Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas EXHORTATION-Better to Give

We all face the temptation to not be thankful. The only reason we are ultimately unthankful is if we are not satisfied with our lives, and though it hurts us to say so, if we are not satisfied with the God who gave us this life. We seldom break it down to this degree. We like to think that we really are satisfied with life except for some really small inconveniences that we want to get fixed. But if we are honest, this is not really the case. If you get the big problems fixed, the little ones become comparatively insignificant. While I do not want to make light of serious trials and suffering, this is also true of these hard providences. For even then, having a godly perspective enables us to live in joy, even in earthly sorrows. And this is not contradictory.

For most of us, life swims along at a pleasant pace and we do not give ultimate ideas much time in thought. We spend our days worried about tonight’s dinner, getting the Christmas letter out, wrapping presents, dealing with the extended family, wondering if we’ll have enough money to pay our bills once our spending on presents is accounted for. For some, these worries set in as thieves to steal away true joy, particularly, the joy of the reason for doing all of these things. The answer to this is right thinking and right thinking usually comes when one steps back to gain proper perspective.

What do you have that has not been given to you by the hand of a benevolent Father? What do you lack that has not been held back from you by the hand of a benevolent and wise Father? Behind all of our good and pleasant gifts and behind all of our good and unpleasant gifts is a God who is intimately concerned with us. We must receive all that he brings us knowing that He has thought well about what He is doing, about what kind of gifts He is dispensing.

Of course, at this time of year, we also receive gifts from others, all of whom are not as thoughtful as our God. Some of them do not give us the perfect gifts. Our tendency may be to be disappointed or unthankful. But I must remind you that behind even their unthoughtful gift is a thoughtful God. God has given you such parents, such friends, such children. And He has determined that their gift is fitting for you. But I didn’t want…but it doesn’t fi….but I hate this color… but I, but I, I, I, I, I, I…..Starting to get the point?

It is a blessing to get. The Bible clearly teaches this. We should rejoice in the fact that others love us so much that they give of their substance to us. Getting presents is a good thing. But it is better to give than to receive. We must make our receiving full of grace and thankfulness and we must seek to learn the blessedness of giving over and above the blessedness of getting. God showed us the way by sending His Son. He receives us but He gave a better gift than the one He got back. Let us learn the lesson. And let us learn that all of God’s gifts to us are good. Be thankful. And if you are tempted to be unthankful in getting, then learn to be completely thankful in giving. And may God be honored and praised at the end of the day for all of it.

The Savior is Born-Sermon Intro

At Christmas time the obvious text is the birth of the Christ Child in a lowly manger in Bethlehem. It is a beautiful story of God’s graciousness and provision to a young couple in dire straights. Joseph and Mary were poor and needy and the God of the universe provided for them, albeit with meager means, by our standards. There was no room for them in the inn, the place where proper men dwelt, so God provided for them in a stable, or as some legends have it, in a cave.

Instead of being appalled at the enormity of the insult to our God and the blessed Virgin and her betrothed husband, we romanticize the event. But there was little romance in it. Many of you here have had, or have witnessed the experience of having, a baby. It is frought with dangers, even in the most modern medical facilities. Having babies is dangerous business. Can you imagine going into labor on a cold winter night in a place far from home with your only recourse being to the nearest barn or a hole carved into a cliff? Far from romantic, this experience would be the most frightening.

Put on top of that the fact that Mary knew that she was carrying the Son of God. I assume that she was able to place that burden into the arms of God, Himself. But I have wondered about this. Perhaps she felt the burden of protecting Him against enemies, keeping Him alive, nurturing him until His time had come. Joseph and Mary eventually do flee to Egypt to keep the boy Jesus alive. God used them as His protector and they clearly felt the weight of this duty to some degree unknown to us.

Of course, the story of the shepherds is wonderful, too. The angel appeared to them and they were moved to seek out the Messiah, Christ the Lord. How moved and surprised they must have been to see the baby Jesus, not in royal robes or a king’s carriage but wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a feeding trough.

The visit of the wise men was no doubt some time later. But even they were no doubt equally amazed to find the baby Jesus in the home of poor laborers of Israel, rather than in the King’s palace that they had expected.

The story is beautiful. But if we give it just a little more thought than our cute children’s Christmas pageants, we see that something quite unexpected is going on. God has entered creation and humanity in a way that would never have been foreseen by the wise of this world.
Our sermon title is Joy to the World. And great joy it is. But unless we see the enormity of the need, we have a hard time understanding the exceedingly great nature of the joy.

We understand, to some degree, the plight of fallen man. In Adam all fell into sin and were in need of being saved from this wretched state. In the very beginning, in the garden, God made a promise to Eve, the mother of all living. Gen 3:15 15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

One day, the seed of the woman would rise up and crush the seed of the serpent. He would give that serpent a final crushing blow to the head. This promise grows as God systematically reveals His will towards men.

Through the ages, to Noah, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to Joseph and Moses, to David and His seed, the vision of this promise grew. Israel understood that God had made this promise and though they have seen partial fulfillments of His promise in beating back enemies, in restoring them to the land, in the rebuilding of the temple, the final crushing blow never arrives. They wait upon the Lord. They know that one day God will raise up a King that will be King of kings and Lord of lords. They knew that of His government there shall be no end.

Each victory over their enemies must have occasioned all sorts of hope that the Messiah was soon to arrive to save the people Israel from their enemies. But time marched on and their futility marched on. And hope waxed old and the chosen people grew cold. And in this coldness, on a cold night, with a cold heart turning away a poor pregnant woman in labor, God’s promise to humanity is born.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Communion Thoughts-Good Shepherd

The Shepherds were keeping watch over the sheep in the fields by night. They were diligent by day and through the night. They were faithful to their master so that they would not lose even one sheep. Gabriel appeared to these shepherds to announce the coming of the Great Chief Shepherd, one who is ever faithful to all that His Father calls Him to do. He has been given charge of the sheep and of them He shall lose none.

We often emphasize the truth that if you do not stay in Christ then you are not in Christ. If you do not remain with Him until the last day, you will not receive the good rewards of the last day. And this is most true. But for some, particularly those weak of faith, or in a place of doubt or a season of trial, battered and bruised reeds, these words bring doubt and fear. How do I know if I will remain until the last day? Will I be able to hang on to Jesus that long?

You need to hear the parable of the Good Shepherd. It is not you that hang on to Him but He that holds you. The Lord knows His sheep, calls them all by name and leads them. They know their Shepherd and follow Him.

How can you know if you will be His sheep at the last day? Are you His sheep now? If you are His sheep now, then you will be His sheep then. Do you love His appearing? Do you long to hear His voice? Are you in need of His kindness and protection? Then take heart, no one, no man, no wolf, no false shepherd, no devil, can take you from the Chief Shepherd’s hand. Remain in His flock. Stay in His fold. Eat in His pasture. Drink from His well and be at peace.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Exhortation-Fourth Sunday in Advent

This is the fourth Sunday of Advent. The Shepherd of our souls is come.

There were shepherds in the land during the Advent of our Lord. They had been commissioned by God, entrusted with the very oracles of God and set over the house of Israel for good. But they were not true to their oaths to their master. Instead of protecting the sheep, they began to feed on the sheep. Instead of killing wolves and foreign invaders, they, themselves, were in league with them, allowing them to climb into the sheepfold and devour the sheep. These shepherds were dastardly cunning and hurt, rather than helped, the sheep. They did not gently lead the sheep but ever drove them on before with threats. And so their master, the God of Heaven, brought forth a new Shepherd, one who would do all His holy will.

To herald His coming, He sent His angels to appear to true shepherds of Israel, watching over their flocks by night. He did not send the message to His former shepherds for they had grown weary of well-doing and watching over the sheep. But these shepherds, who saw the angel, were ever faithful. They recognized the day of the Lord’s visitation, welcomed Him as their Chief Shepherd, their baby King, and worshipped Him in the manger.

But the false shepherds were ever wary of a new Chief Shepherd, for they were not busy about the Master’s business and had been negligent in their duties. They had lost many sheep and eaten many more. They knew that His coming would be their doom. And so they opposed all who would come in the Master’s name, and forbid Him to take the authority and care over the sheep. This was an insult to their pride as well as to their bellies.

The Lord has given duties to those in authority. All who are in authority must do all the Father’s will, watching over their charges. This is true, whether it be the wife of your youth, the children in your home, the employees in your care, or the souls in the charge of elders and pastors in the Church. We are to be faithful to our duties, being ready to give an answer to the Chief Shepherd when He appears. Of course, as Christians, we do not do this, we cannot do this, on our own. The Spirit of the Chief Shepherd must enable us to accomplish this difficult and never-ending work. We must confess when we have failed and seek His forgiveness and His strength to do this work. And so prove to be a faithful shepherd to the One Chief Shepherd.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Amen! and Amen!

In this church we say Amen together in many places. We pray at the opening of the service as we praise God. At the end we say, Amen. We mean to say, "We love God and offer Him praise. We agree that this is our duty and our joy." We then sing a song to praise Him. Again, as a congregation we say, "Amen." We mean something more now. We agree with the words of the song. We Amen the song in agreement to abide by its words, to proclaim what God has done and to declare our allegiance to Him.

We confess our sins and say, "Amen." We admit, as a body, that we have fallen short and are in need of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. We pray in Jesus name, Amen. Our Amen says, "Truly, our salvation is in Him and no other." We read the scriptures and say, "Amen." In this, we confess the Word of God as the Word of God and swear our allegiance to it, understanding that obedience brings blessing, disobedience brings cursing. Our Amen leaves us without excuse. We sing more songs and again say Amen. The Amen ties us to the duties of the Psalms. Men pray on the behalf of the congregation, representing you before God. We say Amen, admitting that we are covenantely tied to him as he prays and agreeing with him in his prayers.

We hear the Word preached and pray at the end. We have heard the Word of God and are required to obey it. Again, we are aware of the conditions of the covenant. Blessing for obedience. Cursing for disobedience. And we say, Amen. We commune with God and one another at the Lord’s table. We say, Amen. We declare that He is ours and we are His. We declare that we are brothers and sisters in Christ. We say, Amen. This is true and no man can separate us from Christ or from one another in Christ. We conclude with praise to God in the doxology and Amen. And blessing from God in the benediction and Amen.

Saints, this word Amen has much meaning. Be aware of it each time you say it. Mean it when you say it. This means that we should be practiced at our Amens. We should be hearty and sincere in them. We should wake up to the reality of them. So, let us say Amen and mean "truly Lord, I swear, I agree, I promise to abide, I am Yours." And when we say, Amen, together, let us not do it just out of habit, or just because our liturgy calls for it. Let us mean it. Let us get ourselves ready for it. Let us listen to the words of the songs because we know we are going to have to Amen. Let us listen to the prayers and the preacher and the reading and the blessing, for we know that we are going to sign on to it all with ‘Amen!’.

Exhortation-First Sunday in Advent

Today is the First Sunday in Advent. This is a time when we begin to look with anticipation toward the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, this has already happened and to merely commemorate the fact is not a help to our Christian virtue or service to God and His Kingdom. But we don’t merely do anything. We do this with our eyes wide open, understanding that Jesus has already accomplished this work that we remember. But it is good for us to remember, to recover a child like expectation of Christmas. We long for the day, though we have experienced it many times before. We enjoy the season, the greenery, the decorations, the tree, the hot chocolate, the fudge, the wine, the turkey and ham, the bread.

These are all wonderful and to be enjoyed. But most of all we look forward to the presents. We know that there will be many under the tree and we desire to open them up and see what new treasures we have found. This is the kind of anticipation that we should imagine and cultivate as we look forward to the gift of Christ, of Messiah, of the Savior, of Jesus Christ. God gave us Jesus and we should open Him, if you will, with eager expectation, every Christmas Day.

Another important aspect of Advent is recovering something very important that has been lost. As modern day evangelicals we do not pay much attention to the calendar. We keep vestiges of it with Christmas and Easter but we, as an American culture, are trying hard to stamp out the evidence of our Christian past. The name Christmas is objected to and has become just a holiday. But even there they cannot get away from Christian language. For what is a holiday but a holy day? But the rest of the calendar is ignored in our culture largely because we Christians ignore it. The fight for the naming of the year is a very important fight.

The year is 2005, A. D. Anno Domini, in the year of our Lord. It is the Lord’s year. He has taken control of history. The year is His. We should do well to remember this and so mark time A.D., Anno Domini, in the year of our Lord. It makes sense to remember the Lord’s year, his birth, circumcision, purification, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, seating at the right hand of God the Father, coming in power at Pentecost, and His reign there until all enemies are subdued beneath His feet so that He can return in final glory. This is true history. This is God’s story. This is our story. Let us mark time this way lest we forget.

Exhortation-Second Sunday in Advent

This is the Second Sunday in Advent-One of the traditions behind the Advent Wreath is that the four candles of Advent each represent 100 years of time between Malachi, the close of the Old Testament canon, and the Advent of the Word Incarnate. God had gone silent among the people of God. No prophets were speaking until John the Baptist comes on to the scene.

The Advent season is for looking forward with eager anticipation. But sometimes, especially for a child, Christmas seems so far away. It seems like it will never arrive. Can you imagine how the Jews felt after not hearing any prophets speak in the land for over 100 years? And then 200 years? They probably grew weary of waiting. It may have seemed like the Promised One would never arrive.

Instead of looking forward, perhaps there was a tendency to wonder if the words were really true? Perhaps they wondered if they were interpreted correctly? Anticipation at its height can only last so long. After a while, the eagerness wears off and fatigue sets in. When will Christmas come? But John the Baptist brought hope. In Narnia, the Spring begins and the word is out that ‘Aslan is on the move.’ But that is one of the glories of being on this side of the Incarnation. We know that it already happened. We have the strength and stamina to wait for Christmas because we know it will come. So, we wait and do not grow weary. We wait on the Son and know that He will set all to right when He comes. And what is greater still, He has come. And He has set all things to right. But we do not see them all set right, yet. Well, He is still coming. He is still working the works of God. So, we must use this season to remember what has happened and to continue to look forward to Christmas with eager anticipation of the continuing establishment of the rule of Christ. Every Christmas solidifies His rule and the joy to the world because of it.

A curious passage from Malachi is tied together with Advent, waiting for Messiah. The people had grown weary of doing God’s will. God accuses them of robbing Him. This is right for us to remember at this time of year. Have we been faithful to God first? Specifically, God accuses them of robbing Him in tithes and offerings. How so? Well, they did not tithe or give offerings. They hoarded these things for themselves, to spend them on their own desires. This shows that they did not believe that God was the author of these blessings. If they did, they would have believed God to bless them further through their obedience to Him in giving.

At this time of year, it is a temptation to some to spend more than they should or can. For some, they may even justify not tithing or not thinking of the poor in order to spend more for themselves or their family. While I do think we should rejoice, eat, drink, give presents and celebrate at Christmas, this should all be done under God. This means we honor Him first and others because we honor Him.

Obviously, where we have not been faithful, we need to confess, repent, seek the Lord forgiveness and be united in a bond of fellowship with Him.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Exhortation-Joy to the World!

Luke 2:10-11 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King! A light has dawned chasing away the darkness and gloom of night.

The world is a sinful place. We don’t have to look very far to see the ill effects of sinful men. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life are readily apparent to every cursory examination of the affairs of the world. Men chase after happiness, joy and satisfaction but it is always beyond their grasp. They are like little children trying to capture the rays of the sun in a bottle only to find that when night falls, the bottle has become dark again. The light has fled away.

As we see this condition of the earth, this longing for the Consummation, it is easy for us to lose sight of the light and to attempt to gaze into the darkness. Our thoughts and eyes are turned from the effulgence of Christ to the gloom that He is chasing away. Our faith becomes weak, our hope becomes cynical, our joy turns to sorrow.

We forget the glad tidings of the Christmas story and only look for the hope of the Second Coming and the Resurrection. Of course, there will be greater joy when Jesus comes again in the final triumph. There is total and complete victory over death in the resurrection. But we must not forget that the light has already dawned. We are standing in that light now and that light is Jesus Christ, the light of men. When we see Jesus shining brightly, the darkness beyond Him and the darkness behind us becomes obscured by His glory. We do not forget the darkness but we take His light into the very corners of the earth. We work, and pray and live to His glory so that Jesus shines brighter and brighter until a full day, until all the shadows are chased away in the resplendent glory that is Christ, the Savior of the World. The light has dawned. Rejoice, good Christian men for Jesus Christ is born.

Let us look to Christ and rejoice. When we have not rejoiced in His goodness and His glory, it is needful for us to confess our lack of joy and thankfulness so that He would restore to us the joy of our salvation.


Matt 4:16 16 The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.
Matt 5:14-16 14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven

Jesus is the light of men. We are told to let our light shine before men in such a way as to glorify our Father in heaven. We often think of our light shining as doing good works and I think this is a correct understanding of that verse. But we should never think that the Lord has somehow illuminated us and then left us to shine without the source of His strength and power. This is misunderstanding this verse altogether. Jesus is the light. We are merely moons. The light that shines in us is, in fact, the light of Jesus, Himself. His Spirit illuminates us so that we glow with His glory. As long as we are in Him, we shine and men are able to see that it is the life and light of Jesus Christ shining in us. However, if we think that Christ merely lights us and then we shine by our own light, we will only reveal fading glory.

The glory of Christ shines brighter and brighter until all is light and there is no darkness at all. That is the light that we are to shine.

In this meal we understand that Christ must be in us in order for us to live. It is the vitality of Jesus Christ that enlivens us and enables us to live to His glory. We eat bread and drink wine and we should understand that we eat and drink light and life. For Jesus is the light and life of men.