Yesterday we celebrated the arrival of God into the world. As believers, our hope is found in a simple statement: God came near. He came near to us so we could draw near to Him. In Psalm 73:28, King David says, “As for me, the nearness of God is my good.”
But, what does it mean that God’s nearness is our good?
Mike took some time to craft a short Christmas message which answers that very question. We encourage you in the midst of everything taking place today to spend a few minutes exploring how nearness is likeness.
In the above video, Mike mentions that we are encouraging every person who attends PC3 to hit the pause button and engage in a personal spiritual retreat during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. This retreat, which we’ve created, walks you through the reflection process by providing you with Scripture, journal prompts, insights and questions.
You can download your copy of the retreat by visiting portcitychurch.org/retreat.
Have a Merry Christmas and remember there are NO SERVICES on Sunday, January 1st. But, we invite you to join us ONLINE for a very special broadcast message! We’ll resume our regular Sunday schedule and begin a brand new series on January 8th!
And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Hebrews 13:16
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1-4
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 1 Corinthians 12:12-14
I’ve just returned from watching Paige, my youngest daughter, make her acting debut. I don’t like to brag, but she was in a Broadway play. Okay, it was an elementary school holiday performance held in the cafeteria, but this didn’t matter to Paige. She understood there was a part only she could play. You see, the entire Ripa clan is vertically challenged. Paige is pint size but full of spunk. When the play was announced, it was a foregone conclusion who was destined to play the role of “Tiniest Snowflake.”
For the last few weeks, Paige has spent countless hours memorizing her lines and singing her songs (much to the chagrin of her older sister). She knew everything inside and out. She was ready. But, last evening her nerves got the better of her. The tears began to flow. Paige insisted she was sick and couldn’t go on. My wife scooped her in her arms, rubbed her back and reminded Paige that her part mattered. If she was a no-show, the play wouldn’t make sense. The chorus would be missing a voice. The story wouldn’t be told. She needed to have courage and step out on stage. The same is true for us.
Just like those snowflakes I witnessed prancing around stage, your contribution is unique. No two snowflakes are identical. There is a part only you can play. As the church, we all have different roles to play. Each part, regardless of whether they are the lead actor or simply an extra, matters. We can’t shrink back from the spotlight or let doubt, fear, pride or insecurity cause us to have stage fright.
God has delegated the responsibility of displaying His love to the body of Christ. Each part of the body participating in this effort is critical in reflecting His image. If one part is not fully engaged, it lessens the overall influence and impact we have collectively. It will be impossible for us to become a truly great church without a shared sense of ownership. So, today, take the time to consider your part. What is God doing in your life for the sake of what He wants to do through us as a community? What is your contribution? What part do you have to play?
- How has your life begun to serve as an expression of Christ’s love?
- Where have you felt a nudge or a prompting to get involved? Instead of turning away, what would it look like to “lean in” and become curious on ways you can help in these areas?
- How can you put yourself in experiences that will impact your heart?
God, my part matters. I say this not to boast in my ability or my accomplishments. These words are not fueled by pride or arrogance. Uttering these words remind me that I need show up and contribute. I am part of something much bigger than myself, so I must do my part. Not just once, but every single day. Allow me to add value to everything I touch. Let me leave things better than I found them. In Your name, Jesus. Amen.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. Galatians 6:9-10
For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. Colossians 1:29
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30
Forgetfulness is one of my spiritual gifts. I lose track of my keys and wallet on the regular. My wife knows without a list in my hand to jog my memory, I’d wander around the grocery store aimlessly. Before the invention of Facebook, it was a forgone conclusion that I would forget loved ones’ birthdays. My uncanny ability to be absentminded gets me in trouble especially during the holidays – which reminds me, I forgot to water my Christmas tree… again.
My neglect has taken its toll on our tree. Rather than evergreen, it is a pitiful shade of semi-brown. The branches are sagging. The amount of dry pine needles scattered around its trunk are warning signs that it’s screaming out for water. The tree is no longer a thing of beauty; it’s now a fire hazard.
Neglecting to take notice of a Christmas tree is one thing, but failing to slow down and examine our energy levels can cause greater damage than we care to admit. A tree can be replaced, our hearts cannot. Instead of ending the year strong, many of us limp to the finish line.
Rather than plow on through or grin and bear it, God commands us to rest and to trust. He urges us to pay attention to our hearts because out of it everything flows. There are warning signs to a thirsty tree. Likewise, the heart will let us know when it can no longer run on empty. We get angrier quicker. We disengage and disconnect from the world around us. We indulge in behaviors we regret later. We grow cynical and jaded. We use people rather than connect with them. We grow indifferent.
Are these actions making an appearance in your life? If so, pay attention. Don’t forget to care for yourself – refresh, replenish and recharge. Make your heart a priority. This isn’t a selfish act. In fact, self-care is one of the most selfless acts you can do. The only way you can give yourself away is ensuring there is something left to give.
- How would you describe your current energy level? Is your energy tank depleted or full?
- Identify some things that zap your energy. Why do these situations or activities drain you? How can you change the way you interact with them in 2017?
- Identify some things that recharge your batteries. How do they rejuvenate you? How can you engage more in these situations in the New Year?
God, I desire to serve you out of the overflow of my heart. Yet, as we come to the end of the year, I’m running on empty. Rather than plow through the finish line of 2016, I am crawling and limping. So, instead of rushing around today, allow me to remain still. Refresh my soul. Awaken my passions. Ignite a fire deep within me. Remind me to stay connected to the source and sustainer of life. Apart from You I can do nothing. In Your name, Jesus. Amen.
The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out. Proverbs 20:5
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Philippians 3:12-13
And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. 2 Thessalonians 3:13
Watching my daughters’ joyous reaction when opening up their gifts on Christmas morning are memories I truly cherish. But, I would be lying if I don’t think fondly of Christmas morning before kids. There was none of this waking up before the crack of dawn nonsense. No one squealing with excitement and hitting you with pillows to jolt you from your slumber. You were able to wake up “early” (somewhere between 9 and 10 a.m.), brew a cup of coffee, open presents at your leisure and then relax in your pajamas all day while you binge watch The Christmas Story marathon happening on TNT.
Now, with that said, I can’t blame my kids for their excitement. After all, they know what is waiting for them underneath the tree. The sooner they get out of bed, the sooner opening gifts can begin. As we’ve been reflecting on our purpose this week, I’ve been wrestling with a question: What motivates me to get out of bed in the morning?
I believe the answers go much deeper than realizing that every day we are given is a display of God’s grace and we shouldn’t take it for granted. Neither is it completely found in some version of carpe diem where we seize the day and make every moment count. Even though they are true, these pictures in and of themselves are short-sighted. What I am speaking about is understanding why God created and wired you the way that He did.
From time to time, we catch glimpses of the answer. They are found in moments when our hearts come alive and we catch ourselves saying, “I was made for this!” Sometimes those moments are big, other times not so much. Each one requires us to pay attention. It involves uncovering our gifts, talents and passions as well as recognizing opportunities to use them to influence others and make a lasting impact.
Unlocking this insight doesn’t guarantee an easy life. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Finding your unique purpose requires a great deal of courage on your part and likely some sacrifice. Everything in you will want to stay underneath the warm covers known as comfort and convenience and continue to hit the snooze button. It’s only when you know the gift that awaits you on the other side of your pillow that you are willing to hop out of bed and face the day ahead.
- What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?
- What are the activities that you engage in that cause you to feel most alive? Where do you catch yourself saying, “I was made for this?”
- What propels you to step out of your comfort zone? What causes you to remain there?
God, Your mercies are new every morning. Each day there is air in my lungs is a display of Your generosity and grace. Yet, You didn’t create me and just leave me be. You invited me to play a part in the epic story You are telling. You gave me a role and a purpose. You gave me the responsibility of loving and serving others. Let this be what motivates and defines my life. In Your name, Jesus. Amen.
To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:22-23
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. 1 Peter 2:12
If you ever doubted you’ve been given influence, I present to you Exhibit A: Remy. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this fellow, he is the Elf that resides on our shelf during the holiday season. And, yes, for all you Pixar fans, he was indeed named after the cooking rat from the movie Ratatouille. I figured it was only fitting considering this elf rats out my kids’ bad behavior to the jolly old man living in the North Pole.
It’s funny how knowing a tiny little doll’s eyes are watching causes my kids to get their act together and behave. Remy does nothing but lounge around the house all day. Most evenings he doesn’t even move, and he routinely stays in the same spot for days (mainly because I’m a lazy parent). Yet, his presence influences the actions of our girls.
The reality is that everyone has influence. No matter your role, title, profession or platform, we all have people looking to us. No matter if you have an audience in the thousands or just a single person in the seats, someone is in attendance and paying attention. Each one of us has a sphere of influence where our actions and words ripple out and impact the lives of others. However, unlike Remy, as believers, we are called to look outside ourselves and leverage the influence we’ve been given to bring hope and grace to world.
For those of you who are parents, your children are looking to you for guidance, wisdom and love. What speaks volumes to them is not what you say, but how you live your life and how you make them feel. At work, your co-worker or the team you lead needs someone who does their job with integrity and values people over the bottom line. Our character is the most powerful currency we have to influence others. Every day you pull into your driveway, neighbors who each have a story surround you. Then there are the people you rub shoulders with at the classroom, gym or coffee shop. They are desperately searching to find significance and meaning for their lives. They are waiting for someone to walk beside them and introduce them to the amazing love of a Savior.
- Do you believe you have the potential to influence others? Why or why not? How does your answer spur you on or cause you to hesitate to respond?
- Identify the places where you’ve been given influence (school, work, family, community, etc.)
- What are you doing with the influence you’ve been given? Would you say you are stewarding your influence well? Why or why not? What makes you answer in the way that you do?
- What opportunities have presented themselves to invest in the lives of others?
God, may I be more concerned with my integrity than the size of my platform. May my ministry, and the impact I have on others, flow from my walk. Any influence I’ve been given is a gift from You, so I shouldn’t take it for granted. Regardless of whether I have an audience of a thousand or just a single soul, help me to steward my influence well. Give me the courage to step into opportunities when they present themselves. In Your name, Jesus. Amen.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17
My mom does everything with flare, including Christmas. It’s one of the things I love about her. For as long as I can remember, she’s attempted to add an extra layer of suspense to Christmas morning by placing clues on each gift. There is only one problem. She isn’t the greatest when it comes to riddles. Her clues always give the item away.
“These will keep your feet toasty and warm.” “This is a real page turner.” “Pop some popcorn and get your remote.” You didn’t have to shake the box because you knew what you were getting. No guesswork was needed.
We cannot say the same for how we feel when it comes to figuring out God’s will for our life. Many of us are overwhelmed with finding “our thing.” It feels like an impossible puzzle to figure out. From our perspective, there are more questions than answers. The clues leave us scratching our heads. Rather than being curious and take action, the lack of clarity causes us to hesitate and stand still. The weight we place on our shoulders to figure everything out is crushing us.
It might come as a surprise, but understanding God’s will for our life is as obvious as the gifts my mom wrapped and put underneath the tree. As believers, we have the same calling: to share Christ’s love with those around us and to make His name known. When Jesus was asked about the greatest command, Jesus didn’t hesitate. He said the entire law hangs on two commandments: love God with all your heart, mind and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:34-40).
God is far less concerned with WHAT we do and more focused on WHY we do it. The specifics of our activity pale in comparison to our authenticity, availability and accessibility. It is true that God desires to use us in unique and different ways. This statement shouldn’t create more pressure, but lessen the burden to have everything figured out.
All God is asking from us is to start somewhere and lean in. Unwrap your gift and see what’s inside.
- Identify ways you have gained clarity of your life’s purpose over the past year. How did this clarity come about?
- How would you articulate God’s will for your life?
- Where do you have a tendency to overcomplicate God’s will? What has your response been to this pressure?
- What are some small steps you can take to begin to unlock God’s unique expression for your life?
God, all too often I complicate the concept of Your will. This internal pressure causes me to stand still rather than walk with You in faithful obedience. Yet, what You are asking me to do with my life has never changed. I’m called to simply love You and love others. My life, no matter what I do or where I am planted, should serve as a reflection of Your love. May my words and my actions point others to the hope found in You. In Your name, Jesus. Amen.
Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm. Proverbs 13:20
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:23-25
One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24
Right around the corner from where we live is a spot known as “The Christmas House.” If you live in Wilmington, you’re probably familiar with this landmark. During the holidays, it is near the top of the must-visit list for Christmas lights and decorations. Not only is Duke Energy overjoyed with this house due to its electric bill, but also it brings a smile to the faces of all the boys and girls who walk around the yard. But, the fun doesn’t stop there. Inside, the house is decked out with all things holidays. It’s evident to all what this family values – Christmas, joy, family and the holidays.
What many don’t realize, though, is the amount of work it takes to prepare the house for its many visitors. Starting around September, this family begins to prep their residence for the arrival of Christmas. When it’s sunny and 90 degrees outside, everyone else in town is thinking about heading to Wrightsville Beach and putting their feet in the sand. This family, however, has sugarplums dancing in their heads. They are doing the hard work necessary to make sure they live out what they value, namely the holidays. Their intentions lived out months earlier ensured joy would be felt by others in December.
Around every holiday, people find themselves living in the land of regret saying, “Next year, I will _________.” It might seem odd to think about it now, but next December will be here before we know it. Just like this past year flew by, so will the next. During this past week, we’ve reflected on our relationships and connections. Each one of us has been confronted with the work we have to do in terms of deepening our connections. Everyone wants to live out his or her relational values, but very few of us make a plan to do so.
Right now 2017 stands as a completely blank slate. It hasn’t happen yet. You have no control over the circumstances you will face or what will come your way, but you do have a say in what will define your relationships in the new year. Be intentional. Values are made to be lived out. Do the work now to ensure your values will be visible later.
- What values do you want to define your relationships in 2017? How will you ensure these values are lived out with the people around you?
- How do you want your current connections to grow and deepen in the upcoming year?
- What do you hope is different about your relationships a year from now? Why do you want to see this change?
God, I desire to be proactive in my relationships with others. During this upcoming year, I hope intentionality defines my relationships. Yet, this requires for me to be proactive right here, right now. Help me to pour into the lives of those around me. May I display the courage and boldness to reach out to those around me. Help me to know others as well as be known myself. In Your name, Jesus Amen.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:3-4
Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 1 Peter 3:8
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:13-14
Christmas causes anxiety to well up inside me. Why? Because I’m a horrible gift-giver. I tend to pull my hair out thinking of what to put underneath the Christmas tree for my loved ones. Most holidays I’ll walk around Target like a lost puppy, overwhelmed by the pressure of choosing the ideal gift. After hours of going back and forth over items, I throw up the white flag of surrender and pick up a gift card on my way to the checkout line. Now, some of you will argue that there is nothing wrong with gift cards. After all, the person who receives it can spend it on something they want. But, if you ask me, gift cards are playing it safe.
Good gift-givers put thought behind their presents. Throughout the year, they are intentional. They take the time to notice and observe. They make mental notes of the things that interest you or bring a smile to your face. They put this knowledge to work into the item they wrap up and give to the person they care about.
Our God is the ultimate gift giver. He’s intentional about the unique way He pursues each one of us. He knew exactly what we needed and how to restore our relationship. Jesus presented us with the greatest give ever given: life and freedom. Since we are called to be image bearers, selflessness should define us at our core. We reflect His heart when we invest and encourage.
Yet, often in life we forget that God wired us to be gift-givers. Instead, we get so wrapped up in our own little world that we lose sight of all that is taking place around us. The person who is hurting and in pain goes unnoticed. The needs of others never get met. The kind words never get spoken. We allow the opportunities God presents to us to make an impact and move into relationships with others to pass us by.
Today, look outside yourself. Pay attention, because someone needs a gift that only you can give today. It might be a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on or just a warm smile. The only way that gift can be given is if you are present.
- Who needs to hear a word of encouragement or praise today? Why does this person come to your mind?
- Where can you bring value to someone else by putting his or her needs above your own?
- Who are you investing in? How can you speak into their life and bring out the strengths that they don’t see?
God, I am often so wrapped up in my own little world that I miss what You are doing around me. Opportunities to be Your hands and feet in this world get missed. Give me eyes to see those that are hurting and in pain. Allow me to notice where I can be a blessing for someone else. Rather than rushing around today, may I slow down long enough to notice these simple opportunities to bring hope, love and encouragement to others. In Your name, Jesus. Amen.
The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. James 1:19
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24
Growing up in an Italian family, our Christmas dinner was quite a feast. On top of the traditional ham and turkey, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, we had lasagna, stuffed shells and baked ziti. Food was spread out as far as the eye could see. Yet, with everything that was on full display, there was one item on the menu that tended to go unnoticed and untouched. If you weren’t paying attention, you might have missed it. This special side dish was a helping of eggshells that lined the floor we made sure not to walk on. Just like most families, ours had topics that were forbidden. There were conversations that needed to take place that never did.
Eggshells are the things we lay down that keep people from telling us what we need to hear. One of the biggest tragedies is how isolated and lonely we become with our eggshells. They harm every facet of our lives. When we live our lives walking on eggshells, crucial conversations never take place. It’s been said that you can measure the health of a relationship by measuring the number of undiscussables. Our relational limits are determined by what remains off limits in our conversations.
We might not see it as such, but conflict is an opportunity for growth. If we find ourselves stuck in a relationship, it means there is a crucial conversation that needs to take place. When crucial conversations exist, it does mean there are strong opinions, high emotions and high stakes. But, what is at stake is our personal growth and the growth of our relationships. To love someone is to enter into a relationship by speaking the truth in love. We are moving the eggshells to the side and making a clear path for connection. When you find yourself in a relationship where anything can be said, you have found yourself in a healthy place.
- How would your relationships be different if you responded rather than reacted with your words?
- What conversation are you not having (or not having well)? Where are you having conversations yet failing to address an issue that might be causing conflict? How is it causing you to feel stuck?
- In your conversations, what are you keeping off limits? How is this limiting the depth of your relationship with the other person?
- What are you afraid of losing if you engage in a crucial conversation that needs to take place? What is the potential for growth in this area?
God, there are a few conversations I’ve put off having for far too long. The elephant in the room has grown so large I can no longer pretend it doesn’t exist. It must be addressed and pointed out. Even though I don’t know how my words will be received, I pray that I have the courage to go anyway. Allow me to pursue understanding, harmony and unity. May I be quick to listen and slow to speak. Above all else, may my words be guided and directed by Your love. In Your name, Jesus. Amen.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:16
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. James 1:19-21
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
Having a birthday in late November, I have a love-hate relationship with decorating for Christmas. We wait until after November 28th to put up our decorations, and we take them down by January 1st to start the new year with a clean and organized house. Each year, we choose a tree, make cookies and decorate the house together as family. We take our time and make memories together.
The same cannot be said for taking down the decorations. It’s an “all hands on deck” type of event. We are so exhausted from the holidays that there are times when we have haphazardly packed up our decorations. It’s fine in January, but come December we regret our haste. Frosty is missing his corncob pipe. Rudolph’s nose is not so bright… or nowhere to be found. Our carelessness caused damage.
The same brokenness can take place in our relationships if we don’t slow down and appreciate them. When there is tension in our relationships, it’s very easy for us to place the blame on someone else’s shoulders. We begin to craft a story about the person on the other side. The more we personalize and make ourselves the victim in our story, the more likely we aren’t seeing the whole picture. There are more than two sides to every story. We have our side, the other person’s side, and then the truth. This is why we must assault our own story to see where we are off base.
Yet, we are hesitant to consider what role we might have played in that broken relationship. Maybe we weren’t careful with our words. Perhaps our actions were done without thinking. We could have allowed our agenda, our wants and our needs to take priority over any one else’s.
A flourishing relationship requires two people to be fully engaged and own their part. In those relationships that are disconnected, don’t allow your pride, anger, fear or insecurity to prevent you from pursing restoration. Forgiveness is the glue that can bind two broken pieces back together.
- Where does relational discord exist in your life? What created this tension?
- What part of the conflict do you need to own in these broken relationships? How have your words, actions or even indifference allowed the divide to grow?
- What would it look to lay down your pride, “go first” and ask for forgiveness?
God, when I’ve been hurt, I want to be the judge, jury and jailor. I am quick to point out why the other person is at fault. Yet, when it is my words or actions that have caused pain, I’m quick to ignore, justify or excuse away my behavior. Today, I want to own up to my part. There are broken relationships in my life because of the poor choices I have made. May I put my pride aside and be vulnerable enough to ask for forgiveness. In Your name, Jesus. Amen.