January 12, 2020 FIRSTFRUITS Proverbs 3:9-10 When I think of firstfruits I am reminded of two specific Old Testament passages. Exodus 23:19 says, “Bring the best of the first-fruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God…” In 2 Chronicles 31:5 it says, “As soon as the order went out, the Israelites generously gave the firstfruits of their grain, new wine, oil and honey and all that the fields produced. They brought a great amount, a tithe of everything.” I want to share a couple of facts with you concerning your giving to this specific church this morning in this sermon that I hope will bless you. When I think of blessings, I believe there are at least two ways in which God blesses us - unconditionally and conditionally. We receive blessings from him because of His spontaneous goodness. We may receive much from Him in our faithful response to our giving. Please keep in mind when we give, we must have the right attitude. 2 Corinthians 9:7 says, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” This passage indicates a truth…if we have the right attitude, He will pour out His blessings. Let’s look at some truths that will help us in the giving of our firstfruits: First of all, if we love Him, He will love us. It is true that "we love him because he first loved us" (1 John 4:9), but it is also true that "if anyone loves me [Christ], he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him…" (John 14:23). Our love of God, of Jesus Christ, will open doors of blessings in His outpouring of divine affection toward us. God will love us with the fullness of parental, rejoicing love. See if you can get this: We love because God first loved us and if we love Him (see first seven words), He will love us! Isn’t that great? It kind of goes in a circle – God loved us first – now we can love – we love God – God loves us! This is so amazing to think that we cannot get away from His love and to be honest do we really want to?? When we give of ourselves as that firstfruit and we give the first fruit of our resources we show our love to Him and God in turn reciprocates it to us!! God will respond with His love when we give to Him the firstfruits of our labors. Second, if we trust Him, He will trust us. Those of us, who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, have become His children, John 1:12 says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God…”. You and I are the objects of his divine trust. God does not suggest to us, his reconciled children, the hours, places, forms, methods, and means of service. He leaves these to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and to the understanding which has been given to Him. He makes His will known to us and we in turn serve Him and are blessed. Then He trusts us to put our energies into fulfilling His purpose for us. His treatment of us is in response to our attitude towards Him. If we don’t trust Him…how can we expect Him to trust us? If we have a distrustful attitude it will get us nowhere, but if we have a heart that will trust even in the darkest hour, He will trust us! EM Bounds once wrote, “Trust perfected is prayer perfected. Trust looks to receive the thing asked for and gets it. Trust is not a belief that God can bless or that He will bless, but that He does bless, here and now.” God will respond with trust when we give Him the firstfruits of our labors. Third, if we honor Him, He will honor us. In 1 Samuel 2:30c, “…Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained [despised].” I want to share some blessings as we have honored God with our firstfruits to the church. For the year 2019, we had a budget of $125,000+ and to be quite honest we weren’t sure how we were going to get there, but we knew if we honored God, He would in turn honor us. As the Ad Board met this past Thursday evening to go over the 2020 budget this is what we found out: Our giving for the year 2019 was only $118,500. Remember we had budgeted $125,000+ so we were short $6500. Now you may think what now…??? But here is the blessing as we honored God and He honored us…we only needed $116,000+ to pay our budget. What that means we were about $2500 under budget. We had many things happen this past year, but God was faithful to us as we honored Him with our firstfruits, He honored us! This coming year our budget is $121,700 and we as the Ad Board believe God will continue to honor us as we honor Him! Let me give you an illustration from Deuteronomy 26. The children of Israel were encouraged to bring their firstfruits and to present them to God, and to expect that, if they gave to God, He would give, in like way, to them, increasing and enriching them as Malachi 3:10 tells us, ”Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” You might ask if we can expect God to continue to bless us as we give? And the answer is…yes! I just gave you numbers of how God has continued to bless this church as we have continued to honor Him! There is an old mantra that says, “You can’t out give the Lord!” Thank God for what you have. Trust God for what you need. God will respond with honor when we give Him the firstfruits of our labor. Let me read Proverbs 3:9-10 again: “Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” In this coming year, we don’t know what will happen, and this is my challenge and guarantee to you this year…if we will love Him, He will love us. If we will trust Him, He will trust us and if we will honor Him, He will honor us!
January 5, 2019 DARE TO DREAM Genesis 42:9 (NKJV) This passage comes as a famine had spread through Canaan where Joseph’s father, Jacob, was living at the time. As you may remember in Genesis 37, Joseph’s brothers had sold him to a band of Ishmaelites on their way to Egypt. Jacob sent all his sons, except Benjamin, to Egypt to buy grain for their family. Joseph was according to Genesis 42:6, “…the governor of the land, the one who sold grain to all its people…” Joseph’s brothers had just made their appearance before him to ask for grain. Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not know who he was beyond the governor of the land that said, “yes” or “no” to the buying of grain. This is where we come upon this passage in v. 9, “Joseph remembered the dreams which he had dreamed” (NKJV). What happened here? What caused him to remember the dreams he had dreamed? I think first of all, Joseph saw his brothers and though he was kind of rough on them…for instance, calling them spies (v. 14) and then keeping all but one of the brothers (Simeon) in prison until Benjamin was brought to Egypt (v. 16). I believe God brought to his mind the dreams he had dreamed and that they were coming to fruition. The dream God gave Joseph in Genesis 37:6-7 says, “He [Joseph] said to them [his brothers], ‘Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.’” Needless to say, they were not very happy about the idea that Joseph would one day reign over them!! The dream God gave Joseph sustained him through experiences that would have crushed most of us! He was, obviously, resented by his brothers, repeatedly tempted by his boss’ wife, thrown into prison for thirteen years for a crime he did not even commit! To add insult to injury he was forgotten by Pharaoh’s butler whom he helped get out of prison! Through all his trials, temptations, tests and at his lowest point…God was with him. He was arranging every step he took and was positioning him to fulfill his calling as the deliverer of his people. This dream that God gave Joseph was not about feeling good because he was the number two man in Egypt. It was about placing him in a place where he could feed his family and the world in time of famine. The Psalmist writes these words in Psalm 105:17-19, “Then he sent someone to Egypt ahead of them – Joseph, who was sold as a slave. They bruised his feet with fetters and placed his neck in an iron collar. Until the time came to fulfill his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character” (NLT). I hope you don’t miss the point here: When God gives you a dream, it will bless you – and others. God gave Joseph the dream and it blessed all!! Have you dared to dream a God-given dream? A dream that will change your attitude towards others, including those who mistreat you? A God-given dream will make you more gracious, loving and forgiving. Remember how Joseph’s brothers betrayed him and how Joseph must have felt when they stood before him? I am sure we could come up with some better ideas of revenge than what Joseph came up with! Joseph’s brothers trembled as they stood before him and he realized that their fates were in his hands and yet he did not retaliate or even utter a word about what they had done! Instead of revenge, he wanted the relationship restored. He looked beyond their actions and saw God at work in all he had been through. Genesis 45:7-8a, “But God [Elohim – mighty One] sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant of earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God [Elohim}.” This morning you may have had some dreams and perhaps they never came to pass. But I am here to tell you as we have entered into 2020, we need to have some God-given and God-sized dreams! Your gender does not limit God and your age is no problem to Him. Society and culture may glamorize youth and marginalize old age, but the season of life you are in does not limit God. CS Lewis said, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” (www.wiseoldsayings.com) To our teens and young adults Harriet Tubman, the Afro-American who started the Underground Railroad said, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” (www.addicted2success.com) The dreams we have must be God-given dreams that are born of His Spirit. Romans 8:8 says, “Those who obey their human nature cannot please God” (Good News for Modern Man). Your dream cannot be born out of your unmet ego needs, or a selfish desire to have the same level of success as someone else, or your need to “prove” something to someone who might be doing better than you. Those type of dreams come from our ego and pride to see if we can be and do better than other! Remember Proverbs 16:18 that says, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” We need to check the source of our dreams, because when God is the Source, He will provide all the resources necessary to fulfill it. Let me ask you a few questions this morning: When is the last time you had a God-given and God-sized dream? Have you ever had a God-given and God-sized dream? If your answer is no, then you need to ask God to give you one! As we have entered into the year 2020…we as individuals and as a church need to be asking God for some God-given, God-sized, God-events and God-inspired dreams! This is my challenge to you in the coming days…spend time with God and ask for a God-given, God-sized dream. When you have met His conditions, God promises to bless you and fulfill the dream He has given you for your life and for the life of the church!
December 29, 2019 HAPPY OLD YEAR Ecclesiastes 7:8 As we come to the end of another year we hear the words, “Happy New Year” but I want to say to you “Happy Old Year!” Newspapers, magazines, and television do a “year in review” as they look at the top news items, those who were rich and famous and have passed away, and other items. Perhaps if you look at your “year in review” it was a great year as great things happened to you and your family. New job, graduating, new relationship, new home, new car, new children or grandchildren. Then again, your “year in review” may have been a rough year and maybe with some regrets as you think about this past year! Let us look at Ecclesiastes 7:8. What is this verse saying? I put it this way….the end is better than the beginning. I know what you might be thinking here, “Yes, the end of the sermon is better than the beginning.” Sometimes I agree as I struggle with getting God’s message across to you but I hope this will bless you today! We have all experienced the simple truth of this proverb, haven’t we? For instance, travel over the holidays is nice, but it is always good to get back home. When you were in school or college it was great to get started but so nice to finish and graduate! Nice to finally be able to give an answer to your children’s question – are we there yet? Yes, we are home! Going into surgery is always better when it is done and you are healing. Yes, the end is much better than the beginning Let me share with you as we reflect on this proverb from Solomon: The first thing is we leave the past. We are only two days away from leaving 2019 and it will be history. What goes through your mind: Maybe regret for passing up opportunities. Maybe for making mistakes thinking “if I just had to do it over again, I would do it differently and fix up what I messed up!” In Ecclesiastes 7:10, Solomon tells us, “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.” Think about it: Would you really want to repeat school again or repeat a long trip for the holidays or go through surgery again? Maybe it was an emotional or spiritual struggle or difficulty with family, friends, neighbors, your job situation, health problems, or a death in the family. Do you really want to go through it again? Paul tells us in Philippians 3:13b these words, “. . . . But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead . . . “ Paul is telling us the past is the past and it cannot be undone. Paul had lost much and counts it all as loss. He speaks of the suffering that he has endured but it is all in the past! Let me illustrate it this way: An owner of a parakeet by the name of Chippie was in his cage. The owner decided to clean up the cage with a vacuum. As she started to clean, the phone rang and as she turned to pick up the phone the end of the vacuum sucked up Chippie. The owner turned off the vacuum and opened the bag. Chippie was still alive but stunned and covered with soot and dirt. The owner thought she had better clean up Chippie so she took the bird over to the sink. She held Chippie under the water faucet and then realized Chippie was shivering. So the owner got her blow dryer and blasted him with hot air! Chippie never really knew what hit him. Though Chippie seems ok, he never sings only sits and stares! Perhaps you feel this way – sucked up, washed up, and blown over. Do not feel like singing anymore because the song in your heart has been stolen away! Let me encourage you that it will pass! Psalm 30:5b says, “…weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” No matter how dark, morning will come because God is faithful. Psalm 30:11a says, “You turned my wailing into dancing…” Your trials will pass, but God and His promises will not! Let us be like Paul and “forget the past” because the “ending is better than the beginning!” The second thing we learn about this proverb is to press on towards the future. If our ending is better than our beginning then we need to press onward! The whole Bible is forward looking, not backwards. Take time to look at these passages about forward looking: Hebrews 11:8-16; Romans 8:21f; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, and Revelation 21:6-7. James 1:2 tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds . . . “ The testing of our faith produces endurance and when endurance has finished its work we are complete lacking in nothing. Look at James 1:12, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” Forget what lies behind, press forward to what lies ahead. Do not dwell on the pain of the past – look ahead because the “ending is better than the beginning.” The last thing we can learn from this proverb is to live in the present. This proverb gives us the right perspective on life. Today we live in “real” time, not the past nor the future. In the past are God’s promises and lessons and in the future are the final fulfillment of God’s promises. In this “real” time life we are living it is what God grants to us. In 2 Corinthians 4-5, Paul speaks about his perspective on the past, present, and future. He tells us that in spite of our struggle we are not destroyed. Why? Because we have life in Jesus. He tells us in chapter 4:16-18 that the outer man is decaying and isn’t that the truth. Our teeth start to fall out, we lose our hair, if we keep our hair it turns gray, and there are certain things that do not work as well as they used to! But Paul also tells us that God is renewing our inner man daily – our inner man is getting stronger not weaker! Our inner man (soul) is what will live on when these bodies pass away. Life is not meant to be lived in the past. The past does shape our lives, because that is not where we live our life. Life is not meant to be lived in the future. The future does shape our lives, but that is not where we live our life. Life is meant to be lived in “real” time in the present! Take encouragement from this proverb: The end is better than the beginning. The beginning started with God’s promises and the end is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises. We must let go of the past, press on towards the future, but live in the present! My challenge to you in this coming week is to do those three things: get rid of the past, look to the future, and live today because the “ending is better than the beginning.”
December 22, 2019 ADVENT SERIES: LOVE CAME DOWN Matthew 1:18-25 Through this Christmas season we have been celebrating the different images of Advent and why they are so special. This morning we are looking at love and why it is so important to us as Christians today! In our scripture passage today we see a general description of the birth of Jesus. It is not quite as detailed as the passage in Luke, but Matthew gives us some details that really speak to us as “love coming down.” I want to share with you two important concepts concerning love in this passage. The first is found in Matthew 1:21, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The second is found in Matthew 1:23, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means, ‘God with us’!” If we look at our first passage you will notice Mary was to give her son the name of Jesus. If you look up his name it is from a Greek form of the name Joshua, which means the LORD saves. When the angel told Mary what his name was to be he added these words, “…because he will save his people from their sins.” Here is where love comes to play in this passage. What would it take for you to save someone’s life from death? Would it be compassion? Would it be guilt? Would it be just doing the right thing? In this passage it says that He [Jesus] will save his people from their sins. Why would Jesus do such a thing? What would be His motivation to save us from our sins? What would cause such a sacrifice to take place? In one word it is LOVE! We quote John 3:16 so often we do not even need to think about it. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” We can also see in John 3:17 these words, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him [Jesus].” What is this type of love that can cause a Person to live on this earth and then to willingly sacrifice His life for those who do not care! It is “Love Came Down” in the form of a baby named Jesus, who would save his people from their sins. John 15:13 tells us, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Have you ever had a friend but they did not consider you to be their friend? You hoped for their friendship and though it may not have happened you were fine with it. Why, because you still treated that individual as a friend. Jesus loved us so much he was willing to be born in a stable in Bethlehem so that He could become your friend, even though you did not think of Him as a friend. He was willing to go through this life we live today without one regret of coming because of His love for us! Love Came Down and lived on this earth and then one day died on this earth for you and I! This is called LOVE! A love that gave His life so that you and I could have eternal life! The angel told Mary, “…you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The second passage again speaks of Jesus but Matthew uses another name for Jesus, “…and they will call him Immanuel – which means, ‘God with us’.” Here we see another concept of love and it is found in the name Immanuel – God with us. God loved us so much He sent His Son to be with us. He sent Jesus to be God and man. In theological terms it is called “incarnate” which means “made flesh, in the flesh, in person, embodiment.” In everyday terms it means that God became man – God with us – Emmanuel. God came to live among us as found in John 1:14, “The Word [Logos] became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” The interpretation of the word Logos is, “The Personal Word” which is a title of the Son of God. Why would God send His Son, Jesus, to live among us? Why would He sacrifice His only Son for you and I? People like you and I who care only for ourselves, why would God do such a thing? It may come as no surprise to you this morning but it was because of LOVE! I came across a paragraph by author Dick Hills from his book called, “Love is a Costly Thing” listen to this: “Love is a costly thing. God in His love for us (and for a lost world) ‘spared not His own Son’ to tell the world of His love. Love is costly, but we must tell the world at any cost. Such love is costly…” God knew the cost of sending His Son to this earth! But His love for us was and is so great that the only way for Him to show us that love was to become a man and live with us – Emmanuel! The sacrifice of His Son was a small price to pay for the love He had for us. God cares for us today, He loves us still today, and He wants what is best for us today! Love Came Down and lived His life walking up and down the dusty roads of Galilee, Judea, and Samaria because He loved us! What a price to pay for you and I, but God was willing to make that sacrifice because He LOVED us!! I want to challenge you this morning to think about love and what it really means to us as Christians. Think about the cost of giving up His Son for a rebellious, unrepentant people. Would you have made that sacrifice? God did…because He loved us! December 15, 2019 ADVENT SERIES: DISCOVERING THE JOY Luke 2:1-20 Let me start this morning by asking you a question which is purely rhetorical…Is Christmas really the most wonderful time of the year?? When you think about it many people find this season to be stressful and really depressing!! Let me give you an illustration: A mother, who was doing some last minute Christmas shopping, suddenly realize the pudgy little hand of her son was missing. In a near panic mode, she rushed from store to store and to her dismay found her son standing with his little nose pressed against a store window. He was gazing at the manger scene and when hearing his mother’s hysterical voice turned and shouted with innocent glee, “Look mommy! It’s Jesus – baby Jesus laying in the hay!” With a look of disgust at her son, she impatiently jerked him away saying, “We do not have time for that!” Isn’t this a picture of our world today? Indifference to the real reason of Christmas! Isaiah 9:1-2 says, “Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever…The people who walk in darkness will see a great light – a light that will shine on all who live in the land where death casts its shadow.” (NLT) The light that Isaiah speaks of comes to fruition in His birth. Isaiah 9:6 says, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Jesus is that Wonderful Counselor (knows how to help us), Mighty (has the ability to help us), Father (cares for His children) and Peace (in the midst of our storms and darkness). I want to share some Joy with you this morning: Joy in Christmas Carols: O holy night…a thrill of hope the weary world rejoices O Come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem Joy to the World! The Lord is come: Let earth receive her King Christmas declares, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.” God’s desire is that we would experience the good tidings of great joy proclaimed by angels 2,000 years ago. Joy in the Bible: The words joy, rejoice, rejoicing, glad, gladness and delight are written 650 times in the Bible. Joy in the Christmas Story: Luke 1:14 – “Zechariah was told by the angel, ‘You will have joy and gladness and many will rejoice at his birth.’” Luke 1:44 – “John the Baptist leaped for joy in his mother’s womb.” Luke 1:47 – “Mary rejoiced in God her Savior.” Luke 1:58 – “…they were rejoicing with Elizabeth…” Luke 2:10 – “The angel proclaimed, “Glad tidings of great joy…” I heard a story about a young boy who wanted to play Joseph in the church’s Christmas pageant. When the parts were handed out he was given the inn-keepers part and a boy he didn’t like was given the part of Joseph. He was very upset but did not say anything to the director. During the rehearsals the boy thought of things he might do to get even with his rival who was playing Joseph. Finally, on the night of the performance he knew what to do. Mary and Joseph knocked on the inn-keeper’s door and he asked them gruffly what they wanted. Joseph answered, “we would like a room for the night.” Suddenly the inn-keeper threw open the door and said, “Great, come on in and I’ll give you the best room in the house!” For a few seconds Joseph did not know what to do. But he quickly thought of a response and he looked inside the door past the inn-keeper and then said, “No wife of mine is going to stay in a dump like this. Come on Mary, let’s go to the barn!” The play then continued on as practiced. There are many people today who think they cannot have joy in their lives because of all their troubles. James 1:2-3 say, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” (NLT) Joy is different than happiness. Happiness is fleeting like the waves of the ocean, but joy is a fruit of the Spirit and it is constant! How do we get this joy? When we abide in Jesus as John 15:5 says, “’I [Jesus] am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains [abides] in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.’” The joy of the Lord will give you strength. In God’s presence, there is fullness of joy. How many of you remember the stories of Winnie the Pooh? Did you know there are a couple of characters that can represent different kinds of Christians? Too many Christians are like Eeyore: “Poor old me! I’m so sad, depressed and miserable. Having a bad day. What about tomorrow? It’ll probably be worse!” Christians should be more like Tigger – who is always full of joy! Today we should be celebrating the good tidings of great joy – Jesus was born and God came near! Let’s keep Christ in Christmas this year and celebrate the Reason for the Season. The angel said, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which is for YOU!” I want to challenge you this week to spread the joy of Christmas. How do we do this? We do it by living like we love God and no matter what has happened or going to happen, we live like we still have the joy of the Lord in our hearts! Let your joy be genuine and not put on and if you will do this God might just open some doors for you to relate the Christmas story to someone who then might discover the joy you and I celebrate every day!
December 8, 2019 ADVENT SERIES: FAITH MEETING FAITH Luke 1:39-55 It was one of those moments when faith meets faith. Such moments move us to search for the mighty or the magnificent. When we think of them, we may think of the heroines of the faith doing heroic acts or look for champions performing dauntless deeds. But today, if we look for the magnificent moments of faith only in the mighty, the proud and the powerful, we shall miss seeing one of scripture’s great acts of faith completely. In this passage, it comes in a simple visit between two family members, both of whom are expecting a child. Both have had some strange events surround their pregnancy and both probably needed some reassuring – especially the younger of the two, who was new to the responsibilities of life, not to mention this matter of life giving. Through the years we have sought to soften the scene by romanticizing the struggles of faith right out of the Christmas story. Someone has said that, like her depiction on some bulletin or magazine covers, Mary is always portrayed as “being beautiful, fair, her clothing spotless, her face radiant” (“Jesus Had a Mother” by John McCormick Buchanan). She looks like she has just stepped out of a beauty parlor and doesn’t have a care in the world. Seeing her, one would think that here is a woman who knows exactly what is going on — but nothing could be further from the truth. Luke discovered that after Mary’s visit from the angel — a visit that irreversibly changed her life — Mary decided that she needed some help sorting everything out. And who wouldn’t? After all, it is not every day that an angel shows up on one’s doorstep to announce not only that you’re pregnant but that the baby is somehow, some way, God’s child. It is not every day that one has to break this kind of news to the family or, worse yet, the man to whom she is about to be married. Then came the days of waiting while Joseph wrestles with what to do. Does he believe or not? Can this be true or is the woman he is about to spend the rest of his life with, to put it gently, a little unstable? It is a lot for anyone to go through alone, the waiting and wondering. So, Mary turns to the only one she can think of, someone who, that gossipy angel told her, has just had a similar experience. More than a generation separates the two, as does some distance, but Mary knows that if she is going to make any sense of this at all she is going to have to turn to her friend and cousin Elizabeth. She is older, wiser, and may be able to help her get a handle on just exactly what is happening. So, Luke relates the story, as soon as the angel left her, “with little delay Mary got ready and hurried off to the hillside town in Judea where Zacharias and Elizabeth lived.” (NT in Modern English – JB Phillips) It was a moment when Mary needed some support. She needed to hear from someone older and more discerning that what was happening was God’s will and that Mary would be up to the task. We all need some support. All through our lives we have turned to people who have lived the life and gone through many trials and tests. We have asked questions and sought wise counsel from those we have confidence in! Proverbs 1:5 says, “Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser. Let those with understanding receive guidance” (NLT). To put it simply: while Mary believed in God’s promise, she needed another human being to believe in her. She needed someone to comfort her and say, “Mary, you have done the right thing and because you have — believe it or not — you’ll be up for anything you have to face.” Is it any wonder that down through the centuries Mary became the favorite among the common people? She struggled to believe, just like they struggled to believe; she struggled to trust, just like they struggled to trust; and she needed to be reassured the same way that they did. Aren’t we there, too? Looking, struggling, seeking, yearning for some confirmation that there really is something to this business of faith. And that God, as someone said is not “just something humans made up to make them feel better.” Augustine said, “God does not expect us to submit our faith to Him without reason, but the very limits of our reason make faith a necessity.” Each of us this morning like Mary are looking, struggling, seeking and yearning for some type of confirmation that there really is something to this business of faith! We look to those who have walked the way of faith for many years, hoping and praying for some little tidbit of advice that would let us know we are doing the right thing. Mary goes looking for Elizabeth, hoping to hear her words that what she is doing makes sense. And with the discernment of decades rightly lived, Elizabeth tells Mary that what she is doing is not only right and proper, but it will be a joyous blessing for her and for generations still to come. When Elizabeth greets Mary, faith is meeting faith and it is to our benefit. For Mary is, I think, nothing less than a vital connection between the Gospel of Jesus Christ and you and me. In conceiving the child, Mary is a sign that God is in this life with us, down to the smallest, most basic, experience. She is the sign that this religion of ours is not about esoteric theological propositions or secret rituals. It is about life — birthing and growing and loving and dying. Mary tells us that God is a part of all of that and so keeps us in touch, connected. If Jesus was going to share our humanity, then He would have to have a mother. In the same way that every one of us came to be here this morning, Jesus needed to have a mother. Jesus needed a mother in the same way that all of us needed a mother: to love Him, comfort Him, care for and about Him until the day He died. Mary did that. She was His first follower, His biggest fan, and was there for Him to the end. And for all this, Elizabeth says with great insight and foresight, she would be called blessed (Luke 2:42). That the Son of God had a mother is a reminder, that God’s work gets done when otherwise ordinary people hear the voice of God and decide to say “yes.” Mary is a reminder that faith means following dreams — dreams that begin with God – with courage and expectation. We live in expectation of a better life, a better world, where people like Mary and Elizabeth, like you and me, gather and where, once again, faith meets faith, to the glory of God and for the good of all God’s children. How does this apply to us and how can we put it into practice? Each of us need to be supportive of each other by praying for each other, listening for our cries, reaching out to help, and being there for each other. There are so many around us and possibly in this building today that are looking for support…for someone to believe in them as they are looking, struggling, seeking, yearning and trying to discern God’s path for them! Let our faith meet faith with open arms as we work together for the Kingdom of God!
December 1,2019 ADVENT SERIES: COURAGEOUS HOPE 1 Peter 1:18-21 In 400 AD the great Coliseum in Rome would fill up with spectators to watch the sport of human beings battling with gladiators, wild beasts or even one another until one or the other were killed. On one such day as the contests were being watched a Syrian monk by the name of Telemachus stood up in the vast arena. He was torn by the utter disregard for the value of human life and jumped into the arena in the midst of a gladiator’s battle. He cried out, “This is not right! This must stop!” Because of his interference with the battle, and for the crowd’s amusement, he was killed! Through his death he kindled a flame in the hearts and consciences of thinking people. History records that within a few months the contests began to decline and very shortly passed from history. Why? Because one courageous man dared to speak out for what was right! We use hope so carelessly that I believe the word has lost its value and significance. We hope the Vikings win (right!), we hope it doesn’t snow today or tomorrow and the list goes on! I wonder if we have forgotten what real hope is? I would like to share with you this morning what authentic and courageous Hope really is. Please understand it is so much more than a cliché or empty promise. Here is a good description of hope: “To trust in, wait for, look for, or desire something or someone; to expect something beneficial in the future (Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology). We have entered the advent season and this is the season of Hope for all people. It was the season of Hope for a people who were waiting for the Messiah to appear in Jesus’ day! Let me share with you about Courageous Hope: First, Courageous Hope is bold – not passive. God gave a promise that a Savior would come. For many years, God’s people hoped and waited in anticipation for the promised birth of Christ. They boldly expected God to fulfill His promise to His people. How many of you like to hear the words, “Just wait”? I would expect not many of us like those words, especially when we are in a hurry, which is most of the time. We want fast, quick, and instant no matter if it is food, service, money or even technology – we just do not want to wait! Do you remember trying to wait on Christmas and then when Christmas Eve arrived not being able to go to sleep because Christmas morning would arrive soon? You and I waited in anticipation to open our presents and you know as well as I do it is not an easy task for the curious and eager to “just wait.” Think about the many hundreds of years that God’s people waited in anticipation and hope for the promised birth of Jesus. Year in and year out they waited boldly not passively. The Psalmist tells us in Psalm 27:14, “Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” The first mention of God’s promise of Christ was to Adam and Eve as God cursed the serpent in Genesis 3:15, “From now on, you and the woman will be enemies, and your offspring and her offspring will be enemies. He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (NLT) and was fulfilled in Romans 16:20, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet…” (NLT). Imagine that! He had planned His promise before He created the world. A Savior would come. A King. Christ. Every day – all year – God’s people waited, reminding themselves that the Messiah would come just as God had promised. They waited. They watched. They hoped. He would not come sooner than planned nor later than scheduled. At just the right moment – Jesus came. Luke 2:6-7, “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Telemachus had some courageous hope that his boldness would change the way things were done and it did! Second, Courageous Hope is genuine – not false. From the earliest accounts of Genesis to the day of Jesus’ birth the hope was genuine. Let me share with you Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:25-38). When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple shortly after His birth, they met two people – Simeon and Anna – who had been waiting their whole lives for the Messiah to show up. The pair rejoiced greatly because God had rewarded their patient and genuine hope by allowing them to see the promised Son of David. Most of us today know that we can be lured into a false hope if we are not careful. We think that we will somehow find peace and fulfillment if we can just get the job, or the spouse, or the kids, or the house we’ve always dreamed of. Simeon and Anna tell us that waiting only has meaning if we are waiting for the right thing. They had a courageous hope that was truly genuine as they waited patiently for the Messiah. Telemachus’ courageous hope was genuine because he jumped into the arena with the knowledge he would probably die, but his cause was worth it! Today as we look back on courageous hope let us not forget the sacrifice that was made by Jesus for us to have that courageous hope. Jesus jumped into the arena of life with the knowledge His death would give to us life, but His cause was worth Let me close with this: It’s the one thing we can’t live without…the deepest part of our souls cry out for it – HOPE! Hope that it will all be okay. Hope that someone is standing in our corner…for us! Hope that someone is standing in our corner…with us! And as you race through the chaos of this Christmas season we want you to know this truth – Hope is here. Not a false hope that makes untrue promises, not a guarantee of an outcome invented by any man or woman, not a fantasy or an illusion or a make-believe occurrence, not a fantasy or an illusion or a make-believe invention, but real lasting hope. Hope that God is still good, Hope that God Himself is with us, Hope that He is really holding our lives all together, Hope that God is still running our world Hope that God has not his face way from any person or any situation, Hope that you are loved in your worst moment and pursued as you run away, Hope that God is more intimately involved in our lives than we’ll ever know - Hope is here! Hope that you’re being offered new life in this very moment and that you’re madly loved by the God who offers it. So, make no mistake about it…Hope is here, no matter where you’ve been or where you are. Hope is here, and we respond to that living Hope with worship and praise. Hope is a person who became flesh in Bethlehem and His name is Jesus. Hope is here for you! (www.sermoncentral.com/hope is here). My challenge to you this week is to become a beacon of hope for those who are around you! How do you do this? You share the message of Hope found in Jesus that is found in you!
November 24, 2019 THANKING GOD SERIES: JUST THANKING GOD! Psalm 100:4-5 Let me begin this morning by sharing with you 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (NIV). “Thank [God] in everything [no matter what the circumstances may be, be thankful and give thanks], for this is the will of God for you [who are] in Christ Jesus [the Revealer and Mediator of that will]” (The Amplified Bible). It is not uncommon for folks to compile wish lists for Christmas or New Year’s resolutions as we near those holidays. But often we overlook our Thanksgiving list – a list of all that we are thankful for. I came across some Thanksgiving lists and this list is from several housewives who were especially thankful: For automatic dishwashers because they make it possible for us to get out of the kitchen before the family comes back in for their after-dinner snacks. For husbands who attack small repair jobs around the house because they usually make them big enough to call in the professionals. For smoke alarms because they let you know when the turkey’s done. Here is another Thanksgiving list: A lawn that needs mowing, windows that need washing & gutters that need cleaning – because it means I have a home. My huge heating bill – because it means I am warm. The piles of laundry – because it means I have loved ones nearby. The clothes that fit a little too snug – because it means I have enough to eat. I am sure if we were to make our Thanksgiving lists, we would also include the major things like life, health, family, friends, and the nation we live in, despite all its flaws. But most of all, I think we would all agree we are thankful for salvation and the mercy God showers upon all of us. As we look back at this passage in Psalms, we see the psalmist tells us to “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.” This is great and we need to do this, but then the psalmist tells us why we should enter His gates with Thanksgiving and His courts with praise Here are the why’s: God is Good. Psalm 145:9a says, “The LORD is good to all…” and in Psalm 103:11 it says, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth so great is his love for those who fear him.” God is good in the blessings he grants us: The gift of grace and salvation. The blessing of living in a free country. The blessing of being a part of this church. The blessing of free choice in our lives. The enemy will try to get us to doubt the goodness of God but do not let him do so! Have you ever heard of the Johnny Appleseed Blessing? Here it is: Oh, the Lord is good to me, And I thank the Lord For giving me the things I need The sun, and the rain, and the apple seed. The Lord is good to me. Let me ask you this question…how often do you stop from your busy schedules and take time to just praise God for His goodness? God’s Love Endures Forever. Psalm 107:1 tells us, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” In the 136th chapter of Psalms the author ends each of his refrains with these words, “His love endures forever.” These simple words remind us that all things display God’s love at work on behalf of His children. The word “love” in the Hebrews means a loyal love, faithful love or what you might call a covenant love. It’s love that lasts because it is based on an unbreakable commitment. It’s the love of a husband for his wife or the love of a mother for her children. God’s love is eternal because His covenant is eternal. He cannot not love His children. But the meaning goes beyond that. God’s love endures! When you feel yourself tempted to despair, ponder this thought: His love endures forever. When you want to give up, write down this thought and stick it on your refrigerator: His love endures forever. Tell your husband: His love endures forever. Tell your wife: His love endures forever. Tell your children: His love endures forever. When the devil starts whispering in your ear about what a loser you are, you tell old Scratch to hit the road because: His love endures forever. When you have had all you can take, when the world seems to collapse around you, stand up, lift your head, and shout to the skies: His love endures forever! No matter where you are going this week: His love endures forever. No matter what your problems: His love endures forever. God’s Faithfulness Continues Through All Generations. In Psalm 119:90 it says, “Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth and it endures.” I came across this quote from an author by the name of Mary Lyon. This is what she says about God’s faithfulness: “As I study Old Testament biblical characters, I am amazed at the faithfulness of God. They failed like we do. They sinned like we do. They allowed fear to get the best of them just like we do. God, however, was faithful.” God’s faithfulness is not dependent on us. It is dependent on Him. He is faithful, period. His faithfulness is who He is. We do not change God’s faithfulness. God’s faithfulness changes us.” Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” It does not matter where we are or what we have done…God’s faithfulness still continues through all generations! In a world of wickedness, it is through His faithfulness that confirms us through the Word and keeps us from evil. In the moment of testing, He is faithful in not allowing us to be tempted above what we can bear. During a period of pride or disobedience, it is in faithfulness that He allows us to be afflicted that we might be drawn back to Him. In the hour of broken fellowship, He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all our unrighteousness. How do we know God is good, God’s love endures forever and that God is faithful? Look around you this morning and see people who have seen and lived it for many years! I want to challenge you this week as you prepare for Thanksgiving…take some concerted time and just thank God for all that He has blessed you with and then bless God as Psalm 103:1 tells us, “Bless the LORD all my soul and all that is within me bless His Holy Name.”