The Chickens Of Christmas

By:  Rev. David Mansfield, retired Disciples of Christ pastor

I am afraid of heights and was especially so at age seven. This fear revealed itself one Saturday on the playground at Washington Park where my family and the Snyders went for a picnic. There was a huge sliding board there that looked to me to be three stories high, and its bright, shiny metal slide with a bump in the middle made children go at supersonic speeds.

Pam Snyder, the fearless six year old, wanted me to go down the slide with her. I would have nothing to do with it. So right there in public, for all to see, she put her thumbs in her armpits and flapped her arms like a chicken and said, “Pock, pock, pock, you are a chicken! Pock, pock, pock, you are a chicken!”

There are only three responses children can make to such mockery. One, you call them a chicken, or you shove them to the ground. The latter usually does not end well. Two, you run away, in which case you become the chicken. Three, you take on the challenge of the dare to prove yourself and your challenger wrong. (Turns out, I was the type two chicken.)

Tomorrow will be the first Sunday in Advent, a season of waiting expectantly for the coming of Jesus. When I read the Christmas story, there are a few characters who were not prepared for the Messiah. They did not want to look, engage, and believe. They make me want to put my thumbs in my armpits and say, “Pock, pock, pock, you are a chicken.” The first of these characters was King Herod. The Magi came to him, seeking the one “born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2 NIV).

He was very intrigued since he ruled the roost, and there was no room in his chicken coop for a rival. He summoned “the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he asked them where the Messiah, the anointed one, was to be born” (Matthew 2:4).

They poured over the pages of their biblical scrolls and came up with the answer: Bethlehem. Herod sent off the Magi with a sinister request to locate the newborn king and notify him as to his whereabouts. When the Magi found the baby, they were overcome with joy and worshiped him. Later they realized through a dream to stay clear of Herod.

Herod was a chicken because he used the Magi to locate the new King, and the Magi made him the chicken by not returning to tell him the whereabouts of Jesus. Herod responded to being called a chicken by the first way: “No, I am not a chicken; you are,” and he arranged for the slaughter of innocent boys “two years old” and younger (2:16). So Herod is our first chicken in the Christmas story.

The next chickens in the Christmas story are the “chief priests and teachers of the law.” They knew what the scriptures said about the birth of the Messiah. They could quote the chapter and verse. Even though they had been waiting all of their lives for news of his arrival, they were too chicken to go and see for themselves. They represent the second way; they just ignored the challenge.

The third chicken in the Christmas story is Joseph. I know he is a saint in some religious traditions, but hear me out. Earlier in the narrative, he could not comprehend Mary’s story of Holy Spirt conception; who would! He was too chicken to take her word for it. So he made a plan to part with Mary as discreetly as possible.

But in a dream, God made it clear to him that Mary was a truth-teller and he had an important future with her. So Joseph represents the third way to respond to a challenge: prove your challenger wrong, and do it. Be the hero, face your fears, engage that which threatens you, and be curious about what you do not know. Put aside your fears, and look for him.

Advent is just such a time to anticipate his coming and to prepare your heart to receive him. So challenge your skepticism, and find out the truth for yourself. End your wavering unbelief, and commit to Jesus for a future that you could never imagine. Don’t be chicken!

Reaching Out For Peace

By: Pastor Bob Wallace, retired United Methodist Pastor

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” John 14:27 (NIV).

These quoted words of Jesus, spoken on the very night before He hung on the cross, remind us to reach out to Christ for peace—especially in these very troubling times.

Our world, our nation, even our community are very fractured. Not only do we see horrific violence on the news every day, we continually are bombarded by words of hurt, division, hate, and anger. Our politics are filled with nasty rhetoric and lies. Where is the peace?

“Peace I leave with you,” Jesus said. We must find peace through Him. The peace He offers us is a peace that will lead us and guide us to choose love over the hate, animosity, and division we are seeing all around us.

In fact, to experience the peace of Christ we are called upon to love one another as Jesus loves us. (See John 13:31-35). Jesus shared this new commandment at the same time he shared the words “Peace I leave with you…”. Such peace and love do NOT rely upon the things happening in our world or our community. This peace and love rely upon our relationship with Christ and choosing to live out the gift of Jesus’ love and peace.

Even from the cross itself, Jesus offered that love and that peace. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” He said (Luke 23:34).

Jesus’ hope is that you and I will allow our hearts to be filled with His peace so that, in this very troubled world, we might live the gift of unconditional love.

One of my all-time favorite songs from my youth was born out of another very confusing and difficult time in our history and was sung by Jackie DeShannon in 1965. The lyrics were written by Hal David and music by Burt Bacharach. The classic words of that song are: “What the world needs now is love, sweet love…no, not just for some but for everyone.”

The admonition in these lyrics is as strong now as in 1965. More than ever, we need to follow in the footsteps of Jesus by choosing to open our hearts—even in the midst of the world’s chaos—to the “peace of God that surpasses all human understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

And then we need to live out of that peace, rejecting all the negative rhetoric and hatred and instead choosing to love others—all others—into the peace of Christ.

“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me” (a song by Jill Jackson-Miller and Sy Miller). May God guide us on our journey of peace, love, compassion, understanding, and hope. That is certainly “what the world needs now.” God’s blessing and peace guide you in your journey.

God Still Seeks Us!

By: Rebeca Logan, Retired UPMC Chaplain, Member at Lycoming Valley Baptist Church

Since the beginning of time, God has been seeking people for fellowship, relationship, and salvation. Jesus manifested the Father’s mission in His own earthly life. Luke 19:1-10 shows how this works out practically.

In this passage, we see the reciprocity of both Jesus and Zacchaeus seeking one another. Luke 19:3 states,” And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd, he could not because he was small.” Meanwhile, this section ends with Christ stating, in verse 10, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost” (ESV).

The word “seek” in Hebrew, according to Strong’s Concordance, means “to search out by any method.” In Greek, it means to “seek to find.” Although Strong’s gives more meanings and elaboration, the core meaning of the word “seek” supports God’s desire to be found. To seek something is to crave after it. Present tense means that serious efforts are required.

“Zach” sought Christ diligently. Rich, tax collector, but short, Zach willingly climbed a tree to catch a glimpse of Christ. It took effort; he may even have been missing work, but he knew he must see Christ. As C.S. Lewis quoted in the Chronicles of Narnia: “‘You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you,’ said the Lion.” Unbeknown to Zach, Jesus was seeking him as much as he was seeking Jesus!

Zach must have almost fallen out of that tree when Christ looked up, called him by name, and then commanded him to come down because “I must stay at your house today!” (v. 5). Zach responded by hurriedly climbing down, and without hesitation, Zach surrendered all to the Lord. Jesus used the word “today” twice, showing the urgency of needing to make a decision about His calling to salvation.

Zach did not let any stumbling blocks stop him, including the detractors or distractors: “And when they all saw it, they grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a…sinner!’” (v. 7). They questioned Jesus’ authority, motives, and even His ability to forgive a sinner. Zach ignored them and kept his focus on Christ alone and “received him joyfully” (v. 6).

There was no doubt; Zach had a genuine conversion. He willingly repented of his sins and then promised restitution. “The half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (v. 8). Christ then makes the bold pronouncement that salvation had indeed come to this man, as he had shown faith.

From that day, Zach was a new man. “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old has gone; the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). He had a brand new life in Christ, which included new goals, new perspectives, and a new peace he had never before known.

What about us? Do we seek Christ, ignoring the stumbling blocks that distractors may put in our way? If we profess salvation in Christ alone, how have our lives changed? Did we truly repent and make restitution? Have we surrendered to Christ completely? Read Luke 19:1-10, and put your own name in the place of Zach’s and realize that Christ still comes to seek and to save each person today!


Keeping Our Focus On God

By:Pastor Kathy Behrens, serving Picture Rocks and Tivoli United Methodist Churches

People are sometimes fascinated by mysteries they don’t understand. Mysteries that recently made it to Congress are unidentified flying objects (UFOs) and unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs). Unidentified flying objects are not new, and “unidentified aerial phenomena” is just a new term, but stories have been around our world for centuries.

Many attribute the pyramids in Egypt and the ones in Central and South America to extraterrestrials. I remember hearing stories as a youth about people who had disappeared and were believed to have been kidnapped by aliens.

Scientific inquiry into these mysteries can be positive. However, that fascination can turn into something we end up worshiping.  My dad said the topic came up about the time of the Korean War, and a general who spoke on the radio said that if UFOs existed, they were not something from another planet.

Television shows and movies are creative and feed our imaginations. However, it would be wrong to depict extraterrestrials or demons as gods to worship.   Satan tries to take our focus off God with a variety of methods including things we watch. He tries to steal us away from God by deception and misdirection. I know that some people do not believe in Satan, yet the Bible talks about his existence.

The Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:12, says “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, powers, and the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (KJV). Principalities are fallen angels, powers are fallen warrior angels, and rulers of darkness reflect evil and wickedness.

Jesus Christ cast demons out of people. Many times, we want to believe that people did not understand things then as we do today. The church then and now has driven evil out of the world, and through Jesus Christ is able to limit its power. As we turn away from God and the church and open doors for evil to return—it will.

One incident in Acts 19:13-20 records an account about the “Sons of Sceva.” His sons decided to exorcize demons from a person, but they did not know what they were doing. They knew that the Apostle Paul had cast them out. So, the sons tried to cast demons out in the name of Paul’s God. But, they would not go.

The demons said to the sons that they knew Paul and Jesus, but they did not know them. The demons turned on the sons. After the incident became known, believers who had been fascinated by demons brought any scrolls not reflecting God to the church and destroyed them. That way, the story ended with a positive, God-centered message.

Reflecting on one of the scripture readings Sunday, I spoke about how God is supreme, and there is no other God. I am a Christian pastor who believes there is only one God and His son, our Lord and Savior, who conquered evil.

I further believe “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11 KJV).

I believe that God created all things and can control everything ever created. We, as God’s people, need to move away from some of our fascination and get back to focusing on our Lord and Savior. Only Jesus is all powerful and able to deliver us from all our fears and save us from our sins.

A Legacy

By: Peggy Thompson, Junior Church teacher, Victory Baptist Church, Bloomsburg

A legacy is something you will leave behind after departing from this world. It is a memorial of who you were in this life. What did you leave behind that will live on after you are gone? It may be our character or our monetary gain or both. Good or bad, it is something we will be remembered for. What we valued is reflected in how we lived. How are you living? How am I living? We only get this one life to live here on earth, and I want mine to count for something that will impact others for eternity.

I was at a funeral a few years ago, and there was a testimony time offered by the pastor. This was a time when those present were invited to say something about the deceased. His widow and two teenaged daughters sat quietly in the front pew. A well-dressed man raised his hand. The pastor acknowledged him, and the man said, “I did not know Mr. Jones well. I only met him once or twice. But I can tell you that he was a man of character whose legacy will live on in a marvelous way. I know this because of his young daughters sitting there. I have had the privilege of being their teacher at the Christian school they attend. They were and are a welcome ray of sunshine.”

After he sat down, others followed with similar testimonies of the life that this godly man lived. All I could think about was that people do not have to know you personally to know the legacy you leave behind. I had never thought about it quite that way before. There were many of us there who knew the person who had gone to be with the Lord. We all knew what a kind and gentle man he was. Most of all, we knew he loved Jesus, his Lord and Savior.

When his two daughters stood up in front of that packed church and began to sing, “Let The Blood Of Calvary Speak For Me,” a hymn selected by their father as he had planned his funeral, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind about that relationship. To think that, knowing he was not long to this earth, he made sure he would send a message to all who might attend the service, was amazing. He was handing the baton to his children, trusting that his convictions would live on for generations.

How I wanted to make sure that someday my legacy would be worth leaving behind! I knew it would be, if I walked close to Jesus, my Lord and Savior. Jesus left us the greatest legacy there could ever be. It has lasted over two thousand years. He set an example that we need to strive to follow. He taught us the only way to have everlasting life was to accept the payment He paid on that old rugged cross. He rose again that we may live eternally. Trust Him, and obey Him. It is the only way.


Cherish Each Day

By: Rev. Gwen Bernstine serves as Pastor at Lycoming Presbyterian Church, Newberry

I am especially fond of days that have nothing special scheduled, days when I can go about my daily routine or choose to do something completely different. However, the blessing inherent in these days is to take time to savor the gift of the day.

The axiom many of us grew up hearing is that we are to “stop and smell the roses.” However, if your mind is too literal, this may not be a good image, simply because we don’t always have roses (or any flowers for that matter) around us to stop and smell. I do not want anything to deter me from savoring something I find that delights me.

It may be the morning sunrise, and I will remember the rhyme my mother-in-law used to say: “Red sky in the morning, sailors warning. Red sky at night, sailors delight.” Then I can decide if I will need my umbrella later that day.

One of my favorite verses from scripture is “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24 NRSV). Not only is this often lifted up as a prayer praising God, but it is also often sung and has been set to music many times by many generations as people search for ways to praise God for the many wonders of life.

 It is easy to identify things I look forward to cherishing each day: the smell of my morning coffee or the refreshing taste after just brushing my teeth. Maybe like me, you delight in the warmth of your friends’ smile when they hear your voice, or you find joy when you see your fur-baby’s dance after you come home from a trip to the store.

One summer day, Bob and I had just finished filling our car’s tank at an area gas station when I saw people rushing across the parking lot. There had been an accident. It started with just one little misstep that landed a lady in a heap. The good news was that she didn’t hear anything snap like a bone that was broken.

The bad news was that she couldn’t get up, and it seemed everyone had seen her fall. Good and bad news came next. Many came to help, but none knew how to manage the lady, her oxygen, and cane. But a fire truck happened to be traveling by, and the firefighters saw the commotion and stopped. They knew exactly what to do, and after making sure she was okay, they continued on their way. That day, in the space of a few moments, I had so many blessings to savor I could hardly wait to tell people how I saw God actively working in our midst.

May you enjoy finding some of the ways God makes our lives extraordinary every day.



Thriving As Seasons Change

By: Holly Pentz, New Covenant Assembly of God, 1270 Pinchtown Rd, Montgomery, PA 17752

Well, as much as I have fought it, I have had to admit summer is officially over. It is not that I don’t like fall. In fact, I enjoy decking my house with shades of orange and brewing pumpkin spice! I like hoodies and hayrides and hot dogs over a firepit.

It is just that I enjoy summer so much more with its “jump in the pool” mentality, its “need no jacket” freedom and its “burgers on the grill” ease.   Some years, I try to ignore that fall is coming. We take late vacations, stretching summer into September. We keep the flip-flops out and spend time in the afternoon sun trying to retain our tans. And we keep the grill on the deck til the snow flies!

But inevitably, the seasons change. And so perhaps it is better to embrace them than to ignore them. And maybe this is true in life as well.  Life adjustments, just like the changing seasons, can change the thermostat of a household. Situations like kids going off to college, early retirement, an unplanned divorce, or an unexpected baby can leave us shivering, longing for that comfortable chaise lounge in the sun.

If life is changing a bit too fast for you right now, remember that God has set the seasons in motion in His time. Daniel 2:20-21a tells us: “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are His. He changes times and seasons” (NIV). Your changes have not caught Him off-guard, and He will walk you through them.

And not only will He get you through, He can even help you to thrive within those seasons. Acts 14:17b says, “He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

This year, as the leaves change from green to orange, I think I will try to lean into a new season, instead of digging in my heels until the leaves fall down around me. I want to be like the tree mentioned in Psalm 1:3, which is planted by streams of water “which yields its fruit in season [ANY SEASON!] and whose leaf does not wither,” because the Scripture promises that “whatever they do prospers.” When my season gets scarey, I will remember His Word says in verse 6, “the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,” and I will continue to stand.

And the verse before, Psalm 1:2, tells me how both you and I can do that: “Delight…in the law of the Lord, and meditate on it day and night.” Might I add both summer and fall?



Will Your Anchor Hold?

By:  Nancy Baumgartner, White Pine Church-Cogan House Township

As the school year begins, the specter of tests looms large for many students. However, tests are not confined to the halls of education. I don’t know about others, but my natural reaction to being tested is, “no thanks, not today, too busy, not prepared. Catch me later.” Given the choice, none of us would opt to undergo testing. But life seldom gives us a choice. Tests come whether we are ready or not and, often, at the worst possible time. It may be as complex as having to undergo a variety of procedures to determine what is ailing us or as simple as putting on a joyful attitude when a relative drops in with no warning, a full suitcase, and plans to “spend a few days with you.”

Trying to pretend that being tested will somehow pass us by, or wait for an opportune time to come our way, is not only faulty thinking but sets us up for failure. Accepting that tests are part of life can be the first step toward passing them with victory and grace.

But, how to prepare is the question. James 1:2-4 is a good place to start. James is direct and specific in advising us to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (NKJV). Ah, patience! That elusive ability which often takes a lifetime to perfect. But then Paul comes along and assures us in Philippians 4:13 that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” And Paul knew a thing or two about being tested.

These two scriptures give us tools to begin preparing for life’s testing: acceptance and assurance. James and Paul were able to give such advice because they knew the testing Jesus endured on his mission to do his heavenly Father’s bidding.

In Matthew 4, Jesus is being led by the Holy Spirit into the desert, there to wrestle with the most diabolical of all testers, the Devil. For forty days, the son of God fought to pass his test.

From this example, we can learn that determination to hold firm to what we were created to be and to accomplish God’s plans for us is crucial. Taking the easy path may be just sin wrapped up as a win.

Jesus’ life was full of tests, all of a difficulty none of us will see or would be able to endure. His strength to pass his tests was anchored in his knowledge that his Father in Heaven would not leave him.

So, in our own lives perhaps the first thing to do when testing comes our way is to check our anchor. Is it secured to the blessed assurance God gives us in Isaiah 41:10? “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Jesus knew he would be provided all he needed for the job. We can know that as well.

When testing comes, and it surely will, remember the last lines of this beautiful hymn written by Rev. William Clark Martin (1864-1914) titled, “My Anchor Holds.” “Tempters seek to lure astray; Storms obscure the light of day; But in Christ I can be bold, I’ve an anchor that shall hold.”


The Intersection Of Work And Faith

By: Rev. Larry L. Leland, Jr., Faith United Methodist Church, 700 Fairview Drive, Montoursville, PA 17754

If you were like my family, you spent at least part of last weekend celebrating Labor Day with a picnic with friends. Labor Day has in its origin story a celebration of the labor movement in the United States and the contributions of both laborers and labor/union movements to the economic strength of the country. For many, though, it has become the unofficial end of summer, a three-day weekend, and little else.

The truth is, I pastor a congregation that includes teachers, homemakers, law enforcement personnel, students, business owners, and medical professionals. It also includes retired folks, those whose disabilities make it difficult to find or maintain employment, people who struggle to make ends meet while working two or more jobs, and those who find themselves underemployed and unemployed. The truth is, also, that our people will spend a great deal more time working at workplaces and in the home, or attending school, than worshiping at church. Because of that, I am thinking about Labor Day a bit differently this year. Don’t get me wrong; I am looking forward to a picnic. But I am also reflecting on three truths about the intersection of work and faith.

1. We are created to work. Our work gives us the opportunity to reflect the nature of God, whose image we bear, because God worked and still works. God created and is still creating. Rest is a part of who God is, but so is meaningful work. So it should be for us. In our own origin story, found in Genesis, God places humanity in the garden of Eden and tasks them with naming animals and the overall stewardship of creation.

2. Throughout history, people of faith have often been on the frontlines of seeking justice for workers. We are not perfect, to be sure. And people of faith with sincere commitment to the common good can come to different conclusions about what economic justice looks like. Members of my own faith tradition, though, have historically been active in everything from ending child labor practices to providing living wages to setting the 40-hour work week. As Christians, our desire to see God’s “kingdom come and will be done” extends to caring for all those who labor and those who can’t.

3. God has a purpose for our work. For too long, there has been, even in the Church, a separation between what is seen as sacred work and what is secular. Sacred work has been thought to be confined to religious professionals or missionaries. However, all work can be holy because all Christians are sent into the world to be “salt and light.” It is important to remember that we follow a carpenter who called fishermen and tax collectors to be his first followers. Sometimes, God’s call invites us to leave our nets behind. Other times, our calling invites us to take our faith into homes, schools, businesses, conference rooms, hospital rooms, and restaurants. And the work is holy because God is part of it.

As we leave Labor Day in the rearview mirror for this year, let us look forward to the work that follows. And remember to, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people” (Colossians 3:23 NLT).


Being Encapsulated by the King

By: Apostle Dawn Gueary of LiteShine Intl. Ministries, Williamsport, Pa

What does it mean to be encapsulated by the King?

According to the Oxford dictionary, to be encapsulated means to “express the essential features of something.” Some synonyms relative to the word “encapsulate” would be to “box, cover, enclose, envelop, sheath and wrap.”

He has “boxed” Us in by drawing us to Himself by wrapping us in His Love.

Psalm 91:4 says, “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart” (NIV).

The ministry of the Holy Spirit is a partnering; it is a yielding to a personal relationship with our Father and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It is a threefold cord.

He has given us the Ministry of Reconciliation according to 2 Corinthians 5:18-19. That means we are benefactors of a covenant relationship that first started with a love relationship that was signed, sealed, and delivered by the Blood of Jesus.

We can receive all benefits of the Blood by faith, for faith is how we enter the New Covenant with God. Just as Abraham entered a covenant with God by faith, so we also enter the New Covenant with God by faith.

With His Blood, Jesus purchased our authority and deliverance. The Blood breaks addictions, breaks spiritual bondages, and subdues the work of the enemy. When we testify of the Word and of the Blood, we exercise, by faith, our authority over and deliverance from demonic influence. Everything the enemy does is reversed by the Blood of Jesus.

Psalm 40:3 in the New Living Translation says: “He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed.”

He has given me a new song to sing. I can rest in knowing that no matter what I may face, that I have the Victory because of Him. This gives us the continual grace to forgive those who have not only wronged us, but also wronged our loved ones.

We not only get the benefit of being called a son, a daughter, but we also get to be called His “laid down lover.”

This reminds me of the lyrics of a beautiful song written by Jonathan Ogden, which is titled “Laid Down Lover.”

Some of the lyrics read like this: “Beautiful Savior/You’re my soul’s delight./You are the bridegroom./And we are the bride.” Ogden’s song goes on to state, “You desire my affection./It all belongs to You.” The song affirms that “When I see Your beauty/I’m changed forever Lord.” The song then states the effect: “You have loved me through/My sin and my returning./Now it’s my joy to worship You.”

True Ministry is not a job; it is a calling, a drawing. It is a wooing for each of us to come away with Him. Everything we endeavor to do will come from a place of the overflow of Love. How will you answer The Call?