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Showing posts with label Christmas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christmas. Show all posts

Monday, July 26, 2021

The Names of God - Yahweh-Sabaoth

Introduction
God has sent the Babylonian army to conquer Jerusalem in the 6th century BC because of Jerusalem's sin and idolatry.  While the city was under siege, God was telling Jeremiah to prophesy against Jerusalem  and tell them they would be conquered and they shouldn't resist the Babylonians, but needed to repent of their sin.  The leaders of Jerusalem were plotting to murder Jeremiah to silence him.  Jeremiah felt overwhelmed, outnumbered, and personally under siege.  His cry to God for help reveals one of God's names.

Jeremiah 11:20
20 Lord of Heaven’s Armies, you make righteous judgments,
 and you examine the deepest thoughts and secrets.
Let me see your vengeance against them,    for I have committed my cause to you.

Yahweh-Sabaoth
We are studying the names of God.  Every name reveals part of God infinite character.  God reveals the names His people need to hear.  It may not be a name people want to hear; but it is a name people need to hear.  Today, the name of God we consider is Yahweh-Sabaoth – the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

This past week, my nephew, Ben, graduated from Army Infantry School.  My little nephew has grown up and become a soldier.   I could definitely tell a difference in him.  There’s something about the way he carries himself.  He’s a young man now and a soldier.  I’m proud of him and glad there are well-trained soldiers like Ben Owens protecting our country.  It was neat to walk the infantry museum with him at Fort Benning and have him show me the weapons in the exhibit and have him talk to me about how he learned to use them.

Ben also talked about his infantry division and how it was organized.  There are 10 soldiers in his squad. 2 or more squads makes up a platoon.  3-5 platoons makes up a company.  4-6 companies makes a battalion.  2-5 Battalions makes a brigade.  3 or more brigades makes a Division.  Ben is in the 25th Infantry Division, which is somewhere between 10,000-15,000 soldiers.  Can you imagine how intimidating it would be to be in the presence of a 10-15 thousand soldiers?

One of God’s many names is Yahweh-Sabaoth—the Lord of Heaven’s armies.  If you would find 10-15 thousand human soldiers a overwhelming, imagine the hosts of Heaven’s armies.  Note: Yahweh is not just the Lord of Heaven’s Army (singular).  He is Lord of heaven’s Armies (plural).  Look up at the stars in the night sky.  Can you count them?  Neither can you can’t the hosts of Heaven’s armies at God’s disposal; and each soldier in God’s army is a mighty angel.

Now, with that in mind, let us consider the familiar passage we read at Christmas time. 

Luke 2:8-14
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

 

You Want To Be On The Winning Side
It’s no wonder the Angel had to reassure the shepherds saying, “Fear not!”  
If you saw the angelic armies of heaven appear in the skies with the radiance of God surrounding them, you would be afraid too.  Especially when you realize you are a sinner and the world all around you is full of sin and has rebelled against God.  These shepherds were probably thinking: “This is it—the day of reckoning where God finally comes to hold us all accountable! We're doomed!”  

So the angel had to reassure the shepherd (and us).  “Don’t be afraid!   I bring you Good News!”  In other words, “This is a good thing.  Jesus is coming to give you another chance.  He’s not coming to judge you or destroy you (though that’s what you deserve).  Jesus comes in peace.  He’s here to save you.  He’s here to give you another chance.”

And so Jesus came preaching: “Repent!  For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  It’s right here.  It’s about to break in and take over.  This is your last chance to get right with God and recognize Him as Yahweh—the true and eternal Lord of all!”  And some did accept Jesus message.  And some did not.  Those who rejected him, crucified him.  They figured, “If we kill God’s Son, we can take over this Kingdom and be our own lords and not have to answer to God anymore.”  Do you think that will work?  No.  Of course not. Yahweh is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies!

 

As sweet as the Christmas story is, I don’t want you to miss a very important theme.  Heaven’s armies have us surrounded.  Think of this world as a walled city and Heaven’s Armies have us surrounded.  There’s no escape.  God sent His Son, Jesus, as a peaceful emissary.  Yahweh knows we’ve all been lied to.  The evil rulers of this world don’t want us to know the Truth.  They don’t want us to know God is Holy and Just and True.  They’ll tell you anything to get you to turn away from the King of kings and Lord of lords.  They want you to forget Him altogether so you only trust them. 

Even when the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is standing right outside the walls ready to knock them down and recapture this rebellious world, the rulers of this world will say, “There is no God!  That’s just a bunch of outdated, superstitious nonsense!  The Bible is full of lies and bigotry and racism and homophobia!”  And the evil rulers of this world would have you believe that by denying the God who made you and turning your back on His way of living that you will end up on the right side of history.

 

A lot of people say they want to be on the right side of history.  I’d rather be on the winning side that the right side of history.  My mission in life is to draw people closer to God with every breath and step I take.  Yahweh is my Lord.  I want to live out His values—even if they are values that current or future generations mock as stupid, outdated, or even evil.  The Truth is, wicked people will always call the pure, holy ways of a pure holy God evil or outdated.  I don’t mind if I’m on the wrong side of history if history is written by ungodly people.  What really matters to me is what God thinks.  Yahweh is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.  He is going to defeat the forces of evil.  I want to be on God’s side—the winning side.

 

In the meantime, for a while at least, we might feel a lot like the prophet Jeremiah.  Remember Jeremiah lived in Jerusalem.  God told Jeremiah God was sending the Babylonian army to capture Jerusalem because Jerusalem had turned their back on Yahweh, their Lord.  They had forsaken their vows to serve the Lord their God.  God was coming to destroy Jerusalem and take the people into captivity to punish them.  God sent Jeremiah to warn them and call them to repent, but the people didn’t want to hear it.  It put Jeremiah in a very bad position:  Speak God’s truth and live for God and have the people hate you and persecute you or go along with the people and be destroyed by God.

 

Today our choice is similar.  It may feel like the world around us has already won, because everyone seems to reject God and His holy ways.  That’s only because we live inside a besieged city.  Outside these walls, the hosts of heaven’s armies have gathered to surround us.  They are waiting for Yahweh-Sabaoth, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, to give them the word.  The moment He gives the signal, the trumpets will sound and the walls that separate our corrupt world from the glory of Heaven will come crashing down.  The Lord Jesus will come again just as He promised and this time Jesus won’t come as a baby in a manger.  He will come as a conquering King and those He finds who have been faithful will be rewarded.  Those who lived in rebellion will be punished.  The Bible tells us there will be a new heaven and a new earth.  There will be a new history written too—a history written in the Lamb’s Book of Life that records those who were faithful and followed Jesus as Lord.  Those who followed the ways of the evil world will be cast away into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

 

Invitation
Jesus's consistent message was Matthew 3:2 - Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”  So I want you to think and pray really hard and decided today: who's side are you on?  I pray you will repent of your sin and turn to Yahweh-Sabaoth through Jesus Christ His Son.

 

Monday, December 14, 2020

Epochs of Israel - The Epoch of the Kings

Introduction
It is such a privilege to be a pastor.  I don’t know why God called me into ordained ministry, but I am so honored and thankful that He did.  And I am grateful to each person who allows me to speak God’s Word to them every week and to share in their important moments of life, to pray them, to encourage them, and to hope for God’s best for them.  Being a pastor has been one of the greatest blessings of my life.

God chose me to be a pastor.  It feels good to be chosen for this special purpose.  Today, I want you all to know, God has chosen you for a special purpose too.  I want to share that with you today.  But to help you recognize just how special it is, we must first recall some important history.  I hope you will stick with me to the end, so you can fully appreciate how special God’s personal message is for you.  Will you try? 

To review that history of Israel, we used the following responsive reading at my church. 

Pastor:  The Lord our God is mighty to save! He rescued Israel from Egypt through 10 plagues that proved Egypt’s idols were nothing. 

People:  At Mount Sinai, The Lord gave 10 commandments and the Law to teach Israel how to live and worship.

Pastor:  The Lord led Israel to conquer Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey.

People:  The Lord fought for Israel and they took possession of the Promised Land.

Pastor:  During the epoch of the Judges, Israel did not have a king like the other nations. God was Israel’s King.

People:  But the people sinned and did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.

Pastor:  When Israel was unfaithful, their enemies oppressed them.  Then Israel would cry out to God for help.

People:  God showed mercy and raised up judges to fight and rescue Israel.

Pastor:  The people wanted a king like all the nations around them, but God was supposed to be Israel’s King.

People: “Anoint for us a king!” They cried. “Someone who is tall and mighty!”

Pastor:  So they anointed Saul to be the first king of Israel because he stood head and shoulders above the rest.

People:  But God was not pleased with Saul, because his heart was not right with God.

All:  And so the third Epoch of Israel begins—The Epoch of the Kings.

1 Samuel 16:1, 6-13

1Now the Lord said to Samuel, “You have mourned long enough for Saul. I have rejected him as king of Israel, so fill your flask with olive oil and go to Bethlehem. Find a man named Jesse who lives there, for I have selected one of his sons to be my king.”

When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!”

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Then Jesse told his son Abinadab to step forward and walk in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “This is not the one the Lord has chosen.” Next Jesse summoned Shimea, but Samuel said, “Neither is this the one the Lord has chosen.” 10 In the same way all seven of Jesse’s sons were presented to Samuel. But Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11 Then Samuel asked, “Are these all the sons you have?”

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse replied. “But he’s out in the fields watching the sheep and goats.”

“Send for him at once,” Samuel said. “We will not sit down to eat until he arrives.”

12 So Jesse sent for him. He was dark and handsome, with beautiful eyes.

And the Lord said, “This is the one; anoint him.”

13 So as David stood there among his brothers, Samuel took the flask of olive oil he had brought and anointed David with the oil. And the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David from that day on. Then Samuel returned to Ramah.

Israel’s Leadership Structure
There were three major roles in biblical Israel’s leadership structure.  First, there was the prophet.  The prophet's job was to speak to the people for God.  Usually when people think of a prophet, they think they were someone who told the future.  However, that wasn't the prophet's core function.  The prophet told people whatever God said.  Sometimes, God told prophets to tell people what was going to happen in the future.  But more often than not, God told the prophet to share commands, instructions, warnings, or consolations.  At any rate, the prophet's purpose was to ell people whatever God told the prophet to say.

The second role in Israel's leadership structure was the priest.  The priest's purpose was the opposite of the prophet.  The priest spoke to God for the people.  So for example, if someone had sinned as was sorry for it, they might go to a priest and the priest would make a sacrifice and speak to God on the person's behalf asking God to forgive them and heal them and restore them to a harmonious relationship with God.


The third role was the king. The king's purpose was to unite everyone in Israel in a common goal. In the beginning of Israel's history, they didn't have a earthly king because everyone accepted God was Israel’s King.  However, as Israel sunk deeper and deeper into sin, they followed God less and less as their King and they were more and more disunified in their common goal.  Israel's common goal was to bring light into the darkness of the world and healing into brokenness of our world. God told Israel's ancestor, Abraham, “All families on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3). Israel was supposed to bless the whole world. The greatest blessing was that they would reveal the one, true God to a world who was lost in sin and worshiping false gods. Exodus 19:6 says of the nation of Israel, “You will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.”  As a holy nation of priests in a dark and broken world, Israel was to bring spiritual healing, reconciliation, and peace to the whole world.

God chose Israel to show all the nations around them how to be in a right relationship with God.  They were to be the model everyone should copy.  But instead, Israel wanted to copy all the nations around them.  And soon they wanted an earthly king to lead and united them and make them "great" like all the other nations around them.

To be fair, you can’t bring light and healing if you are constantly being dominated by your enemies. Or can you? Consider Jesus dying on the cross while his enemies taunting him.  Unless you are a history expert, you probably remember the names of very few kings.  But almost everyone knows the name Jesus.  Jesus changed the whole world by dying on a cross while his enemies cursed him.  Jesus changed the world.  What a strange way to change the world!

However, God allowed Israel to have an earthly king as part of their leadership structure; but the king was only a figurehead to represent God to the people.  God was to continue to be Israel's true King.  That is why God chose David.  Scripture says David was a "man after God's own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14).  So with David on the throne, it was as if God's own heart was on the throne of Israel.

The Chosen Ones
Have you ever been rejected for something you really wanted or needed?  Most people are familiar with the scene of kids gathered around on the school playground at PE.  Two team captains go the kids and pick people to be on their team.  They usually select the strongest, fastest, most athletic kids first and nobody wants to be the last kid picked.  Were you ever the last kid picked?  Or were you ever passed over for a job or a promotion?

When I first graduated from college with a degree in textile engineering, I was ready to begin my career and I really needed a good job.  You see, I'd just learned my wife was pregnant and we had no money and have no insurance.  I was getting a lot of job interviews for great companies, but no job offers were coming.  Then a company in North Carolina invited me up for an interview.  I thought it was really promising because they invited me and my wife up and even put us up in a hotel for the night.  And I though, "If they're going to all that trouble, they must really be interested" So we drove up and spent the night at the hotel and the next day I got up and went in for the interview.  I was talking to the manager and things seemed to be going well until another candidate arrived.  He was taller than me and he had played college football for Clemson and the manager was a huge Clemson fan.  And from that point on, I was just along for the ride.  The manager was obviously in love with the other job candidate and I was just chopped liver.  So I wasn't too surprised when I was notified a few days later that I didn't get the job.

I'm glad I didn't get that job; my life could have gone in a very different direction if I'd moved to North Carolina to work.  I eventually did get a good job in Griffin, GA so I could take care of my young family and that eventually led me down the path to be a United Methodist minister.  I am very happy with my life as it turned out. But at that moment as a young 23-year-old, soon-to-be father, it was irritating to be rejected for what seemed like very shallow reasons.

That's why I'm so glad God doesn't see us the way other people see us.  1 Samuel 16:7 says, “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 

God chose Israel to represent Him to the world. God chose David to be their king. But I want to tell you something that’s critical to your life, right now, today. God chose you.

God chose to save you.  Imagine if you will a scene that probably happens in most family households at some time or another.  A husband and wife are decorating their Christmas tree for the holidays.  They've been together for 25 years of happy marriage and raise wonderful kids who have all left home.  As they decorate their tree, they find it is cluttered with too many ornaments.  Many of them are ornaments their kids made over the years at church and school.  They're not that impressive and they weren't made from the highest quality materials to start with.  One is made from popsicle sticks, another is macaroni art, one is just some construction paper with a child's illegible scribbles in crayon.  What made the ornaments special was who made them. It's been decades since some of these old ornaments were made and they are faded and torn, most of the macaroni is missing off the one.  The parents sigh and decided, "All the kids are grown and we have too many ornaments for the tree.  It's time to decided which ornaments we're going to save and which ones to throw away."  Even so, it will be a hard job to throw away that macaroni ornament little Johnny made at preschool when he was three.

This scene can serves as an illustration for the way God sees us.  We are all precious to God. Maybe you are a little broken or worn out. Most of us have lost a few noodles over the years.  And the fact is, we weren't made from the highest quality materials to start with.  What made us special was who made us.  God made us, but now we've got some serious flaws and imperfections.  

And then 1 Samuel 16:7 reminds us, “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them… the Lord looks at the heart.”  We are all like God's Christmas ornaments.  We are precious to Him, even if we're broken or worn out.  And as God looks at each of us, He choses to save all of us.  He's not going to throw any of us away.  God chooses to save you if you will choose to stay with Him.

Second, God chose to save you for eternal life.  He says, "I'm never going to throw this one away.  I will always keep and cherish this one, because he or she is precious to me."  And so, if you put your faith in Jesus Christ, God will save you and you will be with Him for all eternity.

Third, God chooses to to make you whole.  If He finds we are worn out, He revives.  If we are broken, He mends.  When we realize we weren't made from the highest quality material to start with, God transforms us to pure gold. 

Lastly, God God chose you to represent Him. As an ornament is placed upon a Christmas tree to represent something special, God placed you in His world to represent Him to everyone.  1 Peter 2:9 says, “You are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light."  

Notice the words this Scripture uses to describe you.  You are holy.  That means you are set apart for God's very special purposes.  You are royalty--kings and queens in God's eternal Kingdom.  You are priests.  Remember, a priest helps bring spiritual healing, reconciliation, and peace to the whole world. 

Listen, you are so special to God, He was already thinking of you when He led the Israelites out of Egypt. He delivered them from slavery so you could be delivered from slavery to sin and death. God was thinking of you when He chose David to be the king of Israel.  Jesus, the Savior of the world, came from the royal lineage of David. This is why I had to go through all the history of Israel, so you can see just how much forethought, preparation, and work has gone into God’s choice. God has been working for your salvation and restoration for thousands upon thousands of years.  That's how special you are to Him.

And now, the choice is yours. God has chosen you. Will you choose God?

Monday, July 20, 2020

Don't Be a Grinch


Introduction
Every summer, my church has a tradition to celebrate Christmas in July one summer in the middle of the month.  We sing Christmas songs and hear the Christmas message.  It's just a fun thing to do to break up the monotony of summer.  Plus, Christmas is such a busy time of year full of rushing around in December; so we thought it would be nice to remember the true many of Christmas at a less hectic time of year.

One of my favorite Christmas movies is "The Grinch" from 2000.  I'll talk about that in a minute, but first, let's hear God's Word.

Mark 11:22-25
22 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. 24 I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. 25 But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”

The Grinch and Cindy Lou Who
In the movie "The Grinch", there is an interesting contrast between two characters--Cindy Lou Who and the Grinch.  Jim Carey plays the part of the Grinch who every one is afraid of.  Local Whoville legend is the Grinch is a monster who will rip to shreds anyone who dares disturb him.  Ironically, though he's thought to be string, the Grinch actually represents the weakness of all those who hold a grudge in their heart.  In contrast, Cindy Lou Who in only a small child who is physically weak. However, Cindy Lou is brave enough to approach the Grinch because she has compassion in her heart and wants to include someone who is an outcast.  Cindy Lou represents the power of those with a pure heart.  I pray we can be like Cindy Lou and not the Grinch.

Forgiveness
There is great power in a Christian's prayer.  Jesus said you can move mountains if you believe.  I have no doubt that we can.  I have seen amazing things accomplished through prayer.  Unfortunately, quite often, our prayers are weak and ineffective because our hearts aren’t pure like Cindy Lou’s.  Jesus said when we pray we should first forgive anyone against whom we have a grudge.  The title of this message is, “Don’t Be A Grinch” and we will explore three important questions about forgiveness:
1.     What is forgiveness?
2.     Why should we forgive?
3.     How do you forgive?

Then we will end with an opportunity for you to forgive any grudges you hold in your heart.

What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is giving up your claim to repayment from someone who owes you. 
We want to be repaid what we're owed, but sometimes it is impossible.  People can replace a broken window, or a dented fender, but many offences are deeper than damage to material things.  Trying to take back the pain caused by hurtful words is like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube—it just doesn't work.  Emotional and spiritual wounds can't be fixed by the people who hurt us (or any other person for that matter). Only God can bring real healing.

But we are not hopeless in our pain.  We can forgive.  (And sometimes, forgiveness is not only the best option; it may be the only option.)

Why forgive?
Grudges don't fix anything.  They hurt us more than the people against whom we have the grudge.  Grudges twist you up inside and make you ugly, like the Grinch.  They are like poison.  They fester and infect us and ruin our character.  Our spirit rots and gets moldy, like the Grinch of whom they said, "Your heart is full of unwashed socks! Your soul is full of gunk!  Mr. Grinch!  Three words that best describe are as follows and I quote, 'Stink! Stank! Stunk!'"

Sometimes, grudges even make you hurt innocent people and people you love.  A grudge caused the Grinch to try to steal Christmas.  He stole the presents of everyone in town.  This included the people who once bullied him, but also other innocent people like Cindy Lou Who (who had only ever shown kindness and compassion to the Grinch).

The Grinch became "The Grinch" because of a grudge.  He was hurt by some mean people when he young and he never let it go. He held a grudge until it poisoned his soul and made him an outcast from society—trapped in a prison of his own choosing.  I've known real life people like that.  Haven't you?

Many of us have received hurts somewhere in life (maybe even as a child) that have left scars that still hinder us.  You don't want to become like the Grinch.  So be quick to forgive.  And if you’ve been holding onto a grudge that’s become moldy in your soul—let it go!  Colossians 3:13, “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”

So forgive anyone you have a grudge against.  Forgive so God will forgive you.  Every week in many churches, people pray The Lord’s Prayer.  In it, they pray as Jesus taught “...Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…”  Are you really willing to ask God to withhold His mercy from you just so you can remain angry at someone?  For how long?

How Do You Forgive?
It's not easy to forgive.  I remember the first time I preached about forgiveness about 20 years ago.  I had two dramatic and completely opposite reactions.  One gentleman came to me after and explained that my message had really impacted him.  He said, "You see, I have a grudge against my ex-wife.  She cheated on me and left me for another man.  I did nothing wrong, but she really hurt me and I have hated her every since.  I feel like your message is telling me I need to forgive her, but I don't know how or if I can."  We talked for a while and prayed together and he said, "I'm going to forgive my ex-wife and trust God to begin to heal me." It was so encouraging to see this man coming to church every week after that and see him growing in Christ and healing.

Another man had quite a different reaction to my message.  He had been attending our church for a couple of years and was growing and getting involved; he sang in our praise band.  He came up to me after the message and was very angry.  He said, "You don't understand.  My dad was a real &*^(& when I was a kid.  He doesn't deserve to be forgiven.  I don't want to forgive him and I won't forgive him.  And if God thinks I'm supposed to forgive my dad, then I don't want anything else to do with God." And I tried to talk with him and share my own experience about the hard work of forgiving my dad, but he didn't want to have anything to do with forgiving his dad.  And I never saw that man again.  He stopped coming to church and I don't know if he ever go his heart right with God or his father.  I pray he did, but I don't know.  His grudge poisoned not only his relationship with his father--but also with his friends at church and his Creator.

Forgiveness can be really hard--especially if you've been hurt very deeply. I want to give you four steps that may help you move along the path of forgiveness.  They may not make forgiveness easy, but they will at least give you a path to follow.  God will give you the strength and courage to forgive.

The first step of forgiveness is recognition.  You must realize you’ve been hurt.  There are two common misconceptions about forgiveness.  The first misconception is that forgiveness is pretending like an offense didn't happen or wasn't that bad.  This is common in Christians circles because we are constantly told we should gracious and forgiving.  And it is true that we should quickly and easily let small offenses go.  We should make allowances for each other.  But it sometimes gets to where many Christians feel like they must just brush off serious offences and pretend like they are no big deal.  

True forgiveness can't happen until we recognize there really is something that needs to be forgiven.  When someone hurts you, that's a real offence.  You don't have to pretend like it's no big deal.  In fact, realizing the pain and hurt is the first step in offering true forgiveness.

Another misconception I hear very often is the expression "You just need to forgive and forget."  When I study the Bible, it teaches we should forgive, but it never says we must forget.  Forgive is sound biblical teaching.  Forgive and forget is not biblical; nor is it wise to forget.  If someone shows a pattern of offense--whether they are abusive or a thief or something else--we need to remember that characteristic about them so that we can protect ourselves and others from their bad behavior.  We don't have to hold a grudge against them, but we do need to use sound judgment when we deal with them in the future.

When we forgive, we refuse to remain a victim—trapped by our desire to chase down and exact repayment from the ones who hurt us (a payment we can never really get back).  You see, forgiveness is really what you do for yourself.  Holding a grudge hurts you more than it hurts the person you have a grudge against.  In the same way, forgiveness helps you more than it helps the person you forgive.

Once you accept that you’ve been hurt, you choose to forgive.  When we forgive, we make a choice to let go.  It's not a feeling. It's a choice.  You probably don't feel like forgiving (just like you don't feel like getting a shot from the doctor or swallowing a bitter pill, even though you know it will make you better).  But Jesus says it's the right thing to do.  Do you believe Him or not?  "...whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16b).

Next, you pray to God and tell Him you forgive the one who hurt you and you are no longer going to look to them to make things right.  It's not necessary to tell the person who hurt you that you forgive them--though sometimes you may do that as well depending on the situation and whether person is receptive.  However, the most important thing is to pray and tell God you forgive someone.

Then, you keep praying to ask God to heal you.  This could take time, because healing takes time.  God has the power to heal your wound and He will if You trust Him, but it takes time.  Some hurts even require professional help.  That's why God has given us counselors and mental health specialists.  Don't be afraid to use them to work through your forgiveness and pain.  I'm also here as a pastor.  Come talk to me or send me an email or message.  Sometimes it's helpful just to have someone listen.  I'm a good listener.

Invitation
There is tremendous power in prayer.  You can move mountains! But Jesus said, "When you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too." 

Do you have a grudge you need to let go of? Why not let go of that grudge today? How long are you going to force God to withhold His mercy from you because you are withholding it from someone else?  It's time to let go.

Monday, December 23, 2019

#5 Mary, Mother of the Messiah


Of the 40 generations of men in Jesus family tree listed in Matthew 1:1-16, only five women are named.  It’s amazing any women are named at all, since the patriarchal custom of the biblical writers was to omit women.  So, the fact that these five particular women are named is a clue there’s something very special about them and we need to pay close attention.  And yet, these five heroines of our faith are not famous for the things you would think.  Every one of their situations was scandalous in some way or another.

Tamar was impregnated by her father-in-law. Yet she was also wise and cunning. She sensed God’s hand at work in the family of Judah’s and was willing to do anything to be part of it.

Rahab was a Canaanite prostitute who grasped her chance to break free from sin and destruction by professing her faith in God and joining His holy people.

Ruth was a destitute foreign refugee who clung to God and His people and found redemption.

Bathsheba had an affair with the king and lost her child, but she became a queen who advocated for the oppressed and powerless.

Today, we will consider the best-known of the five women in Jesus genealogy—Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Matthew 1:16-25
Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah.
17 All those listed above include fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah.
18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:
23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
    She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
    which means ‘God is with us.’”
24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.
Joseph
Joseph is not Jesus' biological father.  However, the Gospel of Matthew spends 16 verses telling us Jesus' lineage through Joseph. What does that say?  One thing it says is Joseph adopted Jesus as his very own son.  Joseph treated Jesus as his flesh and blood and there was no distinction in his heart or mind that Jesus wasn't his actual son, even though the relationship wasn't biological.  How many have known this special adoptive love that treats one as a son and daughter by choice?  Think about it:  most people do not get to choose their parents.  You are born and your biological father and mother are who they are, like it or not.  And parents are compelled by the laws of nature to love their biological children.  On the other hand, adoption is an actual choice.  An adoptive parent chooses to accept and love their adopted child.  Nature does not require it.  And it is a very special kind of love when someone chooses to adopt a child who is not their biological son or daughter.  The same could be true for step parents who chose to love their step children as their very own.

It is worth noting here the situation into which Jesus was to be born.  Jesus, the most important man who ever lived, who is the Son of God, was born in need of adoption.  He grew up in the home of a father who was not related by blood.  Mary was his mother, but Joseph was under no obligation whatsoever to accept Jesus.  Yet Joseph chose to adopt God’s Only Begotten Son as his own.

But what of Mary? Who is she?

Mary, the Mother of Jesus
Mary has been famous to Christians for 2,000 years.  She is so integral to our faith she is named in the Apostles’ Creed, “We believe in Jesus Christ… who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary…” Some people admire Mary so much they treat her like a goddess, even praying to her. Who is this fascinating mother?

The Bible does not focus on Mary.  After the stories of Jesus’ conception and birth, Mary is only mentioned 12 more times.  Mary is there in the background throughout the story of the New Testament, but never as the focus.  The focus is always on Christ—the Son of God, the Savior of the world.  Even so, Mary is there at the birth, she is there in the midst of Jesus’ ministry (struggling to understand like the rest of us).  She is there at the cross as her son dies, at the tomb when he rose from the grave, and she continues to help lead the church with the Disciples in the Book of Acts after Christ ascended to heaven.

There is absolutely no description in the Bible of what Mary looked like or how she dressed.  In our world today, we are very focused on how women look, what clothes and makeup they wear, hairstyles, body image, etc.  However, the Bible mentions nothing about Mary’s appearance.  That tells us these physical things were not important.  Maybe they shouldn’t be as important to us either.  From God’s perspective (the perspective that really matters) true beauty has nothing to do with physical appearance or fashion.  The true beauty of a woman comes from the way she responds to God. 

Mary would have been a young girl when the angel Gabriel came to her (probably only about 12 or 13 years old) .  That was the age most first century girls were offered for marriage in Galilee.  Mary was engaged, so we know she was of age.  What do you think of when you think of Mary?  You might think of a young woman just out of college between the ages of 20-30 years old because that’s the typical age women get married in our culture.  Let me blow your mind a bit.  My daughter, Abigail turns 13 in one month.  Right now, Abigail is the age Mary would have been when she became pregnant with the Son of God.

Mary was engaged to Joseph. She was an ordinary girl looking forward to marriage and a normal life, but the angel’s visit changed her life forever.  Mary was afraid and troubled by Gabriel. She never expected the incredible news she would have a child or that her son would be the Messiah. Although she couldn’t comprehend how she would conceive the Savior, she responded to God with belief and obedience.

Although it was a huge honor to be chosen by God, her calling would demand great suffering.  Just as there is pain in childbirth and motherhood, there would be much pain in the privilege of being the mother of the Messiah.  Mary was a willing servant. She trusted God and she obeyed His call.

The angel told Mary in Luke 1:28 that she was highly favored by God. This means Mary was given a large portion of grace or "undeserved favor" from God. Even with God's favor, Mary would still suffer much. Though she has come to be  highly honored as the mother of the Savior, she would first know disgrace as an unwed mother.  She almost lost her fiancĂ©.  Risked being stoned to death (the penalty for pregnancy out of wedlock in her time).  Her precious child would grow up to be rejected and cruelly murdered.  Mary's submission to God's plan would cost her dearly, but she was willing to be God's servant.  Mary was a woman of rare faith and obedience.

Misunderstandings
We are deeply in debt to Mary.  Her willing obedience to God brought the Savior into our world.  It's no wonder that people for thousands of years have sought to honor Mary, the mother of the Messiah.  Unfortunately, there is something in human nature that leads people to idolize and worship those we especially admire. 

Some venerate Mary as divine.  They even say Mary—like Jesus—never sinned (a doctrine known as The Immaculate Conception).  The Bible never says Mary was without sin.  To the contrary, the Bible tells us in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.”  Every person who ever lived has sinned at some point—including Mary.  Furthermore, we see that Mary struggled to understand Jesus’ ministry just like his Disciples.  At one point in the Gospels, Mary shows up along with her other sons and attempts to take Jesus home with her because they thought he was crazy (Mark 3:21, 31).  She didn't understand.  You seen, Mary was not perfect.  She was a sinner in need of God’s grace and salvation just like you and me.  2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”  It is through Jesus Christ that Mary is saved—just like you and me.

Conclusion
What do you see when you think of Mary?  You may be tempted to picture the perfect women portrayed in the porcelain nativity scene sculpted by an artist.  Is that the real Mary?  Is that who you think you need to emulate?

I urge you not to turn Mary into some mythical figure.  Let her be the real girl she was in the Gospel.  The real story is much more compelling than the myth.  Mary was young, poor, and female in a time when women were not highly regarded.  She was a real mother who faced real challenges.  She had no special powers or abilities that you don’t have.  All she had was a willing and obedient heart.  God saw her faith and obedience and He helped her succeed.  You don’t have to be perfect for God to choose you or help you—you just need to be willing and obey.

Mary was like so many mothers.  She was there in the background the whole time nurturing, supporting, and encouraging.  She had too much to do and never enough time to do it.  She wasn't a super mom; she was just a regular person depending on God to help her through.  She was not the central character in the story, but that’s OK.  She never needed the focus to be on her.  To the contrary, she must have recognized as she came to understand more fully who her son was that the focus should always be on him instead of her.  Jesus is Lord, not Mary.  Jesus is the Savior, not Mary.  Jesus is the one who takes away our sins, who answers our prayers, who directs our path. 

I think it would disturb Mary if we spent too much time honoring her.  She would say, “Why are you giving me all this attention?  Don’t look to me!  Don’t worship me! I’m just a person like you.  Please! Please, look at my Son over there!  Isn’t he wonderful?”  Oh that we all had that attitude.  This life is not about us!  It is about Christ! “Turn your eyes upon Jesus!  Look full in his wonderful face and the ting of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace!”

And Mary’s life encourages us to be the best we can be—not because she was perfect, but—because she was just an ordinary girl.  You don’t have to be perfect or even special to make a difference.  Mary was just an ordinary young girl who was willing to be the mother God wanted her to be.  Are you willing to obey God’s plan for your life?  Do you trust God to take what you have to offer and use it for the glory of His Kingdom?  That’s the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus.