Jesus IS the reason for the season! – Part II

‘Twas the night before Christmas……
Hello All,

‘Twas the night before Christmas and in a nearby Swiss house,
Not much food or toys were present, but perhaps a lil’ mouse.
When the day of Christ’s birthday came to celebrate, 
The family found a way, but compared to others, it wasn’t so great…..

Perhaps you were expecting me to again announce the Christmas Eve service on the 24th that is from 6 – 7 pm as “‘Twas the night before Christmas” but I would like to share something a friend did a couple of weeks ago which challenged my thinking of the meaning of Christmas, for those around us in our community of Zug and perhaps for those of you reading this, wherever you are.  

This friend, comfortably blessed with a nice house, enough food, Christmas gifts for family, etc., did a wonderful “random act of kindness” in thinking of others who may not have so much.  This friend took grocery items down to the local “Amt” (gov’t office building) of their “Dorf” (village), which means a very small town here in Switzerland.  Not even sure it was the right place, my friend asked if there might be others in the “Dorf” who are in need.  As most “Amts” in the local towns of Switzerland have many functions under one roof, down at that town hall was a person who accepted the grocery items and said thank you for such a thoughtful act of thinking of others.  Furthermore, the office worker said, there were two families in particular that were having a very tough time right now that the town was aware of.  Tanya and I, who live near this same area, were touched by this act of kindness for others, and also were awakened to the fact that there are others who are in need, RIGHT WHERE WE ARE!

On one hand, I am so excited how part of LIFT’s core DNA is that of missions, especially 3rd world, in serving and ministering to others.   Each year LIFT’s missions giving has grown and recently we gave approx. 13,500 Swiss Francs to our ministry partners in India, South Africa, Belize and even helped support a local Swiss teacher serving in Sudan.  This IS a wonderful gift of love and our giving to others as a mission minded church will continue into the future. But on the other hand, I too often forget about the obvious that is right in front of my eyes, those others right near by.  Too often, I see Switzerland, and especially our Canton of Zug as an affluent place, even calling Switzerland a “rich country”.  As half the world’s 6 billion inhabitant live on less than 3 Swiss Francs a day, it’s actually true, but still, there are folks around me in need, very much in need of basic daily food and life supplies. 

I’m not trying to communicate that LIFT should change our focus. We are doing a wonderful job in being a light for Christ in our community and clearly our essence of LIFT is a church body that does take the Gospel message to those around us where we live, work and play and not just try to invite someone to church so the pastor can share the message. We’re an active body that is quite bold actually!  I guess what I’m writing is that for me personally, this random act of kindness really opened up my eyes to a need to look a little closer to those around me in my community, .  Those others that live nearby, those that have kids in the same schools or sports or club teams as my kids, those others that I recognize at the shopping market or town gatherings. Yes those others need the Gospel, in words from my mouth, in actions from my lifestyle and even for some in need, in anonymous random acts of kindness that only the Lord knows about and will bless as only He blesses!  

There’s still a couple of days left before Christmas and perhaps the Lord is about to bless a family or someone in need through a random act of kindness near you too? 

Thank You, God, for blessing us all on Christmas with your love, grace and the ultimate Christmas gift ever…..JESUS! 
Jesus IS the reason for the season!

In His grip and grace,

Corey

Jesus IS the reason for the season!

Hello All,

I know it’s a cliché, especially in the USA, but it’s true: Jesus IS the reason for the season!  It’s so true that I didn’t hesitate to have it printed on our Christmas cards this year.

For a guy who worked in management for the world’s largest retailer for 4 years after college, I recall being frustrated at the secularizing and “retailizing” of the season and gifts and money to be made.  One Christmas Eve after only having about 3 or 4 days off since Thanksgiving a month earlier, I was even challenged by a customer on my closing the store two minutes early at 5:58 and not at exactly 6:00 pm.  Perhaps he was Swiss (at the time I didn’t have my Swiss passport yet), but my watch showed the time clearly stating 5:58 and actually he was right, it was two minutes early.  I smiled back (although frustrated inside that this guy waited until the last moments to care enough to give such thoughtful and loving gifts) and stated, “Sir, perhaps you’re right, but I got 140 people in here working Christmas Eve that would love to get home to their families as soon as possible- so it’s close enough for me!”,  I then picked up the phone and again announced over the loudspeaker that it was time for all those still shopping to bring their final items to the front where our friendly cashiers were there to serve them!  And this is just a story about retail shopping and not about how the world and public places and schools are only saying “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” in fear of offending someone by saying “Merry CHRISTmas”! By the way, since I seem to be the grinch against anti Christmas-er’s my biggest pet peeve this time of the year is the term “X-Mas” that is often used in deleting the main word that counts, “C-H-R-I-S-T”!

But then it happened………..one Christmas Eve in 1997, the same year after leaving retail, I found myself in our church’s Christmas Cantata singing tenor alongside about 40 other singers in the choir.  Each following year more folks sang in the choir and even a full blown drama cast was added (including the star donkey named Flapjack) to present to our community that Jesus Christ is the reason for Christmas!  It was a wonderful highlight for our church to reach into our community to those that wouldn’t normally step foot in a church. I got to admit that this past Sunday at LIFT I was close to having a tear (just one!) form in my eyes watching those 6 or 7 lil’ LIFT’er’s dressed up as angels, shepherds and of course the baby Jesus singing Away in a Manger, knowing that in a few hours they would be singing it again but not within the walls of LIFT, but at a local international gathering that for years has had Christmas parties while intentionally leaving Jesus out.  What a blessing for those kids and their families to boldly go and share Jesus via song and drama into our community!  What a blessing for those who were reminded that Jesus is the reason for the season. 

One other thing going back to 1997 that happened and I didn’t realize it at the time.  Although out of retail, but still quite busy working hard during the Christmas season like everyone else, I realized that Tanya and I were creating our own family traditions of Christmas and passing it on to our kids and clearly including Jesus as the central role of celebrating His birth and gift from God to creation!  From the cantata at church (in which one year Tanya was the angel) followed by our family fondue, to special ornaments, to usually inviting others that didn’t have family around, to getting permits to cutting our trees (that truly looked like poor Charlie Brown trees) in the nearby forest, each and every year we somehow added a new memory, created something special for our family Christmas, just as I had as a kid myself with my mom and dad and two older brothers alongside extended family.

I realize that for many, it is such a difficult time of year as current family circumstances (or past family experiences) may not be such warm and positive memories.  But this is also the point of all of us being reminded that Jesus is the reason for the season, and for all, He is our gift of love and grace from God, who pursues us in relationship to Him……and others!  It’s never to late to make your 2008 kinda like my 1997, a fresh start to renew your love of CHRISTmas and begin new traditions for you and your family, even if they are far away (physically or relationally).  

After the first Christmas season of LIFT in 2004, when the Eales were away in South Africa and the Best’s didn’t attempt to go solo for a Christmas service, LIFT had it’s first Christmas Eve service in 2005 with mainly Christmas carols and a brief Christmas message.  It’s now our “family” tradition of LIFT and each year it’s grown.  Again this year, in our new church home at Ibelweg 18 we will have our Christmas Eve Service from 6 – 7 pm. We’re even thinking about singing the last song by candlelight (anyone know how to find 150 candles with those little white paper rings around them?).  Although many are traveling abroad, many others are coming from abroad as well to visit family here.  It’s also a great way to reach into our German speaking community around us and invite someone to come hear and sing those English Christmas carols!  

Cliché or not, I don’t mind putting “Jesus Is The Reason For The Season” on our family Christmas card. I pray that we as LIFT can also share this truth, not only on our Christmas cards, but also by our lifestyles this CHRISTmas season and give away the real gift of Christmas…..Jesus!    
His grip and grace,

Corey

DRIVE-ing with Jesus

Hello All,

I’ll never forget what a fellow youth pastor shared with me years ago regarding his wife’s wonderful prayer life and “ride” with Jesus.  For work purposes, she had to DRIVE once per week about 1 1/2 hours each way and as she got into the car one morning just after kissing him goodbye, she reached across the passenger seat, grabbed the seat belt and while fastening it she said, “Buckle up Jesus, it’s time to go to work together!”.  Then she rolled up her window, backed up smiling and was already talking to Jesus (not to herself) as the car drove out of his site.  As much as he was energized by his wife’s strong faith, I too was forever changed in my perspective on praying while driving.  Ok, although I admit I haven’t actually clicked the passenger side seatbelt for Jesus like she did (I figure he’s going survive anyways!), I speak to him often while DRIVING in my car and in my life.  I think for all of us, we need simple reminders such as this to include God in our normal daily life and routine.  Even for you that take the train to work here in Swissland, just wait and see the reaction when someone approaches the “empty” seat next to you saying “Ist der Platz frei?” and you reply, “No, Jesus is sitting there next to me!”

Taking the DRIVE in life to the next level is truly figuring out how to put Jesus in the DRIVER’s seat and not just passenger seat!  (Don’t try this in your real car, but you get what I mean).  That is DRIVING by faith and takes more than just a license but also practice and experience. In fact, when one has grown up with learning to let Jesus DRIVE in their life, it’s much easier and the journey has often seen fantastic roads of glory along the way. So it’s wise for us as a church to start DRIVING lessons early in faith!  Bedros has shared the truth about GPS for those that think modern technology is the best route, as we all know we’ve “arrived at our destination” only to realize the satellites deceived us as the empty parking lot in front of the car is NOT the intended shopping mall!

By now, I hope you are asking yourself, why are all of the DRIVE-ing  words emphasized. LIFT’s new youth ministry for students ages 11 and up, called DRIVE has recently left the garage and enter the streets of real life!  I have been so excited to see the calling and passion of Dave and Jami to launch such a ministry at LIFT.  As we look around on Sunday mornings it’s clear we don’t have many students that are of these ages (about 3-5), so one might think that we should have the students first and then start the youth group.  Praise God for the faith of Dave and Jami to first step out in faith to start the ministry and give God the glory when He brings the students.  It reminds me of the Best’s and the Eales’ a few short years ago in our living room having “church” although just our two families showed up on some weeks.  Three facilities later, the Best’s and Eales’ are still gathering together to worship as a church, but with the glory of God’s faithfulness in seeing many of you each week alongside us!  So if you are a teen, I encourage you to LIFT up DRIVE and build your youth ministry together with Dave and Jami, even if some weeks there’s just a few.  If you’re a parent of a teen or know of other families with teens, I encourage you to get the word out, every other Friday night is DRIVE at LIFT.  

At heart, I’m still a youth guy who have tremendous confidence in what teenagers and young adults can do for the LORD! I’ve seen some amazing acts of love, grace and courage from those under 20!  As a church, let’s pray (even while DRIVING) for the next generation to continue to work the harvest field around us.  I can already envision some of our DRIVE students some day getting into their real cars, reaching across the passenger seat and buckling up the seatbelt, while saying, “Buckle up Jesus, it’s time to go on a DRIVE together!”         

Proverbs 22:6 -Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.

In His grip and grace,

Corey

God is Sovereign

For you have been my hope, O Sovereign LORD,
my confidence since my youth.
From birth I have relied on you;
you brought me forth from my mother’s womb.
I will ever praise you.
 
Psalms 71:5-6 NIV

Hello all,
As this week comes to an end, I realize once again the Lord is sovereign and that He has comforted me with His Word as the verses above ring so true in my heart and life.  Regardless of circumstances, I will praise the Lord and depend on Him.
 
Since yesterday when I got the text message from Livia saying Silas broke his arm, it’s been a tough couple of days to try and work abroad in the UK when I desperately wanted to be home with my family.  Finally I’m on a plane home (Friday evening), even blessed with switching flights to save a couple of hours, hopeful to kiss the kids before they go to sleep, especially Silas.  What was supposed to be an easy work trip for three days, turned out to hit me where it hurts the most; an emergency at home with my family, the most important aspect of my life alongside my faith in God. Thank you to those who have prayed and lifted up our family the past 24 hours.  Silas was playing on the playground equipment at school as he does most every day, when a wooden bar that he was hanging on broke, causing him to fall to the ground below and break his left arm just under the elbow. Normally for an active 8 year old this means a cast and a month of healing, but it this case it was more serious in that it was the top of the bone that is involved with the twisting motion of the lower arm and hand, thus emergency surgery and a pin from the wrist to the elbow was needed.  Praise God that the surgery went very well and the healing process begins; two months of no sports until the 2nd surgery to get the pin out (a tough task for our active Silas), and another month after that until full recovery.  I felt helpless and far away, but Tanya was strong and courageous as any mother is in the time of need for her child, taking the situation head on.  Thanks for the many text messages and e-mails and especially the prayers that we cherish and believe the Lord acted upon in aiding the doctors in wisdom and ability to perform the surgery.
 
So after a day and a half of going through the motions and presentations for my work as I just wanted to get back home and currently I am sitting on a plane approaching Zurich soon.  Just before boarding, the Lord game me a little glimpse of His love and showed me He cares about me, even in circumstances such as this.  As I was walking down the stairs to the waiting area just before boarding, I saw a small wad of folded bills with a 100 CHF note on the outside.  No one was in the stairway, and I was smooth in pocketing it before rounding the corner to the room of 30+ people so nobody knew I had it.  Do I tell the check in clerk, or do I keep it for myself? I hadn’t even looked to see how much it was, but the extra zeros with a 100 note made me think there was more in the rest of the bills.  Across the room was a man about my age searching his pockets, booklets, backpack, etc.  I knew what I had to do and I “walked across the room” and asked if he was missing something, which got a quick reply, “Yes, money!”  From there my answer perhaps meant more to me than him, in not just doing the right thing, but knowing that God IS sovereign and shows Himself in real ways.  I smiled at the man and said “Fortunately for you, and for me, Jesus IS still relevant today and I have no problems doing the right thing”, as I handed him the bills.  He smiled back and said thanks.
 
It wasn’t a life changing encounter or deep discussion of faith, but just a little thing. However, for me it was a glimpse of the beauty of God’s love in realizing I can love others, even at a time when I feel I’m the one needing to be loved.  My heart also was saying that “yes, God loves me too!” Moments later, His Word reminded me of my lifelong faith that He put in my heart, and my lifelong journey of knowing He IS in control and sovereign!   For you have been my hope, O Sovereign LORD, my confidence since my youth. From birth I have relied on you;
you brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise you.
 
In His grip and grace,
 
Corey

Praying (in Istanbul)

Lift The International Church of Zug   –  for Nov. 16th, 2008

Hello all,
 
A very full and very interesting week!  How about you?  As I write, I’m on a plane headed home from Istanbul, Turkey.  For a guy who loves and appreciates church history, the highlight was Wednesday’s excursion into the heart of the city.  My Italian boss, who also is a history buff, especially when it comes to the Byzantine empire, the crusades and the Ottoman empires, was also with me this week as we worked with our new Turkish partner (a Muslim by the way) in setting up his company structure near Istanbul.  Istanbul was Constantinople prior to the 1400’s and a city originally established in the 330’s by Constantine who relocated his empire’s capital city from Rome closer to the Holy Land and obviously strategically located for east/west trading as well. The Hagia Sophia, now a “museum” was a magnificent and massive church and focal point until 1453 when the Ottoman Empire (Muslims) conquered the city, renaming it Istanbul and making it the new capital city of their empire. The revered Sophia was converted to a mosque and considered a holy place for Allah and his followers for centuries.  Only a few decades ago in the late 1900’s was it “secularized” and turned into a museum, now allowing world visitors/tourists to enter.  In the process of secularizing the holy place for historical purposes, many of the original mosaics and works of art were uncovered, including those depicting Mary and the baby Jesus along side the huge writings of the Koran still hanging as well. An ironic contrast of the mixed history of such an important place.
 
Walking a kilometer or so, we visited the nearby current Islamic holy place, the Blue Mosque, and entered the courtyard and eventually the mosque itself after the official prayer time (closed to non-Muslims) had ended.   Something to note, Turkey, especially the west of Turkey, is quite westernized, even trying to get into the European Union, so with that in mind, even for such a holy and sacred Muslim location, this mosque is intentional to be Western friendly and to show the openness of Islam.  However, it’s my understanding that the more East that one travels, the smaller the chance of Westerners gaining access into the holy places of prayer such as this.  Regardless, for me, it was a rare and special  opportunity for a Follower of Jesus to witness and observe first hand the blaring call to prayer from within a courtyard in which when full approximately 18,000 Muslims kneel to pray.  Just outside the courtyard, I could see the cleansing stations where men can sit and take of their shoes to wash their feet, their mouths and so forth in preparation to come into the presence of Allah in prayer.   A friendly man (who wanted and later accepted my tip) explained the various points of cleansing (mouth, feet, head, etc 3x’s) before prayer.  Most do it at home, but many do this cleansing at the Mosque as well.  Of course, if one thinks bad thoughts, looks into a woman’s eyes with lust, etc, in the time from washing to entering the mosque, he must then repeat the whole process again.  After the official prayer time ended, we were able to enter and walk around the huge carpeted mosque.  Many were still coming and going for prayer, but the organized time (one of 5 daily) of all praying in unison was over.  The women had their own sections at the side and surrounding areas of the main floor space.   Something my boss had pointed out earlier was the lack of art and images, such as paintings of prophets etc that was in mosques.  Instead, there are  just large and decorate murals or banners with writings of the holy Koran.
 
Sorry for the lengthy LIFT update this week, but even for myself, I wanted to write out my experience while it’s still fresh in my mind.  I found myself also praying while at the Blue Mosque, but to God the Father, in the Name of the Son, Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit!  On one hand, I respect the deepness of the cleansing process in preparation of prayer that those people do, but at the same time, for most, it seems just a religious requirement that they thoughtlessly do because they have to (especially in the case of my business contact there, who only occasionally does the Friday prayers himself).  One must admit, the Christian church has plenty of religious traditions that have lost the original Biblical intentions as well.  Praise God that Jesus is our instant access to God; anytime and anywhere, with no church or “sacred” place needed, just us talking with God and including Him in our day, our actions, our thoughts and hearts! This too is prayer and what I believe Paul means when we are to pray without ceasing! (1 Thes. 5:17) Each morning, I was able to go down to the sea and spend time with my Lord Jesus and talk to God before a busy and tiring days of working (especially as this week I was the translator as our business partner speaks German, but not English).  I’m so ready to be home with my family and very much looking forward to worshipping our Lord Jesus Christ at LIFT this Sunday with many of you.   LIFT is a place that ALL are welcome, regardless of background, including other faiths such as Islam, while at the same time we will unashamedly teach and share the Gospel message of Jesus!   So even during our worship services and time of prayer, folks don’t have to wait outside but can come inside to experience first hand what the God of Love is all about!
 
In His grip and grace,
 
Corey
 
PS:  For those that desire more information about the faith and history of Islam, I can recommend a few books that I’ve read that share great insight, and in love strengthen understanding for dialog to share Jesus with Muslims;  Unveiling Islam by Ergun Caner, Arabs in the Shadow of Israel by Tony Malouf, How Islam Plans to Change the World by William Wagner.  Three Cups of Tea by Tom Anderson isn’t a Christian book, but great in cultural insight into the Islamic world.