Category Archives: Sermon Notes – 2018

What are you doing with your glory? – Dec. 30, 2018

In one Peanuts cartoon, Charlie Brown, Lucy and Linus are lying on the ground, looking up into the sky. Lucy says, “If you use your imagination, you can see lots of things in the cloud formations. What do you think you see, Linus?”

Linus responds, “Well, those clouds up there, look like the map of the British Honduras on the Caribbean. And that cloud looks ‘a little’ like the profile of Thomas Eakins, the famous painter and sculptor. And that group of clouds over there; gives me the impression of the stoning of Stephen. I can see the Apostle Paul standing there to one side.” 

Lucy says, “Uh huh, that’s very good. 

What do you see in the clouds, Charlie Brown?” Charlie Brown replies, “Well, I was going to say I saw a ducky and a horsy, but I changed my mind.”

What do you see when you look into the skies? The psalmist looked into the heavens and saw … (God). He wrote in Psalm 19:1, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; – and their expanse is ‘declaring’ the work of His hands”.

Now, what do you see when you look at each other?  Do you see God’s glory manifested in all those around you? Or do you see only ‘fallen individuals’?

This sermon series, which we will conclude today, started with advent. I entitled the series, “The Lights of Christmas”. Today we are going to talk about light as seen in the power of God’s Glory.

You might recall that Glory means splendor or brilliance. To see glory is to see, beauty, majesty and give respect or honor. It can also mean weight, or that a thing or someone has importance or is significant.

Now, look around you again. Do you see ‘glory’ in the faces of those near you? Not glory in the sense that we worship one another other, but a reflection of the love of God. (2 Corinthians 3:18) Because if you cannot, you are missing something very important.

Many times when we are talking about glory, we are specifically thinking about giving God the Glory, and it is something we should do. But did you ever imagine that God also gives us some glory?

You might recall in Genesis, when God created mankind on the sixth day, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”  We were created with loving kindness and created very well! (Gen. 1:31)

Psalm 8:4-5 describes the wonder of our relationship to God, “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, the human beings that you care for them? You made them a little lower than the angels – and crowned them with glory and honor.”

When was the last time, someone told you that you were created very good and crowned with glory and honor? The Bible says we all were. But we also know…the rest of the story. There was the fall. (Gen. 3)

Our relationship with God was broken almost from the very beginning. We are a fallen race. We are lost, hopeless and filled with shame and sin. We are often blind to God’s goodness and self-centered.

But the Good News is, God still loves us and wanted to redeem us. And of course, that is where the story of Christmas comes in. Glory came back to earth, by way of Jesus.

Jesus came to glorify God. And he himself was glorified in the process. Jesus said in John 8:54, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me.” In other words, all beauty, majesty, honor and significance comes from God. God bestows that on Jesus. Jesus uses that glory than, to point to God in heaven, not for his own pleasure.

We say that Jesus came to this lost world to redeem us and to save us. And that is true, but that is not all. He also came to re-establish us ‘to our former glory’. We call that restoration.

In our Gospel passage today, Jesus is praying for his disciples, present and future. He says, “My prayer is not for them (my current disciples) alone. I also pray for all of those who will believe in me through their message.” (John 17:20)  That’s all of us.

Then he says these words, “I have given them the Glory, that you gave me.” (John 17:22) 

It is a glory meant to restore us and unify us with God through Jesus.

Then, through Jesus, we are no longer just sinners, we are now in the eyes of God very good again. Restored! Whole. Once again, we have our glory. That is why Paul calls believers – Saints. (Phil. 1:1)

You might recall, humans were made ‘in the image of God’. (Gen. 1:26)

Romans says that once we repent and turn to him, we are at that moment, God’s children and joint heirs in the His Kingdom; provided we suffer with him in order that we may be also glorified together with him and one another. (Romans 8:16-17)

The Bible says our sin is as far removed as the east is from the west. (Psalm 103:12)

And Micah 7:19 reads, “Then, you will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the deepest depths of the sea.” That is what Jesus did.

Once we come to Christ, we are a new creature. (2 Corin. 5:17) Then old is gone…or is it?

It doesn’t feel gone, does it? Don’t we say, ‘I am a sinner – and will be all my days’?

Bruce Springsteen sings about living in his ‘Glory days’. They are the days, long past that cannot be re-captured. So he simply lives in the good memories.

What if…the glory days were all ahead? What if Christians began living, as the redeemed, instead of living as if we still sinners. Do you suppose it would make a difference?

Honestly, there isn’t much to look back at, is there? I was born a sinner and lived in sin. But now that I have accepted Jesus, doesn’t it make more sense to look ahead?

Christian theologian and writer CS Lewis once wrote, “There are far, far better things ahead – than any we leave behind.”

Dennis Byrd was an up-and-coming defensive superstar for the New York Jets Football team. It was predicted that he would ‘help turn’ the Jets organization around. Then tragedy struck…

On November 29, 1992, the Jets were playing the Chiefs. Dennis was about to sack the quarterback when he collided with a teammate and his spinal cord was snapped.

In a split-second, his football career ended. He was paralyzed from the neck down. Everything he had planned for his life came to a screeching halt.

Later, he wrote about waking up in the middle of the night at Lenox Hospital in a halo brace, not knowing where he was, not knowing why he couldn’t move, not knowing what was happening. Suddenly, he went from dreaming of making it to the Pro Bowl – to hoping he could someday hold his daughter in his arms again.

From a worldly perspective, Dennis was no longer able to reach his potential. But in God’s eyes, Dennis Byrd was capable of much more than sacking quarterbacks. In God’s eyes, Dennis Byrd still had an amazing future.

The world watched and listened as Dennis Byrd told the media that Christ was his source of comfort in his time of tragedy. The doctors announced to the media that Dennis would more than likely never walk again, but it would be years before they would know. Dennis told the media that with God’s help, he would walk again—soon.

On opening day of the 1993 football season, less than a year after the tragic collision, – millions of television viewers watched Dennis Byrd walk out to the middle of the Meadowlands Stadium while 75,000 fans stood cheering in ovation.

The miracle in Dennis Byrd’s life was not that he broke his neck and walked again. The miracle was that the injury that destroyed his career didn’t destroy his life. In fact, it gave him new ways to live in God’s glory – and point to God in heaven.

Someone once wrote a poem about not forgetting what Jesus has given us, it is titled…

What We Have In Christ
A love that can never be fathomed;
A life that can never die;
A righteousness that can never be tarnished;
A peace that can never be understood;
A rest that can never be disturbed;
A joy that can never be diminished;
A hope that can never be disappointed;
A light that can never be darkened;
A happiness that can never be interrupted;
A strength that can never be weakened;
A purity that can never be defiled;
A beauty that can never be marred;
A wisdom that can never be baffled;
A glory that can never be clouded;
And resources that can never be exhausted.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

We are made in the image of God, – to be like Immanuel, Jesus, who was ‘God with us. He was given glory and yet he chose to live as a servant. He had power – and he chose to lay it down. He could have hated us and refused to forgive us – but instead, he chose to love us.

Like him, we are not given our glory to hog it or to glorify ourselves, instead, we have it to show others God’s Glory in all things. We do that when we stop looking back at what we were before Jesus came into our lives and start thinking ahead.

One translation of John 17 reads like this, “God’s Glory has been restored to you.”

We were created to be people of great value, ones that are; beautiful, honorable, noble, loving, faithful, and true. We were called ‘the crown of God’s creation’. (Isaiah 62:3)

When Jesus died on the cross, he took our shame, and gave us His righteousness and restored to us our original glory. You are the beloved, – not the lost and worthless anymore.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to live a different life.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:10, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each should build with care.”

Each day, we lay down a few new bricks that will leave a legacy for others to follow and build upon. Build carefully. And Build on God’s strengths, not your own weaknesses. Try to see yourself through God’s eyes. As one who is redeemed, restored, loved, worthwhile, and blessed.

Be a person who wishes to be united with other Christians – and to stand firm in the faith. And never forget what Jesus has already done for you. He said, “The glory that you have given me, – I have given to them.”

And that leaves me with just one question, “What are you doing with your glory?”

My parents used to say, when we left the house, remember that you are a Garver. In other words, you represent something greater than yourself, so act with good judgment. I pray that you will live this next year, as a new creation in Christ; that you look ahead, instead of behind. And that you will live as one who is truly loved, so that you can truly love others.

That is your assignment, to truly live to as Children of God, so that others can see Christ in you. What we say and how we live makes a difference to how others see God, so be on your best behavior. You are a Child of God!!!

Amen.

God with Us – Dec. 24, 2018

Often times we say they are open books waiting to be filled. We want them to be better than us – and we want them to learn from our shortcomings.

The trouble is, we never know how our children will turn out – but we have high hopes regardless.

Christmas is often called the season of great expectations. For children it is the suspense of waiting and joy-filled excitement when they wake-up on Christmas morning. It is the surprises and the chaos of shredded wrapping paper, unexpected treats and hopefully, wishes coming true.

Sometimes it all comes together and other times, well, let’s just say, it is less than perfect.

I am sure it has never happened to you but sometimes children have a temper tantrum on Christmas morning because they didn’t get what they wanted.

Expectations play a huge part in Christmas. We have expectations of our family. Expectations about the way this Christmas will look, taste and feel. Expectations about the gifts we’ll give and receive and other people’s reactions.

More than 2000 years ago, the people back then had great expectations too. Some were expecting a Messiah and a king. King Herod was expecting a threat. The wise men were expecting to find a king  with great potential. The shepherds were expecting, well, an uneventful night! Joseph was expecting to get married. And Mary was expecting a baby – and not just an baby – God’s Baby.

What must it be like to have God’s child? What would he become? What would he do? What did it mean that he would set his people free?

Luke 2:19 tells us that after the shepherds visited Mary and shared what the angels had said to them, she treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. There was certainly a lot to think about.

The last verse of Mark Lowry’s beautiful “Mary, Did You Know? poses the question this way:

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding – is the great ‘I am’.

How could she know? How could God be a baby? Was this really the child the prophets had written about? Was this the long-awaited Messiah? How could he be, this baby looked so ordinary.

There have been a few people, who, the minute they were born, everyone knew that they were destined for greatness. David’s son Solomon was sure to be a king. But that’s more the exception than the norm.

For example, Abraham Lincoln’s parents never looked at little Abe when he was a newborn out on the frontier and thought, this baby is destined for greatness! He’s going to be president of the US. How could they?

Albert Einstein was ‘so slow as a child’ that this parents were told by his teachers that he’d never amount to anything. Who knew he would become one of our greatest thinkers.

But this baby in a manger was predestined for greatness the moment he was born. The Advent of Jesus, the Messiah, fulfills thousands of prophecies, but also breaks all expectations and reshapes them. He was nothing like what the people hope for or expected and yet he was everything we needed!

Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 

Isaiah 9:6 proclaims the good news like this, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”

Throughout the pages of Bible over 100 names and titles are given to Jesus. And whether He is called the “Bright morning star, The Gate, the Root of Jesse, the Alpha and the Omega, or the Lamb of God”, each of these names and titles is rich with meaning. They all say something significant about ‘who Jesus was and is’.

However, there is no name more significant than “Immanuel”. This name, which Matthew refers to in his Gospel, was first given to Jesus by the prophet Isaiah 700 years before His birth. And this very special name, as Matthew tells us, means “God with us.”

Now wait a minute, wasn’t God always with the human race? Wasn’t God with us before Jesus? Yes. In one sense God, the Creator, has always been with His creation. The God of the Bible, our true Creator is omnipresent, which means everywhere at the same time. He fills all of creation with His presence; and yet, He is not a part of that creation. He remains Creator distinct from His creation; and so a God who is everywhere is certainly a God who is with us – yet seems distant.

John 1:1-3 puts it like this, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; and all things were made through Him – and apart from Him nothing was made which was made… ”   God wanted to be closer.

Paul writes in Colossians 1:15-17, “He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation. For in him all things in heaven and earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” 

And verses 19-20 reads, “For it was the Father’s good pleasure ‘for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him’ – to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace – through the blood of His cross.”     In and through Jesus, God was doing more than we could ever ask for – or imagine. 

My question for you this evening is… Why was God going to all this trouble? Why not just wipe us all out and start over? We had given him trouble since the dawn of creation. Mankind was blessed with the gift of freewill and we have often used it poorly.

I love this cartoon, it reads, ‘Ever wonder if God had second thoughts about adding free will?’

In the movie Bruce Almighty, Bruce – played by Jim Carey, accuses God of being a slacker. He thinks he can do things better than God. So God gives him a chance to be God.

He tells him though, there are just 2 rules he must follow,

1) Don’t tell anyone you are God – and

2) Remember, you can’t change (or mess with)Free-will.

Bruce was having a party in his home, had just upset his girlfriend and very likely ruined their relationship. So, he tries to make her love him – but his demands fall on deaf ears. He has God’s power yet she must choose to love him.

At one point, Bruce cries out, “What good is all this power if I cannot change free-will?” And God, played by Morgan Freeman, says, “Welcome to my world!” It helps us understand how God must feel at times.

God came to be with us to solve the problem of sin and the struggle we have with Free-will. God could have started over but he had great expectations for us. He wanted to see mankind survive and thrive. God’s love is greater than our sin and disobedience.

Who knew it would be harder to change hearts – than the universe?

     Our Greatest Need is fulfilled because Jesus is with us.      (Poem)

     If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator;

     If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist;

     If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist;

     If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer;

     But our greatest need was for love and forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.

God peers down on us and smiles when we get it. Like a daddy or mommy who dreams of the wondrous possibilities; God believes in us. So much so, he made us co-creators of his vision when he left. Our lives are open books to the future. We have the potential to do great things or cause great harm. He is cheering us on and hoping we see the light.

He believes in you, do you believe in Him? Like Mary, it is something we need to ponder – and I pray you come to believe if you haven’t already. Consider this, ‘A thousand times in history a baby has become a king, but only once in history did a king become a baby’.

This Christmas, remember what Christmas is all about: it’s about Jesus becoming nothing – so that you would have everything. It’s about Jesus becoming a slave so that you could be free. It is about a father who has great expectations, – great hopes for each of us. And a God who never leaves or forsakes us.

I hope you all have a Merry Christmas!!!

Amen. 

 

Shining Star – Dec. 23, 2018

In an affluent neighborhood in California, a family decided to go out on Christmas Eve and serenade their neighbors with carols.  In one house where they stopped, there was inside, hectic noise and confusion.  It was clear that the tension was high as people rushed around to get everything just perfect.

After they rang the doorbell, a haggard lady swung open the front door and let out a big sigh, “Not now, please; we’re too busy,” she said. The gentleman in the group merely said, “Yes, ma’am,” and they moved on.

It was ‘Bing and Kathy Crosby with their kids’. All they wanted to do was share a little Christmas Joy but one family couldn’t find the time. (True story)

If we listen carefully, we will hear the word “Joy” thrown around an awful lot at Christmas time.  It is found in many hymns; like in ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’; where we sing, ‘tidings of comfort and joy’.  In ‘O Come all ye faithful’ when we sing,’ joyful and triumphant’. And who could forget ‘Joy to the World’?

Poet Emily Matthews wrote, “From home to home, and heart to heart, from one place to another; the warmth and joy of Christmas brings us closer to each other.”

Let me ask you, do you feel it?  Do you feel joyful this year?  Do you feel like this really is The Most Wonderful time of the Year?  And are you beginning to bubble over with excitement?

A couple of Christmas’ ago, the Pew Research Center did a random study of over several thousand people.  They polled young and old, of different backgrounds, gender, and race.  Of those, 51% said, “Christmas was a religious holiday that honored the birth of Jesus.” But a record high, 32%, said Christmas was merely a cultural holiday. 69% of all people asked said – the most important thing about Christmas is being with family or friends.

Finally, the question that rocked me was this one; “Is Christmas a time when you feel exceedingly happy or joyful?” Only 7% said that it was. The rest said it was time off for relaxing and fun, – or bland and stressful.

I could be way off, but I am betting that the more we move away from Jesus – and toward a universal understanding of Christmas, the more our joy also decreases. So the question I want to address is… ‘How can we increase our level of joy this Christmas?’ The answer, I think, can be found in the story of the Magi in Matthew’s gospel.

Chapter 2 opens with these words, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Magi came from the East.”  We know that they did not arrive the evening Jesus was born like the shepherds did. They witnessed the star from a far off place, recognized its importance, gathered the resources they needed and traveled to find the new born king.  All of this took them almost 2 years.

At that time, Jesus and his parents would have been staying in a home in or near Bethlehem with relatives. We know the time frame because Herod gave orders to kill all the boys age 2 and under in Bethlehem and its vicinity after the Magi left.

Who were these mysterious men that came to worship Jesus? 

We may hear them called Wise Men, Kings or Magi. The Greek term Magoi refers to a group that is interested in predicting the future by way of dreams, magic or astrology. It is interesting to note that these men probably came from Persia, an area where Magi flourished. Kings would hire them to predict the future and interpret dreams.

The Magi had probably heard of the predictions of a coming king from Jewish exiles. The Magi believed that an unusual star could be a ‘fravashi’, which means an angel or a cosmic event; signaling the arrival of a great man.

It was always a good practice to honor and welcome a new king, so that they could build good relations in the future.  So that was more than likely their motivation.

The Magi would have clearly and carefully noted the time the star appeared and its approximate location. Then, when they collected all they needed, including ‘three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh’, they headed toward Jerusalem.

It is unlikely that the star remained in the sky the entire time they traveled. We have no idea how many Magi there were or how big their caravan was, but it must have been fairly large because when they arrived in Jerusalem, they stood out.

King Herod spoke with them and asked them to return and share where this child king was born after the visit. Then they traveled to Bethlehem. Magically, the star seemed to re–appear.  Scripture says, “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.”

Have you ever paused to consider how much joy the Magi had?  The Greek word for overjoyed means “They rejoiced exceedingly with great pleasure.” In other words, they weren’t just happy; instead, they experienced an ‘over-the-top kind of rush’.

Scholars have described the Magi as feeling:  hysterical joy; fierce, deeply moving joy; extreme delight; and an unspeakable joy.  One modern writer said the Magi saw the star – and they lost it! I just wonder, when was the last time you felt like that? 

I remember coming down on Christmas morning and seeing the presents as a child – and feeling overjoyed, elated. I also remember seeing the birth of my children and feeling a crazy, unspeakable joy. You might have felt that way after kissing your significant other for the first time or after graduation, when you received your diploma.

For the Magi, this was the most important event in their lives.  They would never be the same. It was a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with a new king.  They were elated, – yet humbled.  Overjoyed, – yet respectful.

Have you ever worshipped in a ‘Spirit-filled’ church?  People are shouting “Amen, Praise God, and Hallelujah!”  Sometimes they even start dancing in the isles.  That is hysterical joy.

In an old Peanuts cartoon, Lucy is talking to Charlie Brown.  She asks, “Did you ever know anyone who was really happy…?” Before she can finish the question, Snoopy comes dancing into the next frame. 

His ears are flapping, his nose is pointed up and he is clearly overjoyed.  Lucy and Charlie Brown just watch him in amazement.

In the last frame, Lucy finishes her question, “Did you ever know anyone who was really happy …and was still in their right mind?”

I guess it just reminds us, that sometimes we have to avoid those people who would ‘steal our joy.’

Rev. Kent Crocket tells a story about getting overcharged for gas when he pulled into a full-service station.  They had charged him 7 dollars extra, just to pump the gas.  He said he was angry for several hours.

“As I was mulling over this terrible injustice.” He later wrote, “God showed me what I had done. I had sold my joy for seven dollars! I never realized how cheaply I would surrender something so valuable.”

Isaiah records these words that still ring true, “See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the people.”  There are days ‘it sure feels that way to me’. But he doesn’t end there, “But the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears to you.” Then verse 5 reads, “Then you will look and be radiant, ‘your heart will throb and swell with joy’.” Isaiah 60:2-3,5

Dr Seuss wanted to capture that idea, and he did it well in his book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  In the original story, the Grinch had spent all night stealing the Who’s Christmas.  He thinks his actions will crush them and stop Christmas from coming, but, of course, he is wrong. 

As he puts his hand to his ear to hear them crying and sobbing; instead he hears them singing joyfully and he is confused.

Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small,
Was singing without any presents at all!

He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming! It came!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the Grinch, with his ‘grinch feet ice-cold in the snow’,
Stood puzzling and puzzling. “How could it be so?
It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes, or bags!”

He puzzled and puzzed – till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.
What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!

__________________________________________________________________

Dr Seuss writes that The Grinch’s heart grew 3X’s its size.  Because now he understood that Christmas means “something more than commercialism.” It was like a light had been turned on in the darkness of his soul, and he had new hope, happiness and a real sense of joy.

Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, “When a joy-filled person comes into the room, – it is as if another candle had been lit!”

It is the kind of joy we see in sparkling eyes and the cry of the voice of a delighted child on Christmas morning.  “Mommy, Daddy, get up, get up, Santa has come!  Hurry, hurry!” And it is the same look and sound we hear when someone has found and experienced Jesus for the first time.  Unspeakable joy.  Amazing joy.  That is the kind of rush the Magi experienced in Bethlehem.

My original question was, “How can we increase our level of joy this Christmas?” The answer is …We follow the example the Magi set.

First, we ask ourselves, “What or whom do we seek at Christmas?”  Our level of joy is directly-related to what or whom we seek.  “Things” are nice – but they do not last. Jesus is the true joy of Christmas.  He is our shining star.  He is the true light of the world and he brings hope, peace, joy and love.

The Magi got it right.  They were seeking a king – and they found the King of the Universe.  When they found him, they rejoiced and worshipped him. Have you seen His light?  Do you know where ‘real joy’ originates?  And do you worship with wild abandon?

The second thought is this: The magi knew where to look.  They kept watch ‘when everyone else had quit looking’.  God always gives a sign to those who are seeking. King Herod’s heart was not true.  Jesus was born in his backyard and Herod missed it.  The Magi were foreigners – and yet, they were willing to ‘risk the distance and conditions’ to meet the new king.

We too, are tempted to look in the wrong places.  We look outside at others, instead of inside.  Joy isn’t something we make – it is given when Christ makes a home in our hearts. The Magi kept open hearts and minds – and at the right time, they saw the truth.  They were anticipating joy. Finally, beams of heaven broke through – and love was born.

If you want a little more joy, seek and you will find.  Look in the manger and see the Word of Life. God loved us and sent his son. Jesus has redeemed us. Your sins can be forgiven and you are loved.

‘So arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises on you.’  It is time to let the joy of Christ, wash all over you. It is also time to share the Good News.  It is time to do joyful things and sing joyful songs.  It is time to celebrate the birth of our King.  Because Jesus Christ, born to us, changes everything!

            Your assignment is … to remember the word “light” this Christmas.  The L in Light stands for…

            L = LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF

            I = IMITATE CHRIST

            G = GET TO KNOW OTHERS

            H = HOSPITALITY, HOSPITALITY, HOSPITALITY (and)

            T = TELL THEM ABOUT JESUS

 Amen.

Shine, The Light of the World – Dec. 16, 2018

Kenner had introduced the child-sized ovens in 1963, and within a few years, every girl had to have one.  My sister was no different than the rest. In truth, I wanted her to get one. I wanted one of those small round cakes with the delicious chocolate frosting. Old Saint Nick must have got her letter and decided she was on the nice list (Although I might have been able to dispute that in a court of law), but I wouldn’t.

So on Christmas morning it arrived in all its pale-yellow glory. Tammy mixed up the yellow cake batter, and slid the pan into the oven. Then in just 12-15 minutes, we had a piping hot cake. After it cooled, she frosted it and we ate it. It was sweet, wonderful and maybe a little gooey in the middle but we didn’t care. It was one of the best presents she ever got.

It wasn’t until years later that we found out, ‘all that baking magic required’ was an ordinary 100 watt light bulb. A little ‘light, heat and time’ – and The Easy Bake Oven left us amazed and entranced.

There has never been a time when ‘light’ didn’t capture mankind’s attention and imagination. Think about watching a glorious sunset or sunrise or what about watching a flash of lightning, during a storm. Have you ever sat back at a campfire and watched the flames flicker? It is no wonder some people worshiped the sun, – ‘tried to capture the light’ – or wanted to control fire. 

Light is beautiful and mysterious, like God.

A careful study shows that most religions of the world have an understanding of light in association with God. Christians, like their Jewish ancestors, have always associated light with God. In fact, we call ‘Christmas time’ – ‘the season of light’.

Our Jewish friends celebrate Hanukkah, known as the festival of lights, this time of year. Hanukkah lasts for 8 days and it is a reminder of the defeat of the (Seleucid army) Syrians by the Maccabees and ‘the rebuilding and dedication’ of the second Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

During Hanukkah, the Jewish people light a nine branch Menorah or candelabra, to celebrate the triumph of enduring faith over evil. 8 candles represent the days – and the 9th middle candle, which is the highest, is the light of God that never goes out – and it is used to light the other candles.

During Kwanza, some African Americans light seven candles to symbolize and celebrate life’s seven principles. Hindus, Sikhs and Jains celebrate Diwali by lighting lanterns and oil lamps. And Muslims celebrate ‘Allah’ or God as the source of light that inspires, motivates and guide’s ‘God’s People’.

Some Quakers ‘may not promise to pray for you’ but they will ‘promise to hold you in the light’. And the list goes on, from one faith-based religion to the next, but it doesn’t end there.

Scientists will gladly tell you about the importance of light. It helps all things grow and is even responsible for creating a joyful mood in humans. The UV rays in sunlight help the body produce Vitamin D.

Light is, in fact energy. There is power in it, electromagnetic energy and it moves in waves at 186,282 miles per second. We need light to see and light cables are the fastest way to send information.

The Bible tells us that the first command God gave after creating the heavens and earth was, “Let there be light”. (Genesis 1:3) Before He created light, – the world was formless and empty. It wasn’t pretty, there was no life, no hope, and no peace. All was chaos. Light helped bring order to our world.

Light brings everything into focus and helps us find our way. It also reveals ‘every flaw and truth’. It illuminates and penetrates ‘every darkness’. Just a little light ‘is like’ a laser beam cutting the darkness open.

A few years back, Cindy and I had a chance to traveled to Kentucky to Mammoth Cave, National Park. We had a chance to take a couple of tours, miles below the earth’s surface. The caves were amazing. Some passages were very narrow, others were wide-open and massive. But at one point ‘on the historic tour’, the Ranger wanted to show us ‘the power of light’ in the dark caves.

So, they turned off all the lights. We couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces. It was breath-taking and a little frightening. Then, the ranger lit a lighter. It was amazing how one tiny light, cast such a huge presence. We could see again. One tiny light – made all the difference.

You might recall, it was the light from a burning pillar that led the people ‘into the wilderness’ and out of the bondage of Egypt. Later, Moses knew he was in the presence of God when he saw a burning bush that was not consumed. And the Eternal Flame of God’s presence was to be lit in the Temple in Jerusalem ‘at all times’. It was the job of the priest to keep it from going out. 

But nothing could ever prepare us for the light that was coming. Since the fall, mankind lived in and out of the shadows. We have known real darkness; a darkness we might ‘even say is described as evil in the soul of some men’. And of course, all have sinned and all are fallen. Yet, the Glory of God occasionally breaks through. And ‘the true light of God’ was about to come into the world.

The Apostle John writes, “In Him, Jesus, was life – and that life was the light of mankind. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5)

So ‘He is – the true, first and genuine light of mankind’. The highest light,…is the brightest light.

Jesus said in John 8:12, “I am the Light of the World.” And it began so simply; in a dimly lit stable, with only a meager lantern. ‘Then a star appeared’ – and Shepherds arrived – and the light grew. I sometimes wonder how the light looked ‘reflected in the eyes of that child in the manger’.

Herod wanted to ‘put out his light’ and he failed. Others tried to ignore the light of Christ, they wrote off his parables, his miracles and his healings. Jesus was a light ‘many did not want to see’. The glare was too intense. It revealed things they did not want to see.

Look at how his light revealed the darkness in all of our souls. And so, they crucified him and thought they had overcome his light. But it was not to be. His glory was revealed in the resurrection. His light, the light of Christ, cannot be extinguished. And the Good News is that it reaches the darkest places, in the souls of mankind and he chooses to forgive and show love, despite our shameful welcome.   

Where there is doubt, uncertainty, fear and shame – God brings peace, hope, joy, and love. And Jesus comes not as a consuming fire – but as a refining fire. (Malachi 3:2) He shines the brightest hope because he comes ‘as a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace’. (Isaiah 9:6)

Revelation tells us that there is a time coming, when there we be, ‘no more Darkness or Night’ – because Jesus is the Morning Star that shines forever. There is no darkness, no night in heaven. (Rev. 21:25)

Have you ever watched the beginning of the Olympics and seen the runner carrying the flame? Did you ever wonder where that tradition came from? Among the earliest ancient Greeks, the runner that won the race was not the man who crossed the finish line first – in the shortest amount of time. The winner of the race was the runner who crossed the finish line in the least amount of time ‘with his torch still burning’.

The Greeks believed that running, in and of itself ‘meant nothing’. The goal was to run with purpose. Let me just ask, are you running ‘the race of life’ just to get finished – or do you run with purpose?

In the Movie “Freedom Writers”, based on a true story, some High School students got to meet the woman who attempted to save the life of Anne Frank. (You may have heard of Anne Franks Diary). This woman, who was a girl and a Dutch citizen, wanted to protect a Jewish family from the Nazis.

She was invited, many years later by a teacher, who saw her students fight battles everyday in their own backyards. In this scene, Miep Gies explains what happened to her. Watch…

Video Clip: 1:26:43 – 128:43  (Scene 12)         

You see, just a little light can make all the difference.

Jesus Christ is ‘the light of the world’ and He calls us to be children of that light and to reflect his Good News into the dark corners of the world around us.

“Light”, said Augustine, “reveals other things and its own self, it opens healthy eyes and is its own witness.” In other words, the truth of God reveals the heart.

It is Christmas and it is time to let the light of Christ shine through you! May His sparkle, gleam within your soul, and may He bring you ‘true light that never fades’.

Love like you have never loved before. Embrace the light, joy, hope, and peace of the season. Because what we need today more than ever is the love of God which makes this holiday season great!

Your assignment is…to Behold the Glory and Light of Jesus this coming week. In the midst of the rush for Christmas, never forget the reason for the season, Jesus is the light of the world. Then pass along the Good News. 

Even ‘a little light’, as seen in a smile or a moment of patience can go a long way!!

Amen.

 

It’s a Wonderful Life – Dec. 9, 2018

In 1943 Philip Van Doren Stern wrote a short story called “The Greatest Gift”. Unable to find a publisher, he sent 200 copies he had printed, as a 21-page booklet, to friends as Christmas presents in December 1943.

A producer at RKO Film Studios was sent a copy of the story. In the end, the short book sold to RKO for $10,000 – that would be like $150,000 today!

The book would end up in the hands of Frank Capra, one of the most popular directors of his day. ‘The Greatest Gift’ went on to become the plot line for ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. Frank Capra believed it would go on to become the greatest movie he ever directed. But when ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ premiered in December of 1946, it was a box office bust. It lost $525,000. While a few critics enjoyed it, the public ‘went to see’ another movie called ‘The Best Years of our Lives’. It overshadowed ‘It’s a Wonderful Life and took home ‘most of the Academy awards in 1947. 

Also, the FBI wanted the movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ banned and they called it subversive. They said it discredited bankers and made people with money look like mean and despicable people. They labeled it un-American and said it was part of a Communist plot to damage our Capitalist society. (seriously!)

Embarrassed by the response to the movie and damaged by all the money it lost, the studio shelved ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and it almost slipped off into obscurity. Due to a licensing restrictions lapse, the film found a second life. Major studio executives, who loved it as children, brought it back as a Christmas special in 1976 and since then, it has never gone off the air!

Also, since that time, the movie has become the most beloved holiday movie ever made. It is currently #11 on the American Film Institutes top 100 greatest movies of all time.

 “It’s the darnedest ( not his exact word) thing I’ve ever seen”, Capra told The Wall Street Journal in 1984. “The film has a life of its own now…I’m like a parent, whose kid grows up to be president.” He said he wanted to make the film ‘to combat atheism’ which seemed to be taking over after the war. He also admitted it was always his favorite out of all the movies he directed.

I imagine almost everyone has seen it, so I will give just a short synopsis. It’s a Wonderful life is the story of George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart. On Christmas Eve 1945, in Bedford Falls, New YorkGeorge Bailey contemplates suicide. Prayers for him reach heaven, where  Clarence Odbody, Angel 2nd Class, is assigned to help George. If he does, in return, he will earn his wings in heaven.

George Bailey is a good man who puts the needs of others before himself – but his life has taken an awful turn. A chain of events has taken place to make him believe that everyone would be better off if he was dead. As he stands on a bridge getting up the nerve to jump off, Clarence, the angel, jumps in the river and calls out for help. George jumps in to save him.

While they are drying off, George explains how badly his life is going and he has concluded, “Everyone would have been better if I was never born.”

Then Clarence decides to grant George’s wish and show him how the world would have looked, if George was never born. What he comes to find out is that,

– George’s brother, Harry, who George saved from drowning still dies and so do all the soldiers Harry would have saved in the war.

– The Pharmacist, Who George stopped from making a tragic mistake, still makes it and he became the town drunk. He lost everything.

– The town which George worked so hard to help – became an awful place to live.

– George’s Uncle Billy was eventually institutionalized.

– And Mary, George’s wife never married and ended up lonely and sad.

In the end, George begs for his life back and finally realizes that despite the tough times, he really has led ‘a wonderful life’. What makes the story so compelling, I think, is that it mirrors our lives and many of the people we read about in the Bible. There are good times and tough times – yet God is with us through it all.

Take the story of Mary, a young woman engaged to be married to a carpenter named Joseph. She grew up in a faithful family and she was raised with a strong faith. She was on the cusp of being married and raising a family. She was hopeful and humble.

To her, God sent his angel, Gabriel, to the town of Nazareth in Galilee. People in her day believed that if you saw an angel, it was often because God was sending you a warning. Some even believed that you could die from the shock of seeing one.

Scripture does not say that Gabriel appeared suddenly, but that he simply went to see her. As he approached her he said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.” It was unusual for strange men to talk to women in such a way and so Mary was perplexed by his words and wondered just what he wanted.

Then Gabriel said, “Do not be frightened Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have never been with a man?”

The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born of you ‘will be holy’; he will be called ‘Son of God’. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her – who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” 

Then Mary said, “Here am I, a servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. Did Mary believe this had been an angel or more likely a prophet? We don’t know.

Yet she believed and it is credited to her that she had an amazing faith. But how was she to explain this to Joseph?

Mary made some excuse to go and visit her cousin Elizabeth ‘in a town in the Judean hills’ and she left quickly. Mary stayed with her about 3 months until Elizabeth’s child was to be born. (Luke 1:39-40, 56) It is likely, that when she headed back home she knew she had to tell Joseph.

Matthew’s Gospel of course tells us how he responded; he was clearly hurt and upset. And then, how God sent an angel to Joseph in a dream to explain things. (Matthew 1:18-25)

But imagine, for a second, how Mary must have felt about all this. This stranger, the angel Gabriel, had told Mary that she had found favor in God’s eyes. And then, her life was turned upside down! What kind of blessing would this be?

Then, after the birth of Jesus, in an animal shelter, they were warned by God, in a dream to flee for their lives to Egypt. Imagine how hard that had to be for Mary and Joseph, traveling with a small child. (Matthew 2:13-15)

Later, when they took their son to be presented at the Temple, the priest, Simeon said to Mary, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign ‘that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed’. And a sword will pierce your own soul also.” (Luke 2:21,34-35)

All of these things were to be ‘made true’ when Jesus was arrested and placed on a cross. Mary stood at the foot of it weeping and being comforted by the apostle John. (John 19:26-27)

I cannot think of a worse fate, than a mother watching her son die on a cross as he was being crucified. After seeing a soldier pierce Jesus’ side, I imagine she felt like a sword had also pierced her own soul too. Like George Bailey, I imagine she wanted to die there and then. How much can one person take?

The Bible holds nothing back. We see the highs and the lows. There is joy and there is suffering. We do not have answers but we must keep our eyes on the Lord. He is always with us. That is what Immanuel means “God with us” through the triumph and pain. He knows what we cannot see.

Like me, I am sure you have also ridden the wild roller coaster of life. There were times I wondered why I was born. I wondered if the world was better off without me. I wondered if anyone would miss me when I was gone. And I wondered why God was allowing me to endure suffering.

King Solomon was the wisest man to ever live. In Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 he wrote,

  There is a time for everything,
  and a season for every activity under the heavens:

  a time to be born and a time to die,
  a time to plant and a time to uproot,
  a time to kill and a time to heal,
  a time to tear down and a time to build,

  a time to weep and a time to laugh,
  a time to mourn and a time to dance,
  a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
  a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

  a time to search and a time to give up,
  a time to keep and a time to throw away,
  a time to tear and a time to mend,
  a time to be silent and a time to speak,

  a time to love and a time to hate,
  a time for war and a time for peace.

Later in Ecclesiastes chapter 7:14 he writes, “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one – as well as the other. Therefore, no one can discover anything about their future.”

In the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” George Bailey had a gift that he wasn’t sure he wanted. His gift was the gift of life. That was “The Greatest Gift”. It took awhile for him to realize what a gift it really was. But you may have noticed, his heart and mind changed before everyone came to his rescue.

 After the resurrection of Jesus, I imagine Mary had a very different feeling about her life. Everything came full circle. You see, the Christmas story is our story. Jesus came to love us, to help us and to be with us in the darkest parts of our life and through him we are given a way of light and hope through any storm.

So if you are experiencing the darkness of despair today, God not only wants you to know that He has made a way for you to make it through but that he wants you to know that in your darkest moments, He is with you always. He sees what we cannot see and there is more than meets the eye.

The Christmas story reminds us that all life matters. We have purpose. Our life matters so much to God that he came down in the person of Jesus. We hear this in John 3:16 which says… ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’

The darkness will not last, the dawn is coming and Jesus is the son, the bearer of light and love.   Always look at the big picture, don’t get lost in the moments – but like Mary, keep holding on to your faith. It is easy to focus on all the things that go wrong – but never forget all the things that went right. We may not always get the life we want – but don’t forget to see the miracles and be glad. Because, you see, in the end, it really is a wonderful life.

Your assignment is…to watch the movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ again with fresh eyes. Watch for the people praying. Listen for the truth ‘that life is worth living’. Finally, re-read Mary’s story in Luke. There are many similarities. Then be prepared to hear the Word of God this season, to witness again the birth in Bethlehem, and to rejoice in the celebration of Christ our King. All praise to Jesus,

Amen