Monday, December 27, 2010

Nothing Is As Over As Christmas

Click Here to Listen to the Sunday, December 26, 2010 Sermon by Pastor Chip Moody

Scripture Reference:  1Timothy 1:12-17

Nothing is as over as Christmas.

What are we left with after the decorations are taken down and the gifts are returned for exchange?  Is it back to business as usual?  Yes, as it must be. Christmas every day would mean the end of Christmas. It would simply be routine. 

But it should not be business as usual with our souls. We have just remembered and celebrated the most significant event of reality—the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. It would be sad, but expected, that we  go back to how we were before we once again let Advent remind us of what is of first importance.

This is our annual opportunity to make a Promise to God. But to know what to promise God on this last day of the year, I would like to look at a decidedly non-Christmas scripture passage.

In it I believe we find not only the meaning of Christmas, but the meaning of life. And we find it expressed by one man who is perhaps more surprised than any other that he has a part in God’s family.

“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-- of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”   1 Timothy 1:12-17  

The Promise: Every day recognize Jesus as Savior.

We do it on Sundays as a church when we receive the Lord’s Supper. But you and I, individually, must every day set aside a moment to recognize Jesus’ coming.

How?  In your prayer closet, before your first cup of coffee, before you start your car on the way to work, at the moment you awaken. It doesn’t matter when. So long as it happens.

Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of which I am chief.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Christmas Cards You'll Never See

Click Here to Listen to the Sunday, December 19, 2010 Sermon by Pastor Chip Moody

Scripture Reference: Luke 2:21-35

Much of the Christmas Story I Never See in Greeting Cards.

The few Christmas cards that are religious tend to be foil-stamped icons showing Elizabethan-looking characters with halos, like the one of Mary receiving word of her impending pregnancy with all the surprise and terror of someone opening their electric bill.

I’ve never seen a card of Zechariah, father of John the B, being struck mute by the angel for his lack of faith.
Cards about the miraculous conception in Elizabeth of John the B don’t seem to sell well.
I’ve never seen a card depicting Herod’s slaughter of the newborns in Bethlehem.
And even when we do see the manger, it is professionally lighted.

If we were tell more of the Christmas story on greeting cards, it could help us visualize the rest of what it means for the Messiah to be born when and where he did.  Imagine a card showing a red-faced Mary (with her baby-bump) listening to yet another member of her village saying, “Do really expect us to believe that angel story of yours?”

We may sanitize our greeting cards, but there is no sanitizing the records of Matt and Luke.  When the angel told Mary about her impending pregnancy she responded as typically and humanly as you would.  “But I’m a virgin!”  Every year there are millions of teenage girls pregnant out of wedlock.  We’re so used to it we wonder what the fuss is anymore.  But for Mary, in her tightly knit Jewish community in the first century, few things could have been more scandalous. The law considered a betrothed woman who became pregnant by an adulteress subject to legal punishment. Put that on a greeting card.

Matthew tells of Joseph agreeing to divorce Mary privately rather than press charges, until an angel shows up to correct his perception of betrayal.  Luke tells of Mary hurrying off to the only other person who could possibly understand her  predicament—her relative Elizabeth, miraculously pregnant in her old age after yet another angelic announcement.  Elizabeth believes Mary and they share their joy.  Yet months later, while everyone is rejoicing with Elizabeth for her new son, Joseph brings Mary to Bethlehem for the census tax, but perhaps also to have this unplanned baby born quietly out of town. 

How many times did Mary, seeking some courage, run over in her mind the angel’s promise?  How many times did Joseph second-guess his own experience with God as he felt his hot shame at the expanding belly of his fiancĂ©e?  These were certainly not Hallmark moments.

In the gospels we also meet Simeon, who seems to truly understand what God was doing in mysteriously sending his Son. I have a Christmas card idea. Lets show Simeon holding the infant Messiah in his arms, with a sad look at Mary.  Inside the card we’ll write the words Simeon sang:

This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel,
and to be a miracle that will be reviled.
 And Mary, a sword shall stab your soul as well.”               
Merry Christmas from the Smiths.
So what do the sordid and complicated events of Mary, Joseph and others cause me to ask myself?  It is this:  If Jesus came to reveal God to us, then what do I learn about God from that first Christmas that I don’t find the greeting card industry inclined to tell me? I can think of many, but the one I want to share is this:

In Christ, God comes near enough to be terribly inconvenient to those who see him.  And isn’t that intimate intrusion exactly what we need to recognize him, submit to him, and worship him? (It isn’t as if we were going out of our way to find him.)

J. B. Phillips helps us understand this point of view and helps me escape my earthbound viewpoint. In his reimagining of Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained he shows us incarnation from an angelic perspective:

A senior angel is showing a very young angel around the splendors of the universe. They view whirling galaxies and blazing suns, and then flit across the infinite distances of space until at last they enter one particular galaxy of 500 billion stars. As the two of them drew near to the star which we call our sun and to its circling planets, the senior angel pointed to a small and rather insignificant sphere turning very slowly on its axis. It looked as dull as a dirty tennis-ball to the little angel, whose mind was filled with the size and glory of what he had seen.
     "I want you to watch that one particularly" said the senior angel, pointing with his finger.
     "Well, it looks very small and rather dirty to me," said the little angel. "What's special about that one?"    
     He listened in stunned disbelief as the senior angel told him that this planet, small and insignificant and not overly clean, was the renowned Visited Planet.
     The little angel's face wrinkled in disgust.  "Do you mean that our great and glorious Prince . . . went down in Person to this fifth-rate little ball?  Why should He do a thing like that? Do you mean to tell me that He stooped so low as to become one of those creeping, crawling creatures of that floating ball?"
     "I do, and I don't think He would like you to call them `creeping, crawling creatures' in that tone of voice.  For, strange as it may seem to us, He loves them.  He went down to visit them to lift them up to become like Him."
     The little angel looked blank. Such a thought was almost beyond his comprehension.

And it is almost beyond my comprehension too.  And yet I accept that this is why we have Christmas.  I believe this  touchstone of God’s revelation.  God came sneaking quietly down the back stairs as a humble baby to turn the universe inside out, very inconveniently, I might add, to himself. 

He did this so that we would see God come near;
so we can get close to him;
so that we would see that he loves us like no other.

So we can worship Him. Alleluia.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Hope in Hard Times

Click Here to Listen to the Sunday, December 12, 2010 Sermon by Pastor Rodger S. Loar

Scripture References:  Job 29- 31, 38- 41 and Romans 5:1-8

When times are hare, it sure is easy to look back on the ‘Good Old Days’ through the tinted lenses of our imagination and memory.  Things must have been so much better then.  But, the truth is, the Good Old Days had their problems too.  Life is just hard at any age.
Instead of dwelling on the broken economy, on the things you no longer have, or on fears for the future, let’s take time to be thankful that our God gave us hope and grace through His son Jesus the Messiah.  The best way to get our eyes off our own woes is to serve others in their times of troubles.  As we celebrate Christ’s birth this year, here are some ways to put this in action:
1.       Take what you have, whether a little or a lot, and share with someone who has less than you.  Next time you are grocery shopping spend a little extra and buy a grocery store gift card.  As you leave the store, pray for God to show you someone who needs it.  Find a single mother with kids, an immigrant family, a homeless person, or just a shopper who looks like they may need help.  Hand them the gift card and say, “Merry Christmas.”  Then walk off and don’t let them know your name.  Just let the gift speak for itself.

2.       When you celebrate Christmas Eve or Christmas day this year, invite a neighbor over to join your family.  Have a present for them and a place of honor at the table.  This could be a lonely, elderly person, someone from your church, a needy family, or just a neighbor you need to get to know.

3.       Instead of spending huge amounts on Christmas presents for the family, take your kids and volunteer at a local ministry such as Neighborhood Ministries or the Phoenix Rescue Mission.  Donate money to one of these charities or to a local church ministry.  Teach your kids faithful service, sacrifice for others, and the value of people over things.
What better way to thank God for His mercy than to bring the Good Old Days to someone else. 
God bless you and have a Merry Christmas,
Pastor Rodger.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Applause from the Ordinary

Click Here to Listen to the Sunday, December 5, 2010 Sermon by Pastor Don Allen

Scripture Reference:  Luke 2:1-20

To help you reflect on the message of Jesus’ coming this season, consider these suggestions:

  1. Yesterday, we focused on what happened when the angel announced to the angels that the baby in Bethlehem was the Savior of the world. Read how the angel also appeared to Mary, the future mother of Jesus (Luke 1:26-56), and also to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-25 and 1:57-80). These are long passages, but they are worth it.
  2. In the message, Don reminds us that the angels’ appearance to the shepherds would not show up in the normal news! Why do you think that God chose shepherds to announce Jesus’ birth, instead of the powerful, the politicians, or pop stars?
  3. The shepherds responded to the announcement with self-forgetful humility.  In other words, they didn’t think about the possibility of getting fired from their jobs (tending sheep in the fields) or what others thought about them (knocking on doors and telling neighbors about the Christ child). Think of a specific way you could practice self-forgetful humility this week. In other words, what one thing can you do this week that allows you to serve someone else without any expectation of receiving something in return?
  4. The shepherds also responded with praise and giving glory to God (read v. 20). How do you praise and glorify God? Try something creative to expand your worship. Imagine your neighbor asked you to write down the reasons why you worship God. Remember that praise is about the person you are praising and not about you. Write two sentences or short paragraphs and share your answers with someone else. Start with, “I praise God because He…..”
  5. “A Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.” This statement changed history. It can also change someone’s life. Ask God to show you someone who needs this world-changing good news. Now write a card to that person and include a note that shares this good news. Pray that God opens that person’s heart. Call the person next week and ask what they thought of the note!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Jesus: King of Glory, Servant of All

Click Here to Listen to Sunday, November 28, 2010 Sermon by Pastor Chip Moody

Scripture Reference:  Isaiah 9:1-7, Isaiah 53, Matthew 20:25-28, Philippians 2:5-11

Israel in the time of Jesus birth wanted deliverance. But it did not want deliverance from sin and guiltiness before a God who wanted his children back in his arms.  They wanted instead political and cultural deliverance. After all, they were occupied by the Romans. Their leader, King, Herod, was a powerless puppet, a stooge for Caesar.  A nefarious Pontius Pilate was the treacherous procurator of Israel--what the government now called a Roman Territory.

So many started following Jesus because they had high hopes--hopes that this new potential Messiah was also their
potential military general.  (Even his name, Y’Shua, was the name Joshua, reminding them of a hero that led Israel into Promised Land.)  But many stopped following Jesus when they realized his true intention.

Jesus did not come to solve their political problems, nor to drive out the Roman soldiers guarding every street with sword and spear.  He did not come brandishing weapons of war. He did not come with a set of campaign promises to be forgotten after the election.  He did not come campaigning for general, national philosopher, or statesman for the Sanhedrin (the ancient Knesset).

Jesus of Nazareth was nothing that anyone expected, and few wanted.  He was not a King on a white steed marching gloriously into Jerusalem.  Instead he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and told Pilate he was a King--but not of a kingdom in this world.  He also would not rule with an iron fist.  But would instead teach his followers that one would be the greatest by being least of all, by serving others.

The point of all the above being, who is the Messiah Israel should have expected?

I submit to you that the prophets were very clear in describing a Messiah who was to be a King--yet a king who suffers.  A mighty prince--but one who brings peace with God, not peace with Rome.

Here is the King and Prince part:

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. . . For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”     
Isaiah 9:2, 6-7  

And here is the Suffering Servant part:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.  8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.  9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.  10 Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.”  Isaiah 53:5-10  

All the political posturing of national leaders reminds me of an event in the NT:  

Matthew 20:25-28  tells how Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first must be your slave--  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

So what does this mean for us?  How do we apply this message about the coming King so serves and suffers?

One word: Worship.

Holy, penitent, humble, searching worship of Jesus the Christ.

Philippians tells  us that Jesus, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be clung to, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Bow in worship of this Christ who has come to serve and lead you. It is up to you.

Please, make it happen this Christmas.