Tag Archives: Virgin Birth

The Fright of the Shepherds

12 Dec

shepherdCheck out the audio version here.

Last week we reviewed the journey that Mary and Joseph took to get from Galilee to Bethlehem and why they had to make the trip. We saw what must have been a difficult birth process with only Joseph attending to Mary and what did he know? This was his first child too. We left Jesus in the manger all wrapped up in the swaddling cloths. Let’s keep going and see how the other characters responded to the birth of Christ.

Read over Luke 2:6-20 to get an idea of the context of the birth of Christ.

Luke tells us that there were, “Some shepherd staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.” The shepherds are always part of the story. I want you to put yourself in the place of the shepherds. How would you respond if, “The angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them?” Have you ever suddenly appeared to your spouse? Your kids? They screamed. Do you think the shepherds would have done anything different? Of course not because the text tells us, “They were terribly frightened.” They were scared out of their wits. Frightened is the Greek word phobeo. What’s really interesting is the shepherds of that day were generally not the most well respected, wonderful folks in town. Why the shepherds? Why not merchants? Why not the elders of the city? The shepherds were generally dishonest, dirty, and smelly people. The shepherds were out in the fields watching their flocks. It was dark and likely very quiet when all of a sudden, the angel appears.

The angel says, “Do not be afraid.” It’s a little late for that! They’ve just had the fright of their life and they’re already scared, but don’t you do this with your kids? They’re in their dark bedroom and they tell you they’re afraid and you tell them, “Don’t be afraid” and they’re supposed to respond by saying okay. The appearance of the angel is different. Your kids are afraid of what might be in the dark. The shepherds were afraid of what suddenly appeared out of the dark. You’d be scared too. The angel told the shepherds something very specific. “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The angel speaks directly to the shepherds so make this personal. The angel told the shepherds that the good news was for all people. That phrase good news is from the Greek word euangelizo where we get our English word evangelize. The good news is not only of Christ’s birth, but that there has been born a Savior and He is named. Don’t miss the fact that the Savior has been born for all people. All is an interesting word that means all, not a select number, not a few chosen ones, but all. A Savior has been born. In Matt. 1:21 an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and said, “She will bear a Son and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus is the Savior, the long awaited Messiah, our Deliverer, our Redeemer, He is Lord.

In case the shepherds doubted the message, the angel of the Lord told them there was a sign. Really get this in your mind. An angel appears out of thin air and tells the shepherds that the Savior, the One that had been prophesied from the beginning of humanity, the Savior that has been talked about for thousands of years has been born and then the angel tells them how they can find Jesus. He’s in the City of David – Bethlehem, and He’s wrapped up tightly in swaddling cloths, laying in a manger. This is a very specific description to eliminate any confusion in case there was another new born baby in the town. They were given specific instructions on how to find the One. It’s no mistake that the angel appears to these lowly shepherds. Isn’t that the message of hope that we all need? Jesus didn’t come to save the righteous. After Jesus grew up, He said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Lu. 5:32) The angel delivers the life changing news that had been prophesied about from the beginning of time and they get to be a part of it.

What is the collective response to this incredible announcement? “And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.” Here’s the same “suddenly” that we saw earlier. Without warning, the angel of the Lord is joined by his heavenly colleagues. Multitude comes from the same word as plethora. It was the hallelujah chorus. Hallelujah means praise Ye Yahweh. Many people think of Handel’s Messiah. Handel was actually inspired by Rev. 19, but it still works here. Imagine for a moment that you are a heavenly being and you’ve also been waiting for the Messiah, not for yourself, but to see the plan they knew of in Gen. 3:15 come to fruition. There was a boat load of heavenly beings and they were, “Saying, glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” I think it’s important to define the words we so casually say and sing this time of year. Glory comes from the word doxa which means splendor which means magnificence. When the angels said, “Glory to God in the highest” they were expressing God’s incredibleness, His awesomeness, His uniqueness, His majesticness, His greatness, and every other accolade you can attribute to a perfect, holy, righteous, all powerful being. In all of eternity there is none like Him and no one will ever be like Him.

“And on earth peace among men.” The only way to have true peace is to embrace Jesus as Savior. With Him, we can know true peace and it passes all understanding. That word peace means completeness or wholeness. Don’t overlook the significance of this message! If you don’t know Jesus, you cannot have peace. What the world defines as peace is not peace. Jesus provides the opportunity to be complete, to be restored to the relationship God designed for humanity, but it can only come through the gift that was found in the manger. Later in 19:38, Luke says, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And in Acts 10:36, “The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all).” When confronted with the reality of who God is and what He has done there is only one response and that is worship!

In this message, we focused on the shepherds and the angels and there’s a reason for that. The familiarity of this Christmas story shouldn’t prevent us from learning something new each time. The shepherds were scared out of their minds when the angel of the Lord appeared, but the angel told them something incredible: a Savior had been born. The angel even gave them a sign on how to find the One. That’s the good news of Jesus Christ. Stay tuned for the next installment as we’ll see how the shepherds went from frightened to fascinated.

Christmas – The Characters

5 Dec

Check out the podcast here.

mangerWe are all familiar with the Christmas story, maybe too familiar. In our over saturation of Christmas, the meaning of the message sometimes gets lost because of the season. It doesn’t make sense, but we see it over and over again. Sometimes when we’ve heard a story over and over through the years we get a little distracted because we think of it as a review. We don’t really listen because we know where it’s going because we’ve heard it before. In a Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown exclaims, “Doesn’t anyone know what Christmas is all about?” We then hear Linus reciting Lu. 2:8-14 and he concludes by saying, “That’s what Christmas is all about.” Every year we hear preachers preach Christmas sermons, but do we really know the Christmas story? This Christmas, we’re going to take the time to walk through Luke’s telling of the birth of Christ. I encourage you to take the time to read it at home too.

I really encourage you to take the time to read Luke 2:1-20 for yourself.

Here’s the overview. When you study the Bible, you need to take a view from above. Too often, people want to get right into it and find all the answers they seek, but are not willing to do the work necessary to get it. Shortcuts may be awesome for computers or other electronic devices, but there are no shortcuts in understanding the Bible. When people take shortcuts in life, it rarely results in good things. Sarai tried a shortcut in Gen. 16 when she helped God make Abram a great nation. It didn’t work. Satan tempted Jesus in Matt. 4 to take three shortcuts. Satan came to Him when He was tired and hungry. He offered Jesus immediate satisfaction: fresh bread, a miraculous delivery by jumping from the Temple’s pinnacle, and then promised to give Jesus the kingdoms of the world. That was at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Satan was trying to get Jesus to bypass the heartache, pain, and suffering that He was destined to endure. You can’t watch A Charlie Brown Christmas to get an understanding of Christmas.

There are several characters introduced to us by Luke. Many of us can name the players. Mary and Joseph and the inn keeper. Of course, there is baby Jesus.    There is the angel of the Lord and the shepherds. There is the multitude of the heavenly host.  So let’s look at these people. Mary is a very holy figure to some people, but what do we learn about her from this passage? Mary was with Joseph. They were traveling from Galilee to the City of David which is called Bethlehem. They were traveling because of the decree sent out from Caesar Augustus that said a census was to be taken. The census applied to men so they could be taxed by the Roman government. The number of people to be counted included, “all that inhabited the earth.”  In order to do that, everyone had to go to their hometown to register. The phrase City of David is used 45 times in the Old Testament and it refers to Jerusalem. It’s used twice in the New Testament and it refers to Bethlehem. Joseph was of the house of David and David was born in Bethlehem. Mary has a very unique condition that never occurred before or after. It wasn’t just that she was with child. We find out how Mary finds herself pregnant in Luke 1:26-35. That’s pretty exciting stuff. And then in Matt. 1:25 says Joseph, “Kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.” By any account, the journey from Galilee to Bethlehem would have been very difficult even in ideal conditions. The conditions that Mary and Joseph found themselves in was anything but ideal. Given Mary’s condition, they likely would have walked the easier of the routes. It was about 90 miles from Galilee to Bethlehem. Think about how fast you can walk. Now think about walking on unpaved paths, carrying your gear, with a pregnant woman. They could have walked about 20 miles a day so the journey would take them four or five days. Have you ever thought about where they stayed each night? Did they camp or stay at inns along the way? When they finally arrived at their destination, imagine how they felt. Tired, hungry, dirty, smelly. All they wanted to do was find a room, get a bite to eat, and go to bed. Although the text doesn’t say anything about how they were feeling, think about how you feel after a long trip.

After they arrive in Bethlehem, “The days were completed for her to give birth.” We don’t know how long they were in Bethlehem before she went into labor. That’s one of the nice tidbits we put in the story. They got there just in time for Mary to start the delivery process. Perhaps all the walking helped Mary go into labor. Wait Pastor Ian, God orchestrated all of this to ensure the prophecy of Micah 5:2 was met. “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” No one can choose to be born and certainly cannot choose where they are to be born. Luke very casually says, “And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Lu. 2:7) Did you know that the first gender reveal party ever held was for Jesus? Gen. 3:15 tells us, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” We quickly gloss over the first part of that verse in Luke and focus on the second part. Before He was laid in the manger, have you thought about the actual birth? With our modern medicine and technology, you really don’t even have to wait until it’s time. When the doctor feels as though the baby is ready or a certain number of weeks has passed, a woman can be induced into labor. No more inconvenient middle of the night births. Babies can now be born to fit into a more convenient time. For many women, gone are the days of waiting until the baby determines it’s time to make an entry.

This must have been a challenging birth. Notice Jesus was Mary’s firstborn giving insight that there would be other children. This birth was free from the numerous choices available today that can sometimes complicate the process. There was no talk of medication for Mary. There were no birthing suites and no swimming pool births. Luke doesn’t go into any details of the birth. How long was she in labor? Today when women choose natural child birth, it’s nowhere in the same ball park as what Mary endured. There’s typically someone close by that can help. A mid-wife, a doula, or mom. If something goes wrong today for someone that chooses natural child, EMTs and paramedics are only a phone call away. Not in our story. One minute Mary was pregnant, and the next minute she was wrapping Jesus in those swaddling cloths. I think this is interesting given that Luke, a doctor who desired to write with significant detail, left this part of the story out.

The picture portrayed in our modern day nativities do not accurately portray the scene. The beautiful pictures of the little manger is nothing close to reality. The manger or feeding trough is nothing more than a box or platform that was used to feed animals. I want you to picture this because it’s important to understand what God was willing to do to offer us redemption through this little human. If you have pets, think about what their food dishes look like. Hair, slobber, nose juice, bugs, and all sorts of unseen germs, and bacteria are around the dish. Into that environment was laid our Savior. I’m sure Joseph did the best he could with what he had. He probably scraped together the cleanest hay he could find. If he had a coat or covering, he probably laid it down. And Jesus was placed in the manger where we assume he gently drifted off to sleep without making a single noise.

I’m going to leave Jesus in the manger with Mary and Joseph watching over Him. Next week we’ll see how the other characters in the story responded to the birth of Jesus. Stay tuned as we continue to take a different look at this very familiar story.

Can You Hear the Angels Singing?

14 Dec

AngelsYou can listen to the podcast here.

Take a look at the familiar Christmas story found in Luke 2:8-14.

Apparently angels are scary beings. The angel told Joseph, “Do not be afraid.” Gabriel said to Mary, “Do not be afraid.” And the angel told the shepherds, “Do not be afraid.” Put yourself in the shepherd’s place. All of a sudden, an angel appears and tells them that Jesus has been born. “And there appeared a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.” The sky was filled with more angels than you could count. They were singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

This is the way it typically happens. The key word in that text is the word suddenly. God always works in His own time and I think we wish there were more of these types of moments. Suddenly means without warning, it means quickly and unexpectedly. The angels weren’t there and all of a sudden, they were and they filled the sky. The shepherds were out in the field taking care of their flocks by night, but could the angels be seen in Bethlehem? What about in Jerusalem eight miles away? Did the angel’s praise reach across the miles? These are questions to get you to think. Of course, we don’t know the answers, but I can tell you one thing for sure: the angels filled the sky and the shepherds saw them.

Are angels real? Of course they are. 2 Ki. 6 tells the story of Elisha and his servant when the Aramean army surrounded them in the city of Dothan. Seeing the enemy on every side, the servant cried out, “What shall we do?”  Elisha responded by declaring, Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Ki. 6:16-17) The angels were always there, but the servant simply could not see them. When his eyes were opened, he saw what had been there all along. There are skeptics all around us so how should we respond to someone like that? It is a matter of faith. Just because you cannot prove something does not automatically disprove it. That was part of my journey to recognizing that God is real. There are things all around us that people take by faith, or I think a more applicable term is take for granted. How can you see the beauty of nature or the beauty of humanity and not see God? You cannot ignore the supernatural element of Jesus’ birth. Angels are a huge part of the story. An angel tells Mary she will give birth to Jesus. An angel tells Joseph not to dump Mary. That angel would then tell Joseph what was going on and that the baby would be called Jesus. An angel warns Mary and Joseph to flee to Egypt. An angel tells them when it’s safe to return to Israel. And in Lu. 2:11, an angel tells the shepherds that the Savior has been born and then the sky is filled with angels. Later, we have the mysterious star that led those far away Magi all the way to the very house where they found Jesus. And the Magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod but to go home another way. Angels and stars and dreams. Crazy supernatural stuff throughout this story. I think these are some things we know, but really have forgotten how incredible they are. When you reduce Christmas to good feelings and family time, you miss out on this incredibleness. This story helps us solidify that there is a heavenly realm. This world is not eternal. We look forward to the day when we join God in our eternal home. This world is not our home – that’s why we’re strangers and aliens here. Our citizenship is in heaven. We are pilgrims on a journey from this world that is passing away to a world that will last forever. We are looking for a city with eternal foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

The end is coming. What we know today will be gone soon. Those things that many feel are so important will pass away. 1 Jo. 2:17 reminds us that, The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” We are here today and gone tomorrow. Jesus said, Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” (Matt. 24:35) Rev. 16:18 says, “There was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty.” That earthquake destroys all that we know. All the incredible architecture gone. The great masterpieces of the ages gone. All the earthly treasures held so dearly are gone. There is nothing we can do to save any of it including ourselves. Our salvation comes from another source. That’s why Christmas is so important. Miracles surround Christmas: the angels, the star, the dreams, the prophecies, and most of all, the virgin birth. But those miracles are just signs pointing to the greatest miracle of all. Since we get a play by play of events from Scripture, it’s only fitting that we look to the Bible to see why. Jo. 3:16 tells us that, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Tit. 2:11 says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men.” Gal. 4:4 says, But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law.  Phil. 2:6-7, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men.” One of my favorites is found in Jo. 1:14, The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The birth of Christ is the incarnation of God. It is the unity of deity and humanity. The infinite became finite. The immortal became mortal. The Creator became the created. The omnipotent lived inside a young girl’s womb. The Almighty became helpless. The Deity was wrapped in rags. The King was born in a stable. The incarnation is essential in our faith. Without the incarnation, there can be no birth. Without a birth, there can be no sinless life. Without a sinless life, there can be no atonement for sin. Without atonement, there is no need for the crucifixion. Without the crucifixion, there can be no resurrection. Without the resurrection, there is no hope. Without hope, there is nothing.

I don’t want you to miss the main point. Having a biblical worldview is supernatural. When you take the supernatural out of Christmas, you’re left without the miraculous. You’re left without hope. You’re left in your sin. As Christians, why would we want to do that? The central point, the main thing, the primary focus, the theme, the moral of the story is all summed up in two words: “I am.” Christmas without Jesus is like a computer with no operating system. It’s like an iPod with no music. It’s like a phone that doesn’t make calls. It’s like cooking without food. It’s like Face Time with no face. Those things just don’t make sense.

Anytime we see angels in Scripture, I think they appear suddenly. Even though we might say we want God to work suddenly, I don’t think we really do. Especially when you consider how long you’ve prayed for lost family members and friends. Or when you consider that loved one that is dying. I think we often pray for more time. Right now we have some time, but who knows how long.

We have the time this moment to share the truths that the angels sang about that first Christmas. Today, we sing those same songs. Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King! If you listen with all your heart, you can still hear them singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth among those with whom he is pleased!” “Hark the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild God and sinners reconciled. Joyful, all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies with the angelic host proclaim: Christ is born in Bethlehem. Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

Faded Glory: Why Jesus had to Come

30 Nov

Baby Jesus

You can listen to the podcast here.

We kick off a Christmas series this morning at C4 called Everything I need to know, I learned at Christmas. I’ve adapted these messages from Dr. Ray Pritchard, President of Keep Believing Ministries out of Elmhurst, IL. You can find them in their original form at keepbelieving.com. Pulitzer Prize winning columnist George Will wrote a column called “The Happiest Holiday” on Dec. 24, 1998. His opening paragraph states: “A sardonic British skeptic of the late 19th century suggested that three words should be carved in stone over all church doors: “Important if true.” On Christmas Eve, at the end of the rarely stately and always arduous march that Americans make each year to the happiest holiday, it sometimes seems that they are supposed to celebrate Christmas as though they have agreed to forget what supposedly it means.”

Have we forgotten? Growing up I can honestly say I did not know the meaning of Christmas. I was not raised in church and had no knowledge of the Savior that was born in the little town of Bethlehem. I didn’t know there shepherds guarding their flocks by night. The three kings of orient were non-existent in my mind. Now we can’t even say oriental – it would be we three kings of Asia are. Some people really have forgotten. Some never knew or don’t care about the eternal importance of this holiday.   This doesn’t change the fact that they can still enjoy Christmas and all the non-Jesus activities, festivities, good will, and time off that occur. Some are so bent on making Jesus the reason for the season that they get hung up on clerks that aren’t allowed to say, “Merry Christmas” and are outraged that Starbucks only offers a plain red cup at Christmas. Does Jesus need us to come to His defense this year? The evidence that the American church is conforming to the secular society is all around us. As long as you keep your faith to yourself and don’t bother anyone or talk to anyone about it, as long as it makes you feel happy and connected, then it’s all good. But the moment your faith steps out of your brain and into society and you start expressing those beliefs then you become enemy #1.

The words of that unnamed British skeptic that said, “Important if true” should be bouncing around in your mind especially at this time of year. Are we going to approach Christmas with a biblical worldview? We tend to fall into the same holiday routines and traditions as unbelievers. Our hearts get soft as we think of Christmas memories rather than the most important event in human history. Christmas is more than nostalgic songs from Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. The coming of the Messiah, the Savior of the world, establishes the foundation for all we believe. In its proper context, the birth of Christ is incredibly relevant to 21st century people who say that Christmas is nothing more than eggnog, gingerbread, and candy canes. I want to show you over these four Sundays, that the Christmas story is the foundation for all that we believe.

Here are some Christmas story facts according to the Bible. An angel visited a virgin who became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. The baby in her womb was the Son of God from heaven. God caused a heathen emperor to call for a taxation that sent Mary and Joseph back to Bethlehem at the very moment Jesus was born. Prophets foretold the virgin birth and that it would occur in Bethlehem hundreds of years before it happened. A star led the Magi from the East directly to the house in Bethlehem where Jesus was. Angels spoke to shepherds. An angel spoke to Joseph on three separate occasions. An angel spoke to the Magi, warning them not to return to Herod. The slaughter of the baby boys of Bethlehem fulfilled ancient prophecy. When the elderly Simeon held baby Jesus in his arms, he prophesied of His death on the cross. We also see the incredible names of Christ. Wonderful Counselor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace. Jesus – Savior. Immanuel – God with us. Son of the Most High. Christ the Lord. There are also the things He would accomplish. He will save his people from their sins. He will reign from David’s throne in Jerusalem. His kingdom will never end. These are incredible truths when you stop and actually think about them. How often do we mindlessly sing Christmas hymns without listening to what we are actually singing? I encourage you to stop and think about what the Bible claims happened that first Christmas.  Charles Wesley wrote the words we sing often at this time of year, but do we stop to consider their meaning? “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate deity. Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel. Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, Glory to the newborn King!” How about, “True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal, Lo, He shuns not the Virgin’s womb; Son of the Father, begotten, not created. O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.” Begotten, not created ties in with John 3:16.

We were created to be much more than we are. Ps. 8:4-6 says, What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, and You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet.” In that passage we see the glory and tragedy of humanity. We are crowned with glory and honor. We were created to rule over the earth. We were made in the image of God; that is our glory. We’ve twisted this up in our society. In sports we have the MVP and the award means what it says. In the movies there are the Oscars, and the Grammys are for singing. We have all these worldly accolades, but who was it that won the Oscar for best actor last year or who won the Super Bowl last year? Eddie Redmayne and the New England Patriots. Those worldly accolades are just for a moment. All our heroes are just people that fade into history. Robert Frost wrote a poem called “Nothing Gold Can Stay”. It goes like this:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

I hope you caught those five little words that capture humanity. “So Eden sank to grief.” That’s what happened when Adam and Eve disobeyed and ate the fruit of the tree. Sin entered and death became our destiny. Sadness became a reality. We were made for greatness. That’s what David meant in the Psalm. The plan was for us to be a little lower than the angels for a time, but the angels fell, and so did we. We see the evidence all around us and it invades us every day. Sometimes we see it in a very personal way. That’s what Frost meant when he said, “So Eden sank in grief.” Nothing gold can stay. We were made for greatness – for something so much better than we see in this world cursed by sin. But having been made a little lower than the angels, it sometimes seems that we have sunk so low that we are more like the demons than the angels. Even our righteousness is like filthy rags in the presence of God.

Why would God visit us? God made us for greatness and we blew it. There is a but. God is not finished with us yet. David asks a question in Ps. 8:4, “What is man that you take thought of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” I think that’s a valid question. We blew it in the garden. God gave us another chance and the wickedness was so great on the earth, that He told the only righteous guy left to build a boat. Have you ever thought why God didn’t just give up? Listen to David’s question again, “What is man that you take thought of him?” Why would God care so much to send His one and only Son; that He would actually come to us? The writer of Hebrews tells us, “But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” (Heb. 2:9) Jesus wasn’t born into human royalty – He was born into poverty delivered by a man that wasn’t his father in a stable in a little known village, ignored by most people. Jesus came to undo the curse on humanity and one day we will see Him just as He is. (1 Jo. 3:2) The writer of Hebrews quotes David when he said, You have put all things in subjection under his feet.” For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to Him.” But that has yet to happen. We weep over the pain and suffering of this world, but there are better days ahead. G. K. Chesterton said, “Whatever else is or is not true, this one thing is certain – man is not what he was meant to be.” We were made for glory, but our glory faded a long time ago. We disobeyed in the garden causing us to die spiritually and die physically. And then inexplicably, we tried to do things on our own. We wonder why the world is the way it is and we question God’s love, but for many people, we need look only in the mirror. Our spiritual state is reminiscent of the famous Pogo comic strip quote that states, “We have met the enemy, and he is us. As is often the case with God, there is a but. There are at least 10 direct references in the Bible where God says, “I will not leave you or forsake you.” God sent prophets to tell us how to get to Him, but the people killed them. He gave us Scripture that we ignore. He tells us how to live and we tell Him He’s old fashioned and out of date. Jo. 3:16 says He loved us too much to leave us to our own devices.

That is the Christmas story. Most people didn’t pay attention. It didn’t make sense how a young woman could become pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. It didn’t make sense why it would happen in such a way. A King born as a baby in the little town of Bethlehem where there was no room at an inn. He was Immanuel, God with us that would save us from our sin. He grew up the son of a carpenter, lived a sinless life and then we killed him on a cross. But death could not hold Him and He rose again just as He said He would. The general population is wrong about God and is wrong about Jesus. C.S. Lewis said, “The son of God became a man to enable men to become the sons of God.” The good news of Christmas is that God has done it all. The only thing left to you and me is to believe. God wrapped up his Son in swaddling clothes and proclaimed to humanity, “This is my Christmas gift to you.”

Do you believe it? Will you receive it? Remember that columnist George Will that I started with? His column was called, “The happiest holiday,” and he’s right. I made the decision that Jesus is the Christ, the strong Son of the living God. Christmas is happiest for those that know Jesus. Important if true. You must decide.

The Savior’s Sign

1 Dec

Virgin BirthYou can listen to the podcast for this message here.

He is considered one of the greatest men of God from the olden days. He was a counselor to kings and a writer whose O.T. book is quoted more often in the New Testament than any other except the book of Psalms. When Jesus preached His first sermon, He preached out of a passage from this man’s writings. His calling from God is one of the most beautiful pictures in Scripture. “In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.’ And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.” (Is. 6:1-4) This man would be inspired to say things about the Lord so incredible that it boggles our mind. is name is Isaiah and he is a prophet.

Isaiah 7:10-17 is a familiar passage to people in and out of the church and I encourage you to get your Bible and read this incredible passage for yourself.

You’ve heard the saying, desperate times call for desperate measures? This passage comes just after Isaiah answers the call of God in 6:1-4. Isaiah finds himself right in the middle of some pretty intense political action. Isaiah 7:1-2 sets the stage for us. At some point in our lives, every one of us will face desperate times. Circumstances present themselves that may bring us to the edge of despair where there seem to be few options and time is running out. In this passage I want you so see some things that put Judah’s king Ahaz on the edge of despair. Ahaz was an unstable man. He had a godly father and grandfather, but he did not follow in their footsteps. Having godly relatives is no guarantee of godly children. Unless a child personally chooses to enter into a biblical relationship with God through Christ, he will leave that home one day without the tools necessary to face the world.

I don’t know everything about Ahaz, but this much is clear. His life can be summed up as recorded in 2 Kings 16:2, “Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem; and he did not do what was right in the sight of the LORD his God, as his father David had done.” He is not in a wilderness period and he is not sowing his wild oats. He did not do what is right in God’s eyes. Ahaz is probably in his early twenties and he is confronted with a very serious national crisis, but he doesn’t possess the life experience or spiritual resources necessary to effectively handle it. To make a really long story short, Assyria and the northern kingdom of Israel joined forces to invade the southern kingdom of Judah. Against the guidance of God’s prophets, Israel formed an alliance with Assyria in an effort to defend against what they knew was coming from Assyria. It was a, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em scenario. It was Assyria’s practice to invade and conquer neighboring countries and take the people prisoner. Assyria’s  goal was to invade Judah and get rid of king Ahaz. Verse 2 tells us “His heart and the hearts of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind.” So what’s a king to do? Godly kings seek wise counsel from God and then there is Ahaz. Ahaz was foolish. 2 Kings 17 indicate that Ahaz is going to try and form his own alliance independent of Assyria and Israel only his alliance won’t be against Assyria, it would be with Assyria. Ahaz is planning to buy off Assyria to save himself. You can feel the desperation in Ahaz’s reasoning. So it is with this information that we find the prophet Isaiah called to go talk to king Ahaz in 7:3. Let’s see how this is set up in 7:3-9.

The actual reality is that God always comes through. How many times has God used seemingly incidental things to remind us that He is right there? He is involved in our lives even if we can’t see exactly what He is doing. Here is Ahaz looking over the water supply lines of Judah. Isaiah and his son Shear-jashub walk up to Ahaz. Hebrew names carried a lot of significance. Isaiah means Jehovah has saved. Shear-jashub means a remnant shall return. Standing right in front of Ahaz are reminders of who God is and that He will preserve His people. Remember that Ahaz’s father and grandfather were godly men. God is always bigger than your problems and your fears. In the face of certain defeat, look at what God says through Isaiah in v. 4, “Take care and be calm, have no fear and do not be fainthearted.” God is saying don’t look for a way out, but look for a way through your difficult situation. 1 Cor. 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” Do you believe that no situation is too hard for God? For Ahaz, God was trying to show him that his trust must be placed in the One that can handle the problem. V. 9 says, “If you will not believe, you surely shall not last.” Faith, that strong conviction in what you cannot see often stands in the way of God accomplishing what He wants to accomplish. If you do not stand firm, you will fall. God was trying to get Ahaz to believe. To walk by faith, not by sight. To be a follower of God first, then a king.

This is a good time for a miracle. It is at this moment that something incredible takes place. Vs. 10-11 says, “Then the Lord spoke again to Ahaz saying, ‘Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven.’” Isaiah was there to speak to the king on behalf of God and Ahaz doesn’t want to listen; all he can think about is the Assyrian army. Ask whatever you want – no limit. “I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD.” Now Ahaz gets all spiritual on Isaiah. He is conveniently forgetting what is going on in Judah: idolatry, human sacrifices, asheroth pole worship, Baal worship. The reality is that Ahaz had already made up his mind and nothing Isaiah said or did would convince him to trust God. Are we like that? Do we seek guidance and counsel from the Scriptures, or do we avoid it because we’ve already made up our minds as to what we will do.

Here is the moment set apart for Isaiah. He turns from the king and begins to speak to the crowd that had gathered. The story continues in vs. 13-14, “Then he said, “Listen now O house of David! Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well? Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call his name Immanuel.” It is God that gives the sign. He doesn’t send an angel or a prophet – God Himself sees to it.

What is the meaning of the sign? This sign is meant to get our attention. V. 13 starts with “Listen now.” Pay attention to what is coming. This sign proves that God can do whatever He wants to do. Sign means a signal or a distinguishing mark. It is something that is obvious, something that will stand out. This sign involves the birth of a son after an impossible pregnancy. A virgin will conceive. Isaiah tells everyone that at some point a woman will conceive a child that simply cannot be explained.  When you see that, that is God’s handiwork. This sign means that God is coming in the flesh. His name is Immanuel meaning God with us. God will be with us in the flesh. He will dwell among us. We will see and experience His glory. 700 hundred years later, that sign was realized. A young woman named Mary was engaged to a guy named Joseph. An angel appeared and told her what to expect. Luke 1:31 records the words of the prophet, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.”

If God can cause a woman to conceive in a miraculous manner, why do you doubt that He can take care of you? The birth of Immanuel, God with us, served as a sign for people desperate to see God working. When all seems hopeless to us, God already has a plan in place, has already set the process in motion. Before you even realized you need Him, He is already there. Sometimes it takes being in the pit of despair to see the hope of a Savior. Immanuel means God with us, not God might be here one day if you’re really good.

How Nazareth Missed Christmas

20 Dec

You can listen to the podcast here.

Several years ago a fad in Christmas decorations swept across America.  It is an artificial tree that is upside down.  Hammecher Schlemmer offered a 7 foot prelit tree for 599.95.  If you didn’t get one, it’s too late, they no longer offer the tree.  Who wouldn’t want one?  In their ad, the company says there is more room for presents than a traditional tree. You can still find these trees ranging from $200-400. Most people don’t need a tree to be turned upside down at Christmas.

Left unchecked, Christmas can be turned upside down in a hurry. Our gift buying can leave months of extra debt to pay off, our holiday schedules can leave us exhausted, and our materialism can leave someone searching for Christmas blind to the true meaning and spirit of the holiday. Americans will spend almost $22 billion this Christmas on toys alone. We used to talk about cars being upside down and now we’re upside down on our houses. So here’s the question, “Wouldn’t you like to trade your upside down Christmas for something better?” From Nazareth to Bethlehem, there were countless opportunities to celebrate Christmas, but few people managed to do so. In the case of Nazareth, missing Christmas led to something far more troubling because this community managed to miss life-changing faith, even with Jesus living in their midst. As it turns out, in the 12th Century, Christians hung fir trees upside down in their homes at Christmas to remind them of the Trinity. Back to Nazareth. The story started there, when Mary got the word that she would carry the long-awaited Christ child.

Take a look at the familiar passage in Luke 1:26-38.

Mary’s had a dream and in that dream, she found Christmas. It’s not just that the angel of the Lord found her, but it was Mary’s willingness to be used. Mary called herself a bond slave in verse 38. A bond slave is one who gives himself up to another’s will and whose service is used by Christ in extending and advancing His cause among men. It also means someone devoted to another to the point of disregarding your own interests. There was a period of time when Mary was the only person to believe God was at work in a new way. It took a miraculous dream for Joseph to get on board.  Check out Joseph’s dream in Matt. 1:18-24. Mary would spend her pregnancy and her labor away from her village, her friends, and her family. The lesson for us today is more important than you might think. Yes, we’d like to reclaim the rest of the holiday. Yes, we’d like to remember the real reason for the celebration. Yes, we’d like to spend less money on gifts, and realize what an incredible gift God has given to us. But if we miss the meaning of this season of faith, we also might miss the opportunity for experiencing life-changing faith years later. It happened that way in Nazareth.

When Jesus began his teaching ministry, he went back to Nazareth and went to the synagogue. When Jesus delivered the same message that was already being accepted in other villages, the people of Nazareth refused to believe. The story is found in Mark 6:1-6a. Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith. Nazareth had been told through Mary and Joseph that angels were delivering important messages from God, but the people of the village refused to believe. Perhaps they knew Mary and Joseph too well to believe God might be using them. Nazareth had seen evidence of Mary’s pregnancy and evidence of Joseph’s decision to believe a miracle had taken place. Nazareth had access to the Scripture in its synagogue, and had surely read the promise in Is. 7:14 that said “a virgin will be with child” and that he would be called a Nazarene according to Matt. 2:23 where Matthew quotes what the prophets said. Even with the evidence that Jesus of Nazareth had been born of a virgin, that His birth was a miracle, Nazareth refused to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. They were too familiar with Jesus.  He’d grown up among them.  He’d lived among them every day for decades. No one could remember Jesus doing anything wrong. No one could even remember Mary or Joseph getting frustrated with Jesus. They knew Him. Even though miracles were happening in other places because of Jesus, in His hometown, people with diseases, pain, and disabilities returned home lacking the faith necessary to be healed. This faith would have changed their lives and shown them the truth of Christmas.

So what’s the impact of this story? Most of us are as familiar with Jesus as the people of Nazareth. If you’ve been in church very long, you know the stories, you’ve sung the songs, and you’ve even memorized scripture. But there’s still a huge gulf of faith and trust that needs to be bridged and only you can build that bridge. This Christmas, would Jesus be amazed at your faith, or at your lack of faith? Will it be another Christmas filled with too much to do, too much food, and too many expenses? Could this be the Christmas when faith finally grabs hold of you and like Mary you say, “I am the Lord’s servant.”

This is the right time for the right message. What’s the right message? As people are consumed with shopping, decorating, and buying, most of our culture misses the reason for all the activity. His name is Jesus, and He is called Immanuel. Immanuel means God with us. There is no better time of the year than Christmas to share who Jesus is and why He came. It’s not about spending more, it’s about spending less, doing less, and enjoying Christmas more. How can we share the right message, right now? Take a stand and let others take notice that you want to make Christmas what it should be. Relax, take time with God and reflect upon what He did to make it all possible. Make a family tradition of giving a major gift to missions. That’ll make a bigger impact on the world than giving your child the latest gaming system.

It’s the right time for the right message and this is the right place for the right message. Nazareth was not the right place for the home of the Messiah. The character of Nazareth was proverbially bad.  To be a Galilean or a Nazarene was an expression of decided contempt. The village did not have the best reputation. In John 1:46, Nathaniel said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” And yet Isaiah promised that the Messiah would be despised, even contemptible. Few people grow up thinking their hometown has the chance to produce greatness. With 820 people living there, Tampico, IL produced Ronald Reagan. John Wayne was born in Winterset, IA – 4805. Andy Griffith was born in Mt. Airy NC – 8484. Dick van Dyke was born in Crawfordsville, IN – 15,243. Tiger Woods was born in Cypress, CA – 49,000. Bush 43 was born in New Haven, CT – 124,000. Tim Tebow was born to missionary parents in Makati City, Philippines, just one kid trying to find his way among the 510,000 people living around him.

Any place, at any time, can produce a great leader or athlete or an unforgettable entertainer. This place, our place, happens to be the right place for the right message of Christmas. Who else is going to bring the Good News to our community? Everyone else is too busy at Christmas. We all need to realize that the best person to reach our family, friends, and neighbors is us. It’s not someone else’s responsibility.  It’s not even someone else’s opportunity. You are there, inside the circle, armed with years of relationships and trust. Find a way to get the message to your sphere influence this year. Include a spiritual side to your family celebrations. Pray before you open gifts. Read the Christmas story from Luke. Think about what your family or community might be like without your contributions. George Bailey had an opportunity to see what his community would be like without his positive influence. You can make a difference.

It’s the right time for the right message.  This is the right place for the right message, and you are the right person for the right message. You may have doubts about your ability to deliver the good news or you may be very comfortable sharing your faith. Each of us, in our own ways, with our own skills, has been gifted and charged by God to deliver the life changing news of Christmas. Mary and Joseph accepted the challenge, trusted God, and found the miracle. They paid a price for accepting the task God gave them. They endured shame and scorn and traveled hundreds of miles. The rest of Nazareth endured none of the discomfort or pain that Mary and Joseph did because they did not accept the challenge of faith. They missed Christmas. What a person does with the right message, given in the right time, at the right place, is completely up to him or her. Life-changing faith – Christmas-finding faith – is the kind of faith that puts your faith in action. The decision belongs to you. Take the journey of faith that Mary and Joseph took, and you’ll find the miracle. If you have a hard time trusting and believing, you’ll suffer the same fate as people in Nazareth who never overcame their lack of faith. If you can trust, if you can come to faith in Christ, then you’ll find the same truth that Mary found as she took one step after another in her walk of faith. Remember the words the angel spoke to Mary, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)

The right place, the right time, the right person and most importantly, the right message. Christmas started in Nazareth, went to Bethlehem, and then back to Nazareth. Both villages were filled with people who missed what God was doing in their midst. It’s the same way people in our culture can celebrate a huge holiday without ever comprehending what God has done, and continues to do, in our midst. And yet God is at work, changing lives one at a time, and getting the message out in some surprising ways. Don’t miss Christmas this year because you’re too caught up in Christmas.

The Leaders who Missed Christmas

28 Nov

You can listen to the podcast for this message here.

Here we are in the Christmas season again. I wonder how many will miss the reason we celebrate Christmas? Even Christians who are pressed to the max with school parties, work parties, church parties, neighborhood parties, decorating, baking, and shopping for presents are prone to miss Christmas. In the classic movie A Christmas Carol, we find the tyrannical and unlovable business owner Scrooge complaining every step of the way because poor Bob Cratchet wants half a day off on Christmas. If the story was written toady, the roles would likely be reversed. We would see Scrooge looking forward to Christmas because as a business owner, he would see profits rise. He’d begin advertising before Halloween and offer ridiculous store hours on Black Friday maybe even opening at midnight. Maybe the story would follow how Bob Cratchet developed his complex shopping plan camped out hoping to find those trendy, state of the art gifts for his kids. He probably scanned the 102 million results found on Google by searching Black Friday 2011. Bob would come to despise the Christmas music that begins just after Halloween. Scrooge would love Christmas, Bob Cratchet? Not so much. In the ever increasing commercialism and materialism that is Christmas, can we change the pattern? Do you want to?

Missing Christmas is nothing new. Since the very first Christmas 2000 years ago, people looking for the real meaning of Christmas missed it. In the first century, the Temple was one of the busiest religious centers on the planet. Sacrifices were constantly being offered on behalf of people’s sin. Priests, worshipers, and the religious crowd were ever present. The religious crowd sat around and “discussed” the finer points of the Law. They evaluated the 613 rules they supposed people ought to follow as they interpreted the Law. Somewhat different form the 10 that came down with Moses from Mt. Sinai. They read from and memorized the Torah, they talked about the prophets. They looked for the Messiah. Messiah is born just about 5 miles from where all these religious leaders were. He was born in Bethlehem and not a single Jewish leader made it to the manger. Jesus was laying in the manger for just over a week and probably no one came to see this little boy.

So let’s look at the story that occurs eight days after Jesus was born. Grab your Bible and read Luke 2:21-38. According to Jewish law, male babies are taken to the Temple on the 8th day and circumcised because He was born under the law according to Gal. 4:4. Mary and Joseph take baby Jesus to the Temple. The reason for Christmas is taken to the Temple, the very place you’d expect to find Messiah. Christmas nearly comes and goes from the Temple just like it comes and goes for many people today. There were two people at the Temple that day however, that were eagerly anticipating Christmas. The religious leaders at the time who earnestly searched for Messiah did not find Him. Even as Messiah hung on the cross 33 years later, the leaders looking for mankind’s deliverer missed Him. How could anything good come out of Nazareth after all? (Jo. 1:46) How can people miss something so obvious? How could they miss something that is apparently so obvious to us? If we were in Jerusalem that day, we would see the hustle and bustle of Temple life. We’d see the steady stream of religious people doing religious things. We’d smell the smells of the sacrifices, hear the animals, hear people laughing and crying – we’d see all the activity. We’d see people so consumed with life and they’d miss Christmas because they were just too busy. These leaders would remain busy for the next 33 years. They missed the miracles, the teaching, the love, the authenticity, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension. The religious leaders were so busy doing God’s work that they missed the most important work God ever did for mankind. They had the Law, the prophets, the very Word of God and yet they missed what all of these things pointed to.

It’s not a stretch when we consider what the holiday season has become. Children so excited about what they will receive that they can barely get to sleep on Christmas Eve. Sleep doesn’t last long as many families are awakened by their children in the wee hours of the morning to open presents giving little to no thoughts as to why they’re getting gifts. Christmas has been replaced with consumerism and materialism, with the rush to find a bargain on an item we don’t really need. It shouldn’t shock you to know that few people know the real reason for Christmas. We’ve lost the simplicity of the manger, of the shepherds that were watching their flocks by night. I wonder if we should spend some time in the Temple looking for Christmas.

Did everyone miss Christmas? If we were flies on the wall in the Temple mount, we’d notice two people. The first is a man named Simeon. The second is a woman named Anna. The Pharisees and the Sadducees and most of the religious leaders of the day missed Christmas. I want to focus on these two people that give us some clues on how to avoid missing Christmas. If you want to find Christmas, you must be willing to wait. Simeon is described as, “righteous and devout.” He was upright, just, and God-fearing. He was, “looking for the consolation Israel.” The Messiah was born of very humble beginnings. He didn’t come as the religious leaders thought He would come. The Christ child did not come as royalty, he didn’t come as a major league political figure. He came as a baby, born of a virgin.

Look at Luke 1:68-75. Simeon waited. Luke 2:26 tells us that, “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” Simeon was apparently an old man that had been looking for that consolation of Israel for a long time. He waited because the Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would not see death until he saw Christmas. Luke 2:28-32 says, “Then he [Simeon] took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, ‘Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Your people Israel.’” Can you imagine waiting for something for so long and then holding Salvation in your arms? Simeon offers a blessing to Mary and Joseph and then disappears from the pages of Scripture.

Then we come to Anna. 84 years old and she spent all of her time in the Temple area. She served, “Night and day with fastings and prayers.” Compare her to the religious leaders who argued the finer points of the Law, offered a life time of sacrifices and yet still missed the sacrifice for all life. The priests were engaged in continual sacrifices for the people. When you look at God’s design for the Temple, you’ll find the lamp stand, the table of showbread, the basin, the alter – all the materials needed to make sacrifices to God. Did you ever notice that there aren’t any chairs? There was always sacrifices to make; never time to sit. Heb. 10:11-12 tells us, “Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD.” The priests were so busy making sacrifices for the people that they missed the sacrifice made for them. Many people in today’s church have bought the same lie that the priests of old did. Busyness equates to spiritual maturity and that is just not true. Simeon and Anna were purposed to find Christmas – to find Messiah, the Christ Child, the consolation of Israel, the redemption of Israel. They waited – they were patient. What part of Christmas today is patient? Is it the packed shopping centers and the traffic jams? Is it the pushing and the shoving in the lines to get into the stores at midnight on Thanksgiving Day? Is it the after Christmas sales that now begin before Christmas?

What will you do to avoid missing Christmas? How will you reconnect with the original Christmas? You’ve heard of the still, small voice of God? I wonder how well you can hear that in a crowded mall? I encourage you at some point very soon, get alone with God and listen to Him – and wait until you hear Him. If you want to embrace what that first Christmas was like, you’re going to have to wait like Simeon and Anna did. And it doesn’t matter if everyone around you misses it.

You must trust that God will keep His promises. Simeon waited a lifetime to see God’s promise. When he saw Jesus, Simeon knew the promise had been kept. Anna waited decades. It’s significant to note that she was a prophetess. That means as she waited for the redemption of Israel, she told others about the Christ. I’m sure that included telling people of the promises of God. The promises that include telling people that God will never leave you nor forsake you. That is comforting considering that Christmas is one of the most stressful times of the year. Maybe this holiday season will be filled with new normals. A new marriage. New babies. Maybe your children were married this past year. Maybe this is the first year without that loved one. We can stand on the promises that God will not leave you; He will be with you to help you as you go through this time of year. Contrary to popular opinion, this time of year produces 40% fewer suicides than at other times. He will be there with you, will you trust Him?

You must be willing to proclaim what God has done. Simeon and Anna never considered keeping the good news to themselves. Simeon tells Mary and Joseph what Jesus’ future holds. As soon as she saw the child Anna, “Came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Don’t neglect to tell people what God has done in you.

At the center of Christmas is this gift that has been prepared for you. Don’t miss the gift of God among the gifts of men. Don’t miss the center of Christmas and that is the Christ child that was sent to save mankind from themselves. God willingly sent Jesus just for you. He came as the King of kings and the leaders of His days missed Him. Don’t miss Christmas this year.

The Miracle of the Method

20 Dec

You can listen to the podcast for this message here.

We continue with the third message of our Miracles of Christmas series. One of the mysteries and miracles of Christmas that always seems to come up is how can Santa deliver toys to every boy and girl in the world in just one night?

I found where a mathematician calculated how Santa can accomplish that incredible feat in a 24 hour period. Without letting the cat out of the bag, it involves the sleigh moving at 650 miles per second, about 3000 times the speed of sound. That is truly is a miracle.

Part of the miracle of Christmas is the miracle of the method

Rom. 11:33 says, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!”

God’s methods are beyond our comprehension. Rom. 11:33 is known as Paul’s doxology of praise to God. He focuses on the greatness of God and on how incredibly awesome God is. God’s riches, wisdom, and knowledge are beyond measure. His methods are beyond our understanding. When you think about God’s methods throughout history and in particular in the Christmas story, it is difficult to comprehend. Think about the ways that God has already revealed Himself in history to people.  He had revealed Himself through a burning bush, through a pillar of fire and a cloud, through a donkey. In the Christmas story we have the most elaborate method yet. This is the greatest revelation of who God is and what He is like.

Imagine being in heaven when God announces what He plans to do. You can imagine the angels making preparations. We’ll get Your white horses, Your chariots of gold. We’ll gather the angels to announce Your arrival. All will see You and acknowledge Your greatness and will confess that You are the one and only true God. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that You are Lord. It’s going to be awesome!

But then God steps in and lets them in on His plan. He won’t come as a king, but as a servant. He won’t be born with fanfare surrounded by nobility; He’ll be born with only His earthly parents in a dirty, smelly stable in a small town. He will come as a human being; a man. He will work with His hands until the appointed time. Imagine the surprise of the angels. You’re going to do what? God chose to come into the world as a helpless, defenseless baby. He chose to be born to young, humble, poor, nobody parents. Joseph and Mary are plain, ordinary people, living their lives in obscurity. There is nothing about them that would garner world-wide attention or fame. They are plain, ordinary, everyday people. Yet God chose them to be the parents of Jesus. Through them, God’s greatest and most incredible revelation will come. The life of the King of kings and Lord of lords would be entrusted to two peasant people that have never been parents. The salvation of humanity rests on the shoulders of Joseph and Mary.

Comprehension for God’s plan is difficult for us to grasp. Is. 55:8-9 says, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” God’s methods are different than our methods.

God has been trying to show us His methods throughout history. He chose Abraham to leave his home and travel to the place of promise. He chose Joseph, the next to youngest son of Jacob to become the hope for his family. He chose Israel, the least significant nation to be His special people. He chose David, the shepherd boy over all his older brothers to become the king of Israel. He chose Bethlehem, a small, insignificant place in Israel for His Son to be born. God’s ways are not our ways. His methods are not our methods. That’s the miracle of Christmas – it is the miracle of the method. Over and over and over again, God chose plain, ordinary people to accomplish His extraordinary work.

It’s impossible for us to understand God’s decisions and methods. The most detailed account of the Christmas story is recorded by Luke. Joseph and Mary were traveling to Bethlehem to register for the census. There was no room for them at an inn, so Mary gave birth to Jesus and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger. I’m sure Joseph did all he could to make Mary and Jesus warm and comfortable, but the reality is he could only do so much given his circumstances.

So after Jesus is born, what happens? The grand announcement of the Savior’s birth doesn’t make international headlines; it isn’t announced to kings or governors or even the religious leaders. It wasn’t breaking news. God’s method was for an angel to appear to shepherds that were watching their flock in the night. The angel tells these simple shepherds, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Lu. 2:10-11) The more you think about it, the more incredible the story is. That’s the miracle of the method – God uses ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things.

God rarely shows up the way we think He should. After Jesus died and was resurrected, Jesus first appeared to a group of women. If I was in charge, I would have appeared to the leaders that killed me and give them what for. I would have showed up to the Pharisees and Sadducees and said, “I told you so.” But God’s plan was different. He told His followers to make disciples of all nations. His instructions were entrusted to a small group of people. Salvation was entrusted to Mary and Joseph, now salvation is entrusted to a small group of believers. Most of them are simple, uneducated, ordinary people.

Paul reminded the Corinthians of this very thing in 1 Cor. 1:26-29 that says, “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.” The more things change, the more they stay the same. God’s method hasn’t changed. He still chooses to use simple, plain, ordinary people to accomplish His extraordinary work. He chooses to use people like you and like me to accomplish His work for the Kingdom. Our belief in ourselves is not important, it is our decision to obey what He wants us to do. God’s method is for us to share the good news of Jesus Christ and live lives that reflect His glory.

One more thing. There is another aspect to this miracle of the method that we need to think about. God is at work in our lives in ways that we cannot imagine. If we decided how Jesus would come we probably would have picked a different way. If we scripted this Christian life, we probably would have done something different. If I was writing it, once I got saved, I would live a life without distraction and with complete devotion to God. No problems for me, just spiritual growth without pain and suffering. Without setbacks; without sickness and disease; without defeat; without despair. The reality is that there is pain and suffering, there is sickness and pain and despair and how we respond to that reflects our depth with Christ. But that’s not how we’d write it. God reminds us that His ways are not our ways. His methods are different than our methods, His thoughts different than our thoughts.

God is much bigger than we can possibly understand. He doesn’t fit neatly in the box we’d like to put Him in. I can’t explain the whys and why nots of God, I can’t fully explain the depth of His love for us. Do you really want to serve a god that can be explained? Who thinks like you do? God chose to reveal Himself in Christ Jesus so we could know who He is. We must choose to believe that God is at work in our lives for our good. We must choose to believe that God is molding us and shaping us to be like Jesus. We may not ever be able to see or understand things from God’s perspective on this earth. We walk by faith and not by sight. The longer we walk in obedience, the more we begin to understand the depth of God. God works all of our experiences, our troubles, our trials, our pain, our suffering, our endurance, our celebrations, our joys, our victories, our defeats for His good.

The miracle of the method is that God is at work in our lives in ways that we do not understand. We must continue to trust that He is at work and that He is working for our good. Even though we may not understand why, we need to continue to trust God, continue to follow Him; continue to obey Him. The miracle of the method is that God uses ordinary people like you and me to accomplish extraordinary things for the sake of His kingdom.

Thanks again to the good folks at Lifeway for providing the idea and some of the content for this message series.

The Miracle of the Moment

6 Dec

You can listen to the podcast for this message here.

So I step up on the platform and get behind the pulpit and look at my watch and the people in the congregation for a full minute. I simply smile and look around. The people are nervously looking around at one another wondering what the heck. One minute has passed. (I admit it, I’m not ashamed. Every Christmas, Lifeway offers a special sermon series for pastors to use. I typically use them, but modify them for our congregation.) So a minute has passed. My watch tracks time. It has a second hand which moves every second. 60 seconds moves the big hand one step forward to mark the passing of a minute. It’s amazing how long one minute of silence seems and how short one minute is when you’re doing something you like.

There are 20 days until Christmas. That means there’s about 480 hours until we celebrate the birth of Christ. That’s 28,800 minutes to do all that needs to be done before Christmas arrives. There are presents to buy and wrap; parties to go to, people to visit and we only have 28,800 minutes left to get it done. Since there are only 28,800 minutes left, why did we just waste one precious minute sitting here doing nothing?

Gal. 4:4 says, But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law.

I want us to recognize not only the significance of one moment in time but also of the strategic nature of those moments. We would refer to this strategic nature of time as timing. Have you ever stopped to consider how important timing is to everything that exists? Timing is everything. The best time to start a diet is not around Thanksgiving. If a quarterback is off in his timing for just a split second, he could miss his receiver. Being delayed just a minute could result in missing your flight, or missing a major car accident. If your timing isn’t right, you could be stuck in interstate traffic on I-95. Parents can turn away for one minute and their child is nowhere to be found. C4 sent a team to Romania over Thanksgiving because the timing was right. One minute make a difference. One moment, one sixty-second interval of time, placed in just the right location can make all the difference in the world. It is very easy to get wrapped up in the busyness of the season and miss the miracle of Christmas. This month, I want to spend some time reflecting upon the significance of Christ’s birth.

Gal. 4:4 says, But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law.” Fullness means the appointed time. At just the right time God sent His Son. The reality of that moment in time is that most people missed the miracle of the moment. Most people did not recognize the significance of Jesus Christ. There was too much activity in Bethlehem. Few people knew there was a young girl out in a stable giving birth to the Messiah. They missed the moment and it’s still true for today

That moment was no coincidence. At just the right time in history Jesus was born. This was God’s plan, established from before the foundations of the world.  This was the perfect time. There was relative peace and stability in the region. There was a common language in the area. There was a network of roads that connected city with city and all roads led to Rome. The O.T. prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah were completed. It was the right time and God sent His Son. The miracle of Christmas is not limited to the fact that God came at just the right time, but that He still comes today. God comes to us with what we need at just the right moment. Many people will go through the motions this season. They’ll endure the decorations, the parties, the busyness, but won’t experience the miracle of the moment. But some will get it; they’ll see the miracle and it will change them. God comes to us at just the right time. He’s there when you need Him. He knows what you’re going through. He knows what you need. His timing is perfect. When we are completely helpless, Christ still comes to us today.

It seems as if we are always waiting for just the right time to do something. To get married. Change jobs. Buy a house, have children. For just the right time to commit our lives to Christ. For just the right time to serve God. Titus 2:11-14 tells us, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” Jesus came at just the right time . . . not early . . . not late. Mark 1:15 says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Today is the day. There is no time like the present. Now is the time to let God transform your life. Now is the time to live for Christ. Now is the time to serve God. One moment, one minute can change eternity. Right now is the moment. Right now the timing is perfect for you to live the life God wants you to live. You don’t need to wait any longer. You don’t have to get to a place where you think you’re good enough to serve Him. Choose to live for Him and serve Him now.

In the movie Jingle All the Way, Arnold Swartzeneggar plays Howard Langston, a workaholic mattress salesman that has little time for his wife and son. He forgets to purchase the hottest toy of the season for his son; Turbo-Man. Throughout the movie, he continues to miss opportunity after opportunity to purchase the action figure. His timing is off. Until that one moment; he is in the right time at the right place. He’s mistaken for the stuntman that was to play Turbo-Man in the Christmas parade. Langston goes on to save his son from the Turbo-Man’s nemesis: Demento. Timing is everything and God shows up jus when we need Him. This Christmas, don’t miss the miracle of the moment.

A Mother Called by God

10 May

You can listen to the podcast for this sermon here.

This is the day when many preachers of God’s Word will spend 30 minutes or so on a topic none have experience at. Some will pretend this day is no different than any other. This is the day that some men will dote on the mother of their children, check the box and think they’re good for another year. Being a mom is a tiring, demanding, and never ending responsibility, but it’s not just a job, it’s a calling. You may not be a mom, but the principles we’ll look at today will apply to you as well.

A mother called by God submits to the will of God. When you look at the life of Mary, she was only a teenager when she was confronted with the challenge to be completely submitted to God’s will. When Gabriel gave her the angelic message that she was to carry the Christ, Mary was a bit freaked out. Take a quick look at Luke 1:34-38. When told what was going to happen, Mary had some questions. “How can this be since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” Try and put yourself in Mary’s shoes. She and Joseph were engaged to be married and in the culture, Joseph bore the responsibility of a married man, but sexual contact was forbidden. So Mary comes up pregnant. She had a choice: submit to God’s will or not. The same choice exists for us. We can be obedient or not.

For Mary, the key sentiment for her life is found in her statement, Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” She didn’t say, “Pick someone else.” She didn’t say, “Have you considered my cousin Elizabeth?” In fact the angel told her that Elizabeth was also pregnant – two miracles. Remember that Elizabeth was old and barren. What Mary realized was that the supernatural power of God chose her to bare the Son of God. Bible scholars don’t agree on Mary’s age. She could be as young as 13 which was a typical betrothment age, but most everyone agrees that she was a teenager. She was chosen by God. The angel Gabriel called her, “The favored one” in v. 28. Favored means show kindness.

Mary was quite perplexed (baffled) by Gabriel’s statement. “Don’t be afraid” Gabriel told her, “You have found favor with God.” What in the world would she have to fear? Maybe she wasn’t sure how to raise a child. Maybe she and Joseph weren’t planning on having children for a few years. She had been chosen to carry the Son of God, God’ only child. Wouldn’t you be afraid? You might be thinking, “No way, the angel spoke to her. If an angel was sent to me or if God spoke to me, I’d do whatever He said.” So why is it, when you have an opportunity to share the good news of the Gospel of Christ, you get butterflies in your stomach and you think you can’t do it? Why is it that when God calls you to do something, you need to pray about it? Mary did not waver from her complete submission to God’s will. I’m sure she was nervous. I’m sure she wondered if she had what it takes to raise a child; if she’d do it “right.” I’m sure she was concerned about her part in the prophecy of the Messiah.

You’re probably have the same concerns as Mary. You probably stay up late waiting for the date to be over and for your child to be returned home unharmed and untouched. You’re probably concerned that your child walks in obedience to God. Mary was like any parent who wanted the best, safest, and most comfortable life for her child and at the same time, being fully aware that things happen and life can throw you something completely unexpected. The big “bu0″t for Mary was that she was committed to God and that is worth imitating.

Something else that is encouraging is that a mother called by God does not have to be perfect. Perfection is unrealistic this side of heaven. We live in a world where we have plastic surgery to improve our looks. We color our hair. We have gym memberships. Our detergent is new and improved. When you call any large organization, you have to pay attention because the menu options have changed to make it better.  Aren’t you glad you don’t have to be perfect?

I read a story about a woman named Linda Huckins. It was her daughter’s wedding day and she wanted everything to be perfect. As the mother of the bride she went to the front of the church to light one of the candles. As the story goes, she got a little too close to the flame and her acrylic nail caught on fire. Remember, wanting everything to be perfect, she nonchalantly lit the candle with her flaming nail. After she was done, she blew her finger out like a gunslinger with his six-shooter. All this in pursuit of perfection.  (Linda Huckins, Malden, MA. “Rolling Down the Aisle,” Christian Reader).

Despite the fact that she was the mother of Jesus, Mary wasn’t perfect. Some teach that Mary was perfect, without sin, that somehow she is the queen of heaven. Some teach that we should pray to Mary and that she is a saint. Mary wasn’t perfect. Luke 1:47 tells us that Mary, “Rejoiced in God my Savior.” If Mary was perfect, why would she need a Savior? Luke 2:22-24 tells us that Mary and Joseph made sacrifices according to the Law. When you look at what the “Law of the Lord” is referring to, you come to Lev. 12:8. The pair of turtledoves or pigeons? One is for a burnt offering, the other a sin offering. Mary wasn’t perfect and you don’t have to be either. I’m sure you’ve made mistakes. Through it all, God will love you and will continue to work in you to accomplish what He began.

A mother called by God retains the title. No matter what your children do, no matter how rebellious or unloving they may be, you’re still the mom. Scripture describes the scene as Jesus hung on the cross. In each of the Gospel accounts, we see that His mother is there. Despite the obvious emotional pain and anguish she is experiencing, she’s there. She was the mother of Jesus and she never stopped being His mom. No matter the pain and suffering, a mom is there to the end. You see moms in the schools, the hospitals, and in the funeral homes. No matter the situation, moms are there. For Mary, the reality of Simeon’s prophecy in Luke 2:30 when he said, “For my eyes have seen Your salvation” was realized.

The crosses are different for every family, but more often than not, the crosses are present. There may be a divorce, or disease, or death. There may be arguments. Some tough love may have to be dished out. There may be long and sleepless nights.

Everybody here has a mother. She may be gone, she may be somewhere else, but nobody could have gotten here without a mother. Mary had a chance to see God’s entire plan played out. She suffered through the crucifixion, she rejoiced at His resurrection, and was a part of the group that witnessed the incredible outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost as described in Acts 1:14. Just like Mary, all mothers are called by God.

Thanks to Lifeway and Pastor Andy Cook for the outline of this sermon.