Christmas Greetings! Christmas Eve is only two weeks away… and as I look outside, for SoCal, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. The sun is shining, there’s no snow on the ground, or anywhere, as far as I can see. The temps are to rise in the upper 70s and they say it “might” rain on Sunday. I trust that you are experiencing a great advent season. We are half way through this great season… and I really hope that you are able to slow down enough to enjoy the greatest gift ever given.
I mentioned last week in my Few Thoughts that I was up in Lone Pine with Pastor Jeff and Indra Bassett. On a short run Pastor Jeff and I did in the foothills below Mt. Whitney… he informed me of a race that takes place every May. I knew of the race, for I had often thought of running it… but never did. In the past the city of Lone Pine has hosted three races on this day: 10 mile, marathon and 50K (31 miles). Pastor Jeff informed me that this year, much to his pleading, the city is adding one more race to the venue… 50 miles… and he is the race director for the 50 mile race. The date is Saturday, May 14, 2016. Plenty of time for us all to train and prepare. Pastor Jeff is already signed up for the 50 miler. I told him that my Saturday is free and I’m good for either the marathon, 50K or 50 miler. So… pastors… leaders… laymen… any takers on this day? It’s a perfect day to enjoy some rays in the desert. The day before Mother’s Day. Think about it… train… and you will be able to sign up in the new year for your choice of one of the four races. I will be there!
ENCOURAGEMENT: So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. (Luke 2:17) I love this verse. It tells us so much about the great birth story. First of all… “they” are the shepherds. Secondly… as soon as the angels departed from them… they took off in a hurry to see that which was just spoken. Third… I like the word “found”. The shepherds were given a message from the angels. All they knew was that a baby was born in Bethlehem, He was wrapped in some rags called swaddling cloth, and was in a manger. That’s all they knew. And I know… Bethlehem wasn’t a large city in its day. There weren’t thousands of homes or businesses… and the angels could have said, “Now you shepherds, go down the road, turn right at the first fork in the road, and when you see the bakery on the left, keep going straight past it, and turn left at the second corner… there you will find just what we’ve described…”
I happen to believe those shepherds took off in a hurry, roaming through the town of Bethlehem… searching, stable after stable… house after house… they checked every hotel… business… looking for a manger… a manger without animal feed, but one holding a baby. Isn’t that just the way it is in our journey through life. God calls us… He often leads us… He directs us… but so many times, when we want the specifics, He still makes us figure it out on our own. That’s why prayer is so good. That’s why the scripture reading is so powerful. That’s why church services are so invaluable. As we journey through life… we begin to know just where God is leading us. We search… pray… attend services and study groups… we NEVER stop searching…
And for this reason, Leslie and I have always been drawn to Nativity Scenes… or Manger Scenes. Nearly, every time I go to Peru, I pick up a new set. We love to display our manger scenes in our home. Take a look at these two photos of our Nativity Scenes. The first one was purchased a few years back when we were visiting the Holy Land and we were in Bethlehem. This is made out of olive wood… and is one of our favorites. The second picture is our coffee table with a hodgepodge of manger scenes from all over… we love manger scenes.
These scenes help me focus on the greatest gift given to us. Do you have a manger scene? If you don’t… and you would like one… please let me know. I have one for you, and I will make sure you receive it. Come visit me in the office… and I will give one so you to, can enjoy the blessing of advent.
Come to think of it… traditions are great… I love family traditions… and Leslie started a family tradition years ago. Once our girls were born and they understood the joy of opening presents… in November of every year, she would prepare advent gifts for our girls to open. 24 days in advent… two girls… meant that Leslie would wrap 24 gifts and line them on the staircase, and every day, beginning on December 1st they would have something small to open. Makes for some fun days in advent.
DISTRICT CHURCHES: My December travels are still happening. And I am enjoying the many visits to our churches.
- Los Angeles First English: This past Sunday, December 6, I had the privilege of installing Pastor Josh Tiguila as pastor to this wonderful congregation. In the installation, he was given several items to remind him of his calling. You will see the Shepherd’s staff he was given to lead and guide this wonderful church flock. We praise the Lord for the work going on at LA First. We love you Pastor Josh and Bella!
- NewNaz: On Sunday evening I was able to attend my home church and see the Christmas program in its evening presentation. Once again, the choir, band, and team did an outstanding job presenting the message of Christmas. Thanks NewNaz!
- District Christmas Dinner: One of our largest attendances in many years for this annual event. And again, I say thanks to the NewNaz church members and leaders who assisted in this great dinner. I believe we had around 250 in attendance and a great program was provided by so many people. Thank you Pastor Alan and Geebel Arevalo, for your ministry that evening. It’s always a fun evening for the district family to get together.
Pastor Rick and Vonnie Savage celebrated the 47th wedding anniversary and Cheryl Rivera from Covina church celebrated her birthday at the Christmas Dinner.
As a small gift to the lead congregational pastors I am wanting to give a devotional book I hope we can go through together in 2016. If you were not at the Christmas dinner and unable to pick it up or have someone pick it up for you please contact the district office and we can send it to you.
- New Hope at the Hills: I wish that I had photos to share with you of what is going on in this great church. Pastor Rodrigo Quema, along with his board and leadership team are doing an outstanding job in ministry! God is using them in their new location as they rent a spot in Van Nuys. I had the opportunity to come alongside and provide guidance in the Church/Pastoral Review. We experienced a wonderful night in discussion, prayer, and casting vision… and on Sunday, December 6, while I was installing Pastor Josh, the local church board in New Hope at the Hills was reading a letter that I had sent to them and to Pastor Rodrigo Quema, affirming him of his leadership as pastor… and then they prayed over their pastor. I thank God for pastors like Rev. Rodrigo Quema who are faithful and true.
THANK YOU: On behalf of the district staff, my wife and family… let me give a huge THANK YOU to our wonderful district for your loving support and incredible encouragement. We were honored to receive a generous love gift at the dinner. A little “thank you” seems so inadequate. I can honestly say that I sense your prayers. I feel your support. And I love the teamwork we have here on the district. I am so blessed to be part of this great team.
If you haven’t already submitted you district license/ordination applications and supporting paperwork, this is the week for it. If you have any questions, or if you need to verify everything has been received, please contact the district office. 626-446-7300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many of you are in the midst of Sunday School or Small Group parties… Christmas Programs… musicals… dramas… cantatas… Children’s Programs… and I pray that each event and ministry will be anointed by our Lord. As we prepare to join in this great celebration, I am still reminded of the pain and suffering some of our churches near us and around us are experiencing today. I have just learned that some of our churches have been effected by the loss of lives in San Bernardino only a week ago. Would you join me in prayer for God’s protecting hand for everyone as we prepare for the New Year?
I am so glad for the many ways the Lord opens doors for us in ministry. We have 3 Sundays left in December before we embark on the New Year… Let’s give these three Sundays our very best effort. After all… God deserves our very best! I love you and look forward to hearing more reports of His work among you.