Dead of Winter

by Velma Amundson

My mother has been visiting us over Christmas. We were talking the other day about being in the “dead of winter”. You know, that time of year when Christmas is over, it’s too cold to go out and “do” anything, it’s dark, and seemingly hopeless. I will admit that I have problems with winter. It’s too long and cold for me, and I end up feeling restless and a little lost. OK, sad might work. I look at the snow covering the green grass, the trees, and everywhere and I feel just as blanketed as the world outside.

But, we’ve just entered the season of Epiphany in the church year. For me it’s when we look at how Christ’s light shines in the world. We see how He is God, our Savior,His beauty and glory light up a world darkened by sin. January’s “The Lutheran Ambassador” showed various ways that Christ’s light shines. For me it shines in the “dead of winter” with the promise that God made:

“While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22, ESV).

I know I can make it through winter, or hard times, or anything else because of Christ’s promise of resurrection, both His and ours at the last days. No matter how dark and bleak winter might get, Christ’s light is never extinguished. I pray that Christ’s light will illuminate your walk and your life. God bless you.

Editor’s note:  You can also connect with the Ambassador Magazine on Facebook.

Some 2013 Maybes

by Sarah Langness

The first few week of January is probably one of my least favorite times of year. Christmas is officially over. Stores have already clearanced all things Christmas to make room for Valentine’s decor; the radio stations no longer play music celebrating the Savior’s birth or anticipating the arrival of Santa Claus; and life has simply returned to normal. Relatives return home. Classes resume. Life goes on. And while returning to the routine of life is good, I miss the joy, the awe, the wonder, the fun that Christmas brings.

As I moped over the fact that Christmas has indeed come to a close this past week, I spent some solid time considering what exactly it is about Christmas that I love so much. Here’s what I came up with:

  • The music. I love the hymns we sing in church, going caroling, and playing Christmas music while I bake or sip some coffee. Sure there is great “non-Christmas” music; but you’ve got to admit with me that there is something great about Christmas albums, no?
  • Everyone seems happier. Sure, there’s still a Grinch or two or three out there, but there seems to be this joy that is contagious wherever I go. I like that.
  • People seem less selfish. Yeah, there’s a bounty of selfishness at Christmas time as we focus on ourselves, what we want to get. But for some, there’s a focus on “What can I give to show my family/friends how much I love them? how much I appreciate them?”
  • The beautiful lights, trees and other decorations. Christmas lights on a dark night reflecting off the snow? Absolutely beautiful. Christmas trees? They seem to hold a certain fascinating beauty too.
  • Seeing family. Although 500 plus miles separate us from Jordan and I’s families, we still had an opportunity to see them during the Christmas season. I am so blessed by each and every one of them.
  • Having our mailbox stocked full of Christmas cards and letters from loved ones rather than bills, ads, and junk mail. This is the one time of year that it seems we are remembered by more than Chase, MDU, and the City of Beulah.
After making this list, I decided that most of those things I can do — I should do — every month of the year. Sure, I might not want to listen to “Let it Snow” in July, but why not something like “O Come All Ye Faithful”? And although  Christmas lights and trees are indeed beautiful, there is other beauty around me that I consistently take for granted. Like the bright beauty of the moon on a clear night or the awe-striking colors in the sunrise.
And why, oh why, does it take a holiday for me to think about something to give my loved ones? Why do I spend days, even weeks, pondering what to give my husband for Christmas when I should be giving to him daily? Maybe not buying an expensive or elaborate gift for him each day – but shouldn’t I always be thinking of him before myself? How I can put his needs above my own. How I can serve him with love and respect. How I can support him best in his ministry. And why does that stop with family? How can I bless my neighbors? The clerks at the store? My church family?

“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” –
Galatians 6:9-10

I’m not one for New Year’s Resolutions. But I think this year I’ll try and keep the spirit of Christmas alive despite the coming of January. Maybe that means I’ll be listening to Kenny G in April. Maybe that means I’ll take time to soak up the beauty of the Lord’s creation when I would otherwise complain about the heat in August. Maybe it means your mailbox will be hearing from me more often throughout the year. Maybe I’ll begin to focus less on my self every day and more on those around me.

Who’s with me?

Don’t Touch my Knock-Off Uggs: Thoughts on Trust from a Greedy College Student

by Liz Johnson

Ever have one of those Sundays? You know, the Sunday mornings that you see the title of the message on the bulletin or hear the pastor’s intro, and instantly you know.

I got this.
I’m good on that.
I’ll sit back and enjoy my coffee or look for gum in my purse now.

I had one of those on Sunday. As soon as I heard, “Don’t love money, but be satisfied with what you have,” I settled into my chair a bit more relaxed. Money’s actually not a huge deal for me, I thought. Yeah, I think I’m good on that. I’ll sit back now and sip my gourmet coffee.

See, I think I’m okay with money – safe to say I don’t even love it all that much. I pay my bills, and I’m completely satisfied with my dented Chevy Malibu, even if the steering wheel is duct-tapped and I can’t express my frequent road rage with a horn. I wear knock-off Ugg boots, buy groceries from Aldi, and was once told that my snow-scraper looks like it was purchased from the clearance rack at Dollar Tree. The School of Hard Knocks: Pastor’s Kid Edition taught me a thing or two about being frugal with my hard-earned bills.
Before you think I’m going to plant my hands on my hips and preach from my soapbox (which is placed ever-so-precariously atop my small mountain of student debt), let me reassure you: I was wrong.

 

The more the pastor explained Hebrews 13:5-6, the more I began reconsidering my knee-jerk confidence on the money issue. Loving money, he said, is more than just wanting fancy cars (maybe an updated Malibu with airbags still inside the steering wheel?) or designer jeans. It’s being less than satisfied with what you have and looking for satisfaction and security outside of the arms of Christ. The writer of Hebrews goes on to say that we shouldn’t love money because God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.”

That made me think. 

No, I don’t look for my identity in money. But I do worry about it. I worry about it a lot. Sometimes it makes me so anxious that I push it away – I shove aside the budget plans and the bank statements, the gas receipts and the Dave Ramsey manuals from my parents. Even when I push it away, it’s still on my mind. I don’t necessarily want to make 6-digits someday (although please e-mail me directly if you know of a teaching job offering such a payment package), but I want to make enough. I want to assure myself of safety, security, and hopefully prosperity, too. Maybe I don’t want the Coach purse or the spring break trip to the Bahamas, but I do want control.

When I step back and look at the reality of my grip on money – and the things it can provide – I see white knuckles, clenched fists. I see my lack of trust in God for safety, security and fulfillment and see my own attempts to provide those things for myself.

Truth is, the reality of my own issues with money runs deeper and looks uglier than what I even recognize. While I sometimes feel like I’m doing a stellar job of trusting God to provide for me at this point in my life, things get dicey when He prompts me to give. I sponsor a Compassion child, isn’t that enough, Lord?

He tells me to give, and give cheerfully, willingly. My knuckles get whiter. My fists clench tighter.

I don’t want to pay for the gas to pick her up.
I should only have to pay for my meal, not her’s, too.
I just bought that sweater and it was expensive – she’ll ruin it if she borrows it.

How many times do I let my desire for self-provided security and comfort drown out God’s voice, asking me to trust him? How many times do I let fear ravage my mind, or let greed squelch out opportunities to love people with what I have? God promises to never fail me. He promises to never abandon me. Anxiety and greed are never outpourings of a heart fully trusting in the hand of God.

Trust in God is pink-knuckled (or brown knuckled, or whatever color your knuckles are when they’re not white). It’s fists unclenched. It’s palms up, arms out, full embrace of security and fulfillment in our King. His generosity is wild. He’s given us everything.

He’s given Himself.

Whose Calendar

by Jonni Sliver

December 21st came and went and we’re still here! I have to say I was amazed at the hoopla made over an event on a calendar of civilization that ceased to exist more than a thousand years ago. And the stock piling of food and preparations for the end were not limited to the U.S., here in Brazil you heard more about the 21st than you did Christmas (I wonder how many people put off their shopping to the 22nd, hoping they wouldn’t have to!). And just one week after the Mayan calendar proved wrong, my internet search page scrolled one of the most popular searches of the day “2040 asteroid” I didn’t open it, but if I were a betting girl I would put money in the article being about the newest reason to prepare for the end of the world. If the Millennium Bug didn’t get us, and the Mayans missed something in the stars, maybe it is a piece of the star that will do it after all. My first reaction was to laugh. My second was to cry. Why is it so easy to believe in every absurd thing, but not the faithful promises of our Lord!?!

Everybody has faith in something, it is part of our nature. For many it is science (in my personal opinion – our feeble attempts to understand the greatness of God without giving Him the credit), our own wit and wisdom (like stock piling water and canned goods will save us if the world explodes?), what we read in the paper, see in the news or download off the internet. But the God given need to believe was meant to be met with a knowledge of God’s faithfulness and mighty power, and result in faith that does not disappoint!

Will the world end one day? Yes. Will it be because of freak accident of nature, the ecological results of our selfishness? No. The world will end when our Father declares that it is the final day. Should we prepare? Of course! Appropriate preparation goes far beyond buying gold and stocking up on water. We need to draw close to the Lord, and be about His business. We need to declare the hope of His Gospel while there is time. How long do we have? Only the Father knows, which means we need to get busy! Don’t worry about asteroids; set your eyes on the Bright Morning Star, and shine for Him! Happy New Year!

Our Temporary Homes

by Sarah Nelson

“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”  2 Corinthians 5:1

We’re a few days away from our house in Michigan being sold and a few weeks away from the closing on our new home here in Oregon.  The past few months we have set up house in a sweet but small rental home.  The pancake griddle is housed in the garage, the panini maker in the master bedroom, and boxes holding things we keep wondering about are tucked too far back in storage to get them out.  Living just a few minutes from a state park and the ocean, it truly feels like we’ve been camping out, (with the luxury of our own bed and bathroom).

As excited as I am that our house in Michigan (and it’s mortgage) will no longer be ours,  my heart wanes nostalgic when I think of all the memories that we made there and that as of the final sale, no more Nelson family get-togethers will be held under that roof.  While I am so very much looking forward to settling in to our new not too small, not too big house and making it our home, I realize that it too is a temporary dwelling.

As birthdays go by and health challenges have been added to my life’s resume, I’m reminded (and  sometimes painfully so), that my body is temporary.   While taking good care of it by nourishing it correctly, exercising it properly, medicating it as necessary, and resting it, my body and yours will wear out.   This past year because of a health crisis, a lot of my time, energy, and focus has been devoted towards taking care of my body.   Temporary efforts to improve the quality of life this side of eternity.

Houses, bodies, circumstances, they are all temporary dear sisters!  Does this mean they are not important?  No!  They are a reflection of God’s design and artistry, and are to be used for His glory and honor. We live lives of gratitude when we care for and cherish the bodies, homes, and temporal blessings God has given to us.   Sometimes though, we can all too quickly forget that the homes we live in, the bodies that we inhabit, and the possessions we count as ours, are not all there is.  Our real home is heaven where eternity will be made known in it’s fullness to us.  As we tend to all that He has given us during this earthly life, let us remember that we have a permanent and forever gift in our salvation.  A salvation that endures throughout eternity!

Merry Christmas!

by Velma Amundson

Editor’s Note:  In the AFLC, we celebrate the Christmas Season from Christmas Day up until January 5th, then we celebrate the coming of the Magi on January 6th which we call Epiphany.  So, I am really only a couple of days late with this post! 🙂  All of us here on this blog pray you had a blessed Christmas and that you will have an awesome New Year in 2013!

Our youth group led the Christmas eve worship service again this year…we had “smelly” shepherds and angels roaming the congregation during the sermon. Not exactly what you would have expected. But it fit perfectly.

I have to tell you about this group. We’re very proud of them. Every year the youth group asks for a family in the Abused Resource Center to go shopping for. They raise money through the year so that they have enough to go shopping. Then they go shopping during the first couple weeks of December. The youth themselves pick out the gifts, wrap them and one of the adults delivers them to the Resource center. They never see the family they’ve shopped for, but they are very enthusiastic about what they do. This year they went shopping for a family that consists of a single mother and her 7 plus (one due any day) children. They had so much fun wrapping the gifts and showing them off to anyone willing to look. This is the same group that keeps inviting their friends to come to Confirmation with them. (And their friends do, and tend to stay!)

Our youth show us the Spirit of CHRISTmas by what they do, with their willingness and enthusiasm for helping others, by sharing the message of the Gospel with their friends, and by doing any task we throw at them.  They make sharing the Gospel look easy.  They just do it.

I pray that in the coming year, this same Spirit will dwell within you. That you would be enthusiastic for Christ. I pray that God would richly bless you.

Thanks from the Coyles

Aside

Dear WMF Friends,

Thank you so much for your support of the Bible School Ministry here in Ukraine. Your prayers are integral, and we depend on them as we look to the Lord for His grace and power to work in and among us here.

Our Bible School students are on Christmas break now, and we request prayer for them as they spend time with their families and close ones. Would you pray especially for protection, assurance and comfort of His presence, guidance in family relationships, opportunities to share the Lord, and for His blessing in their lives? They are an awesome group, and we know you would love them!

We hope that each of you has a joy-filled and peaceful Christmas as we celebrate our Savior.

Love in Christ,
Andy and Monica Coyle