STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH                                                                                                           NOVEMBER 22, 2020

Pastor Jonathan Baird        

 

WORSHIPPING TOGETHER

“Fix Your Eyes Upon Jesus”

Call to Worship: Matthew 11:28-30

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Hymn: His Eye is On the Sparrow

Prayer of Adoration and Confession:

Heavenly Father, as we come into your presence this morning, we ask that your Spirit be with us. Your Spirit that brings healing and strength. Each one of us has come here this morning with very personal needs and requests that only you can fulfill. And it is only by your Spirit that these needs can be met. It is you, and you alone who sees our hearts and our thoughts as they really are and it is only you that can truly know our joys and concerns. You are the God of creation and you are the God of re-creation. Re-creating new hearts in us so that we can mature to be the sons and daughters of the most high that you have called us to be. It is humbling to realize that we can be here this morning speaking to the One who created all things. The One who sits upon the throne of heaven. It almost seems as if we should not have the right to come before you, but you have said that because of Jesus, we can come boldly to the throne of grace to receive mercy from you. You created us for fellowship and you are honored when we come before you in prayer and you desire to walk with us on this journey of life.

Lord you know, and we know, that there are times when we have not come to you as we ought. There have been times when we have allowed ourselves to become so busy we neglect to speak to our Heavenly Father, our Savior and our Friend. There are times when we have not done or said things as you would have us do, but we have done our own thing and have missed the mark, sinned against you and others and it is at this time that we bring these things before you in silence.

Lord God, thank you that you have paid the price for us to have both a relationship with you and to have fellowship with you every day of our lives. We owe this great honor to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and it is in His name that we pray…Amen.

 

Assurance of Pardon:

Hear the good news. God’s compassion never fails. God’s grace is new every morning. God’s loving kindness is steadfast. Know that you are forgiven by the grace of Jesus Christ. Forgive each other, and live in peace and harmony.

 

Prayer for Illumination:

Lord, You are the God of mystery and majesty, your thoughts are not our thoughts; your ways are not our ways. So, guide us by your Holy Spirit as we listen for your Word speaking in the scriptures, that we may encounter your Living Word and find our thoughts and ways transformed by your love. Amen.

 

Scripture Readings:

Proverbs 3:1-8
Hebrews 12:1-11

 

Message: “Fix your eyes upon Jesus”

This morning, as you know, has been my second Sunday with you. And it has been an honor for me to be able to worship with you. And although I really feel at home in this pulpit…Preaching in a new church isn’t always easy. It is hard at times to know what to say…Because I don’t know all of you personally…And I don’t know the details of what you are going through as a congregation.

So, when I am invited to preach in a church that is new to me…I try and do what the Apostle Paul said to do…And that is to just give a word of encouragement. A simple message…And I’ll try and do that this morning.

As you all know, we are all going through something together…A little something called Covid…maybe some of you have heard of it. And I am sure that each of you has had to deal with something in life…That is challenging for you personally. That is the reality of this life…And it is usually a part of life that we all wish would be over…So that we can get back to some sort of normal.  We don’t know when that will be…But we do know that Jesus is with us on this journey of life.

There is a story about a couple that were going on a journey that I would like to share…They were a Toronto couple who decided to go to Florida to thaw out during a particularly icy winter. Their plans were to stay at the same hotel where they spent their honeymoon 20 years earlier. But because of their hectic schedules, it was impossible for them to travel together.

So, the husband left Toronto and flew to Florida on Thursday…With his wife planning to fly down the following day. The husband checked into the hotel. And there was a computer in his room…So, he decided to send an email to his wife.  However, he accidentally left out one letter in her email address…And without realizing his error, sent the email.

Meanwhile, in Edmonton, a widow had just returned home from her husband’s funeral. He was a minister who was called home to glory following a heart attack. The widow decided to check her email expecting messages from relatives and friends. But, after reading the first message, she screamed and fainted. The widow’s son rushed into the room…found his mother on the floor…And saw the computer screen which read:

To: My Loving Wife
Subject: I’ve Arrived
Message:
I know you’re surprised to hear from me. They have computers here now and you are allowed to send emails to your loved ones. I’ve just arrived and have been checked in. I’ve seen that everything has been prepared for your arrival tomorrow.
Looking forward to seeing you then!!!! Hope your journey is as uneventful as mine was. P.S. Sure is hot down here!!!

This couple had a destination to go to…And you and I have a destination as well. The destination for all Christians known as heaven. All of us are on this journey…Not a journey that is measured in miles or kilometers, but rather a journey that is measured in time. And each day that we live on planet earth is one more step closer to that destination.

In quite a few places, the Bible refers to this journey of life as a race. It’s not the kind of race where there is only one winner…Or a race where we are in a competition with one another. Rather, it is a race where we are expected to make it across the finish line, in faithfulness and perseverance. Those of you here who run, or who enjoyed running in the past, probably know how this feels. When you are running in a race you keep the goal constantly before you in your mind. You don’t think so much about where you have come from…Or what you are going through at the present moment…Instead, you keep thinking of that finish line…And you know that with each step you take, you are one step closer to your goal.

Believe it or not, I used to run quite a bit. Now I wasn’t really much of a runner or a jogger…More of a plodder… But what kept me at it… was thinking about that finish line when the strain of running would be over. Whether we are athletes, or not, in the physical realm…The Lord has placed all of us in a race…And as you know this race called life has its share of ups and downs. It’s a race that requires discipline and faith… And having the goal of crossing the finish line always before us. Sometimes we can run the race with pleasure when all is going well…

But there are also the times when the race we are running is fraught with injury, pain and uphill battles. Sometimes, we can feel like quitting…Because there seems to be no end in sight of the difficulties and obstacles that we have to overcome. So, like any race, it is important for us to know how to run…And finish well…the race that God has placed before each and every one of us. And where else but God’s Word will we find that know how.

In our New Testament reading this morning from Hebrews 12:1-2, the Scriptures tell us, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”

The first part of this passage is an encouraging one because it tells us that we are not alone. Whatever we are going through…whatever we have to face in this life. We have the comfort of knowing that there are others who have already run this race of life. There are those who have gone on before who encourage us by way of example…And show us that despite the difficulties of life, we can make it too.

In Hebrews chapter 11 we are given the names of some of these people who finished the race in faith…Those who pleased God because of their faithful perseverance through life’s difficulties and hardships. But the most encouraging part to me is that it wasn’t because…Of their gifts and abilities that they finished the race…But it was their faith in God that got them through.  It is placing our faith in God…Not in our circumstances… And not in the things of this world…But only in Him that will get us to that finish line.

So, it really doesn’t matter what situation we are facing…It is God, and not ourselves, who makes it possible for us to run the race victoriously…So long as we keep our eyes focused on Him. This passage also tells us that in order to run this race of life…We should throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles us. Every runner will tell you… that if you want to run in a race with the purpose of making it to the finish line…You don’t bring along any baggage. When you watch marathon runners…You don’t see them carrying along their suitcases with an extra change of clothes. That would just be a dumb thing to do… Because that extra weight would hinder them and wear them out…Long before they ever reached the finish line.

And it is the same in our spiritual race. Those things that hinder us…Those sins…those vices…Those distractions that this world offers us…That slow us down…And get us off track… should be given to God. If we are burdened down with the regrets of the past…The should have’s, could have’s, would have’s of life…We will eventually lose our determination to press on towards tomorrow.

To the new things…the new life that the Lord has for all of us. When we look at our past more than we do at Jesus…We will be burdened in our souls and minds…We will begin to doubt our ability to go on…We will become weary… and the desire to quit will eventually overcome us…To the point that we just want to give up on the new chapter of life that the Lord has for us. If we look at the difficulties that we have had to face over the last year…Or decade…If we allow them to saturate our minds…Then we just won’t have the strength to do what the Lord wants us to do…In the days, months, and years to come.

There are the burdens of the past…personal and/or congregational…And there can also be the burdens of the present…That some, or many, of you are facing today. But the great news for those who follow Jesus…Is that we don’t have to carry any of those burdens. But sometimes we can feel like we aren’t working hard enough…or trying hard enough…If we aren’t carrying some sort of burden. It seems to be the human dilemma.

But the truth is, is that you and I are never called to carry the burdens of life. We are called to cast all of our burdens upon the Lord. Whether those burdens are past failures…Past regrets…Or present afflictions of the mind, body or soul…The Bible tells us that we can cast all of them…all of them at the feet of Jesus because He cares for us. Just so I understood that Scripture verse properly…I looked up the word “all” in the dictionary once…And guess what it means…It means all… Everything.

Because of God’s great love for us…We can give all of our cares and worries to Him. e paid the price for all the bad stuff in the past…And He promises to give us the strength we need for today…And the hope for tomorrow. So, it really doesn’t make much sense that we should carry the burdens of life…When God has offered to carry them for us. Besides, He is the only one that can take our burdens and circumstances…And turn them into something good.

When I look back on the challenges that I have had to go through. I realize now that the Lord has used them for His glory. But we have to give them to Him first. If we continue to hold onto those things…He won’t touch them. And the longer we hold onto those things that burden us…The more worn out we will become…Until we get to the point in life where we feel that we just can‘t go on.

In a way…Carrying a burden is like lifting up this bottle of water. It’s pretty light, at least at first. But if I held it for an hour…What do you think would happen? I would really begin to feel the strain. And if I held it up for a whole day…My arm would give out and the bottle of water would fall. It’s not because the bottle got any heavier…It’s because my ability to carry the weight got less and less as time went on. It’s just the same with life’s burdens and difficulties. If we continue to hang onto them…They will get so heavy that we won’t be able to carry them any longer.

The burdens of the past and the burdens of everyday life…Will eventually crush us with their weight if we continue to hang onto them. That is why we are told to, “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, so that we can run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

Isn’t it amazing that God loves us so much that He is willing to carry our burdens for us…?And to forgive us of all sin that will eventually crush us and cause us to stop running the race of faith.

Jesus Himself told us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Even though the offer from Jesus is there…Sometimes people insist on carrying those burdens themselves…instead of entering into God’s rest…Knowing that He will take care of things…And cause everything to work together for the good of those who love Him. At other times people just give Jesus part of their burdens…They want to hold onto some of them for themselves…Even though He asks us to give Him all of them.

There’s a story of a man who was like this…He was walking down a road with a heavy load on his back. Another man on a horse and cart saw him struggling under the heavy load…So, he stopped and offered him a ride. The man accepted. But as they rode along together…The cart owner noticed that the stranger still kept carrying the huge sack on his back. So, he said, “Why don’t you just lay it down?” To which the stranger replied, “Oh no, it’s good enough of you to carry me. I couldn’t expect you to carry my burden too!”

We can laugh at this man’s simplicity…But that’s what we do if we don’t allow God to take care of us and carry all…

 

Offertory:

 

Hymn:  Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

 

Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession:

 

Heavenly Father, as we come before you this morning, we ask that you give us the strength to continue on in the race, this journey of life that you have placed us in. Give us the determination to run this race in faithfulness and perseverance, not looking behind to our past life or looking to the problems that are right in front of us, but looking only to you, the author and the finisher of our faith. Help us to continually realize that each and every day is one step closer to the finish line where we will receive the prize that you will give us.

We thank you for each other as well Lord, for this church family who are in this race together and called to encourage each other and spur each other on during the difficult times of life.

This morning Lord, we think and pray for those who are running a difficult race in other parts of the world. We bring before you those who are suffering through wars and conflict. Those who have lost loved ones, their homes and even perhaps their will to live.

We also remember those whose lives have changed dramatically and suddenly through pestilence that seems to be so common these days.

We pray for them and help us to give to them what we can to help ease the pain and suffering.

You have called us to be the salt and the light of the earth until you return again and end all suffering and pain.

At this time we also bring before you those that we know who are unwell and facing difficult times. We ask that you give them your grace and your strength to carry on.

We also bring before you those who you have put on our hearts and we bring their names before you now in silence.

Thank you Lord that we have you to turn to through the difficulties of life. We thank you that we do not need to carry any burdens because you have offered to carry them for us. Help us to lay aside our pride and our independence and give all the things that hinder us to you.

We thank you now and always in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who taught us to pray.

The Lord’s Prayer

Invitation to Mission:

We go from here remembering the words of Jesus.

To make disciples and teaching others by our words and deeds.

We do not need to fear this call.

For He is with us to the very end of the age.