Sunday, December 22, 2013

Jesus' Christmas Message

Before the service Darlene often fills the sanctuary with music, and this morning was especially suited to the mood. Come And Worship rang out as snowflakes fell outside, adding another blanket atop the drifts already accumulated there. This was followed by O Come All Ye Faithful.

It's the Fourth Sunday of Advent. And as Pastor Brad welcomed us he shared thoughts about home and that longing for home that is within us. How our hearts long for that "safe place" that is the essence of home.

Noted: Our Christmas Eve service will be Tuesday at 4:00 p.m.

Drake led us in several Christmas hymns and then Brad lit the fourth Advent candle. Drake also sang a song for us while the offering was taken. Then we shared a time of prayer for the various and numerous needs in our world.

Before delivering the sermon our women's choir sang a special rendition of the classic Christmas hymn Silent Night.

Jesus' Christmas Message

I don't know how long you have to be away from home before you starting longing to be back home. Brad then asked us to break into small groups and discuss a tradition that is part of our family.

Home is an evocative word. Some of you can't wait to go home for the holidays. For some it is a painful experience though. There's a gap between the ideal and the reality.

Why does the idea of home touch us so much? Why do we get homesick? Why to we long for home?

Several reasons come to mind. Home is where our story begins. We get molded there. We begin to form our identity. In the Bible the home is where children are to learn about and love God. Home is supposed to be a place that is safe. A place of rest.

It is not O.K. when a home is not a safe place.

Brad cited several lines from Robert Frost's poem "The Death of the Hired Man" to illustrate how the idea of home is bound up with grace. In the poem, an undeserving old man, a former farmhand who had abandoned his work during haying season, has now returned to find a safe place to die. The farmer and his wife debate what to do, and one line tells so much of the story: ‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in.’

The old man did not deserve to have this place available to him. He had fled, had left his employer in the lurch. But the wife brings mercy into the equation. Home is a sanctuary of grace.

The first verses of the Bible are about a home God made for Adam and Eve, The Garden of Eden. What made this place home for the first couple? God was there.

After the Fall, because of sin man and woman were banished from this home.

The story of Moses is intertwined with the meaning of home. It begins as a story about exile. The people of Israel are slaves in Egypt. Moses himself for forty years lives on the backside of the desert seaprated from his people. After he returns to his people he leads them in the Exodus, then spends 40 more years wandering in the wilderness. His life ends with a visit to a mountaintop where he can see the Promised Land, his peoples' homeland, but is not permitted to enter.

Psalm 90 is written by this "homeless" man.... Verse one declares, "Lord, you have been our dwelling place (our Home) throughout all generations." In God's presence we are home. There is no safe place on this earth, only God.

Psalm 91 opens with this great statement along the same line: "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty." And Psalm 84 opens with this declaration: "How lovely is Your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty."

Our longing for home is an echo of our longing for God.

Our human problem is that we want God, but we still want to do things our own way. There is a sense in which we are all runaways, like the prodigal son. What the son doesn't know is that his father has been looking for him every day with a broken heart. God is ever saying this: "Won't you please come home."

Brad then digressed on how weddings took place in Jesus' day, highlighting most notably that between the (arranged) betrothal and the wedding, the groom's responsibility is to prepare a place for his bride, a home. In those days, however, that home was often a room attached to the family's.

This background was used to shed light on that familiar verse in John 14. "Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe in Me. In My father's house there are many mansions." This is the King James Version, but a better translation is "many rooms.'

Jesus was getting ready to go to the cross, but wanted them to know He was preparing a place for them, a place of safety, of belonging, of identity.

Paul wrote, "You have been bought with a price..." This is the bride price. We are the bride.

And finally, the culmination: Revelation 21.... Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

Jesus has indeed prepared a place for you.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Best Part of Christmas


"Good morning! I'm grateful you're here this morning," Brad said warmly on this frigid December morn.

1.Please join us for the Christmas program today at 4:00 p.m.... Leonard will be making a meal and you're invited to bring a dozen Christmas cookies.
2. Youth group will be going to see the Hobbit this Wednesday. Be here at 6:00 p.m.
3. The food items and gifts we have gathered for our "adopted family"

Brad began the service by having all the young people come to the front to listen as he read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. The lighting of the third Advent candle followed.

Chuck, Ken and Darlene led us in worship, beginning first with All Is Well and Master of the Wind. We then joined in on a trio of Christmas hymns.

An offering was taken followed by a time of prayer.

The Best Part of Christmas

Brad began with Proverbs 19:21

The Roman kingdom was so extensive, the Caesar ruled the known world. He was known as the king of kings. And in 27 B.C. he was declared Caesar Augustus. It was glory in the highest and peace on earth... The Pax Romana created a network of safe roads. And at a moment of time, this king made a decree.

This decree set in motion seemingly insignificant events with incredibly significant ramifications. A poor family from a small town called Nazareth travelled over rough terrain to Bethlehem.

Interestingly, Brad asks which king really moved the world to make this happen. Was it Caesar? Or did another, higher King set this in motion?

Often, we ourselves live life as if we are kings, and forget that many times things have been set in motion by a higher King.

Brad then cited the story of Yertle the Turtle, a king who wanted to expand his glory because he would be king of all he could see. So he built a kingdom on the backs of his subjects. Literally. His vision continued to expand and made him feel marvelous, until one day the turtle on the bottom burped, a small little thing with big consequences. As a result the mud became all that king could see.

So it is with the Christmas story. Caesar was king over all the known world. The Roman empire stretched far and wide. Then one day, a little package came into the world. It was a very small thing, but the consequences for this world have continued far beyond the glory that was Rome.

We all have the same kingdom problem. We want to control our sphere, our kingdoms. When we get stressed about things not going the way we want, and even angry and frustrated. Often it is because another's will has crossed our will. But who's will is it?

"Many are the plans of a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that will prevail."

There went out a decree, but the Lord was the one who had His own plan, and God was up to something that would make the angels sing. Yes, the angels sang and the heavens rang, because God, the infinite God, wrapped Himself in swaddling clothing, and became finite, confined in the body of this little tiny baby.

He who occupied the entire universe would have to learn how to walk.

It's staggering to think of it... He created the universe, yet would now have to learn how to talk. He will get cuts and bleed, will get the flu in flu season.

In the incarnation the eternal God confined Himself to space and time. God would have to learn to wait.

The eternal God would also learn submission. He would have to learn how to obey others, His parents, authorities.

He went from king to living in poverty. He was a carpenter's assistant. The incarnation is a riches to rags story.

The angels watched as the God who knew perfection would experience being despised and rejected. He took on our worry, fear and loneliness. He took on our guilt and our sin. He took on His shoulders the sins of the world.

These weren't the best things though. These things were all wrapped up in the Incarnation. The Word became flesh. The Eternal came in time. The Infinite restricted himself to a body. Omnipotence became weakness. Perfection came to carry our sin. And yes, these were all amazing things. But what really amazed the angels, what really amped them... The best part is this.... He came for you. He came for you. He came knocking on your door one day... for you.

"And we beheld His glory."

This is what makes Christmas Christmas. "My peace," He said, "I give to you."

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Closing the Gap

The weather since last Sunday has been decidedly harsh, reminding us that winter is seriously upon us. Despite 2-3 feet of snow (depending on where you live) and then a fierce cold front dropping temps to minus 30 or so (depending what part of the area you live) ... we are gathered once more to celebrate the Advent season. It is another Sunday at New Life Covenant.

Church members paid for 300 loads of clothes and help fold clothes.

Tracy and Chuck
"Good morning!" Brad exclaimed, welcoming us to this second week of Advent.  He began by thanking Chuck and all who helped rent the Washbucket Laundromat to offer free laundry to homeless and poor. Over 170 people were served, and a very special time was had. People were asking, "What's the catch?" There is no catch. That's the Gospel... a wonderful ministry.

Christmas program coming next Sunday, December 15 at 4:00 p.m.  This Wednesday, the Youth will be going to Bentleyville and then Sammy's Pizza after. Bring $10.

Our new "traditional greeting" goes like this...
Pastor Brad: "God is good."
Response: "All the time."
Brad: "All the time..."
Response: "God is good."

Darlene then ushered us into worship with a Christmas medley... Then Drake and Megan led us as we sang a pair of Christmas hymns and a beautiful "We Exalt Thee." The service seems to have an especially sweet spirit today.

There were many prayer needs shared and praise for having Dwayne back after the four month hiatus. Cindy is home at last, and grateful for re-dscovering the things that matter: health, family and friends.

Closing the Gap

Have you ever noticed that around Christmastime there are some people who are so excited they can't keep a secret? Brad shared a story of how he blurted out to his mom what his dad was giving his mom for Christmas.

Brad used this to lead into God's excitement about bringing his Son into the world that He told the shepherds about that amazing birth... "To you has been born a Savior."

Before Brad would continue, Darlene accompanied a women's chorus in the song Christmas Is a Time to Love.

At its core The Christmas Story is essentially that a young woman was told she was pregnant with child, though she had never been with a man. For two thousand years this fact has been a central affirmation of the Christian faith. Do you believe that the virgin birth really happened?

Thomas Jefferson and others have a problem accepting this miracle. One modern denominational leader stated that there is a diversity of opinion on this....

The virgin birth is not an opinion. It is a historical claim, not a legend. And something unlike any story ever contrived to explain things in other cultures. Greek and Roman gods were nothing like this.

Brad then cited Luke 1:1-4 noting that Luke wrote explicitly as a historian. As regards Jesus' birth there are geographical details and historical details deliberately gathered and shared, facts that could be questioned or countered since people who were there were still living.

People in Jesus' day did and said things that were clearly understood in His day. "Before Abraham was I am." The meaning of this was not lost on people who heard it.

What God claimed, Jesus claimed. What God said, Jesus said. And He said, "My Word will not pass away."

The virgin birth is not a myth. It is not a fable. And it matters, which is Brad's aim in this sermon.

In Islam God sends prophets into the world because He (Allah) is so high and holy that He must be kept holy and above it all. God cannot touch this unclean, messy world. So Jesus was sent, as a prophet, to point to God.

Citing the series British television series Upstairs Downstairs Brad noted how the upper crust were not friends with the downstairs class. Upstairs is where the "gentleman class" lived. There was a clear gap or chasm established between the upstairs and downstairs people.

So it is in the Islamic picture of how things are, and an infinite distance between God and humanity. This is why Muslims cannot grasp how God could become a man, how Jesus could possibly be God because there is this fixed impression that God is way up there and would not, cannot, cross this divide without being Himself defiled.

But here is the Good News, that God has come downstairs, has come into our messy world and stayed with us. Jesus, born of a virgin, took on humanity an dwelt among us.

Jesus bridged that infiinite gap, so we can all be together. "No longer do I call you My servants," Jesus said. "I call you My friends."

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Images of Advent

The severe chill of last weekend lifted somewhat but winter is here, and with it our thoughts turn toward Advent and the season of our Lord's birth. "Good morning!" Brad exclaimed. He review last week's message briefly, that all we have including our connections to one another is a gift. "Traditionally we light the Advent candle at the beginning of the service, but today I will light it after."

Life of the Church
1. Tuesday 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 is Women's Bible Study
2. At 2 p.m. Tuesday there will be a hymn-sing at Chris Jensen Nursing Home
3. Christmas program will be December 15 at 4:00 p.m. Please bring Christmas cookies to share. There will also be a meal, by Leonard.
4. Cheryl shared how the Christmas Shoeboxes we created were received last week. We also have received a family to make Christmas happen for a needy family with three children. Pray about it and sign up to give something.
5. Friday there will be a Free Wash Day at the Washbucket laundromat in Lincoln Park to help the homeless and needy people wash their clothes for a day. Looking for volunteers to help out December 6 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. plus anyone who can help provide soap and other necessities. Posters have been posted throughout the neighborhood to promote this ministry of generosity.

The Trio -- Chuck, Ken and Darlene -- sang the beautiful song "Mary Did You Know?" before singing worship songs from the silver songbook.

The children of the church collected our Covenant World Relief cans before the offering was taken. A number of needs were shared as we entered into a time of prayer.

Images of Advent

The lights were dimmed and Brad shared how meaningful the song O Come, O Come Emmanuel is to him. There is a longing in the world for light to come chase away the darkness.

Isaiah 9:1-2 it states that we are living in darkness, but that there is a great light. That darkness is choking our hearts.

Examples are many of how our hearts all too often choose darkness, or make excuses regarding ways we fail to make caring choices or fail to listen when our conscience speaks with that still, small voice. Our hearts deceive us. Brad shares examples from his own experience.

There are horrible things in the world that are going on and Brad shared more examples of the tragic brokenness of our world. There is darkness anywhere you look. And too often we say, "That's someone else's problems."

John 3:19 says, "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil."

In addition to sin there is death. We walk in the shadow of the valley of death... But God says, "I know. I have seen that. And I am going to do something about that darkness.'

Brad then shares the story of Little Bear and how he was afraid of the dark. But because there is one who is with us we can be comforted.

Even though we are stained with sin straight through, God sees this, and sees our world... and doesn't send a warning or punishment. He sent us His Son... a person, Jesus, who says, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

God says, "There is nothing you have done that can make me love you any less.""

This light is for you. Come to God. Confess to God. "I want to be your child. I want to step into the light."

God has promised that His light will sustain us and guide us. That is the hope of Christmas.

Before celebrating Communion Ed Newman sang O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

Afterwards we sang our way through Communion.