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, 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.



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