How Am I Doing?

Tim Hansel, in his book, Holy Sweat, tells an experience he had with his son, Zac. The two of them were out in the country, climbing some cliffs. Tim heard his small son yell, “Hey Dad! Catch me!” He turned around to see Zac joyfully jumping off a rock straight at him. The boy had jumped even before he yelled. It looked like a circus act, the man clutching his son in midair, then both of them falling to the ground. After catching his breath, the anxious dad asked in exasperation, “Zac! Can you give me one good reason why you did that?”

With remarkable calmness, the boy responded, “Sure . . . because you’re my dad.”

Wouldn’t it be great to have that kind of confidence in your heavenly Father? Here’s the good news; you can! God is trustworthy, and we can have full confidence in Him.

1. God is Trustworthy

We want to first look at God’s promise to Abraham. (Genesis 12:1-7)

1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.

2 “I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.

3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”

4 So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

6 Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him.

When Abram was 75 years old, God promised him that he would make Abram into a great nation. If that is true, there would need to be sons and heirs. At 75 Abram is still childless. If I were him, I would begin to wonder when all this was going to happen. Even though God promised these wonderful things, Abram had a trust problem. Let’s take a look at a few (Genesis 12:10-13)

10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. 11 As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

The first problem we discover is that Abram was a very jealous man. He was probably insecure as well. He always thought someone was going to steal his wife, so he told the people that Sarai was his sister. This was a half-truth and the one thing about half-truths is that there is half-a-lie involved too. Sarai was his half-sister. Which at this time it appears, God allows. This is not the last time this happens. Let’s also take a look at Genesis 20:1-2.

1 Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, 2 and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.

Would you agree with me that Abram had a trust problem? Let’s take a look at how Abram trusts God in Genesis 15:1-7.

1 After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:
“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward.”

2 But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

4 Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

7 He also said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

Abram is asking the question who will inherit my estate? God tells Abram not to worry and continue trusting God. This son will be your own, not a servant-heir. In verse 6, it is recorded, “Abram believe the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” So Abram believed God, but at this point he didn’t trust God as we soon will see. You see there is a difference between belief and trust. Abram believed with his head, but didn’t trust God with his heart. Let me ask you the question, “Do you only believe God with your head, or do you trust God with your heart?” Think about it as we continue on, because God has to remind Abram of his promise once more.

Genesis 15:17-21

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates- 19the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.”

God was promising Abram a great nation (people)and a great land (inheritance), a land so great, even to this day, Israel has not occupied. But Abram was still having trust trouble. Even Sarai, (his wife) gets into the act. She basically tells Abram, “I not able to have children, so take my servant and have a child through her.” Sarai is just adding to Abrams trust troubles and creates a bigger problem. It’s like that with us. When we don’t trust God and try to move his hand, we often make a bigger mess of it than it really needed to be. In chapter 16, we see what happened as a result of Abram and Sarai’s lack of trust in God. Sarai’s servant became pregnant and had a child. If you think lack of trust isn’t a problem, I believe that most of the difficulty we are having in the Middle East even to this day is a result of Abram’s lack of trust in God. After this whole fiasco, God again reminds Abram of his promise.

Genesis 17:1-8

1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. 2 I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

3 Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5 No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 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. 8 The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

God says, “I really will take care of you, please trust in me.” God changes Abram’s name to Abraham to indicate that he really will be the father of nations. God also reiterates his promise that Abraham’s MANY descendants will occupy a large portion of the Middle East. At the same time God renames Sarai to Sarah and tells her that, “I will bless you and you will give birth to a son.” Sarah had a trust problem as well. I’m still not sure Abraham has got it figured out.

17 Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”

19 Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. 20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. 21 But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” 22 When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him.

Abraham has all kinds of questions. How can I father a child? How will Sarah bear a child at 90? I ask, “Is anything too hard for God?” God is asking, “Will you trust me?” Abraham still thinks he has it figured out, he wants a shortcut. Just let Ishmael be my heir. God says, “No, do it my way.” God reminds Abraham to trust him. I will provide you a son and you will call him Isaac. And this covenant is not for you only but all of your descendants. We find out in Genesis 21 that God kept his promise and gave Abraham and Sarah a son. God’s promises are true and God is trustworthy. Since God is trustworthy, I can rely on him. Let’s take a look now at how God puts Abraham to the test. (Genesis 22:1-18)

1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
”Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
”The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.

Wow! We go from a man who had a real trust problem to a man who now trusts God with his promised son’s life. We often think this is a horrible story. We need to remember that in Canaan, child sacrifice to gods was quite common. Abraham was being put to the test. Abraham has great confidence in vs. 5. “We will return back to you.” Abraham is confident that God will provide. He even tells his son Isaac this. “God will provide a lamb.” But Abraham does not kill the boy. Why? Because Abraham trusted in God. Let’s continue.

11 But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
”Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”

15 The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

What an awesome story. Abraham trusted in God. Abraham trusted God with his most prized possession. Can we do that today? What is your most prized possession? Can you trust God with it? Think about those areas of time, talent, treasure, and touch. Abraham has learned that he could trust God and God would be faithful. God provided a lamb just the way Abraham trusted God would and Abraham sacrifices it instead of Isaac. Abraham calls the place, “God will provide.” Can you come to the place that you know without a doubt that God will provide? Just as Abraham had to come to a place that he could trust God with his possessions and inheritance, you must come to that place as well.

Abraham tried to move God’s hand but it only got him into trouble. Abraham’s belief in God only became trust when he surrendered everything to God.

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The Blessings We Don’t Deserve

Just a few weeks ago on a Saturday evening, a small group of followers met together in this sanctuary for a Christmas Eve service. The part of the service that I enjoy the most is the candle lighting service. The room starts dark with just a single, solitary candle. From the Christ candle on the altar, another candle is lit. As the light of Christ is passed from one person to another, the darkness fades until the whole room is lit with the warm glow of candles representing the light of Christ.

Did you ever stop and think why the whole room becomes filled with light? We often think when we share something, we lose a little part of ourselves, but if that was the case, the room would be dimly lit by the time we are done. Instead, the power of sharing increases the light. How is it possible that you take the light of a candle, divide it in half and in half again and again and again, and yet each candle burns with the same brightness despite being shared?

Instead of diminishing when you share the light, it spread, so when you share your flame, instead of half the light you have twice the light. Many people think that when you share a blessing, you lose a portion of it, however our blessings from God are a lot like that flame, when we share our blessing, it spreads and you have twice as much. When you share the things God has given you, it spreads out what God has given you and does not diminish the gift. God delights in blessing his people and just like that candle flame when we share God’s blessings with others, it doesn’t diminish the blessing, it spreads it around and makes it greater.

God is generous in every way and he is generous to us so that we can be generous to others.

Today, I’d like us to make a decision together. I’d like us to agree we will be like God, in that we will be a blessing to others. Will you agree to spread the light?

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob‘s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But
Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”
Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.

Again this week’s message corresponds to a passage that we have read this past week. Let’s take a closer look at the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel. What’s the background? Jacob has been told by God to return to the homeland of his father. He had gone to Haran to find a suitable wife. There he met Rebekah. Through deceit of his uncle Laban, not only did he end up marrying Rebekah, but also her sister Leah. Through a series of events, Jacob now has eleven sons and a very large contingent of flocks and herds. Jacob is nervous, to say the least, about meeting Esau. Remember that Jacob had tricked Esau out of his birthright. Esau sold his birthright for a pot of stew. Not only was Esau tricked out of his birthright, but with his mother’s help tricked Esau out of his father’s blessing for which Esau was furious and had vowed to kill Jacob. It’s with this background that we come to the passage that we read.

Jacob knows he is about to face one of the toughest days of his life. He probably did what most of us do when caught between a rock and a hard place. He didn’t sleep but began to worry. Jacob while he was all alone meets this man (an angel) and wrestles with him all night. The man says, “Let me go.” Jacob replies, “Not until you bless me.” Jacob had no doubt that God could bless him. The question is, would God bless him.

Let’s think about God the Father for a moment. Let’s think about God the Father in human terms. Jesus did in the gospels. Jesus said, “If you humans, who are evil, know how to give good things to your children, how much more will God, who is good, give good things to His children.” We as parents, desire to bless our children and given enough resources we do. God desires to do the same for us and he has unlimited resources.

God did bless Jacob and Jacob call the place Peniel, which means “face of God.” He needed and received a blessing in his time of need.

Think about what God has given to you throughout your life. Do you see the evidence of His touch in your life? How many of God’s blessings have you deserved?

This story of Jacob is quite a story. Jacob was a fighter. He began his life hanging on to his brother’s heel. I wouldn’t want Jacob for a brother. He connived, cheated, and lied. He was a hustler and swindler even with dealings with his uncle. With all this in mind, Jacob still asked God to bless him, even though he didn’t deserve it. We’ve all seen someone do this. Ignore God and act like he doesn’t exist and then when the going really gets tough ask God to help and he does. It doesn’t seem fair. If we were God, we would probably ignore or worse yet, punish someone like that. Most of us would agree someone like that doesn’t deserve any help. He may not have deserved God’s help, but he got it anyway. We serve a God of generosity who blesses us even though we don’t deserve his blessing.

Isaiah 30:18 says, “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.” Let’s make this more personal. You don’t deserve God blessing, and yet, he gives it to you anyway. That’s what we call grace.

A story is told about the dark days of the last century—the Great Depression and World War II:

The people of New York City often referred to Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia as “the Little Flower,” because he was only five feet four and always wore a carnation in his lapel. He was a colorful character who rode along on fire trucks, raided speakeasies with the police, took entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever New York City newspapers were on strike, read the Sunday funnies to the kids via radio.

One bitterly cold night in January 1935, the mayor turned up at the night court that served the poorest ward of the city. An obscure law allowed the mayor of New York to serve as a magistrate. On this particular evening, LaGuardia invoked his right, dismissed the judge for the evening, and took over the bench himself. Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia her daughter’s husband had deserted her, the daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. Yet the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges.

“It’s a real bad neighborhood, your Honor,” the shopkeeper told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.” LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said, “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions—10 dollars or 10 days in jail.” But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous sombrero saying, “Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.”

The following day, New York City newspapers reported $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving daughter and grandchildren—50 cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced store owner. Some 70 petty criminals, as well as a number of New York City policemen—each of whom had just paid 50 cents for the privilege of doing so—gave the mayor a standing ovation.

That’s a picture of gracious generosity. We serve a generous God. Who suffered and died on the cross for us. He has blessed us beyond measure with houses and wealth and families and health. We are truly a blessed people.

Will any one of us stand up and say this is what we deserve? We know better. We are blessed because God is generous—not because we deserve it, but in spite of it.

But wait, there’s more…There’s great joy in being generous and God wants us to experience the joy of being generous.

By the way, Jacob’s blessing was not only for Jacob, but for his sons and daughters and all generations that followed. Through the generations of Jacob came Jesus Christ, the greatest blessing of all – “God with us.”

We need to remember that God doesn’t give us blessings so that we can keep them for ourselves. Remember the Christmas Eve candles? Our denomination was named after a man who died with enough money to bury himself. John Wesley was a rich man and yet died a poor man, not because he squandered his money (or blessing) but he earned all he could, to save all he could, to give away everything he could. He understood that it is our responsibility and privilege to bless others. The Apostle Paul writes, “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God” (2 Corinthians 9:11).

Melva Cooper tells about her eight year old granddaughter, Mary Kathryn.

One day, Mary Kathryn—all excited—brought home her report card. She got all “A”s, and she knew her grandfather would give her a dollar for each of them. Sure enough, granddad was thrilled to see the excellent grades and counted out six one-dollar bills for Mary Kathryn.

She was thrilled! She now had six dollars to spend any way she chose!

A couple of days later, Mary Kathryn asked her grandmother to take her to the Dollar Store. She said, “Grandma, I want to spend four of my six dollars to replace the items in our treat box at school. That will leave two dollars for me.” Picking out just four things at the Dollar Store wasn’t all that easy. Mary Kathryn would pick one thing, then put it back and choose something else. Finally she had it narrowed down to six items.

“Help me choose four things, Grandma,” Mary Kathryn pleaded. The little girl was in a quandary. If she chose two items for herself, she would have to put some of the others back. She wouldn’t be able to give all she wanted to the other children.

Finally, the little girl made a decision. “I know, Grandma,” she said, “I will just use all of my six dollars to give to the treat box at school.”

Like that little girl, we need to realize that everything we have is a gift from God. It goes against the grain to give away to others. We want to keep it for ourselves.

I When you have an opportunity to give, do you see it as a chance to bless others? And here is the question for each of us: “Am I willing to be generous to others like God is generous to me?”

For almost forty years, Eunice Pike worked with the Mazatec Indians in southwestern Mexico. During this time she discovered some interesting things about these beautiful people. For instance, the people seldom wished someone well. Also, they were hesitant to teach one another or to share the gospel with each other. If asked, “Who taught you to bake bread?” the village baker answered, “I just know,” meaning he had acquired the knowledge without anyone’s help. Eunice says this odd behavior stemmed from the Indian’s concept of “limited good.” They believed there was only so much good, so much knowledge, so much love to go around. To teach another meant you might drain yourself of knowledge. To love a second child meant you had to love the first child less. To tell someone “Have a good day!” meant you gave away some of your own happiness, which could not be reacquired.

When it comes to generosity, our thinking can become like that of the Mazatecs. We may think that by giving to others, we will have less.

Here is the lesson every one of us needs to learn—God’s grace has no limit. His generosity is boundless. When He gives to us, He is not made less by it. And when we give to others, we gain.

Make this decision today: I will be generous to others because God is so generous to me.

Isn’t It All Mine?

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).

Today we begin a four week series entitled “Lordship Living.” We are going to take a look at the topic of stewardship. So often when we here the word stewardship, we think immediately of money or giving. Stewardship involves that, but is so much more as well. True stewardship is about how we manage the resources that God has given to us. As we work through the topics over the next few weeks, we will always look at stewardship in four areas and we will touch on those in a few moments. Today we want to take a look at the idea that God provides. One of God’s name’s in the Bible is Jehovah Jireh or God provides. We want to take a look at the idea of ownership. Who owns it all anyway?

On September 26, 1991, the first crew of Biospherians-four women and four men-­entered Biosphere 2. Located in the Sonoran Desert about 30 miles north of Tucson, Biosphere 2 was a 7.2 million-cubic-foot enclosure built at the cost of $200 million. This enclosed, three-acre ecological laboratory had a controlled habitat with a rain forest, savanna, desert, marsh, ocean, and agricultural area and all the factors thought to be necessary to sustain life. The original crew was to remain in this airtight container for two years.

However, after the first year, atmosphere levels fell to the point that oxygen had to be added from the outside. Nineteen of 25 vertebrate species and most insects in the unit became extinct, including all species that could pollinate plants. Water, air pollution, and temperature control became a problem. The crew lost so much weight, food was smuggled in through the airlocks.

With all the intelligence put into the design of Biosphere 2, it just didn’t work. Isn’t it amazing that some still insist that off of this just happened.

The more we see of the world, the more we appreciate the God who created it. Isaac Newton said, “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being. This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of His dominion He is wont to be called Lord God.”

God created this world, and He owns all of it and that includes you and me.

All of us were born with the need to create things. We like to think that we created things and now they are ours. God the ultimate creator, created us to create. However, just because we created it does not make it ours. God is the creator and owner of everything. We have begun reading through the Bible this year. The very first thing we read says “God created the heavens and the earth.” God created everything out of nothing. God created the sun, moon, stars, earth, and everything that is living on the earth. I know some will be skeptical about this but according to George Gallup, not as many are skeptical as the media would have us believe.

According to Gallup, the greatest number of Americans (45 percent) hold to the strict creationist view that God created us pretty much in our present form within the last 10,000 years. Most other Americans believe in some combination of evolution and creationism, and leaving only 13 percent of Americans who believe in strict evolution (Gallup News Service, Nov. 2004).

If we believe what we have read over the past week, we know that God created the heavens. We don’t know what methods he may have used. It’s very possible that the Big Bang Theory is correct. God said it, and bang! It happened. We know that God is creator. David write in the 24th Psalm that, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it, for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters. You’ll remember when in Hebrew something is repeated, it is important. David repeats the thought in verse one that everything (EVERYTHING) is the Lord’s. This week we read of God’s ultimate creation in us; human beings. We hear it repeated over and over that his creation was good. When He created man, He said it was very good. You and I belong to God.

God gave Adam and Eve stewardship of all of creation. He entrusted them — and now us with caring for the earth. That’s a tremendous privilege and a tremendous responsibility. We are answerable to God to manage the world He created.

I don’t know about you, but when I drive someone else’s car, I’m always extra careful. I try to be a good driver all the time, but when I’m behind the wheel of a vehicle I don’t own, I feel an extra sense of responsibility.

That’s the way we should feel about managing God creation; we are driving God’s car. He has given us the responsibility to take care of what he has entrusted to us. We should take special care of the world. God has given it to us to take care of, not destroy.

Years ago, there was an ad campaign to discourage people from littering. In the public service announcement, the cameras panned an area teeming with garbage, then focused on a Native American man. The close-up of his face showed a single tear sliding down his cheek. The image was powerful. I think the sorrow in that man’s face may reflect God’s sorrow as He sees the way we care for the world He has given us. We treat it as if it’s ours, but it all belongs to Him.

We have a responsibility to care for all God has created and provided for us. Not only must we be faithful stewards of the world God has entrusted to us; we must also be faithful as individuals.

Think about the things entrusted to your care right now.

· Your home

· Your family

o Your wife

o Your children

· Your property or perhaps your business.

We all consume the earth’s produce and use its resources. A few months ago, I gave you some startling statistics regarding American consumerism.

How are you doing at managing God’s world? In reality we own nothing God owns it all. We are simply managers of what God has given to us. This world doesn’t belong to us. When we realize that, it should change the way we think about the things we “own.”

The world doesn’t belong to us. Just realizing this biblical truth will change the way we think about the things we “own” and the way we think about ourselves!

God created us, and He wants to own us-all of us, not just a part. He wants us to give all we are and all we have to Him. When we do, we find our greatest joy and purpose in life.

A wonderful parable written by the late pastor/educator Robert Boyd Munger describes what it means to give ourselves completely to the One who created us, loved us, and sacrificed His Son to save us. It’s called “My Heart-Christ’s Home.”

In this story, Munger speaks about his life as if it were a home with Christ moving from one area of his life to another, examining the things he read or viewed, the things he valued (such as academic degrees, investment portfolios, and fame), and at last inviting the man to find true satisfaction in following God’s will in every area.

Finally, Jesus confronts him, “Stop seeking your own pleasures, desires, and satisfaction. Seek to please Him (God). That food will satisfy you.”

“There at the table He gave me a taste of the joy of doing God’s will. What flavor! There is no food like it in the entire world. It alone satisfies” (Munger, InterVarsity Press, 1986).

Think we me about giving Christ all of your life. Think of your life as a home with these four rooms: Time, Talent, Treasure, and Touch. Take an inventory in each of these areas and ask the question: “Does it all belong to God?”

First, think about your time. All of us have the same 24 hours in each day. They are a gift from God. He created the world and gives us the ability to move about and do things. Here’s the question: “Does your use of time show you acknowledge God’s control over your life and everything in it?”

Next, consider your talents. When I was younger I wanted to be a traveling musician. After a while, I found out there are some things I have the talent for and some things I don’t! But all of us have some talent. We have abilities to preach or teach or create or repair things or earn money or care for children. There are things you can do better than anyone else. It’s because God gave you that ability. Again, here’s the question: “Are you using your talents in a way that honors God?”

Now, think about your treasure. That’s right, let’s talk about money. All of us have some-usually not as much as we’d like! But here’s the good thing about the time and place in which we live. Almost everyone of us has more money than we need to survive. We have a roof over our heads and food to eat-and we still have some left over! Do you know why? It’s because God gave it to us. Do you realize the Bible says even your ability to work and earn money is a gift from God? Everything you hold is on loan – a trust – ­from Him. How are you using your money? Does your use of money honor the God who gave you everything you have? Have you given God control of your money?

Finally, let’s talk about your touch; that’s the relationships you have with the people in your life. We all touch people every day. We encounter others at home, work, school, church, and the convenience store-everywhere. This is a harder area to analyze, but ask yourself: “Do I honor God in my relationships?” Think about the ways you interact with your spouse and children. Think about the ways you influence your friends–or are influenced by them. Think about your business partnerships and relationships. Are you affecting people for the Kingdom? Are you using the gift of touch to reach others for God?

Does Christ have all of you-not just your heart, but your time, talent, treasure, and touch as well?

It’s a question of ownership. Who holds the paper on your life-you or God? The great reformer Martin Luther said, “I have held many things in my hand, and have lost them all; but whatever 1 have placed in God’s hands that I still possess.”

The same is true for you and me. When we give our lives to God, He does a marvelous thing; He gives them back to us. He lets us use our time, talent, treasure, and touch to bring joy to our own lives–so long as we honor Him. You can’t lose by surrendering to God!

I challenge you today to do what every business in the country must do at least once a year: take an inventory. Make a listing of all you have and all you are. Then go down the list one item at a time, and do what an accountant would–determine whether each item is an asset or a liability.

If it belongs to God, it has value. It is an asset. If it belongs only to you, it is a liability. Before you are finished, see if you can wind up with all assets and no liabilities. Give all you have and all that you are to God.

Covenant Renewal Service

WESLEYAN COVENANT SERVICE

Adapted from John Wesley

by Jeren Rowel

Call to Worship:

Come, let us join ourselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant which will never be forgotten.”

We come together early in this new year to join in a covenant service. Our purpose is to be reminded of our deep need of God’s grace. Every person must recognize their sinful condition and remember that they cannot experience forgiveness outside the grace of God. Then we must acknowledge that our need of his grace is deeper than forgiveness for wrong acts, but goes to the cleansing work of his spirit a the very core of our beings. So we embrace, today, an opportunity for a fresh experience of his grace. Let rededicate ourselves to the covenant relationship provided for us through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Invocation:

Almighty God, to whom all hearts are opened, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hidden: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love You, and worthily magnify Your holy name, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Song of Worship – Take My Life and Let It Be

Historical Background:

This service comes to us through John Wesley, the forefather of our theological tradition. For him what it meant to be a mature disciple of Christ was the joining of believers in a covenant “to serve God with all our heart and with all our soul.” He urged his Methodist followers to renew, “at every point, our covenant, that the Lord should be our God.”

On August 11, 1775, Wesley refers to an occasion when he conducted a service that provided opportunity for persons to make or renew that covenant with God. Listen to this account from his daily journal:

“I mentioned to the congregation another means of increasing serious religion, which had been frequently, practiced by our forefathers, namely, the joining in a covenant to serve God with all our heart and with all our soul. I explained this for several mornings and on Friday many of us kept a fast to the Lord, beseeching him to give us wisdom and strength, to make a promise unto the Lord our God and keep it. On Monday, August 11, I explained once more the nature of such an engagement, and the manner of doing it acceptably to God. At six in the evening we met for that purpose. After I had recited the tenor of the covenant proposed all those who desired to give testimony of their entrance into this covenant stood up, to the number of about 1,800 persons. Such a night I scarce ever saw before. Surely the fruit of it shall remain forever.”

It is important that we recognize our continuing need for confession. We have tended to connect confession only to the moment of turning to Christ for the first time.

But scripture validates, and Wesley affirmed, even the Christian’s need for a periodic prayer of confession as well. In Wesley’s own words: “the most holy among us is subject to a thousand infirmities which spring from our fallenness.

Our shortcomings and human failings need the atoning blood of Christ as well as our ‘properly so-called’ sins. According to the apostle Paul, all of us must live daily recognizing our need of the cleansing work of Christ.

Today we recognize again not only our great need of the grace of God, but our need to express our community covenant and our personal covenant – that in 2006 we will love and serve the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Scripture: John 15:1-8

1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. 3You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

5“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Hymn – Grace Greater Than Our Sin

Responsive readings:

Confession

Pastor: this is coming to Christ as our priest. And by this we now renounce our own righteousness. Do you deeply sense your need of God’s grace in Christ?

People: we acknowledge a deep sense of our need. We see ourselves as sinners in need of a savior. The spirit of God has awakened us; for we have cried out, “Lord where are we?

Is there no hope of escaping out of this wretched state? We are but dead, if we continue as we are. What may we do to be saved?”

Pastor: being made aware of our sin and its danger, we look for help and deliverance, but we often look everywhere else before looking unto Christ.

Nothing will bring us to Christ but absolute necessity. We try to forsake our sins through prayers, and sermons, and sacraments, searching for salvation.

But all of these, though they are needed in their places, cannot save in and of themselves. Our determination cannot help us; in fact, it may reflect the source of our sin.

Ritual alone cannot help; these are but empty vessels. They tell us, “You knock at a wrong door; salvation is not in us.”

Can we now utterly despair of our own goodness, or do we trust in anything but Christ?

Supplication

People: Lord, be merciful to us. What shall we do? We dare not abide as we are, and we are weary of trying to do it alone.

Our praying alone will not help us. Our hearing alone will not help us. If we give everything we have to the poor, or give up our bodies to be burned, all this would not save our souls. Woe is us. What shall we do?

Pastor: we must let our sins go. We must let our righteousness go. Christ came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. He came to seek and to save them that are lost.

Friends, will you now trust Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life, and has provided everything needed for our forgiveness?

All: Lord Jesus, here we are, lost creatures, and enemies to God, under his wrath and curse. Lord, undertake for us, reconcile us to God, and save our souls.

You have promised not to refuse us, for we have nowhere else to go. If we had come in our own righteousness, you may well have sent us away; but since we come at the command of the Father, and because of your great love, we know you will not reject us.

We come, Lord. We believe, Lord. We throw ourselves upon your grace and mercy. We cast ourselves upon your blood. On you we will trust, and rest. On you we lay our hope for pardon, for life, and for salvation.

Scripture lesson: 1 John 1:5 – 2:6

5This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7But 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[a] sin.

8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

1My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for[b] the sins of the whole world.

3We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love[c] is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

Prayer:

Jesus invited us into this covenant relationship with God. Nowhere is that more evident than when Jesus invites us to pray the prayer we have come to call, “the Lord’s payer.”

It is a community prayer. We pray our Father recognizing that he has drawn us to himself as a people.

It expresses our desire together to see God’s kingdom revealed among us – and so let us pray together:

“Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil; for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”

Commitment

Pastor: we now yield ourselves to the Lord. As his servants, we must give up the dominion and control of ourselves to Christ.

“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey it evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness,

But rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.

For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law but under grace.”

All: we are yours, Lord. We reverence you. We dedicate ourselves to your service.

Pastor: in so giving ourselves to the Lord, we affirm that we will heartily embrace what he has appointed us to do, both corporately and personally.

Let him appoint you to your work. Christ has many services to be done; some are more easy and honorable, others more difficult and menial.

Some are suitable to our inclinations and interest; others are contrary to both. In some we may please Christ and please ourselves, as when he requires us to feed and clothe ourselves.

Indeed, there are some spiritual duties that are more pleasing than others; as to rejoice in the Lord, to be a blessing and praising God.

These are the sweet works of a Christian. But then there are other works, wherein to please Christ is to deny ourselves.

Find what it is that Christ expects of you and then give yourselves totally to his will, without bargaining and without reservation.

All: make us what you will, Lord, and send us where we are to go. Let us be vessels of silver or gold, or vessels of wood or stone; as long as we are vessels of honor we are content.

If we are not the head, or the eye, or the ear, one of the nobler and more honorable instruments, then let us be the hands, or the feet, as one of the lowest and least esteemed of all the servants of our Lord.

Pastor: Lord, place us in your kingdom in the roles you have designed for us.

People: Lord, make all of us your servants.

Pastor: in exalted places, or humble places.

People: let us be full; let us be empty.

Pastor: let us have all things; let us have nothing.

People: we freely and gladly embrace our places in your kingdom.

Hymn – I Surrender All

Covenant Requirements:

Pastor: Beloved, the commitment to Christ we have just expressed is the essence of discipleship. When we have laid all our hopes upon Christ, casting ourselves wholly upon the merits of his righteousness; when we have with understanding, given ourselves to him; then we are Christians indeed, and not until then. His people are a willing people. He will be all in all, or he will be nothing.

The Covenant:

Pastor: and now let us confirm our commitment by a solemn covenant to him.

What would it take for us to make a covenant with God? What would it mean for us to commit ourselves to his plan for our lives in 2006?

First, it would mean the forgiveness of our sins and the constant realization of our continual need of the grace of God in our lives.

Second, it would mean a resolve in our own lives to live as disciples of our Lord, forgoing our own selfish motivations and living in our world as servant to others in the name of God.

Finally, it would mean not trusting in our own strength and abilities, but anchoring in the source of our strength and abilities . . . God himself.

God is here in a very real way. His presence is here to give evidence of his promises to us. Can you trust him? Let us pray together.

Directed prayer:

-thanks for what he offers

-show you the barriers to allowing him to be in control.

-show you the freedom of letting him be fully in control of your life.

-commit it to him.

Testimonies of Grace:

Invitation to the Table:

You who are walking in fellowship with God, and are in love and harmony with your neighbors; and you who do truly and earnestly repent of your sin and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from this time in His holy ways, draw near with faith, and take this holy sacrament to your comfort; and meekly make your humble confession to Almighty God.

Hymn – Come Let Us Use the Grace Divine

The Lord’s Supper

(The minister shall remove the cloth, folding it neatly, and laying it to one side. Then the minister shall pray the prayer of consecration:)

O God of grace and mercy, we thank You that You ever loved us and provided for our redemption. We thank You for Your Son who died to save us, and for Your Spirit who invites us to draw near. Guide us now as we commemorate the suffering of our Lord. Help us to remember the cost of our salvation. Help us to commune with You and with each other. And so consecrate the bread and wine which are here prepared, that as we partake of them we may receive the spiritual benefits of Christ‘s broken body and shed blood. In His name we pray. Amen.

(Then the minister shall first partake of the bread, and then distribute it to the people, Saying:)

The body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for you, preserve your soul and body unto everlasting life. Take and eat this remembering that Christ died for you, and feed on Him in your heart, by faith, with thanksgiving.

(Then the minister shall partake of the wine, and then distribute it to the people, saying:)

The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for you, preserve your soul and body unto everlasting life. Drink this remembering that Christ‘s blood was shed for you, and be thankful.

Benediction:

All: and now receive glory, o God, from your children. Thank you for the privilege of calling you Father.

And glory be to the son, who has loved us and washed our sins in his own blood, and has now become our savior and redeemer.

And glory to the spirit, who by his mighty power has turned our hearts from sin to God. You, God, have now become our covenant-friend, and through your unlimited grace we are your covenant-servants.

Pastor: and now may the covenant we have made on earth be sealed in heaven. And may God enable you to live faithfully before him. The peace of the Christ be with you all. Amen

Closing Hymn – It Is Well With My Soul

A Brand New Start

How many of you made New Year’s Resolutions? Some of you no doubt have given up on New Year’s resolutions because you manage to make it a couple of weeks into the new year and no longer follow it. People make all kinds of resolutions, but probably the most popular are to lose weight, to stop smoking, or to stop drinking, or to not do any number of things that are harmful to our bodies. Many make resolutions that they won’t be making resolutions because they can’t keep them. This creates despair. We live in a hurting world. We live in a world of despair. Where is the hope? Chuck Colson summarized this feeling over 10 years ago and here’s what he wrote:

“Where is the hope? I meet millions who tell me that they feel demoralized by the decay around us. Where is the hope? The hope that each of us have is not in who governs us, or what laws are passed, or what great things that we do as a nation. Our hope is in the power of God working through the hearts of people, and that’s where our hope is in this country; that’s where our hope is in life.” – Chuck Colson, Prologue to “Heaven in the Real World” by Steven Curtis Chapman

One of the reasons we make new years resolutions is to give us hope that we can change and that we can change the world. Not many of us feel that way anymore, but as we take a look at God’s Word this morning we find that we can have great hope.

Text: 1 Peter 1:3-2:3

3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

Are you in need of a shot in the arm this morning? God in his great mercy the scriptures tell us has given us new birth and it is this new birth that gives us a living hope, not a dead hope because of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Many of us are trying to build up inheritances for our children. But God has an even greater inheritance, such a great inheritance that no one in this world can even attain, not Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Donald Trump. He grants us an inheritance to heaven through our faith in Jesus Christ. This morning we continue to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. It is the second Sunday of Christmas. This baby that was born two thousand years ago was born to make heaven a reality for you. Peter continues:

6In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Peter says, continue to rejoice in your inheritance in Christ Jesus, because you will suffer. Jesus Christ himself said that we will suffer for our faith. Peter echoes Jesus’ words here. He says that those trials come so that they can refine your faith which is even worth more than gold. Why do we go through trials? To prove our faith is genuine, to refine our faith, and to praise and honor our Lord Jesus Christ when he is finally revealed on the last day. Let’s continue

8Though 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, 9for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

10Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

Peter sets us up with a great hope. He tells us that our faith will go through a refining process and that is good. Gold that is purified has to go through the fire. A faith that is pure has to go through the fire. But we must always remember the inheritance that we have in Christ Jesus; an inheritance that was given to us by a baby born over two thousand years ago.

So how do we prepare for this inheritance? I’m glad you asked.

13Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

17Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. 18For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

22Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24For,

“All men are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
25but the word of the Lord stands forever.”

And this is the word that was preached to you.

1Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

If you want to make a real new year’s resolution this year, I challenge you to take these words of Peter to heart. God calls His children to be holy; to live holy lives. Why; because we have been bought with a price. We were not bought with perishable things Peter says, like gold and silver, but with the blood of Jesus Christ, the perfect, spotless lamb. If we were bought with the perfect, spotless lamb, we should strive to live like that.

Some people have misunderstood the Wesleyan teaching on perfection. God calls us to be holy as he is holy. Some translations say God calls us to be perfect as he is perfect. This is not a sinless perfection, but heart purity. If our heart is where it should be, if we love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, many things will fall into place. God wants us to live holy lives, to get rid of the evil in our hearts. Peter says, to rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. This attributes are not character attributes that a child of God ought to have.

But what is our guide? How do we know how to live? That is a great question. I have in my hands the secret to hope. I have in my hands the secret to starting a brand new life. I have in my hands the secret to living a holy life. That secret is in the Word of God. Jesus Christ came to us. John the Evangelist, tells us that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This year is the Year of the Bible. I encourage each one of you to read through God’s Word this year. What would happen if each one us would read through God’s Word this year. It could lead to some great transformation in each one of our lives and if it leads to great transformation in our lives think of what could happen in our church. Peter quotes from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, when he says,

“All men are like grass,

and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;

the grass withers and the flowers fall,

25but the word of the Lord stands forever.”

We can put our hope in God. We can put our hope in God’s Word. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. The living enduring word of God is Jesus. What can we put our trust in? We can put our hope in God. We can put our hope in his Word. My challenge for you this morning is to read God’s Word every day in 2006. God’s Word is transformational. Start each day with it and we will see great things happen this year. Perhaps you don’t believe me. I ask you to try it. See what happens.