances are if you are anything like me, you read the first line and already recognized the familiar words of the Nativity story so you just skimmed to the end of the paragraph. Why read it again when you’ve already heard it a hundred times before?
You see for most of us the sheer familiarity of the story of Jesus birth often has the effect of dampening or even destroying our feelings of awe or wonder at the truth that GOD became a man. As the Gospel of John tells us, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Let me ask you, does that truth change anything for you? Does it do something inside of you each time you hear it?
Perhaps as a child there was a time you were struck with the wonder and awe that God would send His Son into this world as a helpless baby... to come as a lowly servant... to die in the place of sinners... to bring us into a right relationship with the Father. But as each Christmas comes and goes the narrative can become so familiar, that our wonder turns into indifference – our awe into boredom – and as a result all of our Christmas carols, pageants and candlelight services become nothing more than mechanical rituals that we repeat every December. And so maybe for you Christmas 2013 feels like just another ho-hum Christmas.
Maybe what we all need is a change in perspective – to somehow see Christmas in a fresh way.
Apollo astronaut James Irwin got to experience the ultimate change in perspective as the eighth man to walk on the moon and the first to ride the famous Lunar Module. In his book More Than Earthlings, he recounts much of his out-of-this-world exploits and how it changed him.
“I was just amazed to see the earth,” he said. “It reminded me of a Christmas tree ornament – a very fragile one, hanging majestically in space. It was very touching to see earth from that perspective.” At one point, Irwin had trouble with a planned experiment. “He was erecting an experiment that wouldn’t erect, due to a cotter pin or something of that nature,” his wife Mary recalls. Frustrated in his attempts to get the experiment to work, Irwin decided he would pray.
While raised in a Christian home – and a believer and churchgoer since age 10, it had changed his life very little. He described himself as a ‘bump on a log Christian.’
But there on the moon he really needed wisdom due to this problem and so he said, “God I need your help right now.” Suddenly Irwin experienced the presence of Jesus Christ in a remarkable way, unlike anything he had ever felt on earth. “The Lord showed him the solution to the problem and the experiment erected before him like a little altar,” Mary says. “He was so overwhelmed at seeing and feeling God’s presence so close,” she says. “At one point he turned around and looked over his shoulder as if He was standing there.”
This unusual encounter with Jesus – some 238,000 miles from earth, changed Irwin’s life forever. Within a year of Irwin’s return from space, he resigned from NASA and formed the High Flight Foundation, with the mission of reaching the world as “goodwill ambassadors for the Prince of Peace.” Irwin said, “God decided that He would send His Son Jesus Christ to the blue planet and it’s through faith in Jesus Christ that we can relate to God. Jesus Himself said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes unto the Father except through me.” And whenever people asked Irwin to talk about the Apollo missions he was always quick to say: “There’s something more important than man walking on the moon, and that is God walking on the earth.”
Unlike James Irwin we can’t just jump on a spaceship to experience the reality of God becoming a man from a lunar perspective, but Jesus is as near to us today as the whisper of the heartfelt prayer that Irwin spoke on the moon: “God I need your help right now.” So whatever stage of life you are in, whether you believe or aren’t quite sure what you believe, whether you are a completely devoted follower or a ‘bump on a log’ Christian, Jesus desires to be so real to you that you might just look over your shoulder to see if He’s standing there. It is only the reality of Jesus presence that can truly change a life so that our perspective will never again be the same.
My prayer for you is that Christmas 2013 won’t be just another ho-hum Christmas but a time where you experience Jesus in a fresh and personal way.
May God bless you and yours richly this Christmas,
~Pastor Danny Groening
Killarney Mennonite Church
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