My worst Christmas sermon

I was 21, a college senior, engaged, and had been called into the ministry.  But so far, no opportunities to preach had opened up.  After all, I was attending a Methodist college and planning to be a Baptist pastor. Not exactly standard preparation.

Then, Rock Creek Baptist Church outside Double Springs, Alabama, called. Well, actually, Pastor Everett Wilson called.  My brother Ron was his Sunday School superintendent and no doubt had put a bug in his ear.

After Margaret and I spent the night at my folks’ farmhouse, on Sunday morning we drove to Rock Creek, arriving in time for Sunday School. (Hey, no one had told me the preacher did not have to attend Sunday School!)

We sat in with the young people, which was our custom at West End Church in Birmingham and it seemed the thing to do. What I did not count on, however, was my presence intimidating the teacher. So, she took the easy way out.

She asked me to teach.

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The other reason I believe so strongly

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel….” (II Timothy 2:8)

Asking thoughtful believers why they are so dadburn confident of the truth of Jesus Christ will result in a hundred different answers.

My pastor says for him, it’s the Lord’s resurrection. It’s as historically verifiable as anything in ancient times and perhaps more. And if Jesus rose, then He’s still alive and how good is that!

In a recent blog here, I said that to me the scriptures “fit” and  just “feel right,” providing the number one assurance for this country boy. I recognize the arbitrary and subjective nature of that, but there it is.

Other reasons believers give range from the archaeological evidence to the miracles they’ve experienced or their grandma’s testimony.

But there’s something else that looms large in my mind, a fact that dominates almost everything else.

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All I want for Christmas

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son….”

A few years back, the minister of music and I decided to try something different on the last Sunday night before Christmas. We had done all the pageants and children’s musicals and there was nothing more that just “had” to be done. So, Ken and I came up with the idea of a “homespun Christmas,” where anyone who wished could come to the microphone and sing a Christmas carol.

After all, what could happen other than a few tone-deaf members grating on our ears? Hey, it was a Sunday night. What did we have to lose?

We ended up with an irregular collection of performances. A dad and his son sang a duet that hit the occasional correct note, but they were charming and everyone loved it.  A family sang harmony and blessed the crowd. There were solos and a little karaoke-type stuff. But one number in particular was unforgettable.

Someone in our congregation had put out the word that “just anyone” could come and sing. So they did.  No one knew those two teenage girls. I think they came from the other side of the metro area, maybe 25 miles away.  Their short dresses indicated they were not regulars in our church or possibly in anybody’s church.

They sang a rather seductive version of “All I want for Christmas is you” that would not have been out of place in a smoky barroom. (Anyone unfamiliar with the song will have no trouble finding it on youtube.)

Brother Ken sat there wondering what act could best follow this and what he should say about this song.

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Joy to the World!

“I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be to all the people….” (Luke 2)

God is a God of great joy.

There is great joy in God’s presence. (Psalm 16:11)

That joy has a name: Jesus Christ.

Wherever Jesus Christ is honored, joy is the dominant element in the atmosphere. (Acts 8:8 and 15:3)

When Jesus Christ enters a life, that person is filled with joy.

Joy is the flag flown from the castle of your heart to show the King is in residence.

Joy is something other than happiness, for that quality depends on happenings.  The joy of the Lord is of a higher quality and superior to all others.

The joy of the Lord is the strength of His people.  (Nehemiah 8:10)

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Christmas Epiphanies: How we know we’re hearing from God

“And Joseph arose from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took (Mary) as his wife, and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son, and he called His name Jesus” (Matthew 1:24-25).

“Papa,” the little girl said,”How do we know when it’s God speaking to us and when it’s just us talking to ourselves?”

Her grandfather, a longtime pastor friend of mine, said, “Honey, that’s one of the great questions we have to struggle with throughout our whole lives.”

I’m confident the family asked Joseph that question and a hundred more.

“What do you mean you’re going ahead with the marriage, Joseph? Can’t you see Mary is pregnant and not by you? Doesn’t it matter to you what people are saying and how this looks? You say you heard from God? What does that mean?”

They thought Joseph was being “used,” that his “hearing from God” was his own wish fulfillment, that he wanted to marry Mary so badly he was willing to put up with anything, that the voice he was hearing originated in his own libido.

Poor Joseph.  He did two of the toughest jobs anyone will ever do who is determined to follow the Lord…

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The ongoing, ever-living Christmas

I sat in the congregation listening to the Christmas sermon.  Something was missing and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

The minister selected one aspect of the Christmas story and read the text, then brought his sermon from it.  His points were properly related to the text and no doubt most people in the worship center felt satisfied that they had been spiritually fed.  It was only later that something occurred to me, what was the missing ingredient in that morning’s service.

The worship leader and musicians and the pastor all drew our attention back to that night in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago, and they did a fair job of opening the text, explaining its message, and praising the Lord. But they omitted one major element as far as I could tell.

They forgot to give us the “so what” of the Christmas message.

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The Unexpected Christmas

“That is one of the reasons I believe in Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed.” –C. S. Lewis in “Mere Christianity”

Nothing about the Christian faith is as we might have expected. Get into the business of a virgin birth, a sinless life, a vicarious death, and a resurrection, and have it happen to a Jew in First Century Roman-dominated Judea and all bets are off.

Consider just the unexpectedness of the Christmas event itself, the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.

1) Matthew 1

–The lineage of Jesus contains an interesting lineup of characters, including several women of questionable character: Tamar who seduced her father-in-law, Rahab the prostitute of Jericho, Ruth who was the subject of gossip in Bethlehem, Bathsheba who was the “other woman” of David’s fall from grace, and of course, Mary herself, the target of malicious gossips throughout Nazareth.

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Speaking to strangers and spreading Christmas

One.

There were three people in front of me at the Walmart checkout. I was on my way to a drawing assignment and stopped to pick up a large sketchbook.  Walmart has them cheaper than the art store, although David Art of Metairie is a great place with wonderful people and I keep them in business.

In front of me was a Hispanic lady with a toddler in her shopping basket. I opened the sketchbook and did a hasty drawing of the child.  I signed it and handed it to her.  She was thrilled and said, “Merry Christmas.”  That was around November first, and she was the first one to greet me in this way this season.  A Spanish pastor friend heard this and laughed, “We Latinos love to celebrate our Lord’s birth for months!”

Two.

Driving the interstate that day was no fun. We were returning from visiting our son and his family (I’m working hard not to say the truth here, that we were visiting our grandchildren!) and all day long the highway had been beset with rain, fog, mist, at times so heavy we turned on the blinkers and leaned forward to see the lines on the pavement.  But finally, we arrived and checked into the hotel and drove down the street to the Cracker Barrel restaurant.

“You have a 15 minute wait,” the hostess said.  That was fine.  Margaret began browsing and I hung around close to the line.

Behind me stood a young mother with her daughter about 5 years old.  Now, I’m the grandfather of six little girls (little, ha!  They range in age now from 16 to 24.) and love children. So, I struck up a conversation with the child.

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Let’s build a Christmas sermon!

Let’s pretend.

Pretend you’ve never done a Christmas sermon before. Pretend you don’t know where to start or how to proceed.

What to do first. Read Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 over and over until their message is as familiar to you as your name. Listen for the Holy Spirit to draw your attention to something.  You will know by how you are intrigued by a verse or blessed by some insight or puzzled by another.When the Spirit wants you to focus on a text, He often pulls it out and plasters it across your eyes.  Your mind keeps coming back to it.

Stay with Him now.  This could be good.

Do not be in a rush. If you give the Holy Spirit a quarter hour to get through to you–before kickoff or worse, during commercials–He will refuse to play that little game and will leave you to your own devices.

Wait on the Lord.  Seek His will.

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Christmas Curmudgeons

“I bring you good news of great joy!” (Luke 2:10)

I love almost everything about Christmas. I love the Nativity scenes, the displays of lights, the cool weather, the festive clothing, the songs (well, most of them), the carols, the special foods, the candies and pastries, the church services, the pageants, the gift-giving, and even the crowded malls. I love the high-flying decorations downtowns attach to street lamps, and the happy songs about snow-falling and sleigh-riding even though I live in the too-warm South, and I even enjoy stories about Santa Claus. I love the Christmas specials on television, including the cartoons about Peanuts and Frosty and Rudolph (not that I actually watch them; but I like knowing they’re there).

If you feel called to point out all that is wrong about this happiest of all seasons, you will probably want to find another audience, because I love Christmas.

However.

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