Remembering the Central Church Fire (1996) and rejoicing on Christmas Eve (2016)

Twenty years ago tomorrow (December 23, 1996) is a day that many at Flint Central will always remember. Not for a Christmas Eve Eve (the day before Christmas Eve) service or for impressive feats of strength or the airing of grievances for Festivus (Seinfeld reference) but it’s a memorable day because a fire swept through Central Church. The inferno destroyed nearly the entire structure.  Only the Chenoweth Family Center was spared.  People who have been around for the last twenty years know exactly where they were when they heard the news that Central Church was on fire.

The exact cause of the fire was never determined.  It was probably some electrical snafu somewhere.  Following the fire, the decision was made to rebuild on the same location.  Carmen Ainsworth School District allowed the church to use its auditorium for Sunday morning services and South Flint Church of the Nazarene opened its doors to Central Church for its Sunday Night service. The church rose again from the ashes and on April 18, 1999 they dedicated the new facility.

In 1996 many thought that the fire would destroy Central Church and she would never recover, but God had other plans.  In the twenty years since the fire, the church not only rebuilt but is stronger than ever. Central Church reaches into the community and around the world in great and wonderful ways.  Countless people have come to the Lord through the ministries of Central Church in the last twenty years mostly led by former pastors Rev. Gavin Raath and Dr. Glen Gardner.

The fire in 1996 was horrible.  Still it’s a good to remember that fateful day as we step through the sanctuary doors on Saturday night for the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. The glow of 1500 lit candles while singing Silent Night twenty years and one day removed from the fire reminds us that Jesus is the Light of the World and His plans overcome anything this old world might throw at us. Life might give us unexpected circumstances (no one thought the church would burn down), but God is still in control. His Light still shines. He overcomes!

There are so many people that need a similar reminder this Christmas. Many people are lonely and have been beaten down by life.  2016 has been a rough year for a lot of people.  Hope is needed and Hope is what Jesus offers!  Can I encourage you to invite your family, friends and neighbors to join you on Saturday Night (or for Sunday’s Christmas Day Service or, better yet, invite them to both services!)  The services (while different in content) will proclaim the message that the Light of the World has come; Jesus overcomes; and with Him we can overcome our troubles too!

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Old Testament Heroes’ Christmas Wish List

Even though many people in the Old Testament were religious, very few celebrated Christmas.  Even fewer Old Testament heroes wrote out a Christmas Wish List, but had they written out such a list of gift ideas, the following items might have been on it:

Adam: Snake Skin Boots

Noah: The book “How to talk to the Animals” by Dr. Doolittle

Methuselah: 969 Birthday candles

Job:  A rabbit’s foot or a four leaf clover

Abraham: “Canaan or Bust” Bumper Sticker

Sarah:  Pampers and Depends

Isaac: “My mom and dad are Ancient” T-Shirt

Mrs. Lot:  A rear view mirror

Joseph:  Dress pants to match a stylish multicolored coat

Moses:  101 Easy Meals with Manna Cookbook

Joshua:  Simon and Garfunkel’s Like a Bridge over Trouble Water CD

Delilah:  A Great Clips gift certificate

Goliath:  A rock proof helmet

David:  A lock for the roof top door

Solomon:  700 “Best Wife Ever” necklaces

Elisha: A year’s membership in Hair Club for Men

Nehemiah:  A wall sized mural of Artaxerxes

Jonah: Whale-sized antacid

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego:  Fire proof socks

Daniel: Lions season tickets

Those are just plain silly.  What’s not silly is remembering that Christmas is not about WHAT IS UNDER THE TREE.  Instead Christmas is still about WHO MADE THE TREES and yet WHO HUNG ON A TREE for you and me.  Christmas is still all about Jesus!

 

Fake News vs. Good News

Fake News has become a real news issue.  Fake News is what it says it is.  Fake.  A lie.  Gossip and unfounded rumors.  It looks like it is real news.  Usually it is “news” that confirms the opinions of the Fake News reader and gives them further resolve to hold such ideas.  Of course, the news is fake.  It’s a lie. Those who write Fake News do so to make real money.  The more readers on their Fake News web site, the more advertising dollars it generates.

Fake News also produces nut cases.  This week a guy drove to Washington DC with the intent of killing someone over a Fake News story.  Crazy.  The Pope issued a warning about Fake News.  So did the President. Social media sites are doing their best to eliminate Fake News. So should everyone.  Fake News is stupid.

Fake News is old news.  People have been lying ever since Adam and Eve were hanging out in Eden. I’ve had people lie about me.  You’ve had people lie about you I suspect.  As long as we live in a sinful world (not shocking) people will act sinful. Slanderous talk. Lies. Gossip.  They are all the work of the worst Fake News perpetrator, our Enemy whom Jesus called “the Father of Lies.”

The Good News on the other hand produces life, love, forgiveness and peace.  The Good News is why this is the Season of Joy.  In a world filled with lies, gossip and Fake News, the Good News of great joy is that the Truth was born in Bethlehem.  The Good News which the angel’s proclaimed is still Good News of Great Joy: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

To a people being fed a steady diet of Fake News and Bad News, we are to be bearers of the Good News.  Good News is the God News that Jesus Christ is born, God is with us and we no longer are held captive to this Bad News and Fake News world.   Like the Bethlehem shepherds, don’t keep the Good News to yourself.  Experience it. Live it.  Share it.

Poo Pooing Christmas

In my Christmas celebration, I might have some strange traditions (i.e. I’ve been known to put the sheep on top of the stable), but the good people in Catalonia, Spain have us all beat. “The Caganer” is a part of the nativity scenes in Catalonia. “The Caganer” literally means (please forgive me for writing this) “The Pooper.”  You read that right.  The Caganer is a figurine in the manger scene along with Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, and the rest.  But the Caganer figurine, dressed in traditional Catalonian clothes, is (ummmm….) “taking care of his business.”  This has been a Catalonia tradition for over 200 years and no one is quite sure why.  Usually the figurine is placed off to the side or behind the stable, where he is doing #2.  The most logical theory in my mind is that the Caganer expresses the truth that many people are unprepared for the coming of Jesus (both in Bethlehem and now).  That may or may not be the reason for this strange addition to the nativity.  Interestingly, the tradition has now morphed and famous people (President Obama, the Pope, Queen Elizabeth, Sponge Bob, etc.) figurines are sold in such a position to be placed in nativity scenes.  It’s weird. (Google “pooping Nativity” and you will get an eyeful of this crazy tradition).

If the early church fathers could see what our 21st century American expression of the Christmas season has become, they might be more offended by our frenzied, consumeristic Christmas than even the bizarre Catalonian tradition.  Advent was meant to be a time of reflection.  Most of us are too exhausted to reflect on anything.  We were to use this season to learn the importance of patience while we waited for the arrival of the newborn King. If you think the season has anything to do with patience, try finding a parking place in the same zip code as the shopping mall next Saturday or stand in the mile-long checkout line at the lone register with a human clerk at Walmart in the next month. Very little patience will be observed.  The celebrations of coming of the new born King were to be after His arrival not before.  In many ways. we’ve gotten things backwards.

We are at the front end of the Advent season (my first Christmas gathering is tonight).  In the next 25 days we won’t be able to escape some of the traps of the season. Shopping, gatherings, and the busyness of the dreaded Christmas rush is upon us. Ready or not.  But throughout this season, could we keep in mind that Jesus came for none of this stuff?  He didn’t come so that we would decorate our houses with soon-to-be dead pine trees or that we would receive mountains of gifts or drink peppermint mochas in red cups. He came so that we might have “life and have it to the full.”  In many ways, everything else is (ummm….) what the Caganer leaves behind.

I hope my poo pooing (pun intended) our traditions doesn’t turn me into a Scrooge, I simply want us to keep our focus on Jesus throughout the season.