Archives For Christmas

Local churches given wonderful gifts to their communities. The gratitude of people who receive those gifts reminds us that the sacrifice of persevering in a local church is worth it.

My pretty wife, Jamie, and I found ourselves with an extra hour on this wintry day. So Jamie put some Christmas goodies on a plate and we made a pastoral visit.

The couple we called on is experiencing health problems. They won’t be able to go out this Christmas weekend except for dialysis.

Our senior saints were thrilled Jamie and I stopped by – – happier than we deserve. I talked to this couple about doing chores on the farm. I read from Luke 2:8-14 and Jamie and I prayed for them and their family.

As I said – – they appreciated our visit more than we deserved – – but a simple pastoral visit was a Christmas gift they were thrilled to receive.

On the way home, the thought struck me again. Jamie and I were able to make our visit only because of our local church. So many people work so hard — and pray so hard — and persevere through so many meetings — so that together we can wrap the package of pastoral hospital visits — and counseling sessions — and December 23 visits. And sometimes when we give those presents, the people open their package with the delight of children. 

The Radical Book for Kids by Champ ThorntonIf you have grade school age children – – or if you buy presents for them — The Radical Book for Kids: Exploring the Roots and Shoots of Faith order this book and check one item off your list. It JUST came out. So chances are the family you have in mind doesn’t already own a copy.

Here is the endorsement I wrote for, The Radical Book for Kids: Exploring the Roots and Shoots of Faith:

Champ Thornton’s book shows families how to grow a root system in the Christian faith. It offers a broad base of rich content in meal-sized portions readily accessible to families. The content ranges from an introduction to Scripture, to biblical theology, to historical theology. The elephant jokes and knot tying lessons are a nice bonus. I am putting this on a short list of books I recommend that all our church families own.

A few other reasons this is an excellent choice for families:

  • Great pictures and illustrations!
  • The Radical. includes an excellent introduction to understanding the Bible. Champ helpfully explains the different types of literature in Scripture and then shows how the parts relate to the whole.
  • Champ explains why Christianity is “good news” rather than good advice. And the difference is eternally important.
  • As I mentioned above, Champ includes important stories from church history. If you don’t know the story of Polycarp or Athanasius or why they are important today, you can enjoy learning together.
  • But along with this basic information about Christianity, families will enjoy the practical lessons included. Who doesn’t need to be reminded of what it looks like to clean our rooms? Or why manners matter. You will be amazed at how Champ weaves different strands of content together into one tremendous resource.

A new Christmas series for the Byron, Stillman Valley, Rockford, Davis Junction and other surrounding areas. If you wrestle with doubts about life and Christianity, we are praying that our 2015 Christmas series at the Red Brick Church will deeply encourage your heart.

No one welcomes mental doubts, especially at Christmas time. We want a confident Christmas. We long to be free of fear and sure about life will unfold.

Still, doubts nag. We wonder. What if there is no truth to the Christmas message? What if Christmas is a made up story that never really happened? What if there is nothing more than the material world? How will everything work out?

We can’t just wish the doubts away. Fears invade our minds and refuse to leave.

Yet, we don’t need to feel this way.

The Bible tells us that God gave us the Gospel of Luke’s for the purpose of giving us confidence. Luke explained that his reason for writing his account of Jesus was that we might have certainty that story of Christ is real. Luke wrote:

It seemed good to . . . write an orderly account . . . that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. Luke 1:3-4

So it is in Luke’s gospel – – in soaking in it – – and in hearing it preached – – that we find a confident Christmas.

Beginning, Sunday, November 29, Pastor Chris Brauns will preach a new series at the Red Brick Church, In Search of a Confident Christmas: Biblical Messages from Luke’s Gospel For Moving Beyond Doubt. These sermons will show how Christians can defeat doubts and know deep joy this Christmas season.

Services at The Red Brick Church are at 9:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Sunday School is scheduled during the first service and children’s church up to second grade is provided during the 10:30 hour. Listen to our sermons at http://theredbrickchurch.org/sermons/.

The Red Brick Church will also offer:

  • A Children’s Christmas Program on December at both the 9:00 AM and 10:30 AM services.
  • Christmas Eve Services at 4:00 PM and 10:30 PM.

In addition to the series, the below posts on Pastor Chris Brauns’ web site may be an encouragement:

Help for Doubters

R.C. Sproul Punches Holes in One of Freud’s Theories

Incurable Cancer and the Problem of God

Can We Be Good Without God? (The Moral Argument)

John Frame: The Great Question Confronting Modern Humanity

Four Questions Every Thinking Person Must Answer

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5

One hundred years ago on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 1914 shooting on the Western Front stopped. Soldiers from opposing British and German armies walked peacefully over the top, shook hands with one another, and celebrated Christmas.

The below video is a dramatic account of that event. Such a bright light in a dark place is surely worth reflecting on.

When the Christmas truce of 1914 took place, the front lines of both armies were so close together that soldiers could talk to one another through the barbed wire. Because a large percentage of the Germans spoke English, language was not a barrier.

WorldWar1One soldier described in a letter how the Truce began. On Christmas Eve, a British soldier named Edgar Aplin sang a solo with a beautiful tenor voice. The German soldiers listened in the darkness and called out for another song.[1] Aplin obliged and the Germans responded with Silent Night. Then, somehow, in the midst of the fighting, on Christmas 1914, a temporary peace took place. Despite orders to not fraternize, the soldiers agreed to not fire for 48 hours. When they were directed to fire, they shot in the air. Both sides had received special gift parcels. They exchanged gifts.

Some of the details of the Christmas Truce of 1914 are disputed. Historians argue about whether there was a “football” game much less if the Germans won it on penalties.[2] But there is no question that the light of peace blazed into the darkness of the trenches on Christmas Eve of 1914.

*******

A fallen world can be a very dark place. In 2014 at our church in Stillman Valley, IL we thought a lot about “darkness.” If you follow this blog, then you know there were many posts (see some of them here) about our study in the book of Job. We wondered how it could be that God allowed a man who had everything to lose it in the context of Satan’s dispute with God. We thought about the problem of evil.

Of course, our church didn’t just study darkness during the last year. We experienced it. Though our trials were nowhere near as severe as Job’s, we lived with darkness. Some found out that they have cancer. There have been broken relationships and disease. Death took a young member of our community.

Yet, as we saw in the Job series, and as we have experienced in our own lives – – light always wins. That’s how light is: the darker the night, the brighter the light.

In the Job series our church saw that, given Christ, we can trust God even though we cannot understand everything. We learned and experienced that a god small enough to be comprehensively understood is not big enough to be worshipped. But surely the God who gave his only begotten Son is the God who can be trusted and praised: the darker the night – – the brighter the light.

In the words of John 1:5, The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Light is a certain solution to darkness. We can picture it. Darkness never overcomes light.

Frederick Dale Bruner points out that in John’s Gospel, the verbs in the first four verses are all in the past or past-continuous tenses:

 In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

He was in the beginning with God.

All things were made through him,

and without him was not any thing made that was made.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

But in John 1:5, when John says, the light shines in the darkness, with the verb, “shines,” John changes from the past to the present tense.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John’s switch in tenses is electrifying. Bruner comments “suddenly something shines on.”[3] He explains that though, at Calvary, it had seemed to all outward appearances that Jesus was executed and that the darkness had prevailed – – Jesus rose again. Bruneer continues that even though now, too, by most outward indications in the present world, it may seem that darkness is winning, “nevertheless, appearances to the contrary . . . it will always be the deepest fact in all of history that, in John’s inspired words, it is ‘this Light that shines on in the darkness, and the darkness did not put it out.’[4]

When the text of John 1:5 says that the darkness has not overcome the light – – the verb translated “overcome” carries the idea of “attacking with the implication of gaining control over.”[5] The same word for “overcome” appears in Mark 9:18 where an evil spirit takes over a young man. The text reads:

And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” (Mark 9:18 ESV)

The word translated “seizes” is the same one found in John 1:5.[6] Satan —the darkness—attempted to throw our King down and conquer him. And, on Good Friday, it might have appeared that the darkness won, but Christ rose from the dead. And the light shines on.

John anticipates all of this in John 1:5.

And the Light still shines today – – There are times when the darkness is violent:

Cancer rips out our hair.

Divorce devastates.

Heart disease saps our strength.

Sin ravages young people.

Death grips us.

Yet, Christ rose from the dead. He is coming again. We can be sure that the Light shines on, and will continue to shine on.

*****

The image of God as light is an important one. John R.W. Stott wrote that no biblical statement is more comprehensive of God’s essential being than the 1 John 1:5 assertion that God is “light.”[7] 

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5a

The idea that God is light carries a number of truths with it.  First, God chooses to tell us about Himself.  The God of Heaven and Earth does not dwell in shadows, but he discloses himself, again using Stott’s words, in perfect purity and utter majesty.”

The idea of God as light also communicates ethical purity and holiness. So in the verses following 1 John 1:5, John encourages his readers to walk in the light. Indeed, The light that God shines does not simply tell us who God is  — – but light from God allows us to walk.  When we know Christ, the light that we find in God’s Word allows us to confidently move forward in life.  We do not need to hesitate or be unsure. We should walk in the light.

And, as we have said, light defeats darkness. The book of Revelation promises that there is coming a time when there will be no more darkness.

And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:5

Verses like John 1:5 and Revelation 22:5 in mind, light, ought always to encourage the believer, especially on dark nights. Tonight when you see Christmas Eve lights, think of the Light. Look across the winter fields and remind yourself that God is light. In Him there is not even a trace of darkness.  He does not dwell in shadows but He blazes a knowledge of himself into human history through His Creation and His Word.  He gives us this light not simply that we can worship His excellence, but also that we can walk forward in life, that we may have right conduct.

Light always prevails over darkness. Every time.

There is another point of application that cannot be missed. In the coming year, with a series on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), we will be reminded that, in the absence of the resurrected Christ who has ascended to the right hand of the Father and poured out the Holy Spirit on the Church believers are called to be visible lights. Jesus said,

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

******

We ought not to romanticize the Christmas Truce of 1914. After all, the cease fire was at the beginning of the War before the worst of the hatred took hold. Gas warfare was yet to come. And there would be no cease-fires from 1915-1918. Before it was over, World War I was horrible beyond comprehension. The casualty numbers tell us that England lost around a million people (2 %of their population). The number was closer to 2 million for the French who lost an estimated 3-4% of their population. Germany lost 2.5 million and around 4% of their population. The United States came to the war late and our losses were comparatively smaller at 117,000. Altogether, in World War I, somewhere between 15-19 million people died with 22 million wounded. And a flu epidemic came at the end of World War I that killed many more.

Even the Christmas Truce of 1914 was imperfect. Though the cease fire was generally observed at one point in the lines, a German sniper killed a British soldier. The soldier’s sergeant was furious and tracked down the sniper and killed him. But then he decided to pursue another sniper. The two snipers spotted each other at the same time and the German sniper shot first. So multiple families received the word that sons, husbands, and fathers had died on Christmas day.

The daughter of the British sergeant’s remembers the last time her father was home on leave in 1914 shortly before he was killed on the Western Front on Christmas Day. He came home to see his family and she ran out to greet her father before he could get to the door. He had brought her a tea set. She was so excited to tell her mom that when she ran back to the house she fell and broke the tea set. It would be her last gift.[8]

Maybe – – remembering that little girl’s precious gifts – – we ought to treasure our gifts more given the darkness.

In any case, the Christmas Truce of 1914 was only a glimpse of the light that will one day come when Christ appears. But the fact that it is still talked about 100 years later illustrates the truth that darkness doesn’t conquer light. In spite of the war that happened, the light of the Christmas truce shines 100 years later. Light defeats darkness. It did and it will. The darkness will never prevail over light because God is light and there is no darkness in Him.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

Now we need to be lights. We need Christmas Truces not of 1914 but of 2014. If soldiers in the Great War could see their way clear to be brothers on Christmas Day, then maybe we could be moved to hug more people one hundred years later.

See also:

John Murray of Westminster Seminary and World War I

Christmas Truce of 1914 Was Broken When German Snipers Killed Two British Soldiers

How One Young Soldiers Song Inspired the 1914 Christmas Truce

Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce

Why did God allow Satan to harm Job and his family?

[1] “How One Young Soldier’s Song Inspired the 1914 Christmas Truce,” The Telegraph, December 22, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-one/11302440/How-one-young-soldiers-song-inspired-the-1914-Christmas-Truce.html.

[2] Katie Daubs, “When German, British Soldiers Carolled and Played (we Think) Soccer,” December 19, 2014, http://www.thestar.com/news/world/ww1/2014/12/19/when_german_british_soldiers_carolled_and_played_we_think_soccer.html.

[3] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapds: Eerdmans, 2012), 17–18. Emphasis his.

[4] Ibid., 18.

[5] “39.48 καταλαμβάνω: to attack, with the implication of gaining control over—‘to attack, to overpower.’ ὅπου ἐὰν αὐτὸν καταλάβῃ ῥήσσει αὐτόν ‘whenever (the evil spirit) attacks him, it throws him to the ground’ Mk 9:18. The attack upon a person by a demon is often expressed idiomatically, for example, ‘to ride a person,’ ‘to seize a person’s mind,’ or ‘to grab a person’s inner life.’” This verb appears 15 times in the Greek New Testament. Sometimes it carries the idea of “comprehending” or “understanding.” See the NIV translation.

[6] In 1 Thessalonians the verb is translated by the ESV “surprise.” But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. (1 Thessalonians 5:4 ESV).

[7] John R.W. Stott, The Letters of John, Revised, vol. 19, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1990), 75. Portions of this adapted from Chris Brauns, “Light: A Most Import Statement About God,” A Brick in the Valley: The Web Site of Pastor and Author Chris Brauns, August 2, 2011, http://chrisbrauns.com/2011/08/light-a-most-import-statement-about-god/.

[8] “Christmas Truce of 1914 Was Broken When German Snipers Killed Two British Soldiers,” The Telegraph, December 22, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-one/11307513/Christmas-truce-of-1914-was-broken-when-German-snipers-killed-two-British-soldiers.html.

Football-Uniforms-Old

An early Ivy League football game.

“Vanbriesen pops through the left side of the AC line and he’s loose in the secondary. It’s a footrace for the end zone.”

For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given . . . Isaiah 9:6

Founded in 1636, Harvard stands as the oldest school in the conference. When I say Harvard, I  mean the institution of higher education out east rather than the community on the other side of the Big Northern Conference where they hold the milk festival. Though, for the record the Harvard Illinois Hornets enjoyed a good 2013 football season.

Most people now think that “Stillman’s Run” references the football team getting hot in the playoffs, but a few historians remember that “Stillman’s Run” is the name of an 1832 battle fought on our ground during the Blackhawk war though it was also called the battle of Old Man’s Creek or the Battle of Sycamore Creek. Which is to say, I’m not sure of how old our high school is but Harvard University started signing diplomas not quite two years hundred years before Blackhawk and his warriors crossed the creek and chased off Major Isaiah Stillman and the Illinois militia.

Yale's Handsome Dan dates back to 1890

Yale’s Handsome Dan

Yale University, in the same conference as Harvard, came along in 1701. Yale’s original mascot was a bulldog named “Handsome Dan” – – The story goes that one of the Yale offensive tackles bought the bulldog Handsome Dan from a local blacksmith and the Yale mascot was born.

A few decades after Yale, Dartmouth was founded in December of 1769. Dartmouth began as a congregational university and their motto, “A voice crying out in the wilderness,” recalls the role of John the Baptist in announcing Christ. The motto was was favored by Dartmouth because at that time New Hampshire was in the wilderness. Dartmouth’s mascots have changed over the years and have variously included an Indian, who much like Chief Illini and the Marquette Warrior, was dropped in the name of political correctness. The Dartmouth student body campaigned for a mascot named Keggy the Keg but this was resisted by the administration who was doubtless looking for something with a bit more Ivy league dignity.  Someone proposed the Dartmouth moose  – – but this mascot has never quite taken over – – and so Dartmouth athletics are often known as the Big Green.

curiosity-ivy-league-pictures-26Harvard, Yale, and Darmouth do not enjoy membership in the Illinois High School Big Northern Conference or even the Big Ten. These universities are all members of the Ivy League, which as you know, is the grand group of colleges: the loftiest echelon of higher education. Without reviewing all their mascots, the Internet succinctly summarizes that the Ivy League is:

“a group of long-established colleges and universities in the eastern US having high academic and social prestige. It includes Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell, Brown, and the University of Pennsylvania. . . The term Ivy League also has connotations of academic excellence, selectivity in admissions, and social elitism.”

Once, when I was in Boston, I drove past Harvard, but I was mostly trying to find my way around and, if you’ve ever been in Boston, you know what a challenge that is – – so, other than a quick glance out the window, I have never been near an Ivy League campus.

Growing up, I knew of only one person who went to the Ivy League. He was from Southeast Iowa and though I didn’t know him personally my friends and I heard that he was so committed to learning that he taped vocabulary words to his bathroom mirror and studied when he was shaving. My friends and I didn’t shave very often in high school, so we resented him on that basis alone.  We also knew that stretching one’s vocabulary apart from high school requirements was not normal. And we understood that we would not be joining kids with big vocabularies in the Ivy League.

Instead, I went to college in Pella, Iowa, which was 90 long miles from home, closer to the Iowa metropolis of Des Moines, and so, I reasoned, a bit like going out east. In Pella, we had tulips in May but very little ivy. We weren’t sure of how to distinguish college ivy from poison ivy so the crew who mowed the grass put Roundup on anything that started to grow on the sides of the buildings.

Our college football field was on was on the edge of a cornfield.

Which is to say that it’s hard for me to picture the Ivy League. All these years later, and though I now know a handful of people who went out east, I am only slightly less informed then I was as a farm kid in Southeast Iowa.

But after the Fall of 2013, there is one vivid “Ivy League image” burned in my mind, a picture I can see very clearly. It has to do with the Stillman Valley – Aurora Christian 2013 class 3A State Semi-Final football game.

DSC_5217

SV’s Seth Vanbriesen carries the ball in a Thanksgiving 2013 practice

High school playoff football, of course, is far more familiar to us in the Midwest than the Ivy League. Many of us were at the state semi-final game; and most who weren’t present at the game can picture it. We drove down across already harvested cornfields for the Saturday evening game in the suburbs.  And, though the calendar may have said, fall, the forecast read like the evening news for Gnome, Alaska. Global warming notwithstanding, the predictions were so arctic that we rented torpedo heaters like those we used to heat our barns in Iowa when I was growing up.

The weathermen were right. There was no gentle fall breeze. Instead, an icy winter wind howled out of Canada and right into Aurora. We were shivering before the game even started. No one tailgated. People sat in their cars with the motors running or built igloos out of blankets in both rows of the visiting bleachers. A cheerleader’s feet got so cold that she melted her tennis shoes holding her feet up to the heater. I know of three different people who melted gloves in the same way. (My son, Ben, and I were two of them).

Predictions for the outcome of the game weren’t any warmer than the weather. AC came in with an all-state running back with the first name of (I am not making this up) “Legend” – – they had a monster quarterback the size of our linemen – – and the threat of passing attack that made us feel like we would be watching the Blue Angels at the Oshkosh Air Show.

The game started like we expected. Aurora Christian grabbed an early lead. We managed to keep it close the first half, but it felt like the game could get away from us at any moment.

When AC scored on a pick-six early in the 3rd quarter our hopes were on ice, which was true both figuratively and literally. It kept getting colder. For a witness, I appeal to my son Ben who said it was the coldest he has ever been in his life. He steadfastly maintained this claim for four days until a practice the following Wednesday that he claims was colder.

Anyway, Stillman answered AC’s pic-six score by stalling and in short order AC blew into our red zone, with the possibility of the score going to 24-7. The outcome hung in the balance, but somehow Stillman stopped them on fourth down though even when we got the ball we were trapped inside our own fifteen.

I need to back up for a minute and point out that as a church and community, we are honored that one of our own is in the Ivy League. Derek Vanbriesen rolled a 36 on his ACT test and finished first in his class and his acceptance at Dartmouth speaks well not only for him and his family, which it does, but also for our schools and teachers. And, I want to say, in Derek’s defense that, so far as I am aware, Derek didn’t tape vocabulary words on his mirror in high school and he is far more normal than the guy I previously mentioned from Southeast Iowa who went to Harvard. Actually, I think that the guy from SE Iowa was fairly normal; it’s just that my friends and I resented him because he was smarter than we were and, like I said, had to shave every day.

In any case, Seth Vanbriesen, Derek’s younger brother, was playing in the Stillman Valley-AC game and, as it turns out, Seth ended up being part of the pivotal post-season play. The play itself resulted from a halftime adjustment.

In our locker room at half-time, while our team was attempting to get feeling back in their fingers, the Stillman Valley players told the coaches that any time our offense went into a particular set, Aurora Christian crammed defenders in the box and keyed on our fullback. The Aurora Christian defense made this adjustment by yelling a code word which sent the message, “We know what you’re going to do, and we are going to stop it.” Or, said another way, it was shorthand for, “We are going to win and you are going to lose.”

But Stillman’s coaches like adjustments and they were ready with a wrinkle of their own. In response – – and this is what Stillman did down 17-7 in the third quarter – – we decided to fake to our all state fullback Zac Hare- – and gave the ball to Seth. It worked perfectly and Seth was off to the races while the AC defenders piled onto our fake. Once Seth burst through a hole on the left side of the line, he had lots of space because the defense was flowing so hard to our fullback. It probably wasn’t very pleasant for our fullback – – what with everyone plowing into him – – but he was used to it and took one for the team.

For his part, Seth was an unlikely candidate to make the long run- – 73 of his 76 yards that night were on one play. But the play was enough to tip the balance of momentum in our direction and our fullback, Zac, plowed into the end zone in the last minute to win the game.

As long as I have my wits about me, I’ll picture that play from my place on the sidelines- – wind howling – – clouds of steam coming out of helmets – -reserves shivering on the sideline – – cheerleaders melting their shoes on torpedo heaters – – and the suburb superpower pounding us on the ropes.

And then Seth — with the ball – – dancing through the line; the crowd erupting from under their piles of blankets and sleeping bags – – and the sound of cowbells bouncing off the Aurora Christian turf.

But the actual game footage is not my favorite picture of the semi-final game. My favorite picture is from the Ivy League. Seth’s brother, Derek wasn’t able to be at the game. Dartmouth didn’t offer a pep bus going to the Illinois football playoffs. But the game was broadcast on the Internet and so Derek listened online. And the picture of Derek listening in the Ivy League to the news from home – – that is my favorite image from the state semi-final game.

I didn’t really talk to Derek about it, and I know he was listening on the Internet, but I like to picture Derek tuned in on a giant radio in some historic dorm.

I surfed the Internet to see if there was an archive of the game. I wanted to hear the call when Seth got loose for a 73 yard run that changed the momentum, not just of that one game, but of the whole post-season run. But I couldn’t find an archive of the broadcast. It’s just as well. I like to imagine the “staticy radio” play-by-play call Derek heard:

Stillman Valley trails 17-7 and they are backed up in their own territory – -McNames over center, a quick give over the right side to the fullback Hare and a pile of bodies- – check that – It’s a fake to Hare and Stillman is loose in the Aurora Christian secondary. It’s #40 – Seth Vanbriesen. He’s already across midfield: the 50, the 40, the 35 – – Aurora Christian giving chase – – Vanbriesen may score . . . he is tackled inside the Aurora Christian 10. No flags.

The Vanbriesen brothers are on the left and right sides of this birthday party picture from 2005.

The Vanbriesen brothers are in red jerseys on either side of this 2005 pic

I love the picture of one of ours out east hearing that his brother, back home, made a big play back.

It encourages me as a pastor and dad to think, that as far as kids from Byron, Stillman, Rochelle, or Rockford may travel, they will dial into the news from home. Whether they go off to California, or Kentucky or Vanderbilt or Wisconsin, they’ll want the local news. And the reason is because the closer the winners are to home, the sweeter the sound. Had Derek been listening to an NFL team (does anyone really want to win the NFC North?), he would have been only moderately excited. But when he heard the news that his brother made the big play for his hometown he was thrilled. There is no news more local than the news that your own brother made a big play. Derek is not a real animated sort, but he must have at least smiled.

Now, whatever your high school allegiances, if you think about it, the image of an Ivy Leaguer tuned into local good news is a Christmas picture. It is a Christmas card. It is as much Christmas as any print from Currier and Ives because the idea of someone in an elite place, who is never the less, straining to hear the news from home reminds us that the best news is local news.

The first Christmas card was that kind of picture too. It was good news because it was local. Christ’s birth wasn’t someone else’s news in some distant place. It is our news. When Jesus arrived, he didn’t make his entrance in New York or Paris or Rome. He wasn’t even born in Jerusalem where he might have been expected. Mary gave birth and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in the manger because there was no room in the inn.

Christ the LORD was born locally in an obscure, small town, a lot like our towns – – the LORD was born in Payne’s Point, not Paris; Christ the King didn’t come for princes and prima donnas. He came for herdsmen and hired hands: people like us. And the Scriptures promises that for all who receive Christ and truly give their lives to him – – that the news of Christ’s birth is intimately local – – we are part of his family (John 1:12).

It is not lost on Christians today, of course, that in the hallowed halls of higher education, the miracle of Christmas is often viewed with academic disdain. There is little regard for the real Christmas story. The claim of a virgin birth is seen as so much sappy sentimentalism.

And yet, interestingly it is the local Christmas story that resonates with the soul of the world  – – from one edge of the map to the other.

Christmas celebrations take places in local churches, not hallowed hallows. Tonight, on Christmas Eve, the cold blue flames of Bunsen burners in scientific laboratories will all be extinguished and the science centers will be dark. And, instead, the warm orange flame of midnight church candles will burn from one edge of the map to the other. Those who view Christianity with disdain are left to admit that they haven’t been able to create a celebration of their own, so they reluctantly join the local party in Bethlehem.

On Christmas, the actions of nearly everyone agree that the best news is not that of proud achievement, but the sort that is local and humble. So the celebration of the Christmas story should grab the attention of even the proudest minds, if we will think of it. Recalling something C.S. Lewis once wrote, The Christmas story – what some would regard as a made up story – – beats the so called real story hollow.

The best good news is local. News sounds the sweetest when it isn’t someone else’s story, but ours. And this is the Christmas message – – For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given. And this is a true, local story.

Before we conclude, there is one more Christmas card to open. Rather than imagining Derek dialed in from Dartmouth, consider who is tuned in and listening to our local news tonight- – imagine the Risen Christ following our lives with the interest of a brother, for that is what the Scriptures tell us – – In all his omniscient, omnipotent glory – – He is dialed into our local lives – – For those who believe in Him, he listens with the interest and excitement of family. He celebrates our victories and is concerned for our pain.  Because, after all, Chist came not for princes and prima donnas, but for herdsmen and hired hands – – local folks such as us. And the good news of Christmas is the best kind of good news, because it is local good news.

Chores on Christmas Eve

Chris —  December 23, 2012 — 2 Comments

This year (2016) our Christmas Eve service is at 4:00 PM.

Are you working this Christmas Eve?

I grew up on a farm in Southeast Iowa.  When my parents first started farming, my dad had a second job, so when I 8 and 9 years old I was responsible for taking care of the animals in the evenings.  It was especially hard during short winter days.  I can still remember cold, dark evenings, with the wind cutting into my face and wire bucket handles digging into my fingers.  Sometimes water would splash onto my coveralls and freeze.

It was cold and even scary outside, but, once I stepped in the barn it was a different world.  You probably think of pigs as dirty, but in a farrowing house where sows are having little pigs there are clean rows of sows with litters of pigs the size of puppies.  Each sow had a separate crate and the pigs would lay in little pink piles of ears and tails under their heat lamps.

When I think about cold winter evenings and warm barns full of straw, watching over our flocks by night, it means more that the Angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds and God wrote them into the Christmas story.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid (Luke 2:8-9).

We still have plenty of ordinary jobs.  Maybe you will be working this week when most people are home with their families: driving a semi, ringing up groceries.  If so, remember that God  wrote people with ordinary jobs into the Christmas Story, “There were in those days shepherds, keeping watch over their flocks by night.”

Christmas Eve services at the Red Brick Church are at 4 and 10:30PM. You can attend before or after evening chores.

A Christmas Gift Idea

Chris —  December 13, 2012 — Leave a comment

Let me give you a great gift idea for Christmas.  It is a gift that will cost you nothing but an hour or so of your time.  It will bless your entire family.  It will encourage the leaders in your church.  It will serve young parents.  Jesus will consider it a personal favor.  And, I can’t think of any better way to get into the Christmas spirit.

Here is my idea.  Call your church office today. Volunteer for several members of your family, and men you can do this too, to work in the church nursery during the Christmas Eve service at your church.  Or if not the Christmas Eve service, how about on December 23? Your church may still be looking for help. Make that call today.  Offer to serve in the nursery at Christmas time, or any other time!

We are already well into December.  Your nursery may already be staffed.  There may not be any room in the Inn for you to care for babies.  But, your nursery coordinator may still be able to find a spot for you to work.  And, I am serious about this; it could be one of the highlights of your Christmas season.

If you do work in the nursery, treasure the opportunity to hold a little baby.  Pray for that baby.  Pray that he or she would have a great life.  Remember: Jesus said whatever you do for one of the least of these, you do as a direct favor for Him.  And, consider, when Jesus became humanity, when He broke into space and time, he did so in a manger where there wasn’t even room in the Inn, much less a nursery.  When a young couple thanks you for caring for their baby, pray for them even as you are handing them their little one across the nursery counter.

Hallelujah Flash Mob in the GSOI

Chris —  December 8, 2011 — 5 Comments

It requires a certain degree of humility, if I may humbly say so, for a Central grad to share a Simpson link. Never the less, it is in the GSOI (“Great State of Iowa”) and this is well worth watching.

HT: Trevin Wax

HT: JT