I enjoy this season more than any other season. Sure, I love the summer because summer not only means warmth and no snow, but summer also means the beach. Yet, this season is the best season beginning with Thanksgiving.
In the next couple of weeks, perhaps even sooner, my family and I will go out with hot chocolate or a peppermint mocha in hand and drive around to look at Christmas lights. There is just something about Christmas lights. A few evenings ago we started our Christmas movie watching. One movie on our list is a movie we watch three times – it is three different versions of A Christmas Carol. Our preferred version is with George C. Scott.
The only part of this season that I despise is that it all comes to end so quickly, it seems. Although, this year it feels like it came rather quickly.
This coming Sunday is the second Sunday of advent. Advent Sundays are those four Sundays before Christmas Day. And this Sunday we will do two things to celebrate the Christmas season. First, we will continue mining through Daniel 4, a chapter having everything to do with your peace. And second, we will celebrate communion together. Think about advent for just a moment. Advent is not a celebration of the first coming of the Messiah, but a looking forward to the second coming of the Messiah to which we say, “Joy to the world!”
Be looking forward to Sunday evening, December 19 – our Christmas candlelight service. As you look forward to it, be invited un-churched family and friends to join with us in this special celebration. Following the service, we will have a time of fellowship. A sign up sheet will be available at the main bulletin board.
CALL TO WORSHIP — Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 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. For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Go on up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!”
Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
Thanksgiving is not normally considered a holiday based on faith or religion. Yet the practice of observing the fall harvest was begun by a group of people who originally separated from England based on their religious beliefs. Fittingly called the Separatists, they split from the Church of England because they did not agree with its practices being governed by the King of England. As a result they were persecuted. They originally sought freedom from persecution by moving to the Netherlands. Eventually they wanted to restore their “Englishness,” and decided to seek a new place to live in the New World. In September of 1620 a group of 102 of them left England to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
After a stop at the tip of Cape Cod they reached an area in Massachusetts across the bay. As they stayed on the ship through a rough winter about half of the people died. They moved ashore to establish a village in March and were greeted by an Abenaki tribe member who surprisingly spoke to them in English. Later he led Squanto, a Pawtuxet tribe member to them. He taught them how to grow corn, fish the local rivers, and which plants were safe to eat. After a successful harvest in 1621 their governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast and invited the colony’s Native American neighbors, including Wampanoag Chief Massasoit. The description we have of this first feast was written by another group leader, Edward Winslow, in an account called “Mount’s Relation”:
“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”
The celebration of the harvest became an annual event with the colony, who years later became known as Pilgrims. After the establishment of the United States, the Continental Congress established a national day of Thanksgiving. In 1798 though, Thanksgiving celebrations were delegated to the states. Our federal holiday called Thanksgiving was made official by President Abraham Lincoln. Many credit writer Sarah Hale, author of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb” with helping to bring that about through her repeated campaigning.
In his account Edward Winslow recognized that their current situation was bountiful. He also remembered that it wasn’t always that way. They had experienced a great deal of difficulty, sickness, and death over a couple of years. Most importantly he acknowledged that God was good, and He kept them from want. He provided the ability and means to grow and harvest, and to gather and hunt for food. He also provided help in the form of friendship with the native peoples. The answers that the colonists received may not have been the answers they originally anticipated. Most important was the realization that God cared for them.
This year on Thanksgiving I hope we all remember that God cares for us in many ways. He loves us as His children and has provided for our Earthly, and beyond Earthly lives. He has given us countless reasons for thanksgiving (small “t” intended). We have a fitting benediction in Psalm 67:
“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us— 2 so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. 3 May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you. 4 May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples with equity and guide the nations of the earth. 5 May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you. 6 The land yields its harvest; God, our God, blesses us. 7 May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.”
PRAYER & CALL TO WORSHIP — Psalm 100 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
GRACE & ASSURANCE — 1 John 2:1-2
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
This past Sunday Pastor James’ sermon brought to mind a similar (though not identical) sort of situation described in the New Testament. I am always thankful for these connections because they motivate me to a bit more study (although some of you might be thinking, “Gee Joel, your mind makes some odd connections sometimes!”).
While imprisoned in Rome, the Apostle Paul stayed in touch with one of his favorite supporting churches, the church at Philippi. We have at least some of his communications recorded in his letter to the Philippians. Paul had largely been imprisoned three times due to the instigation of the Jews, who did not appreciate his preaching about Christ. Because a religious difference alone was not reason for imprisonment by Rome, they were able to convince certain Roman leaders that he was inciting violence, which was a threat to Rome. Paul presents his reasoning for his imprisonment in verses 12-14 of chapter 1:
“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
At this point in his life Paul had both done and been through a lot. Beginning as a dedicated Pharisee he first opposed Christ and His followers. That changed when he had his life changing experience on the road to Damascus, after which he accepted Him and became an ardent spokesman for Christ. He preached Christ everywhere he went, converting both Jews and Gentiles to belief in Him. The Jewish establishment did not appreciate his teaching and criticism of their ways and sought to stop him in any way possible. This led to imprisonments, floggings, and mistreatment that we can only imagine. His spirit and belief remained strong, but his body aged and grew weaker. He began to look at his own future:
“Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.” –(Philippians 1:18b-26)
What similarities are there between the case of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and Paul? Following are 10 parallels between the experience of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and Paul.
1) They were all in serious trouble because people who do not agree with them have made a concerted effort to get them to change their beliefs and practice. 2) Because they did not comply to the demands in point #1 they were all in serious trouble with the government authorities because of their complete faith in God or Jesus Christ. 3) They all experienced severe punishment at their government’s direction. 4) As they all faced their punishment they remained true to their faith, accepting the possibility of death as an outcome. 5) All made the conscious decision to leave their fate in God’s hands. 6) Whether they lived or died it was their goal to be God’s spokesmen. His greatness would be proclaimed regardless of what happened to them personally. 7) None of these men blamed God for their situation or complained to Him about it. 8) These men were able to continue their influence for God beyond their immediate time of trouble. 9) The outcome of their situations resulted in changed lives for many people, both in their time and far into the future. 10) God and His Son were indeed glorified through both situations, and the lives of these men.
This made me wonder if I will ever be put into a situation similar to those discussed here. Could my faithfulness to God ever become an issue that could effectively end my physical life? For most of my life I would have doubted it. The way some decisions in our country seem to be headed makes me less sure of that now. Many countries in the world are not sympathetic to Christianity. If I ever face that challenge I hope that I can respond as confidently as Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Paul, turning my fate over to Him.
I pray the same for each of us. As Paul pointed out, we can represent God and Christ and serve them here if that is what is needed. At the point that changes and our earthly lives end, as Christians we will be present with Christ, as Paul desired above all. Either way God will provide for us and be at our side!
1, 2, 3, 4 . . . the next few words are not “I declare thumb war.”
This Sunday we will be in Daniel 4:1-37. Chapter 4 is the end of a section. We could call this the Nebuchadnezzar section. Nebuchadnezzar is of primary concern. No one’s life is in danger for the very first time in Daniel.
Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes are due this Sunday, November 21.
Christmas gifts for the Cleveland Pregnancy Center are due Sunday, November 28.
And . . . be looking forward to our Christmas candlelight service the evening of Sunday, December 19!
CALL TO WORSHIP — Psalm 92:1-2, 4
It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night, For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy.
GRACE & ASSURANCE — 2 Corinthians 4:6-7 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
November 10, 2021 marks the 46th anniversary of the sinking of the ore freighter Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior. It left Superior, Wisconsin on November 9 with a full load of ore, headed to Zug Island on the Detroit River. The Detroit River is the connector between Lake Huron and Lake Erie. The Fitzgerald never reached its destination.
The exact reason(s) for the sinking are unknown, but it is likely there were several contributing factors. The ship had been damaged and repaired a few times after collisions with lock walls and another ship. Some believe there were likely stress fractures present in the hull or ballast tanks. At one point it had been determined that it was safe for the ship to carry more cargo weight during the winter than it was originally designed to carry. With the heavier load it rode lower in the water. Some also believe that the ship’s cargo plate covers were either not closed and locked completely, or had been damaged to the extent that they could not be completely sealed. On the afternoon of November 9, a strong storm began to come across the lake as the ship was underway. As the storm worsened, Captain McSorley communicated to Captain Cooper of the following freighter Arthur M. Anderson that they were listing to starboard and taking on water. They had the bilge pumps running. The list likely indicated that the starboard side ballast tanks had been cracked or breached, which allowed water to enter. The Captain also reported that their radars were not working. One of the lighthouse station beacons in the area was also reported as being out. The ship was close to a shoal that was not marked well, which could have also been a factor. Some believe the ship contacted the shoal, which caused further damage. Captain Cooper later reported that after he had talked with Captain McSorley the last time his own ship was hit by two successive waves of about 35 feet in height, which were higher than his ship’s bridge. These waves were headed in the direction of the Fitzgerald. Captain Cooper heard no more from Captain McSorley and feared the worst. After communicating with the Coast Guard, the Anderson and the small number of available ships began searching. The next day they found the Fitzgerald’s empty lifeboats and some other debris. A Navy search plane located the wreck a few days later on the bottom of Lake Superior in 530 feet of water. It broke into two pieces about one third of the way forward from the stern. All 29 crew members went down with the ship.
The sinking had impact on the Cleveland area because some of the crew members and their families were from northern Ohio. One, Bruce Hudson, was from North Olmsted, and a graduate of North Olmsted High School. In my first year in marching band as a sophomore, our band director told me that the uniform I had been assigned to wear was the one that Bruce wore when he was in the band. I thought about that every time I dressed in that uniform.
Why did this tragic accident happen? Being made in God’s image, He has blessed us in many ways. We have the intelligence and creativity to make things and interact in the world with some of the same qualities that He has (although on a much smaller scale). Going back thousands of years, people figured out how to make boats to travel on the water. In Old Testament times people of all nations used boats to travel from place to place, to fish in, and to transport goods in trade. Along with the developments in travel we have seen are risks, both avoidable and unavoidable. We have the intention of setting safe limits for operation. Unfortunately some will always tend to push those boundaries. Machinery wears out and breaks down. In addition, there are inherent risks in the natural forces of rivers, lakes, oceans, and the weather. We cannot control those—we can only try to mitigate them and react to them.
For the Israelites the sea meant uncertainty, danger, and risk. The largest freshwater lake in Israel is still the Sea of Galilee, or Lake Gennesaret. Fishermen were used to dangerous storms and waves as they fished on it. Yet that lake is much smaller than Lake Erie, let alone Lake Superior. Many countries in both Old and New Testament period times sent ships out on the Mediterranean Sea, which was much larger and deeper still. There are still sunken ships with cargoes from those times being discovered at the bottom of the Mediterranean. Many lost their lives in those sinkings. It is no wonder that Israelites feared that those who went out on the sea might not return, and their loved ones would never see or hear from them again.
This discussion has caused me to reflect on God’s blessings and our relationship with Him. He has blessed us with some of His tendencies and abilities (being made in His image), and most of all His love which brings us the opportunity to spend eternity with Him through Christ. He has treated us as a parent would their children, allowing us the ability to grow, develop, and yes, make mistakes. We have both developed and made many mistakes. Considering the anniversary of the loss of the Edmund Fitzgerald brings to mind a particular Scripture:
“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea” (Revelation 21:1).
Some believe that this verse literally means that the New Earth will not have any seas. Yet according to other descriptions in Revelation it will have rivers, which by nature need larger bodies of water to hold and recycle the waters that come from them. Verse 2 mentions the holy city coming down as a beautifully dressed bride. Considering that figurative picture I think that verse 1 is also best understood figuratively. The sea had long been understood as a representation of danger, uncertainty, fear, and even evil by some. The passing away of the first Heaven and first Earth will also mean the passing away of danger, uncertainty, and fear from our presence. Revelation describes what our permanent home with God will be like in terms that will be most understandable to us. I believe that permanent home will be beyond description in our current language, and not limited to the physical characteristics that we might consider spectacular now. It will be built on the foundation of His greatness and strength, without room for the sin, weakness and fear that we currently experience.
Even though we look back on this date with sorrow, we can look forward with the reminder that God loves us as a Father and has provided for our growth and ultimate redemption. The tragedies we have known in this life will be replaced one day with unending joy!
CALL TO WORSHIP — Psalm 148:1-2, 13 Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens; Praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels;
Praise him, all his hosts!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, For his name alone is exalted; His majesty is above the earth and heaven.
GRACE & ASSURANCE — Psalm 145:13-14 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures throughout all generations.
The Lord is faithful in all his words
and kind in all his works.
The Lord upholds all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.
Recently I had the opportunity to visit Lehman’s Hardware in Kidron. Calling it a hardware store is a serious underestimation of describing what you will find on offer inside. There is hardware, but also heating stoves, kitchen utensils, bulk foods, tools, gardening supplies, clothing, toys, old time candy and soda pop, and more puzzles than I have ever seen in one location. There are also displays of many special antique items, including an Amish buggy. There is one room that holds a variety of wood carvings for display. They were done by a man named Paul Weaver, who was clearly blessed with talent. There are at least 15-20 of his carvings hanging on the walls in the display room, lit by lights that highlight them similar to those in an art gallery. They are interpretations of other pieces of art, or scenes that he has seen. He carved them from solid blocks of butternut wood. Each work seems to be about 2 feet X 1 1/2 feet or so in size, and maybe 6-8 inches thick.
I have attached a picture of one that caught my eye enough to cause me to look at it for about 10 minutes. As you will see, it is an interpretation of the crucifixion. According to a plaque near it, Paul waited for around 20 years until after he began carving before he felt confident enough to try doing it. It is modeled after a painting completed in 1459 by Andrew Mantegna. It is filled with small details, including Mary fainting, Mary Magdalene with her hands clasped in despair, a soldier casting lots (represented as dice), others holding Jesus’ clothes, a soldier looking up to Jesus as he hangs on the cross, and the road going back to Jerusalem, including more soldiers behind the cross. He carved into the solid block of butternut for 3 months working on the scene. Afterward he said, “This is most likely the hardest carving I have done to date. The carving surpassed what I had hoped for. I give God the honor for giving me the ability to do something I love to do.”
1 Corinthians 1:22-24 came to mind as I looked at the carving:
“Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Paul and the other apostles preached Christ crucified with their voices. Paul Weaver has preached Christ crucified through the work of his hands. Many people may never be in a church to hear the gospel preached. But some of those people may go into Lehman’s Hardware and wander into the room with Paul’s carvings. There they will see his interpretation of the crucifixion, and read how much that work meant to him. Maybe seeing Christ in that work will jog questions in their minds, or awaken a realization of the need to know and accept Him.
Not everyone has the ability to be a preacher or a teacher. But everyone has been blessed by God to be effective in some way. If you can share the gospel through preaching, teaching, singing, or playing an instrument, that is wonderful. Do it. If you can share the gospel through helping and reaching others on a personal level, do that. If you can serve others through management or organization, working or caring for facilities, plants, or animals, do those things. I can just imagine someone saying, “Well, I can carve wood, but how can THAT be used to spread the gospel?” Paul Weaver used his talent for God’s glory. Who knows how many that may affect? Who knows how many each of us may affect? God knows, and He will use our efforts for His glory.