Tag Archive | Christmas

A Season of Thanks

“‘Tis the season.”

When we hear that phrase, our minds are usually drawn to images of Christmas trees, Santa Claus, gifts, and nativity scenes. In all fairness, this is reasonable, considering that the phrase comes from the Christmas favorite, “Deck The Halls”…

Deck the halls with boughs of holly
Fa-la-la-la-la La la-la-la
‘Tis the season to be jolly
Fa-la-la-la-la La la-la-la

For most of us, the jump to Christmas seems to come about the time the last piece of candy is handed out on October 31st. We can’t wait to deck the halls, don our Christmas sweaters and mittens, and break out the egg nog and Bing Crosby records.

Yet, in the shuffle from the ghouls and goblins Halloween to the wonder and worship of Christmas, something tends to get overlooked in the process.

Thankfulness.

thanksgiving cornucopiaSure, we recognize Thanksgiving – the Day. We meet with family and friends, stuff ourselves with turkey and dressing, and watch football for hours on end, but do we really get a hold of the meaning of the season that we have relegated to a single day? A time of thanks for the blessings bestowed upon us by a loving and merciful God. A season of reflection and gratefulness for life in its various forms, trials, and triumphs. To me, the season of Thanksgiving is the perfect and logical precursor to the season of Christmas — of thankfulness and gratitude for the love of a Holy God that took the human form of a baby in a manger.

So with the mess the world is in, what have we to be thankful for? I can only speak for myself, but here are just a few…

  • I’m thankful for my family; for a faithful wife of many years, wonderful children, and for our beautiful and healthy grandchildren. I’m thankful for the heritage of my Godly parents, and my extended family, scattered around this country.
  • I’m thankful for my church family, who I have been blessed to shepherd these past 38 years. I’m thankful for the friendships I’ve made, for the things — good and bad — we have gone through together, for the team we have built for to share the Gospel all over the world, and for faithful friends who, through service and sacrifice, make it possible for us to do what we do.
  • I’m thankful for this season of life as I transition into a new role, and watch the next generation at Abba’s House (under the leadership of my son, Pastor Ronnie Phillips, Jr.) move into a promising future.
  • I’m thankful I live in a country where I am free to worship the God from Whom all blessings flow.
  • I’m thankful for you, the person reading this right now. I’m thankful for allowing me into your life and home by way of this blog, so that we can be an encouragement to each other, even though we may never meet face to face.
  • But most of all…

  • I’m thankful for an Abba Father who has saved me and blessed me in so many ways, and molded my life in such a fashion that I have the opportunity to be thankful for all of these things.

Maybe you are having a tough time thinking of things to be thankful for. Maybe your life hasn’t worked out quite the way you planned. Maybe, through no fault of your own, your circumstances have not offered you the promise you thought your life would bring.

Well friend, as long as you are taking another breath, there is hope for a better future. As long as your heart is beating, there is a God who is listening to the cry of your heart. I can’t say how things will work out for you, but I can say this with confidence…

As long as there is breath in your lungs, there is hope, and as long as there is hope, you have a reason to give thanks.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. ~ Phil. 1:3-6

From our family to yours… Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Pastor Ron

Glory in the Highest!

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     And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

     Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

     Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

     And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

     “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” 

KS12494So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

From my family to yours…

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Christmas_Tree_FarmsChristmas is upon us.

In just a few more days, we will wake to a day of family, friends. food, and gifts as we celebrate the Greatest Gift of all… Jesus.

 

 

 
KS12480As we bask in the warmth of the love of family and friends, let us take inventory of the goodness of God in our lives, starting with the Child in the manger, over 2000 years ago… the Hope of the world. Let us put aside the things that divide us, and draw near to the simplicity of that night, that angels heralded His birth, and Hope was given to a people lost in darkness. As the prophet Isaiah proclaimed centuries before that blessed night…

 

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. ~ Isaiah 9:6

Thank you for making us a part of your season and year, whether by television, radio, visiting our church in Hixson, TN, or reading my blog. My prayer is that you and yours have a very Merry Christmas, a Happy and Peaceful New Year, and that your life will be filled with the abundance and blessings of a child of the King.

If you are in the Hixson area, please come join us for our Traditions Christmas Eve Communion at 5:00pm on Saturday, then our Christmas Service at 10:30am on Sunday, Christmas Day.

From our family to yours… Merry Christmas!

Pastor Ron

rp-paulette-christmas

A Christmas Story of Sorts

across-the-water3

There once was an old artist…

He lived in a small home in a setting that was picturesque: His property was wooded with a short hill that ran from his back door down into a vast, calm lake. Looking out over the water into the distance revealed a majestic mountain range. He had few human visitors, but enjoyed watching the fish jump and the ducks and geese gliding effortlessly across the surface of the water. It was not uncommon for him to be visited by squirrels, raccoons, and quite often, deer.

Snow 2JEvery morning (weather permitting), the old artist would walk down the hill from his house to the small dock he had built years before on the lake. He would take his easel and a small box of drawing and painting utensils, and spend hours sitting on the dock, painting and sketching. Often, he would paint his beautiful surroundings — trees, water, the mountains, the woodland creatures — but every once in a while, he would paint images from his mind, and what the serenity of that place inspired in his imagination. He started off just hanging the pictures in his small home but over time, the lack of wall space and the encouragement of a friend inspired him to sell his paintings at a local store. Every once in a while, his art would inspire him to accompany the painting with a poem from his own experience, and although he rarely wrote such poems, they were always filled with beautiful imagery, witty humor, and profound wisdom.

There came a day when a man from a large city visited the area, and stopped by the store for some supplies. The man owned a large publishing company, and upon seeing the art on display, was intrigued. He read a couple of the poems, and was beyond impressed.

“Who is the author of these masterpieces?” he inquired.

The shop owner gave him the old artist’s address, and he hurried away to find the artist. When he arrived at his destination, the old artist was down on the dock, feeding some ducks a little dry bread left over from last evening’s dinner. The publisher proceeded to introduce himself, and compliment the artist on his craft — particularly his poetry. He passionately  made the case that the old artist’s gift of poetry did not need to be hidden from the world, and that his work could reach thousands and millions of people if he would come to work for him. The publisher’s words made the old artist feel respected, needed, and guilty all at the same time. After a couple hours of persuasion, the publisher convinced the old artist to come to work for his company, and share his wonderful insights with the rest of the world. The old man agreed to a contract which required him to move to the city in which the publishing company was located.

bldg-in-philly2For the first six months, his work was incredible. The publisher was overwhelmed by the beauty of the old artist’s eloquent and witty poems and stories. Furthermore, he was overjoyed by the public reception of the old artist — letters and correspondence praising the writings as masterful and insightful. Readership was up for the first time in a decade, with a corresponding rise in revenue. Everyone at the publishing company was happy.

Everyone, that is, except for the old artist.

Over time, sales plateaued and began to fall away. The new readers who at first seemed so excited began to disappear, the praise began to subside, and what little correspondence there was was less than flattering. “Dry”, “passionless”, and “formulaic” were words that critics began to use to describe the writing they once called “fresh”, “genius”, and “inspirational”. The publisher, concerned about not just his company’s bottom line, but having also grown quite fond of the old artist as a friend, decided to talk to the man.

Meeting one evening at the publisher’s home, the publisher asked the old artist if he was alright; had something happened to cause him to lose his inspiration?

The old man replied…

“You became interested in me and my work because of my poetry. You saw it as beautiful and unique, inspiring and insightful. But I’m not sure you understood where it came from. Honestly, until now, I’m not sure I did.

But I do now.
You see, the beautiful poetry you love was always a by-product of the hours I spent alone with my art. Almost every morning (weather permitting), I would go down to my dock — the place you found me feeding the ducks — and paint or sketch what I saw, not just with my eyes, but with my mind and my heart.

The thing is, that art came from a place as well.

That place.

wintertree-charcoalThat place I call home. That place I knew since I was a young boy. That place I shared with the love of my life — my other inspiration — until her time on this earth was done. That place where the wind sings to my spirit, that holds my memories, my laughter, my tears, my joys, and my sorrows. That place that inspired adventure in a young man, and soothed the broken heart of a grieving and lonely old man.

When you hired me and I left that place, I left behind the art and inspiration that gave my poetry its real meaning. You gained the writer, but left behind everything that made the artist.”

Friends, how many times have we done that?

holly-paintingHow many times do we see someone for what they are, but we miss who they are? How many times have we — as friends, acquaintances, leaders, and employers — looked to someone to fill a role in our lives without considering what it is that makes them qualified or even necessary to fill that role? How many times have employers, for the sake of gaining an employee, forsaken an artist? We see how having the abilities of a person can benefit us, but what is that thing that inspires them, that makes them who they are, that makes them of benefit to everyone around them? While we may choose what a person’s assignment is, do we understand what their anointing is?

Well… God does.

He understood it when He told Jeremiah…

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
Before you were born I sanctified you;
I ordained you a prophet to the nations. ~ Jeremiah 1:5

His creative genius was clear to David, who wrote…

For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them. ~ Psalm 139:13-16

Paul recognized that God’s good and perfect gifts come without a return receipt…

For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. ~ Romans 11:29

KS12499This Christmas season, I encourage you — actually, I invite you — as we celebrate the story of the Christ Child, to find out someone else’s story. Find out what makes them tick. Look beyond the temporal and temporary exterior and find out about their experiences, dreams, and aspirations.

Look beyond the assignment and find the anointing.

Look past the grit and find the gift.

Solomon recognized the value of God’s gifts when he said…

A man’s gift makes room for him,
And brings him before great men. ~ Proverbs 18:16

This next year, let’s commit ourselves to recognizing the gifts and callings in those around us, and help to clear the path for that anointing to find its way to greatness.

Merry Christmas!

KS12499Tomorrow, we will celebrate Christmas — time with family and loved ones, opening presents, soaking-in the laughter of children, and eating way too much. It is a time of joy as we celebrate the Greatest Gift… Jesus.

As we observe this holy day, let us remember the words of Isaiah, uttered nearly 700 years before the Child, born of a virgin, lay in a manger in a stable on a Bethlehem night…

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. ~ Isaiah 9:6

From my family to yours, may you have a merry and blessed Christmas, overwhelmed by the true Spirit of Christmas!

Pastor Ron

Christmas Bells Still Ring

KS12503It is an unseasonably warm December (even for Tennessee) as I write this blog. Yet in spite of the weather, the Christmas season is in full swing — the music, the lights, the decorations, the frantic shopping, the live nativities and musicals at houses of worship — the usual season build-up until December 25th. Except for the lack of heavy coats, scarves, and winter hats (and yes… snow), everything says “it’s Christmas-time in the city.”

Unfortunately, in many corners of the world (and the United States), people seemed to miss the “Peace on Earth” memo.

Radical Islamic groups like al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Hamas continue to blaze a path across parts of the Middle East in their quest for a caliphate and a revived Ottoman Empire. These barbarians are wiping out cities, destroying historical artifacts from past civilizations, raping and slaughtering the inhabitants of these regions (many of whom are our Christian brothers and sisters) — all in the name of their false religion.

In recent months, Islamic terrorists have brought their particular brand of jihad to places like Paris, France, San Bernardino, CA, Chattanooga, TN, and others. And while world leaders are calling out this enemy by name, our own “leaders” can’t seem to form the words “Islamic terror”, instead chasing the “windmills” of climate change with a passion that would make Don Quixote proud.

The battle for our culture has been taken to the streets because of racial division, vilification of law enforcement, disrespect for military personnel, marginalization of our Judeo-Christian heritage, and immorality in the name of gender-equality and marriage equality. Places like Ferguson, MO, Baltimore, MD, Washington, D.C., and the United States Supreme Court have become the stages where these tragedies of rebellion and ungodliness have played out.

“Pastor, you paint a bleak picture for Christmas. Are you going somewhere with this???”

Yes, I am… to Cambridge, Massachusetts… Christmas Day, 1863… to the desk of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

LongfellowFollowing the tragic death of his wife, and the wounding of his son during the American Civil War, Longfellow hit one of the lowest points of his life. It was on Christmas Day, 1863, that he penned the poem, Christmas Bells… his poem from which the song I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day was later born. This Christmas poem also painted a pretty bleak picture, of a nation in conflict and hopelessness…

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Yet in spite of the tragic tone in this poem, it concludes on a note of triumph…

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

We serve a living God. He is not dead. He is not asleep. He is not unconcerned, disconnected, or apathetic about the affairs of men. He is loving and kind. He is holy and just. He is a God of grace, mercy, and righteousness. He is the Christ-child, born in a manger in Bethlehem, heralded by angels, adored by shepherds, worshiped by kings, followed by fishermen, revered by the regulars, and reviled by the religious. He was considered both Rabbi and rebel, was beaten by sinners, nailed to a cross by unbelievers, and raised to life again by the God of the universe.

He is the risen King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, and the Savior of the world.

One day, He will return.

One day, all will be made new.

One day, peace on earth will be a reality.

One day, we will understand the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, because on that day…

Every eye will see him (Revelation 1:7);

Every knee will bow (Philippians 2:10);

Every tongue will confess (Philippians 2:11)…

Jesus is LORD.

KS12499

 

It’s A Wonderful Politically Correct Life

It’s THAT time of year. The time of tinsel and lights. The time of Christmas trees and trimming. The time of carols, peace on earth, and good will. It’s the time for…

It’s A Wonderful Life!

GB3No matter how many times we view it, it seems that every year, viewing the Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart classic is as much a tradition of the season of Christmas as decking the halls, drinking egg nog, or wearing ugly sweaters. No matter how many times we see the image of George Bailey running down the snow-filled streets of Bedford Falls, screaming to people, buildings, and other inanimate objects, it gives us hope to know that George will discover the deeper meaning of Christmas, that he will learn a lot about friendship and the love people have for him, that his life does matter, and that Clarence does get his wings.

And we learn all of this, and leave our seats with a warm and happy feeling of hope and joy — not just for George, but for ourselves as well — all the while leaning heavy on the spirit of Christmas, and ignoring…

Political correctness.

Regardless of your political persuasion, the vast majority of people who watch It’s A Wonderful Life (and for that matter, most other Christmas classics) are forced to ignore a fair amount of what we would now term “political correctness”. We have to ignore portrayals, dialogue, and stereotypes that fly in the face of our 2015 social sensibilities. We tend to overlook these things for a variety of reasons…

“Well, that show was filmed a long time ago.”

“Culture was very different then.”

“It’s the season of good will… let it slide.”

GB1“So what are you saying Pastor??? Are you saying that we should crack down on George Bailey, Santa Claus, Frosty, and Rudolph???”

Not at all, and quite the opposite. What I am saying is that maybe we have allowed political correctness to run amok. Maybe we should take a long, hard look at what we consider politically correct, and stop wasting our time fighting over things that matter not an iota while the world goes to Hell. Maybe we should cut each other the slack in January through November that we afford George, Sam Wainwright (“hee haw!!!”), Uncle Billy, and even Old Man Potter in December. Maybe the fact that we are less offended in December lies less in a spirit of good will, and more in the fact that we have become a culture that works very hard to be offended, and go out of our way to wear every offense like a badge of honor. We have become perpetual victims, moving from offense to offense, looking for the next people group we can turn into the next victim and downtrodden minority.

Are there legitimate poor and afflicted in this world?

Absolutely.

My point is that the person waiting in the wings, stirring up dissension, and cashing in on the next “soapbox of social injustice” is probably not a crusader for a cause… they are more than likely simply a voice of division and disharmony and simply cashing in.

The Bible cautions us…

Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry,
For anger rests in the bosom of fools…

Also do not take to heart everything people say,

Lest you hear your servant cursing you.
For many times, also, your own heart has known
That even you have cursed others. ~ Ecclesiastes 7:9, 21-22

Fools show their annoyance at once,
    but the prudent overlook an insult. ~ Proverbs 12:16 (NIV)

Sure, there are things we need to take a stand for… TRUTH being chief among them. But when we go into every situation intent on being offended, we probably won’t be disappointed.

GB2Honestly, we would do well to rediscover the ability to laugh at ourselves. Proverbs 17:22 says that a merry heart does good, like a medicine… But when the offense is legitimate or grave, we should probably step back, take a long look at the situation and our motives, and ask if our offense is better fought through confrontation or prayer.

Then take it to prayer.