The Heart of Christmas

The following article was published in the Arthur Graphic-Clarion in December 2015.

In our consumeristic and confused world it is sometimes difficult to keep the true meaning of Christmas alive in our hearts. But for Christians this is vital! We can continuously try to point out to the world that if Jesus Christ were not born in Bethlehem there would be no December 25th celebrations. But more importantly we should be sure to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas in our families and in our own hearts.

Christmas is not about us. Christmas is not about the economy. Christmas is not about who has the best decor. Christmas is not about ________ (you add your own here). Christmas is about God coming to earth to save the world through his son Jesus Christ and showing us how to live for God’s glory instead of our own. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 Paul reminds us that we are to do all that we do in this life for the glory of God.

In her book “In My Father’s House” Corrie Ten Boom tells the story of a monk who sang a Christmas song every Christmas Eve for his brothers in the monastery, and for visitors who would come from the village for special services. His voice was very ugly, but he loved the Lord and sang from his heart. One year the director of the cloister said, “I’m sorry Brother Don, we will not need you this Christmas. We have a new monk who has a beautiful voice.”

The man did have a wonderful voice, and everyone was impressed. But that night an angel came to the superior and said, “Why didn’t you have a Christmas Eve song?” The superior was very surprised and said, “We had a beautiful song, didn’t you hear it?” The angel shook his head sadly and said, “It may have been inspiring to you, but we didn’t hear it in heaven.”

Corrie goes on to write, “The old monk with the raspy voice had a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, but the young monk was singing for his own benefit and glory, not for that of the Lord.” This story made me think about how we celebrate Christmas. Is it for our own benefit, pleasure, and excitement? Or is it a celebration of our relationship with Jesus our Savior?

We can’t expect the entire world to celebrate the heart of Christmas in the same way as those who believe in God and follow Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. But we can pray that somehow the true heart of Christmas might help them to understand what God has done for them. We cannot change minds and hearts, only Jesus can do that. May our lives and our testimony of Christmas be focused on Jesus this year and every year!
Pastor Glen Rhodes
Arthur Mennonite Church

This I Know!

The following article was published in the Arthur Graphic-Clarion in November 2015.

The other day my wife and I were discussing Bluetooth technology.  I proclaimed that I knew how it works because I could turn it on with one device and immediately it would connect with the other.  She wanted a more detailed explanation.  She said, “No, I really want you to explain in detail how that works.  How is that possible?”

I will be the first to admit that there are many things I do not know.  If I started to list all of them in this short article it would end up being longer than anyone would ever want to read.  I don’t know everything about creation, about this world, about how everything works, about who will win the Super Bowl this year, or who will be the next U.S President.  

In fact, I don’t claim to know everything there is to know about God or the Christian faith.  In a recent small group conversation we discussed the importance of being able to say “I don’t know” sometimes when we really don’t know.  Honesty is more respectable than trying to act like we know the answers to everything.  We need to remember that as we share our faith with others. There are some things that only God knows and God intends for it to be that way for our own good.  However, there are things revealed to us that help us to understand the incredible love and grace that God has shown to us through his Son Jesus Christ.  

Doubting Thomas in John 20 had his doubt of Christ’s resurrection changed to “My Lord and my God!” when he saw the crucifixion wounds of Jesus for himself.  Right after that Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”             The day after my wife and I had the conversation about Bluetooth technology I heard a song by Christian music artist David Crowder that proclaimed over and over “This I Know!”  I thought to myself. “There are a lot of things in life I don’t know (including how Bluetooth really works) but some of the fundamental and most important things I definitely do know.”

In the book of 1st John there are quite a few verses that begin with the words, “This is how we know….”  As believers we know that Jesus died on the cross of Calvary for our sins; we know he rose from the grave to defeat death; we know he lives in our lives today with power and truth; we know that he has sent the Holy Spirit to guide us, empower us, and give us strength to face everything that this life brings. This we know . . . because we have witnessed and experienced the difference that Jesus makes in our day to day lives.  Let’s share that with a world that so desperately needs to hear it and know it!
Pastor Glen Rhodes
Arthur Mennonite Church

True Freedom

The following article was published in the Arthur Graphic-Clarion in October 2015.

There has been a lot of talk recently about freedoms, or lack of them. From religious freedom, to freedom of expression, to thousands of people fleeing their homeland in search of it. Freedom is something most everyone values as a great treasure to have. But in Romans 6 the apostle Paul reminds us of a freedom that is greater and more valuable than any other: freedom from sin’s grasp.

Throughout the history of the world freedoms have come and gone as countries and leaders have come and gone. Some have upheld the banner of freedom while others have destroyed it. But despite our situation, country, or leadership there is one freedom that no human person or leader can take away from us. That freedom is the freedom we (you) have through Jesus Christ.

Sin and disobedience toward God has the power to defeat us and enslave us. But God sent his only son Jesus to free us from those end results. True freedom from our sin comes when we repent of our wrongs to Christ and ask him to forgive us. His grace then covers us and washes away the sins and mistakes of our past and brings us new life. This brings us true freedom, even when earthly powers try to take it away from us. In verse 14 Paul says, “Sin shall not be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.”

Freedom and justice in this world are definitely important. Christians should work to encourage citizens and leaders to help promote them. But as we do that, let’s not forget the one true freedom that rings louder than any. Freedom in Christ is the message we need to proclaim the loudest. This is the freedom that saves us, delivers us, and prepares us for our eternal home in heaven. And “Us” includes anyone you cross paths with this week.

As you hear talk of freedom (or lack of it) in the news, be sure to remind yourself of the freedom you have in your Savior Jesus Christ. No one can take that away from you, and it will stand through all of eternity. Praise the Lord!
Pastor Glen Rhodes
Arthur Mennonite Church

What about the Lord?

The following article was published in the Arthur Graphic-Clarion in May 2015.
In a recent article in Bloomberg Business Week the author was writing about the saving and spending habits of Americans.  One of the comments made went somewhat like this, “When it comes to our money we have two choices, we can save it or we can spend it.” It caused me to stop mid-sentence and think, “What about a third way, giving?”
We all know the well known saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” While this may sometimes be hard for adults to practice it always holds true.  We feel better, we have more joy, and we are a part of bringing forth God’s kingdom on this earth when we give of our time, money, and talents as the Bible encourages us to do.
Here is another story I recently read…. “When I was 16 years old, my father gave me a job of picking up trash and cleaning restrooms at the place that he was working. I was paid $3 a day and allowed to drive my father’s very old beat up truck around. I can remember my first paycheck. My parents and I were around the dining room table, and I was discussing how I was going to spend my money. After I finished listing all of the things I wanted to buy my dad said, “What about the Lord?” I sat down re-figured my budget, and it was at that time that I first laid aside 10% of my income for the Lord. To the best of my knowledge I have given 10% or more of every dollar I have ever earned to the Lord. The Lord has blessed me a hundred times over and is still blessing me and my family for this.”
As I read this man’s story I too remembered having a similar conversation with my parents after I got my first job as a paperboy. I am thankful that they taught and demonstrated the importance of giving the first-fruits of our labors to the Lord and then thinking about how we will save and spend the rest of what the Lord has blessed us with. We need to continue to pass this concept on to our own children and grandchildren.
The places to give and support the Lord’s work around the world are almost endless. Churches and religious organizations continue to do wonderful work around the world to bring love, care, and support to those in need in the name of Christ. Christian aid organizations are often the first ones on the scene when a disaster occurs and children around the world are being fed, housed, and educated by numerous other Christian ministries.
Throughout the Bible we are encouraged to give selflessly so that money will not become a god to us and control our lives. Yes, it is important to save for your family and future needs, and yes, we must spend some of what we make. But each time we sit down to pay the bills or decide what our next purchase is going to be it might be good for us to ask the question the father asked in the story above.  What about the Lord?
In 2 Corinthians 9 it says, “Those who sow bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as they have purposed in their heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” May we be cheerful as we give and sow seed into God’s kingdom here on earth. Together, with God’s help, we can make a difference!
Pastor Glen Rhodes
Arthur Mennonite Church