Rehearsal

Manger

For the past 28 years, I have had the privilege of putting up the Manger scene every November and taking it down every January.  (Sometimes, when it was 5 below zero, or raining or snowing cats and dogs the ‘privilege’ part was a little questionable!)  I took-over from my friend and elder-partner, Bob Weber – now home with the Saints in Heaven. Someday, someone will take-over for me.  (You may consider that a request for help!)

Once, when we put up the Manger, I lost my wedding ring and we searched the straw for hours, trying to find it, but to no avail.  Miracle of all miracles, when we took it down in January, with 12 inches of snow on the ground, we found my ring!  God is Good!  But, where else would you expect to see a miracle, if not at the Manger of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

When we see that manger, it is a reminder of 2 important truths.  It Reminds us that THE BIBLE’S ACCOUNT OF JESUS BIRTH IS LITERAL AND RELIABLE and that CHRIST WILL LIVE WHERE ROOM IS MADE FOR HIM.    Here in the manger is visible proof that God does keep his promises, that God  loves each of us and all the world.  God is faithful and loving!  1 John 4:10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

O holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend to us we pray!
Cast out our sin and enter in; Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels and great glad tidings tell;
Oh, come to us, Abide with us, Our Lord Immanuel!

Rehearsal

Bullseye

Did you ever do target practice before?  Shooting at something with a gun?  My Aunt Sherri (2 years older than me) used to have a b-b gun when we were kids, and we’d target-practice all the time.  As a teenager at Boy Scout Camp, they had a shooting range with 22 caliber rifle targets.  My brother used to get in trouble there, because not only couldn’t he hit the bullseye; he couldn’t hit the target!  He’d accidently shoot the clothespins holding the target and the instructor would think he was doing it on purpose.  My brother was a lousy shot!

What’s a bullseye?  Everybody knows it’s the center of the target – the spot you aim for. As Christians, we have a bullseye too.  Our bullseye – our center – what we aim for – is Christ; to be more Christ-like; to have an intimate relationship with Christ – to make Christ the ‘center’ of our life.   If we want to be in the center of God’s will, we need to be in the center of His Word.  

Did you know the Bible has a ‘literal’ center – a bullseye, if-you-will?  The shortest chapter in the Bible is Psalm 117; the longest is Psalm 119.  The ‘literal’ center of the Bible – Psalm 118.  There are 594 chapters before and after Psalm 118.  Add 594 + 594 and you get 1188.  What is the center verse in the Bible – the ‘bullseye’?  Psalm 118:8.  What does that verse say?  ‘It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man.’  We spend so much of our life hitting the clothespins and falling short of the bullseye.   It’s time to refocus, re-aim and seek the bullseye – Our Lord, Jesus Christ!  Remember, when things get tough, our relationship with God doesn’t get us around trouble, it get’s us through it!

Rehearsal

Praying Hands

Ever hear of Albert or Albrecht Durer?  They were brothers and both were promising artists..  Both wanted to go to college, but couldn’t afford it, so they hatched a scheme.  They flipped a coin; looser went to work in the mines to help pay for the other’s schooling.  Albert lost the toss and went into the mines; Albrecht went to school.  He became famous; a wonderful artist.  Time came for him to go home, and return the favor.  Long story short – Albert was unable to attend school because his hands were so broken and racked with arthritis he couldn’t hold a brush anymore.  This inspired his loving brother to produce one of the most famous artistic creations the world has ever known.  We call his work ‘The Praying Hands’.  (A replica of his brothers hands.)    The next time you see a copy of that touching creation, take a second look and remember, no one ever makes it alone!

Christ Have Mercy, How to Put Your Faith in Action’ (by Matthew Harrison) talks about relationships!  We were made for a relationship with God and with each other.  James 4 says ‘Come near to God and he will come near to you.’  My daughter graduated Salutatorian from her High School class and there was a lot of haughty talk about her accomplishment until I reminded her it was a rather small class!  She lost sight of the fact that self-made people often worship their creator.  (Think about that one).   I would urge you to do two things this week.  First, make a list of 10 people who helped you become who you are today and thank God for their presence in your life.  Second, pick someone who helped you in your life, and send them a thank you card.  Thank You Lord, for all the people You have placed in my life; the people who have befriended me; who have nurtured me; who have helped shape my character!  Ephesians 4:   ‘….walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’

Rehearsal

Valentines

I like February – February has my holiday – Valentines Day!  My middle name is Valentine!  No, seriously, my middle name IS Valentine – Robert Valentine Harringer Jr. – that’s me.  My dad was born on Valentine’s day in 1922; he’s Senior; I’m Junior.  Some of the guys in college used to call me ‘Valentine’ as a nickname.  I didn’t mind it, although I think their motives were less than sincere!

While the history of St. Valentine is shrouded in mystery, it has come to be a celebration of love; commercialized with sentimental cards and copious amounts of candy.  When we were kids, we used to give Valentine cards to all our classmates and teachers – it was a nice; if somewhat corny tradition.  We’re all familiar with the classic rhyme, ‘Roses are Red; Violets are Blue; Sugar is Sweet and so are you.’  Here’s one of the more sillier rhymes: ‘Chocolate is brown, hearts are red – if you won’t be my Valentine, I’ll ask another  instead!’

Valentine’s day ought to be a reminder of God’s unfailing love for us!  God’s ultimate Valentine was becoming a sacrifice for us.  There is no greater love than this!  It’s a love that has produced a priceless salvation available to all mankind!  John 3:16 is really the best Valentine’s verse that anyone could ever receive:  ‘For God so loved YOU that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life!’  Or, think about it this way:  If God had a refrigerator; YOUR picture would be on it!

Rehearsal

Vision

An old Chinese Proverb says:  “If you want happiness for an hour – take a nap. If you want happiness for a day – go fishing. If you want happiness for a year – inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime – help someone else.”  What does that have to do with Our Savior Lutheran Church – one word: ‘Vision’.   Charles Swindoll said ‘Vision encompasses vast vistas outside the realm of the predictable, the safe, the expected.’  Proverbs 29 says ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish…’  A ‘vision’ is forward-looking; it calls us to the future.  There is another saying:  regret looks back; worry looks around, and faith looks up.  Without faith and hope, there can be no vision.

 (From a sermon, The Risk Taking Church by Stephen Sheane)  ‘There are only 3 kinds of churches.  There is the under-taking church.  The undertaking church is one that is always looking backwards. All that people ever talk about are the “good old days”.  Franklin Field said ‘Poor eyes limit your sight; poor vision limits your deeds.’  Then there is the care-taking church.  It seems to always be in maintenance mode, just trying to keep it’s head above the water.  The number one questions is always “do we have the money now to support this”?  Finally, there is the risk-taking church.  The risk taking church is always looking forward. They believe that the best is yet to come. They invest all they have today so that they can be all that God wants them to be tomorrow.    A blind man’s world is bounded by the limits of his touch; an ignorant man’s world by the limits of his knowledge; a great man’s world by the limits of his vision.’

Lord, we do not want to be under-takers; or care-takers of Your Church on earth.  We do not want to be limited by our regret, or our worry, but, by the power of Your Holy Spirit, may we boldly, by faith, be risk-takers, empowered to bring a message of hope, healing and new life to our congregation, our community and the world around us, In Jesus’ Name we pray.  Amen.  A vision without a task is a dream; a task without a vision is drudgery; a vision and a task is the hope of the world.  Let us continue to be a church where God is seen, love is felt and lives are changed!

Rehearsal

Caves

I’ll bet you’re wondering what caves have to do with Christmas.  Let me see if I can make the connection.  Ever been in a cave before?  I love caves!  When I was in college, I crawled through many caves in Indiana with a carbide light.  I’ve been in passages shoulder-wide and shoe-tall!  Once, my brother and I spent 3 days underground in a cave!  Ever been in a cave when the lights go out?  It’s what they call ‘total darkness’ – you  can’t see your hand in front of your face – it’s the complete absence of light!  Unless you’ve been deep underground, you haven’t experienced total darkness like that before!  No words to describe it – utter, total, complete darkness!  If you are lost in a cave with no light, there is NO hope of feeling your way out – NONE! Unless somebody finds you – you will die!

That’s the best description I can think of to explain the human condition at the fall of Adam and Eve.  A separation from God, so profound, so dark, there can be no hope for survival unless somebody finds you.  And God’s promise to Adam and Eve was the promise of a Redeemer, a Savior. In Matthew 4, Jesus, speaking of himself, quotes the words of Isaiah ‘the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.’  Jesus is our Emmanuel – God with Us!  Jesus is our light – the Light of the World!  He says these words in John 8:   “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Just as He is the Light of the world; He has called us to be lights to the world, reflecting His light, just as the moon reflects sunlight on a darkened earth.  In this season of Joy, share His love and the Hope that you have!  I remember the words of that children’s song we used to sing: ‘This little Gospel light of mine; I’m going to let it shine!

Rehearsal

Vices

Do you have any vices?  You know, those ‘little’ things you do, that you know you shouldn’t.  The dictionary says a ‘vice’ is an immoral, degrading, or evil habit or practice.  I am as guilty as the next person when it comes to vices.  I collect toy trains.  Sometimes, I buy them when I know I shouldn’t – especially when I hide what I’m doing from my wife. Then, I know I’ve gone too far.  It’s a little embarrassing when she looks at the train layout and I have to fess-up about the purchase of a rather expensive engine that we didn’t discuss beforehand.

Even the most ‘innocent’ habit can become immoral, degrading or evil.  I looked up ‘Shopaholic’ on the Internet, and this is what it says:  ‘Compulsive behavior’, usually associated with an emotional high, or adrenaline rush.   Any ‘compulsive behavior’ can overshadow relationships with family and friends.

I don’t know if I’m, by definition, a ‘shopoholic’, but I do know that if you dance with the devil, he will take you farther than you wanted to go and keep you longer than you wanted to stay.   The god of materialism has certainly enticed many in America today to value the worthless, while disregarding priceless wealth!  Solomon says this is Ecclesiastes 5:   ‘Whoever loves money, never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.’  Paul says this in 1 Timothy: ‘For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.’

I know for me personally, I am happiest when I take these verses in Hebrews to heart:  ‘Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

Rehearsal

Lifesaver

June, 1967.  Sitting on the beach, watching people swimming in the lake; hundreds of them.  Notice a kid on an inner tube who had floated out past the ropes.  A minute later, I notice the inner tube; but no kid.  Where did he go?  What should I do?  Do I get involved?  Do I ignore what I saw?

I don’t know why I got up and raced over the beach and swam like crazy through those hundreds of  people, out into deep water – but I did.    As I approached the inner tube, the kid was about 3 feet down, struggling to get to the air.  I pulled him up.  When he broached the surface, with a look of desperation, he said simply ‘Help Me.’  Out of all those hundreds of people, that little boy was alive because, by the grace of God, I noticed his plight and I did something about it.

Are you a lifesaver?  You can be.  God has called us to follow Jesus’ example and serve.   Remember the picture of Christ, washing the disciple’s feet?  We are called to be ‘Footwashers’ for Christ.  The Book of  James puts it this way: ‘15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?’  Remember our theme this year ‘Get out of the Boat; Give Hope!’  John Maxwell has said ‘People don’t care what you know; until they know that you care!’  Show YOU care by helping someone today!  Matthew: 25:40   40“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Rehearsal

H.O.P.E.

For the past year, I have been a member of a HOPE Cell.  HOPE stands for “House Of Prayer Everywhere”.  Our group has committed to daily, individual, intercessory prayer for everything from our Church, to our Mission(s) to our Country; as well as family, friends and enemies alike!  It is based on the book: ‘The 29:59 Plan, A Guide to Communion with God’.  Our group also gathers together about every third Saturday at Church to pray.  If we have a theme, it is this:  Prayer is our first resolve, not our last resort!  Our commitment to each other was to meet for 12 months and the 12th month is fast-approaching.  We need your help to continue what we have begun!

What has your President learned from this experience?  First, I have learned how to pray.  I mean how to pray in a focused, intentional, way.  I have learned discipline, making the commitment to pray everyday.  I have learned about people, because when you pray for them, you think about them; when you think about them; you feel closer to them.  In the process I have learned about myself too.  Most importantly, I have learned that communication with God is a journey – a growing process.  I will be the first to tell you, I am not an eloquent speaker and it is hard for me to be ‘on-the-spot’ when it comes to prayer.  I have learned that prayer is not about inspiring words or articulate expressions that move the angels – it’s about a humble spirit that seeks to honor our Lord.

There are many verses in Scripture that command us to pray, Paul says this in 1 Timothy ‘1I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone…’  It is our duty, our mission and our obligation to pray!  I would ask you to prayerfully consider joining a HOPE Cell.  You can contact either me, or one of the Pastors if you are interested.  Remember: When praying, don’t give God instructions – just report for duty.

Rehearsal

Stand and Wait

One of my favorite poets is John Milton; often compared with Shakespeare as one of the truly great English writers.  After going blind,  Milton wrote the poem ‘On His Blindness’.  In the last line, he reflects that even with his disability, he has a place in God’s world, he wrote these famous words ‘They also serve who only stand and wait.’  A more modern reading would be: ‘Those people who only stand and wait also serve.’

Did you ever notice at a ‘State dinner’, there are always servants (or “servers”) standing by, in addition to the servers who are bringing food, pouring beverages and clearing dishes.  Or, maybe you haven’t noticed those other servers who stand in the background because they stand so still, they look like “part of the furniture,” “part of the wallpaper.”

I am struck by the number of people we have at Our Savior that provide critical services to us that we never think of – the bulletin folders; the altar people; the food preparers and servers; the drivers; the yard maintainers – and the list goes on and on!  These are the unsung heroes of Faith, the people who ‘Stand and Wait’.  This is what the Lord says of them:  (Matthew 25)  ‘ 34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

On behalf of a grateful congregation Thank You for your service; your reward is great in Heaven! (verse 40) – 40“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’