Christmas–Avalanche or Snowfall?

Christmas comes like an avalanche—we’re overwhelmed with a calendar crammed with social events, a long shopping list for family and friends, and a feeling that there’s no way we can get everything done in time. Why does this seem to happen every year? Could it be that we’ve let our American culture’s materialistic focus replace a heartfelt celebration of joy at the thought of God sending us a Savior?

 

By the time we reach the Christmas Eve candlelight service and sing “all is calm…”, nothing is. Frenetic hectivity has stolen the shalom God offers us. We’re buried under cold impersonal commercialism that focuses on gift-giving without much consideration of giving ourselves. We’re paralyzed by icy individualism that insists we get what we want for Christmas, without much thought at all of what Jesus might want for Christmas.

 

I don’t mean to come across as a cantankerous Scrooge or a bad-tempered killjoy. I just hope we don’t miss Christmas. If we’re not careful, we can get so busy that that the season passes over us like a plane at night or in the clouds, heard but not really seen.

 

Christmas is a season of hope—pointing to the Savior able to give us the contentment we need, sweeter than Santa Claus’ promise to bring us more things we want that will later be tossed in a dumpster. Merchants have practically stolen the season by their message of “Buy, buy, buy”. Even so, this season is about God, who sent His Son into this world so that the world through him might be saved.

 

We naturally think of this time as a season of receiving. Think of what we can receive from God—salvation from our sins, a sense of belonging to Jesus, a grand purpose that makes life an adventure, and work to do in His Kingdom. All of this is part of the hope that is ours from our relationship with Christ.

 

We also think of this season as a time of giving. What can we give to God this year to express our faith and obedience? What can we give His church to spread the message about Christ and His love? What about giving our hearts to Christ—better than a shepherd’s lamb or a wise man’s part? In the near future we’ll be purchasing a new church sign to inform drivers of more than 9,000 vehicles driving by this building every day what we’re about as the Lord’s people. Maybe you’d like to make a donation to help raise money for this special project.

 

Let’s celebrate Christmas God’s way this year—thanking heaven for eternal hope, expressing love to our friends on this journey of faith, and giving sincere praise to God.  Paul’s prayer in Romans 15:3 is my prayer for you—I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

 

If we celebrate Christmas properly, it will not feel like an avalanche, but a gentle snowfall—reflecting hope from beyond the stars, echoing peace we have from our relationship with Jesus, and sparkling joy like the pleasure of the company of Christ, the perfect gift.

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Pastor Johnny R. Almond

Hull’s Memorial Baptist Church

Friends on a Journey of Faith

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A Prayer for Election Day

 By Pastor Johnny Almond

 

Lord of the nations,

 

After a long and tiring presidential race with vicious contention, intense debate and sad divisiveness; with election day approaching in only a few hours —we approach You, Almighty God, with a heartfelt prayer for the nation we love, the country of our birth.

 

Wondering what turnaround it might take to restore peace and quiet, justice and kindness to our land, we recall a verse from a very old Book we’ve read and heard quoted countless times—If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways,then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land. [2 Chronicles 7:14 KJV].

 

Could this if-then formula, conscientiously practiced by people of faith, make America great—and good—again?

 

Are these ancient words powerful enough to transform society by changing hearts submissive to your Holy Spirit?

 

Would widespread application of this verse help us be better neighbors, cancel selfishness with sacrifice,and make us stronger together by replacing the love of power with the power of love?

 

Lord Jesus Christ, we who are called by your name search our souls and ask ourselves some personal questions—Are we willing to humbly dismount our high horse of judgmentalism and realize we’re not God? Are we sincerely hoping for your will to be done in the results of this national election? Are we seeking your face, or just trying to save our own? Are we convicted of our own wrongdoing and shortcomings, and willing to repent of evil in our lives?

 

Heavenly Father, please hear our prayer and bless us by forgiving our sins and restoring our land to be a nation of citizens free from fear, free from want, free to speak our mind, and free to worship our God.

 

In the name of the One on whose shoulders rests the government of the universe, the Prince of Peace, Amen.

 

Johnny R. Almond

Pastor, Hull’s Memorial Baptist Church – Friends on a Journey of Faith

Author, Gentle Whispers from Eternity—book available on Amazon

http://GentleWhispersFromEternity–ScripturePersonalized.com/

 

 

 

 

A Soldier of the Cross

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He was 23 years old, married to a girl back in Ohio. He had been trained to become part of the elite battle-ready 82nd Airborne. He was ready for anything the war on terror might bring. From his observation post on a housetop in Baghdad, his sniper-sharp eyes scanned the streets for signs of the enemy.

 

Separated from his partner, he was ambushed by a squad of insurgents. He was helpless against their cruel, methodical shooting at him. Taking aim beginning from his feet, they slowly worked their way up his legs to his abdomen, approaching the threshold of murder.

 

Seconds from death, he was rescued by his buddies. Then he was evacuated from the combat zone to a military hospital in Germany, and eventually to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in D.C., where both of his legs were amputated. A double prosthesis did not cancel his will to walk again. Searing pain did not stop his desire to achieve. Self-pity did not even seem to enter the picture

 

Observing this authentic patriot and American hero, now part of the Warrior Transition Brigade, I saw an object lesson in endurance and the personification of perseverance. Not only was he daily placing cones and agonizingly stepping over them, he had chosen to live in a third-floor apartment, because he liked the challenge and wanted to get strong again—so he could return to the front.

 

I thought to myself—here is a man “who more than self his country loves.” I wondered where there might be found that kind of unflinching courage and devotion in Christian soldiers “who more than self their Savior love”—believers willing to die with their boots on, facing the enemy.

 

Marveling at his dogged determination to fight again. I wondered how followers of Christ find the tenacity to fight on when self-pity threatens to quench the fire of our resolve.

 

Then I remembered the Scripture—We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.  2 Corinthians 4:8-9, 16-18 NLT

 

With these truths cascading through my heart, I recalled the lyrics of an old Isaac Watts hymn—Am I a soldier of the cross, a follower of the Lamb? And shall I fear to own His cause or blush to speak His name? Sure I must fight if I would reign; Increase my courage, Lord! I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, supported by Thy Word. 

 

High-sounding words indeed—but If you and I are truly honest, we must admit there have been times we’ve been tempted to quit the fight of faith. Gazing at the figure of the One on the cross dying in our place sends us back to our tasks again.

 

I believe that if we ask Jesus to help us, He will (Philippians 4:13). Music historians say many Bach manuscripts have J.J. at the beginning—Jesu juva (Jesus, help me), and at the end of the manuscript S.D.G.—Soli Deo Gloria (To God alone be the glory). In between are found some of the most uplifting music phrases and compositions ever heard by human ears. If you and I are ever going to “make music for our Lord to hear,” we’re going to have to live life like Bach composed music. If  we’re going to soldier on for God’s glory, we need Jesus’ help.

 

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Johnny R. Almond

Pastor, Hull’s Memorial Baptist Church – Friends on a Journey of Faith

Author, Gentle Whispers from Eternity—Scripture Personalized

http://GentleWhispersFromEternity–ScripturePersonalized.com/

 

 

A Christian Response to Violence

“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” (Leonard Bernstein)

 

With yesterday’s awful news of the worst mass killing in American history saddening our hearts, my wife and I joined others in St. Paul’s Adult Masterworks Chorus in King George, Virginia, to rehearse the beautiful St. Cecelia Mass by Gounod. As we lined up to process into the sanctuary, I noticed this quote by Bernstein on a bulletin board. It struck me as a poignant reminder of eternal love, encouraging hope, and transforming faith.

 

In the shadow of hate, we can choose to sing the music of love. The killer was filled with hate and expressed it in an unspeakably horrible act of violence. Christians believe in the God who is love. We follow His Son’s example in “living a life filled with love” (Ephesians 5:2). There is no room for hate toward anyone. Love should guide our actions in relationship to every human being. God loves everyone—so should we.

 

In the valley of despair, we can choose to sing the music of hope. Recurring news of a killer attacking with an assault rifle has inclined some people to expect more of the same. Christians believe God has a plan—to bring heaven to earth in the return and reign of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We never lose hope because we believe “the future is as bright as the promises of God.”

 

In the downward spiral of cynicism, we can choose to sing the music of faith. Skeptics and pessimists view current events as a preview of terrorist acts making bloody headlines. Christians believe that one day, in God’s time, unsettled nations will be united under the sovereign rule of the Messiah. Christ is our peace in pandemonium, our calm in chaos, our courage in a dangerous world, and our confidence that at the end of life’s little day all will be well. We refuse to give in to cynicism, despite many signs that planet earth is the insane asylum of the solar system—because we believe the new Jerusalem will be deathless, painless, sinless, and tearless.

 

“My life goes on in endless song above earth’s lamentations; I hear the real, though far off, hymn, that hails a new creation.Through all the tumult and the strife I hear its music ringing. It sounds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing?”

 

Whatever happens in this crazy world, may God’s grace enable us to keep joyful music in our life—with intense love, beautiful hope, and devoted faith—until that glorious day we join the chorus of millions of the redeemed singing praises to the Prince of Peace.

 

 

Johnny R. Almond

Pastor, Hull’s Memorial Baptist Church – Friends on a Journey of Faith

Author, Gentle Whispers from Eternity—Scripture Personalized

http://GentleWhispersFromEternity–ScripturePersonalized.com/

Book available on Amazon