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December 20, 2015 - Love (The Messiah’s Gifts Series) - Isaiah 9:2-7

posted Jan 5, 2016, 1:31 PM by Grant Garber

Due to technical difficulties, this sermon was not recorded.  This is a transcript of the message.

This morning we are concluding a series of Advent worship services based on the prophecy of Isaiah.  In each of the weeks of Advent, we it one of the candles of the Advent wreath and focused on the Christmas gift it represents.  We have looked at the gifts of hope, peace and joy.  Today we come to love, which makes the other gifts possible.  

It is significant that we have always believed our Savior Jesus Christ was born at night, when it was dark.  Darkness is always the time when we are most aware of our need for God to be with us.  Darkness is what our newspapers and TV describe.  It is what the lab report depicts when it finds a disease in our body.  Darkness is what many young adults feel about their economic prospects, and it is what remains in our hearts after we have been hurt.

In the light of day, we do what we can to keep the darkness at bay.  We work hard, we make plans, and we focus on the reasons for hope and the clear blessings of life.  We do all that to keep our despair locked away in a corner of our hearts.  But in the dark, our fears, our grief, and our anger break out and have free range of our heart.

So it has always been.  When Isaiah wrote his ninth chapter, it was in the 8th century B.C., which was a dark time for the tiny nation of Judah.  The ever-expanding Assyrian Empire had already swallowed up the ten tribes of Israel and dispersed the people.  The two tribes that remained in the southern kingdom of Judah lived under constant fear that they would be next.  Under the shadow of this threat, it was dark even in the daytime.

Isaiah begins our text by proclaiming extraordinary hope.  Verse 2:  “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.”  Those are the opening words of what our Old Testament scholars believe was an ancient Hebrew hymn.  The words were sung over and over because they depicted the love of God who would come for His people.  They continued singing the hymn down through the centuries, and they taught it from one generation to the next.  Their words were well known long before George Handel got hold of them and made them a part of his masterpiece The Messiah.  The chances are good that even the shepherds abiding in their fields outside of Bethlehem knew about these words.  They knew about hoping for a great light that would pierce their darkness.

What the light means is that heaven has broken into the dark world.  But God didn’t drop down more instructions or laws.  What God was giving us is God.

You would think if Isaiah were going to offer divine light to the Judeans who were struggling under the oppression of the Assyrians, he would depict the arrival of a great and mighty warrior.  But He did not do that.  What He promised is “…to us a child is born.”  And we are given His names.  He will be called  “Wonderful Counselor”.  That is what we have always wanted – someone who understands.  And He will be called “Mighty God”.  Yes, that is what we need –someone who can again shove the darkness and chaos aside as He did at creation.  He will also be called “Everlasting Father”, who is someone who will nurture us through all of life with grace, truth, and a love that knows no conditions.  And He will be called the “Prince of Peace”.  This is the long-awaited someone who can pull it all together – the One who can finally teach the wolf and the lamb to lie down together.

These are extraordinary names for a child.  How can a child become our great light that dispels the darkness?  He is so small and frail lying in a manger.  This is the God with us?  When the Greeks proclaimed the gods wee with us, those gods came in the form of adults who had great mythological powers.  When the Egyptians claimed Pharaoh was a god or when the Romans allowed Caesar to claim divinity, it was after they had built incredible empires.  Today, people still worship the idols of power and wealth, hoping they will get rid of the dark.  But at Christmas we Christians join the shepherds and the magi in worshiping a baby.

Maybe the birth of a baby gives a little light, but frankly, it doesn’t blind us.  Right – that is exactly as it was intended to be.  This is why at Christmas we don’t shoot off fireworks.  Instead, we light candles to honor the quiet subtlety of the power of this miracle.  A child has been born to us.  His holy gifts of hope, peace, joy and love will have to grow up within us.

When we celebrate the birthdays of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or Martin Luther King Jr., we don’t send cards to each other that are adorned with pictures of these great men as babies.  So why is there so much attention on the nativity of Jesus?  We all know that Jesus grew up to become a man and that as a man, He fulfilled all of Isaiah’s promises.  Why can’t we just focus on Jesus’ teaching, His miracles, His work on the cross and His resurrection?  Why do all of the stories of the angels visiting, the virgin birth, and the heavenly host singing “Glory to God in the Highest” matter so much?

The repeated affirmations that a child has been born to us root our thinking about the Incarnation of God.  Jesus isn’t a god who just looked human.  Nor is He a human who figured out how to climb up to heaven.  Jesus is God becoming one of us.  That cannot happen without Him taking on all of our human frailty.  So the Savior arrives as vulnerable as He possibly can – as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.  

As His life began, so did it continue.  Throughout His life, Jesus demonstrated that He knows about hunger, thirst and temptation.  He knows about great dreams and betrayal, laughing and crying, bleeding and dying.  This is why He can be the Wonderful Counselor who truly understands our lives from the inside out.  The Savior also knows what it means to be resurrected, to ascend into heaven to the right hand of the Father, to reign over all of creation, and what it is to be the one to bring about a new Kingdom.  This is why He is the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.  And it is all because God loves us too much to leave us alone in the dark. The Incarnation makes it clear that from birth to death, every human emotion is known by our Savior.  But He isn’t just empathetically bumping around in the dark with us.  This is the God who brings us light.

The Incarnation also claims that our flesh is sanctified – made holy – once it was taken on by a holy God.  Just as the break and cup of the Lord’s Supper and the waters of baptism are ordinary objects that are made holy by the presence of Jesus through the Holy Spirit, so our lives are made holy by His presence.  After the Incarnation, the flesh is sanctified again, as it was to be from the beginning. 

This means that love between friends or family, love in romantic relationships, and even the love of work provides some approximation or a glimpse of the love of God.  The goodness of being with someone – even as a friend – on the journey of life is that it reflects the light of Christ that shines in the darkness.  So you can never give up on love.  It doesn’t matter how hurt you have been, how old you are, or how dark the prospects are, you can’t stop loving or you will get lost in the dark again. 

Most of us are familiar with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who participated in the resistance movement against Adolph Hitler.  I know I’ve spoken of him many times.  Not as many people know that in 1943 Bonhoeffer became engaged to the love of his life, Maria von Wedemeyer.  Shortly afterwards, he was arrested and sent to prison where he was eventually executed.  His correspondence to Maria has been published in a wonderful book called Love Letters from Cell 92. The book describes the light of love in a very dark time.

In his last letter to his fiancée, he states:  

“We have been waiting for each other for almost two years, dearest Maria.  Don’t lose heart.  Here are a few verses that have occurred to me to in recent nights.  They are my Christmas greeting to you.”

Although the old year still our hearts oppresses and still of evil times we bear the weight, O Lord, bestow upon us that salvation for which our troubled souls thou didst create.

The candles brought by thee into our darkness, let them today burn clear and warm and bright. And bring us, if thou wilt, once more together. Thy light, we know it well, shines in the night.

By kindly powers so wondrously protected we wait with confidence, befall what may. We are with God at night and in the morning, and just as certainly, on each new day.

It would be possible to view the love between Bonhoeffer and Maria as a tragic love story that was cut short by Hitler’s gallows.  But these letters make it clear that is not how they saw it.  They saw it as a resolve to love.  They knew what was waiting ahead, but they resolved to love as a testimony of their faith to a Savior who would outlive Hitler, just as He outlived Herod, and just as He outlives every tyrant or terrorist who tries to turn the light back to the dark.

So we will always choose to love, And when we do, some more light perseveres in the darkness.  Once we have seen that a Savior has been born to us, there is always hope, peace, joy and love because now we know that “We are with God at night and in the morning.”  Amen.

December 13, 2015 - Joy (The Messiah’s Gifts Series) - Isaiah 40:6-11

posted Dec 14, 2015, 7:33 AM by Grant Garber   [ updated Dec 14, 2015, 12:01 PM ]

  • One of the reasons we celebrate Christmas is to help us remember who we really are.
  • We are Christians who believe the word of the Lord will stand forever.  We believe this Word became flesh and was incarnated to us in Jesus Christ.  And we believe that means Jesus Christ stands with us forever.  That is our source of joy.
  • If God was not powerful, there could be no salvation.  And if He was not gentle, the only word from God would be judgment.
  • Joy doesn’t come from a quest or from getting what you want.  You don’t find joy.  Joy finds you.
  • It is also true that we bring joy to God by surprising Him from time to time.  We have the capacity to move the heart of God – to offer God a surprising gift of joy.
Pastor Jim Spon | Isaiah 40:6-11

December 6, 2015 - Peace (The Messiah’s Gifts Series) - Isaiah 11:1-9

posted Dec 8, 2015, 6:06 AM by Grant Garber

  • The promise of God is that the wolf and the lamb can live together.
  • We all know about living among the wolves.
  • There is no escaping the wolf.  That is because one of the places where it lives is within our own souls.
  • As frightened as we are of the wolves around us, we are more afraid of the wolf within us.  
  • Others of us are frightened by the lamb inside of us.
  • God made us both assertive and vulnerable.  We will never have peace and be free from fear until the wolf and the lamb learn how to lie down together.
  • Our favorite way of being both the wolf and the lamb is through compartmentalizing our lives.  But it isn’t possible to divide our lives between the two creatures.
  • One day, Jesus will return and His peaceful kingdom will reign.  But when He came at Christmas He already made it possible for us to experience the transformation of our human nature.
  • To live in Christ is to recover our created nature of being both assertive and vulnerable, strong and gentle, a leader and a servant.  
  • Jesus came to give us His life.  To be baptized and to commune with Him at this table means to receive the grace that makes us fully alive as we were created to be.
Pastor Jim Spon | Isaiah 11:1-9

November 29, 2015 - Hope (The Messiah’s Gifts Series) - Isaiah 40:1-5

posted Dec 8, 2015, 5:58 AM by Grant Garber

Main Thought
Our hope comes not from what we accomplish, but from the Christmas surprises that God brings us.  The things we want most:  hope, peace, joy and love can only be received as holy gifts from the Lord.
  • We keep telling ourselves that a mark of maturity is to compromise on our dreams and settle for “good enough”.  This is a time-honored problem.
  • Biblical hope comes only as an interruption from God.
  • Christmas is an invitation to return life to the right place.
  • It is God who constructs the highway to the right place.  And He builds it not so we can get to the life of our dreams, but so God can get to us.
  • When the Bible talks about hope it is always referring to the discovery that God is not done with your life. 
  • To wait upon God is the soul’s way of taking a stand for hope. The hardest work you will do in the four weeks ahead is not to get ready for a holiday – it is to prepare for a holy day.
  • A holy mystery is revealed to us in our little Christmas rituals.  By them we learn the rhythms of getting ready for the holy that only a Savior could bring.
Pastor Jim Spon | Isaiah 40:1-5

November 22, 2015 - Observing Thanksgiving - 1 Thessalonians 5:18

posted Dec 8, 2015, 5:48 AM by Grant Garber

Thanksgiving Day is the day we observe the National Holiday 

God would have us obtain and maintain an “a)tude of thanksgiving” that would be with us all year long. 1 Thess. 5:18. 
  1. The propriety of thanksgiving. 
    • Psalms 100 It’s proper because He is God. 
    • Psalm 95 It’s proper for all He is and what He has done. 
    • Psalm 50 It’s proper so that we may honor Him.
  2. The priority of thanksgiving. 
    • Neh. 11 & 12 Leadership in song. 
    • Lev. 7 Sacrifice over and above regular Temple practice
  3. The Prerequisite of thanksgiving. 
    • Psalm 25 Trust in God’s direction
    • Psalm 26 Faith in His unfailing love. 
    • Col. 2:6&7 Maintaining a desire to grow in Him. 
  4. Prayers of thanksgiving. 
    • 1 Tim. 4:4 Expressing thanks for God’s physical blessings. 
    • Phil. 4:6 Thankfulness with confidence. 
    • Col. 4:2 Thankfulness with watchful expectation
  5. Pleasure of thanksgiving. 
    • Psalm 69:29-32 In his distress David’s thanks pleases God. And we are glad and our hearts are li@ed because we can rely on Him. 
    • Psalm 69:6 An a)tude of thanksgiving toward God makes us aware of our need to live worthy of the name we bear. 
  6. Permanence of thanksgiving. 
    • Rev. 7:9-12 thanksgiving is everlasting in our eternity with God. 
Eternal Thanksgiving can begin today.

Jack Doyle | 1 Thessalonians 5:18

November 15, 2015 - Stay - Luke 8:26-39

posted Nov 16, 2015, 6:51 AM by Grant Garber

  • The demonic is anything that takes control of your life.
  • There are many things vying for control of our lives.
  • Each of these evil voices has so twisted and distorted the image of God who created us that we can no longer recognize the holiness of our lives, which means we no longer know who we are.
  • We are vulnerable to the evil voices telling us to try one self- improvement plan after another.
  • Not only do the demons leave us unable to devote ourselves to things that matter, they also make us mean.
  • Jesus is the Son of God who has invaded our evil world, and after Jesus has arrived, evil can never be seen as normal again.
  • As evil as our world is, as long as you aren’t the one raving naked in the tombs or lost in a homeless shelter, it is possible to think that you’re going to be okay in this world.
  • People prefer the misery they know to the mystery they do not.
  • Jesus is not a demon.  He will not force His way into your life or take over.  He only comes graciously, knocking, asking to be received.
  • If you have come to see that being forgiven is better than being evil, and that being gentle is more powerful than being mean, then you have a story to tell.
Pastor Jim Spon | Luke 8:26-39

November 8, 2015 - Drop Your Net and Follow - Mark 1:14-20

posted Nov 9, 2015, 10:50 AM by Grant Garber

Main Question
What would it mean to resolve to follow Jesus more closely in your life?
  • Jesus wanted to show the first disciples how to catch people who were falling, so they could make a difference with their lives.
  • We all want to make a difference, even in some small way, to the lives of other people. We want our lives to matter.
  • You have to be willing to follow Jesus.  And that means you have to be willing to leave the familiar life behind.
  • It is hard to find anyone in the Bible who is in a serious drama with God and is undergoing a change for the better who is not on the move.
  • Will you allow the inevitable changes of life to change you into a person who is better equipped to make a difference?  Or, will you waste your losses in life by settling into the role of a victim?  This is your choice. 
  • The point of following Jesus isn’t to get settled into a new place.  The point of following Jesus is just to follow Jesus.
  • You have not yet fully encountered Jesus if you don’t know about His compelling nature.  
  • I don’t know what your call may be, but if Jesus is the one who is making the call, it is always a call first and foremost to follow Him.
Pastor Jim Spon | Mark 1:14-20

November 1, 2015 - I Love the Church - Matthew 6:19-21

posted Nov 2, 2015, 1:30 PM by Grant Garber

Main Thought
If you want your life to have a holy purpose, then you must choose what you will do with the things you are holding.
  • The things we carry start to take on symbolic value.  They reveal something of our character.
  • The more you mature, the more you realize that the things you are holding seem to be slowly nibbled away – health, accomplishments, and nest eggs.  Day by day, we watch as these things slip away.
  • Invest your life in things that are eternal.  Invest your life in things you will never have to give up – things that abide.
  • Faith and hope and love – we believe in these things here.  It is what our church is actually built upon, and that is what we ask you to invest in if you love this church.
  • Take control of your heart.  Determine where you will invest it because if you want to know where your heart is, just look at your checkbook.
  • You have to give to the things you love.
  • In God’s hands, miracles can happen with the things we are holding.
Pastor Jim Spon | Matthew 6:19-21

October 25, 2015 - God’s Decision to Give Us Grace - Genesis 9:8-17

posted Oct 27, 2015, 9:48 AM by Grant Garber

  • We continue to do quite a bit of violence, and characterize ourselves by our wickedness, and I doubt God is any more impressed with us than He was with Noah’s generation.
  • The rainbow in the sky isn’t some sentimental assurance that things will get better.  It’s an enduring symbol of a day that God hung up His rainbow and promised, “Never again will I be provoked to use My weapons against My creatures.”
  • The covenant says that the storms and the violence will not overwhelm you because God will never again be found in them.
  • The covenant says that being destroyed by God will not be among the consequences of sin.
  • We find it very hard to believe that God won’t nail us if we sin.
  • The covenant God makes with the earth is unconditional.  The promise simply springs out of the heart of God and is maintained only by His grace. 
  • The rainbow is pointing to heaven as if to symbolize the way that God makes Himself accountable to His own covenant.
  • We don’t believe deeply enough in these old stories about grace because we don’t want to.
  • We just can’t stop believing you get what you deserve in life because we’re sure we deserve something.  Maybe not the best, but something. We’ve tried so hard, and been so careful, and have worked at getting life right.
  • No one makes it into the Father’s arms by insisting on his or her rights. 
  • Somebody is always doing somebody wrong.  And somebody has to pay.  You can I certainly can’t afford to pay for the hurts we have caused.  So all that was left was for God to pay.  And that is what the cross is all about.
Pastor Jim Spon | Exodus 19:1-6, 16-19

October 18, 2015 - Staring Into Heaven - Acts 1:6-11

posted Oct 27, 2015, 9:45 AM by Grant Garber

  • God’s vision of time is different from ours.
  • The things that we are waiting for God to do are important.  But no less important are the things that He is doing in our lives while we wait.
  • Waiting creates the room for faith to develop.
  • It is faith in the coming Savior that gives us the powerful gifts of joy, humility and gratitude.
  • Jesus also told us that we would receive the power of the Holy Spirit to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth.
  • The angels don’t tell the disciples just to sit tight while they wait for Jesus.  No, they remind us that we have a job to do in the meantime.
  • The power we have is just to be a witness.  A witness doesn’t make something happen.  Witnesses merely speak about what they see. 
  • Our responsibility is to see Christ by faith, to love Him so much, and to long so deeply for His appearance, that any glimpse we get of Him we recognize.  This is our mission even if He comes wrapped in another’s life.
“Anyone who has meditated upon Jesus, must then go out and look for Him in disguise.” ~Mother Theresa

Pastor Jim Spon | Acts 1:6-11

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