CALL TO WORSHIP — Psalm 80:1-3 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock.
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth.
Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh,
stir up your might
and come to save us! Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved!
QUIET PREPARATION – Isaiah 9:2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
HEARING FROM GOD’S WORD
“A Savior, Who is Christ the Lord” – Luke 2:8-12
Reading for the First Sunday of Advent — Luke 1:26-38
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods. His faithful love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords. His faithful love endures forever. Give thanks to him who alone does mighty miracles. His faithful love endures forever. Give thanks to him who made the heavens so skillfully. His faithful love endures forever. Give thanks to him who placed the earth among the waters. His faithful love endures forever. Give thanks to him who made the heavenly lights— His faithful love endures forever. the sun to rule the day, His faithful love endures forever. and the moon and stars to rule the night. His faithful love endures forever. Give thanks to him who killed the firstborn of Egypt. His faithful love endures forever. He brought Israel out of Egypt. His faithful love endures forever. He acted with a strong hand and powerful arm. His faithful love endures forever. Give thanks to him who parted the Red Sea. His faithful love endures forever. He led Israel safely through, His faithful love endures forever. but he hurled Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea. His faithful love endures forever. Give thanks to him who led his people through the wilderness. His faithful love endures forever. Give thanks to him who struck down mighty kings. His faithful love endures forever. He killed powerful kings— His faithful love endures forever. Sihon king of the Amorites, His faithful love endures forever. and Og king of Bashan. His faithful love endures forever. God gave the land of these kings as an inheritance— His faithful love endures forever. a special possession to his servant Israel. His faithful love endures forever. He remembered us in our weakness. His faithful love endures forever. He saved us from our enemies. His faithful love endures forever. He gives food to every living thing. His faithful love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of heaven. His faithful love endures forever.
(Psalm 136, New Living Translation)
There are many Psalms with which we are undoubtedly more familiar than Psalm 136. In a couple ways this psalm is unique. We know that many psalms were written for use in worship. This one alone is constructed as what in modern times we would describe as a call and response. It is thought that the priest would have read or sung the primary lines, while either the Levitical singers or the congregation would have responded with the response, “His faithful love endures forever.” Also unique is that the events described are presented in chronological order as they would have been presented in the Pentateuch.
The writer thanks God for many things– His goodness and power; His creation; His love and preservation of Israel through miraculous events and conquering their enemies; His providing them a home and land; His providing of food for every living thing; His rule in Heaven. Yet among the impressive list of God’s qualities and provisions, we shouldn’t overlook what the writer is obviously most thankful for– the fact that “His faithful love endures forever.” It is the underlying reason for all of the other things that God provided.
As modern believers we have many things for which to be thankful. We have families, homes, and sustenance. We have the completed Scriptures to help and lead us in our faith and knowledge. We live in a country where we are free to worship. Most importantly we have the gift of His Son, which gives us the means to live in His presence once again for eternity. As we thank God again for His many blessings, let us always remember the foundation for all of them:
41 shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child were delivered yesterday to the drop off center in North Olmsted! Continue to pray that these gifts will be a blessing to the children who receive them, changing their lives forever in the knowledge of Jesus Christ! Thank you for joining together in mission!
This week our fighter verse is Psalm 103:14 and has everything to do with knowing God and what God knows. He knows and remembers me. There is an assignment in this week’s verse. I hope you will think thru it with me.
This Sunday begins the Advent season. For the last 8 years, we have taken the Christmas season to look at what Christmas is all about. That reminds me of the question Charlie Brown asked at this time of year. And so, this year we will take 4 Sundays to look at a particular name of Jesus. We will begin with Messiah.
And to coincide with the season there is an advent devotional I would like to recommend to you called Unwrapping the Names of Jesus. It is a devotional for each day leading up to Christmas morning. I think you will enjoy it. I purchased mine at Amazon.
We are coming into the period of the year when I depend on good memories to help me enjoy it more. Thinking back to the rich times when I shared the Thanksgiving and Christmas season with my dad, mom, and brother, and then later my dad and mom, and even later just my dad give me strength. Pictures and events replay in my mind, and I can hear the words of conversations from long ago. They can’t be recreated or replaced. Thankfully they are still stored in a closet in a corner of my mind somewhere, available for me when they are needed.
We all have both good and bad memories. I believe that is a result of us being made in God’s image, and following His nature. At a very basic level our memory helps us to survive by helping us to remember which things help us and which harm us. We learn that cold water quenches our thirst, and quickly file that away to help us in the future. We also learn that fire can burn us and we must use it appropriately. At a more sophisticated level our memories help us to make choices based on values and rules we have learned. Moses warned the Israelites:
“But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren. Never forget the day when you stood before the Lord your God at Mount Sinai, where he told me, ‘Summon the people before me, and I will personally instruct them. Then they will learn to fear me as long as they live, and they will teach their children to fear me also’” (Deuteronomy 4:9-10).
From an early age I remember my parents teaching me to respect God and live in a godly way. My dad taught me to pray from an early age, and gave reminders of what was taught in the Bible. My mom was careful to always show the godly way to treat others, helping them any way possible. I think the fact that my parents taught us to respect and love God and others is the basis of the many good memories that I have. Memories of us sitting around the table at Thanksgiving, or preparing for Christmas and enjoying the Christmas season come back so readily because they are happy ones. I am thankful for my family’s influence and love that guide my thoughts even today.
My memories about my family always include music. One of the earliest musical memories I have comes from them. My mom had a beautiful alto voice, and my dad had a great bass voice. I remember them singing “The Church in the Wildwood” as an acapella duet to me when I was still very young. All through his life, my dad was known to burst into song at any given moment. He was big on old songs, and especially old hymns, or old marching songs he learned when he was in the army. When I was very young I remember him singing “Rocka My Soul” (an old spiritual) to me at random times. I really haven’t heard others sing that song much since then, but I remember him singing it. Even in the last days of his life I remember walking into his room at the rehabilitation facility where he was, and hearing his faint voice singing. Even though I usually couldn’t make out what he was singing, I have no doubt it was a hymn that came to mind that brought him comfort.
My thoughts brought to mind another old gospel song, “Precious Memories.” I have been in church services where it was sung as a congregational song, but to me it didn’t really fit that setting and I didn’t care for it as a congregational song. I haven’t heard it for a long time, but played it again as I prepared this message. The message in it is strong and true. A modern version of it was performed by Alan Jackson. I found an older version by a singer that I remember being one of my dad’s favorites when I was very young, Gentleman Jim Reeves. Dad always thought he had one of the nicest voices around, and didn’t go for a lot of show or nonsense. In honor of my dad I am going to provide a link to Mr. Reeves’ version below. I pray that each of us can appreciate and treasure good memories based on teaching from Godly traditions and families.
Look at where we ended Sunday – Philippians 4:4-7. And look ahead to where we will be this Sunday – Luke 19:45-48.
Our fighter verse for this week is James 5:13. And considering where we have been and where we are going and all that we see/hear happening around us; I am asking that we use this week as prayer at Calvary Community Church. Take good notes in this week’s fighter verse.
Psalm 90:1-2; 106:48 Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting!
And let all the people say, “Amen!”
Praise the Lord! Amen! Praise theLord!
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
HEARING FROM GOD’S WORD
“Where is the Triumph in the Triumphal Entry?” – Luke 19:28-44
Pray for Lisa which also means pray for our medical workers. The last few days for her and for the medical field has been overwhelming. This is a serious season, more serious than in the Spring. It is flu season. It is cold season. And COVID is not going away.
So give thanks and be vigilant.
I was reading an article recently of the “underground” church. These are Christians who live in countries where it has long been illegal to be the church, to gather as the church and illegal to be a Christian, own a Bible, say the name of Jesus. This is why they are called “underground,” they gather and serve in secret. And even under those intense circumstances, when they gather they do so wearing a mask. Why would they do that? It is an amazing example of their care for one another.
I am asking that we keep seeing wearing a mask if just simply as another opportunity to show our care for one another. I am asking that we say it, too. “I am wearing this mask because I get to show that I care for you.” Listen, I have my own feelings about mask wearing. But I wear it to see my butcher when I want a steak or meat for hamburgers. I will wear the mask if it means that I get to see you, but also because the mask wearing may also be really important to you. So, I wear it because you mean so much to me.
And let’s choose to give thanks. Mask wearing may prove difficult for you. And you decide to stay home on a Sunday. That is okay and understandable. Give thanks. For health reasons, it may be best that some of you stay home on Sundays. Give thanks. You may have to quarantine yourself because you came in contact with someone who has COVID which means staying home on a Sunday. Give thanks. You may be coughing, sneezing, simply not feeling well and you stay home on a Sunday. Give thanks. Give thanks because you can stay home on a Sunday for those reasons and we can remain connected with our live streaming equipment. There have been things to work out with it but it has been a huge blessing. DO NOT FEEL GUILTY IF YOU STAY HOME. YOU HAVE NO REASON TO FEEL GUILTY.
As we continue throughout this season, we are being cautious not fearful. And God is glorified. God is glorified when we choose to give thanks in all circumstances. God is glorified when we choose to praise him in the midst of chaos.
And as the year continues, we choose to continue to engage in business. This is the business of keeping in contact with one another, checking on one another, ministering to one another. This is the business of serving the world around us. People are hurting in more ways than one. And so we choose to love people, all kinds of people. People hurt during the holiday season, too. Add the stress of this year to it and how much more will people be hurting during the most wonderful time of the year? How might you meet the need of a hurting person in the coming days? How might we as a church meet the needs of hurting people in the coming days? And we engage in the business of prayer, calling upon the name of the Lord at such a time as this. Be vigilant in prayer. Turn off the distractions and pray.
So Sunday, when gathering, we need to continue to be cautious by wearing a mask for the sake and care of others; practicing social distance and in the midst of all of it, choosing to give thanks and praise God.
First, I don’t intend this week’s message to be a political discussion. However, our recent election experiences provide context for the thoughts that follow. Like many of you, I am concerned for the future of our country, and hope we are not headed for ruin. I have but one vote in the election, and frankly it doesn’t carry much weight. I have come to realize that there is little I can do to change the situation in our country. Yet there are times I have worried about its direction, and especially what will happen to me and other people of faith.
Pastor James’ fighter verse this week, Hebrews 11:1 and the entire chapter, help to focus better thoughts on the matter. Like any people of any time in history we worry about the current state of ourselves, our extended family and friends, and our nation. We pray for God to make things better– that He will perform some miraculous act, or answer our prayer in a way that will make things align to the way we think things should be. Maybe we are making the wrong requests.
Pastor James asked us to come up with three thoughts from Hebrews 11. I will share just one of mine with you. I believe that the most important teaching to come from this chapter is for me to keep focused on my future, rather than being caught up in the present. By future I mean eternal future. That is something that I can actually influence by choosing Christ. I have no control and often it seems little influence over my nearer future on this earth. One verse in particular stood out in considering this truth. Abraham is called out for having this focus:
“For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10).
The world I am in now is temporary. The city with foundations that God designed and built is eternal. That is the better country and city mentioned in verse 16. You might be wondering, “But Joel, don’t you think God has a particular plan and purpose for our earthly country?” The record of the Old Testament shows us God worked through the nation of Israel to deliver Jesus to the world to save it. With Jesus’ birth the next phase of God’s plan took over. He lived, taught, prepared a succession of leaders to succeed Him, then died a terrible death, and rose again from the grave to ensure our path to joining Him in Heaven. He now reigns alongside His Father. Christ used His life as an example to live in the world in order to have an eternity outside of it. Everything that He taught, and that we have recorded in the New Testament is designed for the spiritual welfare of individuals, not the position and strength of countries. As we were taught by Jesus, our needs on the earth will be fulfilled. He wanted us to be concerned with our future with God, not our present on earth. The focus of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit has always been on the salvation and preservation of loved ones to spend eternity with them. The form and method may have changed from Old Testament times to the present, but God’s goal and purpose has always been constant.
The challenge for me and for each of us is to look ahead to the reward of God’s eternal home for us, rather than becoming bogged down in the muck and mire of our current world’s concerns. Another couple of verses that kept coming to mind in considering this subject come from Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
The present may be challenging and depressing, but the future for us as believers is brighter than we can imagine now!
This week’s fighter verse is Hebrews 11:1. Our goal each week is to read the fighter verse and re-read the fighter verse and write out the fighter verse. These are helps in being able to recall the verse at any time. But this week there is just a bit more. And you will hear so in today’s video.
This Sunday we will arrive in Jerusalem. Actually, I would love it if we could plan a trip to Jerusalem. In the meantime, however, we will gather together to think thru Luke 19:28-44.
And there is something more about this Sunday to share with you. Last week, we concluded with two thoughts. First, we must be adamantly focused on seeking and saving the lost; that is, making disciples.And second, we must be adamantly focused on praying to this end. So, mark down 9:30 am. This is the time we have set aside each Sunday for prayer together. And I am asking that we fill the fellowship room at this time to do two things: pray for the preaching – that the preaching would develop and equip the saints for the work of the ministry; and pray for the unsaved – that “today salvation would come to this house.”
And thank God for our community groups. These groups have grown to 10! Community groups are great for making disciples and for growing disciples.
We are about to enter the most wonderful time of the year and it would be wonderful if these 70 degree days would continue! We are looking forward to advent which will begin Thanksgiving weekend. John and Sheila Schneider have begun the shoebox collecting for Operation Christmas Child. And there is another great opportunity before us; one that will directly impact our community. Read this note from Bob Hershey, director of the Cleveland Pregnancy Center:
We are doing Christmas a little different this year. Usually we have the client and baby come here to receive gifts and cookies and hear the Christmas story and such. This year as it is still a little weird, we want them all to be safe and healthy. We have decided that to help them this year we are going to ask our area supporting churches to ask their congregants if they would contribute gift cards. We are asking for $50 gifts cards for WalMart and Giant Eagle. We would like to give the clients one of each of those gift cards. We have 30 clients that we need gift cards for.
…We are asking that these gift cards be turned in to us by December 10th. This will allow us to make sure we get these cards to the clients in time to be used for them by Christmas.
And…we need help in children’s church. See Lisa if you would like to sign up for a Sunday (it would be no more than one Sunday a month).
A reminder as we head into cold and flu season, from our COVID-19 Response and Precautions: If for any reason you or your children are not feeling well, (even if you think it’s “just a cold”) stay at home. If you have a fever, stay at home. You can join us by tuning into the Livestream (link below).