The Primary Purpose of the Church

The Primary Purpose of the Church
(Meditation delivered in worship Christmas Day, 2016)
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.”
John 1:5 (Common English Bible)
            Last night I shared in my message that the primary purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ is to proclaim the matchless Gospel of Christ to a world that desperately needs to hear Good News; the Good News of the birth of Jesus Christ and of the love of God.
            Friends, wherever there is fear, the Gospel needs to be proclaimed. And wherever we advance fear, we have failed to grasp the Gospel. Wherever there is hated, the Gospel of Jesus Christ needs to be proclaimed, and wherever we advance hatred, we have failed to grasp the Gospel.
            Wherever people are marginalized, regardless of the reason, whether it’s ethnic, or racial, or whatever the reason, the Gospel needs to be proclaimed. And wherever we advance the marginalization of people, regardless of the reason, we have not grasped the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
            As we go into this New Year, we are called to be disciples of Jesus Christ. And we are called to share one clear message: that God’s love for the world, the whole world, regardless of what nation, of what religion people may have, is unconditional. God loves the whole world and we are to advance that as disciples of Jesus Christ.
            We are to proclaim the matchless Gospel of Jesus Christ and we are to stop advancing fear wherever we see fear. We are to stop advancing hatred, wherever we see hatred. We are to stop advancing the margination of people because they are different from us. We are to stop being afraid as if the powers of this world are greater than God. Nothing is greater than the power of God that has been set loose in this world with the birth of Jesus Christ. Nothing. So cling to Christ, cling to Christ, the light that has come into the darkness of this world, and your fears will be dispelled. No darkness can extinguish the light of Jesus Christ.
            Make no exception. Love your neighbor, whoever that neighbor may be. I’ll say it again, love your neighbor. Proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all that you do. That is what makes us a great people – when we cling to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us share it with the world. Let us stand and sing, “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”


No Place Available

“She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.”
Luke 2:7 (Common English Bible)
     No single incident in Jesus’ life captures more powerfully, and clearly, his reception here on earth: “there was no place for them.” In only moments prior to his birth, the words were spoken, “no place.” In his life, there would be no place in people’s hearts for a meaningful relationship with him. During his ministry, there would be no place for his teachings in the minds of those who heard him. In the synagogue, there would be no place for his prophetic message.  As Harry Emerson Fosdick once observed, “inhospitality was the central tragedy of Jesus’ life.”i
     Today, this remains a difficulty for Jesus, finding a place in our lives. It has been suggested that atheism – the denial of God’s existence – is not the major enemy of Christianity. The major enemy of the Christian faith is the inhospitality of those who will say that they believe in Jesus. Belief is important. It is the beginning place of a vital, life-giving faith. But belief without hospitality, belief without making a place for Jesus in one’s life, results in the suffocation of faith. Faith is nourished and grows in strength by an ongoing, daily relationship with Jesus. Neglect any relationship, fail to make a place for those who love you, and the consequence is the loss of that relationship.
     Some will say that the difficulty is simply overcrowded lives. We have become increasingly busy and there is little “place in our life” left over at the end of the day. Few will question how busy we have become. That would be difficult to debate. The question that presses is, “Busy doing what?” What occupies the place of those hours that we are awake? We find places for the things we really care about. We may say that there is no place for Jesus in our life today. And then we say the same thing tomorrow. We then discover that weeks have passed without any meaningful time with God and God’s Word in the Bible. What is inescapable is that we gave our time to matters for which we cared more deeply than Jesus.
     Tonight is Christmas Eve. What we recall tonight is the birth of the Christ child. Most people know that, believers and unbelievers. But there is something else that happens on this night, something that we would do well not to forget. For the first time, the words, “there is no place” is spoken. There is no place in the guestroom for the family of Jesus Christ; no place for Jesus to be born. Someone once wisely said, “You can’t un-ring the bell.” Well, there is nothing we can do about those words spoken so long ago, “there is no place.”But tonight, as we remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus, we can answer for ourselves, “Will there be a place for Jesus in our life?”

i Harry Emerson Fosdick, “Hospitality to the Highest”, Riverside Sermons (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958), 275.

Fear at Christmas

 “Don’t fear, Zion. Don’t let your hands fall. The Lord your God is in your midst.”
Zephaniah 3:16, 17 (Common English Bible)
     Often today you hear Christians express dismay that Christ is frequently left out of Christmas. While that may be true, there is something that is more surprising – there is a noticeable absence of fear during this season. Not the everyday fears we all wrestle with, the fear of spending far more than our resources permit, the fear that holiday guests will misbehave toward one another when they gather and fear what the New Year holds for aging parents. Naturally, these are important, but not the fears that keep popping up in the Bible around the Christmas story. No, the fears that ripple out from the pages of the Bible have to do with what God is up to and what that means for our lives.
      The fear spoken of here in this passage from Zephaniah has to do with the fear of being punished. The people had no illusion that they were guilt-free. They had broken promises with one another and with God. Simply, they were not the people God called them to be. So when God suddenly shows up, there is apprehension over God’s response. The prophet Zephaniah announces that God has forgiven the people their sins and totally removed their guilt. More, Zephaniah shares a little later in this verse that God comes rejoicing and singing from the depths of God’s love for us.
      Then there is the fear by nearly every member of the original Christmas cast; the fear that God appearing means a disruption of their lives. Pay attention to the Christmas story in Matthew’s Gospel and you see an angel telling Joseph not to be afraid. Read the Christmas story in Luke’s Gospel and an angel tells Mary not to be afraid. Later in Luke’s Gospel, an angel appears to shepherds and they were terrified. There is fear all over the Christmas story. Where is that fear today during the holiday season?
     Seldom is the hardness of the life we have with Jesus frankly acknowledged anymore. Many have conveniently forgotten – or ignored – that the coming of Jesus means that God intends to disrupt our little life plans. Christmas very simply means that we are not on our own anymore to do with our lives as we please. The birth of Christ means that we are called to embark upon a hazardous and straining enterprise, one where absolutely nothing is going to be the same anymore. If this is properly understood, there would be considerably more fear at Christmas throughout the Church. Such fear would demonstrate that the Church really understands what is going on. Perhaps the reason the Church has so few experiences with angels appearing is because there is so little fear. 
From Doug Hood’s Heart & Soul, Life Application Edition, now available on Amazon and available in the church in early January.

Christmas Confidence

“But right now, we don’t see everything under their control yet. 
However, we do see the one who was made lower in order than the angels for a little while 
– it’s Jesus!”
Portions of Hebrews 2:8, 9 (Common English Bible)
This Christmas season finds us rather bewildered, facing confusion, uncertainty and fear. The world seems dangerously out of control and political leaders have failed to offer a neat formula that can solve our problems or allay our anxiety. We seem a long way from the promise of Isaiah that instruments of war will become farming equipment. But as Christmas draws near, Hebrews reminds us of a man who lived in a world not unlike our own, and yet, carried with him hope and confidence – Jesus Christ. Specifically, Hebrews tells us that we may not yet see everything “under control” but we do see Jesus!
Harry Emerson Fosdick once commented that in pointing to Jesus, Hebrews does not seek to distract us from realistic facts to a beautiful ideal; Hebrews is simply turning our attention from one set of facts to another fact. Jesus is a fact. He lived and his life left an indelible imprint upon the world. Some may question the nature of Jesus, may question the identity of Jesus as anything more than a mortal, but few question that Jesus lived. Yet, women and men of faith accept Jesus as more; accept, as fact, that Jesus is God’s decisive interruption in history to bring all things “under control”. Jesus is a towering, challenging, revealing fact that casts a whole new outlook on the present groaning of life today.
In this season of Advent – a season of anticipation – those faithful to the Lordship of Jesus see something tremendous occurring in the midst of the daily news: they see the emergence of a disruptive force that will overcome the wild, uncivilized and uncontrolled powers that tear at the world. In the birth of Jesus, God announces that the forces of darkness now have reason to tremble. No, we do not yet see all things “under control” – far from it – but we do see Jesus! And that means that God is on the move.

Our world today is one where fear seems to grow unchecked and uncertainty enlarges upon our consciousness. But God has come in Jesus to change the whole complexion of the world. What is required is that we open ourselves to Jesus in a manner that he can get at us and live in us so that he shapes our thoughts and behavior. One person of faith after another, opening their hearts and minds to receive the transforming power of God, makes all the difference in the world. That is our Christmas confidence.
From Doug Hood\’s Heart & Soul, Life Application Edition, now available on Amazon and available in the church in early January.

What Are We to Do With Our Fears!

“He said, ‘Father, if it’s your will, take this cup of suffering away from me. 
However, not my will but your will must be done.’”
Luke 22:42 (Common English Bible)
            Fear is an area of human experience, which involves us all. Fear shows no partiality. The young and old, the rich and poor, and the wise and simple all play host to fear at sometime in their life.  Some fears are absurd and ridiculous, having life only in the imagination. Others are very real such as losing work, of experiencing failure or growing older and struggling with illness and death. The range of fears visited upon us and the variety of forms it assumes is astounding. Imagined or real, fears sap our energy and vitality, leaving us helpless and hopeless. What are we to do with our fears? Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, struggled with fear. His response provides guidance for meeting and managing this crippling experience.
            Jesus’ initial response is to acknowledge his fear. Asking that “this cup of suffering” be removed is an honest appraisal of his fear. He identifies the presence of fear and looks squarely at it. Jesus’ practice suggests that it is a mistake to take no account of fear or to repress it or to bottle it up. In fact, many psychologists agree that an attempt to drive fears from the mind actually establishes the fear more and more into our subconscious where it festers and the crippling power is increased. Jesus does not bluff himself or others. He is afraid and he shares that fear freely with his disciples and his heavenly Father. Truthful acknowledgement of fears that grasp us is not weakness but wisdom.
            The second lesson Jesus offers is to acknowledge that fears are driven by the desire for self-preservation. Basic survival is primitive and instinctive. It is how any species – including humans – have endured threats that continually confront life. We all want health, joy, and the assurance of security. If there is one thing that we are afraid of more than any other fear, it is the fear that these things may be snatched from us. Jesus is no exception. Here, in the garden that fretful night, Jesus wishes that suffering might be removed from him. At its core, fears demonstrate that we are very much wrapped-up in ourselves. We best manage our fears when we frankly acknowledge that we want to survive.
            Third, Jesus directs us to take our fears to God in prayer, seeking to submit our basic desire for survival to a higher, and a more noble aspiration; the aspiration of pursuing God’s will. Jesus never stated it more plainly than when he said, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves…(Matthew 16:24).” Jesus is asking that we put God above all else, including our own desire to grasp life. In the proportion that we are able to do this, self-centeredness, the cause of so many fears, is diminished. When self-centeredness is diminished, so are our fears. We cannot decide what will happen to us. But we can decide what will happen in us – how we will respond to the fears that visit us. Jesus shows us the way.