<![CDATA[Neighborhood Connection - Explore]]>Tue, 28 Feb 2017 04:31:57 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Mary Pondered These Things]]>Tue, 22 Nov 2016 13:43:43 GMThttp://ourneighborhoodconnection.com/1/post/2016/11/mary-pondered-these-things.html
What wonders must have captivated the heart of this sweet and chaste young girl as  she pondered this magnificent child from heaven? While the story of the nativity is well-known to many of us, it was unfolding in real time for Mary and Joseph. Try to imagine this  scene with the fresh eyes of this young couple before and after the young Christ-child was born. What were they thinking? What were they feeling? What was it that Mary pondered and kept in her heart. The visit from the eager and adoring shepherds was the exclamation point on a story that had been being told for thousands of years and was coming to a climax in their very lives. 
Mary remembered the prophecy of Isaiah, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14

Did she ever imagine that this prophecy would be fulfilled in her? What a stunning announcement it was when Gabriel appeared with such unbelievable news. As she cradled the infant Jesus in her arms, she remember her initial doubts and fears. She understood how life worked and knew that it would indeed take a miracle. 

She also knew that it would be an unbelievable story to tell. How would she explain this to Joseph, family and friends? According to the laws and culture of the day, this  was not acceptable. She could face severe penalties and even stoning if she was thought to be an adulteress. She knew that Joseph loved her very much and trusted her implicitly. But would he believe this? 

As the baby Jesus let out a little whimper and Mary caressed His gentle face, did she remember the tears that flooded her eyes when she tried to explain to Joseph? She knew that it was hardly fair to expect him to believe but it was true, nonetheless. She explained it to him just the way Gabriel explained it to her. 

"And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” Luke 1:35

As Joseph knelt down beside his bride and the tiny Savior, Mary remembered when Joseph came running to her door with the news. The angel had spoken to him too. The smile of relief and the tears in his eyes were real. As Joseph placed his strong arm around his bride they looked deeply into one another's eyes and drank in the moment. Then Mary's gaze drifted downward toward the babe cradled in her bosom, Joseph could see the sadness that gave way to the joy. 

Joseph knew what she was thinking and he tightened him embrace. They had talked about this before. They recalled all of the prophetic passages regarding the Messiah. They knew that His great cause would come at a great cost. Can you see Joseph taking his manly sized finger and slipping it gently into the tiny hand of baby Jesus while Mary's fingers stroked the tiny toes of His feet. Were their joys tempered by the sad knowledge that one day Roman guards would pierce His hands and His feet?
“And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.” Zechariah 12:10

Did she ponder that prophetic passage of Psalm 22?

"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?... All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him. But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother's breasts... For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture."

Never before had a young couple brought a child into the world with so much access to the knowledge of His destiny. Yet all of their Scriptures pointed to a Deliverer, a Messiah, the Christ. Even His name, Jesus, was given with the meaning, He shall save His people from their sins. All of their customs, traditions and Scriptures reminded them that there is no salvation without sacrifice. God had come in the flesh to be that sacrifice. 

“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed...He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.” Isaiah 53:4-5, 11

Mary was a mother with a soul of conflicting emotions. She was an obedient yet imperfect servant. She was submissive and sorrowful yet honored and humble. While the interpretation of her name, Mary, means bitter she was also rejoicing in the salvation that her Son would bring not only to the world but to her as well.

“And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” 
Luke 1:46-47

All that Mary pondered on this lonely Bethlehem evening was probably more than she and Joseph could comprehend at the moment. Thirty-three years later, Mary would be standing at the foot of the cross as Jesus gave His life for the sins of the world. Even as a woman of strength and grace, the tears must have streamed down her face. Yet not once did she plead for His release or beg Him to deliver Himself. She knew from the beginning that he had a purpose and that it was not an easy one. She knew also that He would raise from the dead in three short days.

One of our modern Christmas carols poses a thought provoking question in its lyrics. Mark Lowry asks, "Mary did you know that this child that you delivered would soon deliver you?" 

While their hearts could not help but to wince at the suffering that they knew was imminent, they clearly understood that the pain would not be permanent. Greater and eternal promises awaited this child.

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this." Isaiah 9:6-7

The whole purpose in Christ's coming was so that we could connect with Him. He came to pay for our sins so that we might enjoy the forgiveness that comes only through Christ. As we celebrate the Christmas season, will you ponder your walk with God? Will you consider the love that Jesus Christ has demonstrated for you? Would you make that great connection by receiving Jesus Christ as your Saviour? 

Please click here to learn how you can connect with Christ, know that your sins are forgiven and that you have a home in heaven. 

The nativity story can be read in the first two chapters of the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke.

<![CDATA[A Wretch Like Me: A Story of Amazing Grace]]>Fri, 19 Aug 2016 13:05:03 GMThttp://ourneighborhoodconnection.com/1/post/2016/08/a-wretch-like-me-a-story-of-amazing-grace.html
Young John Newton missed his father who was absent at sea for long periods of time. His mother was a godly woman who had hoped that John would someday study for the ministry. Her youthful death prevented her from ever learning about the man John would grow up to be. In many ways she was spared the sorrowful tears and broken heart of a mother whose son had strayed.

After her passing, John fell into the complete custody of his father and learned to live on the high seas. As a young man, he took up his father’s trade and forgot his mother’s wishes. Newton not only learned to sail but also took pride in being the vilest man on deck. His habits were so bad that even the sailors blushed at his presence. 
“She stored my memory with many valuable pieces, chapters and portions of Scripture… though in the process of time I sinned away all the advantages of these early impressions…. Instead of prayer I learned to curse and blaspheme and was exceedingly wicked…I often saw a necessity of religion as a means of escaping hell; but I loved sin and was unwilling to forsake it….I was making large strides towards total apostasy from God…I not only sinned with a high hand myself; but made it my study to tempt and seduce others on every occasion.”

John’s vices led to much trouble and misery. He recalled the consequence of his sin. “I walked through the streets guarded like a felon.  My heart was full of indignation, shame and fear. I was kept in irons then publicly stripped and whipped…my breast was filled with the most excruciating passions, eager desire, bitter rage, and black despair. Whether I looked inward or outward, I could perceive nothing but darkness and misery. I was tempted to throw myself into the sea…but the secret hand of God restrained me.”

Newton described his spirit of revenge and bitterness against the captain. “I actually formed designs against his life…I had not the least fear of God before my eyes. I was possessed of so strong a spirit of delusion that I believed my own lie and was firmly persuaded that after death I should cease to be…I neither feared God nor regarded men…but the Lord, whom I thought little of, knew my danger and was providing for my deliverance.”

Even greater tragedy struck his life when he was abandoned in Africa, sick and unable to care for himself. He learned what it meant to be dehumanized, scorned and despised. He later recalled “So greatly was my pride humbled I received with thanks and eagerness, as the most needy beggar does alms….I have sometimes been relieved by slaves in the chain who have secretly brought me victuals…I was rather pitied than scorned by the meanest of her slaves.” 

Yet the prayers of his godly mother were not unheard. Years later, he began to understand the working of God’s grace in his life. “Though my vile, licentious life rendered me peculiarly unworthy of success, and though a thousand difficulties seemed to render it impossible, the Lord was pleased to gratify…He spared me to give me the knowledge of himself in the person of Jesus Christ.” 

Transformed by God’s grace, John went on to serve God with a passion that rivaled the zeal he once had for sin. It is no wonder the world finds consolation in the lyrics of this hymn penned by Newton: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.”

Read John Newton's Short Autobiography

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<![CDATA[Known in Heaven]]>Fri, 19 Aug 2016 12:41:38 GMThttp://ourneighborhoodconnection.com/1/post/2016/08/known-in-heaven.html
Heaven captures the hopes and dreams of many curious people. Artistic depictions of heaven arouse our imagination. Poets and musicians have frequently plucked the tender strings of our hearts with their ballads of that seemingly faraway place.
The hope of heaven can be found in hearts the world over but our understanding of the afterlife is characterized by abstract questions. Where is heaven? What is heaven like? Do we become angels? Are there really streets of gold? What will we do in heaven? Will we eat? Will we sleep? Will we work and play? 
Of all the questions I’ve answered about heaven, the one that seems to intrigue souls the most is in relationship to their loved ones.  A father lost his precious eleven year old daughter to Leukemia, and the answer to this question was very important to him. An elderly widow lady longed for the answer too. People of all ages and circumstances want to know if they will know their loved ones in heaven.
We have always been taught that heaven is a new beginning. It is a place where we will find no more sorrow, no more sickness, and no more pain.  If it is a new beginning, some wonder if we literally start again from the very beginning with no knowledge of our prior life. There is a fear that our earthly relationships will be diminished if not dissolved altogether.
There is a biblical answer to these questions that brings hope to our hearts and minds. Heaven is not a place of ignorance but rather perfection. We do not grow in ignorance but rather in wisdom and knowledge.  Consider the hope that 1 Corinthians 13:12 brings.
“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
In heaven our hearts and minds will be illuminated more so than in any relationship we have ever experienced in this world. Not only will we know our loved ones but we will know them better than we ever have. The intensity of our love and the depth of our relationships will supersede anything that has ever been possible in this world. Then we will be more complete in every aspect of every relationship than we ever knew was possible. 
Because of God’s promises in Christ, the Word of God tells us that we do not have to sorrow as those which have no hope. – 1 Thessalonians 4:13. Every committed relationship in Christ is an eternal relationship that can never be extinguished, exhausted or expunged. Love only grows brighter. 
If this information has encouraged you or perhaps raised other questions in your mind, please feel free to contact us or even to worship with us during one of our regularly scheduled services. 

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