‘Cause We Need a Little Christmas…

I was thinking about taking down my Christmas lights today.  Here in Minnesota we have been hit with a very unseasonably warm winter. We are actually supposed to have a high of 48 on Saturday.  Imagine that!  Typically by now we have snow on the ground and the air is so cold that the last thing I want to do is to get outside on a ladder and take down the Christmas lights.

But here is my dilemma: typically once the snow falls it is here til Spring finally arrives.  That means that it is March or April before I can take down the lights.  So practically speaking, it makes sense for me to take the lights down now, while I still can, before the snow arrives.  However, it just doesn’t seem right to take down the Christmas lights on December 29th.  We usually stop turning the lights on once we get to New Year’s, but this just seems a little bit too early.

Yesterday, my son Jacob said that he wished that Christmas lasted for a whole week.  I agree with him.  It seems like Christmas doesn’t last quite long enough.  The anticipation and build up to Christmas takes so long, and then in one day, it’s over.  We were at the mall yesterday and the stores were already moving on to Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and Easter.  I don’t know about you, but I want Christmas to last.

So this Sunday we are going to spend one more day on Christmas.  Actually, we are going to look at a piece that is typically included in the traditional nativity story, but is often misunderstood.  We will be looking at the visit of the Magi.  Were there really 3 of them?  Were they kings, wise men, or magicians?  Where did they come from and when did they arrive?  Those are just a few of the questions we will be asking as we take a look at their amazing story.  And then we will be asking the question, “so what can I learn and apply to my life from what I find in their story?”  Come on out to The River this Sunday to find out more.

Is It Christmas Yet?

Can you believe that Christmas is almost here?  It seems like the days leading up to Christmas just fly by.  That is not true for my little, three-year-old daughter.  Makenna is having trouble waiting for Christmas.  She has been asking, “is it Christmas yet?” for the the last month.  And when we tell her how many days are left until Christmas comes, her response is always, “Christmas is taking a long time.”

Of course, she has had nothing to do to get ready for Christmas.  She didn’t have the shopping, baking, planning and preparing responsibilities that her mom and I have had to deal with.  And she hasn’t been at school each day, like her brothers and sisters, counting down the days til Christmas arrives. She doesn’t even really understand the passing of time.  For her, Christmas is just someday in the future and she can’t quite grasp how far away it really is.

And she is so ready for it to come, right now!  She is excited for Christmas.  And that is something I can definitely understand.  Christmas has always been one of my favorite times of the year.  I have always enjoyed the different aspects of Christmas.  I enjoy giving and receiving gifts.  I enjoy the extra time to spend with family and friends.  I enjoy the decorations, and Christmas music, and the Christmas specials on TV.  And I enjoy the time of focusing on the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

When I was growing up, I loved Christmas too, but back then it was mostly about the gifts.  I couldn’t wait for Christmas morning to come so that I could get up and see what I got.  But over the years, my perspective on Christmas has changed and some of the other things have become more important.  Now don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy getting a gift as much as the next guy, but my enjoyment of the Christmas season is much more complete than when I was young.  And that is definitely a good thing.

I was talking with my children during devotions last night about, “what if we didn’t get any presents on Christmas.  Would we still celebrate?”  And we talked about how, even though we enjoy the games, toys, clothes, and other presents that we get on Christmas, ultimately none of those gifts even come close to the greatest gift that we have been given.  And that is the gift of Jesus Christ who came to earth to save us from our sins and bring us the hope of eternal life.  So, even if we received no other gifts at Christmas time, we would still have so much to celebrate.

This year Christmas is on Sunday.  That doesn’t happen too often.  And when it does, we can look at it like it puts a crimp in our plans to celebrate with our families.  Or we can embrace the opportunity to focus on what Christmas is all about and take advantage of the opportunity to celebrate the greatest gift that we have ever received.  This Sunday at The River, we will be focusing on that great gift.  Consider joining us this Sunday, at 9:30 a.m., at 2510 Chaska Blvd., to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Nativity Wow Factor

It’s fun to see Christmas through the eyes of our children.  During this time of year as we drive around at night, my children constantly are yelling out, “Christmas lights!  Christmas lights!”  They point out the different beautiful displays that they see along the trip.  But while I still enjoy seeing the lights and other decorations that people have put up, the “wow factor” has kind of worn out for me.  So it’s nice to have the kids around, to help remind me of what it all looks like through their eyes.

You see, it’s easy for us to forget the “wow factor” of the Christmas season, because we have experienced it all so many times before.  And I think we have the same problem with the story of the Nativity from Scripture.  We have already read, or listened to it hundreds of times over the years.  We know it so well that we don’t really even pay attention anymore.  It has lost a little bit of it’s “wow factor” for us, because we already know the story so well.  But in reality it is no less incredible, just because we have heard it before.  And knowing how it all works out from the perspective of the rest of Scripture should cause us to be all the more impressed with what is happening.

Do you ever find yourself underwhelmed at the idea of Christmas?  Do you find yourself unamazed by the story of the Nativity?  If so, then I want to encourage you to come to The River this Sunday.  I will be looking at the Nativity once again, and trying to help us consider just how amazing it really was.  But then we are going to move beyond the “wow factor” and talk about what we can apply to our lives from what we hear.

I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Chaska Valley Family Theater production of White Christmas.  It was a very enjoyable evening.  For anyone interested, they have 5 more shows coming up this weekend.  You can find more information at www.cvft.org.

The show follows the tale of a couple of army buddies who, after returning home from the war, find themselves helping out their old commanding officer who is struggling to make ends meet at an inn up in Vermont.  They pull in some help from their Broadway pals and put on a Christmas show that packs in a crowd.  The story has some great, memorable musical numbers, including the famous “White Christmas” song from the title.

Julie and I wound up getting to the event a little early and spent some time talking with one of the patrons of the theater.  He talked about how this show will help many people get into the Christmas mood, because he speculated that a lot of people were not focusing on Christmas yet.

I am not sure if that was a correct assessment or not, but even those who may be in the Christmas spirit, might not be focusing on the right things. It is actually pretty easy to get into the traditional Christmas mindset.  It is easy for us to find ourselves dreaming of a white Christmas or thinking about a jolly, overweight man in a red suit climbing down our chimney to bring us gifts.  It’s easy because everywhere we turn at this time of year we find ourselves bombarded with Christmas carols, television specials, and deocrations galore that constantly turn our eyes toward the holiday season.

But if we want to focus on the true meaning of Christmas, that doesn’t happen naturally.   If we are not careful, our entire Christmas season can get eaten up focusing only on the materialistic celebration of the holiday instead of on the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ.

So, how do we get ourselves dreaming about the celebration of the birth of Christ instead of just a winter wonderland?  That’s a good question.  I believe the key is being intentional about putting Christ in the forefront during this time of year.  There is nothing wrong with Christmas shopping, decorating the house, baking Christmas cookies, listening to carols, and watching Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.   But if that is all that we do, then Christ will fade into the background.

One of the things that we do as a family is to spend some time each evening reading an advent focused devotional storybook.  The one we are reading this year is entitled “Jotham’s Journey.”  We have done it before, but whenever we read it again, the children enjoy it.  The story follows the journey of a young boy named Jotham who has been separated from his family and as he gets closer and closer to finding them, he also gets closer and closer to finding the Messiah.  It is a great story that helps us focus our minds and hearts on the birth of Christ.

Another way to help ourselves focus on the true meaning of Christmas is by making Church a priority.  Over the next several weeks we will be focusing on the Christmas message on Sunday mornings.  And this Sunday evening, at 5:30, we will be having a special Christmas party at the church with a focus on the message of Christmas.  If you are free, come on out and join us for a Christmas focus along with food and fellowship.  Let’s make it a priority to focus on the true meaning of Christmas this holiday season!

Zombies, Vampires, Ghosts and Mummies

When I was growing up the term “Zombie” didn’t refer to a flesh-eating corpse, it referred to someone who was kind of zoned out.  Like someone who was really tired, or lazy, or just kind of out of it.  For instance our basketball coach might have said, “Quit acting like a bunch of zombies and get out there and score some points.”

But that is not what people are talking about when they mention zombies now.  Zombies are kind of a big deal in our society today.  Personally, I don’t really understand the appeal, but between video games, movies, books and television shows, zombies are all over the place.  Fictionally speaking of course.

I guess our society has always had a bit of a fascination with things like zombies, vampires, ghosts and mummies.  Back when I was growing up, the Ghostbusters movies were a big hit.  And before I was born, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, and Boris Karloff made careers out of playing creepy surreal characters like Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolfman, and the Phantom of the Opera.

But we don’t need to turn to the movies or television to find a story about a corpse coming back to life.  Actually, the Bible contains for us some of the most incredible, unexplainable, larger-than-life stories we could ever imagine.

For instance, this Sunday at The River we will be taking a look at the story of Jesus raising a man from the dead.  When I picture this story, I actually picture the kind of scene we might see in one of those mummy movies, where the mummy comes walking out of the tomb all stiff and restricted because of the burial cloths.  But this story is not just something we might see on a movie screen, it’s real.  You can read about it in the Bible (John 11).  And come on out to The River this Sunday to find out more about this amazing story.

All I Really Need

My 3 year old daughter has a CD that she likes to listen to that features a children’s musician named Raffi.  One of the songs she likes is a song called, “All I Really Need.”  Here is a taste of some of the lyrics…

“All I really need is a song in my heart, food in my belly, and love in my family

All I really need is a song in my heart, and love in my family

And I need the rain to fall

And I need the sun to shine

To give life to the seeds we sow

To give the food we need to grow”

It is a sweet little song with an encouraging message, but whenever I think of it, I am reminded of a scene from the movie “The Jerk.”  For those of you who have never seen the movie, first let me say, that I am not recommending it.  I learned a long time ago, to not recommend movies, because different people have different ideas about what is good and what is acceptable.  But I saw this movie many years ago and there is one scene in particular that I remember.

The movie stars Steve Martin and at one point he is leaving and as he is walking out he is picking things up while saying, “And that’s the only thing I need is *this*. I don’t need this or this. Just this ashtray… And this paddle game. – The ashtray and the paddle game and that’s all I need… And this remote control. – The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that’s all I need… And these matches. – The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control, and the paddle ball… And this lamp. – The ashtray, this paddle game, and the remote control, and the lamp, and that’s all *I* need. And that’s *all* I need too. I don’t need one other thing, not one… I need this. – The paddle game and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches for sure. Well what are you looking at? What do you think I’m some kind of a jerk or something! – And this. That’s all I need.”

That movie scene and the song by Raffi are not the same thing at all.  The movie is more a reminder of our messed up look at life and how we are not content without silly little things that don’t really matter, while the song is a reminder that we have a whole lot of things that we take for granted that are all we really need.   And when we are reminded of those things it can encourage us to give thanks.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t give thanks nearly enough.  It is far easier for me to grumble about what I don’t have than to give thanks for what I do.  But all that typically changes around Thanksgiving time.  That is when I tend to remember all of those simple things that I really need, that I tend to take for granted.  And it is a time when I finally take the time to stop and give thanks for those things.

Of course, the next day is Black Friday and then we decide that all we really need is that lamp, and that new Blu-Ray player, and that washing machine, and…

This Sunday Pastor Rob will be taking a closer look at the story of Noah and the Flood and tying it in with the heart of Thanksgiving.  Join us at The River, 2510 Chaska Blvd. at 9:30 a.m. to hear more.  And if you miss this Sunday, you might want to check out our online sermon link to listen online.

How Big is Your God?

Have you ever thought about just how big God is?  If not, then I want to encourage you to do something.  Go out tonight and stand in the middle of a big field.  Look up at all the stars and as far as you can see.  Then think about how big God must be to create something that is so big that we can’t even comprehend how big it is.  And then think about this: that God is the same God that we pray to everyday.

That is a pretty awesome thought isn’t it?  It is easy for us to forget just how big God is.  It is easy for us to bring God down to our level and to get a very limited view of what God can do.  That is one of the reasons I love Bible stories so much.  The stories of David and Goliath, Daniel and the Lion’s Den, Noah’s Ark, and so many others remind us how big God is and that He is capable of doing more than we could ever imagine.

This Sunday, we are going to take a look at another amazing story from Scripture.  The story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel from I Kings 18.  And in this story we will see that Elijah understands that God is really big, and that he wants others to understand that too.  I invite you to come on out to The River this Sunday and be reminded of how big God is and what that means for how we live our lives.

Fairy Tale Land

I used to coach basketball in Fairy Tale Land, but it was way too stressful so I had to give it up.  Here are the problems I had to deal with:

  • Cinderella was our point guard, but I couldn’t get her to stop running away from the ball.
  • Little Red Riding Hood would get so distracted by the other team’s big ears, and big eyes, that they would steal the ball from her with their big hands.
  • Basketball just wasn’t the Little Mermaid’s game.  She was like a fish out of water.
  • Snow White wasn’t bad, but she kept getting her shot blocked.  I can’t really blame her, after all, the 7 guys she used to play with were a little “vertically challenged.”
  • Sleeping beauty kept falling asleep on defense.
  • And Goldilocks was the most annoying of all.  Whenever she wasn’t in the game she would constantly be complaining about the bench being too hard or too soft.  It was never just right.

Okay, so maybe I really wasn’t the coach of the Fairy Tale Land basketball team, but you can kind of picture the problems that would come up can’t you?  You know that those cute little quirky details from the storybook would get mighty tiresome if you had to live with them day in and day out.  Like imagine how long it must take Rapunzel to get ready in the morning?  Or imagine having to wear glass slippers all the time.  And while I am sure that Cinderella’s voice is beautiful, it would sure get annoying to hear her singing all the time.  And that’s just one princess.  It seems like singing is a pre-requisite for most of the princesses, so imagine all of them singing constantly, not to mention all the birds and mice and other animals getting in the way.

Of course, Fairy Tale Land doesn’t really exist.  Life isn’t a fairy tale is it?  At least it doesn’t feel like it most of the time.  We may have some fairy-tale kind of moments in our lives from time to time, but we also have a bunch of unfairy-tale kind of moments too.  The question is, are we headed for a happily ever after ending?

Well, this Sunday we are going to be talking about our sometimes unfairy-tale like lives as we take a look at the book of Esther.  I invite you to come and join us.

Are You Too Busy To Read This Blog?

Life is busy isn’t it?  We all have so many different responsibilities and different things that are vying for our attention.  We find ourselves often running from one thing to the next.  But while life is busy, ultimately we really all have time for things that we consider to be important.

For instance, if we place a high value on physical fitness, then we are going to find the time to exercise.  It may mean that something else has to go, but we will find the time to run, or bike, or swim or whatever else we do. Each of us make choices every day about what to spend our time doing.

This blog is even an example.  For some reason you chose to take the time to read this blog.  You didn’t need to do it.  Maybe right now you are wishing you didn’t.  Anyway, it was a choice, and at least to some extent you put reading this blog as a priority over other things you could have done with this time.

In the same way, I make the choice to put a priority on writing this blog.  Unfortunately the blog has not made it to the top of the priority list the last couple of weeks.  Things have been a little extra busy around here.  But regardless of how busy I feel, basically it means that I put a higher priority on the other things I had to do over the last couple of weeks, and this blog was a casualty of those choices.

Anyway, that leads me to my point.  We all have the time for the things we choose to put a priority on.  And the question is, are we making the right choices?  Are we putting the right priorities on the right things?  This Sunday, I will be talking about putting a priority on our relationship with God.  Of course, in order to hear the sermon, you are going to have to put a priority on coming to The River, 9:30 Sunday morning at 2510 Chaska Blvd.  Hope to see you there!

We’re Moving!

For the last 2 years we have been meeting on Sunday mornings at The Rex Cinema in downtown Chaska.  That is about to change.  Sunday, September 25 will be our final Sunday morning at that location.  Beginning Sunday, October 2, we will be meeting at 2510 Chaska Blvd.

We have enjoyed our time at The Rex Cinema, but we are looking forward to this new opportunity as we will be sharing space with an Hispanic congregation from our community.  A couple of months ago Noe Lara, the pastor of Ebenezer Christian Church approached The River about the possibility of sharing space with them on Sunday mornings.  We will have use of the facility on Sunday mornings for our worship service at 9:30 and then they will meet at 11:30.  That will enable us to have a little overlap in between our two services, so that our two congregations can connect together.

We are still committed to being a church without walls.  Our midweek events and meetings will still take place in people’s homes and in the community, and Pastor Rob will still be using Dunn Bros. as an office location.  But this new location will give us more flexibility and the opportunity to have more of a presence in the community.  It is a space where we can put up a sign; and where we can meet during the week when needed.

The best advantage to this new space, is the opportunity to partner with Ebenezer.  In John 17 we find Jesus, a little while before his crucifixion, praying for us.  He was praying for all those who would eventually believe in Him down through the ages.  In other words, He was praying for those of us who would eventually make up the Church.  And He prayed specifically that we would all be one.  His desire is to see us come together in unity, and I believe that this connection with Ebenezer would be pleasing in His sight.

We will be in the new facility at 2510 Chaska Blvd., beginning on Sunday, October 2.  Feel free to come and join us!