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Showing posts with label Mary and Joseph. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mary and Joseph. Show all posts

Monday, December 12, 2016

Follow the Star, Part 3

Introduction
            Christmas is a time of signs and symbols.  The miraculous virgin birth of Christ was a sign that this child was very special and here by God’s design.  For Isaiah 7:14 says, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
God sometimes gives signs to show people the right way.  Have you seen signs to guide you through life?  Some signs can be subtle and hard to notice.  Other signs are obvious, maybe even frightening.  Regardless, when we really want to know God’s will, we grow when we respond to the Holy Spirit’s leading with obedience. 
Today, I want to focus on understanding what God wants from you.  Suppose he has given you a sign.  How do you interpret it?  How do you understand what it means?

Matthew 2:13-16
13 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, 15 and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”

16 Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance.

A Clear Sign
            Joseph received a clear message from God.  God sent an angel to warn him in a dream to flee to Egypt with Mary and baby Jesus.  If we accept what the scripture says, there weren’t any symbols to interpret.  Joseph didn’t have to struggle with what the dream meant.
There was another Joseph—in the Old Testament in the book of Genesis—who also had dreams.  That Old Testament Joseph’s dreams were strange and full of symbolic meaning.  Do you remember?  There was one dream in Genesis where the sun, moon, and stars bowed down to Joseph.  It was a symbol of how Joseph’s brothers—along with all the known world—would one day bow down to Joseph when he became Pharaoh’s second in command.
But the Joseph in our story this morning—Jesus’ earthly father Joseph—had a different kind of dream.  It was much clearer.  “Get up right now and run away to Egypt!  King Herod is trying to kill the baby Jesus.”  No symbols there.  The meaning is plain and urgent.
Sometimes God comes to people in a dream.  People have dreams all the time.  Usually, there’s nothing to them—just random synapses firing in the brain while we sleep.  But when God comes to you in a dream to give you a sign (or in any other way), you will know it’s something special you need to pay attention to.  If God wants you to get the message, you’ll be left with the distinct impression that this dream (or sign) is something important to which you should pay attention.

A Sensitive Ear
Now, if you make a habit in your life of tuning God out, you might not notice God’s voice.  (I know some husbands who have learned the art of tuning out their wives and kids.  The house could be on fire, and they still will not notice if the game is on TV.  Piece of advice:  if you do that too much, you won't have a wife and kids for very long.)
If you’re the kind of person who goes through life dismissing God’s voice—“Oh come on! God doesn’t speak to people.  I don’t believe in all that superstitious nonsense..."—you’re probably not going to notice when God speaks to you.  But if you believe God can and does speak to people, and you make a life-long practice of asking Him for direction, listening intently for the Spirit, and obeying when He speaks, you will notice when God sends you a clear message.
You know, a lot of people envy Joseph’s message from God.  God spoke so clearly to him:  “Get up!  Run to Egypt!”  We say, “Why can’t God just speak to me that clearly ?”
Do you realize, Joseph was a godly man?  He didn’t just wake up one day with the ability to hear God’s voice.  His whole life, Joseph was practicing and preparing his ‘God-ears’ to hear God’s voice.  Matthew 1:19 tells us Joseph was a righteous man.  That means he trusted God.  He worshiped God.  He prayed to God.  He had a relationship with God.  He went through life listening and trying to obey God.  So when God came to Joseph in a dream, Joseph already had the ears to hear.
What about you?  Do you trust God?  Do you worship God?  Do you pray to God?  Do you have a relationship with God?  Do you read the Scripture?  Do you believe God can and will speak to you?  Do you try to listen to God and obey?  The more you do, the more sensitive your ears will be.
But that's not what most people want, is it?  We would rather God only speak to us when we have a question or when we want something.  Then, once we get what we want, God can just go get back in His box and be quiet.  We'll call Him when we want something. 
What is that?!?  We've got it backwards, I think.  God is the Creator of the universe.  He created us, not the other way around.  We don't get to tell Him when and when not to speak.  Nor should we want to.  We should count every word that comes to us from Him a blessing and a privilege.  We should be at His beckoning call.  But we are sinful, selfish people and so we've got it all mixed up.

Importance is Important
Let me give you some important advice about interpreting God’s signs.  If you see a little something that might be a sign from God and it encourages you, just accept it.  Don’t question it.  Be encouraged.  For example, if you’re driving home from work and you see the most beautiful cloud formation in the sky and think, “Wow!  It’s almost like God painted that just to tell me He loves me.”  Well, maybe He did. (God does love you, so you can be sure that's true.)  Maybe it wasn't really a sign from God, but what’s the harm in just accepting that it might be?  I mean, God does love you and we’re not talking about selling your house and moving to China here.  We’re just noting the wonder of God’s creation and getting a little encouragement.  So why question it?  Just accept it!  It’s a small sign.  Give it the benefit of doubt.
This can apply to bad feelings too.  Suppose you are out late at the gym and it’s dark outside when you get done.  You go to walk out to your car to go home (like you do every other night in December), but you get this ominous feeling like maybe you shouldn’t walk to your car alone tonight.  I say: trust your instinct.  Maybe God is trying to tell you it’s not safe out there tonight.  Maybe you should wait inside until someone can walk you to your car.  What’s the harm in just accepting it as a sign from God?  Again, we’re not talking about selling your house and moving to China here.  All that’s at stake is a few minutes of your time and maybe asking someone for help. 
Now if you are having persistent feelings of doom and gloom, fear, depression, paranoia, distrust, etc. that are going on for weeks at a time, I suggest you talk it over with an experienced and trustworthy Christian friend.  God doesn’t want us to go through life afraid and paranoid.  If we are, there might be more going on we need to address.
The point is, the potential consequences the sign has on your life is important in how seriously you take it.  If it’s just a small thing, just accept it and thank God for it.  However, if the sign is pointing you toward a really important decision that will have lasting consequences, you ought to take a little more care in understanding it. 

Let me give you 4 tips that can help you discover what God Might saying to you.
            Tip #1 - Talk it over with a spiritual advisor.  If you feel like God might be trying to tell you something, talk to a trusted Christian friend, family member, Sunday school teacher, or pastor.  You may even want to discuss it with a professional Christian counselor.  These are people who can give you insight about what God might be saying (or if it's God speaking at all).  They can also encourage and give you support. 
            When I felt God was calling me to be a pastor, I talked with several people over a period of time:  my mom, by best friend, my wife, and my pastor.  They helped me understand and verify God's call and it just made me feel better to have people I trusted walking with me on that journey.  Even now, after years of experience walking with God, I still practice my own advice.  I talk to people about what I think God might be saying to me.  It is tremendously helpful (essential really).
            Tip #2 - Ask, " Does what I think God is telling me match up with the Bible?  The Bible is the foundation of what we believe and the last word in everything we do.  God gave us the Scriptures to guide us and He's is not going to ask you to do something contrary to His own Word in the Bible.
            In South Carolina in 2012, Tammi Estep stabbed her husband.  She said she did after, "Jesus and Mary told me to kill him because he is Satan's spawn!"[i]  Well, how many wives have not thought there husband's were the spawn of Satan at one time or another…  Seriously though, God is not going to tell you to murder someone.  Nor is He going to tell you to do something that contradicts what He's already said in Scripture.  If you feel He is, I would point you back to Tip #1 - Talk to a spiritual advisor.
            Tip #3 - Does the sign intend to lead you or others closer to Christ?   The Great Commission from Jesus to His followers is:  "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…" (Matthew 28:19 ).  This is our mission.   Remember, life is not about you.  This isn’t the story of your life.  This is God’s story and you are just one actor in the movie.  You don’t even have that big a roll.  So remember, if God is talking to you--directing you in some really important matter that will have life-long, lasting consequences--it will probably be linked in a large way to leading you or others closer to Christ.  If it isn't, if it's linked more to you own self-centered interests, it's more likely not God speaking to you.  Either way, I would point you back to Tip #1 - Talk to a spiritual advisor.
            Tip #4 - Ask the Holy Spirit to verify it for you.  It's OK to ask God to help you be sure.  People did that in the Bible many times.  There was even a man named Gideon in the book of Judges who made a kind of experiment.  God sent an angel and told Gideon to go fight some people who kept raiding Israel.  Gideon asked for a sign to verify it.  He said, "I'm gonna lay out a piece of wool fleece on the ground.  If there's dew on the fleece in the morning, but not the ground, I will know You were speaking to me."  And in the morning, there was dew on the fleece and not the ground.  But Gideon wanted to be sure, so he repeated the experiment, but this time he said, "Alright.  If it's really You, this time there will be dew on the ground all around, but not on the fleece." And it happened just like that!  In the morning, there was dew on the ground, but none on the fleece!  So Gideon knew it was God talking to him and he went off and defeated his enemies.
            It's OK to ask for a sign to be sure it's really God speaking to you.  But some might point out what Jesus said in Matthew 12:39, “It is an evil and adulterous nation that looks for a sign.  No sign will be given…”  Jesus' frustration in that instance was with those who had already seen sign after sign after sign that proved Jesus was indeed the Son of God.  He'd healed the blind and deaf, made the lame to walk, walked on water himself, and even turned water into wine.  What more would it take to convince people?  Enough signs had already been given.  Some people didn’t want to believe and so they just kept asking for more signs.  Then they would pick apart every sign given with sinful cynicism.  They weren't going to believe no matter what Jesus did. 
            So you can ask for a sign, but once you know God is told you to do something, it's time to act.  We probably all have had times we knew what we were supposed to do, but didn't want to do it.  Don't keep asking God for signs as an excuse to put off obedience.  Get busy.  And, oh, did I mention you should see Tip #1 - talk to a spiritual advisor?  You should. 

Conclusion
            I want to end this blog with a few guiding questions as you contemplate what God might be saying to you now.  Listen for God’s voice as you pray about the following:
  • Have you been listening to God?  Have you been exercising your spiritual ears?  Have you been trusting Jesus?  Have you been praying? Have you been reading your Bible?  Is it time for you to start today?
  • What has God been trying to say to you?  Has He been nudging you?  Has He been shouting?  Have you been ignoring Him?
  • Do you need to talk to a spiritual advisor—trusted Christian friend, family member, or pastor?
  • Is it time to “Get up and go” do what God’s been telling you to do?  What’s stopping you?




[i] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/14/tammi-estep-stabbing-south-carolina_n_2130765.html

Monday, December 28, 2015

Home is Where You Make It

Home is Where You Make It
Christmas Eve Message
Luke 2:1-20

Luke 2:1-20
At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census.And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancĂ©e, who was now obviously pregnant.
And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

Introduction
            Christmas is a time when people like to be at home.  Most businesses still close on Christmas day (though more and more are staying open).  They close so that people can be at home with their family for the holiday.  Yet, there are some places that cannot close.  No one wants fire stations of police stations to close on Christmas.  (What if there is a fire or a crime on Christmas day?)  My wife Kelly is a nurse and she has to work tomorrow night, because—believe it or not—babies are still born on Christmas!
            The shepherds in the story from Luke were working on the first Christmas night.  They were not at home warming by the fire.  They were out working the night shift keeping the sheep safe when the angels appeared to them. 
            And then, there is Mary and Joseph.  If anyone wanted to be home, I’m sure it was Mary and Joseph.  Mary, a young girl having her first child, was miles away from home and everything that was comfortable to her. 
            Sometimes when Kelly and I go to visit family in middle Georgia, we will get hotel to stay the night.  My mom’s house is not big enough to sleep my whole family comfortably.  Neither is my mother-in-law’s.  Sometimes we split up and send part of the family to my Mom’s house and part to my mother-in-law’s, but that has it’s on challenges too (Who’s gonna stay where?  How are we going to get back together in the morning?)  Sometimes it’s just easier and more comfortable to get a hotel and call that home for the night.
            Mary and Joseph couldn’t even get a hotel room.  They tried, but all the rooms were full.  So, all they had to call home for the night was the stable where they kept the animals.   

Sometimes, home is where you make it.
            Life is messy.  It doesn’t always go the way you plan.  Babies are born at inconvenient times.  The hotel doesn’t always have enough room.  So you have to make do with what you have.  Sometimes, you make home where you are.
            In Philippians 4:12-13, Paul said, “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”
            You see, when your heart is right with God, God can teach you to bear with any inconvenience.  But don’t get the impression that God just makes you tough enough to grit and bear it.  God can actually take an impoverished situation and turn it into an abundant life.
            Take Mary and Joseph.  There were no doctors or nurses or cozy state-of-the-art birthing rooms available.  Mary gave birth in a barn and laid her precious baby in a manger with animals all around watching.  Yet, angels announced his birth and the shepherds came running to see the miracle child.  Before long, Wisemen came bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  But the greatest gift of all was the privilege of bearing and raising the Son of God.  This was not merely getting by.  This was being at the very center of God’s eternal plan to save humanity.
            I don’t know if Mary and Joseph knew the full ramification of what they were doing the night Mary gave birth to the Christ.  I think they had some clues, but didn’t understand in full.  That’s the way most of life is.  We may suspect something important is happening in our life, but we don’t fully understand what it is.  All we know is that this is the hand life has dealt us and we can complain about it and mope around, or we can have faith that God is doing something truly amazing—that God has already given us a tremendous blessing we just don’t fully understand yet.
            Several from our church went Christmas caroling to our at-home members.  (These are members of our church who for health reasons are not able to get out much.  Many of them live in assisted living or nursing homes.)  Nancy Ware, Rena Gallman, and I had the privilege of visiting with Virginia Wallace over at Tranquility Assisted Living.  I asked Virginia if she liked living at Tranquility and her response was full of wisdom.  She said, “I love it her.  It’s a very nice place.  Of course, no one wants to leave their home and move into assisted living, but I couldn’t ask for better.  You can choose to be unhappy because you are not at home anymore, or you can choose to be happy.  It’s up to you.  I am very happy to call Tranquility my home.  It is a wonderful place.”
            We would all do well to listen to Virginia’s advice.  Your attitude makes all the difference.  So whether you find yourself like Virginia in assisted living, or if you find yourself like Mary and Joseph and all you have is a stable and a manger, remember:  home is where you make it.  Maybe you ought to get busy making it a home. 

An Invitation to Come Home
            I want you to remember that any home we have in this life is only temporary.  Ultimately, our Home is with God.  Even when this life comes to an end, we have a Home awaiting us in Heaven.  Hebrews 13:14 tells us, “For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.”
            If you want to go Home for Christmas this year (not necessarily your family home or your childhood home, remember, we are talking in a spiritual sense), you must get your heart right with God.  1 Peter 3:18a tells us, “Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God.”
            The glorious Good News of Christmas is that, through Jesus Christ, God tore down every obstacle that keeps us from being at Home with Him.  There’s nothing in the way—no sin that can’t be forgiven, no fear or anger or grief or shame that can’t be overcome.  All you have to do is decide that you truly want to be at Home with God.  Do you want to be at Home with God?  Will you decide to come Home today?  As for me, I’ll be Home for Christmas this year.