Please know you are being prayed for in the final days of preparation for all you have to do for your Christmas services. I'm sure you are exhausted and stressed, but I pray that in your heart you'll know the peace that comes from serving our Prince of Peace. I wanted to take a few minutes to remind you of the resources available to you from Effective Church Communications and then a personal update about the fire situation.
Christmas Resources: ECC has Templates for every aspect of Christmas, CLICK HERE to go to them. At the top of page are some FREE ones that you can use to share the gospel message this Christmas.
Training class on Successful Seasonal Strategies: next week, after Christmas if you have some time check out this class and you'll be a step ahead of preparations for a successful Easter Celebration. ClICK HERE to go to the Church Communications Training School.
Read through the Bible materials—the MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do in the coming year: my favorite personal spiritual discipline and I think the most important one is where I read through the Bible every year in chronological order. I would invite you to join me in this and I promise it will change your life. CLICK HERE to go to the schedules and motivational material I have on it.
What's next—you won't be hearing a lot from me until the first of the year as I will be working intensely on finishing training classes and other new material and I trust you'll have a little time off after Christmas. Regardless, know my thoughts and prayers are with all of you and I look forward to what the coming year will bring as we serve our Lord Jesus and get ever closer to the day we see Him face to face.
UPDATE on the California Fires
It's been two weeks since the fires started and today was the first day they didn't occupy most of my mind as I worked.
For the first week there was the constant, close, physical threat as our city continued to burn; after the fire moved north, the smoke and ash made it impossible for someone like me with lungs scarred from many bouts of pneumonia when I was younger to go outside. It was hard to sleep at night with the helicopters and water planes flying overhead and when the Santa Ana winds would start howling, I prayed another fire wouldn't start and tear through another city.
All of that is incredibly minor.
Our home and homes of immediate families safe. So many, many stories of God's incredible intervention. My younger sister lives just below where many homes burned. Her neighborhood was evacuated, but scattered homes were burning because of the winds and flying embers. She was down in LA taking care of grandkids when she had the sense she HAD to get home. She got in the care, drove through some scary fires burning near the road. When she got to Ventura, she wasn't supposed to go to her neighborhood, but again felt she had to go home. When she got there, she went to her back yard and the porch of the neighbor behind her had caught fire from an ember. It was just starting to burn. She immediately called 911 and she and some neighbors got their garden hoses out and put out the fire. If she hadn't listened to the Lord, that home, most likely her home, and many others would have been destroyed.
The fire fighters have done an extraordinary job, but this fire is so huge, covers so many, many miles at the same time and the fierce winds that have come along with it have blown embers all over. Though they aren't supposed to fight fires with garden hoses, the incredible fire fighters can't be everywhere. They cannot contain all the fires started by flying embers. More and more stories are coming out of people like my sister who took what they had, did what they could, where they were.
It's the same challenge for all of us
In very truth, we are all about rescue from fires far more lasting and destructive than what California is experiencing.
I've been reminded lately that when we talk about salvation, we tend to say, "I'm saved" thinking primarily of the present tense. And that is true, but not the whole story. In much of the Bible, salvation is specifically about being saved from a future time of wrath and judgment.
A day of wrath is that day, A day of trouble and distress, A day of destruction and desolation, A day of darkness and gloom, A day of clouds and thick darkness. . . . . . Neither their silver nor their gold Will be able to deliver them On the day of the LORD'S wrath; And all the earth will be devoured In the fire of His jealousy, For He will make a complete end, Indeed a terrifying one, Of all the inhabitants of the earth. Zephaniah 1:15, 18
So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Luke 3:7
They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. 1 Thes. 1:9-10
Our salvation is not only for this present time, but in a way more glorious than we can imagine, when the time comes for God to bring down the curtain on the present age and ushers in the new heavens and new earth, then we will be saved. That is what the Old Testament prophets, Jesus, and Paul were talking about. Peter sums up both our challenge and hope in this reality.
Yet it remains true that the day of the Lord will come as suddenly and unexpectedly as a thief. In that day the heavens will disappear in a terrific tearing blast, the very elements will disintegrate in heat and the earth and all that is in it will be burnt up to nothing.
In view of the fact that all these things are to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be? Surely men of good and holy character, who live expecting and earnestly longing for the coming of the day of God. True, this day will mean that the heavens will disappear in fire and the elements disintegrate in fearful heat, but our hopes are set not on these but on the new Heaven and the new earth which he has promised us, and in which nothing but good shall live. 2 Peter 3:10-13
We have work to do and may we do it faithfully as we wait for our coming and complete salvation.
The hard times ahead for the fire victims
Some of you know that about 15 years ago our U-Haul was stolen when we were moving back from Florida. Because of some fine print, we were told our truck was too heavy and the insurance wouldn't pay for our loss. God worked a miracle in that they found the truck and boxes containing all our important papers, books, ministry materials, and some Christmas ornaments were still in it. The police told us typically the stolen trucks were burned by the thieves, but that "Obviously when they got to those little white boxes (the ones from office supply stores that were all in the front of the van), something scared them off."
That was an incredible mercy. But everything else was gone, memories, clothes, computers, and every practical item.
I know from personal experience that after a loss like this, God is more real and present than can be imagined. He is everything we need and from that experience I can say it with a certainty I wouldn't have had without it.
But I also know the long recovery and the funny times when you look for something and then tell yourself, "oh, that's gone." I know if you don't have insurance a life-erasing loss like that is something nearly impossible to recover from.
Many people in our area have experienced far more devastating loss and the community and the churches are doing extraordinary things, but no matter what they do, the pain is deep and the road to recovery long.
Please pray for the people, for the churches, for all of us that no matter what part we play in the healing of our community that we will be a witness to our community and that through this disaster many will come to know Jesus who will eternally save them.
For me please continue to pray for strength, healing, and the ability to work hard and focus on the ministry. I have a nasty bronchial infection from the smoke. I'm very tired from the stress.
But I am excited about the ministry, about building the Church Communications training school, and all of the opportunities we have in church communications to share Jesus.
I can't tell you how much it has meant to me the many of you who reached out with notes and prayers. Some of you took my seminars many years ago and I remember you well still. Many are newer friends online. I think also in times like this what a joy it will be before Jesus to see all of you face to face.
One last verse for a prayer for all of us:
But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. Acts 20:24