Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Message of Jesus

Brilliant sunlight on a crisp winter morn... blue skies and warm hearts. Pastor Brad Shannon, smiling and effervescent, welcomes us and says "I'm grateful you're here to worship today."

Darlene, Chuck and Ken led us in worship today, opening the service with "Mary Did You Know?" This was followed by a trio of Christmas hymns. The offering taken, we moved into a time of prayer and thanksgiving. Brad began by expressing special thanks for Darlene's contributions toward making this season especially special during this Advent season, and we all added an amen to that with applause.

The Message of Jesus

Brad began by noting that Christmas is a season, not just a day. Even though the world is broken Jesus is working every day. The Message of Christmas, the story of God breaking into our world, is not just a Bible message but is a story from history.

After reading Matthew 1:18-24 Brad pointed out that these "places" mentioned in the Bible are places that are still here today. The place where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River that Israel crossed to enter the land... all these were places. The stories took place in the real world.

Joseph and Mary were poor, but it's noteworthy that people who are poor are more dependent on God. Joseph's roots were Bethlehem, the City of David.

Brad went on to describe the birth of Jesus, in a stable. It was a truly inauspicious beginning. And the first people told about it was the shepherds. Their message: "Do not be afraid...."

In various ways Brad returned to the challenges of life, the stresses in the midst of the season. And how Jesus came to give us peace.

After the angels shared the message of peace and joy with the shepherds, the shepherds ran into town and shared what they had heard. All who heard them were astonished. (When was the last time people were astonished by shepherds?)

Jesus is the peace-giver and peace-maker.

What's out responsibility in this crazy messed up world today? As receivers of God's peace it's our responsibility to become peace givers. To become self-less servants.

Jesus' life one of continuous giving, of being poured out. Even on the cross, the Lord's life was not taken, but rather, He gave His life.

As I die to myself, something new can be born.

Brad ended by asking that in 2016 we enter our relationships as circumstances as peace-givers. Be open to helping give hope to those who have lost hope. Be open to allowing God to show up in your lives in amazing ways. Allow your hearts to return to this very unlikely event, the unlikely place, where everything starts. He came to make peace, to bring peace to a troubled world.

"My peace I leave with you," Jesus said.

In closing we sang, "Hark the Herald Angels Sing."

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Prince of Peace

Brad welcomed us gently and indicated that today he would be talking about Jesus the Prince of Peace in a continuation of the Names of Jesus series he has been speaking on during Advent.

Pastor Brad reminded us that the Christmas Eve service will be this coming Thursday at 4:00 p.m. Darlene then played a beautiful medley featuring Crown Him With Many Crowns and O Holy Night. Brad and Darlene sang a moving rendition of Silent Night, and asked the congregation to sing with them for a portion. The fourth Advent candle was lit..

A couple of the children played songs on the piano as the offering was taken, and then we shared a time of prayer.

Prince of Peace

Brad asked how many people have finished their Christmas shopping? How many re-gifted a gift?

He acknowledged some of the stresses associated with Christmas, including all the chaos of getting ready, or the empty chairs where a missing loved on once sat.

After reading the passage in Isaiah 9:6 we turned to the Christmas story as told by Luke.

10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
~Luke 2:10-14

Jesus was called the Prince of Peace, but this Christmas event was not peaceful. Mary had to explain to the neighbors that she was pregnant by God. And then she had to ride to Bethlehem on a donkey. And give birth in a stall because there was no room in the inn. And she gave birth with no medical care or pain medicine.

Today we live in a world with many things that steal our peace. Financial stress. Emotional upheavals. Work stress. Personal conflicts with others, including loved ones....

Brad noted that God can give us a supernatural peace within the storms of our lives, whatever form they take. The peace of Jesus invades your innermost being as a settled conviction that all things are in God's hands, including your life. Regardless of what is going on in your life you can trust the competence of God in all things.

"Peace I leave with you," Jesus said. "My peace I give you. Don't let your hearts be troubled." Our peace comes through the Prince of Peace.

Worry is something many of us experience, but there is something you can do about it. When you worry, take it as a signal to invite Jesus in.

Brad cited 1 John 4:18.  "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear."

When children are growing up they need two things. They need a secure place, a shelter of love, but also they need to have freedom to explore and even opportunities for risk-taking opportunity.

But we've all seen how when young children are approached by strangers in public places they run quickly to the place where they feel secure, behind mom or dad's leg, and they hold on. As adults we also can do this, running to Jesus to regain our security.

This verse from John is showing us that our security in Christ gives us the confidence and strength to face the risks. His perfect love casts out fear. His Spirit gives us strength. As David wrote, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."

Sometimes we worry alone when we can call a friend to pray with us. Music also brings comfort. Whatever the situation, run to Him.

Brad then explained that the goal of our lives is not simply peace. We have been bought with a price... for a purpose. Embracing God's call on our lives is also essential. When Moses died, Joshua was told to cross the Jordan and possess the Promised Land. Like Joshua, we have a purpose. Getting rid of the negative things that sap up and drag us down is only half of the battle. Once we are settled with God, we must embrace the call.

Brad illustrated this by telling about a "ropes course" that he was involved in setting up at camp. A ropes course is a challenging personal and team development exercise in which people are high up and have to use a belay for safety. At the center of this activity is the need for, and development of, trust.

Emotionally we tend to not trust the safety equipment, even though initially we tell ourselves that we do trust it. Fear takes hold the higher off the ground one gets, until we're forced to act on what we say we believe. Trusting is more than mental assent, and we live into it.

Brad stated that trusting God to meet our needs is similar. Stepping out in faith can initially be scary, but God is trustworthy.

This message is important, Brad said, because you only go through life once. We can choose to worry or embrace the peace that comes through knowing Christ. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Everlasting Father

Wet and dreary outside, warm and bright in the sanctuary. "Good morning! The Lord be with you," Pastor Brad said to begin our service. "I'm grateful you're here today."

The themes Brad has been speaking on during this Advent season revolve around the Names of Jesus, our Wonderful Counselor, the Prince of Peace. Today we will look at another of God's names, Everlasting Father.

1. This afternoon is the Christmas Program & Dinner. Everyone is welcome. 4:00 p.m.
2. A sign-up sheet will be passed around during the service for gifts for a needy family we have adopted.

Darlene opened our time of worship with a melodious "Hark the Herald." The congregation sang O How Shall I Receive You and the Brad & Darlene sang a duet about Mary's prayer for strength to fulfill her calling in the challenging role for which she had been chosen. After singing O Come All Ye Faithful as a congregation, John and Kristina lit the Candle of Joy, the third candle of the Advent Wreath.

The children came forward and Susan Jessico led a children's time with a lesson about community and how when everyone pitches in, it makes everything easier. A time of prayer then preceded the message.

Everlasting Father

Brad began with a story about a young marine in the 1950s who was stationed in San Diego. This young man's father, who had been a mortician and politician in a small town in Indiana, was also an alcoholic who ran around on his wife and eventually just left her with three young kids.

This young marine's life was one of confusion until it turned around in a major way after attending a revival meeting. Eventually this man had three sons who all came to follow Christ, one of them becoming a pastor. That pastor is Brad.

We all have memories of fathers, and they vary because despite good intentions fathers also can make mistakes. Not all our memories are the same. We can sometimes mistakenly project our image of our father onto our everlasting father. The truth is that our Heavenly Father is not just like our earthly fathers.

Maybe the words "I love you" never came from your father's mouth. The result for many people is that they keep trying to perform for their fathers, trying to "earn" his love, to hear those words that he is proud of us. And then we turn this attitude to God, trying to earn His love, to be worthy of His approval.

Some of us may have had angry dads who hurt us verbally, shredding our hearts.

Let's look at Psalm 103 where it tells what our Heavenly Father is really like:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.

And in another place it says, "Come to me you who are burdened and heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Rest.

God is not angry at you. He will not abuse you.

As it is written, "I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and give you hope."

God is love. He is on our side. He is compassionate and He cares for you. He is not angry with you. "And if that's all you get," Brad said, "I believe you're halfway home."

No matter how you mess up or how far you run, God's promise is this: "I will never leave you or forsake you." He's an Everlasting Father full of compassion.