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Monday, November 28, 2016

Following the Star, part 1

Matthew 2:1-2
1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” 

Introduction
            Advent and Christmas are seasons of signs and symbols.  We decorate our homes, our trees, our church, our community.  Even stores and public buildings maintained by non-Christians adorn their spaces with signs of the seasons—stars, angels, trumpets, and Santa Clause (who was a Bishop in the Catholic Church many centuries ago, St. Nicolas).
            All these signs have meanings for those who are wise enough to see.  I hope you will take the time to notice the signs of the season and seek to understand their meaning more clearly.  But what about life?  Does God still give us signs—the way He gave a star to the Wisemen to guide them to Bethlehem and the baby Jesus? 
            Over the next few weeks, I hope to share some of my experience in sensing God's signs and guidance so that you might better sense His signs to you and find the divine guidance you need in your life.

A Critical Question
            To begin, each person must answer a crucial question for themselves. Does God give us signs?  Well, not everybody believes in God.  Some people are atheists—they don't believe God exists—and so they obviously don't believe God gives signs because they don't believe in God.  But what about religious people?
            Religious people (who believe is God) fall somewhere along a spectrum between two extremes.  There are superstitious people who see everything as a sign or supernatural event.  Every time it rains, every time a bird lands on a window sill, every time the phone rings, it is a supernatural act of God (or the Devil).  I had a youth pastor once who we paid $8,000 per year.  He was paid monthly, so his monthly pay check came out to $666.66!  He was like, "Hey, can y'all do something because I just can't accept a pay check with the number of the beast on it."  So we paid him twice a month, which came out to $333.33, which is a really good number (like the Trinity).  Now there wasn't really anything to the numbers.  It was just a coincidence.  But some people are very superstitious and see supernatural signs and event in everything that happens!
            On the other end of the spectrum, there are deists who believe God is not involved at all in human events.  They use the analogy that God is like a watch maker who designed the machinery of creation with all the laws of nature as the gears; God wound up the machine like you would wind up a watch and then He stepped back to let it run all by itself, never more stepping in to interfere.  So the deists believe God does not give signs at all or even intervene in human affairs in any way.  Another variation of this is people who believe God acted in biblical times, but no longer does.
            So we have the two extremes—deism and superstition.  As with most things though, the truth is somewhere in the middle.  Either extreme will lead you astray.  The Truth is, God is not a micromanager.  He is not like a puppeteer up in heaven holding the strings to every person's life and every event on earth.  He is not standing over us controlling every choice we make and every thing we do.   We are not robots.  God gives us free will.  We can choose to love Him or not love Him.  We have the choice.  That was the kind of creation God wanted—one that could move and act independently of His interference, for that is the only way real love and real relationships can exist.
            On the other hand, God is not a distant, uninvolved spectator either.  Read your Bible. God was actively involved throughout the Bible. He performed miracles. He intervened. The New Testament is full of stories and eyewitness accounts of God supernaturally influencing the affairs of the world on a very intimate, personal scale.  The very foundation of the Christian faith is the direct intervention of God's power over the natural law of death.  Jesus was crucified, buried in a tomb, and on the third day God rolled the stone away and Christ rose from the grave.  That is not natural!  That is a supernatural occurrence made possible by the direct intervention of God.  If we don't have that, we have nothing.
            And I think there is an important Truth the modern Church needs to hear—especially the Methodist Church (which tends to be so fixated on rationalism and intellectuality that we want to explain away everything with science and logic; we are so hesitant to talk about miracles and divine power). There is an important Truth you need to hear this morning. The Truth is that the Holy Spirit is still as alive and as active and as involved today as He was during biblical times.  Read the Book of Acts and see how the Holy Spirit moved and empowered people. Acts is the story of the New Testament Church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, fulfilling the mission of Christ to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  It is said the book of Acts is the only unfinished book of the Bible.  It is unfinished because we are the Church and we are still on the mission and we are still writing the story.  We are still the Church of Acts!  And the same Holy Spirit that empowered them, that opened prison doors for Peter, that healed the sick and the lame and the blind and the deaf, that saved the lost and changed the world, is the same Holy Spirit that is living and moving and breathing in our Church today.  What's changed?  Nothing!  The only thing that's changed is the way we think and believe.  Maybe we need to change our thinking and realize the Spirit's power is still in us.
            Each person has to decide what they believe, for what you believe affects what you see and how you interpret the signs around you. Do you believe God can and does give signs to guide us? Or do you believe God does not bother to speak to us anymore as he did in the New Testament?  I want you to know that I believe God does still give us signs to guide us if we are willing to look for them.

Seeing the Signs
            In Matthew 7:7-8, Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
            Do you want to know God’s will for you? I mean do you really care what God wants you to do with your life? What about your day? Do you care what God wants you to do today?  Many people go through life missing all God’s signs, because frankly, they’re not that interested in what God wants them to do. 
            The Wisemen in the East saw the star, but what about all the Jewish scholars in Jerusalem?  They had the Old Testament and their job was to focus on God and His teachings and to interpret His will.  Why didn’t they see the star? Why did a bunch of foreigners from a totally different religion have to travel thousands of miles to find the new “King of the Jews”? Could it be that the Jewish teachers and Jewish King Herod were too wrapped in their own selfish pursuits to look for or even care about what God was trying to do (at least until it threatened their own self-centered plans)?  So are the vast majority of people in our world today. We are too busy chasing our own dreams to see God’s vision for us and so we walk right past the signs God puts in our path.
            If you want to see the signs God gives you, you have to know God’s will; yearn for it like a the dry Southeast is yearning for water during this drought. As Jesus said, you have Ask, Seek, and Knock.
            You have to Ask to know God’s will. Make it your daily prayer. “Lord, what do you want me to do with my life? What do you want me to do today? What do you want for my family? What do you want for my church?”  I once saw a child ask their mama for a candy bar in the grocery store.  Have you ever seen this happen?  Mama said "No!", but that wasn't the end of it.  The child fell on the floor, kicking and screaming, "I want a candy bar!  I want a candy bar!  I want a candy bar!"  That's the passion we need when we ask God to show us His will.  (Maybe we need to be a little more mature about it, but that's the passion and commitment we need.)  
            You must Seek God’s will for you through the Scripture.  Study the Bible and see what it says. It teaches us all how to live. There are some parts of God’s will that apply to all of us the same. Look in your Bible to find God’s will for us.  And as you study the Bible, you will also hear God revealing things just for you.  The Church can help you test what you hear God saying and help clarify God’s word to you. Then, the Church can help hold you accountable to God’s will for you.
            You must Knock on the door of Heaven if you want to know God’s will. But when you ask, seek, and knock, God will open the door for you and you will begin to see the signs He gives to guide you.

Closing
I must confess that I’m no expert in seeing and following God’s signs.  Sometimes my eyes and ears are just a little cloudy.  However, I started diligently Asking, Seeking, and Knocking when I was 18 years old.  So, following God’s will for me and my family has been my number one focus for 24 years.  I started out by reading my Bible every day.  Soon God led me to my wife, my church, my family, and ultimately to my ministry.  So I have some experience with this.  I hope my experience will help me share something of value with you over the next few weeks as we consider how God shares signs to guide us through life.