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Ecclesiastes 3 1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven . . . (v5) a time to embrace and a time to refrain, Silent Prayer  I love that there is a “time for everything.”  I enjoy the changing seasons.  I love the freshness of Spring, the warmth of summer, the beauty of Fall and the serenity of Winter.  When we get to the deep throes of Winter, I’m even more grateful that there is a time for Spring.  Each season has its beauty and its challenges, its majesty and its moments of difficulty.  And the Word of God says there is a place for all of it.  It all fits in the course and scheme of our lives. Time and place are very important in a story.  Knowing the setting and the time period in history in which a story is written gives readers an immediate understanding about what the characters were facing.  Time and place are very important in culture.  This is one truth we’ve worked to teach our kids.  Some family private jokes and antics are hilarious and intimacy building exercises at home, but out in public they wouldn’t be understood or appreciated.  That’s why Ecclesiastes 3:5 says there is a time to refrain!  Verse five also says there is a time to embrace.  There is a time to “go for it.”  There is a time to not hold back, but to give yourself one hundred percent and to wrap your heart and mind around and give yourself to some experience, event or person.  When I fell in love with my husband, I wasted no time moving in on the situation.  He didn’t know I loved him, but I was going to make sure he did.  I wasn’t going to miss marrying the man of my dreams.  I told my friends I loved him and was going to marry him, and then I devised a plan.  You see, I was in love with him before we ever went out on a date.  We were friends for about six months and he started counseling a young lady that went to my church.  She asked me to attend her sessions with her and while there, I saw his wisdom, his tenderness, his compassion, his heart and sensitivity, and he became the hottest thing on the planet to me.  There was no time to waste!  The week of Valentine’s Day, I purchased a silly card and a serious card.  Since it was not a time to refrain, I gave both to him at the next session on the Tuesday before Valentine’s Day.  I had no idea he was going to read them before the session started!  That was the longest hour of my life.  However, it paid off.  He called me that night and said, “What are we going to do about this mutual attraction?”  I said, “You can pick me up at seven on Valentine’s Day.”  We embraced that moment and have been embracing life’s moments together ever since. I love the Church Year calendar that gives us an opportunity to follow the life of Christ and to experience special moments as a church.  Lent pushes us to examine ourselves.  It asks us to reflect on the wilderness experience of Christ.  It leads us to the cross.  When we would rather turn our heads and look away, it makes us look at the suffering of Christ which makes the joy of Easter all the more intense and dramatic.  Pentecost Sunday gives us an opportunity to embrace the coming of the Holy Spirit and to re-up and re-enlist for duty as Christians who are to go with power into the world to share the Gospel.  You see there are some prescribed moments in time, some non-negotiable experiences in the course of life that are simply good for us.  They give God room to work.  They allow us to grow.  Today we are entering into the season called Advent.  It is a time to reflect on what it means that Jesus came into the world and how we should live in light of the fact that He is coming again.  Advent takes us to Christmas.  It is supposed to be a season of anticipation, however, for many it has become just a season of busyness.  For many it has become a season of dread or grief as the holidays are reminders that someone is now missing.  Someone who is still loved has passed away.  Yet still for others it is a season of self-centered living.  The only question in their minds is, “Will they get everything they want?” I can’t tell you what you will open on Christmas Day, but I am here to challenge you to attempt to receive everything God wants for you during this season.  This is not a time to refrain.  This is a season to embrace.  I want to encourage you to embrace God’s plans and purposes for you this Christmas season. Mary and Joseph are examples of people who embraced God’s plans for their lives.  (EMBRACE GOD’S PLANS) Galatians 4:4 tells us, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law.” For Mary, this season represents that it was time for her to surrender her whole life to embrace the plan of God.  Once you become a mother, your life it spent raising your children, praying for your children and one day, helping to raise your children’s children.  Once you are a mother, you are a mother for life.  Not only did Mary become a mother, but she became a mother to the Son of God.  Forget what she hoped and dreamed for her Son.  He would become what the Heavenly Father had planned.  Mary would parent according to the will of God and would surrender completely to the plan which involved the murder of her Son.  When she embraced the plan of God in the fullness of time, she surrendered her life. When the angel came to Mary to tell her that God had chosen her to bear the Son of God, she was planning a wedding.  Luke 1:38 details Mary’s response when she was told to return the dress, cancel the caterer, and refund the DJ’s deposit.   “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” From that moment on, Mary’s plans were God’s plans.  Mary embraced God’s plans. The last time Joseph checked, he was engaged to a non-pregnant lady.  He hadn’t signed up to be a step parent.  He had a plan of his own when he heard Mary was pregnant.  It was to cut bait and run.  But rather than do what came impulsively, rather than do what would keep his reputation intact, rather than pursue the other options Joseph would have had, he chose the plan of God.  As we see in the willingness of Joseph and Mary to hand over their lives, bodies and resources in order to fulfill God’s plan, so to must we surrender our lives, bodies and resources to God.  It wasn’t a one-time decision that Joseph and Mary made, but a whole life of surrender. Have you ever thought about the fact that there is a great difference between commitment and surrender?  When you make a commitment, you are still in control to a degree.  You agree to the terms.  You know what you’re getting in to up front, and then you decide it’s worth it. That reminds me of something Joshua did several years ago.  I tried to get him to eat his sandwich for lunch by telling him he’d be able to have a cookie for dessert to which he replied, “How big is the cookie?”  He was going to agree or not agree to eat his sandwich based on the size of the reward.  He was going to make a commitment based on what was in it for him. You see, when we make commitments… we do so by the power that we possess. Our decision or will is the basis of the commitment that we make. If we make the commitment, then we are in a sense still in charge, and therefore able to withdraw our commitment.  Commitment also depends on our ability to hold up our end of some bargain. Not so with surrender.  I’m not saying there isn’t a place for commitment in the life of a Christian, but the kind of commitment Christ wants isn’t an agreement to some terms, but it is a commitment to complete surrender.  That means you don’t know in advance what the terms are.  It means you simply give up complete control to God.  You become putty in His hands.  He gets to mold and shape you.  You simply surrender to His plans and power at work in your life. As one old preacher used to say, “The difference between commitment and surrender is like a good ham and eggs breakfast. To the chicken it’s commitment, to the pig it’s total surrender!”  I know it’s a busy time.  There will be work parties, family commitments, shopping and baking to do, cantatas and school programs to attend, but don’t forget that God has some plans for this season.  Let Him share His plans with you, and let this Advent be a time to embrace the plans of God.  It is my personal goal to no longer think of myself as a committed Christian.  Rather, I want to think of myself as a surrendered Christian. Why not start praying daily, “Lord, show me your will.  Show me what you have planned for my life.  Maybe you’ve been trying to ignore God.  Perhaps He’s revealed something to you about your life, something you should be a part of, something you should do or stop doing and you’re trying to pretend you didn’t hear Him.  Let Advent be the time you fully obey.  Don’t wait for January first to start doing what God has told you to do.  Say “Yes” to His plan today. Not only is Advent a time to embrace the plan of God, but it is also a time to embrace the purposes of God.  The shepherds and wise men remind us that God has given our lives purpose.  They can serve as examples of what it means to embrace the purposes of God.  Let’s look first at the wisemen. “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the day of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews?  For we have seen his start in the east, and are come to worship him.” (Matt 2:1-2). They were truth seekers.  They studied the stars in a quest for truth and their quest for truth led them to Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  And when you experience the Truth . . . When you experience Jesus, you can’t help but worship Him. Did you know you were created to worship God?  When you become who God desires through a relationship with Jesus, you’ll begin to walk in your purpose.  One of those purposes is worship. Matthew 2:11 says “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” These wisemen had traveled hundreds of miles just to worship this new King. What kind of journey are we willing to make in order to worship Jesus?  When our alarm clocks go off on Sunday morning, do we consider how cold the mornings are becoming and how nice it would be to stay in bed?  Do we justify that sleeping in is a reward for all of our previous week’s work?  Or are we determined that whatever it takes, we’ll make the journey? Not only did the wisemen make a long journey, but they brought gifts.  They came prepared to worship Jesus.  They weren’t sure what the experience would look like.  They just knew that a star as bright as the one that led them to Bethlehem indicated that Someone who was worthy of worship was located under that star.  They brought the finest of gifts to the worship experience.  They were precious gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  They bowed their knee.  They opened their hearts.  They presented their gifts to a baby, the Christ-child.  They weren’t worshiping this King because He would reward them for making the long journey.  They weren’t worshiping this King because He would thank them with gifts of His own or pay them back somehow.  They were bowing before a baby, one who couldn’t grant a wish or offer them anything in return.  You know what that tells me?  They worshiped Him just because of who He was. The Christ-child who was worthy of worship just because He was.  “O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!” They embraced the journey.  They embraced the experience, and they let it transform them.  Worship is such a powerful thing that it has the ability to transform a man’s destiny.  The Bible records that after the wise men had worshiped Jesus they went home “another way” (Matt 2:12).  After the worship experience, it was revealed to them that they should not keep company with murderous Herod.  They were to take another way home.  When we worship God, He shows us things.  I love the rendering of Psalm 25:14 in “The Message” translation.  It says, God-friendship is for God-worshipers; They are the ones He confides in.” In Psalm 73:16-17, the Psalmist is conflicted and confused by a whole lot.  It’s too much for him to keep in his head and sort out.  He says, “16 When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me 17 till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.”  Do you see that a shift came in his perspective and thinking after he had connected with the presence of God in worship? One of my favorite worship stories in the Bible comes from Genesis 22.  Abraham and his wife, Sarah, had finally had the promised son, Isaac.  It was this very son, the one God gave to them in their old age that God then asked Abraham to sacrifice on an altar of burnt wood.  When you read the account of Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac, you see the same kind of dedication the wisemen had regarding their worship, but on an even deeper level.  There was a journey that had to be made.  It required some travel.  Abraham had to get up early, get his son up early and walk to the place of sacrifice.  It required some preparation.  He had to cut some wood and saddle a donkey and build an altar.  It was a physical experience.  It required a precious gift as Abraham had to bind his most precious possession, his son, to the altar of wood.  And as he and his son walked to the place of sacrifice, he told his servant to stay put.  He said, “My son and I are going over there to worship.”  He didn’t know exactly what would happen, but he knew he knew one thing; He was going to worship God and he was willing to give his most precious possession in order to do so. Most of you know the story.  As Abraham prepared to kill his son and offer him as a burnt sacrifice, God called out to him and told him not to do so.  God provided a sacrifice and then the neatest thing happens.  In Genesis 22:15 and following we read:  “15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”  Once again, we see that following worship comes a disclosure of a special revelation.  You want to know about your destiny?  You want some clarity about life’s challenges?  Embrace God in worship.  Both my call to full-time ministry and my call to preach came during times of intense worship.  I believe two people can sit in the same service.  One can hear from God while the other simply sits with great friends, listens to nice music and hears a stirring speech.  The difference?  Worship.  Worship absolutely makes a difference.  Mandy plans an amazing and inspiring opportunity for us to meet with God every week, but if you aren’t coming prepared to offer anything, if you aren’t making the journey with your head, heart and whole being, if you aren’t willing to give what God is asking of you, you may be in this room where worship is happening, but you will leave without the same results as those who have worshiped.  Coming with the purpose of worshiping, coming prepared to offer God something that will show Him He is the Lord of your life will change your life.  He will delight Himself in your worship and speak to you personally in ways that could not have transpired if you hadn’t embraced your purpose as a worshiper.  God will reveal Himself to people who are willing to respond to that revelation.  Because the wisemen embraced the Christ-child as worshipers, they received direction for their lives.  Because Abraham embraced God in worship through obedience and a willing and sacrificial heart, he received confirmation and revelation about his future. The shepherds also embraced God’s purpose for their lives.  Angels appeared to them while they were at work, watching their sheep.  They learned that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, and they went to see for themselves what the angels told them about.  You know you can’t know Jesus secondhand.  It is an up close and personal experience!  You have to see Jesus for yourself. Luke 2:18 and verse 20 say of the shepherds, “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”  The shepherds embraced another major purpose God has for all of His children.  Once we have seen that it’s true for ourselves, we are to become witnesses to the rest of the world of the good news of the Gospel so that people can take a look at Jesus for themselves.  They Scriptures don’t say the shepherds went back and told their families they were all becoming priests.  It says they went back home, implying that they went back to shepherding.  However, they went back with a different outlook.  They went back with a new sense of purpose in addition to earning a living and trying to enjoy life.  They went back with joyful hearts and praise on their lips because of what they had experienced.  They went back as witnesses! Did you read about the little boy who returned home after his first Sunday school class? His mother asked, “Who was your teacher?’ and the little boy answered, “I don’t remember her name, but she must have been Jesus’ grandmother because she didn’t talk about anyone else.”  Are you talking about Jesus?  Do people know that you are related to Him?  That you are one of His children?  Have you embraced God’s purpose for you in that you are to be His witness?  Does everyone who knows you know that you are a Christ-follower?  Who is amazed by your testimony?  How many times last week did you have a conversation about your relationship with Jesus with someone?  In the last month?  The last year?  I want to challenge you this morning that the Advent Season is a time to embrace God’s plans and purposes for your life.  Use it as a time to seek and embrace God’s plan for you; God’s plan for your family.  Maybe you can find time to pray each evening together as a family during this Season and ask God to show you His plan for each day leading up to Christmas Day. Embrace God’s purposes for you as a worshiper and a witness to His salvation.  Make a decision to come every Sunday during this season.  Don’t come empty handed.  Bring your songs, your mind, your prayers, your tithe and your heart.  Start testifying everywhere you go.  It’s “Merry Christmas,” not “Happy Holidays.”  “God bless you” is always an appropriate way to say “goodbye” to people.  Make a list today of people that need an invitation to our children’s cantata and worship dance evening next Sunday night.  Start thinking about who you can have dinner with on Sunday night, December 19th and then bring them with you to the Voices of Praise cantata.  Something that brings me great joy as your Pastor is to see several of you using Facebook to share your faith.  How awesome it is to see God’s Word posted to your profiles and words of testimony and witness on your posts.  When I read that you are inviting people to church and our special events, it thrills me because it means you are taking your role as Christ’s witnesses seriously.  You know that if you put it out there on social media for people to read that your life will come under greater scrutiny.  People will hold you to a higher standard, but you are stepping up and stepping out anyway!  I love it! I loved getting Charlie Turley’s call a few weeks ago.  He just wanted me to be on the lookout for his chiropractor because he had invited his chiropractor to church at his last appointment. Nothing is more precious to me than when one of our kids comes home and tells us they have talked to their friends at school about Jesus and invited them to church.  Embrace your purpose to be God’s witness.  Wouldn’t it be awesome if someone you know came to know Christ personally because of your witness this Advent? Advent is really a time of preparation.  Most who lived during Jesus’ time weren’t ready for Jesus’ coming into the world.  They weren’t expecting God to do anything new. Therefore, they weren’t prepared for the Messiah, and they missed it. I believe God led me to preach this simple message this morning because He wants to do something new and special for each one of us during this Advent and Christmas season.  I don’t want to miss it, and I don’t want you to miss it. There was no room for Jesus in the Inn that first Christmas, so He occupied the place that was available.  Is there room in your heart and mind for a new thing this Christmas?  Take time to slow down and seek Him.  Take time to prepare your heart for whatever He is up to.  Let this Advent be a time to embrace everything God has for you.
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