Dec 312023
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Avoid the reefs of the New Year!”\

     Let’s say that your phone rings tomorrow morning, and it’s a call from the manager of your bank. He tells you, “I received a very unusual call the other day.  Someone who loves you very much and is quite wealthy, has given you a large sum of money.  This anonymous donor will be depositing 86,400 cents into your account every single day”.  “How’s that again?” you ask.  “Every single day this person will deposit 86,400 cents into your account”.  Is that much money you wonder?  Your calculator reveals that it amounts to $864 every day.  That’s pretty good.  “But there’s one condition-you have to spend it every single day.  You cannot save it up!  What is not spent is taken away.  This person will do that every day…but you must spend it daily or it will be wasted!”  You go back to your calculator and figure out that that $864 times 7 equals $6,048 per week.  That amount, multiplied by 52 comes to $314,496 per year.  That’s a pretty good deal.  BUT THAT IS FANTASY!  But in REALITY…Somebody really does love you.  He does give you 86, 400 seconds per day.  Each moment is worth more than all the money in the world.  Money could not even buy one second of life…if you have a terminal disease.  That someone is God.  The condition is you must spend that amount every day.  You can’t save up time today and use it tomorrow-there is no such thing as a 27-hour day.  You have opportunity each day to invest your precious commodity of time-or to waste it.  How will you spend your daily gift?  The Psalmist wrote “Lord show me…the number of my days…how fleeting is my life”. (Ps. 39:4).  Paul said, “Redeem the time, because the days are evil…do not be foolish but understand what the Lord’s will is for you”. (Eph. 5:17).

     As we race into 2024, almost two decades into the new millennium, we should make it our goal to spend our days wisely.  How do we do that?  The overall understanding of that is too broad for a Pastor’s Perspective…but let me exhort you to consider two important areas of investment.  The first one is WORSHIP-Personal and Public-Individual and Corporate.  Gordon Dahl describes the modern dilemma that most Americans face, He writes: “Most Americans tend to worship their work; work at their play; and play at their worship”. (He hit the nail right on the head!!!). But he continues…”As a result, their meanings and values are distorted.  Their relationships disintegrate faster than they can keep them in repair, and their lifestyles resemble a cast pf characters in search of a plot!”  What a diagnosis.  Charles Hummel, in his book Tyranny of the Urgent, has his finger on our pulse when he writes: “When we stop long enough to think about it, we realize our dilemma goes deeper than a shortage of time; it is basically a problem of priorities…failure to do what is really important.  The winds of…demands…have driven us into the reefs of frustration”.  The Apostle Paul talked about those whose “faith was shipwrecked” (I Tim. 1:19).  One of the likely causes may be how we fail to prioritize our time to put worship first in our lives!  Faith without worship is doomed to failure!  C.S. Lewis knew that well.  He told us the secret of starting our day from Heaven’s perspective.  He wrote:  “It comes the very moment you wake up each morning.  All your cares of the day rush at your like wild animals.  The first job each morning consists in shoving them back; listening to the Other Voice, taking the Other Point of View…standing back from the fussing’s and fretting’s; coming in out of the wind.”  Giving God the first 30 minutes of the day in reading His Word and Prayer takes you out of the winds that would shipwreck you on the reefs of frustration and failure.  Time well invested in personal worship.

     But also, we need to remember that the Scripture teaches us that there are no lone-wolf Christians.  The writer of the Book of Hebrews, writing to help Christians avoid relapse and apostasy from the faith, tells them to “stop forsaking the assembling of themselves together, as the habit of some have become”. (Hebrews 10:25).  Ravi Zacharias tells us the best definition of worship that I have ever heard.  It was a definition that originated with Archbishop William Temple.  He wrote: ” Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God.  The quickening of our conscience by His Holiness; The nourishment of our minds with His Truth, (His Word); The purifying of our imagination with His Beauty; The opening of our hearts to His Love; The surrender of our will to His Purpose-all this gathered up in adoration, that is the most selfless emotion our nature is capable of”.  A weekly investment in that kind of Worship, at least 2-3 hours per week minimum, in corporate worship with other believers is the only way to guarantee the development of genuine Christians.  But worship without service is incomplete.  Jesus told Satan, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve!” (Matthew 4: 10).  Submission must lead to service.  Worship must lead to wonder and witness.  T.S. Eliot, in his poetry made this very plain…he wrote: “You are not here to verify-instruct yourself, or inform curiosity, or carry reports. You are here to kneel!”  We must never forget that!  One of the most important books I have ever read is the book The One Thing You Can’t Do In Heaven by Mark Cahill.  It is a book of practical theology on Witnessing and Winning the Lost.  The book is filled with convicting quotes that Cahill shares from his favorite preacher- (one of mine too), Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  These quotes are prods used by the Holy Spirit to remind us of our most important response to worship and that is to witness.  In closing let me share a couple of them.  “Every Christian is a Witness or an Imposter!”  “If there is any one point in which the Christian Church ought to keep its fervent white heat it is winning the lost.  If there is anything about which we cannot tolerate Luke warmness it is the matter of sending the gospel to a dying world”.  “If sinners will be damned at least let them leap to hell over our bodies.  If they perish, let it be with our arms about their knees…in the teeth of our exertions, let no one go there unwarned and unprayed for!”  “Spit on me, but repent! Laugh at me, but believe in my Master. Trample me under your feet like dirt in the street, but damn not your souls!” 

     Time invested in worship that leads to witness will be greatly rewarded in eternity.  Learn those lessons now-you won’t be able to reclaim lost time in Heaven.  Any faith that fails to spend time wisely in those two disciplines, by God’s measure is a “shipwrecked faith-blown onto the reefs of spiritual frustration!”.

SERMON: SMOOTH SAILING INTO THE NEW YEAR

                   Matthew 6:33

                   I.     PERSONAL CHOICE

                   II.    PASSIONATE CHOICE

                   III.   PRIMARY CHOICE

                   IV.   PERSISTENT CHOICE

                   V.    PROMISING CHOICE

 Posted by at 6:06 pm
Dec 242023
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “SLOWLY GROWING WISE ABOUT THE FUTURE”

     Tri Valley Baptist Church has completed its first twenty five years of ministry.  Over the years we have had many men of God lead us in the ministry of winning our community to Christ.  I believe it has been the measure of every Pastor to lead this congregation in MAKING DISCIPLES (Winning the Lost); MARKING DISCIPLES (Getting them to join the Church and giving public testimony to being a new creation, dying to the old man, rising to walk in newness of life, and by the baptism of the Spirit being placed in the body of Christ the Church);MATURING DISCIPLES (the goal of all the preaching and teaching ministries of the Church) and probably the number one sign of maturity in Christ is following in the next step of MULTIPLYING DISCIPLES (every mature believer should be involved in sharing his faith and winning others to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and teaching their converts to do the same).  It all seems so simple when summarized that way…but somewhere-somehow-the process has broken down.  We are losing ground-FAST!  There must be some changes made in our methods.  They tell us that to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of INSANITY!  Somehow we need to grow wiser about ministry to our ever-changing world.

     Having said that I feel like Parsifal, a young lad in Richard Wagner’s play of the same name.  It seems that Parsifal’s father had been an honorable knight who joined other knights in the mission of finding the Holy Grail.  He had been killed in the pursuit.  His mother kept the fate of Parsifal’s father from him, and forbid him to even own or use a sword.  The drama is the story about how Parsifal discovers who he is; who his father was; what his father’s mission was; and he finally, and successfully follows in his father’s dream.  Wagner’s characterization of Parsifal is “a good man growing slowly wise”.  That was his key to success.  Perhaps it is our key too.  We need wisdom from on high to understand and love our community.  Our world has changed.  Old techniques.  Old cliches.  Old methods that used to work are quickly rejected by today’s post-Christian culture.  What are we to do?  One of my favorite authors, even still today, is Francis Schaeffer.  His book True Spirituality is one of the most important books ever written on the Christian life.  Another of his books, The Church At the End of the Twentieth Century, is extremely pertinent today as well.  Two conclusions of his book that we need to understand are: (1) We live in a post-Christian world that neither understands nor wants what we have to offer in the Gospel of Christ.  (2)  Most of the world is desperately seeking love, as Johnny Lee said, “in all the wrong places”.  Schaeffer stated that even though the world will change, (and he hit the nail on the head speaking very prophetically) the key to reaching them will not change.  It is still the “love of Christ” fleshed out in his disciples that will be the magnet that will continue to draw the lost to the Christ and His Cross. Jesus words, “If I be lifted up I will draw all men unto myself” (John 121:32) is still true today.  How long will it take us to learn that truth?

     Leaving the winning of the world in the hands of an imperfect Church was a risk.  C.S. Lewis wrote, “God seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures.  He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly (is that a word?) what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye”.  There is no greater illustration of that principle than fact that Jesus has delegated to His Church the task of winning the world before He comes back.  How do we do it?  Jesus is our PATTERN.  We are to emulate Him.  Helmut Thielicke describes the ministry of Jesus in these words, “What tremendous pressures there must have been within Him to drive Him to hectic, nervous, explosive activity!  He sees…as no one else sees, with an infinite and awful nearness, the agony of dying man, the anguish of the wounded conscience, injustice, dread, terror and beastliness.  He sees and hears all of this with the heart of a Savior…must not this fill his every waking hour and rob Him of sleep at night?  Must He not begin to set the fire burning, to win people, to work out strategic plans to evangelize the world, to work, work, furiously work, unceasingly, unrestingly, before the night comes when no man can work?  That’s what we would imagine the earthly life of the Son of God to be like, if we were to think of Him in human terms.  But how utterly different was the actual life of Jesus!  Though the burden of the whole world lay heavy on His shoulders-though Corinth, Ephesus, Athens, and whole continents, with all their desperate need, were desperately near to His heart, though suffering and sinning were going on in chamber, street corner, castle, and slums, seen only by the Son of God-though this immeasurable misery and wretchedness cried out aloud for a physician, he has time to stop and talk to the individual…By being obedient in His little corner of the highly provincial precincts of Nazareth and Bethlehem he allows Himself to be fitted into the great mosaic whose master is God.  And that is why He has time for persons; (to love them individually) for all time is in the hands of the Father.  That is why peace and not unrest go out from Him.  For God’s faithfulness already spans the world like a rainbow: He does not need to build it; He only needs to walk beneath it” (The Waiting Father).  So, do we.  Jesus encountered people individually.  He loved them.  Sometimes they responded to that love and choose to invite Him into their life, and ended up following Him.   Other times they walked away-though the Bible says grieved, for rejecting Him who the depths of our souls desire, creates a greater vacuum inside than before we encounter Him.  We must follow His pattern. 

     But Jesus is also our PRESENCE AND POWER.  Trying to do our mandate and mission in our own power will only end in frustration and failure.  Frederick Buechner describes how he learned this lesson in Telling Secrets“Love you neighbor as yourself is part of the great commandment.  The other way to say it is, Love yourself as your neighbor.  Love yourself not in some ego-centric, self-serving sense but love yourself the way you would love your neighbor, nourishing yourself, trying to understand yourself, comfort and strengthen yourself.  Ministers in particular, people in the caring professions in general, are famous for neglecting themselves with the result that they are apt to become in their own way as helpless and crippled as the people they are trying to care for and thus are no longer selves who can be of much use to anybody.  If your daughter is struggling for life in a raging torrent, you do not save her by jumping into the torrent with her, which only leads to the both of you drowning together.  Instead you keep your feet on the dry bank-you maintain as best you can your own inner peace, the best and strongest of who you are-and from that solid ground reach out your rescuing hand…Take care of yourself so you can take care of them.  A bleeding heart is of no help to anybody if it bleeds to death!”  Beuchner was speaking autobiographically here.  His own daughter was drowning in the torrent of anorexia.  He tried to help her but was losing the battle because her battle consumed him.  She finally got help in a clinic three thousand miles away from him.  He was not present at all to protect her by manipulating events on her behalf.  The people who were there-the Doctors, nurses, social workers, and even a judge who hospitalized her against her will.  They all loved her with a love that held her accountable for choosing her own healing-something her father could not do.  Buechner concluded, “Those men and women were not haggard, dithering, lovesick as I was.  They were realistic, tough, conscientious, and in those ways, though they would never have put it in such terms themselves, loved her in a sense that I believe was closer to what Jesus meant by love than what I had been doing”. 

     Philip Yancey says, “Jesus healed everyone who asked Him too, but not everyone He met.  He had the amazing rare capacity to let people choose their own pain.  He exposed Judas to love, but did not try to prevent his evil deed; He denounced the Pharisees without trying to coerce them to His point of view.  He answered a wealthy man’s question with uncompromising words and let him walk away.  Mark adds the words about that incident “Jesus looked on him and loved Him” (Mk. 10:21).  But he still walked away!  And Jesus let him!  In short, Jesus showed incredible respect for human freedom.  He had no compulsion to convert the entire world in His lifetime or cure people unready to be cured.  He encountered them and called them to Himself in love.  If they did not have the desire to respond love to love, He let them turn away”.  That will still work today.  Jesus is still the epitome of relevance.  So is His cross.  Charles Swindoll, in Come Before Winter, quotes George Mcloud with words still very relevant to us-“It is we who have hauled the cross out of sight.  It is we who have left the impression it belongs in the cloistered halls of a seminary, or beneath the soft shadows of stained glass between marble statues.  I am simply arguing that the cross be raised again in the center of the marketplace, as well as on top of the Church steeple.  Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on a town garbage heap; at a cross road so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek…and at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble, BECAUSE THAT IS WHERE HE DIED, AND THAT IS WHAT HE DIED ABOUT.  THAT IS WHERE THE CHURCH OUGHT TO BE, AND WHAT THE CHURCH PEOPLE OUGHT TO BE ABOUT!”   His way still works…even twenty years later.  But it has to be fleshed-out by real-life Christians.  Any takers?

SERMONLET YOUR CHIRSTMAS BE ONE OF WISDOM THAT WORSHIPS 

Matthew 2:1-12

I.    WISE IN HOW THEY SOUGHT HIM.

II.   WISE IN WHAT THEY BROUGHT HIM.

III.  WISE IN WHAT HE WROUGHT IN THEM.

 Posted by at 12:08 pm
Dec 172023
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE“CHRISTMAS-GOD HOOKING AN EXTRA ON THE FRONT OF ORDINARY”

     Thanksgiving is now past.  The major post-Thanksgiving sales are on.  Black Friday-Small Business Saturday-Cyber Monday.  Then all the adds that remind us exactly how many days to Christmas.  The Christmas season is suddenly on us!  Every year each Pastor is faced with the challenge of preaching the great Christmas themes and presenting the incredible Christmas story.  The preacher finds himself in the role similar of the monument-cleaner.  A monument cleaner is someone who comes and removes the debris that has covered up the beauty of the original artwork-to polish up the monument to help us perceive the original beauty.  That is the challenge of preaching the Christmas story.  The goal is to help us see the Christmas story as we have never seen it before-letting the original message and beauty come shining through.  That is a challenge! 

     Much of Christmas’ beauty is its sameness.  Think about it.  The same traditions.  The same meals.  The same songs.  The same candlelight services. The same shopping habits.  Yet each Christmas is a little different.  Sometimes the change is noticeable and unexpected, at other time a mere matter of flexibility.  But each year’s celebration somehow speaks its familiar message with freshness that can only be heard by ears a year older.  So, in the next series of Christmas messages let me invite you to bring your this-Christmas life within the reach of God’s Christmas story, to look at these same pictures of love and grace from a new vantage point, to spend a few weeks letting God’s comforting sameness reveal His new-every-morning side.  It’s time to experience Christmas again-in the same old-brand new way

     As we begin our journey toward Christmas 2021 the first consideration, I want you to meditate on is this-There is one word that describes the night that Jesus was born-ORDINARY!  The sky was ordinary.  An occasional gust stirred the leaves and chilled the air.  The stars were sparkling diamonds on a black velvet backdrop.  But then they ordinarily do!  Fleets of clouds floated in front of the moon.  It was a beautiful night-but not really an unusual one.  No reason to expect a surprise.  Nothing to keep a person awake.  An ordinary night with an ordinary sky.  The sheep were ordinary.  Some fat.  Some scrawny.  Some with barrel bellies.  Some with twig legs.  Common animals.  No fleece made of gold.  No history makers.  No blue-ribbon winners.  They were simply sheep-lumpy, sleeping silhouettes on a hillside.  And the shepherds were ordinary.  Ordinary peasants.  Probably wearing all the clothes they owned.  Smelling like sheep and looking just a wooly.  They were conscientious, willing to spend the night with their flocks.  But you won’t find their staffs in a museum nor their writings in a library.  No one asked their opinions-about social justice-the Torah-or actually about anything! They were nameless and simple.  There you go-An ordinary night with ordinary sheep and ordinary shepherds.  And were it not for a God who loves to hook an “extra” on the front of ordinary, the night would have gone unnoticed.  The sheep would have been forgotten, and the shepherds would have slept the night away.  Neither would have been memorialized from generation after generation in bath robes in local Church Christmas pageants! 

     But God dances amidst the common.  That night it was the greatest of Waltzes!  The black sky exploded with brightness.  Trees that had been shadows jumped into clarity.  Sheep that had been silent became a chorus of curiosity.  One minute the shepherds were dead asleep, the next they were rubbing their eyes, scared out of their wits, staring into the face of a host of aliens-angelic hosts praising God and saying “Peace on earth, good will toward men!”.  The night was ordinary no more.  The angels came at night because it is at night that lights are best seen and when they are needed most!  God comes into the common for the same reason.  He delights in making the “ordinary” into the “extra-ordinary”. That is what His Son had come to do for the entire human race!  He came to transform ordinary sinners into extraordinary saints-all through the birth, life, death of resurrection of his ordinary, but extra-ordinary Son-The Lord Jesus Christ.  Isaiah would say-“His name shall be called “Wonderful”.  The Hebrew word “wonderful” is the word “pela”.  It refers to something or someone that makes a person marvel.  It is something or someone that causes wonder, amazement, astonishment, worship and awe!   That is exactly who He is and what He does for everyone that encounters Him.  Let the celebration of His birth be that and more for you this year!

     One of my favorite authors, as you know, is Frederick Buechner.  In his book Secrets in the Dark, he gives a perspective concerning Christmas that spoke volumes to me.  He writes, “Those who believe in God can never in a way be sure of Him again.  Once they have seen Him in a stable, they can never be sure where He will appear or to what lengths He will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation He will descend in His wild pursuit of human-kind.  If Holiness and the awful majesty of the Power of God were present in this least auspicious of all events, this birth of a peasant’s child, then there is no place or time so lowly and earthbound but that this Holiness can be present there too.  This means we are never safe, that there is no place we can hide from God, no place where we are safe from His power to break in two and recreate the human heart, because it is just where He seems most helpless that He is most strong, and just where we least expect Him that He comes most fully!”.  That is an awesome start to our celebration of Advent!  Let Him transform our ordinary to His extra-ordinary.  He loves doing that.  That is why He came!

SERMON:  HAVE YOURSELF A WISE CELEBRATION OF CHRISTMAS 

Matthew 2:1-18

I.    THEY WERE WISE IN THAT THEY SOUGHT JESUS.

II.   THEY WERE WISE IN WHAT THEY BROUGHT JESUS.

III.   THEY WERE WISE BECAUSE OF WHAT WAS WROUGHT BY JESUS.

 Posted by at 12:06 pm
Dec 112023
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: BE A CHILD NEVER BETTER THAN AT CHRISTMAS.

     In his book Whistling in the Dark, Frederick Buechner tells how one young Pastor had the real message of Christmas brought home to him in a real way.  This is what Buechner says, “The lovely old carols played and replayed until their effect is like a dentist’s drill or a jackhammer, the pathetic banalities of the pulpit and the chilling commercialism of almost everything else, people spending money they can’t afford on presents you neither need or want, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the artificial tree, the cornball crèche, the Hallmark Virgin.  Yet for all our efforts, we’ve never quite managed to ruin it.  That in itself is part of the miracle, a part you can see.  Most of the miracle you can’t or won’t see!  The young clergyman and his wife do all the things you do on Christmas Eve.  They string the lights and hang the ornaments.  They supervise the hanging of the stockings.  They tuck in the children.  They lug the presents down out of hiding and pile them under the tree.  Just as they’re about to fall exhausted into bed, the husband remembers his neighbor’s sheep.  The man asked him to feed them for him while he was away, and in the press of other matters that night he forgot all about them.  So down the hill he goes through knee-deep snow.  He gets two bales of hay from the barn and carries them over to the stalls.  There’s a forty watt bulb hanging by its cord from the low hanging roof.  He turns it on.  The sheep huddle in a corner watching as he snaps the baling twine, shakes the leaves of hay apart, and starts scattering it.  They come over bumbling and shoving to get at it with their foolish, mild faces, the puffs of their breath showing in the air.  He is reaching to turn off the bulb and leave when suddenly he realizes where he is!  The winter darkness.  The glimmer of light.  The smell of the hay. The sound of the animals eating.  The smell of the dung.  He is of course…in real life…AT THE MANGER!  He only just saw it!  He whose business it is above everything else to have an eye for such things is all but blind in that eye!  He who on his best days believes that everything that is most precious anywhere comes from that manger, might easily have gone home to bed never knowing that he had himself just been in the manger!  The world is the manger.  It is only by grace that he happens to see this other part of the miracle. Christmas itself is by grace.  It could never have survived our own blindness and depredations otherwise.  It could never have happened otherwise.  Perhaps it is the very wildness and strangeness of the grace that has led us to try to tame it.  We have tried to make it habitable.  We have roofed it in and furnished it.  We have reduced it to an occasion we feel at home with, at best a touching and beautiful occasion, at worst a trite and cloying one.  But if the Christmas event in itself is indeed as a matter of cold, hard facts all it’s cracked up to be, then even at our best…our efforts are misleading. The Word became Flesh.  Ultimate Mystery born with such vulnerability his life could be snuffed out with one hand!  Incarnation.  It is not tame!  It is not touching!  It is not beautiful!  It is uninhabitable terror!  It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light.  Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space/time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself.  You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this:  ‘God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God…who for us and for our salvation’, as the Nicene Creed puts it, ‘came down from heaven’ “  In his book, Faces of Jesus, he adds, “The incarnation is a kind of vast joke whereby the Creator of heavens and earth comes among us in diapers…Until we too have taken the idea of the God-man seriously enough to be scandalized by it, we have not taken it as seriously as it demands to be taken!” 

     The great German Theologian Karl Barth, in his Dogmatics In Outline, says, “The nativity mystery conceived from the Holy Spirit and born from the Virgin Mary, means that God became human, truly human out of his own grace.  The miracle of the existence of Jesus, his ‘climbing down of God’ is the Holy Spirit and Virgin Mary. Born of the Virgin Mary means a human origin for God.  Jesus Christ is not only truly God; he is human like every one of us.  He is human without limitation. He is not just similar to us, He is one of us!”  C.S. Lewis is even more emphatic about how we should see the Birth and Incarnation of our Savior.  He writes, in his book Miracles, these vital words, “The Central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation.  They say that God became Man.  Every other miracle prepares us for this, or exhibits this, or results from this.  Just as every natural event is the manifestation at a particular place and moment of Nature’s total character, so every particular Christian miracle manifests at a particular place and moment the character and significance of the incarnation.  There is no question in Christianity of arbitrary interferences just scattered about.  It relates not a series of disconnected raids on Nature but the various steps of the strategically coherent invasion-an invasion which intends complete conquest and occupation.  The fitness, and therefore credibility, of the particular miracles depends on their relation to the Grand Miracle; all discussion in isolation from it is futile!”  He also speaks to lowly condescension we often fail to comprehend with the Incarnation.  In The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, he writes, “God could, had He pleased, have been incarnate in a man of iron nerves, the Stoic sort who lets no sigh escape him.  Of His great humility He chose to be incarnate in a man of delicate sensibilities who wept at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane.  Otherwise we should have missed…all the all-important help of knowing that He has faced all that the weakest of us face, has shared not only the strength of our nature but every weakness of it also, except sin.  If He had been incarnate in a man of immense natural courage that would have been for many of us almost the same as His not being incarnate at all!” 

     Charles Dickens observed, “It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a Child Himself!”  Lewis gave a final thought about His coming down from heaven that is probably most significant.  He wrote in Mere Christianity, “The Son of God became man to enable men to become the sons of God”.  That is what happens when He is Born in Us during this season.  Come Down From Heaven and Be Born in Us Today!

SERMON: HAVE YOURSELF A MIRACULOUSLY GRAND CHRISTMAS

                               Matt. 1:18-25

               I.  EXPERIENCING CONCEPTION

               II.  EXPERIENCING CHARACTER

               III.  EXPERIENCING [THE] CROSS

               IV.  EXPERIENCING CONVERSION

 Posted by at 5:20 pm
Dec 032023
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “The unedited Christmas and the Perfect Tree”

     It’s the king of all classic TV Christmas specials: “A Charlie Brown Christmas“.  It first aired in 1965.  We know the familiar scenes of Charlie Brown looking for the real meaning of Christmas; receiving no cards from anyone; Snoopy decorates his doghouse; Lucy has her Christmas pageant; Charlie picks out a tree that is pitiful and is laughed at for such a choice!  Of course, Charlie cries out in frustration-“doesn’t anyone know what the true meaning of Christmas is?”  At that moment Linus Van Pelt takes center stage telling Charlie-“I can tell you what Christmas is all about”.  He then proceeds to quote the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke.  He not only describes the angelic visit, but then quotes how the angels said, “Be not afraid…for unto you is born this day, in Bethlehem, a Savior which is Christ the Lord.  This shall be a sign you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘glory to God in the highest and on earth peace good will toward men'”.  “That is what Christmas is all about!” Linus affirms.  Recently I heard an interview of one of the creators of that show.  When Charles Shultz, the creator of Peanuts, Charlie Brown, and that particular Christmas special suggested that particular drama he was met with strong opposition, and objection to airing that because of the inclusion of the message centering around Jesus…the Savior.  The network wanted to edit out the part about Jesus being the central meaning of Christmas.  The network wanted to tube the show.  They feared there would be strong opposition to it, and it would result in loss of advertising.  You know what Charles Schultz did?  He stood his ground.  He said, “If we don’t do it who will?  We’re going to do it”…and the rest is history!  With his groundbreaking project on the line, Charles Schultz refused to “edit out Jesus!”  during that Christmas season in 1965.  It took courage!  God blessed him and us for that stand.  How about us this Christmas.  Are we willing to stand our ground and refuse to edit Jesus out of our Christmas pageants?  That is exactly what the devil wants us to do.  It is ok to celebrate the holidays!  Enjoy the festivities.  Just don’t get carried away with too much focus on Jesus.  His virgin birth.  His reason for coming.  Stay away from themes like Incarnation-God with us-Salvation as an unspeakable gift due to Calvary! 

     Charles Schultz was a master to have Charlie Brown find all the commercialization of Christmas leave him empty and confused.  He was a genius to make the center part of the pageant center around a little unattractive tree that everyone laughs at.  Then of course to answer Charlie’s question about the meaning of Christmas with God’s answer from Luke’s gospel, through the person of Linus!  Then Linus saying-“I never thought it was such a bad little tree at all really…maybe all it just needs is a little love!”  And Charlie Brown saying, “This little tree needs a home.  I think it needs me!”  The unattractive tree becomes a beautiful part of the Christmas story.  There are some subtle but significant messages in this pageant.  When Linus hears the angel say, “Be not afraid”…he lays his security blanket down!  Then that ugly tree seems to draw everyone to it to see it in a different light.  When they do…they give it a home and love…and find a home and love of their own! -Through that tree!  Subtle but significant message.  Makes me think of a song by Ray Boltz-called the Perfect Christmas Tree.  Listen to the words:

The ornaments are ready

The place has been prepared

Strings of lights and holly

Are draped across the chair

The family’s all together

I know where they must be

Everyone is searching

For the perfect tree

Mother wants a straight one

The children want it tall

Dad just hopes that somehow

He can get it down the hall

Soon they’ll gather round it

As proud as they can be

But when they look at it

I wonder if they see

The Perfect tree

Grew very long ago

And it was not decked with silver

Or ornaments of gold

But hanging from its branches

Was a gift for you and me

Jesus laid His life down

On that Perfect Tree

With all the celebrations

Sometimes the truth is lost

That every step this baby took

Brought Him closer to the cross!

That Perfect Tree needs some love and home.  If you embrace the one who died upon it, it will bring the real meaning of love and Christmas to your home this Christmas.  Don’t let anyone cause you to edit that message and that Savior out of your Christmas pageant.  Embrace Him and you too can turn loose of any and all of those security blankets that are fulfilling your deepest needs anyway.  That is the what Christmas means!

Sermon: HAVE YOURSELF A TREE-MENDOUS CHRISTMAS: THE PERFECT CHRISTMAS TREE

GALATIANS 3:1-14

I.     CHILDREN OF THE TREE: TRAGEDY

                       GENESIS 2:17. “Thou must not eat of The Tree…for thou shalt surely die”.

II.    CHILDREN OF THE TREE: TRIUMPH

                          I PETER 2:24 “He bore our sins in His body on The Tree”.

III.   CHILDREN OF THE TREE: TRANSFORMATION

                         REVELATION 2:7 “I will give you the privilege to eat of The Tree of Life”.

 Posted by at 11:56 pm