Monday, November 29, 2010

First Week in Advent - Hope

Yeah! It's Christmas time. I LOVE Christmas. It is my absolute, favorite time of the year. My sister would tell you I love it because of the presents, and yes, that is part of it, but it is not all of it. I love the decorations. I love that everyone seems happier. I love that we get to sing and listen to Christmas carols whenever we want to for at least four weeks (more if you start the week before Thanksgiving like I do). I love the hustle and bustle and all the anticipation that is in the air as the countdown towards Christmas begins.

Anticipation is everywhere in the Christmas season. It is in the eyes of children as they wonder what Santa will bring them. It is in the laughter of the parents as they look forward to that first magical moment on Christmas morning. It is in the holy hush of the congregation on Christmas Eve after the last notes of "Silent Night" fade away in the stillness as the service ends.

Anticipation. Expectation. Hope.

In this first week of Advent, we look forward in hope to the coming of Christ. He is the reason we have this time of celebration. Christ is the reason we have any hope at all. The stockings on the mantle, the decorations, and the parties are all wonderful, but they are not central to the meaning of Christmas. On Christmas morning 2000 years ago, God gave us the best gift we will ever get - the gift of hope. Because Jesus Christ was born, we have hope of forgiveness. Because Jesus Christ was born, we have hope for reconciliation. Because Jesus Christ was born, we have hope for eternal life. And that, is a much better gift than anything anyone on earth can give to you that comes in a box or a bag.

God has given us this wonderful gift that we cannot match, but we can share. We can pass on this gift of hope to others. During this season of Advent where we prepare to celebrate the coming of the Messiah, we can share hope with people who do not have it.

Live Oak is doing its first Christmas project this year in the first Christmas of its existence. We are in the process of 'adopting' 18 kids for Christmas this year. They range in age from 1-17 and come from all walks of life with one thing in common - their families need a little hope. They need some help in order to celebrate Christmas this year and we are going to help them be able to do just that.

Christmas is about Christ: The greatest gift the world has ever received. Surely, when we so readily accept the gift of hope that came with Christ's birth, we can in turn be generous and share that gift of hope with others.

Chesney Szaniszlo

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


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving 2

This year I am being forced to get out of my holiday 'rut'. For the first time, all of our extended family are out of town and it will be just three of us for Thanksgiving dinner. I was a little depressed about this and told my husband, "I am not going to cook a full-on meal for the three of us and have no one eat it." (My husband and son are notoriously picky eaters). So my husband came up with a great idea - a feast of favorite foods! Each of us have picked 4 favorite foods that we want to eat for our Thanksgiving meal. Some items will overlap and others will not. My son's picks are 1) pepperoni pizza 2) crescent rolls 3) skittles 4) cupcakes. Quite the processed food fest, huh? Not quite what I usually envision when I think of Thanksgiving, but I am the one who said I wasn't cooking a traditional meal.....

As we get closer to the actual holiday I am warming up more and more to the idea of our 'untraditional' meal. I will have most of the day to spend with my family rather than spending most of it in the kitchen. When I sit down to eat this year, I suspect I will actually want to eat rather than being so stressed out and sick of cooking that I don't want to even look at a slice of turkey, let alone eat it. And best of all - I won't have all the china, stemware, and silver to wash after!

I think this might be the best Thanksgiving, yet...but I don't want to hype it up and then be disappointed.

This year, in spite of me, I am actually going to have a Thanksgiving where I might be able to take the advice I gave last week about the holidays - slow down, look at the why of the holiday instead of the how ('how can I make this the perfect day/meal/etc), and remind myself to be thankful for the wonderful family, friends, and life that God has given me.

Chesney Szaniszlo

"I thank my God every time I remember you." Phillipians 1:3


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Thanksgiving 1

As we enter into the opening acts of the "Holiday Slide", I thought I would take a few blogs to discuss being thankful.

What does it really mean in this holiday season to really be thankful in our daily lives? For me, it means consciously slowing down when I am speeding up. I know so many people who love the holidays but also say they are the most stressful time of the year. As I have gotten older it has stopped surprising me that many women actually get so stressed out by the holiday season that they need to take medication to get them through to January. We want everything to be picture perfect for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We spend enormous amounts of money to deck our halls but does any of it bring us closer to God? Does it make us more thankful for what we have? Do we appreciate the time we spend with our families during the holidays more because of what we are wrapping? Does all the hullabaloo make us more mindful of what the season represents?

All of this makes we wonder what we are doing to ourselves as we try to celebrate the 'most wonderful time of the year'.

What would happen if we stopped trying so hard to make our holiday celebrations picture perfect and focused on God's perfect son who was born in a stable for us?

As we get ready for Thanksgiving next week, what if we chose to take a moment every day to breathe deeply, pray to God and list all the things that we are truly thankful for? Do you think it would slow us down enough to enjoy the actual holiday rather than just run through it?

Maybe we should all try it and see.....

"Come let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with Thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God, the great king above all gods." Psalm 95:1-3


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Conclusion of a "prodigal church"

I have been writing for the past month about Tim Keller's book, "The Prodigal God". I hope that I have highlighted that all of us need God for the same basic reason - forgiveness. Whether we have been faithful members of a church for our entire life or whether we have avoided that building at all cost - we all need God because we are sinners and we cannot live apart from his grace. God's love for us knows no bounds and yet most of us 'churched' folk forget that and try to create boundaries around our church property, our homes, and our families that keep 'us' in and 'them' out. God does not want us to do that. God wants us, with wisdom, to be boundless in our faith. He wants us to allow his love to work through us and encompass the entire globe, not just those folks who think, look and act like we do.

Let's pray for a change within our own hearts that we are able to do this.


"My commandment is this: Love each other as I have loved you." John 15:12


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Prodigal Church? Part 4

Today I am going to look at how our God is a "prodigal" God. In my first blog on this topic I wrote that Keller, the author of The Prodigal God, defines prodigal as meaning 'recklessly extravagant'. While our initial reaction to someone or something being 'prodigal' might be a negative one, in the context of God's gift of salvation (and the Church's desire to share this gift with the world), prodigal is in fact a positive term.

It is true that the way we view a gift makes it's 'reckless extravagance' good or bad. Recklessness is never, at least in our human world, something that should be overlooked.

If you receive a recklessly extravagant gift that you truly cannot live without, the repurcussions for the giver can be overlooked and the gift received freely. If, however, you receive a recklessly extravagant gift that simply makes you happy, it could be argued that the repercussions for the giver are too great and the gift is not appropriate.

God's gift of salvation to all of humankind through the death of his son was an act of reckless extravagance that was and is necessary to human life. Without the death of Christ upon the cross we would not be able to gain eternal life. It is only through Jesus' atonement (making up for/paying the cost of) for our sins that we are able to recieve mercy and forgiveness.

The reckless extravagance of God in this act of mercy should cause all of us to pause.


"You see, at the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for an unrighteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: That while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." - Romans 5:6-8