Dear FPC—
Merry Almost Christmas! It is less than a week away! That is either exciting or terrifying, depending on your circumstances. My hope for each of us is that we avoid getting distracted and focus on the amazing news of God reaching out in love to each of us at Christmas. Don’t get distracted by presents—purchased, not yet purchased, or wished for. Don’t get distracted by chores, by travel, by family, by politics, by yelling. Don’t even be distracted by church!
Instead, I encourage you to stop.
Kneel if you are able.
And pray—
Lord Jesus, help me get ready for your arrival.
Prepare my heart for you to enter in.
Quiet me Lord. Soothe my fear and anxiousness.
Come Lord Jesus!
Lift up those whose hearts are heavy—let them see the joy of your presence.
Lighten the darkness—help me to seek your light.
Come Lord Jesus!
Amen!

I look forward to worshipping with you this Sunday as we focus on Joseph—the overlooked member of the Holy Family. What can we learn from this man whose life was turned upside down by Christmas?
Looking further ahead, don’t miss our Christmas Eve Candlelight and Carols celebrations at 4:30, 8 and 11! Then on December 29 we will have a special speaker who I am very excited about! Take advantage of the holiday lull in work to intentionally make time for Jesus.
Finally, if you are part of this church family and are supportive of how God is moving among us and sending us out to love for our neighbors—please include FPC in your year end giving. You can give on line here.

Thank you and Merry Christmas!

Gratefully,

Pastor Steve

Key Passage: John 1:14 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father.”

Big Picture Question: Why were Simeon and Anna waiting? Simeon and Anna were waiting for God to send Jesus.

Christ Connection: God had promised His people that a Savior was coming. When Simeon and Anna saw Jesus, they knew He was the Savior. Jesus came to save people from sin. We can trust Jesus to save us from our sin, and like Simeon and Anna, we should tell others the good news.

Dear Parents,

This week in The Gospel Project® for Kids, our journey takes place about 33 days after Jesus’ birth. Do you remember the first few weeks of your precious child’s life? Mary and Joseph, the proud new parents of the Savior, took Him to the temple as God had commanded.

Long ago, the Lord spoke to Moses: “Consecrate every firstborn male to Me, the firstborn from every womb among the Israelites, both man and domestic animal; it is Mine” (Exodus 13:2). Consecrate means “to dedicate to a sacred purpose.” God’s people were to set apart their firstborn as belonging to the Lord. The firstborn of sacrificial animals were sacrificed to God, and the firstborn of humans and donkeys were redeemed—a lamb was sacrificed instead. God’s law for the consecration of the firstborn had a purpose: to remind the people that the Lord brought them out of Egypt by the strength of His hand. (See Exodus 13:14-16.)

After a woman gave birth, she was “unclean,” and she would observe a period of purification—a reminder that we are all born in sin. Then she would bring to the priest a burnt offering and a sin offering. (See Leviticus 12:1-8.) This is what Mary did. When Mary’s days of purification were complete, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem, where they presented Him to the Lord and offered a sacrifice. Though Jesus was not born in sin, He identified with sinners even as a baby. This initial act introduced Jesus’ perfect life of obedience to the law.

While Mary and Joseph were at the temple, God graciously revealed to a man named Simeon and a woman named Anna that Jesus was the One—the promised Messiah they had been waiting for. Imagine their joy! Throughout the Old Testament, God promised the arrival of a king who would redeem God’s people. When Jesus arrived, Simeon and Anna knew He was the promised Messiah. Today, we have faith that Jesus is God’s Son. We can trust Jesus for our salvation.

Family Activity: Discuss the gifts and talents of each family member. Challenge each other to dedicate those talents and gifts to God for at least one hour during the week. Talk about how everyone who follows Christ is dedicated to Him.

Dear FPC—
“Advent is a time of listening to footsteps.” You can’t hear footsteps when you’re running yourself. Stop and listen.
Welcome to the second week of Advent! I hope that you are setting aside some time to be with God this month as you wait for Jesus. I was really struck by how hard it is for us to wait this past week. Last time I shared some habits we can work on during Advent from the Common Rule. One of them is “no phone while waiting.”
That seemed obviously crazy to me. What do you mean, no phone? I have things to do, mail to catch up on, news to read—I’m very busy! But hold on—wait a minute. We say that Advent is a time of waiting, so maybe we should practice waiting?
I found myself in a waiting room last week. I reached for my phone and then remembered this habit to practice, so I left my phone in my pocket. At first I felt anxious, “wasting” time. Then I started to relax. I started to notice, to slow down. I saw how the bare branches outside reminded me—strongly—of my childhood home. I noticed the other people God had put around me there in the waiting room. As I waited I became aware again of my phone—calling to me from my pocket, almost burning with its indignation at being ignored for a few minutes. It reminded me of how Frodo felt the Ring of Power calling to him—the “precious” demands our attention. That really brought me up short. Who is in charge of my relationship with my phone? I’m not sure it is me. Maybe I have a deeper problem to work on than just practicing waiting!
Here is a prayer you can use while you wait, if you’d like: “Lord, help my soul to wait for you.”
I hope that your Advent habits draw you towards Jesus, our coming life-giving King, and that they draw you away from things and habits and demands that suck the life out of you. Join us for worship on Sunday as we light the Joy candle and hear Pastor Chris bring us the good news!
Looking further ahead, I am excited about many new beginnings in the new year. I’ll share more with you about them soon.
May you feel God’s blessings to you as you wait this week!

Pastor Steve

Key Passage: John 1:14 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father.”

Big Picture Question: Where was Jesus born? Jesus was born in Bethlehem as God promised.

Christ Connection: Jesus was born! This was very good news! Jesus was not like other babies. He is God’s Son. God sent Jesus to earth from heaven. Jesus came into the world to save people from their sins. Jesus came to be their King.

Dear Parents,

Thank you for continuing this journey of The Gospel Project® for Kids. Last unit, kids learned about God’s plan for John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Savior. Over the next six weeks, kids will learn that God’s plan of redemption is Jesus. Today’s Bible story is about Jesus’ birth. The story of Jesus’ birth is usually told in December, although we do not truly know Jesus’ actual birth date. Sometimes the story of Jesus’ birth gets lost in the shuffle of Christmas lists, familiar carols, and trips to Grandma’s house. This time, though, we can focus on the details of God’s plan to send Jesus to save mankind from sin.

The first Christmas did not take place on a special holiday. In fact, the only real news at that time was that Caesar Augustus had demanded a census to collect more tax revenues. Because of the census, Bethlehem was packed. Joseph—a descendant of King David—and his pregnant wife could not find a place to stay. Mary desperately needed a place to stay—the Savior was ready to be born! An innkeeper let the couple stay in a stable, and Mary gave birth to the King of kings and placed Him in a feeding trough.

Not far from Bethlehem, shepherds were watching their sheep at night. Little did they know, the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world was resting in a manger nearby. When the angel appeared, they were terrified! Thankfully the angel gave the best news: the Messiah was born. They could find Him in Bethlehem. (See Luke 2:10-11.) They hurried to find the Savior, just as the angel had told them. After they found Baby Jesus, they returned home, praising God and telling others about Jesus.

The Bible says Mary wondered about all of these things and treasured them in her heart. Do you think the shepherds may have done the same? The birth of Jesus was good news! Jesus was not an ordinary baby. He is God’s Son, sent to earth from heaven. Jesus came into the world to save people from their sins and to be their King.

Family Activity: Encourage each family member to cut out a good news headline from a newspaper or magazine and past or tape them below. Invite each family member to share something good that happened that day. Talk about why Jesus’ birth was very good news.

Dear FPC—
It is Advent! That is a countercultural practice that I invite you to join in.   In our world everything seems to conspire to keep us busy, frazzled, rushing.  That is maybe most pronounced at Christmastime.  The parties, the shopping, the decorating, the cards, the eating, the obligations—it can feel overwhelming!  Or maybe you are feeling loss especially keenly right now—a loved one, a relationship, physical abilities –absences can loom large this time of year.  Frazzled, depressed, sad, distracted—whatever you are feeling, I invite you to practice Advent and give yourself a break!
As we mentioned on Sunday, Advent is really a time of pausing and preparing to notice how God is with us.  It is the opposite of being so busy you can’t even think or so down you can’t get up. We included an Advent devotional in the bulletin on Sunday, I hope it is a nice pause for you.  You can pick up new ones each Sunday during Advent.  I also want to share two resources you can explore this Advent season.
First is a prayer retreat from our friends at Pray As You Go.  These are Jesuits in Britain who offer a wonderful 10 minute/day time of reflection on Scripture.  I really love this resource.  They have a special Advent retreat, which you can find here.  (if you want to check out their daily prayer, go to https://pray-as-you-go.org/ or open their app).
Second, the Advent devotional from www.thecommonrule.org/advent-devotionals-page is wonderful– just 4 simple habits to work on this month:  punctuate your day with prayer (kneeling if possible) 3 times (morning/noon/night); no phone before scripture; light a candle; and no phone while waiting (use times of waiting to interact with people!).  Check it out and see what you think.  The prayers can be very short—just a sentence or two, the idea is to remind yourself of God’s presence with you, right now.  You can also access their Advent devotional pdf here.
Don’t make yourself busy doing Advent, but do give yourself a break and stop to be with Jesus for a few minutes.  Blessings on you this week!  See you Sunday when we light the Peace Candle!

Pastor Steve

Key Passage: Luke 1:76 “And child, you will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways.”

Big Picture Question: Why was John the Baptist special? John the Baptist told people about Jesus.

Christ Connection: Long ago, God’s prophets said, One day Jesus will come.” Finally, a prophet named John said, “Jesus is almost here!” John the Baptist told people to get ready for Jesus. He said Jesus was coming to be King over the whole world.

Dear Parents,

Thank you for continuing this journey of The Gospel Project® for Kids. Today’s Bible story is about John’s birth. Shortly after Mary left Elizabeth and returned home, the time came for Elizabeth to give birth to her baby. For the duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, her husband, Zechariah, had been mute. His inability to speak was punishment for his doubting the angel who foretold John’s birth. (See Luke 1:20.)

Elizabeth gave birth to a son, and her friends and family rejoiced with her—just as the angel Gabriel had said. (See Luke 1:14.) Everyone had assumed the baby would be named after his father, but Zechariah was clear: HIS NAME IS JOHN.

In Luke 1:66, the people wondered, “What then will this child become?” John would grow up to be an evangelist. He would be spiritually strong. John’s ministry would be brief, but through the power of the Holy Spirit, he would lead thousands to repentance. He would humbly prepare the way of the Lord with this aim: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). John would gain thousands of followers and then joyfully hand them over to Jesus as the groom’s friend who rejoices at the groom’s voice. (See John 3:29.) Then John would go to prison and ultimately be beheaded by King Herod. But Jesus Himself would say, “Among those born of women no one is greater than John” (Luke 7:28).

As you teach kids the story of John’s birth, talk about how John’s birth was prophesied by Isaiah. (Isaiah 40:3) A long time before Jesus was born, prophets said that Jesus would come. The prophets also said another man would come first to say, “Jesus is almost here!” John the Baptist told people to turn away from their sins because Jesus was coming to be King over the whole world.

Family Activity: Give each family member a brightly colored index card and a pencil or pen. Help them find Luke 1:76-77 in the Bible and copy the verses onto their index cards. Based on the verses, list some of the plans God had for John’s life. Let each family member choose a special place to display his or her card. Challenge your family to memorize these verses this week.