Strengthen What Remains

Ephesians 1:15-23
Revelation 3:1-6

In the old days, about the only method used to bring about what we today call ‘church revitalization’ was the old fashioned revival.

In one town, three churches sponsored a joint revival. After it was over, the three pastors met for coffee to discuss the results.

The Methodist pastor said, “The revival worked out great for us! We gained four new families.”

The Baptist preacher said, “We did better than that! We gained six new families.”

The Presbyterian minister said with a sly grin, “We did even better than that! We got rid of our ten biggest troublemakers!”

Jesus is the architect of church revitalization because He is the architect of His Church!

The great Apostle Paul testifies of Him in his letter to the Ephesians: “He is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else; not only in this world but also in the world to come. God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made Him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is His body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with Himself” (Ephesians 1:21-23).

When it comes to church revitalization, Jesus is the champion, the cheerleader, the chief executive, and the head coach. He is the Creator, Savior, and Sustainer of His Church and because He is He has a vision for His Church to be the very best it can be! As evidenced in the letters to the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3, where His major thrust is revitalizing those local congregations: to set right what is broken, to rebuke what is false, and to give new life to what is dying; in other words to revitalize!

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I Beg to Differ

Isaiah 9:2, 6
Matthew 1:18-23

A lady named Mary Northrup reports that she was in labor for 23 hours for the birth of her first child. 23 hours of labor is not that unusual. I am sure that some of you gals sitting here could top that. What made Mary’s circumstance noteworthy was that Mary’s husband, Mark, presented her with a 2-foot tall trophy inscribed with the words, “For a championship delivery; thank you. Love, Mark.”

I doubt that Joseph could afford a trophy for his betrothed wife, Mary, but he gave her something of far more value. For no matter how delicately Matthew describes the situation, it is evident that although Joseph is Mary’s husband to be he is not the father of the infant in her womb. This creates a dilemma; a Christmas dilemma for Joseph. What’s a feeler to do?

Now in accordance with his legal rights under Jewish law, Joseph has two choices: (1) He can break off their engagement publicly; embarrassing her and her entire family by parading Mary’s sin before the community. Or (2), it was within his rights to have her publically stoned. So what’s a feller to do?

Matthew indicates that Joseph has a gentle and compassionate side, who BEGS TO DIFFER with the harsher side of the Jewish law. He determines he will break off the engagement quietly in order to spare Mary any further public humiliation.

Joseph, in other words, is a BEG TO DIFFER kind of guy. To the Jewish Law that said “stone her” Joseph said, “I beg to differ.” To a society that said ‘at least publicly humiliate her’ Joseph said, “I beg to differ.” To friends and family members who were probably encouraging him to “divorce her, even if quietly,” Joseph said, “I BEG TO DIFFER!”

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God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

Isaiah 9:1-7
Matthew 2:1-16

The familiar Christmas carol God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen is one of the oldest that exists, going back to at least the 16th century, if not earlier. Five hundred years of changing language use has rendered its title a little nebulous.

Many people today miss the meaning of the first line because they misplace the comma, thinking the title should say God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen. This is not a song about ‘merry gentlemen,’ hanging out at The Village Inn. It helps to know that the word ‘merry’ originally meant strong or valiant, as in Robin Hood and his band of Merry, that is, strong, valiant, Men.’ And the word ‘rest,’ as in ‘God rest,’ meant to ‘make.’

So the first line really means, “God make you strong and valiant, gentlemen.” That explains the second line, “Let nothing you dismay.”

And what is it that makes us strong and valiant in the face of the struggles of life? “Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day, to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray (a reference to the forgiveness of our sin through Jesus) O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy; O tidings of comfort and joy.”

This Christmas as at every Christmas, we need to be reminded of the glad tidings of comfort and joy; in other words ‘hope.’ Because the truth is Christmas has a way of magnifying any sadness brought about by negative aspects of life experienced in Christmas past or being experienced now.

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Meekness and Majesty

John 1:1-18
Philippians 2:5-11

I recall many years ago, packing the kids in the car and setting out for Lima, Ohio where my Nana was still living in her home at 654 Ewing Avenue. When we got to Findlay, we stopped at Burger King for a Whopper. After we chowed down on those flame-broiled delights, we hit the road heading south on I -75 toward our destination. About halfway between Findlay and Lima, I recall hearing Jennifer say, what all parents love to hear: “Oh, oh”
“What’s the matter?”
“I don’t have my retainer (orthodontist had Jennifer wearing a retainer).
“Where do you remember having it last?”
After a few seconds, I heard her say what I already suspected but definitely didn’t want to hear, “At Burger King.”

So I got off at the next exit, flipped around to head back north and began to think this situation through. Jennifer took her retainer out to eat, she probably placed it on her food tray and since she didn’t have it now it was probably left on the food tray such that when we got up to leave the trash and the retainer went into the trash receptacle.

We had no other choice; when we got to the Burger King, about 40 minutes after we left, I explained the situation to the manager who informed us that the receptacle had recently been emptied and gladly allowed me to choose a bag out of the dumpster out back and begin sifting through the refuse. So I dove in and began fishing through grease-soaked sandwich wrappers, catsup soaked french-fry holders, and saliva-soaked napkins. A shiny layer of trashcan slime was clinging to my arms by the time I finally grasped hold of Jennifer’s precious retainer.

But that’s nothing compared to our dumpster-diving God, who left a glorious, immaculate, magnificent, perfect, pristine, and sinless heaven to search through the filth and rubbish of this fallen world for something precious to Him—you and me.

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Season of Surprise

Luke 1:5-17
Matthew 1:18-23

Unexpected surprises often have a way of interfering with our Christmas expectations.

77 years ago Friday, people across this great land were preparing for Christmas in all the familiar and expected ways when suddenly something very unexpected happened. Many people were disappointed with Christmas of 1941. My own father was 14 years old on that ‘day of infamy’ when the Japanese took everyone by surprise. He, like everyone else was preparing for Christmas in the usual way, hoping for a band new American Flyer sled. And he was disappointed when, under the circumstances, my grandfather thought it best to be financially conservative.

Christmas is not always about what we expect.

The first Christmas reminds us of that truth. Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph didn’t expect to see Angels from the Realms of Glory but they did. Zechariah and Elizabeth didn’t expect to have a baby in their old age. Joseph didn’t expect and was therefore surprised to hear that his finance was with child. Mary didn’t expect to be the mother of God. People didn’t expect the Son of God to be born in the hick town of Bethlehem. Shepherds didn’t expect to sing, Angels We Have Heard on High.

Please note that not all these unexpected surprises were welcome. I’m sure that when Mary and Joseph discovered an unplanned pregnancy they didn’t exactly jump up and down with glee! And yet because they exhibited faithful determination and patience, they eventually experienced great joy.

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Face to Face

Jeremiah 31:31-33
Luke 1:26-38
Galatians 4:4-7

An online dating service interviewed 3,000 of its members to find out what the most annoying clichés are that people put in their profiles. The winners were, Biggest Clichés Women Use in Profiles: “No liars or game players!” “This isn’t enough space to sum up my life” followed by a long summation. Biggest Clichés Men Use in Profiles: “I really know how to treat a lady.” “I enjoy long moonlit walks on the beach.”

Would you believe that there are online dating services for about every taste? If you are drawn to farmers, check out Their motto is: ‘city folk just don’t get it.’ If you’d rather go where no one has gone before, try with a motto of : ‘love long and prosper.’ And for those who are into mixing dating with marijuana, their motto is: ‘why toke alone’ 1

If you are one of those 50 million who have dabbled you have discovered that there is a 3 step process involved in hooking up. The first step is to connect in a chat room, exchanging written messages. Perhaps we could refer to these messages as ‘hard copy.’

Couples who discover hard copy compatibility move on to the next step: voice. Yes, they actually speak to one another on a phone. If this goes well, the potential couple sets up an actual meeting in person; in real space instead of cyberspace . . . an actual face to face encounter.

A three-fold process: hard copy, voice, face to face.

It’s not unlike the three-fold process God used in His attempt to hook up with us.

Think about it. When the Lord was looking for a way to say, “I love you,” to the world He first chose to go hard copy, then voice, then face to face.

First, He employs hard copy written on two tablets of stone. That’s right, the ten-commandments; major hard copy! He gave His law to His people, Israel, not because He wants to be a controlling tyrant but because He loves them and knows if they live their lives in accordance with His will they will be blessed. Unfortunately, His people preferred to live their lives on their own terms rather than in obedience to the One who was trying to bless them.

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Being Thankful Revisited

Luke 17:11-19
I Thessalonians 5:14-18

In Making Grateful Kids, psychologist Jeffey Froh summarizes his team’s research on the benefits of gratitude among adolescents:

We’ve found that grateful young adolescents (ages 11-13), compared to their less grateful counterparts, are happier; are more optimistic; have better social support from friends and family; are more satisfied with their school, family, community, friends, and themselves; and give more emotional support to others. They’re also physically healthier and report fewer physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, and runny noses. We’ve also found that grateful teens (ages 14-19), compared to less grateful teens, are more satisfied with their lives, use their strengths to better their community, are more engaged in their schoolwork and hobbies, have higher grades, and are less envious, depressed, and materialistic. 1

I have two stories to tell about giving thanks in everything.

The barracks where Corrie ten Boom and her sister, Betsy, were kept in the Nazi concentration camp, Ravensbruck, were terribly overcrowded and flea-infested. They had been able to miraculously smuggle a Bible into the camp, and in that Bible they had read that in all things they were to give thanks and that God can use anything for good. Betsy decided that this meant thanking God for the fleas. This was too much for Corrie, who said she could do no such thing. Betsy insisted, so Corrie gave in and prayed, thanking God even for fleas. Over the next several months a wonderful, but curious, thing happened: They found that the guards never entered their barracks. This meant that the women were not assaulted. It also meant that they were able to do the unthinkable, which was to hold open Bible studies and prayer meetings in the heart of a Nazi concentration camp. Through this, countless numbers of women came to faith in Christ. Only at the end did they discover why the guards had left them alone and would not enter into their barracks: It was because of the fleas.

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I Thank God for You

Ephesians 1:15-23
1 Corinthians 1:4-5

Asked to write a composition entitled, What I am thankful for on Thanksgiving, little Johnny wrote, “I am thankful that I’m not a turkey.”

Shawn Achor, a psychologist who teaches at Harvard, suggests that we can train our brains to become more grateful by setting aside just five minutes a day for practicing gratitude. He cites a study in which people were asked to take five minutes a day, at the same time every day, to write down three things they were thankful for. They didn’t have to be big things, but they had to be concrete and specific, such as, “I’m thankful for the delicious Thai take-out dinner I had last night.” Or, “I’m thankful that my daughter gave me a hug.” Or, “I’m thankful that my boss complimented my work.” The participants simply expressed thanks for three specific things at the same time every day. At the end of just one month, the researchers followed up and found that those who practiced gratitude were happier and less depressed. Remarkably, even after six months, the participants were still more joyful, less anxious, and less depressed. The researchers hypothesized that the simple practice of writing down three thanksgivings a day primed the participants’ minds to search for the good in their lives.

Clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life. It lowers blood pressure, improves immune function and facilitates more efficient sleep.

One recent study from the University of California San Diego’s School of Medicine found that people who were more grateful actually had better heart health, specifically less inflammation and healthier heart rhythms.

And finally stress hormones like cortisol are 23 percent lower in grateful people.

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Not As They Should Be

Genesis 1:1, 31
Romans 8:18-24
Revelation 21:1-7

Things are not always as they should be.

A young couple had been experiencing what they thought were major problems with their three year-old son. It reached the point where they invited their pastor to their home to get his council on how they as parents could improve. They were a little anxious about having their pastor over because whenever the urge would strike him, he would just shout out, “I gotta whiz!”

So just before the clergyman was due, the boy’s father said, “Son, please don’t shout out that you’ve got to whiz; whisper!”

So the pastor arrives they all sit down and begin to talk and the pastor notes that the longer they talk the antsier the boy becomes. Finally, the minister says to the boy, “What’s the matter, son?”

The boy looks at his dad and says, “I’ve gotta whisper!”

The Pastor says, “Well, that’s okay my boy, go ahead and whisper in my ear.”

I do not believe that I have to remind you that things are not as they should be.

Not a day goes by without me being reminded that things are not as they should be. Every time I watch the evening news, (or read my google news feed) I am reminded that things are not as they should be. Every time I feel a twinge here, a pain there, I am reminded that things are not as they should be. Every time I forget something that I should have recalled, I am reminded that things are not as they should be. Every time I receive a call or an e-mail from someone asking me to pray for someone who is either ill, or in some kind of trouble, I am reminded that things are not as they should be. And especially every time I read the obituaries, I am reminded that things are not as they should be.

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