The Believer’s Birthright

The Believer’s Birthright (Eph. 1-2)

        Acceptance by God, with access to Him 24/7,

        Blessing upon blessing upon blessing because I am His beloved,

       Confidence that I’ve been chosen by Him,

       Deliverance from the penalty and the power of sin,

       Enlightenment to understand spiritual things, and eternal life that will never end,

        Forgiveness of all my sin – past, present, and future,

        Grace for every situation and need,

        Hope for my tomorrows, a Heavenly Home be prepared for me,

        An inheritance that is kept for me in heaven,

        Justification so that in God’s sight I am right with Him,

        Knowledge of the truth,

        His love that will never let me go, His life that is abundant, full, and free,

        Mercy that gives me less than I deserve,

        Nearness regardless of where I am or what I’m doing,

        Oneness with Him,

        His power that’s unlimited and His peace that passes all understanding

        His quickening into new life within,

        Redemption from a meaningless, empty, superficial existence,

        The divine seal of His Spirit placed within me,

                …and the list keeps going on and on.

                                       Anne Graham Lotz, The Daniel Prayer

Sermon Notes: The Twelve Days of Christmas

 

We can attach Christian symbols to each of the gifts of the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” whether they were originally intended or not. That way when we hear it on the radio, in the mall, wherever, those symbols of our faith come to mind.

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree. 

The first gift of this Christmas song is a partridge, a small bird similar to a quail or a grouse.  The original gift of Christmas is Jesus, sent to earth from God.  John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.”  The partridge was known as a valiant bird, willing to fight to the death in order to defend its young.  The bird’s readiness to die for its young made it an ancient Christian symbol of Christ.  The pear tree represents the cross.

Jesus says in John 10, “I am the good shepherd…I lay down my lie for the sheep.

 

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me two turtledoves. 

For hundreds of years, Jewish families used turtledoves as offerings to God.  The gift of two turtledoves is a reminder of the sacrifice offered for Jesus by Mary and Joseph.  When Jesus was forty days old, they took him to the temple in Jerusalem.  They brought a sacrifice of two turtledoves as was required by law. They dedicated Jesus to the Lord from the beginning.

Luke 2:22-24

Then it was time for their purification offering, as required by the law of Moses after the birth of a child; so his parents took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. 23 The law of the Lord says, “If a woman’s first child is a boy, he must be dedicated to the Lord.” 24 So they offered the sacrifice required in the law of the Lord—“either a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

 

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me three French hens. 

French hens were valuable poultry during the sixteenth century – only the rich could afford them.  These costly birds symbolized the three valuable gifts given to Jesus by the wise men:  gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Gold was the most precious of all metals.  Frankincense and myrrh were expensive spices used as incense and for burials.

Matthew 2:10-11

When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

 

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me four calling birds. 

French hens were valuable poultry during the sixteenth century – only the rich could afford them.  These birds symbolize the three valuable gifts given to Jesus by the wise men:  gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Gold was the most precious of all metals.  Frankincense and myrrh were expensive spices used as incense and for burials. Like birds calling out with loud and distinctive voices, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John spread abroad the news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  They called people to faith in Jesus as their Savior. 

John 20:30-31

The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.

 

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me five golden rings. 

Gold rings are among the most valuable and treasured of all gifts.  The five golden rings represent the first five books of the Old Testament:  Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.  These books, known as the Torah, were treated with great reverence and considered to be worth more than gold.  In these books, Moses, the commonly accepted author, records the creation story and the beginning history of the people of Israel.

 

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me six geese-a-laying. 

In many cultures, eggs symbolize new life.  Six geese laying eggs become reminders of the six days of creation when God, by His Word, brought forth life on earth.  God spoke and filled the earth with plants, birds, animals, and people during the first six days of creation.

Genesis 1:1, 31

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!

And evening passed and morning came, marking the sixth day.

 

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me seven swans a-swimming. 

Seven swans symbolize the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Just as baby swans grow and change from “ugly ducklings” into beautiful and graceful birds, so do God’s children grow and change through the work of the Holy Spirit.  The various gifts of the Holy Spirit are distributed for the benefit of the entire body of Christ.

Romans 12:6-8

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

 

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eight maids a-milking. 

The eight milking maidens represent eight unique teachings of Jesus sometimes called the Beatitudes.  These words of Jesus, from His Sermon on the Mount, nurture and strengthen us much the way milk nourishes a child. 

Matthew 5:3-10

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble,
    for they will inherit the whole earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
    for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
    for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace
    for they will be called the children of God.
10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

 

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me nine ladies dancing. 

The nine ladies dancing remind us of the nine different fruits that the Holy Spirit produces in the lives of God’s children.  Just as these ladies dance joyfully, so can every Christian rejoice over the life-changing fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Galatians 5:22-23

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

 

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ten lords a-leaping. 

Lords were men with authority to command people’s obedience.  Ten lords a-leaping symbolize God’s ten basic laws, otherwise known as the Ten Commandments.

Exodus 20:3-17

Then God gave the people all these instructions:

“I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.

“You must not have any other god but me.

“You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. 

“You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.

“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy…

12 “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

13 “You must not murder.

14 “You must not commit adultery.

15 “You must not steal.

16 “You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.

17 “You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.”

 

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eleven pipers piping. 

Eleven pipers represent the eleven apostles who were chosen by Jesus and remained faithful to Him.  (There were twelve before the betrayal and suicide of Judas.)  Like children joyfully following a piper, these disciples followed Jesus.  They also called others to follow Him.  They piped an everlasting tune of great joy – the message of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. 

Mark 3:16-19

These are the twelve he chose:

Simon (whom he named Peter),
17 James and John (the sons of Zebedee, but Jesus nicknamed them “Sons of Thunder”),
18 AndrewPhilipBartholomewMatthewThomasJames (son of Alphaeus),
ThaddaeusSimon (the zealot), 19 Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed him).

 

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me twelve drummers drumming. 

Just as drummers beat out a loud, steady rhythm for marchers to follow, so the Apostles Creed sets forth the beliefs of those who call themselves Christians.  The twelve drummers represent the twelve vital Christian beliefs as stated in the Apostles’ Creed. 

“The Apostles Creed” (led by all readers)

 I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord;

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried;

He descended into hell; The third day He rose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;

from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Church universal,

the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

 

(Adapted from Hanging of the Christmas Greens: A Service for the Beginning of Advent

by Monte Nabors and Kelly Yates with additions by Dennis Bratcher)

 

Let’s All Say, “I’m just me.”

I’m the pastor of a small church in a small town, and I’m know in my church as well as the community for turning a memorable phrase or two. Some have even made their way to the church sign. My personal favorite is “If you don’t believe in Bigfoot, your God is too small”. But another phrase I say often is “I’m just me,” meaning I never try to put on airs or pretenses, what you see is what you get; for better or worse, warts and all.

As with so many others, my heart broke when I heard the tragic news of Pastor Andrew Stoeklein taking his own life. My prayers continue for both his family and his congregation. I have also read many responses to his passing, including Stephanie Lodbell’s brave piece, “Pastors and Mental Illness”.

I have never struggled with clinical depression, and my prayers go out to my sisters and brothers in the pastoral ministry who struggle daily. Although I have my own demons, many since childhood, I cannot imagine the sense of hopelessness you all must feel at times.

It saddens me that a sense of vulnerability and imperfection in pastors is still met with judgement in the church.  It is simply wrong that the responsibility of pastoral leadership should include the burden of perceived perfection.

I grew up in the church, and I cannot tell you how many times I saw congregants go on the attack at the slightest hint that their pastor or his family didn’t live up to their “expected” standards.  They use the euphemism that “a pastor is held to a higher standard” – but, in reality, it is plain, old fashioned, self-righteous judgement.

I have pastored in the Midwest, the South, and now the West Coast, and I have always resisted these expectations – particularly for my children. I have told more than one church board member that if I am told my employment hinged on my children’s behavior I would quit on the spot.  It’s hard enough to be a Christian kid in this country today; no child needs the added weight of their father’s employment resting on their shoulders. I would rather dig septic tanks than expect my child to bear such a load (particularly when it’s a load of manure).

It’s this fear of judgement that keeps pastors in solitude; fighting such horrific demons as mental illness, depression, self-hatred and anxiety without the support the church so freely offers to others.  It would be an amazing day in the Church of the Nazarene if pastors could say, “I’m just me,” and know that their friends and congregations saw them as loved and broken children of God who have simply been called to lead.

Although I am fully sanctified, my heart and my life devoted to Christ and Him alone, I don’t pretend to have attained any degree of perfection or sinlessness – perceived or otherwise. The best example I can set for my congregation and for my family is the same example set by Paul to the Philippians:

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Phil. 3:12-14

I am nothing more than a devoted follower of Jesus who is in process. I press on. Not perfect, not complete, but pressing on.

Let’s follow Jesus with our whole heart – study, pray, fast, serve, love and trust – but let’s do it without the fetters of perceived perfection and unfair (dare I say, idiotic) expectations. We lead best when we can do so with transparency and honesty.

We are in process, but we don’t pretend to have achieved any sort of perfection or any particular goal. If we are farther along the path of maturity than others, it is because we have been called by God to lead, and in that only because He has gone before us. The best part of being a little farther down the road is the opportunity to take the hand of another who is in process and help them over the obstacles.