Merry Christmas to you. Kristina has been preparing Christmas for our family while I have been preparing messages for Christmas Eve and our services this Sunday. My topic for the 4:30 and 6:00 PM Christmas Eve services is “Surprised by a Blessing,” from Matthew 1:18-25. My parents made Christmas a big deal when I was a child. I have always loved the surprises of presents and the carols, food, decorations and traditions that make Christmas special. The birth of Jesus was full of surprises for Mary and Joseph. There was nothing traditional about it. Their lives were turned upside down by the way God worked it all out. I’m hoping that we will understand the radical ways that God can work as we celebrate the presence of Christ in our midst.

My message for Sunday is called “Humility that Brings Transformation” from I Peter 5:5-7. Grace is life-transforming power that God gives us in Christ. Grace is what saves us, strengthens us and brings us gifts that make us effective in ministry. Humility is the key to receiving this transforming grace. It may not seem humble for me to say this, but these truths could change your life for better, forever. Let me suggest that you meditate a while on these verses, so that you will have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.

May the desires of your heart come to pass this Christmas and throughout the New Year.

Several years ago I wrote an article about pyramid scams that was placed on the web site. Since then, I have received e-mail from all over the country inquiring about various pyramid schemes and multi-level businesses. Many of the people were worried because someone in their church had approached them about a “business opportunity” that just didn’t seem right.

Companies that sell dubious products, or products that are overpriced because of their marketing system, should be avoided. I interviewed many people representing health products on my radio program. Every person with supplements would explain to me that their vitamins were the best on the market. They all claimed to have superior manufacturing processes that enabled the body to assimilate nutrients better than any similar product. I didn’t think they were purposely deceiving people, but they could not all be telling the truth.

Two friends recently told me about multi-level companies with good products that are making a lot of money. In spite of this opportunity, I knew I didn’t want to be involved in their companies. I represent Someone who freely gives us the love of God, forgiveness of sins and gifts of grace from the Holy Spirit. These are all more valuable than money.

The love of God comes through people who have received it from others. God’s love is holy. It is not sexual, manipulative or controlling. The love of God frees us from fear and gives us a desire to love others. I didn’t know what the love of God was until Jesus was revealed to me. The people who introduce us to Jesus are people we love for the rest of our lives. If they didn’t take the time to love us, teach us and watch over us spiritually, we would still be lost. We thank God for our spiritual fathers and if they need us, we try to help them any way we can.

I felt a lot of financial pressure this summer because we had $4,400,000 due on our facility November 1, as well as declining revenue. In September we began twenty-five days of fasting and prayer to seek the Lord. In one of our prayer meetings a man prophesied that we would receive a million dollar gift.

In October we cut our ministry budgets and planned salary cuts for all our pastors and staff. But by November, the Lord began to open the heavens for us. When our payment was due, we received forgiveness for $1,000,000 past interest and a gracious 1% interest going forward on the money we owe. People who love Jesus and want our ministry to succeed are enabling us to pay every bill as well as the full salaries of our pastors and staff.

I recently received an e-mail from Mark Dugan, the first man to commit his life to Christ at Living Streams twenty-five years ago. Mark has been a teacher and a coach for twenty years. He realized that he has had an impact for Christ on an average of eighty young people, forty students and forty athletes, every year. That is a big down-line of love.

Dick Mason cooks a pancake breakfast once a week and shares Christ with a group of high school boys at his home. Mel Shultz provides lunch and teaches business principles to over fifty men and women at Living Streams once a month. Vince and Lisa Scarpinato organize volunteers to provide meals for 250 poor students every weekend. Mike Olsen buys pizzas and shares Christ with over 300 students in his lunch time Young Life club every week. The volunteers in our food bank have provided food for over 6000 people so far this year and shared the gospel with many of  them.

These are a few people I know who are teaching, giving and sharing the message of Christ every day. If you belong to Christ and are sharing your faith, you too are part of a pyramid of love that is extending God’s Kingdom. Everyone in this pyramid will receive surprising blessings now and into eternity.

On the Home Front
by Kristina Buckley

Mark has always been the one to write this column but he has delegated this one task to me. He has been trying to get me to delegate more too, so I have decided to go along with him. Mark is now in charge of all items in the refrigerator. He is to know where things are located and how much is in each jar. If he does this job well, then I will delegate the responsibility of knowing where the TV remote is at all times. Just these two items will free me up a great deal and I will have more time to quilt and play with my grandchildren!

Each summer we have been spending at least a week at the Russian River in Sonoma County. The Buckley family has been renting old homes or cabins for over 50 years at Summer Home Park. Mark’s mom, Roberta, joins us and all of her children (8), grandchildren (21) and great-grandchildren (5) as they swim, canoe and play in the river. Phil and Moriah brought our grandsons, Matisse (3) and Soren (who will be one in January), to stay with us. Mark took Matisse to the Lodge and they played pinball and drank thick milkshakes. Soren granted our wishes by crawling for the first time to our cheers.

Philip is an engineer in Marin County. Philip and Moriah are part of Bay Marin Church. In October they brought the boys out for a two week visit. Soren was pulling himself up already. Philip had Mark tell the boys the same bedtime stories that he grew up with. At one point during their visit, Moriah asked Matisse to tell a story about some squirrels he saw. He started it with, “A long time ago, in the nation of Babylon…” I guess that is a good way to start any story, especially if you blow a few pretend trumpets with your fingers as he did.

Kelly and Ava (5) are as happy to live with us as we are with them. Kelly is a wonderful blessing to have around. Ava will start school next year and is enjoying learning to read and write with her mom’s help. She attends our Living Streams Children’s Center while her mom works nearby.

Kelly just completed her second Ironman Triathlon this year. An Ironman is a 2.4 mile swim in open water, 112 mile bike ride and then a 26.2 mile marathon. She completed her last one in less than 12 hours and plans on doing more of them.

Kathryn still lives nearby and has two jobs that keep her very busy. Her radiant smile keeps her customers happy as she manages a Valet account and then works in a restaurant on other days. She has time for an occasional Cardinals game and still plays golf. Kathryn has a goal to run 26 marathons in 26 different cities and has completed 6 so far. She is as competitive as her siblings and a lot of fun to be around.

We want to thank all of you who love and pray for us and have supported us through the years. We are blessed to have a life enriched by our friends. The Lord Jesus Christ has enabled us to experience the goodness of God in the land of the living.

May God bless you with a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!

My sermon this Sunday is called “The Heart of a Loving Shepherd”from I Peter 5:1-4. In this passage Peter lays out qualities that are essential for elders and leaders in the local church. Peter says that elders must shepherd the flock of God. They are to focus their lives on caring for God’s people. They are to be motivated by love for the Lord, not by money. They must lead by example, not lording it over those they oversee.
Some people might wonder how this message would apply to them if they are not an elder or leader. We are investing our time, talents and resources in the church, because the church is the body of Christ, the family of the Living God. Jesus laid down his life for the church. His people are his priority. We are commanded to love one another and serve the Lord together. We all need to understand the essential qualities of church leadership, so that the church we belong to stays healthy and bears fruit that lasts for many years.
After this Sunday our focus will be on Christmas. I hope that this will be a season of blessings and joy for you and your family.

My sermon this week is called “Finding Purpose in Suffering” from I Peter 4:12-19. The cause of most suffering in the world is the sin of man, yet many people blame God for human suffering. Skeptics wonder how God can be good if He allows so many people to experience so much pain. Most starvation is caused by war, greed and the hoarding of resources by other people, not by acts of God. Most diseases are spread because of irresponsible human behavior, not by God. People suffer heartbreak because of the unfaithfulness and betrayal of men. Crime, like war is perpetrated by men, not by God.

Suffering is the main theme of Peter’s epistle. It is mentioned in every single chapter of this epistle. For most people, the suffering in their souls is more painful than the suffering in their bodies. Soul suffering causes depression that robs people of the joy of life. Jesus came to heal the brokenhearted and save the souls of men. Unlike those who accuse God, Peter believed in the goodness and love of God. He believed that God was so good and powerful that He can make something wonderful come to us through something painful. These verses declare that God can bring glory to us through our suffering.

Let’s pray that we will be able to hear the truth that will set us free as we worship and hear the Word of God this weekend.