Month: December 2016

The Coming of Christ

By Kristi Sullins

On that night so long ago the angels were charged with proclaiming the miracle of Christ’s birth. He had finally come, the Messiah sent for all mankind. It was the end of the wait, but for everything else, it was just the beginning.

Christ is the beginning of hope, bringing the possibility of a life more abundant than anything we can think. He is the promise of security in the middle of chaos, and strength to journey through any season of life.

He is the beginning of peace. For those who belong to Christ, we have been promised a peace that passes all understanding. That peace finds its beginning and ending with Jesus.

Christ is the beginning of joy for all those who believe. True joy is found in Him, and cannot be shaken by the things of this world. It is His joy that is our strength and our song. It is a joy that survives the changes and struggles of life because it is founded in the One who loves us.

He is the beginning of love, sent from the Father Himself. Love comes from God. His love for us is unwavering, indescribable and undeserved, and the proof of this love was first found in the manger.

The beginning of hope, peace, joy and love is life changing. For the followers of Christ in the Bible, it was compelling enough for them to change the way they worshiped and believed. They changed tradition, which caused many to be rejected by family and friends. Persecution was real for followers of Christ, but what He brought them was worth any struggle.

Christ and His love were too life changing to ignore.

We have that same new beginning. Christ offers us the same hope, peace, joy and love, based on who He is and not on what we deserve. The promises of Advent don’t have to be packed away with the rest of the Christmas decorations but are meant to encompass our current days. Those who are followers of Christ are called to face the future without fear, and the celebration of Advent is meant to remind us that there is no need to fear because the good news proclaimed by the angel in the book of Luke is still the same.

Are you looking towards the coming year with the anticipation of a fresh start and new beginnings or do you feel anchored in the past with its poor choices and scars?  No matter where you find yourself, it is important to remember that the news of the angel, on that holy night, was a message of good news for all people. Christ, our Messiah, has come to set us free, and to give us a hope and future, our new beginning.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill to men.

Disappointment and the Holidays

By Karen Polich

The holiday season is like a magnifying glass to disappointment and struggle. It starts before Thanksgiving and builds into Christmas. Challenges that may have been before us all year long become intensified. Deep loss and the grief that follows shakes us to our core. While we may be prepared for a setback here and there, the long-term disappointments that linger for months and years often knock us off our feet.

Pastor Michael M. Cook examined a part of the Christmas story that shows us what it is like to live in disappointment while remaining deeply faithful to God. Listen to the podcast here. Zechariah and Elizabeth spent most of their lives not expecting a child. Yet, their hearts desired to be parents. To add insult to injury, in their culture, it would be seen as disgraceful to not have a child. They were deeply faithful but deeply disappointed. Read Luke 1:5-25.

Zechariah was fulfilling his duties as a priest when the angel came to him. He was a disappointed man lighting incense for a disappointed people. His story of disappointment mirrored the story of God’s people. They had been waiting a long time for God to fulfill His promise of a Messiah. Zechariah and Elizabeth were intertwined with Joseph and Mary. Their story is part of the Christmas story and the story of God’s redemptive plan.

One of the magnificent marks of maturity is the ability to move forward in your faith in disappointing seasons of life. – Michael M. Cook

God is present. He is there in the times of joy and He is there in the disappointment and struggle. Are you swimming in grief? God is right there with you. Can’t see beyond the darkness? God is with you. Stuck where you don’t want to be? God is there.

What do we need to keep faith through disappointment? Time and trust. Time can allow us to see things from a different perspective. While God may or may not reveal the answer to our “Why?”, He will help us see Him more clearly and will build our character through the agony and pain. Disappointment doesn’t mean ultimate defeat. Often we think God has checked out of the situation, but in truth, we have checked out. Trust is the key.

The rare capacity of trusting God while in the midst of struggle is crucial.

When we are in a place we don’t want to be in, we have a choice to trust Him, or turn from Him. When we choose to trust with faith, we are staying in the fray and letting God do His work.

Remain steadfast. God is at work.







The Coming of Love

By Kristi Sullins

With a week to go until Christmas Day, many of us are on the hunt. On the hunt for the perfect gift, or the one that is always out of stock. On the hunt for a parking spot, a dog sitter, a pair of pants that still fit or maybe just one silent night to actually enjoy the thought of Christmas. If you find yourself on the hunt this Christmas, then you will appreciate this. God’s gift of love required no search.

On the night of Christ’s birth, God filled the heavens with His angels to proclaim to the shepherds that the Messiah had come. The shepherds told the people in town about all they saw. The coming of Christ was not kept in secret, hidden for only the knowledge of a select few.

It was not for the sake of prophecy that the message was shared, or to boast at the execution of the impossible. God shared with mankind the coming of His Son because the evidence of His love had come. We know that Christ is the very proof of God’s love because He tells us in His Word. 1 John 4:9 tells us that God’s sending His Son among us was proof of His love. John 3:16 reminds us that His love was so great that He gave us His only Son so that whoever would choose to believe would have eternal life. Romans 5:8 is His anthem of love to all those who feel like they are the exception to His gift because we are reminded that He loved us at our worst and still sent His Son.

There is no doubt the Christ in the manger was God’s physical evidence of love. This fact is important when you remember He came to a group of people who had been waiting for centuries. God had been quiet. Holding on to hope had been a struggle. All the Israelites knew was that life was hard, and not turning out how they thought. What had happened to the covenant given to Abraham?  Where was the land flowing with milk and honey?  It was hard to look at life and see proof that God did love them.

Can you identify with that?

When things don’t go the way we had planned or the struggle feels like it is too much we can question God’s love. When tragedy strikes we struggle to reason how God can let it happen and still say He loves us. We want proof of His love.

Maybe that is why He opened the heavens that night. So proof could be seen; the evidence shared.

The coming of Christ was God’s visible evidence for all generations that He loves us, and that His love is so great He withheld nothing, sending a very piece of the Godhead to us.

Don’t look for evidence of God’s love in your circumstance or current reality. Hold tightly to the manger and cross as proof that the love God has for us is greater than our realities, failures or fears. It is His free gift to us. A gift of redemption, belonging, security and eternity for all who would choose to believe.

Paving the Way With Strength

“If you are not dead, you are not done.” – Pastor Michael M. Cook

God has something for you. Regardless of failures and setbacks, greatness awaits the man who pursues it.

Wrapping up the Manology sermon series in Judges 16, Pastor Michael M. Cook shared what men can do to live in the strength God has given them.

Samson made one mistake after another, creating immense stress in his life. He ignored all warning signs and never took corrective action to be the man God had set him apart to be.

How does this happen? How does a man find himself on a path of brokenness and struggle? The answer is one bad choice at a time. Failure isn’t usually a one and done mistake. It is gradual and ongoing in smaller increments.

Failure inevitably creeps into every life. What happens with that is what makes the difference. It takes great courage to ask God for strength, for one more chance to set things on the right path. We see Samson ask God for one more chance when he brings down the temple, destroying countless Philistines.

Failure is not final. John 10:10 reminds us that Satan would have us think so, but sometimes God’s greatest work comes through our greatest failures.

Do something different. Take corrective action today. Don’t just hope for things to be different.

“We cannot become what we need by remaining what we are. If you don’t change the direction you are going, you’ll likely end up where you are headed.” – Michael M. Cook

Great men pursue greatness every day. Live a life filled with integrity. Be faithful to the Lord. Sadly, Samson waited his entire life to seek God as he should. What are you doing today to pursue the greatness God has laid out for your life?

Listen to the podcast here and learn more about what it means to be a man of God.



The Coming of Joy

By Kristi Sullins

Christmas is one of the most joyful times of the year. People decorate their homes with bright lights and beautiful trees. There is special time spent baking fun treats, and wrapping packages. School lets out, time is spent with family and new memories are made. It’s just easier to feel joy at Christmas.

On the night of Christ’s birth so long ago none of those things were there. The stable was not adorned with festive colors, or filled with beautiful trees. There were no special treat or gifts. Family was far away in Nazareth. What was there, on that silent night, was joy.

The shepherds, tending their flocks in the field that night, were not concerned about joy. That all changed when an angel came to proclaim the good news. The Messiah had come as promised. Luke 2:10 tells us that proclamation was one of great joy and for all people. The shepherds rushed to find the one God had sent to be the Savior of the world. After seeing Him in the manger they were so full of joy, they told all they saw what had happened.

The wise men, in a land far away, saw the star in the sky. This star matched the prophecies they had studied for so long. Their journey to follow the star was long. It kept them from family and friends. They dealt with a deceptive king, and still they searched. When they came to the home marked by the star they found joy. It was joy in the Messiah, the promised one who had finally come. Their joy led to worship because He who had been sought for so long was now with them.

Strangely, the heavens, themselves, declared the joy of God as the angels filled the sky in worship. Why would God rejoice? In His omniscience, He knew what Christ would face. God knew that the celebration of Christ’s birth would be brief. A mad ruler would hunt him, forcing the family to flee into Egypt. He would live a very modest life. His brothers and sisters would not believe in Him. The ministry time on earth would be full of struggle, opposition and doubters. He would have a close group of disciples, but even those men would deny, doubt and deceive. Ultimately, the one who lay in that manger would hang on a cross, choosing to die for all. Our human understanding would tell us that heaven should have mourned, but for God, the time to rejoice had come. It was time to rejoice because soon He would no longer be separated from His people because of their sin. Soon there would no longer be a need for the sacrifice of animals because His Son had come to be the ultimate sacrifice. Soon the high priest would no longer be needed to stand between man and God. The Great High Priest had come, and He would bridge the gap between God and Man.

Christ, the Lord, had chosen to willingly come so that all who believed would be saved. His advent brought great joy!

Thanks be to God that the reason for joy did not end on that night because the promise of advent did not end. Isaac Watts penned a powerful reminder of advent in 1719. He was a student of the Word, and was drawn to the promise given to all believers of the coming of the King. Joy to the World was published as a hymn, an anthem for the church to claim the promise of advent, but it was never meant to be a Christmas carol. Watts pulled his inspiration from Psalm 98, and the promise of the King that would return for His people. He was not proclaiming the birth of Christ, but the return of the Messiah. Watts was calling for all to prepare their hearts for the return of the one who had already been. He proclaimed Joy to all the World because our King is yet to come. Our advent is not over. We, who choose to believe, wait and watch like the wise men, full of joy and hope because the return of the Messiah has been promised. Our joy does not rest in a miracle of the past, but in the certain promise of our future. We wait with joy, watch with joy and prepare our hearts with joy for the King WILL come.

Joy to the world, the Lord IS come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room

Man’s Greatest Vulnerability

What is man’s greatest vulnerability? Woman.

It transcends background, socioeconomic status, education level, belief in God and culture. Man’s attraction to a woman is a wonderful God-given thing, but when it goes unmanaged issues quickly arise.

Our culture baits and begs us as men with out-of-bounds temptation. Those temptations can bring affairs, strip clubs, pornography, prostitution and addiction into our lives. Sexual mistakes are hard to bounce back from and derail us from living out our full purpose for God. This temptation has been around throughout all generations.

The Manology sermon series continued with more on Samson. (Listen to the podcast here.) Despite his flaws and mistakes, God still wanted to see him succeed. God desires the same for us. He designed us to be men and women of strength. Vulnerabilities put us at serious risk, but we can do something to protect ourselves.

Samson’s greatest vulnerability was always a woman. Every time we see him get into trouble, he is somewhere he shouldn’t be with a woman he shouldn’t have been with. Samson ends up bound, in prison because of his inability to see the vulnerability of his situation. In Judges 16, Samson finds himself no longer able to escape the consequences of his sin.

How can men protect themselves? Set boundaries in your life.

Creating borders will provide the restraints and limitations we need to keep us from the danger zone. Boundaries shouldn’t be set right at the edge. We need a margin to stop us when we push beyond the limits of those restraints.

Pastor Michael Cook laid out four clear areas to set boundaries that provide protection from the danger zone.
1. Never be alone with the opposite sex. We must guard against any emotional spark or temptation. Think of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. He got out of there so quickly even his coat was left behind. Don’t wait until there’s an issue. Set your boundaries in daily life. Even in your work, don’t be alone with the opposite sex regardless of meetings or projects.
2. Don’t confide in a member of the opposite sex. Sexuality is always emotional. It fires up the connection.
3. Install an internet filter. Put it on everything. Pornography will always leave you empty and often addicted. The ramifications are devastating in a marriage.
4. If you feel your heart drifting, tell someone. In the midst of a struggle, we need to share it with someone. It helps face the challenge and holds us accountable.

Single or married, being disciplined in these areas can make all the difference in a man’s life. Boundaries keep us from falling over the edge and keep us from being bound and in prison. The impact is immediate as well as enhancing future relationships.

Sin always comes to light. Either we bring it to light or God will. Samson’s vulnerability for women went unchecked for twenty-one years. Maybe he thought he was beyond consequences. God could have exposed him whenever he wanted to.

If you find yourself in the danger zone, God may be giving you a unique opportunity to go a new direction on your own right now. God is never absent. He is patient and slow to anger. Do something about it today. Reset your boundaries and be honest with those in your life. Meaningful relationships are worth tremendous investment.

God loves you too much to leave you in your sin. – Michael M. Cook

The Coming of Peace

By Kristi Sullins

Have you set up your nativity set yet?  For many of us, the pieces of the story of the Messiah are part of our Christmas decorations. You may have one with plastic pieces, perfect for little hands or an heirloom set high on a shelf to be seen but not touched.

The sight of the nativity is peaceful. Everyone looks serene. Mary is clean with hair brushed and clothes just right. Joseph stands proudly to the side as shepherds and wise men adore the quiet Christ child lying in the orderly hay bed. Even the animals of the stable are quiet and reverent.

It is perfectly peaceful, yet it does not clearly reflect the reality of those involved. The truth behind those figures is something all of us can connect with.

Look at Mary, the young pregnant mom. We all know the angel came and explained the blessing bestowed upon her. He told her to fear not, but then she was on her own, explaining the unexplainable. On her own to face her betrothed, her parents and her neighbors. She had followed the rules, been a good girl, and was doing the right thing. Suddenly, the plan changed.

Look at Joseph, the good Jewish man. He was just going along with his normal life. He had developed his carpentry trade, and had a young bride promised to him. His life was mapped out. He would marry Mary, live in Nazareth and work to provide for his family. Then Mary explains how she was carrying the Son of God. His virgin bride is pregnant and giving him a story that is beyond belief. The betrayal is hard, but a visit from an angel stops his plan for ending the engagement. Now he is a man married to a woman who is carrying the Son of God. On top of it all, he has to get his little family to the town of Bethlehem because of a census. Instead of being with family and friends at home they find themselves in a stable with nothing but animals for company. The plan changed.

The shepherds were low on the rung of importance in society, and yet found themselves thrust into God’s plan by a group of angels who scared them to death while they were in the fields. The wise men set aside years of their time to follow an unknown star because they knew it was a sign of the promised Messiah. Maybe you can look at the stable and remember the city full of people forced to follow a government edict no matter the strain or difficulty it caused them.

The nativity is a reminder for all of us that lives were altered forever with the coming of the Prince of Peace. Nothing was easy, and plans were interrupted.What a wonderful lesson on peace. Peace is not positive feelings in the good times or settled feelings when everything is going our way. Peace is a goodness and rest even in the deepest trouble.

The peace of God is anchored to a small manger in Bethlehem and a cross at Calvary. They stand as proof that God willingly gave us His Son, and He freely gives what we need (Romans 8:32). He, God, is our source of peace. He was Mary’s peace facing an unknown future when she willingly said “I am the Lord’s servant”, and He was Joseph’s peace as he chose to submit his feelings of hurt and betrayal to obedience to God ‘s plan. In return for their trust, God remained faithful, giving them all they needed to get through.

God offers all believers that same beautiful opportunity for peace. Through Philippians 4:7 we are promised a peace that will be beyond our understanding. Philippians 4:9 tells us the God of peace will be with us. John 14:27 (NLT) tells us that the peace God gives us is a gift, and it is a gift impossible for the world to give us but one God freely gives.

Peace, true peace, comes from God and can be seen all throughout the Christmas story.

When plans change there can be peace. When we don’t understand what is going on there can be peace. When circumstances are out of our control, emotions are out of control, situations seem less the ideal there can still be peace.

Look at the Nativity again. That small child in the middle is our reminder that the Prince of Peace came, and He left us His peace. In this world, we will have troubles, but take heart, that child in the manger has overcome the world (John 16:33).