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The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole is a Christmas tradition. The funny thing about traditions is they can bind us together or tear us apart. Every Christmas movie shows us the parental figures clinging to a nostalgic past while the younger generation harps for something new. The power of traditions is that they can bring the generations together. Traditions bridge the generations together like batons passed from one to another. The Christmas song has become a longstanding tradition, but most are unaware it has been rerecorded twice! I was shocked to think that someone would mess with a classic. The first recording was in 1946. Cole rerecorded the song in 1953. Now, let’s be honest, if anyone wants to change a family tradition after 6 years, they might as well write themselves out of the will. To my surprise, Cole did it again in 1961, 8 years later he rerecorded over a 15 year Christmas tradition. I am a traditionalist, but I am also a realistic. Growing up, I remember making a fire in our fireplace during the Christmas season. When we moved to Corona, we put in a gas fire place. No kindling, no lighter fluid, no wheel barrels of wood. Just a lighter and a knob. It was really a strategic move with four boys. I did not really want them to be proficient at starting fires. JK. But, celebrating Christmas is not in a wood fire. It is not in who’s at the dining room table to who’s not. It’s not fighting the crowds at the mall. It is not in the hustle and bustle of decorating. It’s in celebrating God becoming flesh and dwelling among us. Christmas traditions can be modified, renewed, or updated. But, celebrating Christ on Christmas is what really matters. Taking time to slow down and ponder the miracle of Christmas. Taking a moment to praise the God of the universe. Taking time to pray and thank Him for sending His son. The scene of the first Christmas was astounding. We had messengers of the Lord praising His name and sending ordinary shepherds to Jesus. They testified what they witnessed and then went spreading the good news to everyone who would listen. But in Luke 2:19 is says, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” As we celebrate Christmas through our traditions, let us not forget why we are doing them in first place.
Merry Christmas, Pastor Jon
One of the most iconic moments in sport history happened in the fall of 1988. Every little leaguer has dreamed of the words, “bottom of the ninth, full count, two outs. Down by two with a runner on.” Who would have believed a hobbled outfielder would hit a home-run in the bottom of the 9th off baseball’s best closer? Kirk Gibson pulled off the impossible. His double arm-pump around second base has been etched in Dodger Fan lore forever. Along with this iconic scene of a hero rounding the bases is another image that lives in infamy. As you see the ball fly over right field, you can see the sea of break lights leaving the stadium! People who had a first row seat for history forfeited it for less traffic. Why? I believe it was because of their faith. They did the math. Eckersley with a one run lead, the game is over. Let’s go home and beat the traffic. They did not believe the Dodgers would come back to win. And like those fans, I believe a lot of us do the same kind of math on Sunday morning as well. We've been there and done that. We are tired. Exhausted. We heard sermon after sermon. We sung song after song. We tell ourselves, “we will not really miss anything if we stay home this week.” Let’s beat the rush and go to brunch instead. In 2nd Chronicles 7, Solomon prays after the temple is complete and we are told what happens next. Fire came down from heaven, consumed the burnt offering, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. Would you want to be at brunch and get a text telling you about the Glory of the Lord filling the meeting house? Or would you want to witness it with your own eyes? I believe God is doing miracles each time we gather together and give him praise. Scripture tells us that we are His temples and He dwells amongst us. How can the reality of God’s presence be trumped for shorter lines at lunch? I pray that our faith not only keeps us coming to the stadium, but that we have enough faith to stay till the final out.
In Christ, Pastor Jon
In Matthew 17, we see the law and prophets authenticate Jesus’ ministry by Moses and Elijah. Then we hear God speak. God tells Peter, James, and John that Jesus is His son and is well pleased with Him. Then He gives them instructions. This is not the first time He has given instructions to His creation. God tells Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and take care of His creation. God tells Moses to go to Pharaoh so he can deliver His people. God gives Moses commandments for His people to follow. God tells Gideon that men who cup water with their hands must stay and fight. God tells Jeremiah to buy a waistband and place it near the Euphrates and allow the elements to deteriorate its value. Then God tells Jeremiah to wear it to show the nation their futile efforts in following other gods. God has given instructions to his creation on multiple occasions. God could have given another set of commandments to Peter, James, and John. The transfiguration is parallel to Moses on Mount Sinai. And instead of a brand new set of commandments, God gives them one! “Listen to Him.” In the first encounter, Moses brings down 10 boundary markers for God’s people to live by. The second encounter, God tells his people that if they do this one thing they will have the life God has intended for them to have. That’s it. Only one instruction. Only one commandment. The secret to life is wrapped up in the instruction God gives to Peter, James, and John. Listen to him. Our task is to listen to what Jesus told us to do. A lawyer asked Jesus the meaning of life and Jesus told him to love God with all of his heart, mind, and strength and love his neighbor as himself. Jesus' final instructions to his followers was to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to obey everything he commanded. If you want to have the life that God has always intended for you to have, listen to Jesus. Are you listening today?
Blessings, Pastor Jon Castillo
Imagine the setting; you are floating on the Sea of Galilee. You are with your co-workers. Some are more experienced on the water than others. The wind put you out a considerable distance from the shore. You’ve had a long day at work and you are rocked to sleep by the soothing sound of the waves crashing against the boat. Around 3:00am, you are startled by one of your coworkers. “Hey, wake up!” You slowly gather your senses and realize what’s going on. Everyone is pointing and asking, “Do you see it?” “It’s right there,” they say. You can hear it in their voice, they are terrified. “It’s a ghost!” someone shouts. It’s coming towards us!! Fear takes over your whole body. You’re paralyzed. You try your best to grab an oar, but you can’t. Then you hear a voice, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” You recognize the voice, but it doesn’t make sense. How could our Master be on the water? We are so far from shore, the wind was kicking up waves on our boat, and there was no appearance of another object that was keeping Him afloat. Then Peter yells, “If it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.” I heard it, but, seriously? Who does Peter think he is? He is not going to walk to our Master. He is posturing like he always does. And then, he does. His body told the story. He walks to the edge of the boat. He takes one step on water. He stepped with caution. You could see when he was confident that He would not sink, he took the second step. The second step was wobbly, but firm. He did it! Peter was mirroring our Master. They were both doing something impossible. But it all changes in a split second. Peter began to sink. He had the same fear come over him as the rest of us. He yelled, “Lord, save me!” Our master reached out his hand and pulled him from the water. They both climbed in the boat. Peter was soaked. But, not humiliated. On the contrary, he was elated. He worshiped our Master. We all followed suit. We praised our Master. Looking back, at that evening we learned a lot. We all had no problem worshiping and praising our Master when he was in the boat. Only one of us had the courage to follow him in unchartered water! Are you only willing to worship your Master in a familiar setting? Or are you willing to follow Him in unchartered water?
In Christ, Pastor Jon
Raising children has its challenges. Especially, if you have a little tattle tail! No sibling likes being tattled on. There is a common agreement amongst sibling; avoid parental involvement at all costs! The sibling code is to handle all arguments internally. Keep as much away from your parents as possible. The tattle tale breaks ranks. They lay out all the information that was supposed to be secret. Siblings get angry at the tattle tale for that very reason; for bringing information to the light that was intended to be left in the dark. Matthew 12 tells us that out of the heart, the mouth speaks. What Jesus is telling us is our mouths are going to tattle on our hearts! We want things left in the dark. We want to handle things internally. We don’t want anyone to know what we’ve done. And then boom, we open our mouths!! Guess what comes out… all the stuff we didn’t want anyone to know. We try to compensate for our insecurities. We wear a mask and hope people do not look too close. We want people to think we are secure and mature. But, then our mouths tattle on us. The moment we start to gossip we tell everyone how insecure we are. We tattle on our own insecurity by highlighting others. We tattle on our jealousy by putting down others’ success. We are scared of being judged so we judge others. Our mouths are tattling on our hearts everyday. The only thing that is going to come out of our mouth is what is stored up in our hearts. According to Jeremiah, our hearts are so twisted and self absorbed that it is impossible to set straight. What is in our heart is going to come out. So, the only thing we can do is have a heart transplant. Jesus tells Nicodemus that his heart of stone must be made into a heart of flesh. The system is set. You are going to be tattled on. There is no hiding from it. It is good or bad. Either good fruit or bad fruit. We can’t help it. It will happen all by itself. Your mouth is going to show others who you are. Your mouth is going to tattle on how forgiving you are. Your mouth is going to tattle how you are full of grace. You mouth is going to tattle how much you give others the benefit of the doubt. Your mouth is going to tattle how much joy you have in your heart. What is your mouth going to tattle on you today?
In Christ, Pastor Jon
What do you do? This is the question that's asked of you right after someone learns your name. It helps people figure out who you are. Our identity is tied to so many things, but our job often defines us. In the book, Emotional Survival in Law Enforcement, the author actually gives sound advice for officers to make a conscious decision to make friends with people outside their profession. Why? Because it is unhealthy to define one's life by what you do. If your job goes south, so does your identity. If you are passed up for a promotion, you will automatically suffer emotional turmoil. You will begin to doubt and question your place in the world. The only way to help us overcome this common trap is to place our Identity in Christ, and Christ alone. The last stanza of the popular hymn shows us how important it is to place our identity in Christ and the peace that comes when we do. We are no longer threatened from any outside influence. We no longer have to compete to keep our significance in the world. Christ offers a peace that puts our fears and insecurities to rest for good. 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us we are new creations. As new creations we are free to live as Christ intended us to live.
No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the pow'r of Christ in me
From Life's first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow'r of hell,
No scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand
'Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the pow'r of Christ I'll stand.
In Christ, Pastor Jon
On my run the other day, I noticed my neighbor's tree. The tree’s roots had grown so much that it cracked the surrounding planter. At first thought, I was bummed for the planter and the person who installed it. I imagined the hard work it took to carefully place each brick and the time it took to mix the cement. I imagined what it must have felt like to have completed a job well done that beautified the front yard. Then, to see all your hard work go to waste because of roots. It must have been discouraging to say the least. But, then a deeper spiritual principal hit me. The roots did what they were designed to do. The bricks were an attempt to hinder the roots growth. The planter was like a prison wall trying to siphon off the potential ways the roots could grow. The planter was very much like the lies of the enemy. The purpose of the lie is to limit growth. When we believe the lie that God does not love us because of something we did, it stunts our growth. When we believe the lie that we are not as valuable as our neighbor, our roots dry up. But, the image that stood out to me was the root cracking and breaking through the planter. The roots grew so big and sunk so deep that the planter could no longer hold the roots. That is what it is like when we begin to believe our identity is solely in Christ and Christ alone. When we believe the truth that Jesus loves you, you will no longer be imprisoned by the enemy’s lies. When you believe the truth that you are saved by grace, hand crafted and have been given an eternal purpose, then no bricks will be strong enough to hold you in. Neil T. Anderson has a helpful list of helping people find out who they are in Christ. Neil breaks our identity down into three categories: 1) We are accepted. 2) We are secure. And 3) We are significant. We experience acceptance. We live a life free from the fear of being rejected. When we are secure in our relationships, jealousy and insecurity evaporate. And when we recognize our eternal inherent value and worth, we no longer build our identity on what other people tell us. When we believe what God’s word says about us, our roots grow so deep that it will break any barrier trying to limit our growth. I pray your identity is rooted in Christ and continues to break through the lies of the enemy.
In Christ, Pastor Jon
I remember purchasing my first cell phone. I was stunned to find out it came with a two year contract. All the “What if” questions came to my mind. What if there is some terrible tragedy that would happen and I can’t pay? Do they repossess my phone like they would my car? Does a big scary guy come and take my phone right out of my pocket? What if a better phone came out while I was still in my contract? Two years is long time. To be honest with you, I think every time I mention about getting involved in a ministry all the “What ifs” run through your mind as well. What if I am not good enough? What if I say something wrong? What if I don’t like serving in that ministry? Will I get kicked out if I am not good at it? How long do I have to serve? Is this a life sentence? All valid questions. But, we forget Jesus gave us the freedom of a Costco return policy. In John 1, Andrew asked Jesus where he was staying and Jesus replied, “Come and See.” Jesus did not ask for a two year commitment from Andrew. Just a willingness to see what it was all about. Andrew would later follow Jesus’ invitation to a life long apprenticeship, but the first thing he had to do was to see what it was all about. I ask that you follow in Andrew’s footsteps. Be willing to see what serving is all about. You will not be asked to sign a two year commitment. You will not get kicked out of church. All I ask is that you be willing to “Come and See.” It will be like the free samples at Costco. Just try one. If you don’t like, great. If you do, great. Just be willing to see. When Jesus answered Andrew, he wanted to know if Andrew wanted to see. And the only way to find out was to follow Jesus. I pray that you are willing to see what Jesus is doing. All you have to do is show up one time. If you like, great. If you don’t, great.
Just be willing.
In Christ, Pastor Jon
There is a powerful scene in the movie "Saving Private Ryan". Tom Hanks' character, Captain Miller, last words to Private Ryan were "Earn This." Can you imagine the amount of pressure and guilt Private Ryan must have had as he witnessed men give up their lives for him? How could you possibly know if you ever measured up? How could you ever know if you ever lived a life worthy of such a sacrifice? But, if you think about it, we are all like Private Ryan. Jesus said there is no greater love for someone than to lay down his life for his friends. Jesus, like Captain Miller's men, laid down their lives. But, Jesus did not tell you to earn it. Why? Because Jesus knew love is not about obligation but volition. He did not die to bring to life a guilt based system. He died for the exact opposite. He died to free you from the shackles of guilt and works. That system is spiritually dead that leads to an internal hamster wheel. Always striving but never arriving. Jesus' death frees you from such a bleak existence. His life and death lead to everlasting joy and purpose. His last words were about what we are supposed to do and how He will be by our side while we do it. He said show others how to live out my life lessons; and, I will be with when you do. Have you ever taken an open book test with the teacher there to answer questions? A test like that would hardly be a test at all. A test like that passes itself. If you can see, Jesus wants you to pass this test! He makes Himself available and gives you the answers. He requires us to take Him at His Word. Will you? Will you show others how live out His life lesson? Or will you take another lap on the hamster wheel of works and guilt?