As We Leap into 2008, Our Church ROCKS!

On behalf our staff and leadership team, thank you for your participation and cooperation in making 2007 a memorable year of mission and ministry. Also, thank you for the Christmas cards, notes, goodies, and other gifts presented to our ministers and support staff during the holiday season.
As we begin 2008, we are building our ministries and activities on Our Church ROCKS: Recreation, Outreach, Commitment, Knowledge, and Stewardship.

To solidify our commitment to Christ and to broaden our biblical knowledge, we are inviting and encouraging all ages to take the 366 Challenge, a commitment to read all 69 books of the Bible in the 366 days of Leap Year. Planning guides to assist you in reading through the Bible are available through the church office and online on our web site at

During our Winter Bible Study on Sunday evenings and Wednesday evenings in January, we will explore “The Epic Adventures of Job,” a study which will prepare us to deal with life’s diverse circumstances with an eye of faith.

The Dedication of the Paul Royal Recreation and Outreach Center is scheduled for Sunday afternoon January 27. Our students will move into the ROC on Sunday January 13, and other activities, including Upward and Body Recall will begin during the week following the dedication.

On Sunday December 30 you are invited to meet for Fellowship in the Atrium at 9:15. Worship begins in Chipley Hall at 10:00. During our worship service this Sunday we will be asking “Which Gifts Will You Return?” as we look into Isaiah 63: 7-9.

Remember that our Wednesday Family Dinners, Prayer Service, and Activities will resume on January 9.

Also as the New Year begins, watch for our new “promotional spot” on Channel 3 WEAR, our local ABC affiliate.

The beginning of the New Year presents great opportunities for us to reach people and strengthen believers. Leap into 2008 with radical faithfulness to the Lord!

There’s ‘Joy’ in the Manger

Through the years I have enjoyed observing countless living nativity scenes during the holiday season. Most of these scenes are staged on the lawns of church campuses or they are incorporated into annual Christmas pageants. Many of the scenes include both human characterization and a menagerie of live animals.

The cast of animals varies according to the size of the production and the geographic placement of the scene. A small production in a rural church, for example, could include Mrs. Smith’s dairy cow and Mr. Jones’ Billy goat. A larger production could feature animals of Middle Eastern origin that are on loan from a local zoo.

I have to admit, it’s quite intriguing to see peculiar characters like a caravan of live camels traversing the aisles of a church. It could make one wonder why we do not see more peculiar characters walking the aisles and hallways of the church all year long.

However, the most fascinating thing to me about living nativity portrayals is the casting of human characters. Most of us actually know very little about the apparel of first century Palestine. Therefore, costuming can range from a professional wardrobe obtained through a local drama department or theatre, to a more amateurish wardrobe hastily formed from the closets, attics, and garages of the participants. I have seen boy angels and girl angels dressed in white baptismal robes, tinseled halos, and decorative wings that were created by carefully re-shaped coat hangers wrapped in butcher paper. I have marveled at cleanly shaven shepherds, accompanied by an occasional shepherdess, adorned in multicolored bathrobes and wearing headdresses made from leftover rope from the garage and towels purchased from the clearance table at a local department store. The shepherds are strategically placed across from gift-bearing wise men who are dressed like kings in royal regalia. According to the Bible the wise men arrived many months later, but in our “willing suspension of disbelief” we have grown comfortable with wise men showing up prematurely at the living nativity for a Kodak moment.

But the central feature of every living nativity is the manger, usually a rough-hewn wooden trough or a wicker clothesbasket containing the Christ child who is positioned in the spotlight gaze of the adoring parents. The roles of Mary and Joseph are usually portrayed by a teen couple, or a young husband and wife, or the occasional father daughter combination. And the role of baby Jesus is usually assigned to one or more of the freshest newborns in the church.

Through the years I have seen blond Marys and brunette Marys, hippy Josephs and balding Josephs, and both cooing babies and crying babies cast as the infant king. Interestingly, this year at our church, in our Preschool’s living nativity, baby Jesus was exceptionally… beautiful. She really was. She was beautiful. Her name was Joy. You see, in our church it doesn’t matter whether a boy baby or a girl baby plays the part of Jesus. Because we want all of our boys and girls to grow up to be more like Jesus, we tend to start them out on this journey early. So this year, there was literally “Joy” in the manger.

Maybe one of the reasons Jesus came into the world in the first place was so that all of us, the peculiar and ordinary, the young and the old, and the boys and the girls could find Joy in the manger. After all, the Joy in the manger is intended to be Joy for the whole world.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
Luke 2:10 KJV

Advent Devotional: Discovering the Prince of Peace

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

Of all the names in the Bible that refer to the promised messiah, during the past two or three years the title Prince of Peace has taken on new meaning for our family. Through our years of marriage, we have been blessed with good health, supportive congregations, and encouraging friends. However, during the past few years, we have been smitten with barrage of health issues on both sides of our family.

When a family member is being treated for a catastrophic illness, you learn to be extremely flexible. You learn to pray in deeper ways than you have prayed before. You learn not to panic when the phone rings in the middle of the night. You strive to keep all of your family members on the same page regarding care and treatment. You take time to treasure your phone calls and visits with them because you are more aware of the uncertainty of the future. Such circumstances tend to intensify your stress level and keep your emotions on edge.

God has promised never to leave us but to give us strength in times of adversity. The prophet Isaiah told of a coming messiah who would be an insightful counselor, a proactive God, an ever-present father, and an ambassador of peace. As Christians, we believe that these attributes describe the life and ministry of Jesus.

The Apostle Paul encouraged believers to look to the Prince of Peace in every season and every circumstance: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

When unexpected difficulties and challenges come your way, invite the Prince of Peace to guard your emotions and guide your decisions.

Prayer: God of peace, thank you for promising to be with us in all of the seasons of life. Whether we are on the highest mountain or in the lowest valley, grant us inner peace through our companionship with Christ. Amen.

Listening for the Voice of the Angel

As we journey through Advent, the season comes alive with candles and carols, prophecies and promises, food and festivities. Last Sunday in worship we lit the Prophecy Candle, reminding us of the messianic promises rendered by prophets long ago.

During each of our worship services this Sunday we will light the Angels Candle, highlighting the angelic announcements to Elizabeth and Zechariah, to Joseph and Mary, and to Shepherds watching their flocks by night. As we continue our countdown to Christmas, we will sing the carols of the season and we will explore an unusual passage from Isaiah 11:1-10 as we ask, “Would You Let Your Child Pet a Snake?” Isaiah poetically and prophetically envisions a day when the Messiah will establish peace among all of God’s creation.

On Sunday evening, we will gather at six o’clock for The Sounds of Christmas, a concert of seasonal music presented by the Acapella Singers, the Sanctuary Bells, and the Worship Team.

On Wednesday December 12 we will gather for the ROCking Christmas Buffet. In addition to enjoying the annual feast prepared by Gloria and our kitchen staff, we will hear updates and reports on The Paul Royal Recreation and Outreach Center. The ROC will be open for tours from 4:00-5:30 p.m.

The 2007 Advent Devotional Book written by our members and published by our Children’s Ministry Department is outstanding. Also, check out the “Advent Devotional” link on our church web site where you can access the booklet online.

Invite a friend or family member to join you as we gather for worship and Bible study during Advent.

Holiday Worship Schedule:
Dec 23 8:45 Bible Study
10:00 Worship (sanctuary)
Dec 24 5:00 Candles and Carols (sanctuary)
Dec 30 9:15 Fellowship in the Atrium
10:00 Worship (Chipley Hall)