merry christmas

Advent Deeper: Prince of Peace

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Isaiah 9:6

Prince of Peace.
It’s what the Israelites expected to find in their Messiah.

They were looking for someone who would bring an end to their oppression.
One who would overthrow their countless captors and rule their nation.
Someone who would restore prosperity, hope, and wealth into their hands.
One who could put an end to the centuries of turmoil, persecution, and degradation, and place them back as the apple of God’s eye.

The Israelites wanted rest from their struggles. 
And they were looking for a Messiah who would bring it to them.

And then Jesus enters the scene.
Coming in as a baby.
Born on the floor of a barn.
To an unwed, teenage mother.
In the lowliest of towns.

He taught a message of loving one’s enemies. Blessing those who persecute you. Obeying the masters above you. He embraced sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes, while judging the religious elite. He seemed more bent on correcting the Israelites than freeing them from their captors.

He died before he overthrew their oppressors.
Spent too much time healing the sick to establish a throne.
He never got around to building an army and giving them their own country again.

Their Messiah didn’t bring them peace.
Not in the way they expected.

They were looking for earthly peace. 
An end to turmoil and suffering.

Christ gave them something more.

The word we translate as peace in the above verse is the Hebrew word שָׁלוֹם (shalom), and means completeness, soundness, welfare, peace, safety, health, prosperity, quiet, tranquility, contentment, and friendship.

Christ didn’t bring an end to their struggles. He didn’t come to make them wealthy and overthrow their oppressors. He didn’t establish an earthly kingdom and drive their enemies away so they could live in euphoria.

Christ came to make us complete.
Whole.
Restored to a place of friendship and contentment in God.

It’s what makes Him the true Prince of Peace.

So, my brothers and sisters, as we enter the final week of Advent, may you be reminded of the peace Christ brings into your life. May you see that true peace isn’t an absence of trouble, but the wholeness that comes from the presence of God. And may you, as you journey towards a greater level of peace in your life, come face to face with the God who is the true author of peace.

Where is God bringing true peace into your life?

Advent Deeper: Picked Out

“When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.”
Luke 1:57-58

Joy. It’s found throughout the Christmas story.

Angels proclaimed good news of great joy.
Mary experienced joy at the pronouncement of her conception.
Anna and Simeon encountered joy as they held the long-awaited Messiah.
Shepherds and Magi and the faithful few of Israel received joy upon knowing their Savior was born.

But none was as powerful as the joy experienced by Zechariah and Elizabeth.

Scripture tells us Zechariah and Elizabeth were upright in the eyes of the Lord, obeyed every commandment, every regulation blamelessly. They were descendants of Aaron, meaning Zechariah was a priest and Elizabeth in the bloodline of the priesthood. They were holy, set apart to do the work of the Lord.

Zechariah and Elizabeth were as faithful as they come. They did everything God asked, sought His face regularly, and pointed others to the truth of the God of Israel. But there was one problem:

They were barren.
And well along in years.

Zechariah and Elizabeth would have watched as those less faithful, those less obedient, those who gave no mind to the things of God received what they wanted: a child.

They would have fasted.
Prayed.
Cried out.
Sought counsel.
And wondered why what came easy for others, wouldn’t even happen for them through prayer, tears, and obedience.

It would have been easy for them to feel picked-on by God.

They did everything right. Made the appropriate sacrifices. Gave the correct tithe. Put Him as top priority in their lives.

And yet, nothing.
For decades.

God was distant, ignoring their prayers, and picking on them.

Then, after they had given up hope to ever have a child, an angel appears.
Elizabeth gets pregnant.
Zechariah is mute out of unbelief.

And John the Baptist is born.

Just because God doesn’t give us what we want when we want it, just because it seems difficult for us to receive what others (even those who don’t love God) receive with ease, doesn’t mean God is picking on us.

It means He has picked us out for something greater.

Zechariah and Elizabeth were picked out.
They were chosen.
They had the privilege and honor of parenting the one who would precede the Messiah.

It just took a little while for him to be born.

Zechariah and Elizabeth may not have experience joy during the wait, but when John was born, their joy eclipsed the pain of the wait.

So, my brothers and sisters, as we journey ever closer to celebrating the birth of Christ, may you be reminded that God’s delay doesn’t mean he’s picking on you. May you know that He is setting you up for something bigger. And may you, as you finally walk into the greater things, experience a joy that eclipses the pain of the wait.

What area in your life does it seem as if God is holding something back from you? How might he be setting you up for something greater?

Advent Deeper: Loving the Misfit

“Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.”
Matthew 1:16

Love. It’s the core of the Christmas story.

Mary’s love for God, enduring the sneers and comments of being an unwed, teenage mother.
Joseph’s love for Mary, choosing to stay with her when he had every right to publicly shame her.
God’s love for His creation in sending His own son to earth.

You can’t read the Christmas story without coming face to face with the truth of love.

But there’s another aspect of love in the Christmas story we tend to overlook.
The genealogy of Christ.

In this long list of people we don’t know and names we can’t pronounce, we get a glimpse into just how deep God’s love is for us.

When Christ striped himself of his divinity and chose to be born as a man, He could have picked any family line he wanted.

He could have come through the bloodline of impeccable royalty.
He could have stepped into the genealogy of the wealthy.
He could have chosen a family line that didn’t have huge secrets, embarrassing failures, and countless screw-ups.

Christ could have come through the best of the Israelites.
It’s what they had expected.

They wanted their Messiah to come through royalty.
They were expecting fanfare fit for a King.
They were convinced their Savior would be born into influence.

Instead, His bloodline was riddled with failures.

Abraham prostituted out his wife.
Isaac did the same.
Jacob lied, deceived, and stole from his brother.
Judah slept with a prostitute who ended up being his daughter-in-law Tamar.
Rahab was the prostitute who helped the Israelites in Jericho.
David committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed.

The list goes on and on.

Failures.
Screw-ups.
Misfits.
The lowly of the low.

This is the genealogy God chose to be born into.
Not wealth.
Not prestige.
Not the holy of the holy.

God chose the outcasts, the failures, the embarrassments of the Israelite clan as his human bloodline to show his love isn’t reserved for those who have it all together.

He loves the misfits, the murderers, the prostitutes, the liars, the failures, those who turned their back on him for one fleeting moment of satisfaction.

And He loves you.

No matter what you’ve done, where you’ve been, or how badly you’ve messed up.
That is the crux of the Christmas story.

So, my brothers and sisters, as we journey towards the manger this year, may you be reminded of how much God truly loves you. May you fully understand your past doesn’t diminish His love for you. And may you, as you grasp the fullness of His love for you, respond in kind, and pour our your love for Him.

How has God poured out His love on you in your weaknesses?

Advent Deeper: Hope Again

“On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”
Matthew 2:11

Sunday starts the season of Advent – those four weeks where Christians take time to reflect on and remember the true meaning of Christmas, and prepare themselves for the birth of Christ. If you looked into the traditions and ways that people observe Advent, you will find that each week has its own focus.

The first one being hope.
In the midst of hopelessness.

It’s a theme found throughout the Christmas story.

The children of Israel experienced hope as God began speaking again after 400 years.
Mary and Joseph found hope as angel upon angel appeared to bring reassurance.
The shepherds experienced hope in the appearance of the heavenly host.
Simeon and Anna found hope as they gazed upon the long-awaited Messiah.

But there’s another experience of hope we tend to overlook.
The arrival of the Magi.

The Christmas story reads as a consecutive list of events. The angel appears to Joseph. Jesus is born in Bethlehem. The Magi appear. One right after another.

However, Historians believe the arrival of the Magi didn’t occur right away. They didn’t show up a few hours, or even days, after Christ was born to bring their gifts. They definitely didn’t find Jesus still laying in a manger.

The Magi appeared two years after Jesus was born.
Two years of Mary, Joseph, and their child living in Bethlehem.
Two years waiting for the census to be completed.
Two years staying in a house that wasn’t their own.
Two years without any fanfare, angelic appearances, or curious shepherds.

The excitement, proclamation, and fanfare of Christ’s birth had worn off.
Mary and Joseph were living with the day-to-day ramifications of parenting the Messiah.

They were far from home.
Away from their family and friends.
Staying in someone else’s house.

And probably running out of money.

Then, out of nowhere, these Magi appear.

They weren’t just ordinary men.
They were members of a learned religious class.
Specializing in astrology, medicine, and natural science.
Traveled months from somewhere around Iran.

And were bearing gifts fit for a king.

The appearance of the Magi reaffirmed the identity of the Christ-child.
It showed Mary and Joseph they weren’t forgotten.
And provided the resources needed to finish their time in Bethlehem and flee to Egypt.

Hope appeared again years after the angelic proclamations, the reappearance of God’s voice, and the birth of the Messiah.
And it continues to appear centuries later in our lives.

So, my brothers and sisters, as we begin journeying through Advent, may you find hope rising up again in your life. May you see God moving in every aspect of your life. And may you, as we inch closer to celebrating the birth of Christ, find the hope to face whatever may come.

How has God used others to bring hope into your life?

Students have an Encounter

During the weekend of November 2-4, students from five different schools gathered together for our bi-annual Encounter Retreat.

We had 21 students total coming from Monmouth College, Carl Sandburg College, Joliet Junior College, Galesburg High School, and United High School, along with three Ignite staff members.

Students participated in sessions each day that helped them disconnect from school and work, and seek to encounter the God who created them. Sessions included: The Nature of God’s Love, Job Well Done (Being a Faithful Servant), Prophetic Prayer, Powerful Prayer, Empowered to Go final devotion, a time of silence, and numerous times of worship and prayer.

It was a powerful retreat where every student had some kind of encounter with God. But don’t take our word for it. Hear what our students had to say:

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Watch more video testimonials from the retreat on YouTube!

Register for the Next Encounter Retreat!

If you are a high school senior, college student, or young adult up to age 25, you are able to attend the Ignite Encounter Retreat! Our next retreat is scheduled for April 5-7 at Great Oaks Camp in Lacon, Illinois. Get more information and register online.

Romania Trip 2013 Plans Underway

Plans are in the making for our trip to Bucharest, Romania in March 2013. Four individuals from the States, along with 2-3 individuals from the Czech Republic will work with Biserica Agapia Bucuresti (Agape Church Bucharest) to reach out to university students and young professionals.

Preliminary ideas for team activities include:

  • English speaking workshop at the local community center
  • Painting at the local community center
  • Prayer walking at the University of Bucharest
  • Speaking and prayer night with the Baptist student group
  • Prayer and strategy night with members of Agape Church
  • Talk and pray with people in the streets
  • Free day to visit Transylvania or hike a mountain and build relationships
  • And more!

The team is excited for this trip and is fundraising to make it possible. Combined, the team needs $13,000 to cover airfare, housing, food, travel, and outreach supplies for 7 people.

If you would like to partner with our team to make this trip a reality, tax-deductible donations can be made to:

Romania Mission Trip
c/o Ignite
1007 E. Boston Ave
Monmouth, IL 61462

Please make checks out to Ignite and put Romania on the memo line.

Donations can also be made online through Paypal by clicking here.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Give Thanks in Everything

“…always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Ephesians 5:20

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul gives a list of instructions to help the believers grow in their faith.

He encourages them to be filled with Spirit.
Challenges them not to get drunk on wine.
Tells them to sing songs and psalms to one other.
And pushes them to sing and make music in their heart to the Lord.

But at the end of this section of his letter, Paul challenges them at a deeper level.
He tells them to give thanks for everything.

Not just the big things.
Not just the obvious things.
Not just the typical family, friends, and neighbors who push them to be better.
Not just the blessings of God.
Not just the paycheck, bank account, and American dream.

Everything.
And all the time.

He wants us to give thanks for the sunrise and the sunset.
The grass and the flowers.
The summer and the winter.
The food on our table and the lightbulb in our lamp.
The heat that keeps us warm and the spider catching flies.
The people who bless us and those who curse us.
The good times and the bad.
The miracle we’ve been praying for and the blessing that goes almost unseen.

Everything in our lives, both big and small, should be a source of thanks.

Every aspect of our lives is a gift from God
And everything is worthy of thanks.
Even when it seems too small to bother God with.

When we begin thanking Him for the little things, when we praise Him for the mundane, when we pour out gratitude for those things we easily pass by without noticing, it develops thanksgiving within us.

A heart of thanksgiving changes us.
Gives us a bigger perspective.
And draws us closer to God.

God desires a heart that always gives thanks for everything in our lives.
Whether big or small.

So, my brothers and sisters, as you journey towards Thanksgiving this week, may you be reminded that everything is a gift from God. May you find yourself thanking Him for everything in your life. And may you, as you develop a heart of thanksgiving, find Him drawing you closer than ever before.

What small thing can you thank God for today?

Should I Practice Advent?

There seems to be a belief among many Christians that the season of Advent is strictly reserved for High Liturgical churches. Most protestant, evangelical churches shy away from Advent, believing it too traditional to have any redemptive value.

History of Advent

The origins of Advent aren’t completely clear, but do trace back to the Latin Translation of the Sacred Scriptures to the Vulgate (fourth century) which attribute the term adventus, meaning the coming of the Son of God, in two meanings: his coming in flesh and his second coming. The tension between the two meanings was later was resolved and adventus referred to “a moment of preparation for the coming.”

The very first recorded instance of an Advent-like observation came in 380 AD when congregants were encouraged to attend church every day to prepare themselves for the celebration of Christmas.

By 490 AD, Saint Gregory of Tours offered a testimony of a certain sense of preparation for Christmas among the monks: “they should observe fasting everyday during the month of December, up to Christmas day” (Canon 17, Council of Tours).

The specifics surrounding the celebration of Advent underwent a number of changes over the next few centuries, with the length of Advent and prescribed observation changing until landing on the four Sundays before Christmas, which is the current practice of Advent.

Character of Advent

Advent serves as time for Christians of all denominations to reflect and prepare themselves to celebrate the first coming of Christ in human form over 2,000 years ago, and the second coming of Christ that we still await. The present Roman Calendar acknowledges that “Advent has a twofold character: as a season to prepare for Christmas when Christ’s first coming to us is remembered; as a season when that remembrance directs the mind and heart to await Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time. Advent is thus a period for devout and joyful expectation.” (Roman Calendar, Universal norms of the Liturgical Year and Calendar, 39)

Advent Traditions

There are many different traditions associated with Advent. The two most popular include:

  • The Advent Wreath: This garland wreath comes with five candles: four on it and one in the center. During each week of Advent, a candle is lit to give focus and direction to ones reflection of Christ. The four candles on it represent the themes of Advent: Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. The candle in middle represents the presence of Christ.
  • The Advent Calendar: There are numerous versions of the Advent Calendar, ranging from receiving a small gift each day during the season of Advent to being given a task or reflection to focus oneself on Christ.

A quick Google search for Advent Traditions will give you a better idea of other traditions people practice during Advent.

Redeeming Advent

While Advent is steeped in tradition and can come across as lifeless to some, an understanding of the origins and meaning behind Advent can result in practice that brings one closer to Christ.

This year, Advent begins on Sunday, December 2. Ignite has put together two resources to help you draw closer to Christ and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas this year: our Away in a Manger Advent Devotion Book and our Advent Calendar. Both resources are free and will help you encounter Christ this Advent season.

View our Advent Resources page.

How do you practice Advent?

halloween

Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?

There seems to be a controversy among many Christian sects when it comes to Halloween. Some are fine with the holiday, as long as congregants don’t get too out of hand. Some change the holiday name and opt instead to host Harvest Parties or Fall Festivals. Others denounce the holiday all together as worship of the devil.

Read more