Chris Hodges - Christmas at Highlands
Well, who's having a good time, tonight, anybody? And how about a big hand for all these wonderful musicians? Come on, give them a good hand, everybody. God bless you guys. And, boy, it takes a whole group of people that you don't see to pull this off, too, and they've been working on it for a month, and you're our last service. So, this is the last of 135. Come on, somebody. And, yeah, and so I wanted to say thank you to all of our teams that are behind walls, right now, that have done the lights, and the sound, and all the graphics, and all the screens, and it's just a whole lot of people. And then there are more than 4,000 Dream Teamers standing out in the cold, helping cars get in and out, and serving you coffee and hot chocolate. How about a big hand for all the teams, everybody? Thank you, thank you. Oh, yeah, that's awesome.
And I want to also welcome those of you who are here at our church for the first time. I'm very, very honored that you're here. We look forward to this every year, and we wanted to put this on for you, not only just to entertain you, but also to give you a chance to have a moment with God. So, God bless you. Thank you for coming and celebrating Christmas with us. And I'll look straight in the camera. We are streaming this, right now, live online. And I want to say hi to all of our locations. We're one church that meets in 23 locations all across the great state of Alabama and in Columbus, Georgia, and they've had their own services up to this moment, and now we're going to share the rest of it and the candle lighting together, and we're also bringing this into more than 20 of Alabama's Department of Corrections facilities.
So, to the men and women in the Alabama Department of Corrections, God bless you. And then there are people watching online, and I want to give a special shoutout to our service men and women. We always get cards, letters, emails, texts of them having Christmas on their laptops or on their iPads, somewhere defending our freedom. How about a big handclap for all of them? God bless you guys. Come on, give them a good hand, everybody. God bless you. We're really just so glad that you're here. You know, we started our church almost 22 years ago. This February, it'll be 22 years. And we had this dream of providing a place where people could have just a growing relationship with God.
In fact, we called it Church of the Highlands because of the metaphor of us all just on this journey of higher heights, getting all that God has for us. And years ago, we kind of settled on a few phrases that would kind of define the journey that we all have spiritually. I always like to remind people of them, because there's so many here that are new. But we believe that God wants all of us to know him, to know God, we call it; in other words, to have a real vibrant relationship with God that you actually enjoy, one you look forward to, and it's vibrant and real to you, and it's very, very intimate; and that's actually very possible, even though some of you don't even, maybe, have never experienced something like that. And then once you know God, and his power is inside of you, then you have the ability to take the second step, which is find freedom. In other words, God'll help you with the areas of your life that are in your life, that if it wasn't in your life, your life would be a whole lot better.
And I'm talking about, you know, your pain, your past. I'm talking about habits, addictions, the things that are keeping you from being the best version of yourself, and you really can find freedom. Once you have God's power helping you, once you settle yesterday, you can kind of go to the third step in the spiritual journey, and that is to discover your purpose. So, God has a purpose for your life. You have a purpose, like a real meaningful purpose, and you're never gonna find it without getting close to God, because he's the one who created you and created it, and he put it inside of you. And so you can only find it, all the days written for you, ordained for you or written in his book before one of them came to be.
Psalm 39 says, like, "You have a plan, and you can connect with God and find out what it is, so that you can go to this final stage or step in your spiritual journey, and that is how I'm living life in such a way where my life's impacting other people's lives". Sociologists call it transcendent living, living beyond myself. And if you've never gotten there, you never really experience true fulfillment, 'cause it'll never be found in the money you make, the cars you drive, the vacations you take. It's found when you're helping somebody experience real life, and you played a role in that process, and we simply call it, "Make a difference". And if you don't have a home church, I'm inviting you into the spiritual journey.
And I like reminding people here at the end of the year, because this is the time where you can make a decision, and then we have a brand-new year right around the corner, when we can all have a fresh start with God. And I'll talk to you more about that in just a second, but I want to bring you a short and simple little Christmas message here for you and just bring you a single thought that I kind of discovered about 3 or 4 months ago, and I've never taught out of this verse on a Christmas service, and this is a verse in the Old Testament where the prophet Isaiah, 700 years before Christ, saw the manger scene. He saw Christmas Day. And the Bible says he wrote this. He says, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called," watch this, "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace".
So, you've seen that on the front of Christmas cars; but, basically, what the prophet was saying is he's gonna be so awesome that you won't be able to just be able to call him just Jesus. That's his name, but you'll call him all these other things, as well, because he's just so incredible. He describes his qualities. I don't know if you've ever named someone, if you have kids, you've been through the naming process. And for Tammy and me, when we were having children, we wanted to name our kids, knowing that they would probably take on those qualities. And true story, we have five kids, and the first three were born in Colorado Springs. We were youth pastors there back in the day, and we were so homesick from the South, that when we were naming our daughter, who was born first, we wanted to think of a Southern-sounding name, and so we called her Sara Beth Hodges.
You know, and just kind of made us feel close to the South again. And then we had four boys in a row, two of them born in Colorado Springs. And we had a system we were gonna do, that where we give them biblical or Hebrew first names and then family middle names. And so our first son, he's right here on the front row, first son was named Michael Robert. Robert was my dad's name. I mean, they called him Bob, but his real first name was Robert. And then our next son came along, and we named him David William, and William was Tammy's dad's name, and they called him Billy, but his real name was William. And I will have to tell you that we almost called our first son after both dads, but that would have made him Billy Bob, everybody, and that would've taken that whole Southern thing too far.
Okay. So, and I'm sure Michael's glad we didn't do that. All right, but, of course, we had other kids and continued that system we did. And I heard this story the other day about this family, whose last name was Mann, M-A-N-N, and they weren't thinking, and they named their daughter Anita, and that made her Anita Mann, everybody. So, anyway, you can see how that's a problem. And then I had one other one I thought was really funny I heard about, where this lady was named Lois, L-O-I-S, Lois Price. Come on, men. Wouldn't you love your wife's name to be Lois Price? See, y'all? I feel close to God just thinking about it.
Anyway, but what I want you to hear about the names of Jesus, and I want you to hear that they're more than poetic, and they certainly aren't fantasy, and they don't have to just look pretty on the front of a Christmas card. He has every intention on being that in your life: a Wonderful Counselor, a Counselor that's all-knowing. That's what a counselor... a counselor gets so close to you that they know you, and then they can give you advice. Well, wouldn't it be great for the all-knowing God, who not only knows you, but understands why you are that way, he saw it all happen to you and can give you this great advice and this great comfort. He's the Wonderful Counselor. He's wonderful. He's not only the Wonderful Counselor, but he's a Mighty God; Mighty God meaning all powerful. So, that's because we all have things in our life that there's not an earth solution for, and so you need something supernatural and powerful.
And wouldn't you love to have in your corner, like, a Mighty God, who's not only able to do it, but is willing to do it? An Everlasting Father, who's all present. Psalm 139 says he's everywhere all the time. He's always in our midst. Today, he sends us his Holy Spirit, who never leaves our side. Wouldn't you love that for the times that feel dark or lonely, to know that you have an Everlasting Father, who's relational, who loves you, thinks the world of you. And then, finally, a Prince of Peace, something that everybody's looking for. And most are looking for it in all the wrong places like substances and kind of escapism, trying to look for something that takes the pain away, but if you ever try to do that without God, you find out it's very, very temporary, but he can be the Prince of Peace, like give you real peace regardless of what's going on around us, and the obvious question is, "Well, sure I'd love all that. How do I get there"?
And I just want to point out one simple thing in the text. I think it's already there, and sometimes we just miss it. So, I'm gonna read it again. "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulder. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. And of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end". Twice in the text, it uses the word "government".
So, here's what I've discovered. Next year will be 40 years in ministry, and I realize a lot of people love Savior, Friend, God. They really like a denomination, a church. But few people really want a governor, like a king. And I'm here to tell you that you'll never get the best of God without giving the best of yourself to God. Like, he wants to go to this king place, this lordship place, and I just wanted to show you that, but those names can be realities in your life when you're willing to go to that place in relationship with him. Because I was raised in church and just kind of played church. I had 15 years of perfect church attendance and didn't like any part of it, but I had never gone all in with God, either. I had never given him my best in what I did. That's when everything changed. It's all throughout the Bible.
Jeremiah chapter 29 says, "You will seek me and find me," notice the condition, "when you seek me with all your heart". So, if you do anything less than all your heart, you'll never find him. Romans chapter 10 says, "If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,'" not Savior, not Friend, not God, not religion, no, but he's Lord, and believe in your heart, that's when you're saved. So, anything less of lordship, you say, "Chris, why are you talking about this"? Let me tell you why. Because I think people are expecting things from God without giving themselves fully to God, and I just wanted to call you to that. I wanted to give you the invitation, yeah, go ahead and give God praise, yeah.
So, I close with a quick little story, and I just love the stories of Christmas, and Matthew has a story that makes up most of Matthew's account of the Christmas story, which is really odd, if you think about it, because it's not that much. Matthew doesn't talk that much about the stable or Jesus. They talk a lot about these magi, who could, honestly, could not be further away spiritually and geographically from Jesus. And not only that, they were nothing like, they weren't religious, they were pagan priests, astrologers from modern-day Iran or Iraq. They were from Persia, and they called them magi. That's where we get the word magic. I mean, these people were really far from God, and the Bible includes them, and I think they show us a pattern that's not only in their story, but all throughout the Bible the same pattern.
And, honestly, I've seen it now being a pastor for, again, 40 years, I've seen this same pattern in people's journey, if you wanted to go all in with God, and I'll show it to you, and then we'll pray and light some candles. And it goes like this. It says in verse 9 that the magi went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose was traveling. "It went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was". So, this was the only time that we know of in human history where a star moved like it was traveling, and so they're following this phenomenon, this star, and which I think is so cool, by the way, is that God could've used anything he wanted to draw them, and he picked something the astrologers could understand: a star.
I just think that is so cool, and I would want to say to you that if you're on this spiritual journey, and you know it's not where it should be, there will always be a star that'll draw you, too. So, I like to say it this way: a star-like moment. God's into moments, so he creates these moments. Hopefully, you've had one already in this service. Hopefully, you've already had moments where you knew God was messing with you. He's trying to draw you. And, again, it's dear to me, because 44 Christmases ago, I had a star-like moment, where I was invited to a service like this... again, 15 years of perfect church attendance, and I was about as dark as a 15-year-old could be. I mean, you know, and I was in trouble with the law. It's a long story. And a lot of things going on in my life. And God, I knew, was trying to get my attention.
So, my question to you is what has God been trying to do to you to get your attention? And if he gets your attention, let me tell you what's going to happen next, because the next part of the story is Herod gets involved. And I don't have the time to study it with you, but Herod was trying to trick them. He was trying to trick them into showing him where Jesus was, so he could kill Jesus. In fact, the Bible says that King Herod, when he heard about the magi, he was disturbed. And I would love to just tell you that there will always be a Herod that's gonna try to stop you, too.
Somebody said it this way: "You'll always have a reason why you're not gonna do it". And sometimes it's even a valid reason. Some of you have had such horrible experiences in church or with Christians, or you have doubts about theology. And, like, these are real. This is not like you made it up. And there are those of you, the past 2 or 3 years have been so dark... in fact, I know Christian after Christian that just, through the whole COVID experience, just woke up one day and, "Oh, my goodness, I just kind of migrated away from God, didn't even know it happened, got distracted".
And there will always be a Herod. There's always a star that'll draw you, but there's always a Herod that'll stop you. And then, finally, they just kept going. These magi kept coming. It says, and on verse 11, "On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. And they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh". They did two things. They surrendered, that's what bowing means, and then they gave. And if you think about it, gold; that's all they had. And notice with me, that's when they found the child, when they bowed, and then they gave it all. Anything less than full surrender, you'll never find him.
And that's why I truly believe that there's a moment when all of us, and for some of you, it's going to be tonight, there's a moment when we can bow down and make him the king of our life. And honestly, we put this whole service together, knowing that some of you would do that. By the way, prior to just today's services on Christmas Eve, there have already been over 400 people who've made that decision to make Jesus Lord of their life. Can we put our hands together and thank God for that? Four hundred and seventy-seven to be exact. And my question to you, "Is it about time for that to be you"? We've been talking to Christians. You've been in church your whole life. You know it's not what it should look like.
And I'll close with this statement. When I give my all to God, that's when I can receive his all in me, and that's a fact, because the Bible says these magi, in fact, the last verse of the story goes like this: "And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route". In other words, they returned different.
You say, "Well, Pastor, you're taking that out of context". I know I am. I know it means they went back on a different road, but I think they went back different, too, and so can you. I have prayed for you for over a month that you would walk out of this service different. So, I've been using this service for the past few years to announce, I think about 6 years, to announce what our focus for the next year is going to be, so 2023, and I really believe, I prayed and prayed about this, I really believe that 2023 is going to be a year of complete surrender, where we go all-in in our prayer life, in our serving, in our attendance. I just wonder what your life would look like if it wasn't halfway. And I'll tell you what it'd look like. You'll like it. It'll be better.
And so I'll tell you what I've been telling people for 21 years: "Give us a year and try". Like, why not? Why not just say, "You know what? I'm gonna take that preacher up on this. I'm gonna..." And come every time the doors open, if you can, and come to our events and conferences and small groups, and find your purpose, and serve people. And I promise you, I promise you, you're going to know a Wonderful Counselor, an Everlasting Father, a Mighty God, and a Prince of Peace, and that's my prayer for you this year. So, before we light candles, I want you to hear it in a song. I've invited CJ and Caitlin to come out and just sing this beautiful song written by a friend of mine, called, "Adore". Oh, come, let us adore him.