Tag: christmas

Podcast: A Story of Wonder

What is it about the Christmas story that captures the imagination of the entire world during this season of the year?  I believe that the Christmas story is foremost a story about love. Of course, the Christmas story is historical, and it’s also a story about common people caught up in an uncommon drama, and that may explain some of its appeal.  But at its heart, the Christmas story is a love story which spreads from person to person, even among those who have not yet come to know the Christ of Christmas as their Lord and Savior.

Here’s the podcast of my sermon from Christmas Sunday morning, December 25, 2011.  http://traffic.libsyn.com/chuckwarnock/2-01_A_Story_of_Wonder.mp3

Podcast: God of the Impossible

Some people have difficulty believing that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary because that seems impossible.  But when we realize that the virgin birth of Christ is one in a long series of impossible things that God has done, then it’s not so difficult to believe. Here’s the link to the podcast of my sermon for the fourth Sunday of Advent, God of the Impossible.

My podcasts are available in the iTunes Store under Podcasts> Religion & Spirituality> Christianity> Chuck Warnock, or by searching for Chuck Warnock in the iTunes Store search bar.  You can also subscribe to my podcasts via RSS feeds by going to my podcast site, Chuck Warnock Podcasts.

Podcast: When God Comes Down

On the first Sunday in Advent this year, I chose Isaiah 64:1-9 as the text for my sermon, When God Comes Down.  Here’s the link to the podcast from that sermon. http://traffic.libsyn.com/chuckwarnock/When_God_Comes_Down.mp3

Sermon for Advent: God Keeps A Promise

God Keeps A Promise

Jeremiah 33:14-16 NIV

14 ” ‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.

15 ” ‘In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.

16 In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it [a] will be called:
The LORD Our Righteousness.’

The Good News Defined

Well, here we are again — the beginning of Advent, the season of anticipating the coming of the Christ.  Followed closely, of course, by Christmas.  As a matter of fact, most of us not of the liturgical tradition see Advent as the run-up to Christmas.  It is that, but even more.  For not only is Advent the preparation for Christmas, it is an event in and of itself.  In Advent we are looking for, anticipating, preparing for the coming of God’s Messiah.

To us on this side of that event, this doesn’t seem like such a big thing.  On our way back from Amy’s yesterday, we stopped to eat at a Cracker Barrel restaurant.  We have probably eaten at more Cracker Barrels than any other human beings, and we are expecting an award any day now for being such loyal customers. That, however, is not my point.

My point is — while waiting in the checkout line after our meal, I noticed one of those “count down to Christmas” cardboard gizmos.   You know, the ones where you open a little door in this brightly-colored cardboard display each day before Christmas, and behind each door is a little piece of candy.  Usually the doors have the date on them and you open one per day until Christmas comes.  That’s one way to anticipate Christmas.

But suppose you lived before the coming of God’s Messiah.  Your perspective would be totally different.  And that is what Advent should do for us — remind us of what life would be like if the Messiah had not come.   A kind of spiritual “It’s a Wonderful Life” if you will.

And that’s where this word “gospel” comes in.  Of course, the word “gospel” doesn’t appear in this passage, but bear with me because I do have a point here.

The word “gospel” means “good news.”  It comes from two Greek words — “eu” which means good, and “angelion” which means message or news.  Put them together and it comes out “euangelion,” which is the one from which we get our English word “evangelism.”

But back to the gospel or the good news.  I ran into an interesting discussion the other day about the definition of the Gospel.  So, let me ask you the question — If you had to define the word “gospel” how would you define it?

Most people, including the account I was reading, said something like this —

“The gospel is the account of man’s sin; God’s sending Jesus to pay the penalty for that sin, and rise from the dead; and, the gift of eternal life which Jesus provides to all who will receive him.”

Now, that is the story of what the Bible tells us, but is it the gospel — the good news?

The Good News in the First Century

If our definition is correct, it will hold up in the New Testament uses of the word.  Let me give you an example:  In Mark 1:14-15, Mark says this about Jesus:

14After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Jesus uses the word “gospel” or “good news” himself.  And Mark says Jesus proclaims the good news, and he gives us an example of how Jesus proclaims the gospel — the good news of God.
“The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Now it would make sense to us to use our definition of the good news here.  Jesus says “Repent and believe that man sinned, God sent Jesus to die on the cross and rise from the dead, so that all could have eternal life.”  That would make sense to us, but it wouldn’t make sense to anybody that Jesus is speaking to.
Here’s why:  Our definition of the good news makes sense to us because it’s already happened.  We know God sent Jesus, who lived, died, and rose again for the forgiveness of our sin.
But at this point in Mark’s gospel, none of those things has happened. So, what was the “good news” that Jesus proclaimed?  What was the good news they were supposed to repent and believe?
Well, we have a clue, actually we have a definition of the good news in Acts 13:34 —

32“We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers 33he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.

Here’s the definition of the good news:  “God keeps His promises.”

“What God promised our fathers, he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus.”
That’s the good news — God keeps his promises.
Why Is God’s Promise Important?
So, why is this the good news, that God keeps his promises?  Why is it so important that God keep his promises?
To answer that question, we need to know what the promise of God is.  God made a lot of promises, or covenants with people, but the gist of all of them is found in God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17:7 —

7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.

God will be with them, and they will be with God.

 

Of course, that is exactly the way we started out in the Garden of Eden. … Or at least Adam and Eve started out that way.  God would be with them, walking with them in the Garden in the cool of the evening.

And, as we read last week, that is how things will be in the New Heaven and the New Earth —

3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  — Rev 21:3

 

So, God with the people of God is God’s plan from beginning to end.

What Went Wrong?

If you look at the stories of God with his people in the Bible, you get a wonderful picture that the dwelling place of God is indeed among God’s people.  From the Garden of Eden to the call of Abraham to the Exodus.  The story of the Bible is the story of God with his people.

And when God’s people abandon and betray God, God seeks them out, corrects their disobedience, and welcomes them back again.  The entire book of Hosea is the story of Hosea and his unfaithful wife, Gomer.  Hosea takes Gomer back in spite of her unfaithfulness to him, and that story becomes a symbol of God and his people.

The people of God are in this repeating cycle of relationship with God, exile from God, and return to God.  We see it in the Garden, we see it in the story of the Exodus, we see it in the kingdom of Saul, we see it in the lives of the prophets among God’s people, we see it in King David himself.

But the bottom line is — God is always with His people.

  • If you want to find out what God is doing, get among his people.
  • If you want to know God’s will, find it among his people.
  • If you want to understand God’s ways, look at how God deals with his people.
  • If you want to experience God’s love, get to know his people.

But what went wrong is that God’s people have a very bad habit of rejecting God.  Beginning with Adam and Eve, and zooming right on through the Old Testament the idea of relationship, exile, and return plays itself out.

Until we get to New Testament.  We somehow see the New Testament as having nothing to do with the Old, and nothing could be further from the truth.  the New Testament is the continuation and culmination of everything the Old Testament was telling us.

The story of Jesus’ birth is not just a good story to kick off the New Testament.  The story of Jesus’ birth is the ultimate “God with us” story.  It is the climax of what God has been doing for 1500 years leading up to the birth of the Messiah.

God With Us

Remember what Isaiah said about the Messiah —

14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you [a] a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and [b] will call him Immanuel. — Is 7:14

 

Of course, Immanuel means “God with us.”  There it is again, God with his people.

Jeremiah says —

14 ” ‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.15 ” ‘In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.

16 In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it [a] will be called:
The LORD Our Righteousness.’

There it is — a righteous Branch from the line of David.  And the result is Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem live in safety.

Now, that doesn’t just mean the nation of Judah and not Israel.  Judah represents all of God’s people, and the city of Jerusalem contains the Temple, God in the midst of his people.  So, God is saying, everything will be fine.  God will be in the midst of his people again, and the nation will be “saved” — made whole and healthy — and live in safety and peace.

That’s God with us.  That’s what the Messiah was to do.

Back To The Good News

So, you see why this idea of the good news is important?  Here’s what we covered so far —

  • The good news is God keeps his promises.
  • The promise if that God will be with his people.
  • The presence of God is with his people, but they continue to reject him.
  • Finally, God comes in the form of a man, Jesus, and literally lives in the midst of his people.

God kept his promise.  That’s good news.  That’s what we look forward to in this Advent Season.  God with us.  Really with us.  God keeping his promise to be our God, whether we keep our end of the deal or not.  God with us, with a face like ours, with a physical body like ours, with the limitations that are ours.  God with us to save us, not just for heaven, but to save us for this life.  To save us by making us healthy and whole spiritually.  To save us by fixing the brokenness of our relationships both with God and our fellowman.

That’s what this Advent season is about.  Looking forward to the One who will come among us, who has come among us, to repair our relationships, restore the image of God in us, redeem us from the penalty of our own sin, and transform us into his body, where again he can continue to be among us through his Spirit.

Look for the coming of God among us this year.  Watch for the ways in which God repairs that which is broken, heals that which is hurt, opens eyes that are blind to his presence, and feeds us with the bread of life.  After all, the good news is — God keeps his promises.

The Birth of Jesus

The Birth of Jesus – Luke 2:1-20 NIV

 1In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)3And everyone went to his own town to register. 4So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels

 8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ[a] the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 
 14“Glory to God in the highest, 
      and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

 15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

 16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

The 12 Days of A Small-Church Pastor’s Christmas

christmas_treeWith apologies to whomever wrote the original.

On the first day of Christmas my ministry assistant gave to me, one cup of coffee, and a broken chrismon off the chrismon tree.

On the second day of Christmas my VBS director gave to me, two nice craft projects, her resignation, and a broken chrismon off the chrismon tree.

On the third day of Christmas my Building chairman gave to me, three bills for paying, two bulbs for changing, and a broken chrismon off the chrismon tree.  

On the fourth day of Christmas my choir director gave to me, four great musicians (one played off-key), three new hymns, and a broken chrismon off the chrismon tree.

On the fifth day of Christmas my missions coordinator gave to me, a missions prayer calendar from 1953, four missions goals, three unreached peoples, two missions projects, and a broken chrismon off the chrismon tree.

On the sixth day of Christmas my children’s worker gave to me, six dirty diapers, all were quite stinky, five recalled toys, four had lead in them, three melted  crayons, two volunteers, and a broken chrismon off the chrismon tree.

On the seventh day of Christmas our webguy gave to me, more bad news, six google searches, five metatags, four busted mouses, three new solutions, two more excuses, and a broken chrismon off the chrismon tree.

On the eighth day of Christmas my finance chair gave to me, some worthless stock with seven strings attached, six pastdue bills, five unhappy members, four benevolence cases, three check requests, two more reports, and a broken chrismon off the chrisom tree.

On the ninth day of Christmas our choir gave to me, nine singing lessons, eight Bach etudes, seven Gregorian chants,  six offertories, five Anglican hymns, four Gospel quartets, three string ensembles, two familiar songs, and a broken chrismon off the chrismon tree.

On the tenth day of Christmas our worship chair gave to me, a tiny baby Jesus, stolen from our own na-tiv-ity.

On the eleventh day of Christmas our seniors gave to me, lots of hugs and thank yous, much appreciation, and one broken chrismon off the chrismon tree.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my deacons gave to me, Spurgeon’s Complete Sermons, with some suggestions, eleven names of prospects, ten hospital visits, nine grumpy members, eight more meetings, seven budget cuts, six urgent problems, five words of encouragement, four happy faces, three days off, two new watches, and a broken chrismon off the chrismon tree.  

I hope your Christmas brings you at least as many wonderful gifts as ours has this year — no kidding!  Merry Christmas to each of you and thanks for staying with me for another year.  

Waiting for Christmas

 

christmas-decorations1When I was a kid, time seemed to stand still, especially in the weeks before Christmas.  I remember asking my mother, “How many days ‘til Christmas?”  

 Her patient reply to her 6-year-old reassured me that Christmas would indeed come someday soon.  We didn’t start decorating for Christmas at our house until the middle of December.  But I could see the signs of Christmas long before it actually arrived.  Mama would start getting out the boxes of ornaments and the strings of colored lights — the big ones, not the tiny ones like we have now — and I knew that Christmas was coming. 

Gifts arrived by mail from cousins and aunts and uncles whom we only saw a couple of times a year.  Christmas cards began to pile up in the living room as friends and relatives near and far sent greetings of Christmas.  Some cards contained Christmas letters, catching us up on the lives of families we seldom saw, but cared about deeply. 

Another sign of Christmas coming appeared at the church.  Eastern Heights Baptist Church in Columbus, Georgia was a working-class church.  I remember firemen, mechanics, store owners, factory workers, and truck drivers who made up most of the membership.  These men dressed up in suits on Sunday morning, filing in to sit on the front pew, as the deacons did back in those days in Georgia.  At Christmas, the old sanctuary came alive with color.  Now, this was long before Baptists ever heard of an advent wreath or liturgical colors.  No, the sanctuary brimmed with poinsettias, Christmas garland, some candles, and Christmas lights.  Always prominently displayed was the Lottie Moon Foreign Mission Offering board.   Big white lights were lit for each $100 given toward our goal of $2,000 — a big sum for working folks to give. 

Of course, the Christmas that all the red and green gave way to purple and gold was one to remember.  Seems that the son of one of our members, who owned a flower shop in Atlanta, volunteered to decorate the church.  Instead of pine garlands that year, we had lemon trees with silver and gold ribbons.  Instead of red-and-green, the colors were lime, purple, and gold.  As you can imagine, that caused quite a stir at Eastern Heights Baptist Church.  The next year we were back to our traditional décor.

 All of those signs told a little boy that Christmas was coming.  So I waited, and Christmas did come.  Just like the world waited 2,000 years ago, not knowing what to expect, not knowing what to hope for, but seeing the signs.  This year, as you wait for Christmas, watch for the signs of His coming.  That was always my favorite part of Christmas.