Faith Matters for Dec. 14, 2013

Longest Night shares hope in dark holidays

The holiday season isn’t a joyous time for everyone.

In the midst of our celebration of the birth of Christ and all the other activities that surround the season, it’s important to acknowledge there are those who are experiencing loss and struggles, said the Rev. Brady Whitton, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge.

“I think for a lot of people there’s a lot of celebration and a lot of talk about family and friends, but there’s a lot of people at this time of the year who have lost loved ones or who are alone,” Whitton said.

First United Methodist has long held a yearly service of healing, hope and encouragement for such people and for those who have suffered job loss and other hardships. It’s called the Longest Night Service, and this year it will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at the church, 930 North Blvd.

The Longest Night Service is named because of its proximity to the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, acknowledging the darkness and celebrating the light coming into the world through Christ.

“The service is particularly geared toward people who have experienced loss or mourning during the holiday season,” Whitton said. “It’s a reflective service that talks about God’s comfort, and that’s especially communicated through music.”

Whitton is mindful of people like his wife who lost her father in early December five years ago.

“So the Christmas time for her can be difficult because it brings back memories of her father’s death,” he said.

Or the 7- and 8-year-olds who lost their 35-year-old father a few weeks ago.

“For the rest of these kids’ lives, for Thanksgiving and Christmas there’s going to be a sad element to it, too,” Whitton said.

Lamar Drummonds, director of music and worship at First United Methodist, will again lead the music for the service, while Whitton will offer a short talk.

Drummonds said the music will consist of carols and anthems which “speak particularly to the beauty and wonder of this season.” He said anthems by Bob Chilcott, Morton Lauridsen, Stephen Caracciolo and John Rutter will be performed by a professional 16-voice chamber choir.

Christmas season proclaims that Christ is called Emmanuel meaning “God with us,” Whitton said.

“I try to focus on that idea that even through dark times the psalmist says ‘yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, thou are with us,’” he said.

Pain and grief are an inevitable part of life, but there are voices even in Christianity that deny that fact, Whitton said.

“The truth is sometimes life is not joyful but that doesn’t mean that God is not with us,” Whitton said, referencing the difficult times Jesus had at the Garden of Gethsemane and during the death of his friend Lazarus. “It’s good to know that God is with us through those difficult moments. Also, we have the hope of Easter and the Resurrection to look forward to.”

Words of wisdom

Baton Rouge’s own Pastor Larry Stockstill, of Bethany Church, is one of the contributors to the powerful new devotion al “Wisdom for Everyday Living” (Health Communications Inc.).

The subtitle for the book is “365 Daily Devotions from America’s Most Influential Christian Leaders.” Among the 90 writers are Judy Douglass, of Campus Crusade for Christ/Cru; Anne Graham, founder of AnGel Ministries and daughter of Billy Graham; and Bob Coy, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Subject matters include enduring hard times; sorrow and depression; struggling to break an addition; forgiveness; importance of God’s word and fellowship with other Christians; and having a thankful attitude.

Stockstill contributes six readings, including “The End of Your Rope.” His passage is taken from Psalm 136:23 — “He remembered our utter weakness. His faithful love endures for forever.” He writes about Elijah and Peter and how God did not forsake them in some of the lowest points of their life.

Stockstill writes: “You can learn from these examples that God remembers you in your human frailty when you are worn out in mind, body and spirit from the fatigue of spiritual warfare. When you are at the end of the rope, tie a knot and hang on God receives his greatest glory when his servants come to the end of their resources and can only look up.”

The 368-page book was compiled by Evangelist Steve M. Woods, chairman of the California-based Woods Mastery Learning Foundation Inc., a 3-year-old nonprofit organization that provides scholarships and grants to Christian students and institutions. The majority of the proceeds from “Wisdom for Everyday Living” will go toward those scholarships, Woods said.

Call (800) 441-5569 or go to hcibooks.com.

Testing time

Believers should expect tests (or storms) in their lives but should not be fearful, a revival speaker shared last week at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in Baton Rouge.

“The truth of the matter is storms are just going to come your way,” said the Rev. Minor Rogers of Heart to Heart Family Worship Center in Gretna. “Storms have a way of knocking at your door. Storms have a way of coming where you are.”

Rogers culminated the three-day “Reason of Refreshing” revival at the church, which meets at Florida Boulevard Baptist Church. The theme was based on Acts 3:19. Bishop Sean Elder, of Mount Herman Baptist Church in Avondale, was the speaker for the first two nights of the revival.

Rogers’ message was titled “It’s Only a Test.” His Scripture was taken from Mark 4:34-41 where Jesus and his disciples were in a ship on the sea when a “great” storm arose.

The disciples had no idea the storm was coming their way, but Jesus did, Rogers said.

“I want you to know in your walk with the Lord, the test never comes to challenge the believer,” he said. “It only comes to challenge your faith. The test shows up at your door to see how much of what God is teaching you that you retain. Jesus never promised us a safe journey. He only promised a safe arrival.”

Even though he knew about the storm, Jesus decided to take a nap in the hinder part of the ship. But the fearful disciples awaken him during the storm. Jesus got up and calmed the storm.

“Jesus doesn’t get up to see the storm; he gets up so the storm can see him,” Rogers said. “He gets up so the wind and the waves can know he’s on the boat.”

So it is with the believers to remember that Jesus is present during the storms of life, Rogers said.

“As a child of God, there’s not but one way to handle the tests that are going to show up in your life,” he said. “You can’t go around tests. You can’t go under tests. You got to go through the test. Because of who’s on board, you don’t have to worry. All you got to do is keep the faith.”

Rogers closed his message by sharing one of the most difficult tests in his life. He talked about the day in 1999 when his wife of 13 months — and three months pregnant — committed suicide.

“I found myself that day dealing with a test,” he said. “Because of what (God) had done in me, it anchored me in the midst of that storm.”

Faith Matters runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. Terry Robinson can be reached at (225) 388-0238 or email trobinson@theadvocate.com