sermon

Christmas Eve 2010 - 'Help Comes Looking For You'

For those of you who weren't able to be with us during our Christmas Eve gathering, what follows is the transcript from tonight's message from Isaiah 9:1-7.
Every 4th of July we tell stories about 1776 and the battles fought to win our freedom as a nation. In 733 BC, the great story of freedom for the people of Israel were the events of the Exodus where the God of the Scriptures bent the laws of nature in order to rescue them from slavery to the Egyptian kingdom. 

In 733, that story becomes real and familiar because on the northern horizon, another kingdom threatens to invade and enslave this people...God’s people. The king has told the army to get ready for a fight and has made deals with other nations to help them fend off hese marauders - deals that will provide a short-term solution but in the end only delay the inevitable.

These are dark days...hopeless times. Because where do you go if you’ve exhausted economic, military and political help AND you think that God is angry with you and is out to get you? The shocking answer in this ancient text is that you don’t go looking for help; help comes looking for you.

You don’t go looking for help. Light shines into the darkness. Grief gives way to glory. Because help comes looking for you.

You don’t go looking for help. Crops you have ruined turn into a great harvest. Your story of scarcity becomes a tale of treasure. Because help comes looking for you.

You don’t go looking for help. Your pitiful attempts to rise up are eclipsed by a well-planned, infinitely-resourced rescue mission. Because help comes looking for you.

You don’t go looking for help. The war is already fought and won. You don’t step foot on the battlefield until the conflict has been resolved. Because help comes looking for you.

You don’t go looking for help. Help comes looking for you. A baby is born and you know that help has arrived. Help is not coming - you don’t have to wait for the baby to grow up and learn military strategy - his birth means that help is here and your hope is secure.

The birth of this baby reminds us that God is a wise warrior who will not rest until he finishes the job. Wonderful Counselor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of peace. You don’t go looking for help; help comes looking for you.

The God of the old Exodus is the God of this new Exodus.  A baby’s cry pierces a silent night. This God proves he is mighty to save. A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks the new and glorious morn. You don’t go looking for help; help comes looking for you.

History and hermeneutic can tell us the hope these words provide to a people living in 733BC or to these same people centuries leader under Roman rule on the night that Jesus Christ was born. But what do you make of this?

I don’t know the kind of help you need tonight. Lonely. Tired. Guilt. Shame. Skeptic, seeker, saint - every story is unique but every situation shares this solution. You don’t go looking for help; help comes looking for you.

Will you let him help? Do you have the courage - the humility and the hope - to let a baby help you? Can you confess that you need help? If you walked in tonight as an outsider to Christianity, every hope and every help besides Christ is futile. If it isn’t failing you now, it will fail you later. Quit looking for help; help has already come.

If you call yourself Christian, this table is set so you can live out the story of Isaiah 9. You don’t walk up here looking for help; you make your way to this meal because help came looking for you. A baby is born. The wise warrior who won’t rest until we are rescued arrives. And so we sing songs about the night of his arrival and we soak bread into wine because on the night before his death, Jesus said ‘Do this and remember that you didn’t come looking for help; help came looking for you. You didn’t come looking for me. I came looking for you.’

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Peace and Poverty

This year during Advent, we're looking back into the Old Testament to discover why Jesus came to earth and how that matters to us 2,000 years after he shows up on the scene. In the prophecy of Amos, God brings a lawsuit against his people for treason. Their formal worship has exposed a heart divided between devotion to God and devotion to money. One obvious casualty in this tug-of-war are the poor and needy around them whose needs are ignored.

My contention is that we are very much like these people - our desire for safety, security, comfort and convenience shows up in the way we use our money at the expense of those in need around us.

Here are the questions we created for groups to walk through and talk about - based on the sermon but not entirely dependent upon the sermon. If you're not in a group, feel free to use these but I can't stress enough how critical it is for you to plug into the life of a group of people. For more information about our community groups, contact us at info@missionathens.com.

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Hope For Whores

This year during Advent, we're looking back into the Old Testament to discover why Jesus came to earth and how that matters to us 2,000 years after he shows up on the scene. So we'll be learning the bizarre love story of Hosea - a holy man - and Gomer - a whore. And in their story I believe that we'll hear our story. We are the kind of people whose allegiances and affections are divided. We are spiritual whores.

Strangely enough, I believe that this is a story filled with hope. Because Jesus shows up as a greater and better Hosea who loves us with grace and truth.

Here are the questions we created for groups to walk through and talk about - based on the sermon but not entirely dependent upon the sermon. If you're not in a group, feel free to use these but I can't stress enough how critical it is for you to plug into the life of a group of people. For more information about our community groups, contact us at info@missionathens.com.

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Who's In Charge Around Here?

Today's message comes from Luke 2:1-7, the first part of what is commonly known as the Christmas story. I broke up the story into two parts because there's a specific contrast here between the great king, Caesar Augustus, and the one true king, Jesus, who ends this scene as a helpless baby sleeping in a feeding trough. Which one of these kings will you trust? Will you trust in Jesus, even in those moments when he doesn't seem to be in control? Or will you trust in some other king - another person or even yourself?

Here are the questions we created for groups to walk through and talk about - based on the sermon but not entirely dependent upon the sermon. If you're not in a group, feel free to use these but I can't stress enough how critical it is for you to plug into the life of a group of people. For more information about our community groups, contact us at info@missionathens.com.

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Time for Men To Grow Up

Towards the end of today's message, I'm going to take some time to talk to our men about the culture of spiritual adolescence that pervades life in the American South. We have the opportunity to see our families and city transformed by grace - and the Scriptures call men to take the lead in working towards that end. I'd love for you to join me in asking God to give the men in our church everything they need to live and lead this way Here are the questions we created for groups to walk through and talk about - based on the sermon but not entirely dependent upon the sermon. If you're not in a group, feel free to use these but I can't stress enough how critical it is for you to plug into the life of a group of people. For more information about our community groups, contact us at info@missionathens.com.

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He Will Break Into Your Silence

I'm still processing yesterday's sermon from Luke 1:57-66. I can't tell you how many people I know - in our church and in our city - whose story has chapters in the past where faith felt strong and Jesus seemed to matter. But now...? But now you feel lifeless, stagnant, like someone hit a great big cosmic pause button. You're not alone. God knows that and he's not done with you yet. That's why Zechariah's story shows up in the Scriptures - to convince you that your failure and futility do not define you.

He is faithful. He will break into your silence and leave you singing of his greatness and grace.

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For People Who Use Religion To Hide Their Doubts

Today's message from Luke 1:57-66 has been crafted with so many people in mind - particularly those of us who struggle to have faith and sometimes hide behind religion to keep our doubts and fears hidden from plain sight. Here are the questions we created for groups to walk through and talk about - based on the sermon but not entirely dependent upon the sermon. If you're not in a group, feel free to use these but I can't stress enough how critical it is for you to plug into the life of a group of people. For more information about our community groups, contact us at info@missionathens.com.

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Middle School Girls, Real Men, Gambling and Tithing

Big words from a middle school girl. The problem with tithing. Real men sing. The easiest gamble you'll ever make. All of that from Luke 1:46-56. Here are the questions from the message that we wrote up for our community groups to discuss. They're also a great way for you to prepare for today's gathering at 5:00.

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Why I Didn't Preach Last Sunday Night

Last Sunday, I took a week off from preaching and invited my friend, Maurice Stargell, to come over from Atlanta and unpack the Scriptures for us. If you were there, you  know how challenging and encouraging his message was from Romans 14:1-13. If you weren't there, I'd love for you to go to the media player on our website and check it out. I've had several people ask me why I took this particular Sunday off. And there are several reasons I could give - the elders and I decided to reduce my preaching schedule from 46-47 weeks a year to 40 weeks a year to give me rest and provide opportunity to develop other preachers; we had a group leaders' training that afternoon that I was leading; I had preached twelve straight weeks.

But here's the real reason I took a night off: because we - me and you - needed to hear God speak through someone else's voice. Having an outside voice declare the greatness of God and challenge the present trajectory of our lives is both good and critical if we are going to avoid following Jesus on auto-pilot. Maurice said things in ways we don't say them and illustrated his points with examples and stories that are different from the examples and stories we tend to share.

We have great confidence that God is always at work. Our hope is not in the homiletical and oratorical skill of any man. But God can speak through the unique wiring of particular men - and I'm thankful for how he spoke to us through Maurice last Sunday.

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