Why Is Christmas So Special?

promisespromises-logo

Have you ever considered how powerful a promise is? In my opinion, a promise is the single greatest test of a person’s character. Children know this instinctively! All you have to say to a child is “maybe” or “we’ll see” and what do you get if you fail to follow through with what they want? “But you promised!” Because they know that’s the best challenge to a person’s integrity. One further thing a promise reveals is what you’re willing to sacrifice to keep your word to those you love. For example, let’s say you promise to take your wife out to dinner on her birthday only to remember that’s the same night as your office Christmas party. So now what do you do? Keep your promise and risk the wrath of your boss or break yet another promise to your wife? That’s why I say, “The greatest test of our character is what we promise and whether or not we keep our promises.”

Now for the greatest promise God ever made His children. Revelation 21:3 guarantees: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’” Why is this the Bible’s greatest promise? Because it reverses everything we lost because of sin! In the beginning, the Bible says, man and woman walked with God is a garden paradise called Eden. But then they doubted His goodness, rejected His authority, broke His commandment, and if you have read the following chapters of Genesis or seen much of life at all, you know the results—marital strife, sibling rivalry, envy, hatred, murder, death and most serious of all, the loss of God’s companionship and blessing.

And yet, God did not abandon us. He promised that one day He Himself would come and restore everything we’d lost because of sin, most important of which is His presence in our lives. That’s what we find fulfilled in the passage before us this Christmas. John 1:14 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” In this study, I want to help us understand three aspects of the phrase, “made his dwelling among us.” I will do that by explaining the meaning, the challenge, and the promise contained in this verse.

john1_14-spiritbecomesflesh

Its Meaning

The meaning of this phrase is wrapped up in the word “dwelling.” Some of you may see an alternate translation of this word in the margin of your Bible. It could read, “and made His tabernacle among us.” The word is skeine meaning a tent or tabernacle. It’s the same word we read in Revelation 21:3—“Now the tabernacle (skeine) of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.” John uses this word intentionally taking us back to that miraculous time in Israel’s history when God saved His people out of Egypt and then led them through the wilderness in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Then, having gathered them together as His own special people, what did He do next? Build a tabernacle making His presence among them visible! Because as Moses said to Him, “Lord, if your presence does not go with us, we don’t want to go anywhere!” Isn’t that how you feel about it as well? If I don’t have the assurance of God’s presence, I don’t have the courage to go anywhere!

But then the Tabernacle wasn’t an end in itself. Both it and later the Temple were the more glorious places on earth! But they were meant to be more than that. They were signposts pointing to something greater to come, and that’s the presence of God in Jesus His Son. As the angel said to Joseph when announcing Mary’s pregnancy, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin shall be with child and give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.’” Mark Lowry sums it up beautifully in his Christmas song, “Mary, Did You Know?”        (Click the box below to see the words and hear the song sung by Cee Lo Green.)

 

Mary was the first to recognize who her baby was, and remembering the Scriptures, the words of the angel, and seeing how perfect He was in every way, how could she not know who He was? But then others began to see it also, slowly at first—the religious teachers when He visited the temple at age 12, John the Baptist when he saw the Spirit descend on Him like a dove, and His disciples, who wondered at first, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” but after listening to His words, seeing the miracles He performed, feeling His mercy and grace, they too began to realize, “When I’m with Jesus, I’m with God!”

The Apostle John, who also wrote 1 John, added this about Him there, “The One who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen with our eyes and touched with our hands, He is the Word of Life. This One who is Life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen Him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that He is eternal life. He was with the Father and was then revealed to us. We proclaim to you what we have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.” Jesus Christ the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us so that we could experience the eternal life and joy that come from His presence. But of course not everyone has that reaction to him. The presence of Christ has always presented both a challenge and a choice to those who encountered Him—

Its Challenge

Listen to how John puts it just a few verses earlier in John 1:10. Referring to Jesus, he says, “He was in the world, and though the world was made by him, the world did not recognize him.” For if they had, Paul says in 1 Corinthians chapter 2, “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” Furthermore, John 1:11 says, “He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.” Who does that refer to? Israel! For even though a small minority received Him as Messiah, the majority rejected Him shouting to Pilate, “Crucify Him! We have no king but Caesar!” The final conflict came when He visited Jerusalem and found money changers defiling the Temple. So He drove them out saying, “My house shall be house of prayer but you have made it a den of thieves.” And it says, “When the chief priests and scribes heard this, they began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.”

jesus-cleanses-the-temple

I read that and I say to myself: What if Jesus came to our temple today? Would He commend or correct us? You see, what Jesus always presents us with is a choice of two kingdoms—the kingdom of self built on ambition, pride, covetousness, competition, backbiting, and bitterness or the kingdom of Christ which calls us to righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit. It’s imperative to contrast the two because the truth is: There’s a lot of easy-believism going around these days where we’re told that all we have to do is bow our heads, say a quick prayer, and we get an eternal life insurance policy that protects us from hell and gets us into heaven regardless of how we live, and the Bible doesn’t says that. The Bible says there are two things we need to get into heaven—not only faith in Jesus, but also repentance toward God. Mark 1:14 says, “After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

What does it mean to repent? Let me illustrate it from the life of Lord Nelson, the British admiral, who soundly defeated the French navy and had the enemy commander brought before him. Knowing of Nelson’s graciousness, the man walked right up to him and stuck out his hand, expecting to be treated like a fellow officer. Nelson looked at his hand and then he looked at the man and firmly ordered, “Sir, first your sword, then your hand.”

 That’s what it means to repent and believe in Jesus. It not only means trusting His grace to forgive you; it also means laying down your arms and surrendering your life to His authority, which isn’t to say you have to clean up your life before you come to Him, because what Jesus cares about is what’s hidden in our hearts, and only He can do anything to change that, and the way He does it is through repentance and faith. So ask yourself: Is that how I came to Jesus? Did I lay down my arms and surrender my life to Him? And if you aren’t sure your repentance was real, the way to make sure is by surrendering to Him today, for while salvation lasts forever, if it’s real, the way to prove it’s real is by repenting again today. That’s the meaning and challenge of God’s presence. Finally, listen to the promise of His presence in John 14:23 because what was true of Israel in the wilderness and even more so of the disciples in the days of His ministry on earth, is now available to us in a measure never before imagined.

His Promise

John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us,” but listen to what he adds in John 14:21. Jesus says, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father and I too will love him and show myself to him.’ Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, ‘But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?’ Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.’” The promise is if we’ll repent and continue to submit to His Kingship in our lives, then Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will come and make our hearts their home, and then it’ll literally be Christmas—Christ born in us every day.

That’s my invitation as I close this study. Open your heart to Jesus this morning even if you’ve done so many times before. Do it again today. Every day presents a new need and reason to give your life to Him. Say or sing the following prayer with me to make this your merriest Christmas and happiest New Year yet! (Click the box to hear the prayer and song.)

 

Why Candy Canes at Christmastime?

Legend of the Candy Cane

Today I want to tell you the story of the candy cane. Share this story with your children or grandchildren or even your Sunday School class. It is a fascinating story, not only because of how it began, but also because of the secrets it reveals.


picture1
History tells us that the first candy canes were made in Germany in the late 1600’s. The choir director of a large church took white candy canes and bent the ends to make them look like shepherd’s staffs. Then he gave them to the children to keep them pacified during the long advent services. That tradition soon spread to all the other churches in Europe. But how did it make its way to the United States and when did it get its red stripes.

According to the legend, a candymaker in Indiana wanted to make a candy that witnessed to the birth, the ministry, and the death of Jesus Christ. So he began with a stick of pure white, hard candy. White symbolizes the Virgin Birth of Christ and His sinless nature. Its hardness symbolizes that He is the Solid Rock, the foundation of the Church, and the guarantor of God’s promises.

The candymaker then formed the cane into the shape of a “J” to represent the precious name of Jesus, who came to earth as our Savior. It also represents His staff as our “Good Shepherd” with which He reaches down into the world to lift out His fallen lambs who, like all His sheep, have gone astray.

jesus-good-shepherd-guides-me

Thinking that the candy looked somewhat plain, he stained it with three small red stripes. These stripes remind us of the scourging Jesus received that heal us of our sins and illnesses. The large red stripe symbolizes the blood shed by Christ on the Cross so that we could enjoy the promise of eternal life.

Unfortunately, the candy cane has lost its meaning for most people. But the meaning is still there for those who “have eyes to see and ears to hear.” Don’t let it be lost on you or your loved ones. Every time you see a candy came, remember the love it represents and share its message with others.

Look at the candy cane! What do you see? Stripes that are red like the blood shed for me. White is for my Savior who’s sinless and pure. J is for Jesus, My Lord, that’s for sure. Turn it around and a staff you will see! Jesus my shepherd was born for me!

printable-candy-cane-legend-poem_134815

 

CHRISTMAS IS FOR PAGANS

CHRISTMAS IS FOR PAGANS

Don’t let my title offend you. I’m not suggesting that Christians should stop celebrating Christmas or worshiping our glorious Lord whose birth it recalls. While it’s true that no one knows for sure the date on which Jesus was born, it was good and right for Christians to agree on a date to cease their business activities, join together in worship, and proclaim the good news that Jesus was born. In that sense, there is no question that Christmas was meant for unbelievers. Jesus Himself said, “The Son of Man came to seek and save that which was lost.” As such, Jesus became the first and greatest missionary of all time not merely crossing the barriers of culture, language, and geography to reach us, but giving up the glory of heaven and bridging the gap of space and time to pay for our sins, rise from the dead, and become one of us so that He could share all of life with us.

unnamedAs we go about our errands the past few weeks, one thing is clear. Christmas is in the air. Department stores are packed with gifts and shoppers preparing for the holiday. Homes in our neighborhood are lit up with lights that announce Christmas is near. One man, just around the corner from us, has spent hours and hours erecting an absolutely beautiful display. Even the Gresham DMV, where we secured our Oregon licenses and license plates, is decorated with Christmas wreaths. When we arrived home from that long ordeal, we relaxed by watching the lighting of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center and listening to a variety of artists sing the beautiful songs of the season. I doubt whether all who participated know Jesus in a personal way. But what better way to remind them of who Jesus is than by singing, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!”

unnamed-1

That’s why I believe the celebration of Christmas is also for pagans. Can you think of a better opportunity to share the good news of His love with unbelievers than when the whole world is celebrating His birth? I know the arguments – their worship is not pure, Santa Claus, and commercialism have diverted their attention from the real meaning of Christmas. But what else can be expected if we’ve never shared the miracle with them–that God the Son became a man at Christmas? You see, celebrating Christmas is just one way that unbelievers try to fill the emptiness of their souls and lay hold of heaven. But that’s impossible. Heaven can’t be laid hold of by earth. Instead, heaven must lay hold of you. For if our efforts could get us into heaven, we would be the source of our salvation and we wouldn’t need a Savior. It’d be like telling a drowning man if he swims better, he’ll make it to shore and won’t need a lifeguard to save him. But we do need a Savior. We need Jesus who has the power to save us from everything that’s wrong in us and this world.

aa2969735d353a776c33cec5e768c763
As I mingle with people this Christmas season, what strikes me is the emptiness I see behind their smiling faces. How do you solve the problem of emptiness? Imagine you’re thirsty. So you go the cupboard to get a glass, only to find all of them empty. So what do you do to rectify the problem? Fill the emptiness with substance you need. Hence, you go to the sink and fill the glass with cool refreshing water. Likewise, the reason God sent His Son into our world was to relieve our spiritual emptiness. Augustine was right, “Thou has made us for Thyself, and the heart of man is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.”

This is the Immanuel promise. “The virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). (Matt. 1:23) Heaven came down to be with us in our sin and sorrow. So, like the glass, how do we relieve our emptiness and the evil within? Not by focusing on our emptiness. Nor do we overcome sin by focusing on sin; we overcome it by letting the Prince of Peace fill our souls. Or to put it another way, salvation comes not by fighting sin; it comes by opening our hearts to the presence of Immanuel (God with us) who promised, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.  For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me…For this is the will of My Father, everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:37-40)

So, if you’ve not yet opened your heart to Him, I encourage you to do so today. You can’t earn your way to heaven; nor can you drag Jesus down from His throne in heaven. But you can turn from your self-righteousness and humbly ask Him to fill your heart with His Spirit. And He will! His promise is, “Whoever comes to Me, I will never cast out!”

welcome

One final thought—if Jesus was the first and greatest missionary of all, and He now lives within your heart, then what does that make you? It makes you a missionary like Him. For you’ve been born from above, and this world is no longer your home. Heaven is. Therefore, celebrate your new life by telling someone else about Him. Our family plans to celebrate the Christmas season by baking Christmas cookies and delivering them to those who live around us in our new neighborhood—Jean, Mary, Walt, and Alma. Just one small way of reminding the unbelievers we know that the Christ of Christmas loves them.

christmas-cookies-for-rookies-original-lifepopper-recipe-1

Schwarzes – Parkinson’s, Portlandia, and Plans for Ministry

November 15, 2016

The Big Move!

I heard a rumor the other day. Someone said that PFL has gone out of business. Is that true? By no means! But we take responsibility for the confusion. Due to illness and our recent move to Portland, we have fallen behind in communicating. Our apologies. This is an attempt to update you on what’s happening.

In mid-September, we made the move to Gresham, Oregon, a little suburb about 8 miles east of Portland. It’s a quiet neighborhood with many people in our age category. But wouldn’t you know it! That very same week we were hit by a nasty virus that took 6 weeks from which to recover. We’re better now. Just tired.

gresham1

Of course, just because you don’t feel well, doesn’t mean life stops. We had to get our cars registered in Oregon, our utilities started, and all those other needful things like finding the post office and where to shop. We’re actually well-situated with all sorts of stores and shops and medical facilities surrounding us.

Why Portland?

There were 3 major reasons we moved to “Portlandia.” 1) Our health is declining, especially Gary’s Parkinson’s Disease, an affliction that keeps on giving. It started with tremors and shaking, then muscle cramps and lack of balance, making it difficult to walk. We’re fighting that, however, using our walkers to walk 15 minutes several days a week. Finally, there’s a fatigue that makes it hard to get anything done. I’ll write more about it later but let’s get to the good stuff.

parkinson-treatment-in-germany-1000x675

Sale of Our Shelton Home

Thanks to the tireless efforts of friends like you, we were finally able to put our house on the market in mid-September. Some cleaned, some helped with repairs, others packed, and others made trips to Gresham with Marty Jenkins’ trailer filled with 42 years of marriage. What a job! Thanks for your help! Now we have a good offer, so we’re hurrying to get workers in, so that all the necessary repairs are finished by the time it is scheduled to close in mid-December.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Reason #2:

 It’s been 12 years since we’ve lived in the same town as our girls and their families. Now with two grandkids, we feel a God-given calling to help bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

 schnabels

Reason #3:

 We wanted a big mission field where people haven’t been reached with the love of Christ. You’d think with all the Bible colleges and mission agencies located in Portland, it would be a “Christian Mecca.” But such is not the case. We find that there are many “spiritual” people in the area, but most of them do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Plans to Reach Out

The first natural step is to get to know our neighbors and share the Gospel with them. So far we’ve met Jean, Mary, Alma, and Walt, the neighbors immediately surrounding us. One way we’ve considered extending our borders and getting to meet more of them is by hosting a “Night of Music” in our home. In fact, while praying about it, we happened to meet our internet tech who is also a believer. He invited us to join an evangelistic outreach he’s started. He (David) and a Romanian brother (Nate) ride the MAX (Portland’s light rail every Monday afternoon, and talk to each other about the Bible and things of Christ. Many Portlanders are interested in “spiritual things” but do not like to be “preached at.” So David and Nate pick a topic and talk about it (loud enough for others to eavesdrop). Then if someone shows interest, they turn to him or her and ask, “What do you think?”

April 9, 2009- Portland, OR- MAX train testing on the Mall

April 9, 2009- Portland, OR- MAX train testing on the Mall

The results of this strategy has been several people trusting Jesus Christ as their Savior. The problem is, David says, not many churches are ready to nurture new believers. They say what they need to start are home Bible studies for these new Christians. When he heard about our background in ministry, he invited us to join them and create Bible studies either in our home or theirs. Pray about this possibility because we don’t want to be impulsive and make promises we can’t keep. Sitting for long periods of time causes my body to cramp up. But perhaps God will grant me grace to do it one night a week. So pray with us. We want God to lead us in everything.

Our Gresham Home

g-home

Our Arrows

Children are a heritage from the Lord,
    offspring a reward from Him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. Psalm 127:3-5

sadlers

House Church Movement

Heidi and Ben Sadler were the first in our family to move to Portland. They were called as music ministers by a large church. But after four years, they saw the bigger need and stepped out in faith to become missionaries to Portland. Among other things, they lead a house church, do prayer counseling, provide leadership for their house church network, and continue their music ministry, drawing many unbelievers to their concerts. So it may be we can partner with them. Their house church meets on Sunday afternoon.

That leaves Sunday morning free, which is when Rebecca and Aaron Schnabel’s church meets. It is a small church with a big vision of reaching the Portland area through community groups that meet in homes. That’s a vision we can certainly buy into.

67095_10100580770408798_233563238_n

What may be providential is that the churches our children serve are filled with Millennials (20-30 somethings) and Gen-Xers (30-40 somethings) who need a few older couples in their 50s and 60s to provide stability and maturity to their groups. That is the age category into which Cheryl and I fall.

Missionaries

Finally, let me remind you that one of our convictions at Principles for Life Ministries is that God has called us to send missionaries into all the world to make followers of Jesus. (Matt. 28:19-20) With that in mind, our biggest commitment each month is the $1,100 we send in support to our missionaries in places like Papua New Guinea, Nicaragua, Israel, Romania, and the Philippines.

vatrans-in-hateg

 Unfortunately, since moving to Portland, donations have decreased. Consequently, if you have been blessed with the resources to help us finance these outreaches, please consider doing so. To keep you abreast of their work, we will be including regular reports in our monthly newsletter and on our website.

We love you! We miss you!

Cheryl & Gary