Prayers of a Righteous Cub

“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” – James 5:6

Praying is hard.

It’s hard to concentrate.  Hard to know what to say.  Hard to listen.  To stand.  Kneel.  Raise your hands.  Close your eyes.  Stay awake.  You get the idea.

Praying is hard.

Yet, praying is essential if one is to remain connected with God.  Not only is praying essential for communication, praying is evidence of faith.

Our human grasp of prayer is limited.  For many Believers, praying becomes routine.  It’s something we’re supposed to do in the morning, at night, before a meal or the offering. For unbelievers, it’s response to a crisis.  A request from The Genie in the lamp. When prayers are not answered as we hope – the loan fell through, the loved one dies, the grade is F – prayer is abandoned and God is blamed.  And God is abandoned.  Until the next crisis.

What God requests of prayer is consistency.  This is a hard lesson, and hard activity.  Through prayer we recognize the attributes of God, acknowledge His ways are not ours, and realize we – His children (those who acknowledge Him) – are instruments of His plan.  Instruments, not pawns.

These ideas became concretized in these corners when the Cubs won the 2016 World Series and Ben Zobrist was named Most Valuable Player.

zobrist-double

In the course of the playoffs, Zobrist unexpectedly popped up on our TV in a commercial for his alma mater, Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL.  Generally, such commercials are muted in our house awaiting the next noisy game show.  However, the spot hit the personal radar because of family friends who attend there and interns from ONU our church has hired.  That commercial put Zobrist on our Christ-follower radar.

His MVP award demonstrated his value to the team throughout the year, not just in the Series.  After winning a World Series championship with the Kansas City Royals in 2015, he became a free agent and signed with the Cubs over the winter.  As a Cub, Zobrist became a personal favorite for his reliability and versatility on the field throughout the season even though neither he nor his statistics, were flashy or headline-grabbing.  A switch hitter, he was signed as a second baseman, but was skilled at multiple positions. As younger players – potential stars – developed, Zobrist was moved around.  Even though it was not always certain where he would play, it was pretty certain that he would. By the playoffs Zobrist had become a fixture in left field.

Between Games 5 & 6, when the Cubs were down 3-2 in the Series,  The Huffington Post Parents section published a blog by author Kristie Christie outlining  how Zobrist and his wife Julianna infuse their faith in raising their family and their work.  This was something of a revelation, for throughout the year there was no great, public indication that Zobrist is Christian – not in the same high-profile athlete vein as, say, Tim Tebow.   In these eyes, appreciation of Zobrist grew.  So much so that, when he came to bat with runners in scoring position during the 10th inning, something unexpected emerged from lips that had never been done in relation to a sporting event, team or competition.

“Lord,” The Lips said, “ let Your Child get a hit.”  This was not a thought.  These were SOUNDS from a mouth that generally prays in his head,  or writes them in order to concentrate.  No sooner had they come out, Zobrist purposely sliced the ball the opposite direction, beating a defensive shift against his left-handed swing.  The result was a double and two runs batted-in, including one for the margin of victory. Shortly afterwards, Zobrist was given a snazzy new car as part of his Most Valuable Player performance.

However, the larger stage for the small-town Illinois native was to come on Friday at the championship rally.  Before countless millions watching live in Chicago’s Grant Park, and elsewhere, Zobrist gave insight into his professional journey and served as a witness to those who do and don’t speak Christianese.  Zobrist spoke of God as a proper noun and of the role of God in his decision-making process.

“So literally, I promise you, I prayed during free agency last year, to be a Chicago Cub….”

“Thankfully God, and Theo (Epstein, the Cubs’ president of baseball operations),” he added, bringing perspective, “made it happen.” (Watch the speech.)

To the uninitiated, this may have sounded as some hocus-pocus, mumbo jumbo.  For those to whom God IS a proper noun, the sentence is a lesson.

Zobrist’s free-agent process included the following considerations:

  1. He had to know what he wanted professionally – where he wanted to play, terms of the contract, work conditions, how much money, his ultimate goal.
  2. He had to weigh these options against offers from other teams, in tough negotiations with Epstein and in a restricted time frame.
  3. He had a choice:   to make the decision on his own, or petition God with specifics – especially if other offers seemed more, well, tempting.
  4. He had to make a choice that involved his family as well as personal desires.
  5. Having made the choice, Zobrist had to live with the decision trusting God, win or lose.

He chose the Cubs, and the rest is, well, you know…His story.

It would be wrong to interpret these thoughts as saying, “God made the Cubs win,” or, “God liked the Cubs more than Cleveland,” or “Didn’t the Christian Indians pray, too?”

just-because-chicago
Drawing by Vince Conard.

This tale is simply a reminder to those who do give God His Proper Noun. It is embracing one man’s approach to facing recognizable human challenges.  It is a tale of recognizing Paul’s letter to the Romans in action today: from the free agency prayer, to the season of play, to the family blog, to the prayer on the couch, to the double to left, to the stage at Grant Park,  “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

 

Though not dealing with millions of dollars, millions of people engage in a free-agent process each day such as mulling job offers, making school choices, selecting contractors for home repairs, or health care procedures. Zobrist’s journey illustrates prayer encouragement of Paul to the Thessalonian congregation (“pray without ceasing”) and  Jesus to His followers (“seek first His kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”).  It brings to mind prayer perspective by Jesus’ brother James, writing to the first Jewish believers in Jesus Messiah . First James admonished (“When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasure”);  then he reassured (“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective”).

Zobrist reminds us there is power in specific requests but to not just leave prayer as lip service. There is the responsibility of doing the work at hand rather than passively sitting back and waiting for “a miracle” or giving in to distractions.  In such cases, as our desires become in sync with God’s, He’ll provide the stage to proclaim His glory whether in a ball park or a kitchen table. That’s His reward for being  MVP:  Most Valuable Prayer.

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Sermonized Announcements

Then Boaz announced  to the elders and all the people…” Ruth 4:9 (New International Version)

It’s the snarkiest of times, it’s the most troublesome of times.  It’s time for the church announcements, the bane of a worship planner’s planning.  What a to do!

Sermonized 2
Our tendency is to rush through the items, as if necessary evils. There is also the tendency to languish, as if the presenter is self-possessed.

You could mention them at the start of the Service of Worship, like the pre-show curtain speech in theater .  But then, the people don’t hear them. They’re getting settled waiting for the real show to start:  the music; the real worship, you know?  Or for the music to stop.   That could be another 10 minutes.  More people would be in the audience to hear them.  But then…?

If the announcements are in the middle of the service, either before or after the sermon, they interrupt the tone set up by the music to receive the message, or the reflect on it afterward.

If they are after the decision-making, maybe tied in with the offering, they run the risk of being dismissed as a superfluous afterthought.  These days with so many announcements being produced as mini-movies, that can be demoralizing, running the risk of an unhappy video ministry.  On the other hand, even the most Oscar-worthy announcement verite risks a thumbs down, no matter how well done.  In some circles, the idea of movie announcements in church is as sinful as the organ, drums and guitars have been (are?).  At best, they become the annoying white nose between the sermon and the parking lot release; at worst, they are akin to audio-cranked, strobe-paced TV commercials that blur the line between the kingdom and the world —

“We interrupt our Worship of God to bring you this news about us.” 

Even if the next-to-last item in the itinerary before the  day’s exodus, there’s visual cacophony– often boisterously written on the congregation’s faces — of hearing a James Earl Jonesian announcer (the Voice of God?) intone, “We return you now to our regularly scheduled Service of Worship.”

That leaves a gamut of announcement options. These vary according to the church’s size, resources, expectations and clock-watchers: keep them short in passing; interweave throughout the elements, just don’t do them.  Let people read the bulletin or go online.  Enough with the tongue-in-cheekiness.

However they’re presented, however much creativity and energy are spent, even if they’re diligently absorbed by the most steadfast listener, the question remains:  do our “announcements” fit the idea of a Service of Worship which is focusing on God?

The answer, as with each element of church ministry, is found in this perpetual query from a mentor pastor who lassoed freewheeling, unending brainstorming with this earth-bound retort: “Toward what purpose?”

What is the purpose of church announcements?

Simply tradition?  A news and prayer update of the calendar or congregation’s lives that we’ve always done, or that everybody else does?  The stuff that church bulletin typos comedy is made of? Or is there something about this sharing of information that actually is — or can be — connected to the overall atmosphere of collectively honoring God?  Having wrestled with this dilemma for several years, I’m comfortable that there is.  Church announcements are as essential to corporately worshipping God as psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, and the sermon.  Perhaps, in many ways, more so.

As a presenter and visitor, I’ve experienced the good, the bad, the ugly of “announcements.” Our tendency is to rush through the items, as if necessary evils (emphasis on the final word). There is also the tendency to languish, as if the presenter is self-possessed.  I’ve been accused of both.

I’ve attended services where there are no announcements, announcements from the audience, music video announcements, Reader’s Digest bulletin sample announcements, “apologetized” announcements (where the speaker repeatedly makes excuses for what needs to be said), ABC announcements (where every line of the bulletin is read to the congregation).

However, a few months ago, I had an announcement epiphany while, of all times, listening to the pastor’s sermon.  Imagine.

You see, as a staff member, my Sunday mornings are often spent fine-tuning details of the service and balancing those with parental responsibilities.  When I have platform duties — like presenting the announcements — there are times when my focus is hazy.  The slightest technical bobble distracts me.  I mentally truncate the list of items to mention…because of the game clock.  Or the pastor makes a salient point that opens creative floodgates.

Sermonized Pix 1
Can we get listeners to view announcements as opportunities to serve God?  And once recognizing that, can we encourage them to participate?

On this particular day, I had no responsibilities but the family news, including no family tasks. So-freed, I allowed myself to become a congregant — to sing, reflect on the scriptures, absorb the message, and make connections.  One pastoral point stayed with me as I went forward to spread the news.   So much so, it took a moment to speak…and discover:  All three verbal items were related to the day’s message, our church mission, our vision.  Each had an inherent purpose for being read.  They weren’t separate.  We were doing these acts of service because of who we are as a church committed to Christ.  It was incumbent to express this to the audience, including those people who had never been to our church before.  The 3-5 minutes allotted me (the length of a song) now became, not a time out, but time to engage and to challenge; to allow the listeners to remain connected for the elements following — our financial offering, a celebration song, God’s benediction blessing.

 

Since then, I’ve been developing a more intentional template.  A guide for “sermonized announcements” that at least allows my sense of worship to remain attentive and inspired in the midst of ministry-threatening busyness.  The template works for a church our size (the 150s) and may have merit elsewhere.  It’s a guide to interacting with the congregation, whether through showcasing acts of service, greeting the audience,  presenting events information, or giving instructions for the offering or communion. The template allows the challenge of putting the moment in spiritual context and trusting others participate because they understand the “commercial” through Christ’s eyes.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

Can we get our listeners to view the announcements as an opportunity to serve God?  And once recognizing that opportunity, can we encourage members and guests to become active participants?

“…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17)

Making too much of this announcement thing?  The point is to dispel the misconception that worship starts and stops with music.  It’s the entire time.   Our overhead projection that introduces this sequence is called, “Worshipping God through Offerings and Acts of Service.”   It’s important to underscore these concepts, particularly among guests whose idea of church may be “they’re always asking for money.” And to remind everyone why the church exits.  These items don’t need to happen at the same time.  They are, however, a checklist to review when deciding what information should be shared in corporate worship.  So, the template is something like this:

  1. Introduce yourself;
  2. Acknowledge the audience — regulars and guests;
  3. Point out information that needs to be written:  for example, names & addresses on a communication card;
  4. Give brief instructions to complete card and offering envelope;
  5. Express the church’s mission and vision;
  6. If you have a Welcome Packet, give summary of content, highlight special additions and where to get one;
  7. Connect the mission and vision to this sequence of worship;
  8. Connect to a sermon point if possible; or scripture; maybe note “This is why we do these events…”
  9. Point out the bulletin and refer to key items of the day to be addressed before leaving, and those to read at home;
  10. Invite the audience to a special activity not listed in the bulletin such as a class; when possible, highlight a topic;
  11. Mention any available sermon support material — a CD or order, web connection, or study notes;
  12. Pray, giving thanks for participation and reminding that contributions today underwrite ministries as the ones mentioned;
  13. Invite your offering collectors to begin.

The sequence may seem long, yet has purpose based in research:

  • Long-time attendees may go through these motions by rote, forgetting the importance of ministry service.
  • Newcomers don’t know the “rules” and may feel out of place.  In anticipation of growth, assume each week has new people.
  • If you have a video or audio ministry, telling people about the existence of this media for further study on today’s topic is more ministry uplifting and less commercial.
  • A special class invitation may pique the curiosity of a person who would like further study but doesn’t know what’s going on.

If the repetition annoys regulars, ask how many times they’ve seen their favorite “I Love Lucy” rerun.  Research also points out it takes several “touches” or reminders for people to latch on to a concept, especially to comprehend a church’s mission or vision.  One church mentor has said, “About the time you’re tired of hearing it is the time the people start getting it.”

We return you now to your regularly-scheduled reading.

(Featured photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash)

(Other photos by Dara Magrum)

Family Affairs

“These commandments I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children.” – Deuteronomy 6:6-7 (New International Version)

The motto – mission – of my home church is “developing a family of Christ-followers.” The goal is multi-faceted: to encourage the members and regular attendees to interact with each other as a family; to recognize that we are of diverse ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, ideas, temperaments yet united by blood…the blood of Christ. In the months which have five Sundays, the fifth Sunday is designated Family First Sunday.

In many cases a church-family relationship is stronger than that of bloodkin…those siblings, cousins, or others of the biological chain. Celebrations, like Christmas or Easter, have a different level of joy among a church family because of the mutual understanding of certain rituals. At the same time, as family we are reminded that there will be moments of dysfunction. We are to work to overcome dysfunction and disagreements through Christ rather than on our own. Face it: without the accountability of Christ, when family feuds occur, it’s easy to say no…to walk away from a family relationship. To walk away from the family, period.

Naturally, there are critiques that it’s not necessary to be Christian to have family cohesion…that Christian faith doesn’t have exclusive claim on holding families together…and that, indeed, Christianity can be the REASON for familial discord. Consider the number of people who have been “disowned” for choosing to say, “Jesus is Lord.” Those familiar with the Scriptures recognize this familial rejection isn’t a surprise. Christ himself explained to his disciples,

“Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:53-55)

Such discord happened in his own family when religious leaders tried to get his mother and siblings to stop him from performing miracles, declaring he was possessed by Satan. In setting the leaders straight, Jesus introduced the “concept” of the extended family:

“Who is my mother, and who are my brothers? (Matthew 12:40) Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:48).

Disagreements notwithstanding, there’s another part of “developing a family” to take into consideration: Bonding of biological kinfolk who recognize dysfunctions of the family, their own physical or emotional MALfunctions, understand who Jesus is, and unabashedly call to Him for strength and comfort in the midst of their maladies. Indeed, they readily, audibly praise him for little things: like taking a step, a breath, or remembering what breakfast was. A personification of this perspective appeared during a holiday celebration.

STEP BY STEP

Dinner had ended. Family fun festivities were about to begin. Dinner was the first time they’d ever met, many of these relatives. A grandma, two daughters, a husband, a grandson, a granddaughter and two great grandchildren spread out across two rooms surrounding the dining table and assorted décor. Their seating arrangement was framed. Still-life posing for a Renaissance painter. Each life contained a story of faith in the face of misfortune.

Grandma struggled with memory voids that frustrated her, tested the patience of youngsters, and saddened those who knew her mental acumen back in the day — particularly the daughters. So, they tapped into the credo an Ancestor-in-Law printed on envelopes of all his family and business correspondence in the bygone era:

“The family that prays together, stays together.”

Without fanfare, they prayed. Regularly. Aloud. Whenever. Prayed for patience, the absence of outbursts, deliverance from depression, liberation from blood pressure spikes. They prayed for, fill-in-the-blank. Daughter No. 1 prayed not only for her mother, but also for her Husband, wheelchair-bound across the room, felled by diabetes-related kidney malfunction. He had been sitting in the chair for all of the four hours since they had arrived. It was restful. Once he got out of the car which transported him, it took him a good 15 minutes of standing and leaning on his walker to figure out how to position his body to climb the two steps to get into the door and collapse into his chariot. With each sweaty, shuffled step, he said, “Thank you, Jesus,” in earnest. He knew that, without the power of Christ, he had neither to strength to stand, nor turn, nor drop his bulky frame into the chair. “Thank you. Thank you, Jesus.”

(He again intoned the praise when the evening ended, two hours later…the last 30 minutes of which he spent working out how to lift from the chair and go DOWN the two steps in order to walk to the car 10-feet away. Reaching the auto, The Husband paused and intoned, “I am tired of this,” to “Thank you, Jesus.” Not as a matter of complaint, but as confession, a request and a goal.)

Seated in the room, The Husband stroked his beloved Bree, a sweater-clad lapdog, the closest he and Daughter No. 1 had to offspring. Bree was a blessing to him. As were the great-grandchildren — his niece and nephew — who bandied about, as single-digit children should at holiday time, noisily and free, yet within boundaries. The boundaries were set, and quietly reinforced, by their father — The Grandson — whose patience was essential on a day such as this. They had driven six hours, half of them in heavy snow, and had arrived a couple of hours later than expected because of a late start. The delay only slighted infringed upon the time of Daughter No. 2 – his aunt — who had driven three hours to rendezvous with him and his family at the state border.

On the return ride, they did some long overdue catching up. It had been years. The Grandson was now a single dad with shared custody. The previous five years had been contentious and life-changing. Only five months earlier Jesus had evolved from a concept to reality. Despite only part-time parent duty, he developed full-time presence; so much so that when he stepped into the garage to help The Husband from wheelchair to car, his daughter quietly melted down indoors, fearing she had been abandoned.  Despite her brother’s reassurance, she mellowed only when her father returned and assured her he was always around…an embodiment of the commandment of Deuteronomy 6, not confining the instruction to a specific day, time, or other individual — say, a professional theologian — but teaching them:

“when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up;”

The prodigal had learned the children were his responsibility…and the church’s..together. Each would put the family first.

SHARING GIFTS

There are several reasons we declare fifth Sundays “Family First Sunday.”

One is to publicly display speaking, performing or musical gifts of various members of our church family. This is an element of “developing a family of Christ-followers.” Another reason is to remind us that we are  an intergenerational church, thus mutually accountable, and that paid staff or elected leaders are not the only ministers in our midst. This particular Sunday included an uncle baptizing his nephew; two child dedications; a mother-daughter duet; stories of faith by a teen worker, a first-year teacher, a new dad; a sermonette by a college intern, and an all-ages brunch served by the teens.

Interaction of ages within a church family has a positive impact in passing down values or uplifting dispositions. Faith values passed among bloodkin produce a unity that transcends years of separation and state lines.  The gathering of the family, only three of whom attend our church, embodied these concepts:

The arrival of the great-grandchildren revived The Grandma and The Husband from midwinter funk.  The presence of men, the active presence of men, was settling among the children and reassuring for the women.  Prayer was a universal response to situations, good and bad, not simply words muttered so food could be munched.

Family First is to remind parents, grandparents and children to seek and grasp family moments: to enjoy traditions, to establish traditions; to see God at work in triumph, tragedy, good times and bad; to put down the gadgets, notebooks, work schedules, even ministry responsibilities, and embrace each other.

This idea of family is harder to embrace in our fast-paced, instant “Like,” microwave, iPod, want-it-now world of 140-character communication, and fleeting BFFs. Yet long before there were schools, Sunday schools or TV teaching, surmounting this task was God’s instructions to the adults, recorded in Deuteronomy 6:6-7: “These commandments I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children.”

“The Virgin Shall Be With Child” Really?

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. — Isaiah 7:14 (New International Version)

A favorite film is the classic western “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” starring John Wayne, James Stewart and Lee Marvin.  Its climax includes one of cinema’s most iconic lines of dialogue:

“This is the West, sir,” a newspaper editor says at the end of an interview.  He rips his notes from their notebook.  “When legend becomes fact, print the legend.”  And he tosses the notes into a fire.

The film came to mind during a Christmas trivia game with our youth group and several adults.  Games, of course, are supposed to be fun.  They also are used to unveil pretense and get to the core of human behavior.  Gaming experiences, it’s said, “are worth a thousand pictures,” bringing to the surface deep-seated emotions and values.

This particular game challenges a person’s knowledge of the Christmas story according to the Biblical accounts of Jesus’ birth.  The goal of the game:  “How much of the story we know is Scriptural; how much the stuff of Hallmark — its cards or movies?”

man-who-shot-liberty-valance

Lee Marvin, John Wayne & James Stewart, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”

There was true-false, multiple choice, the occasional “none of the above,” and “we don’t know”  answers.  Among the latter was how many Wise Men were there, and where was Jesus born:  in a cave, a tree, an inn, a stable?  There were just enough “we don’t knows” that they ignited a teen rebellion.  One, a group leader, flung her game sheet across the room in mock exasperation.  Another teen, a newcomer and cynic about Christian faith, seized the moment to strengthen her perspective that the Bible couldn’t be trusted.  In another room, adults — all of whom were long-time Christ-followers, including two pastors and two Sunday school teachers — struggled with some of the questions, too, muttering several awes and wonders.

The most earth-shattering moment, however, came not from a game question but in response to a straight-forward true-false statement:  “Mary was a virgin when when she delivered Jesus.”

From the powerful lungs of a skilled nine-year-old reader, these words cut the air:  “What’s a VIRGIN!?”

Eyes turned toward her mother in the next room as silence loomed in the air.  The adults cleared back, mentally at least, like onlookers in the Liberty Valance showdown.  Finally, the mom’s alto emerged:  “Baaaahhhh-b!” she said, hailing the youth pastor who’d initiated the game.

“Well?” said the child“What’s a vir-gin?”

Eventually, the adults collectively declared for nine-year-old comprehension:  “A virgin is a woman who hasn’t had a baby yet.”  This response sated the preteen, who returned to answering questions, and bought time for the mom to talk with dad about fast-tracking certain  forthcoming family biology discussions.

Meanwhile, in the basement the same True-False interrogation had an equally “stop the presses” affect upon the teens who have taken biology.   “Wait?” blurted a freshman girl. “Wait. What?  WAIT!  How…?  Uh-uh!  No way.  Really? What?” The sequence of utterances would not have been as mind-boggling from, say, the cynical newcomer.  However, this lass had recently completed confirmation classes at her Catholic church.  Now, not having a Catholic background, I’m not familiar with the specifics of the class content; however, I know enough about the Catholic faith to realize that the Virgin Mary is revered — so much so, I assumed that the significance of Jesus’ mother being a virgin would not be a foreign concept.   The other teens were equally surprised that a girl with her background was so thunderstruck.  Perhaps we can chalk it up to a teen’s proverbial, “Uh, I missed that day.”

Or, we can chalk it up to something that happens to many people on a spiritual journey that involves Christian faith.  There are moments in our lives when the words in the Bible become more than words, but begin to connect with our everyday lives.  They make sense in ways we didn’t expect, didn’t want, and sometimes don’t want to acknowledge.  hgjh

At the same time, there are moments when people of Christian faith who have been believers in Christ for many years, are slapped in the face with the fact that we often take for granted what we’ve been taught and, having gotten accustomed to the annual — what?  play, song, traditions, rituals, teachings?– that we forget to go back to the source.  Sometimes we print our own legends instead of re-reading the facts.

That was a purpose of the game which wasn’t clearly articulated in the moment because of the detours.  But they were humbling lessons that came later.  God has a way of doing that.

mary-and-joseph—-

One of the offshoots of this experience was that it solidfied a structure the Lead Pastor was considering for the Christmas Eve service.  “We don’t read the Christmas story much anymore,” he said.  The Christmas story of Christ, in our culture, has gotten lost.  So, on Christmas Eve, we read The Christmas Story at church as recorded in the two New Testament gospels, Matthew and Luke.  Here is the sequence.  Read it for the first time, or the umpteenth.  Just remember,  for the record, a virgin is a woman who has not had sexual relations.   I added that in case you were absent that day.