Donate to Support

Support the church that supports this blog. Donate at - www.PleasantGrove.cc Click the donate button in the upper righthand corner.
Showing posts with label Christmas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christmas. Show all posts

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.



Monday, December 2, 2019

#2 Rahab the Prostitute


Matthew 1:4-5a
Ram was the father of Amminadab. Amminadab was the father of Nahshon. Nahshon was the father of Salmon. Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab).

Matthew 1 lists the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. There are some very "interesting" characters there. None of them deserved the honor of inclusion in Christ's royal lineage. Thankfully, God doesn't reward people with what they deserve. He is gracious and loves people who put their whole faith in Him.

There are only five women listed among the 40 male ancestors of Christ. Who were these five Christmas maidens and why were they remembered in a society usually overlooked women?

Last week, were heard the tale of Tamar who was mistaken for a prostitute by her father-in-law. Today, we will learn about Rahab who was a prostitute. 

For four hundred years after Tamar, the Israelites lived in Egypt and became slaves.  But God remembered His promise to give the Israelites a home in the land of Canaan as His holy people. They would be God's representatives to the whole world. So, God raised up Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery. And after wandering in the desert for forty years, God chose a leader named Joshua to finally lead the Israelites to conquer Canaan. To take possession of the Promise Land, Joshua and the Israelites would have to destroy the Canaanites fortress city, Jericho. God promised He would do the fighting for the Israelites and prove to everyone that their God was the one true Lord of all.

Joshua 2:1
Then Joshua secretly sent out two spies from the Israelite camp at Acacia Grove. He instructed them, “Scout out the land on the other side of the Jordan River, especially around Jericho.” So the two men set out and came to the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there that night.

Rahab
And so, we are introduced to the heroine of our story—Rahab the prostitute. Prostitution has never been an honorable profession, but it is the oldest profession.  In a male dominated society like we find in the Old Testament, prostitution was one of the only ways a woman could make it on her own. Little girls don't dream of being of growing up to be prostitutes. They usually sell their bodies for sex because it's the only way they can survive. 

Brenda Myers-Powell was a prostitute for 25 years on the West Side of Chicago. Her mother died when Brenda was only 6 months old. She was raised by her grandmother, an alcoholic. Brenda was molested regularly by her grandmother's male companions from the time she was only 4 years old. Brenda had 2 babies by the time she was 14. One day when the baby was hungry and crying, Brenda's grandmother told her to get a job because they had nothing to eat. Brenda, not knowing what else to do, joined the prostitutes who stood on the street corner in front of her house.  In her own words: since men had been taking her panties off all her life, she figured she might as well get paid for it. 

Most church people have strong opinions about prostitutes and prostitution. But how many of us have ever talked to a prostitute to get to know her story? Jesus did. It was one of the reasons his adversaries hated him so much. In Mark 2:16, the religious leaders complained, "Why does he eat with such scum?"  Jesus ate with prostitutes and other notorious sinners because God cares about them just as much as He cares about me and you. Jesus, as God, sees the heart and knows the whole story of why people do what they do. And He loves. And He forgives. And He redeems.

We don't know why Rahab was a prostitute. The Bible doesn't give the details. We could stand in self-righteousness judgment of her (like everyone else probably did) or we could realize that most women who become prostitutes do it because it's the only way they know how to survive.

They Had One Job!
On the other hand, we could ask some nagging questions about the spies in Joshua 2:1.
What were the spies doing at a prostitute's house? These spies are members of God's chosen people. They're supposed to be holy. They're supposed to be on a mission from God. You mean to say the first thing they do when they cross enemy lines is go to a brothel? Who am I to judge? Maybe they had their reasons.  Maybe God sent them to Rahab's house.  We don't know and the Bible doesn't say.

I have another question. Why was Joshua sending spies in the first place? God promised He would conquer Jericho and all the Promised Land and give it to the Israelites. The battle would be The Lord's, not the Israelites. Why was Joshua sending spies? Was he worried about how they were going to defeat the enemy?  Didn't he trust God? If you read the whole story, you'll see the Israelites didn't do any real fighting. They march around the city a bunch of times and blew trumpets. This was all symbolic. The Lord did the fighting. The Lord caused the city walls to collapse and the city fell. There was no need to send spies.  It's a hint that maybe Joshua didn't fully trust God's Word. Most people read the Joshua 2:1 to mean Joshua sent some spies to secretly find out about Jericho. Another way to read it is Joshua sent them in secret (as in he didn't want his own people to know he sent the spies.) One thing I don't see anywhere in the passage where it says God told Joshua to send spies. The last time spies were sent into the Promised Land was when Moses sent 12 spies to check out the land. And of the 12, only 2 had faith God could defeat the Canaanites. God was so disgusted with the people's lack of faith the Israelites had to wait 40 more years before they could go into the Promised Land—an entire generation had to pass away!

At any rate, Joshua's spies are the worst spies in the history of spies. The first thing they do is go to a prostitute's house and in verse 2 their cover is immediately blown. The enemy knows they're in town and the enemy is hunting for them! 

Joshua 2:2-7
But someone told the king of Jericho, “Some Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” So the king of Jericho sent orders to Rahab: “Bring out the men who have come into your house, for they have come here to spy out the whole land.” Rahab had hidden the two men, but she replied, “Yes, the men were here earlier, but I didn’t know where they were from. They left the town at dusk, as the gates were about to close. I don’t know where they went. If you hurry, you can probably catch up with them.” (Actually, she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them beneath bundles of flax she had laid out.) So the king’s men went looking for the spies along the road leading to the shallow crossings of the Jordan River. And as soon as the king’s men had left, the gate of Jericho was shut.

Why did Rahab protect the Israelites? Rahab tells us herself. 

Joshua 2:8-11
Before the spies went to sleep that night, Rahab went up on the roof to talk with them. “I know the Lord has given you this land,” she told them. “We are all afraid of you. Everyone in the land is living in terror. For we have heard how the Lord made a dry path for you through the Red Sea when you left Egypt. And we know what you did to Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan River, whose people you completely destroyed. No wonder our hearts have melted in fear! No one has the courage to fight after hearing such things. For the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below.

A Profession of Faith
I wish we had a little more back story about Rahab.  I'd like to know how she ended up a prostitute.  I'd like to know if she cried out to God for help.  I wonder why she turned her back on her own people.  

We don't know much about Rahab before she met the spies.  What we do have in the story is Rahab's profession of faith.  A profession of faith is a statement where a person says they believe in God and promise to follow Him.  I pastor a  Methodist church and we like to make it easy for people to profess their faith.  So, we list our standard profession of faith in the front of our hymnal on page 34.  The pastor asks the person wanting to become a Christian:  Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races? And if the person agrees, they respond: I do. It is a simple and effective way for a person to affirm that they believe in Jesus Christ and trust Him to save them.

Romans 10:9 says, "If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."  Usually, a person who wants to make a commitment to follow Jesus Christ professes their faith--usually in a church service or a revival.  Maybe they pray the "sinners prayer" to declare their faith in Christ, repent of their sins, and ask Jesus to save them.  However, when God saves someone, it doesn’t always look like it does in church or at a Billy Graham crusade.  It could look the Rahab’s story.  Rahab exhibits all three elements of a person who truly turns their life over to God and is saved:  Faith, a Profession of Faith, and Action.

Salvation:  Faith, Profession, Action
First of all, Rahab shows faith. Of all the people in the story, Rahab had the most faith.  While Joshua was sending spies when he should have just trusted God’s promise, Rehab had great faith. Rahab trusted spies she didn’t know who could have betrayed her.  That was risky!  (Spies aren't best know for being trustworthy!)  Furthermore, Rahab puts all her hopes in a God she didn't know very well and trusted He would save her.  Rahab, a Canaanite, turned her back on the wicked Canaanite way of life and turned to the One True God of the Israelites, a foreign people.  It took tremendous faith for Rahab to take these risks.  God is willing to accept the faith of anyone who trusts Him that way and turns to Him for forgiveness and salvation.  Do you have faith to turn your back on everything that is not of God and turn to Him instead?

Secondly, Rahab makes a profession of faith. Rahab states her faith in God. She said, “For the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below.” (Joshua 2:11)  Have you ever made a profession of faith—have you said out loud that you know God is the supreme Lord of all?  Do you continue to tell people this Truth whenever you get the chance?

There is also action. It's one thing to talk a big talk.  It's another thing to walk the walk.  Rahab walked the walk; she acted on her faith. She defied the King of Jericho and his soldier. She put her own life on the line for the sake of God's people.  She hid the Israelite spies and sent the soldiers on a wild goose chase and helped the spies escape.  Do you put your beliefs about God into action?  Do you do what He asks you to do?  Do you serve the Lord with all your heart?

Joshua 2:12-21
“Now swear to me by the Lord that you will be kind to me and my family since I have helped you. Give me some guarantee that when Jericho is conquered, you will let me live, along with my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all their families.” 

Rahab’s faith was going to save her whole family from destruction.  Do you realize what you do affects more than just you?  Your choices about God could bring life or death to people you care about.

“We offer our own lives as a guarantee for your safety,” the men agreed. “If you don’t betray us, we will keep our promise and be kind to you when the Lord gives us the land.”

Then, since Rahab’s house was built into the town wall, she let them down by a rope through the window. “Escape to the hill country,” she told them. “Hide there for three days from the men searching for you. Then, when they have returned, you can go on your way.”

Before they left, the men told her, “We will be bound by the oath we have taken only if you follow these instructions. When we come into the land, you must leave this scarlet rope hanging from the window through which you let us down. And all your family members—your father, mother, brothers, and all your relatives—must be here inside the house. If they go out into the street and are killed, it will not be our fault. But if anyone lays a hand on people inside this house, we will accept the responsibility for their death. If you betray us, however, we are not bound by this oath in any way.”

“I accept your terms,” she replied. And she sent them on their way, leaving the scarlet rope hanging from the window.

How Does the Story End?
Well, how does the story end? We find the answer to Rahab’s fate in Joshua chapter 6.
The Israelites surround the fortress of Jericho. All the villagers outside the fortress walls have fled. Those left inside the walls are mostly soldiers and others determined to fight to the bitter end. 

But God said He would do the fighting for Israel. So, for six days the Israelites march around Jericho. On the seventh day, they march around the city seven times. Then, the Israelite priests blow their ram’s horns and all the people shout. And the walls of Jericho came tumbling down—everywhere except for the part of the wall that housed Rahab’s home. The Israelites swarmed over the rubble to mop up any remaining defenders not killed by the collapse.  It wasn't much a fight after the fortresses collapse; most of the enemy were probably already dead.

Joshua 6:22-23 & 25
Meanwhile, Joshua said to the two spies, “Keep your promise. Go to the prostitute’s house and bring her out, along with all her family.”  The men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab, her father, mother, brothers, and all the other relatives who were with her. They moved her whole family to a safe place near the camp of Israel.…  So Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute and her relatives who were with her in the house, because she had hidden the spies Joshua sent to Jericho. And she lives among the Israelites to this day.

And then we fast forward through the Bible about a thousand years and look in Matthew chapter 1 and we see Jesus’ genealogy and what do we find?  Rahab is one of the great, great, great… grandmothers of Jesus.

What’s Your Story?
Well, that’s Rahab’s story.  What’ your story?  I want to tell you that God knows what you’re going through.  He is the God who sees.  He didn’t overlook Rahab the prostitute and He won’t overlook you.  Are you facing a situation you just cannot overcome?  God wants to help you.  Do you realize God is your only hope?  God will redeem your situation, but He’ll also save your soul.  Do you trust God to save you?  Are you willing to profess your faith in God and turn your back on everything that is not of Him?  Are you willing to act on your faith by putting it all on the line for Him?  Perhaps you should pray about it.

Next week, we will examine the story of the third woman in Jesus' genealogy--Ruth the Refugee.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST

Monday, November 25, 2019

#1 The Tale of Tamar


2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”

All Scripture is inspired by God.  Even the parts we tend to skip like the genealogies or the weird and disturbing stories in the Old Testament.  In this blog, I'm going to focus on a couple of those passages people tend to skip over.  I'm not going to skip these passages today, because they are inspired by God and they have much to teach us if we listen closely.


Matthew 1:1-16
This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham[a]:

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac.
Isaac was the father of Jacob.
Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers.
3 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah (whose mother was Tamar).
Perez was the father of Hezron.
Hezron was the father of Ram.[b]
4 Ram was the father of Amminadab.
Amminadab was the father of Nahshon.
Nahshon was the father of Salmon.
5 Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab).
Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).
Obed was the father of Jesse.
6 Jesse was the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah).
7 Solomon was the father of Rehoboam.
Rehoboam was the father of Abijah.
Abijah was the father of Asa.[c]
8 Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat.
Jehoshaphat was the father of Jehoram.[d]
Jehoram was the father[e] of Uzziah.
9 Uzziah was the father of Jotham.
Jotham was the father of Ahaz.
Ahaz was the father of Hezekiah.
10 Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh.
Manasseh was the father of Amon.[f]
Amon was the father of Josiah.
11 Josiah was the father of Jehoiachin[g] and his brothers (born at the time of the exile to Babylon).
12 After the Babylonian exile:
Jehoiachin was the father of Shealtiel.
Shealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel.
13 Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud.
Abiud was the father of Eliakim.
Eliakim was the father of Azor.
14 Azor was the father of Zadok.
Zadok was the father of Akim.
Akim was the father of Eliud.
15 Eliud was the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar was the father of Matthan.
Matthan was the father of Jacob.
16 Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah.

5 Christmas Maidens
Do you keep up with your own genealogy?  Some people are fascinated by their own ancestry.  There are even shows on television now where experts trace the ancestry of famous celebrities.  We tend to skip over the genealogy of Christ, though, the most famous person who ever lived.  And if you skip over Christ’s inspired genealogy, you will miss some important facts.  

Like this:  There are 40 men listed in Jesus genealogy, which makes sense because Jewish genealogies from the first century listed lineage through the male ancestors.  The people the Bible records were a mostly a male dominated, patriarchal culture.  You don’t have to like it.  God didn’t, but it is the reality and you must understand the role of patriarchy in the biblical text or you might miss some very important clues, like this:  There are 40 men listed in Jesus’ genealogy and only 5 women. 

But the fact that there are 5 women listed in a genealogy written in a male dominated, patriarchal society is huge!  Why did the men who kept track of all this stuff and write it down even care about these 5 women—the 5 Christmas maidens?   You might think they are some pretty special women who really deserved the recognition.  They are special, but maybe not in the way you think.  Their stories may challenge your preconceived notions of holiness.

Apparently, God inspired the writer of Matthew 1:1-16 to record the names of these 5 women, without whom Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Lord and Savior of all would not have been born into the world that first Christmas day.  So, between now and Christmas, we are going to hear the stories of each of these 5 Christmas maidens between now and Christmas.

Tamar
The first Christmas maiden is Tamar and her tale comes from Genesis 38.  Tamar was a Canaanite woman.  The Canaanites—as a whole—were evil in God’s site.  They were evil because they had twisted religion so much that it had nothing to do with the One True God who made them anymore.  Canaanite religion was a way to make God into their own image through idolatry.  They worshiped through sexual orgies in order to arouse their gods so they would do favors for them.  They even hired temple prostitutes to have sex with the worshipers.  (I’m not making this stuff up. This was the Canaanite religion.)  Furthermore, the Canaanites even sacrificed their own children as part of their wicked religious ceremonies.  God rejected the Canaanites’ wicked religion and determined to drive them out of Canaan and give their land to Abraham’s descendants.  Tamar (the great, great… grandmother of Jesus) was a despised Canaanite.  (If you ever feel like there’s no hope for you, remember Tamar.)

The name Tamar means date palm.  The date palm is a tree in Israel that produces a most amazing fruit called a date that is dried to make something like a raisin, but a raisin the size of your thumb!  You can buy dates at Kroger, but they don’t even come close to the amazing Medjool dates you get in Israel, their native land.  I have been to Israel and enjoyed the dates their near Jericho and they are to die for.  Tamar means date.  And apparently, Tamar was to die for too.  Her story is found in Genesis 38.

Genesis 38:6-10
In the course of time, Judah arranged for his firstborn son, Er, to marry a young woman named Tamar. But Er was a wicked man in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord took his life. Then Judah said to Er’s brother Onan, “Go and marry Tamar, as our law requires of the brother of a man who has died. You must produce an heir for your brother.”

But Onan was not willing to have a child who would not be his own heir. So whenever he had intercourse with his brother’s wife, he spilled the semen on the ground. This prevented her from having a child who would belong to his brother. 10 But the Lord considered it evil for Onan to deny a child to his dead brother. So the Lord took Onan’s life, too.

Levirate Marriage and Wickedness
Now here’s a weird passage (and a bit gross and explicit).  It’s no wonder you don’t hear this story that much in church.  But, it is part of the God’s inspired story of the redemption of all humanity so we’re not going to skip it today.  What’s going on here?

The ancient Israelites had a custom called Levirate marriage.  It seems strange to us, but it had an important purpose for them.  The people of the Old Testament lived in a patriarchal society.  Men dominated everything.  Women had very little status and no way to provide for or protect themselves without the men in their lives.  I don't think that's the way God intended life to be, but sin was part of the world and that's the way people lived.  Thankfully, we have grown to a place in the 21st century in America, where women are finally getting the respect they are due because women are equal with men and should be treated fairly.  But 4,000 years ago when Tamar lived in the middle east, women were not treated equally.  When they were young, their father protected and cared for them.  When they were married, their husband protected and cared for them.  When they were old, their grown male children protected and cared for them.  So it was devastating if a wife's husband died and she had no grown male children to care for her.  Levirate marriage provided for widows.  When Tamar's husband died, she became their dead brother's responsibility to protect and care for her.

Levirate marriage addressed another pressing problem for the Bible's patriarchal society.  The greatest curse for ancient Israelites was for your family name to die out.  Therefore, if a wife's husband died before he was able to produce a male child to carry on the family name, the dead husband's brother was obligated to produce a male child with his wife for him.  I know that seems really weird to us today, but that was very important to the ancient Israelites like Judah's family.  And it may not be as far fetched as you think.  Today, if a husband and wife can't conceive a child, they might go to a fertility clinic and pursue artificial insemination.  Levirate marriage was the way the ancients solved the problem long before fertility clinics were available.

Unfortunately, Judah and his sons were wicked. Judah’s first son, Ere, married Tamar, “But Er was a wicked man in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord took his life.” We don’t know why Er was wicked; the passage doesn't say. You might infer one reason though. This is reading into the text a bit, but maybe Er was more interested in the "tasty date" Tamar than he was in the Lord's plan for the Israelites.  You see, the Israelites were the people God chose to represent God to the whole world.  As such, they were to reject all other gods and false religions, like that of the Canaanites.  But Er seems to be more interested in tasty Tamar than the religion of the One True God.  Whatever the reason, Er was so wicked to God that he died. 

So, levirate marriage kicks in.  Er’s brother, Onan, is supposed to take Tamar as his own wife, protect her, care for her, and it was Onan's absolute obligation to make sure Tamar got pregnant and produced an heir to carry on his dead brother's name.  Now Onan, being a man, was perfectly willng to enjoy “pleasure” with Tamar, but he refused to produce children.  Sexual pleasure is great but children are a costly responsibility Onan didn't want, even though it was the law of his own people.  Verse 10 says, “the Lord considered it evil for Onan to deny a child to his dead brother. So the Lord took Onan’s life, too.”

Genesis 38:11
11 Then Judah said to Tamar, his daughter-in-law, “Go back to your parents’ home and remain a widow until my son Shelah is old enough to marry you.” (But Judah didn’t really intend to do this because he was afraid Shelah would also die, like his two brothers.) So Tamar went back to live in her father’s home.

Used, Abused, and Forgotten
Tamar has now been used, abused, and forgotten.  Have you ever felt used, abused and forgotten?
Judah has a responsibility.  As the patriarch of the family, it is his responsibility to take care of everyone in his household; and this includes Tamar.  If his third son is too young to marry, then it is Judah's duty to take care of his daughter-in-law himself or until his youngest son is grown enough to do it.  Judah has no intention of doing the right thing.  His first two sons died because they were both wicked, but all Judah can think is it was Tamar fault.  Instead of seeing his son’s wickedness, send Tamar away.

God holds each of us accountable for our own sins.  It isn’t your lineage that makes you righteous or gains you favor in God’s eyes.  It is those who repent of their sins and turn to God through Jesus Christ His Son who enjoy the Lord’s favor.  In Tamar's story, we see taht Tamar hasn’t done anything wrong even though she is a Canaanite.  It is Judah and his sons--who are supposed to be God's chosen people--who are doing all the evil!  

Genesis 38:12-19
12 Some years later Judah’s wife died. After the time of mourning was over, Judah and his friend Hirah the Adullamite went up to Timnah to supervise the shearing of his sheep. 13 Someone told Tamar, “Look, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.”
14 Tamar was aware that Shelah had grown up, but no arrangements had been made for her to come and marry him. [Judah has no intentions of doing the right thing for Tamar.]
So she changed out of her widow’s clothing and covered herself with a veil to disguise herself. Then she sat beside the road at the entrance to the village of Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. 15 Judah noticed her and thought she was a prostitute, since she had covered her face. 
[Now notice, it doesn’t say Tamar dressed up like a prostitute.  It says Judah thought she was a prostitute.  What does that tell you was on Judah's mind?  It seems to me, Judah is not acting or thinking the way God wants His chosen people to act.]
16 So he stopped and propositioned her. “Let me have sex with you,” he said, not realizing that she was his own daughter-in-law.
“How much will you pay to have sex with me?” Tamar asked.
[Tamar is a smart woman.  She plays along to see where it might get her.  Tamar recognizes God’s purposes in Judah’s family.  Even though Judah’s family was not living the way they should, they were still the family God chose for His great plan to save the world.  Somehow, Tamar sensed God’s hand at work in Judah’s people--despite their wickedness--and she was determined to be part of it.  Are you determined to be part of God’s family even if His children—the people you see in Church on Sunday—don’t always live they way they should.  Can you recognize that God has a plan for everyone and that God is saving the whole world, even through a broken church?]
17 “I’ll send you a young goat from my flock,” Judah promised.
“But what will you give me to guarantee that you will send the goat?” she asked.
18 “What kind of guarantee do you want?” he replied.
She answered, “Leave me your identification seal and its cord and the walking stick you are carrying.” So Judah gave them to her. Then he had intercourse with her, and she became pregnant. 19 Afterward she went back home, took off her veil, and put on her widow’s clothing as usual.
Genesis 38:24-26
24 About three months later, Judah was told, “Tamar, your daughter-in-law, has acted like a prostitute. And now, because of this, she’s pregnant.”
“Bring her out, and let her be burned!” Judah demanded. 
[This was the typical punishment.  It's definitely a double standard.  Men were obviously getting away with all kinds of sexual promiscuity and sleeping with prostitutes, but the women were being burned when they were unfaithful.  I don't think God was happy about it, but that's the broken world Tamar and Judah lived in.]
25 But as they were taking her out to kill her, she sent this message to her father-in-law: “The man who owns these things made me pregnant. Look closely. Whose seal and cord and walking stick are these?”  [Busted!]
26 Judah recognized them immediately and said, “She is more righteous than I am, because I didn’t arrange for her to marry my son Shelah.” And Judah never slept with Tamar again.

Closing Points
Tamar's story (and others like it) are one of the major reasons I believe the Bible is the reliable account of God's salvation work throughout history.  If I were going to make up a fictional story of God's people, I definitely would not include all this dirty laundry.  Would you?  The Bible doesn't try to sugar coat anything.  The story of how God saved humanity includes a lot of ugly, embarrassing stuff.  It's just to messy to be made up!  Do you have any skeletons in your family closet? So does Jesus.  

None of the people in Jesus family tree were there because they deserved it. They were only there because of God's grace and their faith to be a part of God's great plan—a plan that they didn’t even fully understand.  They just knew if it was God’s plan, it must be worth more than any thing else in the whole world!  God is looking for people like Tamar--people who have the faith to see that God is at work even when His people are not doing the right thing.  People who are willing to give up everything to be part of God's great Kingdom plan.  Are you willing to give up everything to be part of God’s Kingdom?  Do you have the faith to see it is worth it?

Next week, we will hear the story of Rahab the prostitute.
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST