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Christmas

Executive Minister’s Advent Article

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Executive Minister’s Advent Article

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As we move through this Advent season reflecting on various Christmas themes one that stands out to me is the relationship between Christ’s birth and the need for humanity’s spiritual birth. The carol Hark the Herald Angels Sings articulates this connection for us in verse three:

Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

Jesus is born so that we may be raised out of our spiritually dead condition and be “born from above”, or “born again”. Through Christ we are raised to new life. Otherwise, we continue to be dead in our sins, without hope in this life or the life to come. (Eph 2:1)

We used to talk more about “regeneration” in the Church, that is, the need to be born again. Perhaps the concept of being born again garnered too many negative connotations due to the disappointing lifestyles of so many who claimed to be born again.

Regardless, it is important that we teach what Jesus taught, “you must be born again.” That is, we should avoid leading people into believing that Christianity is primarily a reformation project.

Reformation projects teach, “Just do a little better, improve yourself, God will be pleased and the world will become a better place.” This project is predicated solely on self-improvement. Humanity’s fallen condition, apart from rebirth, precludes this possibility. Reformation projects are hopeless in that they are akin to dead people trying to raise themselves from the graveyard.

Rather the Christian faith is a regeneration project. It is initiated by God in Christ and completed through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is predicated solely on Christ's work on our behalf. God acting in Christ regenerates us.

God’s regeneration project teaches, “You are a dead person walking. Only Jesus Christ can resurrect your life.” Humanity cannot birth itself out of spiritual death into spiritual life. Rather, this is work that must be accomplished from One who comes from outside our fallen world; who pre-existed in a realm of eternal light, holiness and divine power. This One, Jesus the Messiah, is born into our world in order to regenerate us, that is, give us second birth.

Therefore, the first priority in Christ’s mission on earth is to proclaim the Good News of regeneration that comes through a power alien to our own. This is our message. This is our hope. When people respond by receiving the Savior, submitting to His rule as King, they are born from above and become God’s children (John 1:12-13).

All of this reflects what Jesus taught in his explanation about rebirth that puzzled Nicodemus:

“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3)

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:5-7)

We rejoice in Jesus in this Advent season as we reclaim the Good News that Jesus was “born that man no more may die; born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth."

~ Charles Revis, Executive Minister

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Wise Advice for Christmas Eve Service: 9 Updated Trends for Christmas Eve Service

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Wise Advice for Christmas Eve Service: 9 Updated Trends for Christmas Eve Service

MISSION NORTHWEST NOTE: This article by Thom Rainer is important to consider as you plan your Christmas Eve service(s) this year. You may want to retool how your church does the Christmas Eve service in light of these insights. If you do not offer a Christmas Eve service you should know that you are missing a great opportunity to host unchurched people in your church. This service has the potential to pull in more people than Easter. Plan carefully and prayerfully.

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Christmas Eve is less than a month away. Most churches have some type of Christmas Eve services, but we are seeing clear trends in how churches approach them. Every time we write or podcast something about these services, we get a lot of comments and questions. In that context, here is an update on nine clear trends we are seeing:

1. It is growing in importance. Non-Christians are more likely to come to worship services on Christmas Eve than any other day of the year, including Easter. Church leaders get it. They are putting more prayer, preparation, and strategic thinking into the services.

2. There are three popular times for the service. Whether a church has one or multiple Christmas Eve services, three times are more popular than others: later afternoon (typically for families with young children and for older adults); early evening (the more traditional time); and late evening (for empty nesters and families with teenage or grown children).

3. The services are traditional. They include traditional hymns and carols. They may include some time for the lighting of the final advent candle.

4. The services are brief. The typical length is 30 to 45 minutes.

5. The pastor’s message is brief. The typical length is 10 to 15 minutes.

6. Most churches include candlelight services. They are now expected by Christians and non-Christians alike.

7. More unchurched are attending these services. As I noted in the first item, one of the reasons for the growing importance of Christmas Eve services is the increasing number of non-Christians who attend. Anecdotally, they seem to be more receptive each year.

8. Churches are building in processes for follow-up. That means they have processes in place to get contact information, and processes to provide some type of non-aggressive follow-up such as a text message, an email or, most effectively, a handwritten letter.

9. All ministry staff are expected to be there. Because this day is the single most important day to reach unbelievers, more churches require an “all-hands-on-deck” presence.

Some of these trends have been around a while. Some are only recently growing in importance. Please share with us what your church plans to do for Christmas Eve.

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Mystery! What Christmas Means to Me

Mystery! What Christmas Means to Me

As I reflect on the meaning of Christmas my thoughts take me back to past Christmases. Intermingled with those old memories are mysterious touches of God’s presence. I distinctly remember as a sixth grade boy walking through ice-cold air from our church’s Christmas Eve service down to the parsonage where we lived. A church member had given me a gift and I was in a hurry to unwrap it. It was a plastic model kit for a 1939 Ford hard top roadster. I was so thrilled. My first model car. That gift now lodges in my memory as a token of what it means to be on the receiving end of grace.

Many years later that boyhood experience would return to my consciousness as I would leave my own church’s candle-lit Christmas Eve service and walk out into the wintery, star-filled nightscape. My heart would be full from the echoes of carols, the moment when I kneeled at the communion table with my family, and the whispered “Merry Christmas” blessings at the exit as people scurried off to their own homes. Distant memories and current experiences all mingled together to evoke wonder at the gift of salvation embodied in the Christ child born so many years ago.

So the wonder of Christmas and all that it means for me personally is encapsulated in the word “mystery.” Not as in a “who-done-it” novel where the protagonist’s identity is revealed upon the story’s denouement. Rather, for me “mystery” points to the revelation and appearance of the Messiah who redeemed humanity from the dark shadow of the curse that rested upon it.

I am convinced that the significance of those subtle numinous experiences in my past emanate from that first mystery that trumps all mysteries: a baby born to a virgin, asleep in a feeding trough, who was and is God in the flesh—this infant who would live His life in perfect obedience to the Father who sent Him. And when the fullness of time had come He died in my place at Calvary. He did this because He is the very embodiment of love and grace, rescuing that which is un-deserving of rescue. No wonder the Apostle Paul in pointing back to the first Advent wrote: Without question, this is the great mystery of our faith: Christ was revealed in a human body and vindicated by the Spirit. He was seen by angels and announced to the nations. He was believed in throughout the world and taken to heaven in glory” (1 Tim 3: 16 NLT) This is the revealed mystery, Jesus, the hope of the world, who has come to redeem us. And it is this mystery that means all the world to me, which for me is the very meaning of Christmas.