Pastor’s Al Blog

December 2, 2021                                               Give Thanks

I wrote this blog before going on vacation but forgot to post it. Cheryl and I gave thanks together with our family in Branson as we do each year. I am thankful to Zoar for granting us the privilege of carrying on this family tradition.

There is much I could say in this blog, but I am going to let David say it in his psalm of praise:

I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever.

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts. They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works. They will tell of the power of your awesome works, and I will proclaim your great deeds. They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. All you have made will praise you, O Lord; your saints will extol you. They will tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all men may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations.

The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made. The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them. The Lord watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.

My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord. Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever.                                                                               Psalm 145:1–21 (NIV84)

God bless you with thankful hearts and joyful spirits as you celebrate throughout this holiday season.

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November 17, 2021                                  The Advent Wreath

We will be lighting the candles in the Advent Wreath during worship this year. Originally, the Advent Wreath consisted of four candles, three purple and one pink, set in a circle in a bed of pine boughs. The four candles symbolize hope, faith, joy, and peace.

Themes are tied to the meaning of each candle. The first purple candle is the Prophecy Candle. It represents hope and the expectation of the coming of Messiah.

The second purple candle represents faith and is called the Bethlehem Candle. It reminds us of the experiences Joseph and Mary had in Bethlehem – the journey, the birth, and the flight in the night.

The third candle is pink and represents the joy that the birth of Jesus Christ brought to the world. It is called the Shepherds’ Candle in remembrance of the shepherds who rejoiced because of the angels’ message and worshipped Jesus joyfully. For traditions that practice an Advent fast, this is when they take a break from Advent fasting to experience joy. This candle is pink because, in Christian history, the color rose signifies joy.

The last purple candle represents peace and justice and is called the Angels’ Candle. The angels announced that Jesus was born to bring peace on earth with God and with one another.

The fifth candle was added later in some traditions. It is white representing purity and light and is called the Christ Candle. It is placed in the middle as a reminder of the preeminence of Christ. This candle is lit on Christmas Eve to remind Christians that Jesus is the light who came into the world to overcome the darkness.

In our Mennonite tradition, we do not use a lot of symbols. However, even Jesus used symbols to help us remember His death (the bread and cup of communion) and our identification in His death and resurrection (baptism in water). I trust that you will find the use of these Advent symbols in our worship to be instructive and edifying.

 

November 10, 2021                                  The Advent Calendar

I learned about the Advent Calendar in a denominational publication sharing creative ideas to make Christmas a memorable time of worship for the families in your church. The article included instructions for making an Advent Calendar. So, we made one for our family and I ran off extra copies on the mimeograph machine for our church family.

That was 40+ years ago so I checked online to see what could be purchased today. Was that an eye opener! American enterprise has not let us down. From christianbook.com you can buy a Precious Moments Nativity Advent Calendar with a storybook for $134.99.

From See’s Candies you can buy a festive 24-day calendar that opens like a book with a hinged spine for $45.00. The inside features 24 numbered doors with perforated edges for easy opening. Behind each door you might find a classic See’s chocolate piece, a sour jelly bean, a Lollypop or a solid milk chocolate treat wrapped in foil.

I was so shocked at what is available that I had to share a couple extravagant examples. Now … I did find that for which I was looking at a cost of $4-5.00. Some styles can be used for several years; most at that price are made for a single usage.

The concept behind the Advent Calendar is to countdown to Christmas by opening a door each day during Advent to reveal miniature artwork and accompanying Scripture that follows the story of Christ’s birth. Only the reference is usually included so you can read more or less of the context depending on time and interest span.

Our children were in grade school when we started using the Advent Calendar, but we made it a regular part of our Christmas preparations until they left home. I just learned that one of Zoar’s elders and his wife have an Advent Calendar that they use every year. WOW! Cheryl and I are going to buy one for this Advent season. I would encourage you to do likewise; you may be surprised what a meaningful devotional experience this will be for you and your family.

Here is a selection of verses if you choose to make your own Advent Calendar:

Nov. 28

Mt. 6:9-10

Nov. 29

Ps.72:9-11

Nov. 30

Jer. 31:15

Dec. 1

John 1:1

Dec. 2

Ps. 103:1-3

Dec. 3

Ps. 103:4-6

Dec. 4

Nu. 24:17

Dec. 5

Is.11:1-2

Dec. 6

Lu.1:26-28

Dec. 7

Lu. 1:29-30

Dec. 8

Lu. 1:31-33

Dec. 9

Lu. 1:34-35

Dec. 10

Lu. 1:38

Dec. 11

Jer. 17:7-8

Dec. 12

Mt. 2:1-2

Dec. 13

Mt. 2:10-11

Dec. 14

Mt. 2:16-18

Dec. 15

1 John 5:1

Dec. 16

Ro. 8:2-3

Dec. 17

Lu. 2:1-3

Dec. 18

Lu. 2:6-7

Dec. 19

Lu. 2:8-9

Dec. 20

Lu. 2:13-14

Dec. 21

Lu. 2:15

Dec. 22

Lu. 2:17-18

Dec. 23

Lu. 2:19

Dec. 24

Lu. 2:30-31

Dec. 25

Lu. 2:52

 

November 3, 2021                                The Celebration of Advent

Advent is a joyful season, but I grew up in a church that never celebrated it. The only preparations we made for celebrating the birth of Jesus was memorizing dreadful lines for the Christmas program. That’s all I remember except, of course, the bag of candy, nuts, and fruit given to each of us children after the program. The adults probably put up some decorations; I don’t remember.

I learned about advent during my first pastorate. Advent means “coming” and is the period during which many Christian churches focus on preparing their hearts and minds to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Some also celebrate with anticipation the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Advent begins four Sundays prior to Christmas (November 28, 2021) and concludes on December 24. It is an ancient tradition mentioned as early as the Council of Tours in 567. There has been a broad variety of traditions incorporated into the celebration of Advent through the centuries. You may do some of them without even knowing they have been a part of Advent traditions.

A truly Christian celebration of Advent includes setting up a nativity scene, enjoying special holiday foods, remembering your neighbors, encouraging thankfulness, listening to sacred music, attending advent services, remembering your history, reading a series about the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, being patient, and lighting advent candles.

I wanted my children to have endearing memories centered around our church’s focus on Jesus as we prepared for Christmas. Don’t misunderstand me … I did not discontinue the Christmas program, but we added the lighting of the Advent Wreath to our worship services and encouraged families to follow our example in using an Advent Calendar during family devotions.

The Elder Board has consented for me to include the Advent Wreath in our worship services at Zoar during Advent this year. They also approved encouraging families to use an Advent Calendar in our family times of devotion as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I will write a separate blog on each of these tools in succeeding weeks.

I also want to encourage you to put these December events on your calendars:

  • December 12 (Sunday) – Sisters carol at Pleasant View
  • December 19 – Family Christmas Celebration Talent Night
  • December 24 – Christmas Eve Candlelight Service
  • December 31 – Zoar Family Game Night
Times and details will be forthcoming. Wanted to give a heads up for family planning.
 
 

October 20, 2021                        What is the Greatest Commandment

Mark 12:28 is the record of a teacher asking Jesus, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Zoar’s Transition Team has been asking a similar question, “Of the eight characteristics of a healthy church measured by the Natural Church Development Survey, which is the most important for us to focus on at this time?” And the answer to both questions is the same: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30)

But how do you encourage a person who accepted Jesus as his/her Savior 50 years ago to be as passionate about loving God, trusting God, obeying God through the aches and pains as he/she was as a carefree child? How can we rekindle our first love for God when we have become encumbered with the responsibilities of a business, a family, and/or a job?

I asked the members of the Transition Team what had been most influential in their growing passionately in love with Jesus Christ. It was delightful to hear them share prayer emphases at certain times of the year, church-wide Bible reading promotions and Bible memory programs, and times of rolling up their sleeves and working side by side in service projects and on mission trips.

It dawned on me as they shared, that this is exactly what motivated and energized the apostolic church. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42) We don’t read about their children’s programs, their stewardship campaigns, or their seasonal festivals. What is recorded is that they devoted themselves to four things: 1] they read and studied the Bible together (apostles’ teaching), 2] they bore the burden of service and care together (fellowship), 3] they ate together (the breaking of bread), and 4] they prayed together [prayer].

In Acts 2:46-47, we are told that they met every day in the temple and that they broke bread in their homes. It seems to allow for both mass gatherings and home meetings, but all with glad and sincere hearts, praising God. Are we simply being nostalgic to long for such a movement of the Holy Spirit at Zoar or are we longing for the Church to be restored to its first love?

Pray for Zoar’s Transition Team as we meet weekly to discern ways that we might encourage one another to love God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength.
 
 

October 14, 2021                                      The High Cost of Privilege

On October 6, 1536, William Tyndale was strangled and burned at the stake for translating the Scriptures into English for the common man. He was accused of heresy and given an opportunity to recant but used his last words to pray with a loud voice, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!” Within four years of his death, several English translations of the Bible were published in England at the King’s request, all based on Tyndale’s work.

 

If you are privileged to have a Bible (and if you are reading this blog, you probably do), read it, study it, memorize it, cherish it and obey it. Many died in years past because they believed that common folks like you and me should have God’s Word in our hands and in our homes.