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Showing posts with label Shepherds. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Shepherds. Show all posts

Monday, July 22, 2019

Glory in the Heavens


Introduction
When I think of July, I think of fireworks.  Most people probably don't think of Christmas in July.  But it's not a bad idea.  December is such a busy month and the holiday season is so commercialized; the true meaning of Christmas can get lost amidst all the hype and Christmas lights. So today, let's keep our thoughts firmly focused on the Christ Christmas celebrates. 

Slides – Luke 2:6-15
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

Pointing People to God
Listen to that...  Do you hear it?  Silence is never really silent, is it?  There's always some sound in the background.  People coughing and shuffling their feet; the sound of the air conditioner running.  I wonder what sounds the shepherds heard that night as they were watching their sheep in the dead of the night outside Bethlehem. A fire crackling or sheep noises.  You only hear those kinds of sounds if you're quiet and paying attention. And so it was for the shepherds that night in Bethlehem when an angel appeared among them.  It was quiet and they were listening for any sounds that seemed out of the ordinary--a wild animal or some other danger.  That made the approach of the angel all that more obvious as the glory of God shown around them.  They came to point people to Jesus.

Jesus came to point people to God.   For years, God had sent signs to point people to God, but they were always missed or ignored. We’re usually too busy or self-absorbed to notice; and so God came Himself in the person of Jesus.  God really didn't want us to miss Him this time.  So God also sent angels to point the shepherds to the baby Jesus lying in a manger in Bethlehem.

The Angels
The angels came to point people to Jesus.  I have never seen an angel, let alone a whole host of them as the Christmas story describes. Have you? I've heard stories of other who've seen angels.  And the Bible tells many stories of their appearance.  The book of Hebrews in the New Testament advises that we should always be kind to strangers, because you never know if it might be an angel in disguise.  I have never seen and angel (at least that I was aware of).  However, I have seen many other glorious wonders in Heaven that have pointed me toward Jesus and God.

Fireworks
Many people have seen fireworks blasting away in the sky this month.  Did you?  Do you remember the first time you saw fireworks?  I do.  What a glorious sight to see the colorful, sparkling lights fanning out like giant fiery hydrangeas in the sky!  To a young child, these are fascinating and captivating and beautiful.  As an adult, now more aware of the meaning of the Fourth of July as the celebration of our nation’s independence, the fireworks are even more magnificent because they represent to me how God set our nation free from the tyranny of Great Britain, against all odds.  And I can see God’s hand at work in the development of our nation as I remember how many have sacrificed throughout the years.

Lightning
But there is another light show in the sky that points me to God—lightening.  Many are afraid of thunderstorms.  I was too when I was a young child.  To help, my mom would take me out on our screened-in front porch and hold me while we watched the storm together.  It is one of my fondest early memories—sitting in my mother’s lap in a rocking chair and her soothing voice, feeling the hot summer air quickly cooled by the wet rain falling as a misty breeze filtered through the screens.  And up in the sky, you can see the lightning flicker across the clouds away in the distance, like fire flickering in a giant, Japanese lantern floating across the sky.  And the deep rolling of the thunder that speaks of a tremendous underlying power in this world.  How glorious!  If there is a Creator who made it all, how glorious and beautiful and powerful must He be.

Stars
Do you ever go out at night, in the quiet, and just stare up at the stars?  I admit, I used to do it a lot more than I do now.  There is too much to distract me these days.  But as a child, we didn’t have air conditioning in our home and it was quite hot in the house by evening.  So, I often stayed outside in the summer for as long as I could.  And up in the sky you can see the same stars the shepherds saw in Bethlehem.  Throughout the ages, people have speculated as to what are these mysterious lights in the night sky.  Some have thought them to be gods or the spirits of their ancestors.  In modern times, science has shown they are giant balls of burning gas thousands of times a big as the earth and trillions of miles away.  The closest stars are around 4 light years away (i.e. it would take 4 years to get to them if you could travel at the speed of light).  The farthest stars are 5 billion light years away!  And there are about a billion trillion stars in the universe!  Some think science has disproved the existence of God.  But I look up at the glorious  stars in the heavens and see that God is more magnificent than we ever realized before!

Birds
I see living things in the heavens that point me to God too.  For instance, what a glorious thing it is to see a flock of pelicans soaring across the waves over the ocean.  How graceful they are—flying in perfect formation, making minute adjustments to the wind, barely needing to flap their wings, spotting a school of fish swimming in the water below, and then circling around to dive at breakneck speed and splash into the water to catch their meal.  We sometimes refer to an unintelligent person as a “bird-brain”.  That's ironic because with all our human intelligence and ingenuity, we only figured out how to fly relatively recently.  And now that we’ve had a little over a hundred years to practice, we still don’t even come close to the grace and beauty of a bird in flight.  If God created the birds that soar above, He is truly magnificent indeed.

People
And yet, He created people too.  And look at us!  We are amazing!  Of all the creatures in God’s green earth, we are unique and special!  There is no other animal like us.  The closest, scientists say, are chimpanzees.  And, yes, they are amazing too.  But there is no animal who can talk like us, write words on paper (and now type on a computer screen).  There is no animal that has looked at a bird and dreamed of being able to fly and then figured out how to do it.  There is no animal who has looked up at the stars in the night sky and wanted to go there and then built a rocket-ship to fly to the moon.  Some say that humans acquired these abilities by chance.  I say that makes no sense; I say the hand of God must have been involved for people to be so incredibly different from all the other creatures on the planet and to have learned all that we have and gained mastery of all others animals. 

Romans 1:20 All these things—fireworks, lightning, stars birds, people (and many more) point me to God.  It is absolutely true what Romans 1:20 says, “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”

If we just look around, the evidence it there.  The existence and nature of God should be obvious to anyone who is honestly searching for answers.

Jesus
But the glory of Christmas is that God didn't want to leave anything to chance.  Yes, we should know about God just by looking at all the glorious things He made.  But God wants to be absolutely sure you know Him.  And if you want a job done right, you do it yourself.  So God came Himself in the flesh.  Jesus is God. 

Matthew 1:23 - “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.’”
John 1:1 - "In the beginning the Word already existed.  The Word was with God, and the Word was God." [Jesus is the Word.]
Hebrews 1:3 - "The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God..."
Colossians 1:15 - "Christ is the visible image of the invisible God."

Jesus is God.  He was God when the whole world was created.  He designed the birds and the clouds, and lightning and thunder.  He flung the stars across the universe with a word.  And He created you and me.   And yet, mysteriously, Jesus is also human.  He was human in every aspect: born as a baby, had to learn how to walk, grew up in a village, went to school, dealt with bullies and chores and being hungry and hot in the summertime and cold in the winter.  He knew about the yearnings of an adolescent heart, that wants to find their one true love and get married.  But Jesus, God in human flesh, came to our world for a special purpose.  He came to show us what God is like, how God loves us beyond all measure.  We are God’s one true love.  And He was willing to die for us.  And He did die for us on the cross at Calvary.

When we look at Jesus, we see God--the most perfect representation and proof of God.  We see God’s incredible love—to leave the glory of heaven to come live in our broken world and ultimately to die for us on a cross, to pay the price of our sin.  And now everything that could be done to point you back to God has been done.  All that’s left is a choice—your choice. 

Will you choose to follow God through Jesus Christ?
Or will you choose to continue to follow something or someone else?
I pray you choose Jesus.


Monday, December 11, 2017

Real Peace


Introduction
            Advent--the four weeks leading up to Christmas--are a season of waiting as we prepare for the celebration of Christ's birth.  However, Jesus said he would come again to bring a New Heaven and  a New Earth.  Advent is also to prepare so we will be ready when Jesus comes.  No one knows the day or our of Christ's return for the world; it could be in the next moment or in a thousand years.  However, everyone can be sure Christ will come for them individually in their life time--for no one escapes death and when we die we will each see Jesus face to face.  Will you be ready?  Can you be at peace with your inevitable personal encounter with the second coming of the Son of God?  now is the time to prepare so you can have real peace.

Luke 2:(8-12,) 13-14
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

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

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

A Fear Evoking Sight
          Verse 14 is the key verse I want you to consider.  The angels sang, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
            It is no wonder the angel started his message by saying, “Don’t be afraid!”  It would be quite frightening to see an angel appear in the middle of the night.  The shepherds were prepared to protect their sheep from wild animals and thieves, but what do you do with an angelic being?  And then it was not just one angel, it was a whole army from heaven!
            Peace?  Really? And army is designed for fighting and killing and war.  They come bearing weapons.  And this army is a host of angels!  That is not the kind of thing that makes me think of peace!  So the angel assured them toey came to bring peace and there was no need to be afraid.
            How freeing and exciting it can be when we witness something of amazing power and majesty and also know we have nothing to fear.  I think that may have been how Jesus felt.  Remember the time a terribly fierce storm arose while he and the disciples were out on a boat?  The disciples are afraid for their life, but Jesus is asleep.  You see, he had nothing to fear from the storm.  His only concern was the cross he would be nailed to one day.  So he could enjoy the storm--marveling in the power and wonder of it or let the wind and wave and thunder sing him to peaceful sleep. 
            Are you afraid of the thunder?  What if you were absolutely certain the storm would not harm you?  Could you then just watch and enjoy the thrill and beauty of it all?  What about life?  What about the eventual end that awaits us all? 

Real Peace
           Real peace is knowing Jesus is Lord of all and submitting to Him.  Surrender to him is the source of true peace.  When the armies of heaven come, the only ones who need to fear are those who fight against them or who are enemies of God.  But Jesus forgives everyone who truly surrenders and accepts him as Lord.  Those, he saves. 
            Surrender means trusting in God’s way, not ours.  And we have to accept that God’s way is not our way.  Things will have to change.  We have to find peace with the changes God brings as He rights all the wrongs in our world and our lives.

            You can have real peace because of what Christ has already done for you.  The Bad News is we have all sinned and fallen short of God's glorious standard (Romans 3:23).  No one can be good enough to earn God's love or favor.  And unfortunately, the consequences of sin is death (Romans 6:23a).  So, anyone who tries to win God over by the things they do is bound to fail miserably.  Not only will you fail miserably to bring peace and order and fulfillment to your life, you will also live in fear of as an rebellious enemy of God.  That is the Bad News, but the angels came to bring Good News and here it is!
            The Good News is God sent Jesus to be born as a human being, to live as one of us (but without sin), and to die to cover the consequences of our sin.  So we don’t have to be guilty or ashamed or afraid.  God, through Jesus Christ, has already done everything that needs to be done.  As Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.”
            Now, that doesn’t mean we do nothing.  First of all, we have to surrender.  The war is over.  God has won.  He offers forgiveness and reconciliation to all who surrender.  Second, Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like a master who went away on a trip.  He put the servants in charge until his return.  Now the servants must decide if they are going to do the Master's will or if they will just goof off until the Master returns.  What will the Master find His servant's doing when He returns?
            Over the next few weeks, many of you will receive guests in home for the holidays.  Many of you are preparing for your guest even now--cleaning, vacuuming, mopping, washing, putting things away.  But what if you're guest showed up a few days early?  Would you be ready?  Or would you be ashamed your guests would find your home in disarray with things still out on the counter your didn't want them to see?  It would be better if we all just kept our homes clean all the time so we would have nothing to be ashamed of if a guest came unexpectedly.
            Jesus said no one knows the day or the hour when he will return (he doesn't even know himself, only God knows).  Therefore, we should always strive to always have you life in order, to be doing the things Christ asks his followers to do.  That way we will have nothing to fear and we can have real peace.  So live your life in such a way that people always know you love them and nothing is ever left undone or unsaid that need to be done and said. 


Let There Be Peace on Earth             Real Peace starts with you and spreads to those around you.  It starts with the choice you make today, right now.  It continues with the choices you make as you start each new day as you choose to follow Jesus’ plan instead of your own until Jesus’ plan is your plan.  It spreads as you share the Good News and love of Jesus with everyone around you.  Before you know it, peace spread further and further as more and more surrender to the true Lord of Heaven and Earth.
            United Methodists have a wonderful Hymn in our hymnal written by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson.  Here is an excerpt about the song from https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-let-there-be-peace-on-earth.

Jill Jackson shared the story of how the song was written:  “When I attempted suicide [in 1944] and I didn’t succeed, I knew for the first time unconditional love—which God is. You are totally loved, totally accepted, just the way you are. In that moment I was not allowed to die, and something happened to me, which is very difficult to explain. I had an eternal moment of truth, in which I knew I was loved, and I knew I was here for a purpose.”  This realization was followed by years of exploring her spiritual nature and her relationship with God.
In 1955, Jill wrote the lyrics for “Let There Be Peace on Earth” while her husband wrote the melody. The song was introduced at a retreat for a group of young people.  Sy Miller wrote about the effect of the song: “One summer evening in 1955, a group of 180 teenagers of all races and religions, meeting at a workshop high in the California mountains locked arms, formed a circle and sang a song of peace. They felt that singing the song, with its simple basic sentiment—‘Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me’—helped to create a climate for world peace and understanding.
“When they came down from the mountain, these inspired young people brought the song with them and started sharing it. And, as though on wings, ‘Let There Be Peace on Earth’ began an amazing journey around the globe. It traveled first, of course, with the young campers back to their homes and schools, churches and clubs.”
Miller noted that the song was then shared in all 50 states at school graduations, PTA meetings, holiday gatherings, celebrations of Brotherhood Week, Veterans Day, Human Rights Day and United Nations Day. Kiwanis clubs sang it, as well as 4-H clubs, United Auto Workers, the American Legion, etc.  The song was taped, copied, printed in songbooks and passed by word of mouth. Eventually it spread overseas, sung by Maoris in New Zealand and Zulus in Africa.  The song has been recorded by a host of vocal artists including Tennessee Ernie Ford, Pat Boone, Johnny Mathis, and Harry Connick Jr.
It received the George Washington Honor Medal from the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge for “Outstanding achievement in helping to bring about a better understanding of the American Way of Life.” The National Conference of Christians and Jews has also honored the composers with the Brotherhood Award.  In 2009 Random House published “Let There Be Peace on Earth” as a children’s book.

            All this from a song written and sung at a retreat for a bunch of kids.  It’s amazing how Real Peace can spread when you and I make a choice to let the peace of Jesus live inside our hearts and share it with everyone we meet.  Will you make that choice today?  Pray about it as you listen to these words of the song:

Let There Be Peace on Earth
(#431, The United Methodist Hymnal)
Let There Be Peace on Earth and let it begin with me.
Let There Be Peace on Earth, the peace that was meant to be!
With God our creator, children all are we.
Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony.
Let peace begin with me. Let this be the moment now.
With every breath I take, let this be my solemn vow;
To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally!
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Follow the Star, Part 2

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

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

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

Introduction
            Sometimes God gives us signs to show us the way.  If you believe in them and really want to know God’s will for you, you might be able to see and follow the signs to Jesus’ will for you.  Sometimes the sign may just appear—one bright star in a sky filled with twinkling stars.  Are you watching for the star?  Will you notice?
            At other times, God’s sign to you might be big and dramatic.  It might even be frightening—like an army of angels singing to the shepherds on a cold Bethlehem night.  It that case, the challenge may be—not so much noticing the sign, but—deciding what to do with it.  What will you do when God sends a sign so big it stops you in your tracks and shakes you to your very core?
            The shepherds could have run away and hid in fear.  They might have been frozen with fear and done nothing.  But instead, their fear turned into a blessing because they obeyed and went to Bethlehem and found Jesus.

A Cold, Dark Night
            Night time can be an eerie occasion.  It probably was for the shepherds.  I remember a cold, dark and eerie night when God gave me a big (and frightening) sign.  I was only 18-years-old.  I was driving from my mom's home in Macon back to college in Marietta.  Now I don't know about you, but when I have a long drive like that by myself, I like to turn up the radio.  And since I'd driven that route so many times, I wasn't paying much attention to where I was. 

'84 Mercury Marquis
            Then, my '84 Mercury decided to die.  Smoke billowed from beneath the hood.  The car decelerated and I pulled off to the shoulder.  The car shut off and would not start.  I found myself on the side of I-75 at 11:00 PM on a Sunday night somewhere between Macon and Atlanta and I had no idea where.  This was before cell phones so I needed to walk to a gas station to find a payphone.  The problem was, I didn't even know if I needed to walk forwards or backwards!  I chose to go forward.
            As I walked forward in the dead of night, cars speeding by at 65, 75, 85 MPH, it dawned on me--for the first time in my life--this could be my last night on earth.  All it would take was one of those speeding cars to swerve slightly off the road and hit me.  I'd heard of things like that happening before.  Or maybe, some serial killer decided to pull over and abduct me and cut me up into little pieces just for fun.  I'd heard of things like that happening before too.
            I realized that night that I was not ready to die.  "Why not?" I thought.  "I'm a Christian.  I gave my life to Christ.  I will go to heaven when I die.  What's keeping me from being ready?"  Yet I still felt I was not ready to die.  Something was left unfulfilled in my life.  I realized I walked that lonely dark road I was not walking the road God wanted me to walk in life.  And that dark road became a frightening sign to me that I needed to do some things different.  I needed to change the direction of my life so I would be ready when my time came.  God's sign to me helped change the course of my life.

Other Signs
            I have heard of dramatic signs in other people's lives too.  When I was in seminary, I volunteered as a chaplain for The Carpenter’s House, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.  I heard several recovering addicts share how their addiction landed them in the hospital or nearly ended their lives.  They realized they had to change or else their addiction would kill them.  God must have saved their life for a reason so they better get busy finding help to overcome their disease.
            I have seen others signs too.  I had a church member once who had a heart attack.  He realized he needed needed to be there for his daughter as she grew into a young adult, found a mate, and got married.  He started walking and exercising and eating healthier.  His heart attack was a sign.
            Perhaps you lost your job.  It was hard--not only because of the money, but--because your job was an important part of your identity.  Maybe God is trying to tell you your job is not your identity; find your identity in Christ.  Maybe God is telling you to trust money less and trust God more.
            Maybe someone you love dies unexpectedly.  That can be a sign from God.  One of my former church members died this past weekend--Jim Ham.  Jim was a father grandfather county commissioner, and he was only 54 years old.  He died in a single car crash.  No one saw it coming.  Unexpected deaths like this can be a tragic sign that reminds us to cherish those you hold dear.  They jar us out of our complacency and teach us to take full advantage of the present moment for we never know how much time we have; nothing is guaranteed.
            What if someone you love looses faith?  When my brother came home one Christmas many years ago saying he no longer believed what he'd learned about Jesus in church, our family was very concerned.  Furthermore, Nelson seemed to know so much more about the Christian religion and what the Bible says than I did.  This was a big sign to me that I needed to make the effort to know what I believed and figure out if I was just taking for granted the things people had told me about Christianity over the years.  Perhaps when someone you care about has doubts about their faith, it is a sign to you to take your beliefs and how you live more seriously.  Maybe it's time to get serious about your own faith and GRO a little.
 
Slide – G.R.O.
            If you want to get serious and grow in your faith, you need to G.R.O.
            Growth can only come when you are committed to growth.  I hope you will commit to personal growth throughout your life. True Christianity doesn’t mean we get saved and then hide in a corner for the rest of life.  We are constantly growing to become more like Christ.  Growth should occur in all areas of our life--spiritually, intellectually, and physically.  These areas are all interrelated and you cannot be truly healthy in one area if you are lacking in the others.
            Respond.  In order to grow, you have to respond to the Holy Spirit.  You are responsible for your growth.  that doesn't mean you make yourself grow.  The Holy Spirit makes you grow.  However, when the Holy Spirit guide you to do something, you are able to respond by doing it.  So you must respond because you are responsible.
            Obey.  You grow when you are obedient.  You can't expect to grow if you disobey the Holy Spirit.  But if you respnd with obedience you will grow.  If the Holy Spirit guides you to study your Bible, you will grow spiritually.  If the Spirit tell you to exercise and you obey, you will improve your health.  But if you disregard or disobey, you will not grow.

Are You Ready to GRO?
            Sometimes God gives us a really big sign to shake us to the core.  If God has done that for you, I hope you will Grow by Responding with Obedience to what the Holy Spirit has said.  Perhaps God's sign to you was more subtle, but if you're paying attention, you can still see the sign like the star shining for the Wisemen.  Let God get your attention and ask Him to reveal what he wants you to do.  Next week we will discuss how you can interpret the meaning of Gods signs.

Holy Communion (AKA The Lord's Supper or the Eucharist) is a tremendous sign of God's love and presence with us.  The bread represents the body of Christ God gave us.  The wine represents the blood Christ shed for us on the cross to forgive our sins.  This simple meal reminds us of Christ's loving sacrifice for us and also his living presence with us today.  When have you last received Holy Communion?  Do you see God's sign to you in this sacrament?