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Sermon of the Week 
Tuesday, December 12 2017

Well, here we are, on the after glow side of Thanksgiving…. Still savoring the great and bountiful amount of food that we swore we would not eat this year. Still basking in the after glow of family and friends coming together for fellowship and catching up. Still reminiscing over the good fortune that is ours in enjoying God’s faithfulness that brought us here this far….

There are some Hebrew words that most of us have become familiar with. We know names, such as ‘Joshua’—means “God saves” or “David”—means “beloved” or “Hanna”—means “Grace.” Culturally, we all know the term “shalom”—which means “peace.” And then there is “Shalom, ya’ll”! Which is Southern Hebrew! 

My message today will be about the Hebrew name “Ebenezer” which means “ This far, the Lord has brought us or helped us”….and isn’t that what Thanksgiving season is all about! It’s about remembering God’s goodness and faithfulness….

Speaking of remembering…. There was a woman who had a baby at the age of 85. (The oldest woman to have a baby is 101, and the record before that was close to 100)…Anyway, The neighbor lady across the street was thrilled to see the baby and mama return home from the hospital in perfect health. She knocked on the door and heard the new mama call out, "Come on in, It's open." So she went on in. She asked the older lady if she could see the baby and the older woman replied, "The baby is sleeping, but would you like to have some tea and cookies while we’re waiting”. An hour later, she asked again if she could see the baby, “it’s has been an hour and I’m sure it’s awake and hungry by now." With that the older woman replied, "I know you have been here for quite some time and have showed remarkable patience with me. The truth is I keep hoping the baby will wake up and start to cry so I can remember where I put it!"                        (She’s really needing an Ebenezer)……

My text today is 1 Samuel 7:12 "Then Samuel took a stone, and set it up between Mizpeh, (observatory or watch tower) and Shen, (to alter or to change) and called the name of it Eben-ezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us." 

Sometimes you have to get away from everything to get up into the watchtower and get a clearer view of what brought you to where you are. Jesus did that at the beginning and the ending of every day. And when you do, it will alter or change how you function in the present or the now of your life. It will result in your own personal Corpus diem, or seizing the day!

The account which is described in our text today, took place over eleven hundred years before the time of Jesus. The people of Israel had conquered much of the Promised Land, but it hadn’t been easy. The young nation was still surrounded by many powerful enemies. In fact, just twenty years before the event at Mizpeh, we come upon another Hebrew word, which marked one of the darkest days in ancient Israel. 

That word is a Hebrew word…“ Ichabod”, it means “The spirit of the Lord has departed”. And we are reminded that in so many lives there is an “Ichabod” before there is an “Ebenezer”….     Paul even tells us, when someone refuses to acknowledge the Lord, and ignores the very servant who tries to rescue them…to let Satan have them for a while and let them see what it’s like to be left to their own devices, strength and resources….(that’s Ichabod)

Look at it in 1Corinthians 5:5 “Deliver such as this unto Satan for the purging of the flesh, that the soul and spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus”. 

Israel had a form of godliness but they were no longer looking to Jehovah, they were trusting in a box, the ark of the covenant. Their religion had become a series of memorized confessions, of rituals and superficial forms and observances. It was no longer part of the values which they took into their daily life choices. 

In a single day, Israel not only suffered a terrible military defeat but also lost the Ark of the Covenant into enemy hands. The Ark was the symbol of God’s presence with them and among them. It was the worst disaster imaginable. Israel soon regained the ark. But nothing was the same again. The terrible memory of that day would continue to discourage the nation for a generation. They were learning to never again take God’s presence for granted…. 

Now, twenty years later, Samuel, the great prophet of the nation, calls a meeting of the nation’s leaders. He tells them that if they want to experience the blessings of God, they need to return to their faith in him, because they had begun to look to other things as their source. Times had been hard. But they would never be any better until they turned to God. The entire nation responded positively. At Mizpah, the nation gathered in prayer to seek God’s blessing again.      *…..Just at that moment, the Philistine army, the dreaded enemy, saw an opportunity to attack while Israel’s warriors were in worship and repentance.

Satan will attack with a vengeance when we commit ourselves to come back to worship, repentance and obedience to God….Butwhat makes the difference is that God is on our side.          If God be for us what can stand against us… The good news is that God lets Samuel discover the treachery and the soldiers form battle lines. 

The Philistines are turned back in defeat. A great victory is won for Israel!

The monument which they built there would declare to everyone who looked upon it that something very important had happened there. And the reality of it would be there and yet it would be with them wherever they went and what ever they did… EBENEZER!

It was about EBENEZER, when David was in a conversation with king Saul as he was about to face the giant Goliath and declared…. Perhaps we would see more of what David saw, if we did more of what David did… He was quick to raise his Ebenezers and give God all the glory and connect what God has done, to what He is now willing to do!                                                                                                                                                     1Samuel 17:34 “Your servant kept his father's sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock v35 And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. v36 Your servant slew both a lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God. v37 David said moreover, The LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, He will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine.” THAT’S AN EBENEZER

The God that spoke covenant to Abraham, has he not spoken to you? The angel that wrestled with Jacob at Peniel, has he notwrestled with you? He that stood in the fiery furnace with the three Hebrew children, has he not walked through some fiery coals at your side? O Yes, yes, yes, He has indeed manifested himself unto us as he has to all of these who came before. 

Our Ebenezer is the deep calling to deep which challenges us to never forget that what He has done, He will still do!!.                                              

Haven’t you enjoyed His choice favors? Haven’t you received of His grace and favor?                                 Hasn’t He satisfied yourmouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's?.. Haven’t you like David, been made to lie down in green pastures, and led by the still waters?                 Isn’t He here even now to restore your soul?!!!

Like Noah, we too can raise up altars in celebration of the one who has delivered us from the flood of destruction…. Like Abraham, we too can build altars and call it "Jehovah-jireh”,unto the one who has spared our sons and daughters more times than we could know…. We too, like Jacob, can build an altar and name the place Bethel, for the presence of the Lord was there and we knew it not…

(Just a side bar here), in the Latin, Bethel is referred to the “axis mundi” or where heaven connected with earth… Someone else was a forerunner, who stepped out in faith and trusted God, and we are the beneficiaries of their sacrifice and their journey. They set up markers that we can use as guidelines as we make our own journey and set up our own memorials…..  

When we are brought into God’s presence by the experience of someone else, it is known as                 “The spirituality of memory”…We too can sing the song of Moses' which the Israelites sang as we set up a monument by our Red Seaexperiences….                                                                                                                       As we remember and revisit those experiences which others have had, we ourselves become attuned to receive more of the same. The old song says “what He’s done for others, He’ll do for you…It is no secret what God can do”….                                                                                                                       When we testify to others, we are inspiring them to enter into our “axis mundi” with God and receive from the spirituality of memory. When we live our lives in a manner that folks can witness our faith in the midst of the challenges of life… we are inviting them into the spirituality of memory as they observe our “axis mundi” victory against all the odds….When folks observe a life that is changed by the power of God, a life that no one gave a chance….they are brought into faith to believe for their own “axis mundi” by the spirituality of memory….

God said in Joshua 3:7, “as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.”                                                              

God must love stones because He made enough of them! Perhaps that’s the stony ground Jesus spoke about, in His parable of stony ground. It seems that the Lord recognizes the tendency of the natural man to quickly forget… All around us there are symbols of the faithfulness of God, and we can all build our monuments as we raise up a healthy, Godly marriage, or a Christian family, a circle of caring, nurturing friendships, a community of mutual support and trust, or the Church founded upon His truth and power!

                                                                                                                                                                                                In the book "The Hidden Price of Greatness ,There is the story of a single woman, who became a missionary to China, but when the Japanese army invaded during WWII, she was forced to flee. But she loved the orphans she worked with so much that she couldn’t bear to leave them behind. So, with only one assistant to help her, she led more than 100 children over the mountains to reach freedom.

" The author tell us the story of the struggle which Gladys Aylward fought within herself. It was a struggle which threatened the success of the entire mission. And during Gladys’s harrowing journey out of war-torn Yangcheng, she grappled with despairlike she had never know before. After passing a sleepless night, she faced the morning with no hope of reaching safety. But a 14 year old girl in the group reminded her of one of the stories which she had shared with the orphans from Scripture… the story of Moses and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea.

"But I am not Moses," was Gladys response. "Of course you aren’t," the girl said, "but the God of Moses, is still our God!" 

What saved Gladys Aylward from plunging into the depths of despair surrendering to a defeatist mentality, was “remembering.”

Our Ebenezer stones are anchored in the present, but they face two directions…..and one of those directions is the past….Some can look back at 50 years of serving the Lord, some at 25, some at 10 and some at only 1 or 2…..but whatever the span of that past… never-the-less, it casts it’s shadow through some times of lack and want, as well as sufficiency -- through some sickness, as well as through health… in some times of honor as well as dishonor….in times of joy, as well as sorrow….in trials and in triumphs….in failures as well as successes…. It’s all part of our “hitherto”..                                                        There are times that we never really understand why some things happened.. No matter how you look at it, it doesn’t make sense and it won’t until we get to heaven…. 

It’s like the guy who heard a rumor that his father, grandfather and great-grandfather had all walked on water on their 21st birthdays. So, on his 21st birthday, he and his good friend headed out to the lake.  "If they did it, I can too!" he insisted. 

When he and his friend arrived at the lake, they rented a boat and when they got to the middle of the lake, his friend wished him a happy 21st birthday and he stepped off of the side of the boat... and nearly drowned. Confused and shamed, he headed for home. When he arrived back at the family farm, he asked his grandmother for an explanation. He said "Grandma, why can’t I walk on water like my father, and his father, and his father before him, on their 21st birthdays?" The grandmother took himby the hands, looked into his eyes, and explained, "That's because your father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were born in January... you were born in July, dear."

Some things you just never understand…..

We often think that giving our all to the Lord is like taking a $l00,000 bill and laying it on the table—and saying ‘Here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving it all.’ But the reality for most of us is that he sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $l00,000 for dollar bills. Then He calls upon us to go through life putting out a dollar here and a dollar there. To Listen to a child’s troubles instead of saying, ‘Get lost.’ To go visit someone who’s alone….To be a friend to someone who doesn’t have any…. ToGive a cup of water and a piece of bread. Usually giving our life to Christ isn’t done in great and glamorous actions. It’s done in all those little acts of love, one dollar at a time. It would be easy to go out in a flash of glory; it’s harder to live the Christian life little by little over the long haul.”

I am told that Dr. Martin luther King Senior, shared that his mom loved the story of the Samaritan woman who only had a little meal and oil left, but the prophet asked for a little cake first. He shared with his family what his mom had instilled within him…. Always thank God for what you had left…. If you have suffered loss in your life, thank God for what’s left…. If someone has stolen from you, thank God for what’s left…. If you have experienced physical difficulties, thank God for what’s left…. What’s left can be the stuff of miracles! When the widow woman baked a cake for the prophet, she was acknowledging her dependence upon God and His faithfulness….When we give our tithe, what’s left will supply our needs…for it is blessed of God!

Jesus fed 5000 with what was left of a boy’s fish and chips lunch                                                                        When we set up our Ebenezer stones, they also face towards the future…..Bhecelebration of the blessings past, are the launching pad for blessings that are yet promised to come.

It is in this place between the past and the future, that we declare Romans 8:32. Underline this in your Bibles. Memorize it for the times when life goes sour. Understand that God wants to remind us for now and eternity….“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all— how will he not also, along with him, freely and graciously give us all things?” 

Just as the periscope of a submarine breaks through the surface of the water that incases the vessel, and looks into that which is above the water and surveys a different level…so likewise the “Hither to” of the Ebenezer stone breaks into that place called the future, and we can view the same faithfulness of God, which has always been true of the past.

And what is it that we see……More trials, more joys; more temptations, more triumphs; more prayers, more answers; more toils, more strength; more fights, more victories; more slanders, more comforts; more lions and bears to be fought, more warfare and more overcoming for God's Davids, more deep waters, more high mountains; more troops of devils, and more hosts of angels. So that the victory shouts of the past will echo into the future….”Hither To, Hath The Lord Led Us”.

That moment when healing is realized, becomes an Ebenezer that you carry with you…. That moment when you really know that God was with you making it all happen, becomes an Ebenezer that goes with you into other situations and circumstances…. All the things that could have gone wrong but didn’t because God was there, causes an Ebenezer to be lifted as you go on your way, praising God that “Hither to, the Lord has led us”…..

There is a parable of Two men who were carrying sacks on their chest and their back. The first man was asked about his sacks. He replied, "In the front sack are all the good things I've done. I like to see them, so quite often I take them out to show them off to people. And in the sack in the back? I keep all my mistakes and all the hurts and offences done to me. They're heavy and they slow me down, but you know, for some reason I can't put them down."

When the second man was asked about his sacks, he answered, "The sack in front is large and I keep everything positive in my life in that sack. All the blessings I've experienced, all the great things other people have done for me. Sometimes it’s heavy, but it’s a weight that I enjoy carrying. This sack is like the sails of a ship. It keeps me going forward. The sack on my back is empty. There's nothing in it. I cut a big hole in its bottom. In there I put all the bad things in my life and all the bad things about others. They go in one end and out the other, so I'm not carrying around any extra weight at all."

When my biological mom, kidnapped the three of us kids, my life would never again be the same. The nightmare that became my new life wanted to dominate my future, but I had to come to a time when I cut a hole in that sack, and let it all fall out, so I would not carry it into all that was yet to come…..It could not be part of who now I was! I had to be able to say, that even though ithappened, and even though it happened to me,  it is not who I am!

Members of AA can tell you how long they have been sober to the day. They keep alive the memory of the last drink they took, and they live their new life from that marker which they have built, and with each new day, one day at a time, they move farther down the road of sobriety. AA doesn’t ask their members to count the number of years spent wasting their lives drinking before they became sober, No. They count the days spent walking in a new direction. All that went before is like putting it in a sack with a hole in the bottom and it is carried no longer….and it is no longer who they are….

We must all come to some “IF NOT” places of in our lives. There are times when our Ebenezer stone looks more like a grave marker than a monument to cause celebration! It is in these times that trust in God must stabilize us when we can’t understand why we’re there and why it’s all happening. Job’s response was “Though God slay me, yet I will still trust Him”!

Look at this with me in…                           

Daniel 3:16  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O king Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer you in this matter. v17 But if it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. v18  But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve your gods, nor worship the golden image which you have set up”. 

When the three Hebrews stood before the king who was about to bake them like crispy chicken in his oven, they had to believe that the God who brought them to that place, had the power to get them to the next place….They could either save their bacon, or keep the faith….they said to the king: "Now we know that the God that we worship is able to deliver us." And that grew out of their experience. They had known God, they had experienced God in nature and they knew Him as the creator. And they had seen Him working throughout history, through spiritual memory. But more importantly, they had seen God, working I'm sure, in their personal lives. 

They never doubted God's power to deliver them.

On Black Friday stores marked a lot of merchandise down and their were a lot of bargains… Have we let the world lower our value…. have we allowed our own wants and desires to decide what we will go for… are we willing to settle for less than what Jesus paid for us….So the question is….What is our price tag, what will it take for us to sell out, save our hides, or cave in because of pressure. Our Ebenezer sometimes must have an ‘IF NOT’ attached to it…. If I have to go through that fiery furnace, if I have to forsake what I would rather have, if I have to do without, God will get me there a better way than I might have chosen myself…. 

Our faith is not an episode of “let’s make a deal” and it’s not a bargaining chip that we use to barter with God…It is our personal commitment to the will of God, that we will settle for no less than the Lord says we can have…Our faith declares “where He leads me I will follow”… as Joshua said, “No matter what others do, as for me and my house we will serve the Lord. 

JACOB raised an Ebezener stone between his land and Laban’s, to witness between them as they declared a time of peace, saying, “The LORD watch between thee and me while we are apart”

JOSHUA set up twelve Ebenezer stones in the midst of the Jordan to signal the LORD’s drying up of the river, and the children of Israel passing over into the land of promise..

You must love because love is of God. You must be just because the spirit of the Lord is justice and mercy. You must be honest because you know that the spirit of God is the spirit of truth. You must forgive, because God forgave you….

In all these things, we too, should take the pure gold of thankfulness, and the precious jewels of praise, and make them into another crown to place on the head of Jesus!!

Many of us who are getting some snow on the roof, some wrinkles in our leather, and some weird noises in our chasse….we’re a lot like the older lady who was visiting with her minister. He reminded her that at her age it was important to start thinking about the here after. “Oh, I do,” she assured him, “I think about it all the time. It seems like no matter what I do and where ever I go, I’m asking…“What am I here after?”

We’re talking about remembering, So I guess we could also say that we need to remember to forget!!! There are many things we need to forget if we are to move on…. Our grief and sorrow, needs to be forgotten and transformed to fresh insight and understanding, our hard and difficult times need to be forgotten and transformed into strength and character, and our failures need to be forgotten and transformed into wisdom for the journey. We are constantly challenged to transform grave markers into Ebenezer monuments of life and hope!

Poet Annie Johnson Flint wrote of this truth, “God hath not promised skies always blue, flower-strewn pathways all our lives through; God hath not promised sun without rain, joy without sorrow, peace without pain. But God has promised strength for the day, rest for the labor; light fo the way, grace for the trials, help from above, unfailing sympathy, undying love.”

Philippians 3:13 &14 “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven”.

Those who served in the military and even those who haven’t are familiar with the quiet notes of the bugler playing “Taps” at the end of each day as the melody of the bugler brings even the most chaotic day to a calm close. And it is fitting, that the same melody is sounded over the final resting-place of a fallen soldier. We know the melody, but few of us know the words to Taps.” “Day is done, Gone the sun, From the lakes, From the hills, From the sky. All is well,   Safely rest, God is nigh.”

That’s the memorial we need. God is nigh! He has not abandoned us. As He was with us on the mountains, He is with us in the valleys. He will be with us whatever the future brings, As we

walk with Him and believe in Him that He will always do what is right and He'll be with us even until the final conclusion of the ages. “Hither to, I raise my Ebenezer”!!!.... For I will never walk alone!                                                                          

May we continue to raise our Ebenezers, until we awaken in his likeness, and climb the starry staircase, with eternity’s songs, wearing the white garments of righteousness, as we gaze into the face of Jesus, with the society of saints, who bask in the endless glory of God, as we move through the fullness of “eternity, and enjoy the inexpressible wonder of “His perfect will be done His glorious kingdom come. 

Yes, as sure as God has helped us and brought us to this day, he will help us to the close. "I will never leave you, I will never forsake you, as I have been with you this far, I will be with you to the end." Here we raise our Ebenezer! Today, in this place, all of us can declare together: This far, our God has helped us! …We remember that what He has done, He will do again……

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