Posture of Pondering

Merry Christmas Eve Emmanuel Faith! The waiting is over. The culmination of Advent is here. Our Savior is born!

Over the last four weeks of Advent, we have experienced what it means to behold. We have beheld Jesus, the Lamb of God. We have considered surrender; relinquishing control of our own lives into the hands of the Almighty. We have beheld pursuit; a vision of what it looks like to run after this spotless lamb. We have beheld the Gospel; the Good News that Jesus Christ has come to take away the sins of the world! What an awesome promise!

This is amazing news, but what do we do with it? As you enter Christmas Eve, consider taking some time to ponder this precious gift. Luke 2:19 says, “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Mary reverently unpacked each moment, held each word, longing, hope, and fear, and spread them out on the table of her heart; allowing the light of God’s presence to penetrate her soul and renew her joy.

The practice of pondering is a deeply spiritual act. It is setting aside anxieties, confusion, and fears and it invites us into a place of wonder, mystery, and awe. Pondering teaches us how to recognize the voice of God.

Before you rush into a busy day, choose one or two of the following and take some time to engage in the Practice of Pondering:

  1. Set aside a specific time and place to reflect on how God has been present in your life.

  2. Physically leave all distractions behind (including your cell phone!) Go for a walk in God’s amazing creation. Take some deep breaths. Look, smell, feel, notice.

  3. Pray Scripture (try starting in the Psalms) back to the Lord inserting your own name into the text as a promise and a reminder of God’s care for you. As you reflect on his tender care, let this be a time of worship and adoration of your Lord.

  4. Celebrate where you see God at work. Don’t rush past it but bask in the knowledge of his provision.

  5. Confront or lament moments that you don’t understand. Be honest with God. He can handle it!

  6. Ask God to give you eyes and a heart to see his goodness. Ask him to renew your faith and your trust in him.

Pondering allows us to feel the weight of God’s glory and fully celebrate the mystery of his ways. I hope you can find some time today to ponder this miraculous gift. 

Lynette Fuson
Director of Care & Counseling

We hope you can join us this afternoon at 1pm, 3pm or 5pm for our Christmas Eve services as we gather together to worship Jesus and celebrate that our Savior has come!


Wonder

And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.

Mary treasured and pondered all these things, but all who heard the story of the Savior's birth from the shepherds wondered at it. Mary was treasuring, carefully storing away, and putting them all together in her mind. The word means to keep in mind, to hold or treasure up (in one's memory). As she "treasured" these things in her mind she was "pondering," reflecting upon and "placing together for comparison" all of these experiences. What are you storing up in the memory cells of your heart?

Is it possible that the "all who heard it and wondered" were not only confused or afraid but also in awe of the story? Mark Batterson said, "Our lives are not just measured in minutes. They are measured in the moments when wonder invades our ordinary reality."  Psalm 139 tells us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made--notice "fear" and "wonder" go together. We don't have to understand all of the how's and why's to experience the joy and wonder. We don’t understand and may even fear many things happening in our world right now, but we know that God can and will use anything in this world for his glory. He can cause good things to come out of the worst things.

According to one estimate, there are thirty-seven sextillion chemical reactions happening in the human body at any given time. You are digesting food, regenerating cells, purifying toxins, catalyzing enzymes, producing hormones, and converting stored energy from fat to blood sugar. That knowledge should put all of us in a state of wonder and awe of God our loving Creator who not only made us but loves each one of us as his unique and precious child.

I wonder if today we can shut out all of the distractions and just focus on the miraculous birth of Jesus who came to rescue us, puts us in a place of perfect peace while the cares of the world swirl around us, and restores our relationship with our heavenly Father. Can we in childlike wonder see the stars above us and the world around us as the miracles God gave us and offer him praise and honor and glory for the things he has done?

Deb Hill
Executive Assistant


A Manger?

One of my favorite Christmas songs is Joy to the World. It was written in 1719 by the English minister and hymn writer Isaac Watts. The line in the song that always captures my heart is, “let earth receive her king.” Christmas time is often flooded with receiving people. Guests from out of town. Family and friends for dinner. It’s a lot of work to receive people, isn’t it? With Thanksgiving just in the rearview mirror, we know the weight of receiving people. Getting ready for guests is a lot of work because we want things to look presentable. Sometimes we even want things to look perfect. Luckily, we have Pinterest to give us an unrealistic standard to try to live up to.

But how do you receive a king? That’s the invitation given by Watts, “let earth receive her king.” We know how we receive celebrities. We roll out the red carpet. The red carpet goes back thousands of years to Greek Mythology where the gods were welcomed with a red carpet to walk. We make sure that they’re cared for and received with the type of pomp and circumstances they deserve. But Listen to the way the first king was received,

6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloth and laid him in a manger because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7)

According to the first Christmas story, what do you need to receive Jesus? You need a manger.

A manger wasn’t a Pottery Barn bassinet. It was a simple wood structure, filled with hay, that they’d put animal (probably sheep) feed into. Strange, isn’t it? You’d think that a king would deserve a royal welcome in a temple, palace, or cathedral. But he didn’t. What if Jesus is still drawn to mangers? What if he enters now the way he entered then?

Do you know what that’s great news? Because you have a manger. A manger is normal and messy. You have a normal and messy life, just like I do.

A manger is a part of our life we’d like to fast-forward through or the part of our life we’d like to rewind and redo. That’s what a manger is – and those are the very areas that Jesus wants to enter. He wants to meet us in the mundane and the mess. That’s always been the way of God and it’s still his way today.

You have a manger; will you welcome him today? He’s standing at the door of your heart knocking.

Pastor Ryan Paulson
Lead Pastor 


Angels and Signs

“And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger,” says the Angel in Luke 2:12

In studying this familiar passage, one of the things that stood out to me this time is this offer of a sign. Remember, the one offering this sign is an actual real-life angel, a warrior of light. It is a being who lives in such a close proximity to Almighty God that God’s own glory has sorta rubbed off onto. This is a being that, if we were to see today, we would be tempted to worship or cower in front of. In fact, every human that encounters beings like this throughout scripture has the same reaching… utter fear! And here, this angel decides that these shepherds need another sign. I mean, isn’t the appearance of one angel enough? Not only that, but as soon as this solitary angel says these words offering a sign, he is joined by a multitude of equally frightening heavenly beings.

In my mind, this seems like it is enough of a sign for me. If I saw one angel, I am pretty sure that after changing my pants, I would realize that I had been given enough evidence. If I saw an entire heavenly host singing, I would never ask for a sign again. Nonetheless, the angel offers a sign. Why did the angel offer a sign? Why did the angel think that these shepherds needed more proof?

Well, apparently God didn’t want our faith to be based solely on an ecstatic spiritual experience, even one involving an angel. The truth is that angels are really cool, but angels aren’t what our faith is built on. Angels play a role throughout the Bible, but there isn’t a single-core theological belief in all of Christian doctrine that is solely based on the testimony of an angel. The same could be said about dreams or visions. The good news that this is a reminder of is that our faith is not just based on some spiritual experience, it is based on events that actually happened. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:14 that “if Christ has not been raised [in other words, if an actual verifiable event hadn’t happened], our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

So, as we approach Christmas, let’s approach it with confidence even when we don’t have wild spiritual experiences. Yes, those shepherds got pretty lucky. They saw something that we couldn’t even replicate in our dreams! But even that was just supposed to point them to what was real. There really was an actual baby, wrapped in actual cloth, and lying in an actual manger. You can’t spiritualize it or explain it away. It happened so let’s put all of our hopes and fears of all the years on that child tonight.

Josh Rose
Teaching Pastor


Shepherds

In his 2016 book, Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ, Tim Keller shares some interesting insights about the shepherds from the biblical story of Jesus’ birth. He explains that they were a part of a lowly and in some ways outcast part of society. They were often viewed as shady characters because they let their sheep graze on other people’s land. They were not trusted members of society according to discoveries in ancient literature that they were not allowed to testify in court. Imagine a whole group, or occupation, of people, that were considered so untrustworthy that they could not be a witness in a trial. This is the group of people that God sent angels to with a proclamation of the good news that a savior had been born in nearby Bethlehem.

Perhaps this should be no surprise to many who are familiar with God’s ways of doing things. He often tells us to live differently than the way the “world” sees as wise. Consider Jesus instructions when throwing a holiday party:

He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid.  But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” - Luke 14:12-13

God has a special place in his heart for people who are easily overlooked. How about you? Who is first on your list to get whatever miraculous blessing you can provide this Christmas?

John Riley
Jr. High Pastor


Prayer of Pursuit

One of the best ways to pursue God is through prayer. Today, we want to invite you to slowly pray a prayer from A.W. Tozer’s book, The Pursuit of God. In preparing your heart, ask Jesus to speak to you as you pray.

O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace.

I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed.

Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.” Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.


Encounters

You know when you hear all about how great someone is you have not met before, and you are just chomping at the bit to meet them. That is how the Magi felt in Matthew 2:1-12. They knew the scriptures and were willing to travel a long way with valuable treasures in tow. They were not content with just the knowledge, they wanted to meet him face to face. Once they met him, they worshiped him and gave him their various gifts, they were even willing to betray the king for him.

Elsewhere in scripture, we find the dreaded Saul. He was so convinced of his knowledge and understanding that he was willing to seek the destruction of the new church. A single encounter with Jesus changed everything for him and he became the famous apostle, Paul. A veritable champion of the faith!

Another time Jesus talked to the woman at the well, and through their conversation, changed her life and the lives of her entire town. She knew about the scriptures and had a loose idea of what they meant, but her limited knowledge had not changed her, it allowed her to continue her wicked and twisted lifestyle. Then she met Jesus.

 2 Timothy 2:15 tells us to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” We can focus on studying scripture and learning more about God’s character.” We will encounter Jesus there.

Even as believers, it’s possible to lose focus on the most important thing. Like the Magi, we can seek Jesus, offer him our best, our time, our focus, and our love. Let’s reacquaint ourselves with the best part of life, our personal relationship with Jesus.

Jonathan Duncan


Risk > Comfort

Winter has finally arrived in Escondido! I forgot how much I enjoy the cool (cold for San Diego) mornings, quiet time bundled up, and the slowness of the early morning hours. The cold weather just makes me want to stay cozy and comfortable, I want to skip taking the dogs for a walk or working out. I just want coffee, blankets, and my Bible because that is my cold morning comfort zone. It is funny how I search out moments of comfort instead of doing some things that will benefit me and others. I miss the relationships I built just by talking to neighbors on my early morning walks and the times where God would open up new conversations. I guess I should weigh the risk and the reward of my routine.

It is fascinating that the Magi left their homes and spent months traveling to a far-off place to visit a newborn king based on a star in the sky. I am sure they dealt with uncomfortable cold mornings, long days, hard travels, and many other risks. Yet they were not deterred and they made their way to find whom they were looking for. They took a risk because the reward to visit Jesus was greater than remaining in their comfort zone. They had the opportunity to bring gifts to the Savior, to celebrate something only God could do, and it did not matter the risk Herod presented. The scribes wouldn’t travel 5 miles to see if Micah the prophet was correct in where the king was born. The reward that God gives is worth letting go of comfort and taking some risks.
Have you been seeking what the Lord has for you or seeking your own comfort (like me in the cold mornings!)? This season as we look forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus we find comfort in the fact that Jesus came for us, we take comfort in our God who loves us so much, and we find comfort in the hope Jesus brings. Let’s be willing to take some risks with the people God has put in our path to give them the hope that Jesus brings. Can you be praying about how you can share the hope that Jesus has given you with someone who needs it? If you need a little hope as well, we are here to help.
Pastor Jeremy Johnson
Family Pastor

Waiting with a Heart of Pursuit

Advent is a season of waiting. The word “Advent '' literally means, “coming”. It communicates expectancy, anticipation, and a fervent belief that hope is near. In our society today, waiting often conveys an attitude of passivity and an unwillingness to engage, yet, that was not the case for many Israelites who were awaiting their Messiah.

In the gospel of Luke, Simeon, a just and devout Israelite, demonstrated his anticipation of seeing the Messiah, with his own eyes, as he spent his entire life waiting with expectancy. In Luke 2:25-26, Simeon was said to be “waiting for the consolation of Israel and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” Just imagine the passion, the expectation, the hope! Simeon’s ancestors had waited for centuries for their Messiah to come, and so many of them died before this promise came to fruition. Yet Simeon had been promised that he would get to see his Lord and Savior face to face! This was Simeon’s greatest longing and passion. Simeon had a heart of pursuit.

Simeon so anticipated his Savior that he was willing to actively wait. Henri Nouwen says, “A waiting person is a patient person… Patient people dare to stay where they are. Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there. Waiting, then, is not passive. It involves nurturing the moment.” Advent is a season to nurture each moment; a season in which to actively wait.

Advent is a time for recognizing and looking for all of the ways that Christ comes to us. Christ came to Simeon in the form of a child. Christ comes to many today in their despair. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.” It is less than human to wait expectantly for something less than we already have. Yet to wait for more, for better, for the divine? This is a holy pursuit!

Simeon expresses his ultimate longing in Luke 2:30-32 as he says, “For my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” What an amazing moment worth waiting for!

What are you longing and hoping for today? Are you grumbling about the waiting and lamenting the process? Or can you find joy, hope, and expectancy in the waiting itself? Choose today whether you will wait passively or with a heart of pursuit.

Lynette Fuson
Director of Care & Counseling


Let it be!

Luke 1:38 (ESV), “And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.”

Pastor Paulson writes about her response:

“Let it be” is not just a prayer Mary utters, it’s also a prayer Jesus musters as he prayerfully awaits his crucifixion. It’s because of Jesus’ prayer “let it be” that we too can confidently pray the same thing. He gave himself for us, which in turn frees us to surrender ourselves to him.

“Let it be” is a phrase of surrender. Surrender can happen in trust or fear. With either motive, surrender to God is better than fighting God. Are you surrendering to the news God brings to you? Do you say to him in the midst of your circumstances, “Let it be?”

When I see the phrase “Let it be” I can’t help but hear the Beatles sing those famous words. The band never claimed that the virgin Mary’s acceptance of the challenge laid out by the angel Gabriel was the inspiration for the song, but the idea fits the lyrics they wrote. Some believers might see this as a stretch, but I find this a beautiful song to contemplate with the Lord; especially in light of the difficulties that life brings my way. The verses of the song, written by Paul Mccartney and John Lennon, are copied below with the chorus included at the end.

When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness, she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And when the broken-hearted people living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be
And when the night is cloudy there is still a light that shines on me
Shinin' until tomorrow, let it be
I wake up to the sound of music, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

Pastor John Riley
Jr. High Pastor