We are entering an exciting time of the year. Thanksgiving is just a couple weeks away, but we are beginning that celebration today. Actually, the history of this service goes back some 36 years, when Gloria and I were celebrating our first year as pastors in Branson. At that time the tourist season was primarily a 6 month event beginning the first of May and ending the last of October. It wasn’t until a few years later that Silver Dollar City decided to add a Christmas Season and the tourist season expanded to include the holiday.
The typical Branson worker back then had to work 80 hours a week during the season because he or she would be unemployed for the 6 months when tourist business was closed.
So we decided to have a special Homecoming Service in early Nov ember to welcome back all those who had been unable to attend because of their work schedules.
After that we decided to combine our Church Thanksgiving Dinner with the Homecoming idea—and now 36 years later we are still celebrating.
Our scripture passage taken from the Faith Chapter of the Bible –Hebrews 11—is often called the “Hall of Fame” listing spiritual pioneers who have gone before us in God’s progressive plan for our salvation. And just as God inspired the writer of Hebrews to lift up these Heroes of Faith, we too here in Branson have many who have paved the way for us over the years.
I often think of our first time in the Branson Church, on July 6, 1982. I spoke about Freedom and quoted from Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” Speech. After the service a gentleman came up to me and introduced himself as Patrick Henry. I thought he was kidding, but, no, he really was Pat Henry. Pat and Helen Henry had been instrumental in keeping the church doors open when it nearly closed down. And they were faithful supporters until the time they had to move away. Now they are buried in the cemetery just down the road by Snapps-Bearden Funeral Home.
And just a few weeks before we moved to Branson we were at District Assembly in Carthage. Wendell & Lenora Maples invited Gloria and me to join them for lunch at their RV at the campgrounds just south of Carthage. This couple served in our church for many years in various leadership positions. Wendell had some cattle on his land up on Hwy 176. He named 2 of his calves after our daughter Jenna and Roger & Joey Davis’ son Chad.
And there was Verle & Faye Stiverson who were faithful supporters. Verle and Pat Henry played music together—Verle on the guitar and Pat on the Banjo. They were often used on the streets downtown on special event days like Plum Nelly Days. They performed in the lobby at the Braschler Theater for the pre-show for a number of years.
Leonard & Lucile White were the first new members I received into the church. What wonderful, faithful members they were. They would host a Homemade Ice Cream Social every year during the summer at their home. Our hearts were saddened when their health broke and God finally called them home.
There were Don & Frances Bowman, Dennis and Betty Bloomer, Wes & Shirley Bowman, Ken & Etta Mae Roth, and Shirley Canfield, and Ann Tomlinson.
And there were many others who have been instrumental in the life and health of this church. I look through old church directories and am overwhelmed at how many of these saints have gone on to heaven.
And we are still writing the book and your names are being included.
We have a great history and much reason to stop and remember and give thanks to our God for the rich heritage we enjoy.
In the past we have brought in special guests for this annual service, but your church board felt that our guests who come to this once a year event have not had a real chance to experience what our church is really like. So today you are hearing our own musicians and the same preacher who speaks almost every Sunday morning.
Today, as we think of the Faith Chapter, let’s take time to consider just what the Church of the Nazarene really is.
I. THE ROOTS OF CHURCH OF THE NAZARENE
a. A quick history of Christianity reveals that for the first several centuries the Christian Church was under one umbrella—The Catholic Church. The Word “Catholic” literally means “Universal.” From the first century all churches were considered One Church. As time progressed, the Church through various official meetings developed as Roman Catholic because of the leadership that was being provided. Disagreements within ultimately resulted in the first major split in the church in 1054 A.D. , resulting in the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church.
Last week we celebrated Reformation Sunday commemorating the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. That movement resulted in many divisions and produced many different strains of Christianity. Nazarenes trace their roots through the Church of England which split from the Catholic Church. John Wesley, a minister within the Church of England, the Anglican Church, spurred the movement called Methodism. Francis Asbury was the leader of the Methodist Movement in America which officially organized as a denomination separate from the Anglican Church of England and its Americanized form called the Episcopal Church. Phineas F. Bresee was a bishop in the Methodist Church who was active in the renewal movement that swept the country in the late 19th century emphasizing the infilling of the Holy Spirit and the call to holy living.
When the Church of the Nazarene officially organized as a denomination in Pilot Point, Texas in 1908, there were several other groups from across North America who joined together. Independent Holiness Groups, certain branches of Presbyterians, and several others were in the initial formation of our denomination. So, even though we can track our roots from the Anglican Church, and the Episcopal Church, and the Methodist Church, we must note that there were other roots that eventually merged to form who we are today.
II. THE CORE VALUES OF THE CHURCH OF THE NAZARENE
a. In our Wednesday Evening Bible Studies this past year we examined three “core values” that characterize the Church of the Nazarene. While each individual congregation in our denomination has its own distinctiveness, these three core values are essential to Who we are.
i. WE ARE CHRISTIAN. By that we affirm that, as is true with the Church Universal, we join with all true believers in proclaiming the Lordship of Jesus Christ and embracing the historic Trinitarian creedal statements of Christian faith. Nazarenes believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was crucified on a Roman Cross as the ultimate Atoning Sacrifice for the sins of the entire world. He was buried in a borrowed tomb, and on the 3rd day He arose from the death, that he appeared to his disciples for some 40 days, and then he ascended into Heaven where He sits at the Right Hand of the Father interceding on our behalf. And we believe that He is returning someday (and it could be soon) to claim His Bride the Church. And we believe that salvation comes when we acknowledge our sins and seek God’s forgiveness and by faith accept Jesus as Our Savior and Lord.
With Peter and john in the Book of Acts, we acknowledge that “There is no other Name under heaven (other than the Name of Jesus) whereby we might be saved.”(Acts 4:12).
ii. WE ARE A HOLINESS PEOPLE. By that we mean that God, who is a holy God, has called us to be a holiness people. We believe that the Holy Spirit of God seeks to do in us a second work of grace, called by various terms including “entire sanctification” and “baptism with the Holy Spirit” –cleansing us from all sin, renewing us in the image of God; empowering us to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves, and producing in us the character of Christ. Holiness in the life of believers is most clearly understood as Christ likeness.
A brief explanation: We believe that the acts of sin that we commit are because of the sinful nature with which we are born that is the result of Adam and Eve’s original sin. We believe that when a person comes to Christ in repentance for sins, those acts of sin are forgiven. But then we believe God wants to do a deeper work within us by cleansing us from that sinful nature. The life of holiness begins at Salvation and continues through that second work and the life that follows. We should continually be striving to become more and more like Jesus. That Pursuit of Christ likeness is the essence of holy living.
iii. WE ARE A MISSIONAL PEOPLE.
By that we mean that we are a “sent” people, responding to the call of Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit to go into all the world, witnessing to the Lordship of Christ and participating with God in the building of the Church and the extension of His Kingdom.
Our mission begins in worship, ministers to the world in evangelism and compassion, encourages believers toward Christian maturity through discipleship, and prepares women and men for Christian service through Christian higher education. We take the Great Commission in Matthew 28: 18-20 literally and believe that our mission is to “Make Disciples of the Nations.”
b. The individual congregations each have their distinctive characteristics, reflecting the cultures of the areas in which they are located. Some may adopt a more formal style, though the majority tends to be more “free” in its worship styles. One may visit a congregation that is very contemporary or another that would be termed very “traditional.” One Nazarene Pastor may preach from the lectionary while another may not be so tied to such a specific order. But each of those churches would share those core values of being Christian, being holiness, and being missional. It is who we are.
c. Our Branson Church tends to be more traditional in its worship style, though that style is evolving as we try to reach the younger generation. The sermons here tend to be closely tied to biblical texts, with a mixture of expository messages and topical messages. I try to let the Biblical text direct the content of my messages.
III. THE PASSION OF THE CHURCH OF THE NAZARENE
a. Our passion is to live in obedience to the Great Commandments that Jesus said summed up all the Law and Prophets. We desire to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and then to love our neighbor as ourselves.
b. That love of God and love of neighbor means that we do not want to see anyone miss heaven.
The old-timers used to emphasize that “There is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun!”
c. In John 3:17 we are told that Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved. Our passion is to be like Jesus who said that “He came to seek and save those who are lost.”
d. And our message is not that we are better than anyone else, but that Jesus offers to everyone what we have received—Forgiveness and deliverance from sin, a new heart, and a living Presence in the Holy Spirit that empowers us to live in victory.
On this day of Celebration and Thanksgiving, we give thanks to God for His Love and Mercy, for Jesus who paid the penalty for our sins and has given us His Holy Spirit to cleanse our hearts and empower us to live a life of holiness.
We thank Him for the Peace of God that surpasses understanding that guards our hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord.
We Thank God for our families and for our nation—and we thank him for our veterans who have served our nation to protect our freedoms.
And we thank Him for the Church and for all those who have gone before us and paved the way for our continuing ministry in the Branson area. The Church is the Body of Christ that prays for one another, bears one another’s burdens, holds one another accountable, and provides a place to learn about God and his Word and equips us to serve as His witnesses to all the world.
And we thank God that, even though we have all sinned and fall short of the glory God and deserve the wages of sin which is death, He has offered to us the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ.
And we thank Him that He has delayed Christ’s return, because He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance and have eternal life.
And, today, I ask you, have you received that eternal life? Do you know Jesus as your Savior? Have you repented (turned away from) your sins and become a follower of Jesus Christ?
What better way to give thanks is there than to make Him your Savior and Lord today? Will you do that?