A BLANK CHECK

Fred Craddock, in an address to ministers, caught the practical implications of consecration. "To give my life for Christ appears glorious," he said. "To pour myself out for others ... to pay the ultimate price of martyrdom--I'll do it. I'm ready, Lord, to go out in a blaze of glory. "We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking a $1,000 bill and laying it on the table--'Here's my life, Lord. I'm giving it all.' "But the reality for most of us is that he sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $1,000 for quarters. We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there. Listen to the neighbor kid's troubles instead of saying, 'Get lost.' Go to a committee meeting. Give up a cup of water to a shaky old man in a nursing home. "Usually giving our life to Christ isn't glorious. It's done in all those little acts of love, 25 cents at a time. It would be easy to go out in a flash of glory; it's harder to live the Christian life little by little over the long haul."

Our church’s theme for 2021 is holiness and today is the last of four messages on holiness. Our memory verse for January tells us why we are to be holy. It is because God is holy and he has set us apart from the world to be his own. We are to strive to be more like Christ every day because as Christians God has given us the responsibility to continue Jesus’ work on the earth, which is to pursue, grow and multiply disciples, just as he did.

Paul, the writer of Romans, spends the first eleven chapters of this book teaching the theology of the Christian faith and expounding on the gospel of Jesus Christ. He taught an understanding of our sin problem, our need for salvation, our sanctification and the sovereignty of God that is central to our faith as Christians today. In Paul’s teaching in Romans, we have been given some of the most well-known verses in the Bible on these subjects, such as, Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans chapter 3 gives a detailed picture of what sin looks like in our lives. Then in Romans 6:23 we see what we deserve because of our sin, “For the wages of sin is death.” What we deserve is a spiritual death, an eternal separation from God. But praise God, the theology of Christianity didn’t end there. Romans 6:23 goes on to say, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God took care of our sin problem and made a way for us to be reconciled to him. All this was done while we were living in rebellion against Him. Romans 10:9 tells us what our responsibility now is: “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” The ball is in our court. God doesn’t force us to accept Jesus. But salvation, the forgiveness of sins, is available to anyone who will trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Finally we see the culmination in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” That is the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is the good news for those who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior and are following Him. Now in Romans 12, Paul says, “So What?” Now that we’ve made a decision for Christ, what’s next?” Now that we are saved, how should we act? It is nice to say we are to be holy because God is holy. But is holiness in my daily life even realistic? Paul’s going to show us that holiness is definitely realistic and it is practical as well. In Romans chapter 12 the way that we achieve holiness is through sacrifice which brings us to our big idea this morning that: Our holiness will be seen in being a “living sacrifice” to God and others.

There are three points this morning. First, the Exhortation to Sacrifice; Second, the Expression of Sacrifice and third, the Evidence of Sacrifice. Let’s look at the exhortation to sacrifice which is found in Romans 12:1-2. This is what God’s Word says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Paul starts off with the word, “therefore”, meaning that what follows is a continuation of what came before in chapters 1-11. He is urging us to act on the doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ that he just taught. But he doesn’t just say “do something.” He gives us a logical reason why we should act which is because of God’s mercy towards us. God didn’t have to make a way for us to be reconciled to him. He could have left us in our sinful state and to the consequences of our sin. But as John 3:16 says, God loved the world so much he sent his one and only son to die on a cross to take away the sins of the world and all we need to do is accept his son and we can have eternal life with him instead of eternal separation from him.

So because of what God did for us, the reasonable thing we should do in response is to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This response is reasonable and spiritual. What would your response be if a total stranger paid your bill at a restaurant? The reasonable response should be gratitude and maybe that prompts you to pay it forward and pay someone else’s bill in the future. In the same way, our response to what God has done for us should not only be gratitude but action. It should motivate us to obedience. Next, our response should be spiritual. In the OT, worship and gratitude was accompanied by sacrifice. In that time God had instituted animal sacrifices, which was the way for the Israelite’s to worship God and to show their gratitude to him for what he had done for them. But once Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross, once for all, they no longer needed to sacrifice animals in order to do that. Now our sacrifices are spiritual acts of worship. This spiritual act of worship comes from the heart and the mind and requires a sacrifice from us. But we don’t just make a sacrifice to God we are to “be” a sacrifice to God, not a dead sacrifice but a living sacrifice.

What does it mean to be a “living sacrifice?” First, Paul tells us we are to present our bodies to God. He means “present our bodies once and for all.” This is not just a one time commitment. It is not just sacrificing our bodies to God on Sundays and Wednesdays when we come to church. It’s is an every second of every day commitment to God. We can’t take a day off. We can’t be holy in one area of our lives and not holy in another. Holiness must permeate every area of our lives twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, three- hundred and sixty five days a year. The spiritual act of worship is an everyday worship experience that is a passionate pursuit of holiness in our daily lives.

Second, in urging us to be a living sacrifices, Paul says we need to sacrifice three things in response to what God has done for us. The first thing we need to sacrifice to God is our bodies. Before we became a Christian we used our bodies for sinful purposes but now that we are a part of the family of God we are to use our bodies for his glory and for his purposes. Holiness is sacrificing our bodies as living sacrifices so that God can use us as his instruments in the world.

The second thing we are urged to sacrifice is our minds. The world or this “age” is trying to control our minds but God wants to transform them. We are transformed by the renewing of our mind. This means we are to sacrifice our minds to God for his use and for his purposes. We can’t give our minds to both God and the world. It must be one or the other. But we all know how hard it is to resist conforming to the world around us especially when it is actively seeking to devour us and take us away from the family of God. How does the world try to conform us? It’s insidious because it is actually the same way that God transforms us. We are conformed or transformed by what we read, what we watch, what we listen to and who we hang out with. Are you reading your Bible? Do you watch Christian movies and TV shows? Do you listen to Christian music? Do you hang out with Christian friends?

We are conformed to the world by anything that we put into our minds that is worldly and we are transformed by anything that we put in our minds that is Godly. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Do you want to know if you are a conformer or are being transformed? What are you thinking on and about? Is it true, is it noble, is it right, is it pure, is it lovely, is it admirable, is it excellent and is it praiseworthy? Who controls your mind, God or the world?

This transforming of your mind will result in an outward display of obeying God’s Word. When we make a commitment to holiness as individuals and a congregation that means we are individually and corporately reading and studying God’s Word, memorizing scripture, praying to God in adoration, confession, thanksgiving and petition and the result is that our outward actions toward others will prove that we are pursuing holiness. Holiness is a practical pursuit which is why we put together the Spiritual Life Journal. We will see holiness in our lives as we obey God’s Word as it pertains to his Word, to our service, to our giving, in our relationships, in the gospel and in our worship. BIG IDEA

The third thing we are urged to sacrifice in response to what God has done for us is our wills. Your mind controls your body and your will controls your mind. It is only when we yield our will to God’s will that his power can take over and give us what we need to pursue and practice holiness. We can’t do it in our own power. We do this by knowing what God’s will is and putting it into practice. ​​ If we know and put into practice his standards, his desires, his motives and his values it will lead to spiritual growth and holy living. What we feed our minds and wills is what is inside of us and will come out of us. The difference in being conformed to this world or being transformed by the renewing of your mind and knowing what the perfect will of God is, is what comes out of us, is our actions.

These first two verses are not just asking us to sacrifice our time, talents, gifts and abilities to God and use them for his glory. They are asking for us to sacrifice our whole selves to him which includes those things. We need to sacrifice to him what we actually own. Our time, talents, gifts and abilities have been given to us by God. We can’t give away what we don’t own. But we do own our own bodies, our minds and our wills. That is what God wants us to sacrifice to him. The right to ourselves is the only thing we can give and we sacrifice our bodies, minds and wills so that his will can be done through us. That brings us to our first next step which is to be a “living sacrifice” by sacrificing my body, my mind and my will to the Lord for his purposes and his glory.

Our second point this morning is our expression of sacrifice. We express our sacrifice in the church by discovering our place in the body of Christ and seeking to build it up into a unified body. This is found in Romans 12:3-8 and this is what God’s Word says, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”

In these verses we see what sacrificing and pursuing holiness looks like in our relationships with those in the body of Christ. First, we are not to think of ourselves more highly than we should. We are all on a level playing field when it comes to God. No one is better than anyone else. To have sober or realistic judgment means that we realize we are all supposed to be living sacrifices and we owe everything to God. Paul uses an analogy of the human body to show how each believer is a part of the body of Christ. We all have gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit and we are to use those gifts to build each other up. We belong to each other, we minster to each other and we need each other. We have sober judgment when we use our spiritual gifts for the health and welfare of the Church and not for our own benefit. We do this in a couple of ways.

The first is an honest evaluation of our spiritual gifts. We need to know what our spiritual gifts are or we can’t use them for the good of the body. How can you tell that you are using the gifts that God has given you? First, how are you serving here at Idaville Church? If you aren’t serving in some way you need to start. Second, if you are already serving are you happy where you are serving? If not that could mean you aren’t serving in that sweet spot where God wants you to be. It’s like having a job that you hate to go to. How does that affect you? It can be the same way in the church. If you are serving in the church and you aren’t happy then you need to change. It is not doing you or the church any good to serve in that position. God has a sweet spot in mind for you, you just need to find it.

So, if you aren’t serving right now or don’t know how or where to serve, please come see me. If you don’t know what your gifts are or how they can be used in the church, please come see me. If you are already serving here at Idaville and aren’t happy, please come see me. In all of these instances, you can take a spiritual gift survey which will help you better understand your gifts and how and where they can be used in the church. A spiritual gift survey can help you to find that sweet spot that God wants you to be in which will benefit both you and Idaville Church. Also if you look in the Spiritual Life Journal under the heading Holiness in Service you can see the steps that you can take in this area. Our goal at Idaville Church would be to have everyone serving God and doing it in their sweet spot.

That brings us to our second next step which is to take the steps necessary to be serving God in my sweet spot at Idaville Church. When the believers in a church know their gifts, accept them by faith, and use them for God’s glory, then God can bless us in a wonderful way.

The second way we use our spiritual gifts for the health and welfare of the Church is by faithful cooperation. As I said we all have been given spiritual gifts. No one has been left out and our gifts complement each other’s gifts. We have been given these gifts to be used within the church family so that it can be a healthy place to grow spiritually. Everyone’s gift is important and is to be used for the good of the body so we must all must be faithful in using our gifts.

We need to be careful to not use our gifts for selfish reasons instead of for the reasons God intended. Paul in Corinthians had to rebuke them for how they were using their gifts. They had the gifts of the Spirit but they were lacking in the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, etc. Our gifts are to be used by faith and in cooperation together to build up the body of Christ. I like this quote from Weirsbe, “Spiritual gifts are tools to build with, not toys to play with or weapons to fight with.”

Our third point this morning is the evidence of sacrifice. If the sacrificed life is expressed when we use our spiritual gifts for the health and welfare of the body of Christ than the evidence of a sacrificed life will be seen in the nitty-gritty of our day-to day relationships. This includes our relationships within the church and our relationships outside the church. We see the evidence of a sacrificed life in Romans 12:9-21, this is what God’s Word says, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

We are called to sacrifice ourselves in our relationships with others by overcoming evil with love. The key to doing this is that our love for others must be sincere. If our love is not sincere we can never do what Paul commands here and will never be able to overcome evil with love. The Greek word for sincere is the negative of the Greek word for hypocrite. Therefore, sincere love is not a hypocritical love. The word hypocrite was used for an actor of that time who wore different masks to portray the different emotions of the characters he played. This means that sincere Christians should not wear masks. What you see is what you get and Paul says that others should see a sincere love from us all the time. Also, it would be hypocritical for a Christian to hate what is good and cling to what is evil therefore we need to hate what is evil and cling to what is good.

Paul goes on to show us what this sincere love should practically look like especially in our relationships with other believers. We can only do these things if we are pursuing holiness and have offered our whole selves to God as living sacrifices. BIG IDEA. First, we must be devoted to one another in brotherly love. The same Greek root word was used for loving relationships within families. As the body of Christ we are in a spiritual family and we to love each other like the best earthly families would. This, of course, would be the ideal and not the norm. Next we need to honor one another above ourselves. The mantra “looking out for number one” has been around since the Garden of Eden when Adam, Eve and the serpent blamed everyone but themselves for their sin. We are to put others first as an expression and evidence of sincere love.

Next, we are not to be lacking in our zeal but we are to keep our spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. We are to be zealous about our worship to God. What does zealous mean? It means we are to be “on fire” or “passionate” about our worship of God and what he is accomplishing in the world. This can be seen in our sharing the good news of Christ with those who don’t know him or serving in a soup kitchen, etc. The Holy Spirit is the one who fans the flames of our passion for God. Are we asking to be filled by the Holy Spirit daily? Are we asking the Holy Spirit to give us passion for God and his son Jesus? Sometimes that passion can be misguided and harmful to the church so Paul tells us our spiritual passion must be used in obedient service to Christ. We need to remember whom we are to have passion for and what our passion is to be used for, which is serving the Lord.

Next, we are to “stay the course” as we fight the spiritual battles the world throws at us. We need to rejoice in the hope that we have that “God Wins” and show patience and endurance when trials and tribulations come our way. We also need to be faithful in prayer. We all know how important prayer is in the Christian walk. We need to be praying for others, for our church and for our world. Next, we show the familial love to the body of Christ when we share with other believers who are in need. We are also called to practice hospitality towards others.

In verses 14-16, Paul seems to shift from our relationships with other believers to our relationships with non-believers and how we are to show the same sincere love towards them. But these same behaviors still apply within the church. He starts off this section by seeming to quote from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. We are called to a sincere love of others that goes way beyond the normal boundaries of human love. We do this by blessing those who persecute us and not cursing them. We are to treat them as God treated us which is by loving and forgiving them, unconditionally. ​​ Next he talks about rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. Imagine what could happen if we as Christians rejoice with non-Christians over the things they rejoice in or mourn with non-Christians over things they are mourning over. Imagine the impact and witness that we could have on them and the opportunities it could give us to talk to them about the gospel. For instance, we could share with them the reason we can rejoice mourn with them is because of what God has done for us in sending his son to die for our sins and because of that we have the hope of heaven.

If we practice these things it allows us to live in harmony with everyone. The greatest obstacle to harmony in our relationships is pride. Paul urges us to avoid pride and to humble ourselves. We have all received the grace of God and are on the same plane when it comes to sin, salvation, sanctification, etc. so no matter our wealth, prestige or position we are to treat everyone the same and better than ourselves and be willing to do even the humblest of duties. We should also not be conceited or think we are wiser than we really are. This is what will bring unity as we pursue holiness as living sacrifices to God.

The last section, verses 17-21, talks about overcoming evil with good by refusing to retaliate against those who persecute you. A sincere love for others will repay evil with kindness. But as followers of Jesus Christ we are to go one step further. We are to be careful to “do what is right in the eyes of everyone.” How can we do that especially when there are those who believe that what is right is sin? We are to be at peace with everyone as long as God’s good and perfect will allows us to be and it doesn’t contradict God’s moral demands on us. We will not always be at peace with others but that doesn’t mean we aren’t supposed to do our very best to try and live that way.

We are not to seek revenge against someone who wrongs us because God is the only one who can judge. He is the only one who knows all, sees all and is all-powerful. It is God’s right not ours to repay evil in the world. Instead we are to overcome evil with good. This is seen by feeding our enemy if he is hungry and giving him something to drink if he is thirsty. In doing these things we will heap burning coals on his head. This means that by responding to evil with good it may cause them to become ashamed of their actions and perhaps because of our witness seek reconciliation with God. Isn’t that what we want? We want the world to come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior as we do. This is counter-cultural, this is going above and beyond, this is being a living sacrifice, this is a practical pursuit of holiness in our lives. Which brings us to our third next step which is to pursue a sincere love for others and to overcome evil with good in all of my relationships.

So, what does it mean to be a living sacrifice? Like I said in the beginning, it’s like cashing in a $1,000 for quarters and going through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there in loving others. Being a living sacrifice is also like giving God a signed blank check and allowing him to continually fill it out and put anything and everything he wants on it. Being a living sacrifice is going all in with God. It is surrendering your will daily for the will of God. Being a living sacrifice is the pursuit of holiness that we have been talking about for the past month. The Israelites were to be a living sacrifice. Daniel was a living sacrifice. We are to be a living sacrifice to God. Being a living sacrifice is what the Spiritual Life Journal is all about. If you have signed the commitments in the Spiritual Life Journal and have started to do the daily bible reading plan and memorize the monthly scripture verse you have essentially given God a signed blank check and have agreed to pursue holiness everyday of 2021. You have agreed to not only grow spiritually inwardly but to show your growth outwardly by your actions. Your growing relationship with God will show that you are pursuing holiness and your growing relationships with one another in the church and in the world will show that you are practicing holiness. You will be a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, which is your true and proper worship.

Let’s pray.

Christmas Eve

The Star: ​​ A Journey to Christmas

 

INTRODUCTION

Welcome and Merry Christmas! ​​ Tomorrow is the big day, just in case anyone has forgotten that or your children have neglected to remind you since getting out of school for Christmas break. ​​ I’m excited that you’ve joined us this evening as we prepare for one of the greatest days all year. ​​ Tomorrow marks the culmination of a journey we’ve been taking together over the past four weeks. ​​ The four weeks leading up to Christmas are called Advent, which means “coming.” ​​ We’ve been learning about Jesus’ coming that very first Christmas. ​​ We have also been talking about His second coming, which will complete God’s ultimate work of redemption. ​​ We’ve used the star as our guiding light toward Jesus. ​​ This same star guided those wise seekers toward Jesus long ago.

 

How many of you love a good story. ​​ Si Robertson explains in his book, Si-Cology 1: ​​ Tales and Wisdom from Duck Dynasty’s Favorite Uncle, he was taught never to lie. ​​ He says that he never lied, but the Robertson’s are good storytellers.

 

BODY

  • ME

    • Tradition

        • Growing up, my family had an Advent time after dinner every evening

        • My father made an advent wreath that had a place for a daily candle

        • There were the three purple and one pink candle for each Sunday, but we had white candles for the other days of the week

        • My father has written several daily Advent devotionals

    • Stories

        • Judy’s family has some pretty humorous stories that they’ve told multiple years, which I why I know them now

          • These stories are so funny that we’ll all start laughing and can’t stop

          • Judy’s Grandpa and Grandma Young would come to their house on Christmas Day to celebrate with them

            • One Christmas morning as they were driving down the country road to her house, they saw something on the road

            • Once they arrived, Judy’s Grandma told them that they saw something on the road and thought that Santa had dropped a package

            • The item on the road was a dead squirrel

            • Don’t ask me why that story is so funny, but it is

          • Another Christmas story from Judy’s family was about one of the dogs

            • Marvin was a mutt and he would do some pretty funny things

            • He would walk into a room, pass gas, and then walk out like he was disgusted

            • One Christmas morning, the family got up to find that Marvin had added something special to Judy’s father’s gift – a long, brown, log (poop!)

            • Again, when that story is told we all begin laughing and can’t stop

        • Electronic Rugby game

          • I don’t remember how the story got started, but one year leading up to Christmas my father kept telling me that I was going to get an electronic rugby game

          • This would have been in the 1970’s and some electronic games were already being produced (the old red football and basketball games)

          • I played soccer on an intramural team and baseball in the summer, but I had never played rugby

          • As Christmas morning arrived I opened all my gifts, but never got the electronic rugby game

          • They probably didn’t make an electronic rugby game

          • I wish I could remember what I got that Christmas, but all I remember was what I didn’t get

 

  • WE

    • Family stories

        • Perhaps each person here tonight has family stories that will be told tomorrow

        • It’s stories that have been told multiple times, but they make us laugh until we cry

        • We tell of God’s goodness and healing

    • Hunting and fishing stories

        • Those who hunt and fish can tell some pretty wild stories

        • They talk about the huge buck that got away, as they gather in the evening at the hunting cabin

        • They also tell the big fish stories without having any proof that the story is true

    • Black Friday shopping stories

        • Perhaps some of you ladies have some great stories of success while Black Friday shopping

        • You had your strategy all planned out for who was going to which stores and what they were supposed to get

        • Maybe you were standing in line and were the last person to get a particular item before the store ran out

 

Throughout the world, stories have been the means of preserving history, passing along beliefs and values, inspiring, entertaining, and motivating us. ​​ Stories move us. ​​ Shared stories connect us and link us to each other. ​​ They bring meaning to our lives and help make sense of our experiences. ​​ Good stories are messy, full of conflict, suspenseful and moving. ​​ They are filled with victory and defeat, struggle and triumph, fear and courage, conflict and love. ​​ They draw us into bigger and broader story lines and they make us curious about the storyteller.

 

As we think about stories, I’d like us to imagine that we’re outside, somewhere wild and open, maybe a mountaintop, maybe a sweeping meadow set against a flowing stream or rolling hillside. ​​ It’s a clear night long, long ago. ​​ We’re back at the very beginning. ​​ This is creation, and into the inky darkness above suddenly God is flinging stars into the sky. ​​ Where there was only darkness, now there is gleaming, glittering light.

 

The Creator knows each one of these lights. ​​ He knows which ones we’ll be able to see as human beings. ​​ He knows how long they will last before burning out. ​​ He also knows about one special star.

 

This star would pierce the darkness with a unique purpose. ​​ It would serve as a herald and a celestial marker. ​​ It would signal the birth of Christ, the coming of the long-promised Messiah, come to earth at last to change the course of eternity forever.

 

This star guided wise men. ​​ It lit the night for shepherds. ​​ It signaled the way of Immanuel, God with us. ​​ It announced the arrival of the bright Morning Star whose light shines brightest, calling us to see Him, drawing us to Himself to seek and find Him.

 

God’s story is ongoing. ​​ The Christmas story spans all of history from creation to Jesus born in Bethlehem to us gathered here tonight. ​​ It will continue into the future as we wait for Jesus’ return.

 

Tonight as we complete our journey to Christmas, we will be look at each of the four elements of the story. ​​ These are the four gifts that Jesus brought to us when He came from heaven to earth that Christmas. ​​ We will be lighting each Advent candle on our wreath as we talk about the four elements of hope, love, joy, and peace. ​​ We’ll also light the center candle, which is the Christ candle.

 

  • GOD

    • HOPE

        • We began Advent with a journey of hope

        • Through many years and centuries of history, hope burned for a Savior

          • The Israelites had waited for the Messiah to come

          • God had been silent for 400 years

          • They were anticipating His coming, but they didn’t know when He would arrive

          • I’m sure as they waited there were times of great hope and times when they struggled to understand why God was waiting

        • But hope was fulfilled

          • Christ has come!

          • God’s promise to send a Savior was fulfilled with Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection

          • Jesus is our ongoing source of hope

        • We also live in the future hope of Jesus’ second coming

          • His second coming will complete the story of redemption

          • The story is not over yet

          • When darkness rages and deepens around us, we can hold onto hope that Christ will complete His ultimate work

        • Application

          • Not everyone is currently hopeful

          • You might be feeling like you’re hanging on by the last threads of hope

          • You may be struggling with financial stresses, relational dysfunctions, memories of loss, or commercialized expectations

          • 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, Therefore do not lose heart. ​​ Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. ​​ For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. ​​ So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. ​​ For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (NIV)

          • The great news is that Jesus brings hope in the dark times of life

    • LOVE

        • The second week we went on a journey of love

        • This journey also spans eternity, because God is love

        • Love is part of God’s nature – it’s one of His many attributes

          • His love fueled creation

          • Love drove God to make a way to restore the relationship between Him and humanity

          • God demonstrated His love for us by sending Jesus from heaven to earth (Rom. 5:8)

        • God’s love fuels our relationship with Him – it is through His love in us that we are able to love others as He does

        • We look forward to the future when God’s love story is complete

        • Application

          • We saw on this journey that God has a lasting, conquering, and overflowing love

          • 1 John 4:9-11, 16, This is how God showed his love among us: ​​ He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. ​​ This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. ​​ Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another . . . And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

          • We are able to love others because God first loved us

    • JOY

        • Our third journey was a journey of joy

        • Jesus’ birth was a joyful event

        • Luke 2:9-12, An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. ​​ But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. ​​ I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. ​​ Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. ​​ This will be a sign to you: ​​ You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.

        • The good news of great joy was that Jesus, the Savior of the world, was born

        • The joy for us today is that the same message of good news is for us today – Jesus offers His salvation to us

        • While we still live in a world where joy and pain coexist, God’s promise is that our joy will be made complete in the future when Jesus comes again

        • Application

          • You may not be experiencing joy today

          • Instead you are experiencing fear (health, finances, relationships, employment, education, spiritual, government, society, etc.)

          • Those concerns may be stripping you of joy – they may be consuming your waking hours and keeping you awake at night

          • Through Jesus Christ, we can have joy in life’s journey

          • Peter told us our walk of faith with Jesus brings us a sense of joy

          • 1 Peter 1:8-9, Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

    • PEACE

        • We looked at the journey of peace this morning

        • Peace can be so elusive in our world, our families, and our own minds

        • Yet we see God’s peace throughout the story line of eternity

        • Jesus came in the past as the Prince of Peace – that is what we’re celebrating at Christmas

        • Jesus’ peace remains today through the gift of the Holy Spirit

        • When Jesus returns the second time, we will experience perfect and complete peace – ultimate peace for the world

        • Application

          • Peace may be alluding you today because of pain, struggles, anxiety, and stress

          • You may appear to be at peace outwardly, but inwardly you are a mess

          • Jesus’ life was filled with hardship

          • He knew that His disciples and us would experience hardship also

          • So, He gave them and us the gift of peace

          • John 14:27, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. ​​ I do not give to you as the world gives. ​​ Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

          • Philippians 4:6-7, Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. ​​ And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

          • God’ presence provides peace

 

  • YOU

    • Throughout this journey to Christmas we have learned some very important things about Jesus:

        • Our greatest HOPE in the darkest times of life comes from having a relationship with Jesus

          • 1 John 1:5-7, This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: ​​ God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. ​​ If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. ​​ But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

        • The greatest LOVE we’ll ever feel is the love Jesus expressed when He died on the cross to take our punishment for sin

          • John 3:16, For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

        • The greatest JOY we’ll every experience comes from knowing that Jesus willingly came to save us from our sins

          • John 3:17, For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

        • We can have PEACE with God by believing in Jesus by faith

          • Romans 5:1, Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

    • Relationship with Jesus

        • Before we can have a relationship with Jesus, we have to recognize and admit our need (I am a sinner)

          • Everyone is born with a desire to have their own way

          • We reject God and His authority in our lives

          • Romans 3:23 tells us that we have all sinned

          • Romans 6:23 tells us that there is a consequence for rejecting God and it is to be separated from Him

        • We have to be willing to reject or turn from sin (repent)

        • We must believe that Jesus died for us on the cross and came alive again in three days

        • Through prayer, we have to invite Jesus Christ to come in and control our lives through the Holy Spirit

    • Perhaps you are ready to experience the hope, love, joy, and peace that is a result of being in a relationship with Jesus Christ

        • Repeat this prayer after me

        • Dear God, I have been rejecting You and Your authority in my life. ​​ I have chosen sin over a relationship with you. ​​ I am ready and willing to reject sin, turn away from it, and begin to follow You. ​​ I believe that Jesus died, was buried, and came alive again to take my punishment for sin. ​​ I choose to be at peace with You today and to be saved from my sins. ​​ I accept Your eternal life. ​​ In Jesus’ name. ​​ Amen.

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CONCLUSION

We have lit all of the Advent candles. ​​ We have completed the journey to Christmas. ​​ It’s time for us to let our light shine. ​​ As a visual representation of that, Pastor Marc Webb and our Elder Laurin Fleming will be lighting their candles from the Christ candle in the Advent wreath. ​​ They will be coming down the center aisle and lighting the first person’s candle. ​​ That first person will then allow the next person in the row to light their candle. ​​ Continue to pass the light down the aisle until all of the candles have been lit. ​​ Once all of the candles are lit, we will close our service by singing “Silent Night.”

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