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When Christmas is Not the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

“It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year, 
It’s the Hap-happiest season of all…

Except….when it’s not.

In the days leading up to our first Christmas without our youngest child, sixteen-year-old Mark, Harry Connick Jr.’s merry lyrics sharply contrasted with the tears and unending ache in my chest accompanying me every minute of every day. Even the night of his death, Christmas was on our minds. On our way home from the hospital that hot July night, stunned to be leaving without our child, Chuck grabbed my hand and whispered, “Christmas, what will we do about Christmas?”

Over twenty years later, I experience joy in this “most wonderful time of the year” but not because it’s the hap-happiest season of all. Because it’s not. About two weeks before Thanksgiving I begin to feel disorganized, disconnected, and emotionally edgy. Anger and impatience vie for top billing in situations that don’t normally rattle me.  And every year Chuck reminds me that my root problem is grief. I miss Mark. The freight train of sorrow still surprises me with its ferocity and power.

One reason the holiday season is so difficult for grieving Americans is because marketing gurus tap deep into our core need for community and family. Thanksgiving and Christmas are ready made opportunities for stirring up our God-given hunger for peace and whole families. The most effective ads are those that imply their product will produce healthy, conflict-free relationships. Divorce, broken relationships, childlessness, loss of a loved one, financial disaster, singleness, conflict-filled marriage—none of these fit the “hap-happiest time of the year” template. The ads only serve to magnify the holes in our own broken lives.

10 Tips for Christmas Grief Relief…

Athanasius and the Incarnation of Christ

When was the last time you read an old book?

C.S. Lewis had an opinion on this: “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”
Lewis urges Christian readers to step outside of their century to read the “old books.” In fact, he penned these words as part of an introduction to the over 1,600-year-old classic, On the Incarnation by Athanasius. As Christmas nears and we reflect on our Lord Jesus coming in the flesh, let us learn first-hand about the Incarnation from Athanasius, a Christian who suffered greatly to protect the biblical truth that Jesus is both fully God and fully man.

Who Was Athanasius?

Athanasius, an early Church Father, was born sometime during 296-300 A.D. in Alexandria, Egypt. The city of Alexandria played a pivotal role in the Eastern Roman Empire. Athanasius grew up during the reign of Diocletian, emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, and his successor Galerius, both of whom violently persecuted Christians. As a young child, Athanasius saw followers of Christ driven from their homes, tortured, and martyred.
Later, as a young adult, Athanasius studied under Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, and engaged in the great Trinitarian strife—the Arian controversy. Arius, a priest in Alexandria, denied the divinity of Jesus and taught the heresy that since Jesus is the Son of God, as a son, Jesus had to have a beginning and thus was a created being. He confused many in the early Church by falsely teaching that God the Father alone was truly God, and that Jesus his Son was not God, but instead, was the first and greatest creature made by the Father to accomplish man’s salvation. Bishop Alexander opposed Arius and fought to maintain the true deity of the eternal Christ….

Prayer and Partnerships: A Profile of RBI

Editor’s Note: From its inception, the women in the PCA have loved on and supported the denomination in practical ways. One way has been through the annual women’s ministry love gift. This year, the women’s ministry of the PCA is praying for and partnering with the different agencies and committees of the denomination regionally. Throughout the year, we will highlight the committees and agencies to learn more about what they do and how we can pray for them. I recently interviewed Gary Campbell with PCA Retirement and Benefits (RBI).

Christina: Can you tell us what RBI does for the PCA? How did it come into existence?

Gary: Thanks, Christina, for the opportunity to talk about the ministry of PCA Retirement & Benefits (RBI). Put simply, RBI provides employee benefits and support services for PCA church servants. Our mission is to prepare, protect, and nurture PCA servants through investment, insurance, relief, and related services, so they can focus on ministry. RBI was founded at the very beginning of the denomination in 1973. It was known as the Annuity Fund for Ministers and was part of the Administrative Committee. In 1973 the organization was a very small operation, but as it grew there was a need to establish it as a separate denominational agency overseen by a dedicated governing board. This was accomplished in 1982 when our name was changed to Insurance Annuities and Relief (IAR). Today, RBI serves over 7,000 participants with combined assets of $650 million in the PCA Retirement Plan. Group Insurance volume is almost $685 million covering 4,281 ministry partners. And RBI Ministerial Relief has paid $637,726 in awards to 64 beneficiaries in the past four quarters.

Christina: What are the main services pastors seek your assistance with?

Gary: That’s a good question. I believe the leading source of incoming and outgoing calls is related to questions church workers have regarding saving and planning for retirement. These interactions are a result of a retirement readiness survey we conducted in late 2010 with the assistance of Price Waterhouse Coopers. The survey confirmed our worst fears. We found that PCA church leaders were significantly behind in their preparation for retirement and, by implication, the future for widows of PCA teaching elders was dire. We realized that reversing this trend would require effort and prayer by RBI to unify the denomination around a solution to this problem. Since 2010, RBI has transformed the organization to embody a relational/missional culture of service to church workers. We employ a team of teaching elders who are also Certified Financial Planners to proactively meet with church workers throughout the PCA. We also publish a yearly compensation guide called the PCA Call Package Guidelines to assist churches as they seek to understand how to pay pastors fairly and deal with complex issues such as pastoral housing allowance, social security, and other unique facets of pastoral compensation. This has been a monumental effort and I believe the needle is moving, but we have much more work yet to do.

Christina: Are there any groups that are particularly under-served?…

Now to Him Who is Able

KRISTEN HATTON|CONTRIBUTOR

Everything in me wanted to attack. After how I had been mistreated—by a friend no less—no way did I want to absorb the pain. Quite the opposite; in my sinfulness, what I really wanted was for her to hurt too. I wanted her to pay for how she had wronged me.

On the other hand, in my anger and hurt, I really did not want to sin. I wanted to be careful not to say or do anything that would be un-Christ like. I wanted to be forbearing, gracious, and forgiving. But I was afraid that because of how hurt and angry I felt, my contrary nature would win out.

An Ongoing Struggle

This internal conflict is the reality of being in the Spirit, and also living in a broken and fallen world. Through faith in Christ’s redeeming work for us at the cross, we’ve been set free from the power of sin, yet the presence of sin still remains. This means we will continue to deal with these dueling natures within us until we are glorified. Too often though, it seems there is no battle; the flesh just wins out. Like Paul in Romans 7, I identify with the desire to do what is right, but then going on to do what I don’t want to do instead.

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Romans 7:18-20)

Prayer and Partnerships: A Profile of Mission to North America

Editor’s Note: From its inception, the women in the PCA have loved on and supported the denomination in practical ways. One way has been through the annual women’s ministry love gift. This year, the women’s ministry of the PCA is praying for and partnering with the different agencies and committees of the denomination regionally. Throughout the year, we have been highlighting the committees and agencies to learn more about what they do and how we can pray for them. I recently interviewed  Paul Hahn, coordinator of Mission to North America (MNA).

Christina: Can you explain the origins of MNA and its role in the PCA?

Paul: Mission to North America (MNA) was established at the very beginning of our life together as the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), as a permanent committee of the PCA to coordinate the extension of the church in North America. From the very beginning, church planting (at that time usually referred to as organizing churches) has been core to MNA’s task of pursuing the flourishing of the gospel throughout the United States and Canada. And from early on, other ministries of word and deed which would serve to advance the gospel were given birth inside the MNA family: disaster response, chaplain ministries, networks promoting justice and mercy, and gospel outreach to college campuses (RUF was originally part of MNA).

Initially, most new churches were formed in the PCA through transfers or splits from existing denominations who were drifting from their theological moorings. In the next phase, MNA staff directly recruited and launched most of the new churches. Since 2000, MNA has focused on providing services, resources, and hands-on leadership and training, so that churches and presbyteries can take full ownership of launching new churches. MNA has also been on the cutting edge of enabling the PCA to become a more diverse church in a gospel sense — with our various minority movements, as well as the New City Church Planting Network and our Justice and Mercy initiatives. In this most recent period, many more MNA Missional Partnership ministries have been added to serve established churches in their word and deed outreach to their communities: Metanoia Prison Ministries, Engaging Disabilities, ESL, Immigrant and Refugee, and Ministry to State, among others.

Christina: What is your role at MNA? How have you seen it change during your tenure?