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Spiritual Warfare: Who Is The Enemy - Ephesians 6:10-17

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We know who we are fighting, don’t we?  It is the liberals, or is it the conservatives?  It is the gay community, or is it those who oppose same-sex marriage?  It is Islam, or is it those who disparage other faiths?  It is the gun-control activists, or is the members of the NRA?  It is the illegal immigrants living among us, or is it those who want stricter immigration laws?  And obviously, it is the drug dealer, the violent criminal and the terrorist, right?  Like I said, we know who we are supposed to be fighting, right?  If we don’t, there are plenty of folks who will tell us who we are supposed to fight, aren’t there?  And every time that a there’s a controversy, a tragedy happens, or an attack occurs , battle plans are put together and lines in the sand are drawn—and along each of these lines, church folks around the nation join in, readily attacking or demonizing those on the other side.
The problem is, my brothers and sisters, that when the People of God begin attacking those …

Contracts and Covenants (Wednesday Night Reflection)

I’ve been asked several times during the time that I have been pastoring congregations, “what is a covenant?”  I’ve often asked the question of others, “what do you think of when you hear the word covenant?”  We read the word frequently through Scripture, particularly in the Old Testament, but sometimes within the New.  In the life of the church we hear it when we talk about the Baptismal Covenant or a Wedding Covenant.  Tonight we join together and will observe a Covenant Renewal Service, so I thought it would be a good time for us to consider the question together, “What is a covenant?”
Far too many times when I have asked folks what a covenant is…and sadly I’ve even heard some pastors present it this way, they look at covenant is just being the biblical word equivalent of “contract.”  We know what contracts are.  We sign a contract when we purchase a new car or a new house.  We might sign a contract for employment opportunities or a credit application.  There are times in schools …

A War Cry: The Magi - Matthew 2:1-18 (HIUMC)

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We’ve spent a lot of time in the darkness of Christmas…or at least the darkness of the nativity story as the first Christmas occurred without Christmas carols and Christmas trees, without blinking lights or elves in Christmas tights…, or as Dr. Suess would put it: “it came without ribbons!...it came without tags!...it came without packages, boxes, or bags.”[i]  Since mid-November we have been explored the dark world into which Jesus was born as God declared that the time had come for evil, sin, and even death to be defeated. We journeyed to tiny Bethlehem with its history of idolatry, prejudice, betrayal, brutal violence, and death. We walked with Mary as she put her relationship with her family, and even her own life, on the line to respond to God’s call to service—and found herself a rejected, outcast, teenage pregnant mom-to-be. We stood by Joseph as he chose not to reject Mary and in taking her into his life risked his reputation, his financial security, and his family connections an…

A War Cry: Simeon and Anna Luke 2:22-38 (HIUMC)

We’re nearing the end of our journey, as we’ve been considering God’s Christmas declaration of war on evil, sin, and death. Bethlehem indicated that there is no place too small or with too dark a history for God to enter into and redeem. Mary and Joseph’s entry into God’s service showed us what it means to risk everything, family, friends, finances, reputation, and life in order to serve God. The baby Jesus called us to a life of humble service, where we put the needs of others above ourselves, and never consider any area of service beneath us. The shepherds and angels remind us we can have peace in all things because God has come to be among us and that this message is a message to us all…every one of us…regardless of how insignificant others try to make us feel. Some would think we’re done at this point, others would suggest that we have one more group to cover, namely the wise men.  Considering that the wise men did not show up at the manger, but likely at Mary and Joseph’s home whe…

Christmas Carol Countdown* (Wednesday Night Worship)

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A survey was taken over the last several weeks and the results, though minimal, are in.  Tonight, we will enjoy the top six Christmas carols of our congregation.  There were five songs tied for second, and a final song that stood alone at the top of the standings. The lyrics will be on the screen, so please feel free to sing along. At number six we have a song of mysterious origin.  It is perhaps one of the first Christmas carols taught to children.  It seems to date back to the latter part of the 1800’s.  It has been wrongly attributed to Martin Luther, leader of the Protestant Reformation.  It was said that he would sing it to his children every night.  The legend grew to him singing it to children across Germany.  Interestingly, though, is the fact that not a single mother in Germany was familiar with the song prior to its introduction from the United States to them.  The authorship continues to remain uncertain, though many believe its roots are here in the United States.  There is…

A War Cry: Angels and Shepherds - Luke 2:8-20 (HIUMC - Christmas Eve Sunday Morning)

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When you think of Christmas angels, what images come to mind?  For most of us, pageants over the years, have left us with images of pretty, young angels, often female, singing over a field of shepherds.
[Maybe a little something like this.]

What if, however, we pictured the group of angels, less like a professional music group dressed in choir robes singing…and more like [this],

a group of angels, swords by their sides, standing in military formation, who just happened to be gifted in music and singing.  Why this image?  We’ll explore that in just a few moments.
Let’s take a moment to remember where we have been on this journey, that we have entitled, “A War Cry,” so we will have a grounding point for where we find ourselves today.  We began our journey by noting that while Christmas time has traditionally been a point of thinking about “peace o’er all the earth,” an image highlighted in 1914 with the Christmas cease-fire during World War I, that in reality, Christmas is God’s decla…

Preparing for Peace - Isaiah 9:6-7, John 14:27, John 16:33 (Saturday December 23rd - “Fourth Sunday In Advent)

Peace…peace…peace.  We hear that word more this time of year, probably, than any other.  We talk about it.  We sing about it.  We pray for it.  We crave it, perhaps, more than anything else—whether we realize it or not.  After all, shouldn’t that be the highlight of this time of year as we gather to celebrate the the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.  Yet, for many of us, peace is more elusive this time of year than any other.
Our calendars disrupt our peace.  There are church services and other faith activities…. parades… school programs… work and sometimes work Christmas parties… family gatherings… decorating… shopping… wrapping… cooking and baking… phone calls and Christmas cards… Peace?  Who has time for peace?
The weather disrupts our peace.  In North Carolina that’s a given.  It’s rainy.  It’s sunny.  It’s cold.  It’s hot.  We’re outside playing ball in shorts and short sleeves.  We’re huddled on the under blankets while wearing our winter pajamas.  All in one week.  All in …

Not Always What We Expected - Matthew 7:7-11 (Wednesday Night Reflection)

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That doesn’t seem like a very Christmassy Scripture passage does it?  I mean this is the time of year when we gather for Christmas messages and we expect to hear about Quirinius and Bethlehem…Mary and Joseph…shepherds and angels…and maybe a wise man or two or three (depending on what Michael and the other Chris-myth busters tell us).  Yet here I am talking about asking, knocking, and seeking…alone with bread and rocks, fish and snakes.  Well, you’ve got to think about it…this season is all about asking (Santa), knocking (on doors as you go visiting or caroling), and seeking (that elusive perfect present). Going back to the asking part…particularly the asking Santa part…I think I am going to petition congress to pass a law that a child may only speak to Santa once per year.  Over the course of my life I have found that Santa’s head has to be spinning.  When I have had children visit Santa one more than one occasion during the year, because he keeps showing up, at the mall, at the school…