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The Christmas Story

December 12, 2012 Jacob Armstrong 0

Many of us have experienced a mess of Christmas proportions.  A Christmas event that was planned with good intentions goes awry and becomes a disaster that we laugh about later.  Whether it is a Christmas tree on the interstate or a dog that ate the turkey, Christmas has a way of amplifying our emotions, magnifying our feelings, and making mishaps feel like big catastrophes.  

Some Christmas messes are nothing to laugh about.  Tension in the family becomes Christmas day arguments.  Financial stress comes to a head in the face of Christmas gift pressures.  Christmas can be filled with magic and wonder and delight, but it can also bring some messes of its own. 

In the first Christmas story, Joseph finds himself with a big mess on his hands.  He learns that his fiancé is pregnant and he knows that the baby is not his.  Joseph lives in a culture where at best this could mean public disgrace for his beloved fiancé and it worst it could mean her death.  

Mary tries to explain, “I was visited by an angel, he said I was highly favored, he said the baby would be the Son of God”, but I’m guessing Joseph’s ears stopped working when he heard “I’m pregnant.”  He is looking at a mess, a disaster, and it is no laughing matter.  

Joseph returns home and makes a plan.  Lesser men would have left her to what was coming to her, but Joseph makes a plan to get himself out of this marriage with every hope of protecting Mary’s dignity and life. 

But when he falls asleep that night,  “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[f] because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1.20-21

Joseph learns what I think is a very important Christmas lesson. One that we should take note of when we see the messes and disasters in our lives.  The lesson is this:  Often we make a plan for our lives only to find out that God has an even better one in mind!

Joseph had made the best plan he could muster in the face of the mess that had been given him.  God had an even better plan for him.

Amazingly, Joseph gets up the next morning and does just what was outlined for him in God’s plan.  He takes Mary home as his wife.  Because Joseph was open to and listened to God’s word in his life he was ushered into the story of God saving His people from their sins.  

It is easy in the busyness and activity of the Christmas season to pretend that everything is ok, when it’s not; to pretend that everything is nice and neat in our lives when really we have some messes that need attention.  The Christmas story invites us not to hide these things from God but to bring our plans to God and be open to the new and better one He has for our lives.  

As you make plans for this Christmas, I encourage you to be open to and listen to what God has to say to you.  You just might find that He has for you an even better plan than you ever imagined.


What’s in your hand?

November 7, 2012 Jacob Armstrong 0

One of the most famous stories in the Bible, if we judge that by how often it is referred to or replicated, is the story of Moses in the wilderness and his encounter with the Burning Bush.   Moses escapes from Egypt to save his life and the once Prince of Egypt takes up a new occupation as a common shepherd.  God meets him in the wilderness in the form of a burning bush and says, “I’m going to use you to release my people from slavery.”  Moses gives God every good reason why God must be mistaken, but God seems pretty convinced that He really does want to use Moses.  Finally Moses agrees to go, but he asks this question, “What if they don’t believe me or listen to me?”

God answers Moses question with another question, “What is that in your hand?”

Moses holds in his hand his staff.  It is a long piece of wood that he uses to tend his flocks; the sign of his profession and a reminder that he is no longer a prince.  Moses must have seen his staff as a reminder that he ran away, a symbol that he was nothing now.  God says, “I’ll use that.”

Moses walks back to Egypt to talk to an unruly tyrant king with the commission from a God the Pharaoh doesn’t even believe in to let his slaves go free.  Moses walks into town dressed like a shepherd, with the dust of his trek in his beard, holding a staff which says I am a nomadic shepherd man.  

God says I’m going use the staff, use your normalness in an abnormal way; I’m going to work extraordinary through your ordinary, wonders through your commonplace. 

God wants to use you.  He wants to use so that others can know His message of setting people free.  Yet, so often we look at our own normalness and think we could never be used by God.  In fact, God wants to use that which is in your hand, your profession, your possessions, even your past for his wonders. 

What’s in your hand?  


The need to be forgiven

August 8, 2012 Jacob Armstrong 0

Ernest Hemingway wrote a story told about a young man in Spain who ran away from home.  No one could really say why Paco ran away, or perhaps he didn’t.  Some said he was kicked out of his home by his father for something foolish that he said or did.  Either way, Paco found himself far away from his small village wandering the streets of Madrid.  Paco’s memory of his mistakes and his guilt over what happened were leading him down a dangerous road.  

It turns out that the last thing that Paco’s father wanted was for his son to be far from home, which is why the father tried something desperate to get his son’s attention.  The father put out an advertisement in the local newspaper, El Liberal, which circulated throughout the entire city. The advertisement read, 

“Paco, meet me at the Hotel Montana at noon on Tuesday. All is forgiven.  Love, Papa.”

When the father arrived at the Hotel Montana the next day at noon he was surprised to find eight-hundred young men named Paco waiting for their fathers.

The first time I heard that story I cried.  Because of course I am a son who longs to be forgiven.  

It is one of the great unspokens in our culture. We don’t talk about it, but we need it.  It affects our hearts in many ways, but we rarely acknowledge it.  We need to be forgiven.  

One of my friends told me recently of going to visit his mother in the hospital, she was sharing a room with a woman who was nearing death.  He told me of how at night his mother’s roommate would cry out.  “Forgive me! Forgive me!”  That bone-chilling request made in the sterile hospital room is not a rare request, but a common one.  Often on the minds of those that are dying is regret for things done and some left undone. It’s not evidence that they are despicable people but that they are human. 

The definition of forgiven is “to grant pardon”.  What you once held against someone, you now release.  

Jesus talked about the need to be forgiven and the great need that we have to forgive others of what they have done to us. When He taught His disciples how to pray he said that we must ask God to forgive us as we forgive others.  

We all have the need to be forgiven and we all have the need to forgive.Forgiveness is available to you today through Jesus.  Perhaps today you can ask God to forgive you and have that deep need of your heart met through his love and mercy. As you accept forgiveness you will also be able to extend it to those who have hurt you.  


The Power of Freedom

July 5, 2012 Jacob Armstrong 0

The 4th of July is a day when we think about the power of freedom.  As Americans we experience every day the benefits of freedom, but the 4th gives us opportunity to pause and reflect upon the freedoms we enjoy. 

The 4th of July and other holidays give us the chance for much needed rest, recreation, and time with our families.  We cook out, shoot fireworks, and play in the pool on a day when we usually would be working.  I have often wondered, though, what would be the best way to thank and be thankful for those who serve to make this freedom possible?

Recently I asked some of my church members who serve in the military what they would desire for us to do on these set aside days of patriotism.  On a day when we say we want to acknowledge and thank those in the military, what would they want us to do?  One former Marine said, “take time to thank someone who is serving or has served.”  Another active Army officer said that we “should take time to thank God.”  Another I asked was the father of a soldier who died in combat.  He said, “remember that each man and woman who serves is someone’s son or daughter.”  

I am thankful for my opportunity to write regularly in this section of the Chronicle.  This week I would like to take this advice that I received from my friends and say thank you.  Thank you to the men and women who are away from their families this 4th of July so that I can enjoy the freedom of being with my family.  Thank you to the dads and moms who miss their sons and daughters while I get the opportunity to be with mine.  Thank you for the sacrifices you have made and are making so life can be better for many.  I thank God for you and your courageous decision to serve your country in an honorable way.  

We thank God for you and pray for you today.