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God's Goodness; . . . Our New Year - 1/1/17

GOD’S GOODNESS; … OUR NEW YEAR

Psalm 65: 1-13

You crown the year with Your goodness;  Your ways overflow with plenty

What a powerful verse!!

As the year came to an end, … we may be going through a lot reflection as to what happened in the past 12 months.

Some will have testimonies about their good fortune, … others will remember challenges that seemed to much to overcome, … while still others may think of the health issues they had to face.

A few would say; … “It was my best year”, … while others may say; …“it could have been much better”.

The list can go on!

While preparing this first sermon of the new Year, … I had a few memories

of my own go through my head: …

*I remember the end of a year that saw me coping poorly with the death of

my dad

*I remember the year the last Civil War veteran died in 1956

*I remember the end of a seven year drought in 1957 by the flooding of

much of Dallas … and the tornado that killed 13 people and destroyed many

neighborhoods of that same year

* I remember a President resigning from office in disgrace

*I remember many years of awards and acclaim in business

*I remember leaving that because of God’s thumb on my forehead directing

me to ministry

*I remember a loving and dedicated wife standing beside me … to face the

lean years to come

*I remember the invitation to pastor this Church

*I remember traveling through much of India … witnessing what the

introduction of Christ can do for a people living in the poorest of poor

conditions

*I remember my only daughter graduating from college … and getting her

first real job in her chosen profession

*And of course, … I remember my 25 th anniversary this last year

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*But mostly, … I remember the grace God has shed upon this Church in

2016!

Psalm 65 is considered a National Psalm of praise and thanks to God for His

goodness.

It was apparently sung after the spring rains came in to water and refresh the

earth. … This song was even more meaningful if the Nation had been

through a particularly bad dry season.

I’m going to make a BOLD statement; … “God’s favor is upon this New

Year!”

The words of Psalm 65: 11: … “You crown the year with Your goodness;

Your ways overflow with plenty”

Here are three thoughts that come to mind about this New Year and God’s

favor:

1. GOD PLACES A CROWN OF FAVOR ON THE YEAR.

A crown is a special and glittering insignia worn by Kings, Queens,

Emperors and other royalty.

At sporting events in Biblical times, … sometimes a crown or something

that resembled it, was given to the winners, … while in present-day beauty

contests, … the winner is given a crown.

We also crown people with titles like … “King of Rock and Roll” (Elvis

Presley) … and “King of Pop” (Michael Jackson).

Queen Latifah is a crown or title that Dana Owens placed on herself.

The king of Mardi Gras is elected by kewes and is called REX

Yet most crowns are identified with royalty.

Of course, … we know only too well, … that human crowns fall off after a

season.

The Bible identifies God’s people as a Royal Priesthood, …

crowned by God Himself!

Psalm 65: 11 as we already read, says that “God crowns the year”.

Yes, … His grace will crown every day we face in the coming year, …

with its challenges!!

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Many crowns are mentioned in scripture: … 2 Timothy 4: 8: … There is

reserved for me in the future the crown of righteousness

… Paul, possibly remembering the then famous Isthmian Games, …

speaks about a “crown of righteousness” … while in James 1: 12: …

“A man who endures trials is blessed, because when he passes the test he

will receive the crown of life”

Isaiah 61: 3: … to provide for those who mourn in Zion; to give them a

crown of beauty instead of ashes

and 1 Corinthians 9: 25: … “Now everyone who competes exercises self-

control in everything. However, they do it to receive a crown that will fade

away, but we a crown that will never fade away”; … an eternal crown.

Peter, in his first epistle tells us about a “crown of glory” (1 Peter 5: 4) …

and Isaiah 51: 11 reads; … “the redeemed of the LORD will return and come

to Zion with singing, crowned with unending joy”

2. YOU CROWN THE YEAR WITH YOUR GOODNESS; … God’s

Goodness!

Many countries and even the United Nations name each year with some

form of identification or plan of action.

We hear of the ‘year of the cat’, … ‘the year of the moon’, …

‘the year of children’, … ‘the year of shelter’ … etc.

2016 was the Year of the Underdog … after the Cubs won the World

Series!

My prayer for you however, … is that the coming year will be one in which;

… your life will … “overflow with plenty”

As we prepare to step in to a new year, … what a comfort it is to know that

His ‘Goodness’ is upon us.

What are some of the acts of God’s ‘Goodness’, shown in this Psalm.

* He answers our prayers (vs 2)

* He forgives our sin (vs 3)

* He fills us with the goodness of His house (vs 4)

* He answers with awesome deeds (vs 5)

* He protects us (vs 5-7)

* He does wonders (vs 8)

* He sends rain and makes the land fertile as the climax to a year of

abundant blessing (vs 9-13).

This was of great importance in the agricultural setting and community in

which this Psalm was written.

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As I look back upon the past year, I can see us overflow with plenty

God has given us in supernatural ways, … comfort, … security … and

assurance.

I’ve personally had the joy of members of this congregation tell me of a

renewed commitment to the Church and Christ’s Kingdom.

God also provided for us in every way, … including a special gift from a

family that doesn’t even attend worship, here.

Here’s a current day proverb that I believe applies to us: … “You may lack

the fastest, the finest and the latest, but you won’t lack what is needed!”

Are you ready to prepare yourself for: … “You crown the year with Your

goodness; Your ways overflow with plenty” … for this New Year?!

3. GOD’S FAVOR WILL BE SEEN EVEN IN THE HARD AND

DIFFICULT PLACES

Even the hard pathways will “overflow with plenty”.

No doubt, you and I will have to face some, … if not many ‘hard pathways’

in the coming year. … It’s part of life in this fallen world … but the Psalmist

says, …

Even the hard pathways “overflow with plenty”.

Yet even this statement must be looked at in the agricultural setting in which

it was written. … God’s abundance is spoken of here, even in the most

difficult moments or seasons. … Let’s remind ourselves, that before the

Promised Land could be conquered, … the Jordan had to be crossed …

and the walls of Jericho had to be brought down.

Another folk proverb states: … “If God takes us on stony paths, He will fix

us with strong shoes!:

This Psalm speaks about abundance, … plenty, … after a dry season.

Maybe the past year has been a ‘dry season’ for you; … for your ministry.

If so, … can we believe together that you … and me, … will see ‘God’s

abundance overflowing in the hard pathways’ in the New Year?

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Right now, I remember 2016. It was a challenging year for some in this

congregation from a life and health perspective. … We all mourned the loss

of Winnie Bob; … Randy’s failing health finally took him to his Lord; …

Bill Parkie had gone through so much trying to see to the needs of his wife,

… only to end up loosing to cancer.

Before this last year, … Diann lost her best friend and lover … and Larry

Scott was debilitated by a stroke.

We’ve all faced disruption, … loss of life … and illness …

Yet God continues to bring us through … the hard pathways … and even

bless us in the process!

As we prepare our hearts to see Psalm 65: 11 fulfilled in the year ahead, …

let’s remember that for our part, … we need to give the Lord Jesus the first

place in every area of our life.

Here’s something that applies well from a Christian magazine that was taken

from a bulletin for a Church in Fiji: …

To achieve spiritual success, do not forget to give God the first hour of the

day, the first day of the week, the first part of every paycheck, the first

consideration in every decision, and the first place in your heart.

That’s a great way to start and to live … through the year ahead!!

May you receive the blessing of Psalm 65: 11: …

“You crown the year with Your goodness; Your ways overflow with plenty”

Have a Christ-filled 2017!

AMEN

A New Year

Pastor’s Corner 12-21- 2016

By the time this comes out, … it will be the New Year. Can you believe

2017 is already here?

This last year has been a good year for First Christian in Mt. Pleasant.

We’ve had decent attendance and our finances are finally in the black.

I want to personally thank all of you for the way you have blessed this

Church and our Lord. I know many of you must be giving more from their

finances … and as tight as life has become for most, I know God looks upon

this as a real sacrifice on your part.

Also, I believe many of you are praying more for the Church. The presence

of the Holy Spirit just seems to be stronger when we meet for worship than it

did when I first came to the pulpit. Prayer is so important! Please keep it up;

… we cannot have a successful ministry without it.

For 2017, my hope is that we can project a more visible presence in the

community. Any community events that come up that you are aware of; …

let’s talk about it and possibly participate. Parades, public sales, craft shows,

walk-a- thons, etc. are just a few ideas. Bake sales, parking lot sales, maybe

even a Car Wash; … these are just a few and I am sure you can suggest even

better.

Whatever we do, we need to remember our number one directive from our

Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, … is to make disciples. The witnessing

opportunities are too numerous to count. Why keep it a secret; … share the

joy, satisfaction and energy you receive from the One who spoke … and the

whole universe came into existence! Don’t forget the cards about the Church

that you can hand out to anyone you meet. If you asked 100 people that

started attending Church after their childhood; … “Why did you start going

to Church?”, … the overwhelming response would be; … “Somebody

invited me.”

I want to also take this opportunity to thank everyone who attends First

Christian Church for all the support and love you have shown to Karen and

myself. Ministry is not easy … for the minister or their family … but you

have made our time here very enjoyable and fulfilling. THANK YOU!

Your servant in Christ,

Pastor Jim

4th Sunday of Advent (LOVE) - 12/18/16

4 th SUNDAY OF ADVENT – 12-18- 16

On this fourth Sunday of Advent,

as we think about the coming of Jesus Christ,

we light the candle of love.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us!

(1 John 3:1)

This is how God showed His love:

He sent His one and only Son into the world

that we might live through Him.

(1 John 4:9)

A new command I give you: Love one another.

As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.

(John 13:34-35)

Prayer

3rd Sunday of Advent (JOY) - 12/11/16

3 RD SUNDAY OF ADVENT (JOY) – 12-11- 2016

Matthew 11: 2-11

Isaiah 35: 1-4: … “The wilderness and the dry land will be glad;

the desert will rejoice and blossom like a rose. 2  It will blossom abundantly

and will also rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon will be

given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon. They will see the glory of the

LORD, the splendor of our God. 3  Strengthen the weak hands, steady the

shaking knees! 4  Say to the cowardly: “Be strong; do not fear! Here is your

God; vengeance is coming. God’s retribution is coming; He will save you.”

The Real Joy of Christmas

Oops; … Jesus wasn’t acting like the messiah spoken of here, … Was He?

“Are You the One who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Are You REALLY … the Christ? … Are you REALLY … the Messiah?

Cause I gotta tell ya, … we have some serious concerns here.

Our teacher, John, … has been in an awful mess in prison … and to add

insult to injury, … You haven’t met any of our expectations of what the

Messiah should be acting like! … When John baptized You, … he said he

was unworthy to even tie Your sandals … but what happened to You?

We had such high hopes. … We thought the prophet Isaiah had finally been

fulfilled. …

We read the words: … “Strengthen the weak hands, steady the shaking

knees! 4  Say to the cowardly: “Be strong; do not fear! Here is your God;

vengeance is coming. God’s retribution is coming; He will save you.”

We thought that was You! … So where is Your vengeance? …

Where is Your divine retribution? … Where is OUR … salvation?

Last we checked, Rome was still here, … we were still an oppressed people

… and salvation has come to no one!

So we come from John to ask this one question: … “Are You the One who is

to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Are you going to start … acting like the Messiah …

or should we give up on You?

Well, the truth be known … they had already given up on Jesus.

He was not, … nor would He ever be the Messiah … they wanted.

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They were disappointed that their vengeance, … their retribution, …

their salvation from Rome, … had still not come.

From their view, … it was a world … still without a Messiah; …

and they waited.

Do you realize there are still between 60 and 70,000 followers of John the

Baptist in Iran and Iraq. The sect is known as Mandaeanism.

“Ugh”; … What if Jesus wasn’t the Christ; … forever winter; …

the “ughs” … of winter.

A world without a Messiah. … How sad, … how bleak, … how desolate.

It would almost be like the world of Narnia.

Do you all remember the terrific Christian movie that came out a few years

ago: … “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”?

Well, … that box-office hit was originally a book written by one of the

greatest Christian authors and apologist, ever; … C.S. Lewis.

The book and movie both take place in the fictional land of Narnia, …

a land that is desolate and depressing … because it is forever in the season of

Winter.

The evil White Witch held the world under her thumb, … making it forever

winter … but never, … ever, … Christmas.

Think of that!

(from the book) All the downs of winter, without the joy of Christmas …

without the hope of spring!

This may be your feeling, … maybe not … but winter is often people’s least

favorite season.

It is a grey season that is cold and harsh. … It is a season marked by

“seasonal depression.”

[The following illustration From Keeney Dickenson sermon: … Narnia: Winter Without Christmas]

“Winter is a time of death and dormancy. … Trees go from brightness to

bleakness, … from beauty to blah.

Memories of green vibrancy create a longing within us for the newness of

spring. … What would it be like to live with no hope of greener days? Would

the chill of winter gradually become unbearable?

Would hope become dormant under the crushing weight of despair and be

pushed to the brink of death?

Winter is bearable because spring is inevitable. … The sunshine of spring

will dispel the shadows of winter … and life will begin anew!

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Birds will sing, … flowers will bloom and mountain streams will flow with

the melted remains of winter …

but, what would life be like if winter did not give birth to spring?”

What would it be like … to have eternal winter, … with no hope of

Christmas, … with no hope of spring?

That is what it is like … when we go through life without the Savior, …

when we go through life without the Messiah.

Without Christ, … our lives from start to finish, … would be in an eternal

winter.

There would be no reconciliation with God. … There would be no

forgiveness of sins. … There would be no life eternal. …

There would be no victory over pain, … suffering … and death.

There would only be … the harsh and cold reality of an eternal winter, …

with no hope of Christmas.

(sigh – Jesus IS the Christ)

However, Christians … here is the very, … VERY … good news.

We no longer live in the midst of an eternal winter … because our Messiah

has come.

You see, … time and time again, … Jesus DID fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah!

Isaiah 53: 4-6: … Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses, and He carried our

pains; but we in turn regarded Him stricken, struck down by God, and

afflicted. 5  But He was pierced because of our transgressions,

crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him,

and we are healed by His wounds. 6  We all went astray like sheep;

we all have turned to our own way; and the LORD has punished Him

for the iniquity of us all

Does that sound like Anyone we know?

Jesus fulfilled the role of the suffering servant told time and time again in

Isaiah … yet many of the people of His time were reading Isaiah in a

different light.

They wanted a conqueror over Rome … and Jesus brought them a conqueror

over death.

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They wanted a mighty warrior who would fight courageous battles on the

battlefield … and Jesus gave them a mighty warrior who fought courageous

battles against evil.

They wanted a king to rule the Hebrew nation … and Jesus gave them a

King of Kings who would rule in Heaven.

When they read; … “Be strong; do not fear! Here is your God; vengeance

is coming. God’s retribution is coming; He will save you”: …

they were thinking RAMBO! … God was thinking suffering savior.

So naturally, … they rejected Jesus … and continue to this day … to wait for

their savior to come.

So when John’s disciples asked, “Are you the one who is to come, or should

we expect someone else”, … Jesus knew what they were getting at … and

He did the only thing he could do; … He gave them the truth.

From verse 2, Jesus replied to them: … “Go and report to John what you

hear and see: 5  the blind see, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are

healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good

news. 6  And if anyone is not offended because of Me, he is blessed”

It is not winter … but Christmas; … we have a Christ; … we have a Savior!

Then He left it up to them to discern and process His actions, … then judge

for themselves who He truly was … and you know what folks, … He takes

the same stand with us.

He lets us look at His life, … look at His actions … and judge for ourselves

… if He is the Christ.

Do we see Jesus as we should see Him?

Do we look to that babe in the manger waiting for us in Bethlehem, …

for what He really is?

Do we look to those words in Isaiah and see our Messiah in the person of

Christ.

If the answer is “no”, … then we sit beside John’s disciples … and continue

to wait in an eternal winter.

If the answer is “yes”: … YES, … Jesus is our Messiah.

YES Jesus is our Savior, … YES Jesus is our Lord, …

then winter for us, … turns into a grand Christmas, … where joy enters the

harsh and cold winter, … in the form a baby in a manger.

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There is great joy … for Christmas!

Hear the words of celebration and joy once more from Isaiah at the arrival of

the Savior: … “The wilderness and the dry land will be glad;

the desert will rejoice and blossom like a rose. 2  It will blossom abundantly

and will also rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon will be

given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon. They will see the glory of the

LORD, the splendor of our God”

Much in similar form, … listen to the arrival of Aslan (The figure of Jesus

Christ) … as he returns to the land of Narnia and finally brings Christmas to

the forever-winter land of Narnia.

[Illustration from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe]

“And in that silence Edmund could at last listen to the other noise properly.

A strange, sweet, rustling, chattering noise – and yet not so strange, for he’d

heard it before – if only he could remember where! Then all at once he did

remember. It was the noise of running water. All round them though out of

sight, there were streams, chattering, murmuring, bubbling, splashing and

even (in the distance) roaring. And his heart gave a great leap (though he

hardly knew why) when he realized that the frost was over.”

“Only five minutes later he noticed a dozen crocuses growing round the foot

of an old tree – gold and purple and white. Then came a sound even more

delicious than the sound of the water. Close beside the path they were

following a bird suddenly chirped from the branch of a tree. … Within five

minutes the whole wood was ringing with birds’ music.”

“This is no thaw,” said the dwarf, suddenly stopping. “This is Spring! What

are we to do? Your winter has been destroyed. This is Aslan’s doing.”

Joy: … Joy at the coming of our Savior, … joy so great, … the entire world

rejoices.

That’s why we sing; … JOY TO THE WORLD, the Lord has come!

It is joy so great, … that creation itself joins us in song!

Joy; … overwhelming, … up springing, … overflowing … JOY.

For we live no longer in Winter; … we have a Christmas; …

we have a Christ; … and for this!: … there is JOY!

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This Christmas … we have joy, … for our Lord HAS come.

In the name of the Father, … the Son … and the Holy Spirit. AMEN

2nd Sunday of Advent (PEACE) - 12/4/16

2 nd SUNDAY OF ADVENT (PEACE)

Isaiah 2: 1-5

12-4- 216

The season of Advent comes upon us year-after- year … and, most every year we

learn about darkness … and the dawning of light.

Most of you will be familiar with these Advent scriptures commonly read during

Advent: …

Isaiah 9: 2: … The people walking in darkness

have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness

Isaiah 60: 1: … Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD

shines over you

Isaiah 60: 20: … Your sun will no longer set, and your moon will not fade; for the

LORD will be your everlasting light, and the days of your sorrow will be over

Luke 1: 76-79: … And child, you will be called a prophet of the Most High,

for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, 77  to give His people

knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins. 78  Because of our

God’s merciful compassion, the Dawn from on high will visit us 79  to shine on those

who live in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of

peace

The Advent message is all about waiting with great anticipation for the coming of

Christ to be among us again; . . . the Light that shatters our darkness … and brings

us Advent’s Big Four: … Peace, Hope, Joy, and Love.

Peace is the second of our Advent themes, this Sunday, … preceded by Hope, …

Joy (complete with its own pink candle) next Sunday … and finally Love, … then

the Christ Candle on Christmas morning.

Right on cue! … Right on time! … Choreographed perfectly with our candle

lightings and our carefully selected readings and hymns!

By the time we light the glorious Christ candle, … we should be fully enlightened;

… our darkness dispelled.

It will then be said of us: … “the Dawn from on high will visit us 79  to shine on

those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way

of peace”!

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So be here on Advent’s fourth Sunday ready to celebrate … because on that day,

… the preacher will declare the darkness dispelled from our life!; And the

preacher will call us to recognize the light that has dawned upon us with the

glorious bidding to: … “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the

LORD shines over you”!

I wish it were that easy.

I wish that just declaring it, … made it so. … I wish that with four powerful

Advent sermons, … scripture readings, … hymns … and lighting Advent candles,

… we could shatter the darkness that covers our lives; … But even the most

elaborate Advent season, … held in magnificent cathedrals in enormous super

Churches, … will not necessarily bathe us with the glorious light of salvation that

will end the darkness that surrounds us.

After all, … the Advent festivities will end … and the glorious harmonies of the

hymns will be silenced for yet another year; … we will still face the fragileness of

our relationships, … the disappointments of our lives, … the turmoil of our

existence … and the fears; . . . all the fears that life heaps upon us.

Fortunately, today is only one day of Advent, … the second Sunday … and we

don’t have to get the full measure of glorious salvation in one Advent Sunday.

All we have to take with us for this day is peace.

Ironically, … the first step in reaching a place of peace … is comprehending the

darkness; . . . knowing the darkness intimately; … up close and personal.

Are you thinking that this is not a problem, … that we all know about darkness, …

all too well … and that life circumstances have been all the “teacher” we could

ever need.

You KNOW about the reality of walking in darkness … but have you honestly

questioned your personal darkness?

In contemplating my own quest for the peace that comes when my darkness is

shattered, … I discovered that I have asked only one question in my dark times; …

I have asked only … “why?” … “Why has this darkness come upon me?”

Just … “Why?”

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And I prove to myself, … over-and- over, again, … that has never been enough; . . .

not enough to dispel my darkness … and not even enough to make any sense of it.

The “whys” were futile questions, … unproductive, … never satisfying my own

longings for peace, … never resolving my personal sense of powerlessness, …

never providing any comfort, … never changing anything at all.

The only way the “whys” could ever begin to make a difference, … is when the

“whys” sought truth about my situation … and about my self.

So our questioning must take on some substance … and a genuine desire for

increased awareness; … instead of simply … “why”, … we need to ask questions

that can open us up to receiving some real answers.

"Why is my darkness so deep? … Why does it come back again and again?"

Can you see how answering those two questions might reveal something about our

self? … Something about our own vulnerabilities and fears? … Something about

our ability to be so … self-destructive?

There is something about our tendency to remain in a place of despondency?

Something about why we keep repeating the same actions that harm us?

Something about our fears?

Something, … perhaps, … about our way of creating our own forms of inner

conflict?

Something that makes our inner peace, … an elusive dream … and never a reality?

When Isaiah spoke of walking in the light of the Lord, … he was not referring to

the darkness of foreign enemies and the light of God’s awaited reign.

Isaiah was much more concerned with the deeper, internal darkness, …

that threatens the human soul.

To appreciate the brightness of the dawn, … Isaiah might say, …

one must understand the darkness, … even experience the depth of it, personally.

I wonder just how well we really understand darkness.

Of course, we understand, all too well, … the darkness of the gods of our day: …

power, success, greed, control, self-obsession, violence.

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Societal darkness is easily observed … but what is much harder for us to see …

is the darkness that dwells within us, … the soul’s darkness, … the form of

darkness that is so personally destructive.

That is the form of darkness we have so much trouble understanding.

It’s insidious and dangerous.

It destroys us from the inside out and leaves deep, hidden wounds … that are very

hard to heal.

Lights made by human hands can never touch this kind of soul darkness.

Starlight, moonlight, sunlight; . . . even God-created, … cannot dispel the darkness

of the soul.

Deep inside ourselves, … in the most honest of places, … in our heart of hearts, …

we know that darkness of the soul is persistent, … relentless, … and destructive!

Why is it so deep? … And why does it come back again and again?: …

Two questions that we must ask if we want to know the peace that comes when the

darkness within us is dispelled.

We must ask a third question, … one final question to ask of the darkness: …

What is the source of the Light that can shatter this kind of soul darkness?

The sermon could end on a high and lofty note right here with one great

declaration, … like maybe: … “Because of our God’s merciful compassion, the

Dawn from on high will visit us 79  to shine on those who live in darkness and the

shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace”; …



But that’s too simple! …

Such a declaration can be to us, … just words, … empty words, … words that have

no power to change anything about our lives.

I read once, … about living in Africa; … the part that is on the equator; …

the sun does not set gradually.

On this equatorial line, … one doesn’t sit and watch the sunset. …

It happens without warning. … In this part of Africa, … one never says; …

“It’s getting dark.”

Being close to the equator gives new meaning to the phrase; … “Night fell.”

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On the contrary, … there’s something else about being near the equator: …

In the same way that night instantly falls, … dawn also comes with very little

warning.

The sky doesn’t begin to brighten right before dawn while you gradually watch the

sun rise.

The sun literally leaps up at you, … right out of the darkness!

I think that’s how God’s dawn breaks upon us.

We’re right in the midst of the darkness, . . . life is as dark as it has ever been, . . .

inside we feel a darkness as deep as a thousand midnights; … then suddenly, …

there is a word, … a friend, … a scripture, … a hymn, … a feeling, …

a sense something almost miraculous that reaches into the depths of our soul with

warmth and light; … and it is peace.

So what do we do with Isaiah’s words about swords and spears, … not learning

war anymore?

What has that to do with all this darkness stuff?

Just this: … When a man beats his sword into a plowshare … or a woman beats her

spear into a pruning hook, . . . when a person refuses to lift up a sword of violence

against another person, . . . when a person refuses to learn war anymore, …

it is not because of a sudden personal conviction … or an act of will.

Men and women cease their external … and internal warring, … only when

the light of peace leaps up within them, … right out of the darkness of the soul.

Our tongue is possibly our sword; … our actions can be our spear.

After all the anxiety, … praying … and agonizing, … the truth is, that somehow,

in a way we cannot begin to understand, … the dawn from on high DOES visit us,

… bringing light when we are immersed in the depths of our personal darkness, …

bringing light when we walk through the darkness of the shadow of death …

and guiding our feet into the way of peace.

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Can we, … should we … make the most of this promise, … not only in the Advent

Season … but as a way of life?

If we lean on the peace offered by the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, …

The darkness … will have little room in the inner sanctum … of our eternal soul.

The light of peace is there … when we truly open our heats to the Messiah

promised by the prophets … and lifted up in song by the Heavenly Host.

May we take this promise of peace with us through the days of Advent … and the

rest of our days on this earth!

In the name of the Father, … the Son … and the Holy Spirit: …

AMEN

1st Sunday of Advent (HOPE) - 11/27/16

1 ST SUNDAY OF ADVENT: … HOPE

Matthew 24: 36-44

P.A.V.E. the Way

Can you believe it is that time of year again? … It seams like only yesterday,

you and I were celebrating our first Advent season together.

Here we are again! … Cool crisp weather, … Christmas music is starting to

play on the radio, … Christmas lights are popping up everywhere, …

Christmas trees are beginning to be decorated; …

it’s official; … the craziness has begun!

As Christians, we call this season of craziness, … Advent.

That word is from the Latin; … Adventus, … which means: …

"the coming of the Savior."

The church is properly decked out, … with more to come after the service:

… And it is all to prepare the way for the coming King.

Greenery will decorate the sanctuary, … representing the evergreen hope,

love, joy, and peace of the coming of our Lord.

The paraments for the Church adorn the pulpit area in purple, … signifying

great royalty in the coming of our King.

Yep, … this Church and congregation appears to be ready; … but, are we?...

Christians, … these next four weeks will go by quickly.

If we aren’t careful, ... the entire season of Advent will shoot past us faster

than the speed of sound! … So we need to make sure we take the appropriate

steps to pave; … that is P.A.V.E. … the way for the coming of our King.

P, A, V, E: … We need to be (1) prepared to wait, … (2) anxiously … or

anticipate … to be (2) vigilant and … (4) eager to make sure our hearts are

in the right spot … or we will miss the point of what Christmas is really all

about.

Prepare: … To get ready for an event. … Equip.

I believe one of the greatest pitfalls of Christmas is to get so caught up in the

celebration, that we forget what we are celebrating in the first place.

Christmas has gotten so commercialized that we don’t even need to be

Christian, anymore, to celebrate it … (and that is SAD).

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A survey put out by the University of Ohio found that nearly half of adult

Americans personally know someone who doesn’t believe in God …

but will still celebrate the yuletide, this year.

The number of people who will put up a Christmas tree is twice as much as

the number of people who will attend a worship service this Christmas.

Christmas has become as much a celebration of community, …

as it is a celebration of Christ … and Christianity.

We need to properly prepare for the holidays, … so that we do not fall into

this same pit.

I would like to share with you a poem by an anonymous author that helps to

illustrate this point.

READY FOR CHRISTMAS

I’m ready for Christmas, she said with a sigh

As she gave a last touch to the gifts piled high.

Then wearily sat for a moment and read

Till soon, very soon, she was nodding her head.

Then quietly spoke a voice in her dreams,

Getting ready for Christmas means more than it seams.

Your shopping is done and your house is all clean,

But you have forgotten the coming king.

Christ came to give you a life brand new,

and you should remember what he’s done for you!

So as you celebrate this tide full of Yule,

Stop being such a stubborn mule!

Remember the reason you celebrate so,

is that God gave his Son very long ago.

We need to properly prepare our hearts and our minds … so that we do not

forget the reason behind this great season.

Anxious: … Earnestly longing for

Most children have absolutely no trouble with this one! … As a young child,

… I remember being very anxious for Christmas … longing for Christmas to

come soon so I could tear into that pile of presents. … Sometimes even

discovering a few that my dad and uncle hadn’t broken already, trying them

out!

3

That is how we are supposed to be, also; ... not so much about the presents,

of course ... but about the coming of our King.

This morning we lit the hope candle.

The hope represented by that candle, … is a very great hope.

It represents the hope of an entire nation, … it represents the hope of the

entire world … and it represents something that you and I often take for

granted.

The shepherds knew what it is like to wait anxiously, ... filled with an

earnest desire. … When the angels came to them and told about the

Messiah’s birth ... it was like an explosion of emotion.

In our minds-eye, … we can feel their excitement; ... their hope, ... their

anticipation, ... their eagerness to run to Bethlehem to see the Lord.

The shepherds were overflowing with hope and joy: … Because of what it

meant for them, … because of what it means for all of us.

Vigilant: … Alert, … watchfulness.

Just as our shepherd friends were vigilant in watching over their flocks, ...

In that same manner, … we are supposed to be vigilant about preparing for

Christmas. … The level of care, … the level of commitment … and the level

of dedication that the shepherd examples, … is one we should try hard to

exemplify.

Here is one promise I will make to you; … the more vigilant you are about

preparing for Christmas, … the more vigilant you are about getting your

heart into a rightness with God, … the more meaningful this Christmas is

going to be to you.

Try to make it a point of coming to all four advent services ... and as we take

a step closer and closer and closer .. to Bethlehem each week, ... we take a

step closer to a vigilant heart.

Come to the Christmas service . … and wait anxiously for that moment of

arrival. … Read the Christmas story in Luke with your family. …

Be vigilant in this … and we will find this Christmas season taking on new

light … and our heart and mind being put right, with God.

Finally, … Eager: … To have enthusiastic interest or desire.

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Once we have prepared, … once we have nurtured that sense of being

anxious … and once we have been vigilant about preparing our self, ...

We are going to find the Holy Spirit moving in our heart, ... stirring us, ...

and it is here that we need to let our enthusiasm show!

Enthusiasm is part of the last step, … eager, … that helps bring it all

together.

As we journey towards Bethlehem, ... we should have a sense of enthusiasm,

… and excitement in our hearts.

Just like the shepherds of old, ... sprinting to Bethlehem to see their Savior.

Let us look forward to the babe in the manger ... through the eyes of a

shepherd, … gazing on their Lord for the first time, … fully understanding

what a huge fulfillment of hope the baby represented.

All of the hope of the coming Messiah hinges on the true purpose for the

coming of the Messiah; … freedom from sin and death.

Let us look forward to December 25th with that same excitement in our

hearts, … knowing the price that has been paid for our souls …

and knowing what a joyous and hope-filled event it is to celebrate the birth

of our Lord and Savior, … Jesus Christ.

Let us share in the excitement of the shepherds as we hear the angel’s words;

… “I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people:

11  Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of

David. 12  This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped snugly

in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.”

It is our Christ, … our Savior … and our Lord who awaits us in Bethlehem.

It is to Him that we will journey these coming weeks, … getting closer and

closer to Bethlehem … as we get closer and closer to December 25th.

Let us properly “P.A.V.E.” the way for His arrival.

Let us be prepared, … let us wait anxiously, … let us be vigilant …

and let us be eager, ... so that we might come to Bethlehem together, …

with hearts and minds ready to receive our great king.

In the name of the Father … and of the Son … and of the Holy Spirit.

AMEN

Our Ebenezer to Remember - 11/13/16

I Samuel 7:7-12

It is a pleasure for me to stand before you today, … on this Veterans Day

Sunday. … One of many reasons, my family and I honor this day, …

is because my dad and Karen’s dad, both served in the US Military. …

Also, we have several current and past courageous individuals within this

congregation that served this Country, both here … and abroad. …

With all that is going on in the world today; … the political and social unrest

seen in our own country, … it is good to remember what we have in these

Veterans.

Yes, … there are wrongs in society, … with the government, … with the

political system, … business environment … and the Church. …

However, … if we look around the world at countries where your faith or

my faith might be illegal; … where speaking one’s mind might result in

prison; … where a citizen is not allowed to vote … or the ballot only has one

approved candidate; … where standing up against the ruling body is grounds

for execution; … The United States of America is a great county to live in

… and call home!

This is why we remember the Veterans who selflessly protect us with their

lives and bodies!

Our study, today, … is from the Old Testament; … a battle, in fact, …

from a war between the Israelites and the Philistines.

Some might consider it thoughtless and inappropriate to bring a sermon

about an ancient war, here on Veterans Day … but certainly, …

no disrespect is intended.

In today’s scripture, … we find the Israelites in a long, drawn-out war.

The people were growing tired and losing heart … but the nation had a

godly leader in Samuel. … He was not the king … but what we call a judge:

… a leader appointed by God to help the people remain faithful to the Lord.

Samuel called on the people to revive their affections for the one true God,

… to get rid of their back-up plans, … their idols, … those objects they

would pray to when it seemed God was no longer interested in their well-

being … or hadn’t given them what they wanted,

Samuel told them to get rid of all their … Plan B’s.

He also instructed them to come back to God, … to repent, … to admit fault

and blame.

2

The people, led by Samuel, … gathered at a place called Mizpah, …

where they sacrificed animals to the Lord as a symbol of restoring their faith

in Him.

Meanwhile, … the Philistines heard that the people were gathering at

Mizpah … and they thought that a sneak attack would be a great idea …

but God had other plans.

The Lord fought for His people that day and threw the enemy into

confusion.

The Israelite army thoroughly routed the Philistines that day.

Samuel wanted the people to remember what had happened; … the day that

God fought for His people.

Samuel took a stone, … a single stone … and set it up where the army had

won the battle. … He called it Ebenezer, … which translates; …

“stone of help”.

It was to help people remember what God had done for them.

Samuel himself said; … “The LORD has helped us to this point”

The King James puts it this way: … “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”

“Hitherto”: … What a word!

In our contemporary world, … the word Ebenezer has taken on a new

meaning. … We usually attach it to the word … “Scrooge”, …

Which, of course, … means someone miserly, … cheap, … mean …

and bitter.

Yet, … before Charles Dickens forever changed what we think about the

name Ebenezer, … someone else wrote about this name: … He was Robert

Robinson … and he wrote the lyrics to the song that we know by the first

line: …

Come thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.

Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.

Second verse: …

Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I'm come;

And I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.

The word “hither ” really means “so far, … to this place”.

The songwriter and Samuel, both, … looked back at where they had been,

… where they had come from … and realized that the Lord had been with

them. … They got to the place where they were, … not by themselves …

but … because the Lord had brought them this far.

3

I remember going peach picking with Karen and Lindsey outside of

Pittsburg. … We’d walk quite a ways through the sandy orchard. … This

was usually in July … and the sweat would start glistening on our foreheads

… soak our shirts. … We would trudge through that deep sand filling heavy

sacks … just for a later taste of those sweet Pittsburg peaches!

Sometimes, I’d look back to how far we had come from the truck; … then

look around at the beautiful orchard, … the pines and oaks beyond … and

after that, … to the highway that got us there, … the truck and other

vehicles, … the reminders of civilization: …

The view of what God had created was wonderful.

Looking to the parking area, … I could see how far we had come.

Ebenezer was like the middle of that orchard. … Stopping, …

looking around, … seeing God’s handiwork … and being thankful for what

He had done.

Remembering where they had been, … what had happened …

and how things were now.

If we were truthful, …we’d all admit to being forgetful, at times (with

myself, … more times than not, lately).

Now, I’m not talking about items on a grocery list … but matters of real

importance.

Psalm 103: 1-5: … My soul, praise Yahweh, and all that is within me, praise

His holy name. 2  My soul, praise the LORD, and do not forget all His

benefits. 3  He forgives all your sin; He heals all your diseases.

4  He redeems your life from the Pit; He crowns you with faithful love and

compassion. 5  He satisfies you with goodness; your youth is renewed like the

eagle

This reminds us to not forget all His benefits, … all that God has done for

us. … He’s given us life, breath, health and strength.

He’s provided for us forgiveness and a clean conscience.

He’s promised us eternal life and hope in the midst of death.

Our lives have purpose and meaning because of what the Lord has done.

The Bible teaches that everything, … from good to bad, …

from fair … to middling, … works together for the good of those who love

God.

4

Do you see what that means?: … Even the worst scenarios that could

possibly happen to a person, … can be used for the good of people who have

a relationship with God.

Even the worst tragedies don’t have to go to waste … because we serve such

a powerful and loving God, … who can bring something beautiful out of

such conflict and misfortune.

In spite of that, … we forget so easily. … We lose sight, … we lose hope, …

we lose faith.

We go about our daily existences, … forgetting all the wonders of God, …

forgetting all the great promises and treasures that lay ahead.

No wonder that over and over in the Bible, … someone builds an altar of

stones; … from Noah to Moses, … from Jacob to Elijah; … for the purpose

of remembering what God had done for them.

One stone upon another, … laid carefully to withstand the elements, …

to serve as a reminder for generations, … that God had been kind to them.

We need more Ebenezers. … Life gets rough sometimes … and we forget

where we have come from. … We need reminders like fridge magnets with

Bible verses, … to remind us when we get our orange juice, …

that the Lord is our shepherd.

We need Christian themed bookmarks in our favorite reading materials, …

to remind us that God will never leave us or forsake us.

We need the company of other people … who love the Lord, …

to remind us that we are not alone on our journey.

This explains why we have so many things like gravestones … or fasten seat

belt lights in our vehicles, … to help us remember.

Even a wedding ring is a symbol and a reminder of love and commitment;

… Samuel’s Ebenezer served the same purpose!

Years later, … people would look at that stone and be reminded of God’s

love for them, … commitment to them … and they would be thankful.

Thank you, Lord, … for your watching over us. … Thank you, Lord, for

your help and your care. … Thank you, Lord, that you did not abandon us to

our enemies. …

That’s why we have the cross, … to remind us of who we were, …

who we are, … where we’re going, … who made it happen …

and how He did it!

5

The cross is more than a nice piece of jewelry; … it is an Ebenezer, …

reminding us of what Someone … did for us, … to set us free.

In the same way, the cenotaph [sen’a taf] (or monument) is a reminder.

After all, … what do we say?: … Lest we forget.

We never want to forget what someone has done for us. … It’s easy enough,

I think.

Unless the hurt is still fresh … or we are into genealogy, … do we remember

during the rest of the year, the events of today?

In December, … do we remember the 7 th , 1941, … Pearl Harbor.

April 9, 1942; … the surrender at Corregidor

June 4 th through the 7 th , 1942; … The Battle of Midway

June 6 th , 1944; … D-Day

December 16 th , 1944; … the start of The Battle of the Bulge

November 26 th , 1950; … the beginning of The Battle of Chosin Reservoir

January 30 th , 1968; … The Tet Offensive

January 31 st, 1968; … The Battle to retake Hue

January 16 th , 1991; … the beginning of Desert Storm

June 15 th -19 th , 2007; … The Battle of Chora, … Afghanistan

November 5 th , 2009; … the Fort Hood massacre of 13 and the wounding of

30 military service personnel

July 16 th , 2015, … Chattanooga, Tennessee; … four US Marines and one

Navy Petty Officer died as the result of an attack on a recruiting station and

another military facility

So many have fought, … so many have died, … so many have given of limb

or mind: … This is why we need a cenotaph: .. to remember what our troops

fought for.

And our troops are still fighting, … serving as peacekeepers around the

world, … trying to help people survive totalitarian regimes and unjust rulers.

The cenotaph reminds us that even today, … Americans lose their lives to

fight for the freedom and the well-being of others.

We have the Viet Nam Memorial at Pilgrams Bank

The Veterans Memorials on the city square for Viet Nam, Korea and WWII

The American Legion Monument in Pittsburg

And the Hughes Springs Veterans Memorial

Our local Ebenezers

6

It is good to remember: … Lest we forget the sacrifices made by those, we

did not know … for those, they did not know.

Lest we forget how young men and women laid down their lives for the lives

of others.

Lest we forget those who made careers of serving in the Armed forces, …

giving many years for the sake of peace and safety.

Lest we forget those who came and went on this earth with no family, …

no one to write their names in a family tree, … no one to preserve their

legacy for years to come.

Our Ebenezers, … our reminders made of stone.

Let us also remember the cross, … another Ebenezer, … a reminder that we

have received help, … justice, … mercy … and life itself … from our Lord

and Savior, … Jesus Christ!

AMEN
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