Sunday Message 10 January 2020
2 Chronicles 29:1-3; 31:20-21; 32:1-3, 6-8, 20-26 “Coming Alive Together – Finishing Well” by Ric Hanse
Hezekiah of Judah
At twenty-five years old, Hezekiah becomes Judah’s king in 715 B.C. His first act as king is opening the temple doors and restoring God’s house. The following month Hezekiah consecrates the priests and invites everyone worship. Soon people are celebrating the Passover and experiencing God’s love. 
But the good times do not last long. King Sennacherib of Assyria invades Judah, crushing village after village. To slow the Assyrian invasion Hezekiah re-routes the water flowing from Jerusalem hoping that thirst will weaken the enemy. Hezekiah also fortifies the walls around Jerusalem, building an outer wall for extra protection. At the same time the king builds up an arsenal against Assyria. 
Preparations having been made; the people of Jerusalem wait. Sensing terror in his beloved citizens King Hezekiah reminds them that Sennacherib is no match for God. The people see in King Hezekiah’s courage and confidence that come from his faith in God. Hezekiah’s faith encourages the people to courageously cry out, God will be our shield and strength and the Lord will fight our battles!
During the battle Hezekiah cries out to God, “Remember O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” God hears Hezekiah’s prayer. As the battle rages on God strengthens the people and God sends an angel who, in one night, kills one-hundred-eighty-five-thousand Assyrian soldiers. 
The Assyrians flee. Hezekiah is healed. But the king’s faith falters as Hezekiah begins relying on his wealth and power. Sensing the Lord’s disappointment, Hezekiah repents and gets to work rebuilding war torn Judah. Then Hezekiah (as the Old Testament says) rests with his fathers. King Hezekiah finishes well.
Making Great Starts Great Finishes
Great starts are easy. A wonderful wedding day. A great first work out. A successful day one at work. Reading the first two chapters in the Bible. Welcoming a healthy baby into the world. Day one of the diet.
But what does the finish look like? What does that marriage look like thirty years, one mortgage, two kids and two car payments later? What does the workout schedule become the next month when we’re still discovering muscles we never knew we had? What happens when we get to Exodus 35:8? What becomes of the relationship with that newborn when she or he is eighteen?
When it comes to life and faith how do we finish well. By keeping close. King Hezekiah finishes well because he keeps close to God, he keeps close to others and he keeps close to himself. 
Keeping Close to God
Hezekiah knows that keeping close to God is the foundation to finishing well. Hezekiah’s first act as king is get himself and his people worshiping, praying, and reading the Bible. If we want to finish well, we need to keep close to God.
Where are you in your faith journey? Are you moving closer to God or farther from God? Keeping close to God means spending time in worship. Like exercise it takes discipline to get up and go to worship – even when it’s in our living room! Keep close through prayer. Talk to Jesus. Share your thoughts with Jesus. Keep close by reading the Bible. Finishing well means keeping close to Jesus. 
Keeping Close to Each Other
Hezekiah is a hands-on leader who loves his people enough to spend time with them. Hezekiah knows his people because he is willing to be real with them. He lets them see his hopes and dreams.  He lets them see his flaws. In turn, the people are authentic with Hezekiah.
Are we doing what we need to do to keep our relationships with each other strong? Finishing well means keeping close to each other. 
Keeping Close to Ourselves
Hezekiah falls away from God when he begins to put himself and his riches at the center of his world. But Hezekiah never stops keeping close to himself. Keeping close to ourselves means regularly taking time to look over our life. Because Hezekiah is willing to keep close to himself by looking over his life, Hezekiah discovers that he is turning away from God.
When we turn from God there are warning signs we’ll see as long as we keep closer to ourselves. When we are overly busy chances are good that we are not as close to God as we need to be. We keep close to ourselves by spending time looking over our life and examining our thoughts and priorities.
A New Look – Finishing Well
Stewardship – taking care of God’s Church and our lives – is all about keeping close to God, keeping close to each other, and keeping close to ourselves.
By keeping close we’ll finish well!
Sunday Message  – 3 January 2020

Matthew 2:1-12 “Coming Alive Together – Different Roads” by Ric Hanse

Star Power

In 6 B.C. when some of Persia’s religious leaders called magi see Jupiter and Saturn converging in the western sky, they realize something significant is happening in Israel. Completing their 900-mile journey to Jerusalem, the Magi present themselves to King Herod. Bowing before Herod, they ask where they will find Israel’s new King. Unaware of a the new king’s arrival, Herod speaks privately with his religious leaders who tell him that it is very possible that the Messiah has been born in Bethlehem. Refusing to give up his throne, Herod plans to kill this king once the Magi discover his whereabouts.
A Dream to A Different Road
Upon discovering the infant Jesus in Bethlehem, the Magi present God’s chosen King with gifts. Later that night, God comes to the Magi in a dream, warns them of Herod’s murderous plan, and advises that they go home by a different road. The Magi obey and travel home from Christmas via a different road. 
Called to Travel A New Road
Throughout 2020 and even now we are traveling down some different roads. None of us dreamed this time last year that the only way to worship together would be on YouTube. Nor did we imagine our church would discover ways to flourish in a worldwide pandemic. We’ve taken meetings, small groups, and giving online. We have answered God’s call to travel different roads.
As we begin 2021 there are other different roads down which God is calling us to travel.
Coming Alive Together – A New Look
Four years ago, I shared with you that our vision for Faith, the church and our shared ministry is: “Don’t ask yourself what the church needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then do it. Because what the church needs is people who come alive.”
We are crafting a culture that gives people permission to dream, experiment, try new ideas, and commit to audacious, creative, imaginative, and inspiring ministry.
We are starting a new stewardship series. Stewardship is means taking care of God’s church. During the next weeks we’ll discover what it means to be come alive by looking for the different roads God has for us and committing to travel these exciting roads. Adventures in financial giving, adventures in offering Jesus to others, adventures in making our church an amazingly bright beacon of God’s unconditional love for all people so that people will see in us the brilliantly bright star of God’s saving love – Jesus Christ.
2020 is over. The pandemic will not last forever. But the adventures God calls us to will never end! Together let’s follow the star, travel different roads and come alive in Jesus!
Sunday Message 27 December 2020
Micah 5:1-2 “Christmas Prophets – Christmas Hope” Ric Hanse
From Micah To Jesus
In 701 B.C. King Sennacherib of Assyria having destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel, invades the southern kingdom of Judah. During the invasion God’s prophet Micah tells Judah’s King Hezekiah not to lose hope because someday a ruler will come who will be strong enough to restore peace to God’s people. Micah’s words bring hope to King Hezekiah and God’s people. 
When Jesus is born in 6 B.C., Micah’s words come true. When Jesus is born, Christmastime comes into the world. Since the day of Jesus’ birth Christmastime hope has been filling the world. Christmas Day is over. But Christmastime is here.
From Bethlehem comes a King who fills the world with Christmas hope. Jesus, the Christmas King is here to stay – forever! This means Christmas hope is with us and within us forever! Let’s spend some time discovering what Christmas hope looks like.
Hope Involves Waiting
Christmas Hope involves waiting. The things we hope for are things we are waiting for. Everything we hope for involves waiting. We hope the pandemic will end soon. We hope there will be more snow (at least I do!). Hope is waiting for something good to happen.
Hope Is Trusting the Promise Will Come True
Christmas Hope is trusting that God’s good promises made to us will come true. We know Christmas hope when we trust that is fulfilling His promises to love us, save us and show us the way.
Hope Is Confidence That Jesus Is with Us  
This has been a terrible year for us. But through all our trials, we know in our bones that Jesus is with us. Jesus who experienced terrible times, is with us and Jesus is bringing us through. We have hope because we have confidence that Jesus who comes at Christmas is with us, guiding us, protecting us and loving us.
Hope Is Knowing Things Will Get Better
Jesus is born into the world to make things better. As we live through these frightening times our hope is energized by the assurance that Jesus is making things better. Jesus is making things better in our minds and in the world. Knowing that Jesus is making things better gives us hope.
Home Comes Through God’s People
We also experience Christmas hope through God’s people. Christmas hope comes through our videographer AJ Rittenhouse whose patience and commitment to excellence inspires hope in us. Christmas hope comes through memories of my Granny Mercaldi who though she lost her leg, lost her husband, lost her money and lost her home, never lost her smile and always kept her confidence that Jesus was making things well.
Through the little town of Bethlehem, God comes into the world bringing us hope. Jesus is born into our lives anew at Christmas. And Jesus fills us with hope that is not based on emotion, or ease but on the beautiful truth that Christmastime IS because Jesus is here. Christmas hope is here because Jesus is here Jesus is with us and within us – forever.
Sunday Message 20 December 2020
Isaiah 9:2,6-7 “Christmas Prophets – Memorable Gifts” by Ric Hanse
Granny & Pops Mercaldi
Looking out the window, I eagerly awaited the wonderful sight of Granny and Pops Mercaldi pulling into our driveway in Pops’ Cadillac Sedan DeVille on Christmas morning. Pops wasn’t dressed like Santa, but he carried in four big bags filled with presents. One bag for each grandchild. The gifts were from Santa, but Pops delivering them in his Cadillac was wonderful!
It’s Almost Here
Christmas is only five days away! Wow! While Christmas is different this year – it’s still very much the same. Gifts under the tree. Celebrating the birth of Jesus, our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 
Walking in Darkness
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. We are doing our share of walking in the darkness: COVID-19 and all the health and financial struggles it has created for so many of us. We walk in the darkness of racism and political polarization and loneliness. We who have been walking in darkness need Christmas! More than any year in my fifty-four years, I need Christmas. We all need Christmas more than ever!
Christmas Is Worth Celebrating
We need to celebrate the day on which the great Light dawned in this sin darkened world. In an animal stable filled with hay and the sounds of sheep baaing, goats maaing, chickens clucking, roosters crowing and winds whistling, a young virgin named Mary gives birth to God in the flesh.  Except for the shepherds, no one outside that Bethlehem stable is aware that one of the most important moments in all creation is taking place. On that first quiet, simple, unassuming Christmas our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace is born – for us! This is how much Jesus loves us.   
The Memorable Gifts
Christmas is all about receiving. It really is. But it’s not about receiving more stuff. Granny and Pops would pull up in Pop’s Cadillac and Pops would haul in four huge bags filled with Christmas presents. And I still have…not a single gift that came out of any of those bags. I cannot even remember what they gave me.
But…I remember so vividly is the excitement of seeing Granny and Pops pull into the driveway. I remember their smiles. I remember the hugs I gave them in thanksgiving for all the presents. I remember their love. I don’t have a single present from any of those bags. But I am still unwrapping the gifts that Jesus still gives me through my wonderful Christmas memories of wonderful grandparents who are now in God’s kingdom.
A Light Dawns in The Darkness
On this Sunday before Christmas, Jesus invites us to let His light shine into the places within us that are dark with sadness, sorrow, loneliness, fear, anxiety and pain.
How many of the Christmas gifts that we have received over the years do we still have? Some. But how many of the memories of the loving kindness of the gift givers do we have? Lots!   
On Friday as we give presents and receive presents may we allow Jesus to fill us with His presence. Through the sacred stillness of a Christmas Day moment, through the lovingkindness shown us, through the memories we make, and the memories we revisit, Jesus will come to us anew, fill us with His light and assure us that in every season of life our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace is with us, is within us and making all things well, just as He did on that first quiet Christmas that brought God near to everyone.
Sunday Message – 13 December 2020
Isaiah 7:10-16 “Christmas Prophets – Unwanted Guests” by Ric Hanse
Unwanted Guests
Unwanted Christmas guests show up every year. I’m not talking about obnoxious family members. These unwanted guests are Christmas Crankiness. Christmas Blues. Christmas Anxiety. Christmas Letdown.
The Cause
These unwanted guests show up when they discover there is room for them in our hearts. Christmas Crankiness, Christmas Blues, Christmas Anxiety and Christmas Letdown find room within us when the Christmas we celebrate is too small. The real Christmas is really big. When the real Christmas fills our hearts and minds there is no room for unwanted Christmastime guests. The real Christmas is so big, that it goes back to 734 B.C.
The Twelfth King of Judah
After the death of Israel’s third king (Solomon) the nation splits in half. The northern kingdom is Israel, and the southern kingdom becomes Judah. In 734 B.C. things are not going well for Ahaz, Judah’s twelfth king. Israel’s King Pekah and Syria’s King Rezin form an unholy alliance and invade Judah. Rather than turning to God for protection, King Ahaz turns to Tilgeth-Pileser (ruler of Assyria) for help. 
The prophet Isaiah assures King Ahaz that God will not let Ahaz be defeated. God guards Ahaz not because Ahaz is righteous but because God is faithful. God even gives King Ahaz a sign to assure him that God will be with him. God’s sign: Someone who is now a virgin will give birth to a son who will be named Immanuel. And before Immanuel is old enough to know right from wrong Judah’s enemies will be defeated and Ahaz will be safe. Two years later, before this child named Immanuel is old enough to know right from wrong Israel’s enemies are defeated. Through the birth of this first Immanuel God says to His people, “I am with you.” 
Seven Hundred Twenty-Eight Years Later
Seven hundred twenty-eight years after Isaiah speaks God’s words to King Ahaz, these same words come true again in a whole new way. A woman who is still a virgin gives birth to a son in a Bethlehem animal stable. And she names the child Immanuel which means God with us. Through this Immanuel, God comes to us in a new way. Through this Immanuel, God puts on a human body and lives in a specific time in history with a specific people. With the birth of this Immanuel, Christmas comes to all the world. 
Christmas Is So Big Because Christmas Is God with Us
Christmas is big because Christmas is Immanuel – God living with us as a person. Christmas is big because Christmas is God coming into the world to rescue us from our crankiness, blues, anxiety, and disappointment.  
Christmas is big – hugely big – because Christmas is more than a one-day event. Jesus comes to us on Christmas Day. Does Jesus go away on 26 December? No!  So, Christmas is more than an event. Christmas is a permanent reality. Jesus is with us. Forever!
No Room in The Inn
Christmas Crankiness, Christmas Blues, Christmas Anxiety, Christmas Letdown take up residence in us when our Christmas is too small. When I start getting cranky, blue, anxious or feel Christmas letdown, I hear Isaiah saying, “A virgin shall be with child and He shall be called Immanuel – God with us.”
This morning through Isaiah’s words God calls us to invite Jesus to be born into all those places in our lives where there is room for Crankiness, Blues, Anxiety and Letdown.  When we are filled with Jesus there is no room for unwanted guests.
Sunday 6 December 2020 Isaiah 11:1-6  “Christmas Prophets – Stumped” by Pastor Ric Hanse
The Tree Is Down
Assyria the world’s superpower storms into Judah, cutting southern Israel down like an army of chainsaw wielding lumberjacks leveling a forest. When Assyria is through the once great nation of Judah is nothing more than a stump.
A stump – Judah is finished.  A stump – Judah is dead. Through the destruction the prophet Isaiah says, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse.” Jesse was the father of the Israelites’ greatest King – David. God through Isaiah promises that from this dead stump a great king will spring up. So, the Israelites wait for the shoot.
That’s Not The Shoot We Were Looking For
In 6 B.C. God brings life from the dead stump of the Israelite monarchy when a virgin peasant girl named Mary gives birth in an animal stable to a baby boy. Mary and her husband Joseph name their baby Jesus. Jesus is the shoot that Isaiah the Christmas prophet spoke of. 
But this shoot, this perfect king is not who God’s people expect. The Israelites expect their king to be born, maybe not in a palace, but certainly not in a smelly animal stable. The Israelites expect their king to free them from Rome, not sin and death. To the Israelites the shoot from Jesse’s stump is supposed to put God’s poor and oppressed people back on top politically and economically. Jesus is not the shoot the Israelites were looking for.
What Do We Expect From Christmas?
Oftentimes Jesus sends us shoots we are not looking for. Especially when it comes to our Christmastime expectations. This Christmastime especially, many are only seeing stumps.
We expect to be with all the people we love at Christmas. This year all we see are stumps of empty chairs, and loneliness. We expect to enjoy the shoot of being at church on Christmas Eve, but all we see is the stump of an empty sanctuary. Christmas caroling, the living creche and pageants filled with singing children are the usual shoots that renew our spirits at Christmastime. This year all we see are stumps.
Shoots In The Stumps
During Advent – the four weeks before Christmas – God is calling us to start looking for the shoots.  But the shoots will not look like we expect them to look. 
This year the shoots look like quiet Christmas celebrations that will connect us to that quiet, first Christmas celebration in a stable. “Silent night, holy night…” This year the shoot is the good news that God’s angels bring to us. Good news that in this world filled with diseases of Corona virus and racism God’s angels come to us saying, “I bring you good news of great joy that shall be for all the earth, for unto you is born this day in Bethlehem, a Savior.” This year’s Christmas shoot that springs from the stumps of our lives is the fact that Jesus comes into the world not to make the good better, but to save us from the awful, and to work through the bad to bring about good.
What Looks Dead?
Jesus is the king that the Christmas prophet Isaiah promised us. Jesus is the shoot coming forth from the stump. And Jesus is the Shoot who brings life back to all the stumps in our lives. What in your life seems as dead as a stump? Have you lost your sense of Christmas wonder?  Allow Jesus to bring forth a shoot of deep wonder. Have you lost your appreciation for God’s great gift of Jesus? Let Jesus bring to life deep within you a renewed spirit of gratitude for Christ’s birth. Are you seeing only Christmas sadness, or Christmas stress? Offer that sadness and stress to Jesus who will bring shoots of healing and joy.
Whatever the stumps in our lives look like, I want you to know that Christmas is all about Jesus coming into the world to bring shoots out of our stumps. When all we see are stumps, look to Jesus who loves us enough to come into the world to give us new life.
Are you stumped? Don’t worry, Jesus has a shoot springing up for you this Christmas. I promise!