Pastor Jeremy's Sermons

RSS Feed

AWAKE: Focus

February 5, 2023

Over the last several weeks as we have talking about being AWAKE… We have looked at the Magi and their wake-up call. We were called to Rise and Shine our light by Isaiah and through Jesus’ baptism and ours. Then to be wide awake with Samuel and to speak “Lord your servant is listening.” And last week we were called to Move with God through the story of Jonah thanks to Jeff for leading us.

Now it is time focus on God. The prophecy of Isaiah in chapter 40 is during a very dark time in the nation of Judah. God had delivered them from the Assyrian Army decades ago, but Judah has continued in sin and been judged. Isaiah had prophesied and it is now happening that Babylon has come to destroy them and  taking everything of value and beauty from them. 

But, in this passage God is telling them that they have sinned in trusting in their own strength and in their political alliances instead of trusting in Him. And out of the darkest of times in the life of Judah, God’s Word comes as a message of hope to them through Isaiah. Are you in your own dark place right now? You’re struggling under a load that is killing you. You’ve tried everything you know to do, but still you feel there is no hope. You don’t know what to do! You can’t seem to focus. If this describes your situation, hold on and listen, God has a Word for you and all of us.

In today’s scripture from Isaiah the prophet in a string of rhetorical questions, reminds his hearers that:

1. The word of our God will not fail (Isaiah 40:8) 

2. The LORD God will come with a strong hand, vs 10  and feed His flock like a shepherd (Isaiah 40:11).

3. Our God ALONE is the Creator of the Universe (Isaiah 40:12-14)

4. The nations are no threat to Him (Isaiah 40:15-17);

Then as we come to today’s passage:

1. the prophet scolds the fearful for not understanding (Isaiah 40:21); And the same God who has brought out the host of heaven, calling stars and constellations into existence so that not one is missing (Isaiah 40:26),

2. has never stopped watching over His own people (Isaiah 40:27-28).

Then Isaiah says Is 40:28a Do you not know? Have you not heard?

Isaiah is excited about something good. He wants to share some awesome news. Have you ever wanted to share some great news?  A proposal of marriage. A pregnancy. Good news about your health. You want to tell everybody. Isaiah’s news is much better. His news is that there is hope for those who are living in defeat. Broken-hearted. Weary of the struggle. Those that feel there is no hope and no use to even try again. Those whose problems and burdens are to big to solve. What is this news? 

First thatOUR GOD IS POWERFULLY ABLE when we focus on God.

Is 40:28b The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He doesn’t grow tired or weary. 

What are God’s attributes that Isaiah mentions?

1. Everlasting God- the only God there’s ever been or will be!

2. The Lord- He is Supreme and everything is under His authority.

3. The Creator- if He created it, He owns it. 

4. All Powerful- never tires. Always able.

Then we also learn that Our God wants to share His Power with us.

Is 40:29 giving power to the tired and reviving the exhausted. God is not content to merely hold onto His power within Himself. He takes great delight in empowering His children to do the works of God. He took Moses, a weak man unable to even speak well, and gave him the power to part the waters so Israel could walk across on dry land. He empowered a normal man, Samson, to destroy thousands of His enemies single handedly. He transformed the teenage boy, David, into a killer of giants and King. God takes great pleasure in empowering the ordinary to do the extraordinary. What is this news?

Second OUR FLESH IS MISERABLY WEAK when we don’t focus on God.

Is 40:30 Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, In vs 29, Isaiah told us God offers His strength to us. But verse 30 tells us we often fail God in 2 ways when we operate in own power. We give out. We can only do things in our own strength for so long before we grow weary and tired. We Stumble badly. We fall into sin because of pride, discouragement. Not focusing. What is this news?

Third when we focus on God we FIND NEW STRENGTH IN THE LORD.

Is 40:31 but those who hope ( who wait) in the Lord will renew their strength God is promising us God’s power at work in our lives, but it comes with a single condition: that we “wait on the Lord.”What does this mean? not merely sitting around waiting and doing nothing. “Waiting on the Lord” means we have an attitude and practice of living in complete dependence on the Lord and a willingness to allow Him to determine our path in life. We have to focus on what God wants. You have a choice in life. You can do it your own way or God’s way. Look at your life up to now. Has it always been smooth sailing doing it your own way? Why not try God’s way for a change? What kind of strength does God promise those that “wait on the Lord”? They will fly up (mount up) with wings like eagles God promises spiritual renewal. The Word Eagle or Eagles appear many times throughout the Word of God. For example, God is compared to an eagle training its young to fly in Exodus 19:4. You saw what I did to the Egyptians, and how I lifted you  (bared you) up on eagles’ wings and brought you to me.. Eagles teach their young to fly by creating an air current which lifts the trailing eaglet – That is the eagle which carries its young upon its back.  “and brought you unto myself.” God is intimate in relationship with his children. Eagles are often used as an allegory to the spiritual condition of God’s people, and the call for us to examine our current spiritual status as opposed to where God would have us be.

And I found the design and characteristics of eagles can give us great insight into several truths about growing as Christians. Have you ever watched an Eagle fly?  Eagles are different from other birds in many respects…especially in the way they fly. Some birds must beat their wings constantly to stay aloft like the hummingbird. Eagles are included in a group of birds that, once aloft, can actually gain altitude without beating their wings. Eagles can fly up to 10,000 feet! Nearly 2 miles! They do this not by frantically beating their wings but by receiving a lift from God’s design. They spread their wings and soar along being kept uplifted by the winds under their wings. 

Their flight is effortless. They ride thermals, rising currents of warm air. They can make the most of these thermals simply by spreading their wings. — How beautiful is this truth? Other types of flight cannot get the eagle to such great heights. And they can reach speeds of over 150 miles per hour and can dive at over 200 miles per hour. That is what it is like when we are focused on God. 

Many people think that spiritual growth must be accompanied by frenzied activity. In fact, getting alone with God is the primer for Christian growth. God is trying to lift us up but we are so frantically beating our wings. We are riding spiritual highs and bottoming out only to work as hard as we can to get back to where we know we should be. 

But even as we are moving higher we must know a second truth about the eagle.  The eagle has powerful vision and focus. And they have 270-degree peripheral vision.  And a clear membrane that protects its eye. They have keen eye sight and acute depth perception – they can focus on a rabbit from 2 miles away. The eagle is the ruler of the sky and nothing escapes its vision or eyesight. It is their eagle eye focus that allows them to do what they do. It is our focus on God that gives us clarity of calling. Isaiah 40 then shifts from the experience of eagles to the experience of humanity…running and walking. they will run and not be tired; they will walk and not be weary. We are running and getting tired; we are walking and becoming weary. See?  But when we place ourselves in the flow of God’s love and instruction daily we find ourselves higher and higher. We find we are gaining new strength. How much time are you spending with the Lord? It is the time with God that spiritually spreads our wings and allows us to catch the lift God supplies.

But there is one last characteristic of eagles that spoke to me the most about our spiritual walk and focus though…The eagle replaces its feathers each year – during a process called molting. But it is said that an Eagle at the age of 30-50,  flies to a high place and there it endures a much harder and harsh trial of endurance and change. Because it’s wellbeing is now at risk. They can live to 70 if they make this hard decision.

By their middle age the eagle’s feathers lose their luster. It can’t fly and soar as high because its feathers are overgrown. So, it plucks all the feathers from its body. The eagle’s claws have become dull. It is now having a hard time catching its prey, its blessings. It plucks its talons from its feet because the talons have grown curled and useless. Its beak has grown too long and curled. The eagle’s beak becomes so dull It can no longer rip through its prey as it once did. When this happens, it affects its meals. So it breaks its beak against a rock. 

Defenseless, it cries out and waits for the time of renewal. Other Eagles hear its cry, and come to aid. They fly overhead, scaring off predators, and they bring food to their incapacitated friend. So it is never alone. 

God made a way for us too. The molting stage is a process of renewal — God has provided for in the eagle. But in order to be renewed, the eagle must be humbled. Our molting stage is a time of prayer and focusing on our what needs to change in our spiritual life.  

Psalm 103:4-5 which also talks about eagles tells us what will happen then…

4 saves your life from the pit, crowns you with faithful love and compassion, and satisfies you with plenty of good things  so that your youth is made fresh like an eagle’s.

Humbled and rededicated the eagle’s vision becomes clear and powerful again. Its beak and claws become sharp again. Its feathers fill in and began to shine again.  He has regained his luster and come spring, he can rise up and soar high with victory and strength. The eagle now looks like he did in days of his youth. The Glory days have returned!

So the question is are you where you should be, not where you want to be and are you focused on God? Don’t settle for spiritual complacency.  Rise up on the wings of eagles…Are you ready to soar?

AWAKE: Wide Awake

January 22, 2023

A young man applied for a job as a telegraph Morse Code operator.  He entered a large, busy office filled with noise and clatter, including the sound of the telegraph in the background. After a few minutes, the young man stood up, crossed the room to the door and walked right in. Naturally the other applicants wondered what was going on since they had not heard a summons. 

Within a few minutes, the employer escorted the young man out of the office and said to the other applicants, “Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming, but the job has just been filled.” One of the other applicants spoke up saying, “Wait a minute. We never even got a chance to be interviewed. The employer said, “I’m sorry, but all the time you’ve been sitting here, the telegraph has been ticking out the following message in Morse Code: ‘If you understand this message, then come right in. The job is yours.’ None of you heard it. This young man did. The job is his.”

We live in a world that is full of busyness and clatter, like that office. People are often distracted and unable to hear the still, small voice of God. What about you? Are you listening in to God’s voice? Do you hear God when God speaks to you?  Are you wide awake to what God wants to do through you? 

Say with me SPEAK Lord I’m listening. Our biggest problem is distraction. Today we are talking about maybe the familiar story of Samuel. But let’s look with unfamiliar eyes and ears. One of the problems with familiarity with the Bible is that very often we hear the words being spoken but we’re not really listening.   

For instance, look at verse 1 The Lord’s word was rare at that time, and visions weren’t widely known. 

What does this mean? It seems to me that there are two things going on.  The first is that God was still speaking but the people were not hearing. They might have been listening but they were not taking it in. 

Franklin Roosevelt who often endured long receiving lines complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. So he tried an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” The guests responded with phrases like, “Marvelous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you sir. It was not until the end that his words were actually heard, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, not missing a beat, the ambassador leaned over and whispered I’m sure she had it coming. 

The people did not want to hear what God was saying. They liked the feeling that God was there if they needed God but they didn’t want to hear what God had to say to them on a day-to-day basis.

The second thing was that God was in fact speaking to them much less. Wouldn’t you? Relationships depend on two-way communication especially covenantal ones like the Jews had with God. It is difficult to have a one-sided conversation and sustain a relationship, isn’t it? Good communication is the recipe for success of any relationship physical or spiritual. 

And even the chief priest must not have been listening to God. Because think about it. Why did it take Eli — the head priest — three times to finally figure out that it was God who was calling? Simple. Eli himself had stopped listening and responding to God. He had allowed himself to wander from God’s grace. Eli had allowed corruption to permeate the Temple. 

He let the sins of his sons go on and they treated their responsibilities with utter contempt. They dishonored God by putting themselves first — they took the best offerings up front.  And Eli couldn’t do or wouldn’t do anything about it. Eli was content in his life. God gave him a good job and a good wife. His soul was well as far as he was concerned. But Eli was a person who loved God, served God, did good things for the people so what made Eli so bad in God’s sight? Eli was content to the bone and willing to get by. And his laziness and contentment allowed him to close his conscience to the hurt felt by God and the people around him. The people he was called to serve. Eli was content with his life. Eli was distracted. 

God had spoken to Eli through a man of God in 1 Sam 2:31 The days are coming soon when I will eliminate both your children and the children of your father’s household. There won’t be an old person left in your family tree. and when Samuel told Eli the same thing. Eli said 18 “He is the Lord, ” “He will do as he pleases.” Eli didn’t even lift a finger to fix what the problem was. 

We should be content with what we have but not content with who we are. We should always be growing towards Christ every day in some way. That is called sanctification, to be made holy. The journey on to perfection.  That is the Hallmark of the Methodist tradition. Not perfect in the sense of without error but perfect in love, the love of Christ. The Christian faith is not about getting baptized and getting your ticket punched to go to heaven and waiting. Eli wasn’t doing anything. And God wasn’t talking to Eli or his sons anymore. But God was still talking. And somebody was trying to listen.  SPEAK Lord I am listening

Samuel was somewhere between 10-12 years old. A Tween is what we would call him nowadays. I learned over the years that tweens and youth have a heart for God and often are more willing to listen than adults to what God is trying to say. 

So, it makes sense to me that Samuel would be more receptive to the message. Never discount that God is talking to someone because of their age. Samuel was a servant of the priest Eli. Now that night they had both turned in for the evening. 

The next is an important detail I don’t want us to miss. So if you are planning your lunch plans pause for a moment and listen. 3 God’s lamp hadn’t gone out yet, and Samuel was lying down in the Lord’s temple, where God’s chest was. Samuel was asleep close to where the Ark of God was kept in the Holy of Holies which is where God lived, you know the one they found in Raiders of the Lost Ark. It contained the remnants of the stone commandment tablets. 

The lamp that was lit all night and allowed to burn until the oil ran out just before daybreak is still lit.  So it is probably around 2 or three in the morning when a voice calls out to him. Samuel was probably used to Eli calling for him since we learn verse 2 Eli whose eyes had grown so weak he was unable to see, was lying down in his room. But it wasn’t Eli who was calling. You see miscommunication is a serious distraction in listening to God’s message. I always laugh when I find a list of church bulletin bloopers.  Ushers will eat newcomers.
Remember to pray for the many people who are sick of our church and the community.  

Samuel has a miscommunication. Verse 7 Now Samuel didn’t yet know the Lord, and the Lord’s word hadn’t yet been revealed to him.  But despite the difficult situation with a people that did not want to hear God, God did not let go or stop trying to communicate. There were still people who were receptive. That’s what we see in Samuel. He heard. Although Samuel was spiritually immature and did not know what he was hearing, he was receptive. He was wide awake.But it isn’t always easy to hear God’s call.

If you are wide awake, tuned in to God, it doesn’t matter what’s going on around you, you can hear God speak. It is true that God’s call to Samuel had to be repeated. He didn’t quite understand it not being used to hear God’s word. But he did hear. And because Samuel was really listening, was truly receptive to God, he was able to respond to him fully. He was able to make it a two-sided conversation and respond to God. 

Samuel responded to Gods call – ‘Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.’  I wonder how this applies to us. Do we expect that God would be speaking to us? And if God is speaking to us are we really listening? Do we really want to hear what God is saying to us? SPEAK Lord I am Listening. Sometimes we get comfortable in our religion’s regularity and ritual like Eli don’t we? 

We get comfortable with the familiar words and we don’t really hear them. And deep inside we probably know that it’s sometimes uncomfortable when God wants to speak to us.  God wants a two-sided conversation. And when we have that kind of relationship that is receptive to God’s word God delivers all kinds of messages. Now this story raises some important questions for me that I want to raise with you. 

Does God really speak to people? If so, how do we know that it is God talking? And how do we learn to better listen and position ourselves to hear the voice of God? I think we have answered the first question. God does talk to us through the power of the Holy Spirit even today. 

There are many of us here today who have felt a leading from God or had an experience when they heard God speak to them in a variety of ways. Which leads us to the second question how do we know that it is God talking? 

In Nancy Reeves book I’d say yes God if I knew what you wanted She says there are seven points that can help us.

 1) God never guides us to break divine law. God doesn’t tell you to do bad things period. 

2) Note the final result? Does it lead to humility or to pride? Beyond ourselves or into ourselves? Is it service or serve-us?

 3) What effect does the choice have on our spirituality? Does it add meaning?

 4) What are the people connected with this discernment saying? 

5) Since we are all strands of the creation, what impact does our decision have on the environment and the culture?

6) God does not believe in the adage “you snooze, you lose”We will receive more than one message. It’s not a blue light special.

 7) Do you have a sense of detachment about the options? If we are vested in one option it will be very difficult to determine what God is telling you.  

And my last question was how do we better listen? Some methods include prayer, scripture, worship, reading, writing, dreams, retreats, walking, God speaking through creation. Let’s take a lesson from Samuel.  It seems to me that Samuel had three P’s for his discernment.

 He had proper practice, he was obeying what little he knew about prayer, scripture and worship among other practices and he was faithful to them. 

He had the proper position, he was laying quiet and still and removed all distraction. He had people what Reeves calls God with skin on. He had someone close to him who knew what God’s voice sounded like. 

And he had proper proximity, Samuel was living close to the presence of God both physically remember the Ark? And spiritually. If we want to hear we need to be near. We need to cultivate our relationship with God. 

James 4:8 tells us Draw near to God and God will draw near to you. You have to sit down and spend time with God or don’t expect you will hear. Sometimes we need to carve out just a minute or two to actually listen to what God is saying instead of telling God what we want God to do for us. It is that simple. 

Early African converts to Christianity reportedly had a separate spot in the thicket where they would pour out their private devotions. Over time the paths to these places became well worn. As a result, if one of these believers began to neglect prayer it was soon apparent to the others. They would kindly remind the negligent one, Brother the grass grows on your path. How is your path?

Sometimes we often seem to be more concerned with the condition of our physical grass than keeping the grass off our spiritual path don’t we?

Speak Lord I’m Listening

SOAP stands for Scripture, Observation, Application, and Prayer. Or REAP. So you read scripture then write your observations about what you think it is saying to you, then how you can apply it and then write a prayer for that day. Do it and I will guarantee it will affect your life in a positive way. In addition, there is one more important thing you need to do and that is add a Y to your soap. We need to learn to yield as Samuel did. God often calls us to things that don’t fit our schedule. Don’t fit out agenda and don’t fit our ideas of what should be done.  Don’t let distractions dim your discernment. Make a conscious effort to listen to God. Say Speak Lord I am listening. And then really listen. SPEAK. Amen. 

AWAKE: Rise and Shine

January 15, 2023

Just last week we were celebrating the coming of the Magi to see the child who had been born the King of the Jews. Remember these guys? And now just one week later we flash forward 30 years to this young man who now comes to his cousin John to be baptized. 

Remember Elizabeth and Zechariah? This is their son John. The child who leapt for joy in his mother’s womb when Mary touched him. You can think of this day, Baptism of the Lord Sunday as almost Epiphany the sequel. Epiphany part II The Promise Revealed.

But let’s flashback to those 30 years from our scripture today. We are once again in the house as the Magi presented their gifts and bowed down and worshipped him. The Greek word presented indicates an offering made to God. 

We don’t know if the Wise men knew what their gifts meant. But as we talked about last week they have meaning for us still. And understanding what those gifts stood for will awaken us and help us to rise and shine as we come today to a different Epiphany, an aha moment, a revealing moment in which we receive or renew the gift of baptism.

In case you missed last week here is what we said about the gifts. 

First. THEY GAVE GOLD TO HONOR Jesus AS KING.

Gold also symbolizes the Gift of Loyalty and Obedience Have you allowed Jesus to be Lord in all areas of your life? What gold can I bring to Jesus today? What do I hold onto as precious that I can give to the Lord?

What that gift says to us also is that we are to give God our first and our best not our last and leftovers whether that is our prayers, or presence or financial gifts or service or witness or anything else.

Second THE WISE MEN GAVE FRANKINCENSE TO HONOR JESUS AS GOD. Frankincense was an aromatic incense used in the worship of God in the Temple.

Frankincense also symbolizes the gift of Trust and Worship We said our response to Jesus’ being our high priest is faith. Our gift to Jesus is our trust that he makes this possible. Our gift to Jesus here is our prayer — for prayer is the ultimate act of trust, of turning over our situation to God. Our gift to Jesus here is our worship, to honor him as God, the one through whom we have life and existence, as well as hope and salvation. One of Jesus’ greatest desires is that we offer up our lives as a sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God That we live for God and cultivate a deep relationship with Him. Create a daily time of quiet that we should spend with Jesus –  in prayer and Bible Study. This is often the hardest time to find. As we live busy lives, this is the first thing that gets pushed to the bottom of the pile. Is this the gift you can bring to Jesus today? Your gift of time?

The magi were overjoyed The message said they could hardly contain themselves. When we bow down, there should be so much joy that we can hardly contain ourselves. Many people come to church but they never worship. Worship is all about giving and not just the offering. 

Third THE WISE MEN GAVE MYRRH TO HONOR JESUS AS SAVIOR.

And Myrrh for his humanity. Myrrh was an ointment used to embalm bodies to retard decay. 

Myrrh also symbolizes the Gift of Service and Sacrifice

We are called to bring Jesus the gifts of service and sacrifice. We are called to serve. We serve Christ through our gifts of time and energy and resources. We serve Christ when we serve one another. We serve Christ when we give sacrificially of ourselves, when our service costs us. That’s what sacrifice is — costly service. Ultimately, we are being asked to sacrifice ourselves — to give the gift of ourselves to those around.

It means sacrifice on our parts as servants. Maybe ministry won’t look the way we think it should or maybe it means we have to go out of our way or our comfort zone. It means to us as a congregation that everybody is better than somebody. And that the church exists for service to the body and the world and not to serve us.

We have to remember that one day this child’s chubby hands would be torn open by the nails of a cross. We have a need to offer the Christ our lives because he was willing to die for us. When we die to ourselves and lose our life for him we show he is the King of our lives. 

We are coming close to our 1-year anniversary together at the beginning of February. We are about to have our leadership retreat and work on our vision for the future. And each year I spend time in a practice of choosing a word for this new year. The title of a chapter in a book if you like. We are about to begin closing one chapter of our church In which the word for me was RESTORE.

When I arrived in February we were still scattered and struggling to return. We spent that spring and summer restoring our ministry and programs along with restoring relationships.

And begin looking to the next. What is God calling us to do together next? The next word I think is…RENEW

Renew our relationship with God and renew living into our vision and mission. Isaiah 61

What if each of us covenanted to put as much effort into our church life as we do our work, sports, or social life. It would mean in our personal life that we don’t stop thirsting for the word of God, the heart of God, the promise God wants for our lives and our church.

Do you really thirst for that? Are you thirsty for living water? Come to the water.

Isaiah 60: 1 says  Arise, shine; for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
    and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
    and his glory will appear over you.

Rise and Shine. 

Now we are two weeks into the new year. How is your prayer life? How is your bible reading plan going? Your worship presence? How is your financial giving becoming more extravagant generous? Come to the water. Rise and Shine. How will you serve in deeper ways this year? And what does your witness look like? Still being salty and shiny? What about being in a small group?Come to the water. Rise and Shine.

Now flash forward 30 years and Jesus stands in the Jordan River about to be baptized. Maybe he is thinking about the day the Wise Men brought their gifts as his true gift is about to be revealed. The real reason Wise Men would come from so far away to see a helpless baby is about to be fulfilled. Revealed in his baptism. An Epiphany of a whole new kind.

Mark 1 tell us 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

 As we do every year we gather together today to remember and reaffirm  renew our baptism. Once a year most United Methodists and others have a Service of Baptismal Renewal like this one. Sometimes we forget how important that moment was in our lives especially if it was long ago.  Do you remember what it felt like, the anticipation? the life change, the hope of a new beginning? When you promised to give your whole life to Christ, not just the parts on the side? When you confessed Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?

The time when you said it is time to change. It is time to go a different direction. My life has to change…I can remember that moment in my life even though it took several years to get fully there…As some of you read my Facebook post on New Years’s Eve Every year you know that I spent it when I was sixteen fighting for my life in Vanderbilt hospital.

It was at a retreat called Resurrection, ironic enough, that I would consider an ending instead. An obvious cry for help from a teenager who didn’t know what else to do anymore. 

And after a phone call to my parents from the girl I liked I was on my way to the hospital and then by ambulance to Vanderbilt for experimental medicine back then. 

Flash forward 5 years and I was getting ready for my baptism. It was a long time in coming from being in Vanderbilt to standing at the MTSU Wesley Foundation receiving Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. It is a moment I have always kept very close in my heart.

I wonder did the Magi keep the Christ Child in their heart when they returned to their part of the world. Or did the experience fade away with time until it was just a distant memory. The coming of the Wise Men revealed to the world a Messiah for all. The coming of Jesus to the Jordan to be baptized revealed to the world that he was the Son of God. And our baptism reveals to us that God wanted to claim us as one of his very own and cleanse us so we could begin a new life. "Baptism points back to the work of God, and forward to the life of faith."

MLK said Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase. 

Did you know that Chinese bamboo produces little outward growth for the first four years of its life? In its first year you see no visible signs of growth in spite of providing water, fertilizer and sunshine.

In the second year (again), there is no growth above the soil. The third, fourth year…still show no signs of anything happening.

Your patience is tested, and you begin to wonder if our efforts caring for and watering the tree will ever be rewarded. They start to doubt ourselves and question the value of our efforts.

But then finally in the fifth year – something amazing happens… And even though it's puny and pitiful on top, there is something powerful happening underground. In the fifth year, the tree grows eighty feet in six weeks! 

But did it really grow 80 feet in six weeks? Or was the little tree growing underground developing a root system strong enough to support it is outward growth in the 5th year and beyond? 

Growth takes time. It doesn’t happen all at once. But we have to actually cultivate our soul. It won’t just happen on its own. If you want to grow you are going  to have to put some effort into it. But we have to understand that the root comes before the fruit. And that if the bamboo had not developed a strong foundation it could not have sustained its life as it grew.

It is going to requires us to rise and shine. It's not about achieving, it's about receiving. Because God's world works in a different way. Jesus received the gift of baptism from John and God was revealed in that moment. We receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and then we are able to do things we are resolved to do. And in this still New Year what kind of fruit is going to be revealed in us? Are we going to hear a voice from heaven speaking to us saying this is my son, my daughter with whom I am well pleased? 

What are you going to do to live out the covenant you made with God on the day you gave your life to him? What direction are you resolved your life is going to head this year? Is it going to lead towards Christ or are you going to be led away from him? 

On this weekend honoring MLK Jr he said a lot of thought-provoking things but this one stands out the most as we arise and shine…

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. 

Are you going to continue to snooze or wake up from your alarm? Are you going to rise and shine? And give God the glory? 

AWAKE: A Wake Up Call

January 8, 2023

A family was driving by the Episcopal church and there was a manger scene in the yard, The youngest boy asked his mother; what is that?" That is Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus, there in the manger,". A few blocks further on they passed the Methodist church, a scene was depicting the journey of the Wise Men. "Who are they?" the young boy asked. His mother replies, "Those are the Wise Men, who are looking for the Baby Jesus." "Well, they're not all that wise" the young boy replied, "they won't find him there... He's down the street at that other church."

The annual observance of the birth of our Savior is almost over. Epiphany recalling the visit of the Wise Men is commemorated today but was actually Friday January 6th — and it ends the liturgical celebration following the "Twelve Days of Christmas." Many legends have grown up around the story of these Wise men.  Their story is wonderfully and somewhat accurately captured in the Christmas carol, We Three Kings, composed by Episcopal priest John Hopkins in the 1800s to help his nieces and nephews understand the true significance of the Christmas story. The first verse sets the theme…

We three kings of Orient are/ Bearing gifts, we traverse far/Field and fountain/Moor and mountain/Following yonder star

Actually, it’s now generally believed that the Magi were a priestly caste from Persia. Most everything else we know about the Magi is pure speculation. – I’m reading this now For instance…

The idea that they were kings comes from the early church leader (Tertullian) in the second century because the Old Testament had prophesied that kings would worship the Messiah.  And We don’t really know how many of them there were. – He also based the idea that there were three solely on the fact of the number of gifts given. Some have suggested that there were actually Four Kings, but the fourth one’s gift was fruitcake so he got dropped from the story.

The idea that their names were Melchior depicted as old, grey hair, and a long beard, Balthazar- a bit older, dark-skinned, and a new beard; and Caspar young, beardless, with a ruddy complexion - is pure myth.  The truth is .... We really do not know who they are.

What is not myth is what Matthew tells us in chapter 2 of his gospel — that wise men from the east saw a star, and based on certain information we do not know about, realized that it signified the birth of the promised Messiah; that they consulted Herod, who consulted the religious leaders as to where the Messiah would be born, which was Bethlehem; that they went to Bethlehem and found Joseph, Mary and Jesus in a HOUSE, not a stable, so it must have been some time after Jesus’s birth, that they gave Jesus gifts gold, frankincense and myrrh and worshipped Him, and that after being warned in a dream they returned to their own country another way instead of reporting to Herod as he had instructed them.

And today we begin our new sermon series AWAKE The Call to a Renewed Life. You know how hard it is to wake up sometimes? After being on Christmas break that first morning getting up and going…So, I began to think what is the wake-up call we can receive from the story of the Magi? Is it their journey? Is it who they are themselves? For these Wise men, this was the most important journey they would ever take. Nobody .... No-thing was going to stand between them and following that star. These Magi made a dramatic commitment of time to search for this new king. The gift of giving time to Jesus is one of the most important things we can do to Wake up. 

I mean these three or four, or however many Magi met God in the midst of their normal daily working living when God gave them a sign.  A wake-up call that tells us that God is not limited to meeting with us in a certain place or at a certain hour. God can and does speak to us anywhere and at any time. But we have to ready and aware. You have to be constantly prepared. To be constantly alert for what God has prepared for you in this life. And the willingness to move on whatever God is calling us to do. They put their feet to faith and started a journey. And their story helps us to see that there is something special at the end of a journey with God. 

And then I began thinking about their gifts and the question I always get is what do they mean? Why those gifts? Did God choose those gifts to be brought? The gifts the Magi gave at the most famous baby shower in history tell us wonderful truths I think about what it means to live the call to a renewed life with Jesus of how to respond to him and what gifts we are called to give him.

The meaning behind the gifts is also lyrically explained in We Three Kings. First. THEY GAVE GOLD TO HONOR Jesus AS KING.

The second verse goes “Born a King on Bethlehem's plain / Gold I bring to crown Him again / King forever, ceasing never / Over us all to reign.”

Gold signifies Jesus’ Kingly role. What is more fitting than gold for a King! We know they recognized Jesus as the king of the Jews because when they came to Herod, they asked, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? Many times, in the Old Testament, the promised Messiah is portrayed as a King who will rule the Jews and the world from Jerusalem. Though Jesus was born in a humble stable or cave; though He grew up, not in a palace, but in a poor carpenter’s home; though throughout His life he was without even a place to lay his Head; and though He was brutally beaten, cruelly treated and crucified on a cross — Matthew juxtaposes this thought: that this humble servant was indeed the long-promised King.

Gold symbolizes the Gift of Loyalty and Obedience This gift can be said to point to Christ’s kingship—gold is a gift for royalty. Christ is the final king of Israel—he is the king of kings. He is our king and we as his disciples, live in the kingdom even now. He is our Lord and ruler. We talk about accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior, but we are to spend our lives submitting to Jesus as Lord. Have you allowed Jesus to be Lord in all areas of your life? What areas do you keep to yourself?

 Jesus want to have Lordship in our lives. Have you given him the gift of your complete loyalty and obedience? If Jesus is to be the King in my life, then I am challenged by the thought: What gold can I bring to Jesus today? What do I hold onto as precious that I can give to the Lord?

Second THE WISE MEN GAVE FRANKINCENSE TO HONOR JESUS AS GOD.

The next verse says “Frankincense to offer have I / Incense owns a Deity nigh / Prayer and praising, all men raising / Worship Him, God most high.”

Frankincense was an aromatic incense used in the worship of God in the Temple. We know that these wise men recognized Jesus’s divinity because we’re told in our text that when they found Jesus, they fell down, and worshipped him.” The promised Messiah would be divine is found throughout the Old Testament: Isaiah prophesied about the coming Messiah in Isaiah 7:14:  “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” 

Frankincense symbolizes the gift of Trust and Worship This gift can point to Jesus in two ways. First, it can point to Jesus’ role as our high priest since incense was used by priests in temple worship. Jesus is our intercessor, our mediator before God. He is our avenue to forgiveness. 

Our response to Jesus’ priesthood is faith. He is the go-between between us and God as high priest. Our gift to Jesus is our trust that he makes this possible. Our gift to Jesus here is our prayer — for prayer is the ultimate act of trust, of turning over our situation to God.

This gift can also point to Christ as divine since it was used in worship. Scripture tells us over and over that Jesus is “image of the invisible God.” He is the Word made flesh. Our gift to Jesus here is our worship, to honor him as God, the one through whom we have life and existence, as well as hope and salvation.

One of Jesus’ greatest desires is that we offer up our lives as a sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God as the Apostle Paul put it (Rom 12:1). That we live for God and cultivate a deep relationship with Him. The gift of Frankincense also speaks to me of a daily time of quiet that we should spend with Jesus  –  in prayer and Bible Study. This is often the hardest time to find. As we live busy lives, this is the first thing that gets pushed to the bottom of the pile. Is this the gift you can bring to Jesus today? Your gift of time? Which leads us to our final gift.

Third THE WISE MEN GAVE MYRRH TO HONOR JESUS AS SAVIOR.

The fourth verse says, Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume / Breathes of life of gathering gloom / Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying / Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.”

Why all the gloomy language for a baby shower gift — because myrrh was an aromatic gum used for embalming the dead. How would you like that at your baby shower? A thoughtless gift perhaps? Not for this baby. For myrrh signifies the death of Jesus. These wise men, in their wisdom knew that Jesus was born to die. The writer of the book of Hebrews put it like this: ".. we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." 

The gift of myrrh foreshadowed the purpose for which God the Son came to this earth. The baby Jesus the wise men came to see was born to go to the cross as the Lamb of God who would take all our sin upon Himself so that we might have eternal life. Myrrh symbolizes the Gift of Service and Sacrifice

This particular aspect to the Christmas story, reminds us that not all will end well with this Jesus — death is on the horizon. We hear it in Simeon’s words to Mary and Joseph in Luke’s Gospel. And we see it in Herod’s slaughter of the children. Right at the beginning of the story we see the cross anticipated. Christ ultimately would give the gift of himself. And his death would bring us life. 

This speaks to how we are called to bring Jesus the gifts of service and sacrifice. We are called to serve. We serve Christ through our gifts of time and energy and resources. We serve Christ when we serve one another. We serve Christ when we give sacrificially of ourselves, when our service costs us. That’s what sacrifice is — costly service. Ultimately, we are being asked to sacrifice ourselves — to give the gift of ourselves to those around. Also when I think of myrrh, I am challenged to think of why Jesus came to earth – to die for the sins of all the world. And that makes me consider mission. How am I sharing the good news with my friends and neighbors? 

My favorite Christmas hymn “In the Bleak Mid-Winter,” goes like this: “What can I give him, poor as I am/ If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb/ If I were a wise-man, I would do my part/ Yet what can I give Him/ I can give my heart.”

Maybe you don’t feel you have much to give to Jesus. Maybe you can’t imagine being able to give him something of value. Maybe you think, “It’s Christ who has given me so much. What could I possible bring him?” But the most valuable gift is the gift of yourself — your new self in Christ that God has given you. To Awake to the possibilities that following his call allows us to do. To have a renewed life.  The most valuable gifts we can bring him are our obedience and loyalty, our trust and worship, our service and sacrifice. 

Many of you here are in need of a personal epiphany. You’ve struggled in some way, you know you need to change, you want to change. You’re sick and you’re tired, you wonder if things can ever change. What I wish for you is a personal epiphany. I need that for myself. I need a new understanding of how God works in my life, and what God expects from me. I really believe that God does want to change us but when God does it won’t be by our own efforts. We take part by being awake and showing up, and by letting God have control of our lives. 

This story invites each one of us to consider what we need to give Jesus. What gifts are you willing to bring to him? How are you going to respond to the God revealed in Jesus? AWAKE: Wake Up CallAnd for all that he has given us, what are we willing to give in return?

The Best Is Yet to Be

January 1, 2023

It’s time to make New Year resolutions. Have you made yours yet?

Last New Years I made some resolutions and I am proud to say that I kept them all year long. I kept them in an envelope in the top drawer of my desk! That is probably where yours are as well. Most of us will end up breaking any New Year Resolutions we make within 30 days. We feel bad about breaking them, but it is not easy to keep resolutions, is it?

 It takes effort, sacrifice and determination to keep these resolutions. Webster’s Dictionary defines “resolution” as a firm decision. It is a strong commitment to a course of action.

This week, people will be making resolutions of changes they wish to make for the New Year. They resolutions may include financial, health or lifestyle changes, promises to study the Bible more, or to spend more time with parents or  children or ways to better ourselves. Sadly, too often while making resolutions we remember only the physical. We forget those resolutions that will make us a better person spiritually. 

Will these resolutions include decisions to attend church more regularly, to begin attending Sunday School or get involved in a Bible study? Will there be resolutions to start a daily quiet time, to pray more, to tithe or to serve more? 

Will your resolutions this year include ways to learn more about Christ, read your bible and to draw nearer to Him? Any resolution we make that improves our relationship with God, greatly pleases the Lord. Does God care about the resolutions you make this New Year? Yes! Does God care if you keep your resolutions or not? Yes! If there is an area in your life that is destroying your health, affecting your family negatively, or destroying your witness, God’s desire is that you resolve to make a change for the better. 

Is there is an area in your life that is affecting your relationship to God? Make a resolution, a firm decision, a strong commitment to a course of action for improvement. But don’t just make a resolution for the coming year. Resolve to do it for life. 

Notice what Paul says in Colossians 3:9-10 “Take off the old self and its practices…and put on the new self”

That sounds like a good New Year’s Resolution text, doesn’t it? It sounds like what we desire to do when we make new year resolutions — taking off the old ugly practices and putting on new better ones. Paul is speaking about more than just ugly habits, though.Paul is speaking of a sacrifice.

Paul is saying that being a Christian is more than just making good resolutions. It means more than just having good intentions. It means taking the right actions. Your conduct should match your faith. That means a constant renewing, revowing and resolving. Why? Paul says so you will become more like Christ “being renewed in the image of your Creator”.

Sadly, many Christians accept Christ and never get much into the “taking off the old self and putting on new self” part. We never get much into the “sacrifice” part” either. Many of us neglect the renewing and resolving that it takes daily to become more and more like Christ. Is there is an ugly habit you need strength to break? 

Is there an area in your life that is not pleasing to God, an area that is affecting your relationship to God or relationship to others, turn it over today. Resolve for a change for the better. Ask Christ for strength to stand by your resolution. This morning I want to talk to you about some resolutions, some commitments which I guarantee will make a radical difference in my life and your life if we follow through on them.

In fact, what I want to do is to offer to you a way of starting the New Year which could significantly change your life. If you will make these commitments the scripture encourages us to do I guarantee you that the start of 2023 could become one of the most significant events in your life.

New Years instead of being simply about having a few days off, if you will follow God’s advice, could become a way for you to have a better life. And everybody wants a better life right?So I want to challenge you to make 3 new commitments for this New Year.

Here they are…

First COMMIT YOURSELF TO FORGET YOUR FAILURESTo forget your past…

The Apostle Paul gave us this advice in Phil 3:13-14 “Forgetting what is behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.” 

I don’t know of any more relevant and practical advice for us at the start of a new year. God is here so that you do not have to live your life imprisoned by your past. All of us have failed in some way in our lives over the last year. For many of us our failures are painful memories. 

Maybe for you it is a memory of how you failed in a relationship. You made the wrong decisions, said and did the wrong things and the relationship ended. 

Some of you who are parents probably know that you failed your children in some way, many of us are aware that we have failed our parents and it’s more than likely that many of us know that most of all we have failed ourselves in some ways. 

What God’s Word is saying is that we must not allow ourselves to be bogged down by our past failures. That we do not dwell on our past so that it stops us moving forward into the future that God has for us. I think that the start of New Year is a good time for you to rise to that challenge. To say to yourself I am going to, with help of God, to forget my past. I am going to stop torturing myself about what I did or didn’t do. This New Year is a good time to stop being chained to your past failures. God doesn’t want you to go through your life branding yourself as a failure. 

On the Cross Jesus died so that he could forgive. When we become Christians that forgiveness must become a reality in our lives. When we have received Christ’s forgiveness it allows us to forgive ourselves and forget our failures. Do you need to do that? The Best is Yet to Be. 

Second  COMMIT YOURSELF TO GIVE UP YOUR GRUDGES

Listen to these words from the book of Colossians because in them you’ll hear the second challenge I believe God wants you to rise to if you want to make 2023 a significant turning point in your life .

“Bear with each other and forgive each other whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” 

3:13 in 2023. It has a nice ring to it. Did you catch that challenge? In those words we are being challenged directly and personally to give up our grudges. That is what he means when he says forgive each other whatever grievances you may have against one another. 

What’s a grudge? A grudge is a deep ongoing resentment that we cultivate in our hearts against someone else. A grudge is an unforgiving spirit that leads to unforgiving attitudes and unforgiving actions. Now I know you know what I am talking about. Harboring a grudge is about nursing a dislike for someone. What you need to know is that grudges are dangerous because they are destructive. Grudges destroy marriages. Grudges break up families. Grudges ruin friendships. 

Today if you know you are holding a grudge against someone then God has something to say to you. God says “give it up.” When you hold a grudge against someone you will hurt yourself as much and perhaps more than you will hurt the person you are holding it against.

Do you remember that parable that Jesus told about the servant who was forgiven a huge debt by the king and then refused to forgive someone else a tiny amount? Jesus said his unforgiving spirit landed him in prison. Max Luxcado says, “Unforgiving servants always end up in prison. Prisons of anger, guilt and depression. God says to you “don’t sentence yourself to prison.”  Set yourself free. Give up your grudges “forgive each other whatever grievances you may have against one another.” 

Scripture says the way to give up a grudge is to forgive a grievance. God isn’t asking you to ignore whatever the person has done to you. God isn’t asking you to pretend it did happen. God doesn’t ask you to condone it, to pretend it didn’t matter. What God asks you to do is to forgive the grievance. 

That means to acknowledge how wrong and painful what was done to you was but to decide to forgive the person who did the wrong to you. I am absolutely certain that there are people here who need to give up their grudges and forgive the grievance they have against someone else. 

Some of you need to forgive the grievance you have against your parents for what they did or didn’t do. Some of you need to forgive your children for the same reason. Some of you need to forgive a partner for emotional or physical abuse. Some of you need to give up the grudge you have against someone at work because of the way they have treated you.  Some of you need to give up the grudge that stems from an argument you had with someone. 

God says that that deep-seated resentment you have against that person has to go. What better time to make that difficult decision to forgive than the start of a new year? The Best is Yet to Be.

Third  COMMIT YOURSELF TO RESTORE YOUR RELATIONSHIPS

Every time I turn on my computer a little window pops up that asks if I want to run a check to see if my computer is working as it should. God gives us a similar invitation. To check whether our personal relationships are working properly. Here is that challenge in Romans 12:18 “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” 

The important phrase there is, as far as it depends on you. God by using that phrase is personally challenging each one of us to do all we can to restore our relationships. God wants you to do everything you can to restore any relationships that have gone wrong in your life. Some relationships might have gone wrong in your life because of what other people have done and they might not want that relationship restored. 

God recognizes that. That is why it says “If it’s possible” But let’s be honest some of our relationships have gone wrong because of what we have done haven’t they? When God’s word says here is as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” it is saying if you have caused a rift in a relationship then you have a responsibility to do everything you can to restore it. 

That everything includes the one thing we all probably find most difficult, asking for forgiveness. Am I the only person who finds it hardest to say “I am sorry” to the people I am closest too? I wonder how many marriages and relationships represented here are not at all what they should be or could be simply because someone won’t say “I was wrong, I am sorry, will you forgive me” I am certain that some of us need to ask forgiveness for “ harsh words and cutting remarks” that have really wounded our partners or friends over the years. 

Maybe God is saying to some of you that this new year is the right time to restore those relationships you ruined by going and sincerely saying that you are sorry for those angry words or those selfish and thoughtless actions. Make no mistake it will be hard to do but one of the most significant things that you can do to mark the New Year is not set off fireworks party but to admit your past errors in relationships and humbly seek forgiveness from the one you have hurt. 

Will you rise to that challenge and make a commitment to restore your broken relationships in this new year? The Best is Yet to Be.

It all boils down to this: Will this New Year be just a calendar changing event for us or are we willing to rise to these challenges from God’s word and make these commitments and so make it a life changing event?

Are you willing to make these 3 commitments for 2023? Will you commit yourself to forget your failures? Will you commit yourself to give up your grudges? Will you commit yourself to restore your relationships?

This New Year will really be something to celebrate if you’ll make forgiveness the heart of what it’s all about for you.

The Cast of Christmas: And Us

December 24, 2022

It’s good to be home this Christmas. Whether you’re visiting or at home, I want you to know that you are welcome here. I’ve always loved Christmastime and its traditions. I love the special meals. I love the season. I love the lights. I love the music. 

Christmas Eve was always such an exciting time when I was a kid. The anticipation grew to almost unbearable levels as Christmas Eve approached. The tree was decorated with icicles and bubble lights bathed by the light of the color wheel. We would wait for my dad to come home from his double nursing shift from the VA Hospital later in the evening. We need to celebrate his birthday first then it was Christmas. Some times the greatest gift was just having him home. And of course, the gifts like the year I got the Death Star Station playset from the Sears Catalog I had circled.  

I’m not going to ask you to pretend that you don’t really care about the gifts, the food, the family time, and the celebration. I know the power of food and presents. I am, however, going to ask you to take this short time we have together to pause with me for just a moment to focus on the Greatest Gift that has ever been given.

Luke 2:6–7 presents the gift to us: 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 guest room available for them.”

Jesus’s arrival says so much about who He is and how He works in our lives. The Gift first presented Himself in a similar way to how He presents Himself to us right now. His parents had left their hometown of Nazareth to be registered for the census, and they couldn’t find a place to stay. It’s a remarkable event if you consider who Jesus is. He is the Almighty One. John 1:3 says, “Through him all things were made.” He has the ability to peel back the heavens, to stop time, to thunder to the ends of the earth. Yet there was no room for Him when He arrived. The way He was received — or, more accurately, ignored — speaks so much about how we can respond to Him even at this moment. The way of His arrival reminds us that Jesus doesn’t force Himself upon any of us. He doesn’t make threats, doesn’t beg, doesn’t make a grand display.

Instead, in His arrival that night and in His arrival right now, He offers us all a quiet invitation — a call to be welcomed in and welcomed home in the dark night of our own hearts. How ironic that the One who came to welcome us back home to relationship with God spent His first night in a barn, lying in a feeding trough, because no one welcomed Him in. 

The circumstances of His birth show how people throughout the ages would misunderstand and reject Him. More often, though, people simply wouldn’t have room in their lives and would just ignore the great gift and the great invitation that He extends to us all. 

For the last four weeks, here at Nolensville First we have been looking at the cast of characters in this amazing arrival and rescue mission. As we remember each of their responses to Jesus’s arrival, let’s consider our response to the fact that Jesus has arrived right here in this place as well. Jesus is here right now, wanting to be a greater part of your life or to become part of your life for the first time. The prophets, angels, shepherds, and Magi all had an important part to play in this wonderful arrival. They all responded to Jesus in a unique but wonderful way. Let’s consider their responses to His arrival as we consider how we will respond this Christmas. 

This is the holiday where we remember that God took a huge step toward us. We were in trouble. Although we were created to be with God, our hearts had turned far from God. There was a barrier between us and our Creator that had to be dealt with. the answer wasn’t going to be found in our own effort and resolve to try harder. God took a big step toward us by coming to live with us, show the way, and remove the barrier through His death for us. 

I know that some of us are here right now because it’s expected or even required.  If that’s where you find yourself — that you’d rather we just be done with all this  religious stuff so we can get home and get to the good stuff — I want you to know that I get it, and I’m really grateful and honored that you’re here. I know as a group we Christians have given you a few good reasons to consider shutting out the story of Christmas.

This simple story of Christmas isn’t about this church or even a religion. It’s about relationship with God. It’s about love, life, and freedom. If you’ve already made up your mind or you’re shutting out this simple story, I’d ask you to consider a different response. Try to look beyond all you’ve heard about Jesus and all the things you’ve seen people do in the name of Jesus, and try to find out for yourself who Jesus is. 

Out in the foyer, we have a table with some Bibles on it, and we’d love for you to take one if you don’t already have a Bible. Before you completely close the door to Jesus, open the Bible to the section titled “Matthew” and read it straight through to the end of the section titled “John” — those pages are all about Jesus’s life, and they are also called the Gospels. It’s only a little more than one hundred pages altogether. You can decide whatever you’d like about me or the music or this service, but don’t shut the door on Jesus until you’ve taken a look for yourself at who He really is and what His birth really means. This isn’t a question of what church you go to.  It’s a question of who God is, what God wants, and what your life could mean within the answers to those questions. The stakes are high enough that it’s at least worth taking a serious look.

Take a look:

Like the Prophets God had been talking about this arrival for thousands of years before it took place. It’s amazing to think that specific words  about Jesus’s birth and death were recorded hundreds and even thousands of years before He was born like Micah. Through the wisdom of the Holy Spirit,  the prophets knew we needed a Savior,  and they spoke of His coming. We can respond to Jesus this Christmas  as the prophets responded to Him. We can eagerly and earnestly look for Him!

The best response we can have is to eagerly look for Him and His grace. The prophets have left us a powerful example. They believed in Him even though they never saw Him — even though He hadn’t yet been born! We can respond like the prophets of old who believed that the Messiah would come from God to save us from our sin because we can’t be good enough on our own. 

Like the Shepherds We can also respond like the shepherds. They saw the angels appear before them. A great choir joined them, and they wondered what it was all about. Some of us respond to Jesus wondering what everyone is pointing at and looking at. We wonder if we’re missing something, and we feel like we don’t have the inside track or inside knowledge. But there is no special knowledge, and they don’t see anything you and I can’t see. The arrival of Jesus is personal to each one of us. You don’t have to be anything you’re not or pretend to feel anything you don’t. 

An angel appeared to the shepherds, announcing a Savior had come and that He’s nearby in a stable. In their curiosity, the shepherds didn’t just stand there pointing at the sky. They said to each other, “Let’s go see this thing that has happened.” Maybe you’re wondering if there is anything in this story for you or if it’s just people pointing around aimlessly. To you, I would say, just respond to Jesus and engage the Christmas story a little more than you have in the past. 

Consider the idea that God is, in fact, love. Maybe you have seen God’s greatness in the beauty of the world and experienced God’s brilliance in your own heart. At the same time, you can see there’s something broken in the world, and at some level, even something in your own heart is broken. So, if you’re curious like the shepherds, I want to encourage you that you can respond by opening your heart to Christmas and allow in the possibility that the first Christmas was simply God’s expression of love and kindness toward you. God showed that love by sending His Son, Jesus, to remove judgment and guilt from your life. 

Take a moment to respond to God right now with what you’re really thinking and feeling about it all. It may just be a simple prayer, where you say, “God, I really do want to know who You are; please start showing me.” God cares about the pain and brokenness that you’ve seen and felt — and even that you’ve caused. Because God cares about you, God took a giant leap toward you on Christmas when God lowered Himself as a man. All God wants in return is for you to take a step in God’s direction.

Like the Magi Some of us are here right now like the Magi who were waiting and watching for God to move on their behalf. When they saw a sign in the stars, they traveled hundreds of miles from the east and said, Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him (Matthew 2:2).Like the Magi, some of us are waiting expectantly for God to move in our lives. With great faith, we’ve come here tonight just as they did to worship Him. They brought gold, spices, and perfume. You may be wondering what gift we can possibly bring in response. I want to encourage you that what you have is enough. The whole reason Jesus came was so that He could be with you. The point of Christmas isn’t really gifts as much as it is connection. God is pleased to just have your heart and your affection and build a relationship with you. 

Your response is a gift more precious to God than gold, frankincense, or myrrh. You can bring a wonderful gift by allowing God even more space in your heart. Your response is simply to give more of yourself over to God, to tell God thank you, and in that thanks to give God a little more devotion and space in your life. When you do that, it will be met in a joyful communion of God giving more of Himself to you —because that connection and closeness to you are what God desires. 

Like the Angels  Whomever you most identify with in the first Christmas, all of us can close our service like the angels! On the night when Jesus arrived, the angels praised God and sang,Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).We can wrap up this part of Christmas by carrying our praises out into our Christmas celebrations. Give God glory in the way you treat one another. Give God glory in the way you celebrate. Give God glory in the way you sing. Give God glory in the way you live. 

When we are looking to anything other than Jesus for our fulfillment, we are guaranteed to be disappointed. You can have the experience of a lifetime. You can go to a restaurant on the moon — but you’ll still be disappointed. Have you heard, by the way, about the restaurant on the moon? The food is terrific, but there’s no atmosphere. See, even that disappoints. There is nothing better than Jesus. There is no other who deserves our praise! Wherever the simple and remarkable story of Christmas finds you, I am so glad and thankful that you decided to share its remembrance with us. I’m so honored that at this special, holy time, you chose to be here. Now that it’s finally here, I pray that  your Christmas is calm, quiet, and full — and that it brings you one step closer to the One who came to be with us so that we can be with Him forever. 

Let’s close with a prayer of celebration and praise: Father, we declare Christ has come. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests. For the light now shines in the darkness, and darkness has not overcome it. We want to respond to Your arrival by drawing closer to You. Please don’t stop drawing near to us until You are our everything. Praise You for coming to rescue us on Christmas, and praise You for coming to rescue us today. We glorify You, and we love You. In Jesus’s name we pray, amen.

The Joy of Christmas: The Redemption of Scrooge

December 25, 2022

Early in the morning Scrooge wakes up from the strangest dream he has ever had. He opens the window and discovers that it is Christmas morning, and he has been given a chance to change his ways.

 It is Christmas day I haven’t missed it! He didn’t do anything to earn it; rather it as a gift. He shouts to himself, “I am light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel. I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy new year to all the world!JOY…

The first thing that Scrooge does on Christmas morning is to buy the prize winning turkey for the Cratchits. He heard Bob say “Have you ever seen such a goose” talking about their meager feast and in Scrooge’s own way he wants Bob’s hope to become reality.

In Muppet Christmas Carol  Beaker gives Scrooge his scarf as a gift. Have you ever been giving anything you didn’t know you wanted or needed but loved? I think that gift giving at its best is a present for which we didn’t ask, and didn’t think we needed but reveals that the gift giver really knows us. This is why we celebrate Jesus as a gift during the Christmas season. Scrooge has been redeemed. Redemption means something is offered and something is received. We redeem coupons in the store all the time or online. In God’s kingdom it is that God has offered us salvation and we respond to that gift and that is where transformation takes place.

Ephesians 1:7 says we have been ransomed through his Son’s blood and we have forgiveness for our failures based on his overflowing grace. You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith Eph 2:8 We are the redeemed and our response to that redemption reveals our commitment to God’s grace, love and mercy. Scrooge did not earn this new day he has but he responds well to it as a gift. You might wonder why someone like Scrooge is offered a new day. He is not a young man who have years ahead to make up for all the pain he has caused.

Why would Jesus raise Lazarus his friend only to know that he will die again one day. Christ commands Lazarus to be unbound. Scrooge is now unbound. He has not been given a new day in order to make amends. He has been given a new day in order to experience endless joy.  Through his lack of compassion and empathy, Scrooge has become a shell of a person. He has forgotten who he was. But interesting enough this is the Scrooge we can’t seem to forget. Maybe the point of a Christmas Carol is not to see how Scrooge is transformed but that we understand you reap what you sow in a different, grace filled way. Otherwise Scrooge can never find redemption in our minds. We will continue to live as if the bad will always outweigh the good. People can change.

Perhaps Scrooge was meant to remind us of the heart of Luke 15 and the heart of the gospel itself. The lost sheep did not find its way back, instead it was found. The lost coin did not jump back into the woman’s purse. She searched for it. The lost son did not earn his way back into his father’s house. The father embraced his return. In all three parables the community is asked to do one thing- Rejoice. Our job in the story is to rejoice over what God is doing through Jesus. Fred rejoices over his lost uncle.

I bring good news to you wonderful joyous news for all people. When we find joy that unbreakable assurance that God is with us, we understand the redemption the Christ child was born to offer and we can celebrate Scrooge’s rebirth as Ebenezer rather than remember his faults. 

Before hearing the famous God bless us everyone at the end of the story we hear that Scrooge learned how to keep Christmas well. Dickens himself wonders if the same can be said of us. How do we keep Christmas well? Maybe the entire point of A Christmas Carol is in those three small words keep Christmas well.

First what are we called to keep? The Advent candles during the season remind us what we are to keep. We should keep Hope always trusting in God for the goodness that we do not yet see in the world. We should keep Peace, continually learning how to love our enemy and break bread with the outcast and forgotten. We should keep Joy constantly remember the steadfast assurance that God is with us. We should keep Love because God is love and God is calling us to share God’s presence with the world.We do not have to keep the same level of gift giving debt which leaves the offering plates bare come January. We do not have to keep the fear and anxiety of creating the perfect Christmas. 

How do we keep Christmas then? Maybe you have tried to sing carols in July and it doesn’t work. Christmas is a special time of year. Keeping Christmas means getting lost in the ever present announcement of the angels. Keeping Christmas does mean when the days get darker we light up our church and homes. That we do start getting ready in Oct with extra choir, band and drama rehearsals to ensure we have the most beautiful and exciting music we can muster. Keep Christmas means we decorate our sanctuaries with evergreens. We keep Christ in Christmas not just through bumper stickers or anger towards coffee cups or making sure the Christmas tree or nativity is the largest on the public square. Keeping Christmas is in our invitation in our selflessness, our service to others and our humble witness lived out in our lives. We are called to keep. We are called to keep Christmas and we are called to keep Christmas well. The Ghost of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come certainly showed Scrooge how to keep Christmas well. The compassion he found for Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit stirred Scrooge’s soul. Relieving the joy of seeing the Fezziwigs twirl around brought a smile to his face and a tap to his toe. Offering donations to the poor and gifts to the community was the fruit of Scrooge’s redemption revealing that he was a new and joyful person. Charles Dickens said No one is useless who lightens the burdens of another.

But I am convinced that Scrooge doesn’t know how to keep Christmas well until he allows his nephew Fred to welcome and receive him. We saw it with George C Scott but I especially like how this scene is shown in Patrick Stewart’s A Christmas Carol

At the end of the story Scrooge knows what he must do. His journey will not be complete until he humbly and selflessly reconciles with his family. He approaches Fred’s door, a home he walked past dozens of time without the courage to knock. He wanders into the dining room and says I have come to dinner. Will you let me in Fred? Fred welcomes him to dinner with exuberant joy and they all rejoice.

When the invitation is accepted Scrooge journey of redemption is complete. Christmas is an invitation into relationship with God through Jesus the Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus’s invitation is accepted, we discover that we have been redeemed. We have neither earned it nor do we deserve it. It is a gift from God, calling us to respond in the world with love. Scrooge knocked at the door an asked to be welcomed and with joy he was. If Scrooge can be redeemed, then so can we! This is the journey Scrooge had to take to become Ebenezer. When he woke up on Christmas morning, everything looked different. 

One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from Charles Dickens: “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”

So how will keep Christmas this year,the whole year starting fresh in January?

What invitation do you need to offer someone? Which invitation do you need to accept? Dickens also said Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts. 

May that be true for us as well. Merry Christmas And God bless us all, everyone. So rejoice! A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Posts