I heard a story about a man who while walking along saw a shiny coin lying in his path. He was so excited at his good fortune that he spent the rest of his life always looking down. According to the story, in his lifetime his occasionally found coins that amounted to just a few dollars. But because of his continually downward look, he missed hundreds of sunrises, thousands of beautiful flowers and scenery, and the expression of many people whom he passed in his walks.
Since my knee surgery a few years back, I have become more conscious of watching where I am about to step. With my eye condition, my depth perception is not the best and I have been known to miss a step and take a tumble. But I try to watch my surroundings and I like to look people in the eye when I meet them. I try to share a smile or some other positive expression so I can share the joy of fellowship and compassion.
And there is something special on a warm sunny day to sit back and relax and watch the clouds passing by. I love the old cartoon that has Charley Brown and Linus looking at the clouds. Charley asks Linus what he sees, and Linus describes a magnificent scene of fortress and marching armies and all kinds of images he is imagining as he looks at the clouds. And Charley Brown says simply, “I see a Bunny Rabbit!”
I visited a lady in the nursing home some years ago and asked her what her favorite scripture was. She very quickly replied, “The 121st Psalm.” She went on to explain how it gives her a sense of security knowing that God never sleeps and is always keeping watch over her.
As we continue this journey into 2021, let’s see what lessons this Psalm can teach us today.
I. KEEP LOOKING UP.
a. When I was pastoring in Warsaw, Missouri a lifetime ago, I joined the Jaycees Organization. They made me the chaplain of their local group. And there were different things we were called to do in order to get certain awards. One of them was to make an impromptu 5 minute speech on a topic they would choose for us. I was given the topic, “How High is UP?” I had no trouble talking on that subject for the allotted 5 minutes. First of all, I suggested the “UP” had to be defined within its different contexts. Standing on earth and looking into the heavens would be one kind of “up.” But another kind of “UP” would be how we progress through promotions on our jobs and successes in our businesses.
b. After the Warsaw pastorate, I moved to Fort Scott, Kansas in 1979 and joined a civic club called “The Optimist Club.” The club magazine was called “Success” and it had writers like Napoleon Hill, Norman Vincent Peal, and others, who would stress the importance of always looking at the positive side of things. All of that could be described as a practice of always looking up.
c. This Psalm is grouped in a selection of Psalms called “Songs of Ascent.” It is said that these were songs that were sung by Jewish pilgrims as they ascended the mount where the Temple of God was located. Quite literally, they were sung as people were going up the steep grade to meet God. So, the words “I lift up my eyes to the mountains” meant they were looking at the Temple of God.
d. As we continue our journey into this New Year, it is easy to look at all the troubles our world is experiencing. We can bemoan the terrible Pandemic .We are just now beginning to see hope with the new vaccines that hopefully will get that under control. And who knows what is going to happen in our government after seeing the rioting and violence and being left with real concern about the integrity of our election process. And the liberal agenda is very threatening to our conservative political views as we fear we are losing the very essence of what made America the great nation it has been. I have talked to individuals who are literally worrying themselves sick over all the negative things that are happening all around us. But, Christians, we are called to look up. Just as the ancient pilgrims were looking up at the Temple inhabited by God, we too should be looking up for God in His dwelling place.
e. The account of Jesus walking on the water and Peter jumping out of the boat to walk to him is an example of this “Upward Look.” As long as Peter kept his eyes on Jesus, he walked on top of the water. But when he diverted his eyes and looked at the waves and wind, he became fearful and began to sink.
f. What is it that you are facing today? Is it health issues? In our congregation we have several who are facing heart difficulties, various kinds of cancer, diabetes, and arthritis. And then there are the financial concerns: Do we have enough retirement funds to last us the rest of our lives? And what about when the transmission goes out in the car or the refrigerator stops working? I can tell you there are days when it is hard to look up. But we have a God who has promised to be with us. So, we need to practice looking up, beyond all the troubles.
II. WE NEED TO REMEMBER THAT GOD IS THE SOURCE FOR OUR STRENGTH.
a. The psalmist asks: “…Where does my help come from?”
b. Just looking up and ignoring our troubles is not the answer. Just suppose your rent is due or the mortgage payment is due, and you are short on cash. What will happen if you just ignore the situation and act as if everything is okay? You might get evicted from your home!
c. And the Psalmist answers his question in verse 2: “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Our answer to our problems doesn’t come from pretending they aren’t there. The answer is found in placing our trust in the Lord.
d. We are all familiar with the New Testament scripture found in Philippians 4:6—“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present you request to God.”
e. In Matthew 17: 24-27 we read how Peter questioned Jesus about paying the Temple tax. Like some of us, taxes are always a challenge. I always dread the day of reckoning when I have to file my income tax. I almost never pay in enough during the year, so I always have to come up with a little more. I don’t know if Peter was frustrated because he was short on cash or if he was just questioning the whole idea of paying a tax. But Jesus sends him to the lake where there was a fish to be caught—a natural suggestion to a real fisherman. But the surprise came when he caught one fish and found in its mouth just enough money to pay both his and Jesus’ tax that was due at the temple.
f. Sometimes God does things like that—After all He is the God who specializes in the impossible. Sometimes the miracles are not so obvious. Several years ago, I was struggling with my finances. I was able to keep up with all my payments, but it was a struggle. In my prayer journal I took it to the Lord and complained and whined and asked Him why I couldn’t seem to get ahead. A year later I was looking back over some of the prayers I had written, and I suddenly realized that I no longer was struggling with that financial strain. I don’t remember anything out of the ordinary. There were no windfall cash gifts, no new jobs that supplemented my income that I could recall. It was as if the LORD just said, “Keep on being Faithful. I will supply your needs.” And He did.
g. Our troubles may seem overwhelming. But remember: Our help comes from the LORD!
III. REMEMBER THAT WE HAVE A GOD WHO WATCHES OVER US!
a. Psalm 121: 3 says, “He will not let your foot slip—He who watches over you will not slumber…” Then the Psalmist goes on to describe how God constantly watches over His people.
b. One of my favorite Bible stories as a child—and even now—is the account of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who refused to bow and worship the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had erected. The King was so angry that he had the 3 men thrown into the fiery finance. Then, as the King watched the supposed execution, he suddenly “leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, ‘Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?’ They replied, ‘Certainly, Your Majesty.’ He said, ‘Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.’” (Daniel 3: 24-25). These 3 men had been taken from their own country, Judea, and were living in a far off land among pagan people. But God knew where they were, and He continued to watch over them even in Babylon.
c. And it was similar in the account of Daniel being thrown into the Lions’ Den. God sent His angel to keep the lions from devouring Daniel.
d. There have been times in my life when I felt frustrated and helpless. Something was going on that was out of my control. But when I finally decided to just leave it in God’s hands, I found peace knowing I was not alone. God was there. And He is here. He is the Omnipresent God—always here, always available, always alert, watching over His people.
e. Over the years I have talked to people who felt all alone. On multiple occasions I have had a widow or widower tell me that after losing their husband or wife, the loneliness was sometimes almost too much to handle. But the reality is, God knows. God is there. We are never alone.
f. The devotional magazine Our Daily Bread some years ago had this illustration: The early American Indians had a unique practice of training young braves. On the night of a boy's thirteenth birthday, after learning hunting, scouting, and fishing skills, he was put to one final test. He was placed in a dense forest to spend the entire night alone. Until then, he had never been away from the security of the family and the tribe. But on this night, he was blindfolded and taken several miles away. When he took off the blindfold, he was in the middle of a thick woods and he was terrified! Every time a twig snapped; he visualized a wild animal ready to pounce. After what seemed like an eternity, dawn broke and the first rays of sunlight entered the interior of the forest. Looking around, the boy saw flowers, trees, and the outline of the path. Then, to his utter astonishment, he beheld the figure of a man standing just a few feet away, armed with a bow and arrow. It was his father. He had been there all night long.
g. There may be times when we feel we are all alone. But God is there. He never sleeps nor slumbers. He is always alert, watching over His children.
And so, we continue our journey into a New Year, and we continue our climb towards our eternal destiny. Temptations may and will arise. We will find obstacles along the way—mountains to climb, rivers to cross, storms to endure. Satan sets traps along the path—IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) like those that have claimed the life or severely injured our military folks in Afghanistan. The path we take is narrow and steep. But remember, we are not alone. God is with us. He guides us along the path. We are told in Scripture that “The Lord orders the steps of a good man (or woman).” And He will make a way. Our God divides the waters of the Sea to make a path for His people in impossible situations. Psalm 139 says, “You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise. You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways… “(Psalm 139:1-3) It goes on to explain that no matter where you are, God is there.
So, Look up. Jesus has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Take courage—He will give us strength.
MATTHEW 6: 25-34
Text: “But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
Do you make New Year’s Resolutions? It is already January 10th—are you still keeping your resolutions?
I checked on Google to see what the top 10 Resolutions are this year and here’s the list it gave:
Top 10 New Year's Resolutions
· Eat Healthier.
· Exercise More. Under the same umbrella as eating healthier, working out more is the second most common New Year's resolution. ...
· Save Money or Spend Less. ...
· Learn Something New. ...
· Quit Smoking. ...
· Read More. ...
· Change Jobs. ...
· Drink Less.
As good Nazarenes, I hope you are not struggling with the “Quit Smoking” resolution. In our Covenant of Christian Conducts we ask our members not to use tobacco. And on the “Drink Less” resolution, I hope none of you are struggling with drinking too much alcohol—another ‘no-no” for Nazarenes. But I have to tell you that I urge my wife and my mom to drink more—but I’m talking about water, not alcohol!
I read on Facebook last week where someone said their resolution was to lose 10 pounds and that they already only had 14 pounds to go! I can identify with that! I have to admit that I don’t make many resolutions. Someone asked me what my New Year’s Resolution was for this year and I said, “To just keep on keeping on. In the past I’ve made the common resolutions—lose weight, exercise more, etc. And I have been less than successful. I know it is good to have goals—and we should. But while thinking about my goals I understand that I must prioritize them. And Jesus has set before me the most important goal of all, the one we must keep even if we break all our other resolutions. It is a goal that will determine my eternal destiny: “Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness…” If I will only do that, then everything else will fall into place.
Let’s consider some of the implications of this verse:
I. SEEKING GOD IS A PRIORITY EVEN BEFORE FOOD AND CLOTHING.
a. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25).
b. Of course you understand that Jesus isn’t telling you to not plan your menu or shop for groceries or to lay out the clothes you want to wear tomorrow. He is just reminding you that the most important thing for us to do is to prepare for eternity by putting God first in everything we do.
c. There is a very interesting story found in 1 Kings 17. It tells of how Elijah the Prophet had confronted Ahab the wicked king and announced how a drought would devastate the country because of the King’s sins. After that, Elijah hides from Ahab and is fed by Ravens and drinks from a brook of water. But then, after a period of time, the drought causes the brook to dry up. God directs Elijah to go to Zarephath where he would find a widow woman who would provide for him. He finds the woman and asks for a drink and a piece of bread. Her response was that she only had a handful of flour which she planned to use to prepare a last supper for her and her son. Elijah’s response almost sounds cruel: “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me and then make something for yourself and your son” (1 Kings 17: 13). The widow woman was faced with a serious decision. Knowing the limited resources and the hopelessness of the situation, should she honor God’s prophet first, or should she make sure she and her son had food first. You know the rest of the story. Her decision is a great illustration of “Seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness…”
d. The whole point isn’t about you going without life’s physical necessities. It is about choosing to honor God first in all you do.
e. Suppose you are faced with a choice. God has placed a concern in your heart for a single mother with small children and very limited income. You are aware that she is without food or money. You have just enough to take your spouse out to an expensive restaurant. But you could go to a less expensive restaurant and have enough to buy enough groceries for this single mother to tide her over until her next paycheck. What decision would honor God the most? Does this mean you should never take your wife to an expensive restaurant? No, but it does mean when God directs you to help someone in need, you choose to obey God rather than indulge yourself.
f. And remember the New Testament story of the widow who placed her last coins in the offering at the Temple. When Jesus pointed this out to the disciples he said, “This poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on” (Luke 21: 3 & 4). Jesus wasn’t saying we should give away all our money and not provide for ourselves the basics of life. He was merely pointing out that above all else we should seek to make God the most important priority of our life. Honoring Him, obeying his commands, seeking a relationship with Him—these things are more important that life itself.
II. SEEKING GOD IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN PLANNING OUR FUTURE.
a. In the Epistle of James, there is an interesting paragraph. It is found in James 4: 13-17—“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say ‘IF it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”
b. I know that James’ statement is directed at greedy business entrepreneurs who were making short term financial investments with plans to get rich. And, no, it isn’t wrong to make investments. But when we forget that our first priority is to seek God’s Kingdom and His righteousness and begin to put our business plans or even our personal plans in place without first consulting God’s plans, then we have allowed life’s priorities to get out of balance.
c. We discovered in 2020 that our plans can be up seated quickly. People who had planned trips to see family were forced to change plans because of the pandemic. Those who are avid sports fans had to adjust to crazy schedules and sudden cancellations of games because of COVID 19. School schedules were thrown into chaos. Business that had been thriving had to close—many forced into bankruptcy or permanent closures.
d. Seeking God’s Kingdom and His Righteousness first, means seeking His Will and His direction as we make our place for the future. And it means being ready to make adjustment for the unexpected. It means acknowledging that God holds our future, not us, and we are okay with being under His authority.
III. SEEKING FIRST HIS KINGDOM AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS MEANS PLACING OURSELVES UNDER HIS AUTHORITY EVERY DAY.
a. There was a time in my precollege days when I thought I might pursue a career in accounting. But God let me know that His plan for me was to be a preacher. There have been times when I had the opportunity to move to different places. But God let me know that He wanted me to be right here. I had one District Superintendent who tried to get me to take a church on his district several times, but I always turned him down. Finally he told me that if I ever felt like it was time for me to leave Branson, I should give him a call. He is retired now. And God has not released me from my assignment in Branson. Every day I have a routine I follow that helps me be a responsible Pastor. Occasionally something will come up when I have to make adjustments. But I understand that every day, 24 hours a day, I am under God’s authority. And that is the way it should be for every one of us.
b. You say you have responsibilities to your family and to your job. That is good. You should live up to those responsibilities. But remember who it is that gives you the strength, the talent, the privilege of having that job and caring for your family. God is the Sovereign Lord. You may be answerable to an earthly boss. You may have a family you care for. But the One to whom your first loyalty must lie is God Himself. Seeking first His Kingdom and His righteousness means that you do everything for the glory of God. Your integrity, your word, you activities, your very life must first of all be placed under His authority. That may mean you have to “take it on the chin” so to speak in order to honor God. It may mean loving someone who persecutes you, mocks you, gives you a hard time. Jesus said that anybody can love a person who treats them well, but God’s people must love even their enemies.
c. Every day, in every way, by our attitude, by our actions, by our voices, we must remember whose we are—We are the children of the Living God. And we must live in a way that reflects that reality.
I’ve shared this before, but it has been a long time. There was a book I had to read when I was doing my Master’s studies. It was entitled “Resident Alien.” In an early chapter in the book the author told the story of a Jewish family who lived in a Gentile neighborhood. The son complained to his father that he couldn’t understand why he couldn’t do the things his Gentile friends did—eat the foods they ate, etc. The father wisely told him, “Son, we are different. We have been called by God to be “His Chosen People.” We must live our lives the way God has called us to live. We aren’t Gentiles. We are Jews. We must live our lives as Jews are supposed to live.”
Today let me tell you, we are Christians. God has called us out of darkness and sin into His marvelous light and holiness. We are not citizens of this world. We are just passing through. Our citizenship is in heaven. And as Children of God, we chose to “Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness,” and we know that if we do that, everything else in life will fall into place.
Is God the number one priority of your life?
Galatians 6: 1-10
Text: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (“Galatians 6: 9)
Do you ever have the problem I sometimes have? On occasion I have started a project only to get sidetracked and never complete it. And so, our driveway has needed a load of rock for a couple of years where it butts up against the street. Two years ago, I bought a gallon of Thompsons Sealer for our back porch. I still haven’t used it. There is a light outlet in my closet that has not worked in quite a while. It would probably take about 15 minutes to fix it—if I ever get to it. And I won’t even talk about the sliding closet door. I have to admit, as I recall these projects it is a little bit embarrassing to admit my ability to procrastinate!
There are other things that I do that I have no trouble completing. I write out a sermon every week. And I prepare a Bible study almost every week. I read the Springfield newspaper every day. For the past 35 years I have read the Bible completely through each year. I have 3 devotional books in which I read a daily devotional in each one every day. I’m not bragging, I just felt it was important to share some of my good points so that you would not think I was completely inadequate!
And I’m not a perfectionist. I don’t obsess when something isn’t done exactly the way I think it should be done. I believe in the scripture that says we should do all things for the glory of God. But I tend to agree with something I read years ago that said there are some things that don’t deserve or require our complete attention. I think it said there are some courses that we may take in school where a C is all the attention, we need to give it. For example, if I wanted to know the basics of photography just for my own benefit and had no inclination of becoming a professional photographer, there was no need to devote all my energy on learning every detail. I don’t know about you but that makes sense to me.
I am somewhat interested in Ancient History. At one point I thought I would explore archeology, so I took an introductory course that was offered locally from MSU. I quickly learned that instead of Indiana Jones excitement, Archeology requires tedious attention to small pieces of broken pottery that a person had to spend hours digging up by hand. I’m glad someone does that, but I found it wasn’t something I wanted to do.
So as one travels through life we must pick and choose the things that hold our attention and then begin to set aside time and energy if we are going to be involved in those things.
The statement I often hear (and probably have used myself) that we don’t have enough time is just an excuse. We find the time to do the things we really want to do!
The verse in Galatians 6:9 has been a key verse in my life. “Do not become weary in doing good, because in due season you will reap if you faint not.” The key to being able to keep on doing the things that we should be doing is “Determination.”
As we enter the New Year, let’s consider some things for which we should be determined:
I. WE SHOULD DETERMINE TO CONTINUE DEVELOPING OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS CHRIST.
a. In Philippians 3: 10 & 11 Paul stated, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” Now, understand that Jesus had revealed himself to Paul on the Damascus Road—the event that resulted in Paul’s conversion. Paul had spent 3 years of his time after that in seclusion in Arabia (See Galatians 1: 17) getting to know Christ more fully from the scriptures and through his prayer and meditation. His life from that point was dedicated to sharing Christ with the world. He traveled all over the ancient world telling people about Christ, organizing new believers into churches. Paul had debated with the so-called intellectuals of his day—religious leaders, philosophers, and other people in places of authority—always presenting Jesus as Lord and Savior. The letters Paul wrote to the various churches revealed a deep understanding of God’s Plan and Provision for our salvation through Jesus Christ. And when he wrote the letter to the people in Philippi, he was in prison because of his dedication to Jesus Christ. And, in spite of all that, he states, “I want to know Christ…” I would venture to guess that Paul already knew Christ more fully than most of us could even imagine. But He knew that his relationship with Jesus Christ was a relationship that should never be taken for granted. It was something that a person always needed to work at developing.
b. How can a person ever fully understand or comprehend the Son of God—fully human and at the same time fully God? How could anyone ever understand the depth of love that Christ has for each of us that he was willing to set aside his divine privileges and become a human being who was willing to be crucified in order to provide for our salvation?
c. If a person like Paul who knew Christ so intimately still felt a need to know Christ more fully, how much more do you and I need to pursue that relationship?
d. How do we do that?
i. The continued practice of the Spiritual Disciplines are for the purpose of strengthening our relationship with God: Daily Bible Reading and Meditation; Regular Communion with Christ through Prayer and Fasting; the regular practice of coming together with other Christians for corporate worship and Bible study and Fellowship; the discipline of good stewardship through giving of our time, talent and treasures in service to God. We are all works in progress; We should be continually developing our spiritual “muscle” as we strengthen our walk with Christ.
ii. I mentioned that I read the Bible through each year and have daily devotional readings every day. A few years ago, I rearranged my stack of morning books. Before, I had read the devotionals and then the daily scripture readings. I felt it important that my first reading should be from the Bible itself—the very Word of God. And then, after reading from the Bible, then I read the devotionals that have been written by others. I remember Dr. Jerry Porter say that he used to check his emails first, but God convicted him, so he started doing his daily Bible reading before he checked his emails. It was his way of putting God first each day.
e. What one thing can you do this year that will improve your relationship with Jesus Christ?
II. WE SHOULD DETERMINE TO BE MORE CONSCIOUS OF OPPORTUNITIES TO SHOW CHRIST’S LOVE.
a. If the most important thing in life is to make sure we know Jesus so that we can get to heaven, why doesn’t God take us on to heaven as soon as we accept Jesus as our Savior? And the one obvious answer is because he expects us to tell others about Jesus and how they can come to him and find salvation. Remember what he told his disciples in Acts 1:8? “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” In 2 Corinthians 5: 20 Paul wrote, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’ behalf: Be reconciled to God.”
b. Every Christian has the privilege and responsibility of pointing others to Jesus. We are to do it through our voices, with our actions, with our attitudes. There is a world out here that is dying without knowing Jesus or the Love that God has for them. And it is up to us to let them know.
c. Wouldn’t it be great if each one of us would select one person that we know is not a Christian and begin to pray that God will use you to point him or her to Christ? If each one of us would let God use us to win just one person to Jesus this year the size of our congregation would double!
III. WE SHOULD DETERMINE TO STAND AGAINST THE ENEMIES OF CHRIST.
a. In Ephesians 6: 12 we read, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” The Paul goes on to describe the armor of God that we should be wearing. In verse 13 he says, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”
b. God has warned us that in this world there is a Satanic Presence that opposes God and the people of God. Satan certainly doesn’t want Christians evangelizing the lost, so he does everything he can to stop us. This is reality. We must be aware that living the Christian Life, Loving God, and telling others about God’s Love will evoke opposition from the enemies of God. We are called to stand on the front lines, lift up Jesus, hold high the standard of holiness, rebuke sin, and call sinners to repentance.
c. Are you determined to go the distance, to take a stand, to resist evil, and resist Satan?
d. 1 Peter 5: 8-11 says, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast. In him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
e. Jesus in John 16:33 said, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
f. Have you determined in your heart to take a stand for Christ regardless of what temptation may fall in your path? I really like the words of the Old Testament Prophet Habakkuk who after acknowledging all the problems his people were experiencing and failing to understand why God would allow them to be in the circumstances they were in made this declaration: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful to God my Savior…” (Habakkuk 3: 17-18.)
2020 was a hard year. We don’t know what 2021 will be like. But this we know: God still reigns. His love still has no limit. His grace is still sufficient. We can still cast our cares on Him because He still cares for us. We have a choice. We can be victims of the circumstances we will face. Or we can be "More than Conquerors through Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I am determined to keep on keeping on. No matter what the future holds, I am determined to hold on to the God of my Faith. And He has promised to keep me in his righteous right hand.
How determined are you?
Matthew 1: 18-25
As in most scenarios there are usually many people who play a part in the events of life. And many of them go unrecognized. They may not have had the major role, but without them the key players would have had difficulty. It may have been the person who stopped to check to see if someone was okay. It may have been the party that left a generous tip for a waitress who was in need. It may have been a doctor who saw an abnormality in an X-ray or MRI.
I’ve told this before, but it is an example of what I mean. Gloria and I came over to the church late one afternoon to do something in the office. There was a car parked in the parking lot with a young woman sitting in the driver’s seat. She looked distraught, so I stopped by her window to see if she needed help. I realized she has been crying so I told her that if she needed to talk, Gloria and I would be glad to listen. She seemed reluctant, but finally decided to come into the office and talk for a bit. I don’t remember much about the conversation other than we offered to pray for her. She gave us a bogus address and left—so we were not able to follow up on her. It was a year or two later when I was doing some mowing at the church when a car pulled into the parking lot and a young woman got out and walked up to me and gave me a hug. I didn’t have a clue. Finally, I was able to hear her story. She was the young woman we had prayed with that time. She told me that she had planned to commit suicide that night, but after talking with us decided not to. And now she wanted to thank us. I had no idea that she had been in such a condition. We were just going about our business and happened to be at the right place and at the right time. I wonder how many times in our life we may have unknowingly made a difference in someone’s life. We were not trying to be heroes. We were just trying to be faithful. And it made a difference in one person’s life.
On this Sunday just two days after Christmas, let’s consider some of the heroes who contributed to the Christmas story.
I. LET’S CONSIDER JOSEPH—THE FAITHFUL HUSBAND AND PARENT…
a. Joseph is one of the unsung heroes of the Bible. We know very little about him, other than he was a carpenter and that he married Mary. We know from Matthew’s genealogy that Joseph was the son of Jacob and was of the lineage of King David. But because of his obedience he became the acting parent of Jesus, the Messiah that God had promised from centuries earlier.
b. Have you ever thought about what Joseph and Mary might have done the day after Jesus was born? Do you think they stayed another night in the stable? I don’t think so. From what little we know of Joseph I believe he went house hunting. And I believe that he made arrangements for Mary and Baby Jesus to have a better place to stay. We know that Mary’s relatives Zachariah and Elizabeth lived in Judea, so Joseph may have made arrangements for his family to stay with them until they could find something of their own. Or, maybe since Bethlehem was the town from which his family was known, he may have contacted some of his own relatives and made arrangements with them. We know that Joseph would have been responsible to see that he and Mary presented Jesus to the priest at the temple for the ceremony of Circumcision. And then, sometime later, we know that Joseph and Mary and Baby Jesus were living in a house in Bethlehem. The Scriptures tell us that the Wise Men from the East found them in their house in Bethlehem when the Star of Bethlehem stood over it. And we know that Joseph made the decision to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt when the angel warned him of the evil King Herod’s plan to murder the babies in Bethlehem. And later, Joseph brought them back to Nazareth to live. Everything we know about Joseph points to the fact that he was a faithful husband and father, caring, providing, protecting—just being responsible and obedient to the Lord.
c. Isn’t that what dads are supposed to do? Joseph never set out to be a hero. He just did those things that were necessary to care for his family.
d. I remember a man who had divorced his wife, married again, divorced again, and then quickly married again. When he was asked why he was in such a hurry to marry again—after all, he had several children who needed his attention, His reply was, “I just need to do something for myself!” You never would have heard that coming from Joseph’s mouth. His number one purpose was to see after his family.
e. I’ve heard of men who would get their paychecks and then gamble it away or spend It on alcohol drinks while their family was home wondering where their next meal was coming from.
f. Joseph was faithful to love, protect, and provide for his family. May all our husbands and dads remember and follow Joseph’s example.
II. THE MAGI WERE ALSO FAITHFUL TO THE CHRISTMAS STORY.
a. We really don’t know the exact time these Wise Men from the East arrived in Bethlehem. But we do know they traveled a great distance to get there—in the neighborhood of 1000 miles! They realized that God was doing something special and that He was prompting them to be witnesses. They were probably familiar with the Jewish prophecies of the Promised Messiah King. In fact, it is probable they were Jewish themselves, descendants of those who had been carried into exile to Babylon centuries earlier. And, yes, their visit with King Herod was not their smartest move. After all, what king would want to know that another person had been chosen to replace him. But their visit in Jerusalem gave them the information that the prophets had predicted the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. And they continued until they reached the place to which the star was leading them. Their visit with Mary & Joseph at the house in Bethlehem testifies to their tenacity to complete their mission. Their gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh, reflect on their faithfulness to the newborn King. And their decision to not return to King Herod, points to their faithfulness to God to protect His Child. They were faithful in their search for truth. They were faithful in their relentless commitment to journey the distance from the eastern country to Israel. And they were faithful in their worship of Jesus. May all of us be as faithful in our pursuit of God and Holiness as these Wise Men were in their search for Jesus.
III. SIMEON & ANNA WERE CERTAINLY FAITHFUL IN THEIR DEVOTION TO GOD.
a. It was just 8 days after Jesus was born that his parents took him to the Temple. The Temple mount included not only the building but the courtyard surrounding the building. We know how later the early church meet on a porch area on the temple mount. Various teachers of the law would meet with people throughout the Temple compound. Jesus himself taught in those areas. It was a sacred place where people of faith would gather day by day to offer sacrifices, to worship, pray, teach, and be taught. And two of the regulars were Simeon and Anna, godly people who devoted themselves to being in God’s Sacred Place. We are told that Simeon was righteous and devote and that he was waiting for “the consolation of Israel”—that is, the Messiah who was to come. And in his communion with God, God had revealed to him that he would live to see the Lord’s Messiah. When he saw Mary & Joseph and Baby Jesus, the Holy Spirit confirmed in his heart that he was looking on the One—the Messiah--that God had promised. His prayer was a testimony of his faithful devotion and patience as he had waited for God to keep His promise. Anna was a prophetess who had been married for only 7 years when her husband died. But the day that Mary & Joseph presented Jesus at the temple, Anna was 84 years old. Luke tells us that Anna never left the Temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Her testimony about Jesus and her proclamation to all who would listen was that Jesus was the long anticipated Messiah. What a faithful example!
b. When I think of Simeon and Anna, I think of faithfulness in patience. I am sometimes guilty of telling God what I want Him to do right now. And when it doesn’t happen immediately I have to remind God—as if He has forgotten. But the Bible tells us that we are to “Wait upon the Lord.” And sometimes that “wait” may be lengthy. God is not controlled by my time table. He has his own time table. And His time is always the right time.
c. For what are you waiting? Do you believe God has promised to do something for you, but it hasn’t happened yet? Are you sure God has promised? Or are you trying to force God to do something that you want? Remember who is in charge. And remember that God’s Ways are better than our ways.
d. Most of you have heard of St. Augustine. He lived in the 4th and 5th Centuries and was Bishop of Hippo in North Africa and a major defender of the faith and contributor to the development of Christian doctrine and philosophy. Before his conversion, Augustine lived a very loose, worldly life. But he had a praying mother named Monica. At a certain point her wayward son let it be known that he was moving to a different country. Monica prayed earnestly that it wouldn’t happen because she wanted to see him become a Christian and was afraid of the kind of life he would live if he moved. But in spite of her prayers, Augustine moved. And Monica felt that God just did not answer her prayers. But in the new country, Augustine fell under the influence of Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan (in Italy). And it wasn’t long after that when Augustine made the decision of become a Christian. Eventually, Monica realized that her prayer was answered. She had thought that by keeping Augustine close to home he would become a Christian. The intent of her prayer had been for Augustine’s conversion. And God did answer that prayer according to His own plan. Monica had learned a lesson on “waiting upon the Lord.”
e. Simeon and Anna simply trusted God to do what He promised to do. They left the details to God and they just remained faithful to Him. Isn’t that what we are supposed to do?
f. Isaiah 40:31, in the King James translation says, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
There are many others who contributed to the Christmas story. We don’t know the names of the Shepherds, but they were faithful to testify of the Angels’ announcement of the birth of Jesus. And earlier there was the old priest Zachariah that was just doing what priests had been doing for centuries. He didn’t go to the temple to become a hero. He was just being faithful to his duty as a priest. And we may never learn the name of the person who owned the stable that housed the holy family that evening. And the point of this message is that our goal in life shouldn’t be to gain a name for ourselves. Our goal should be to be faithful in our commitment to God. We are to be faithful in our devotional life—studying the scriptures and praying to God.
We are to be faithful in our responsibilities to our family and to others. We are to be faithful in our patience as we wait for God to do that which He has promised.
And when all is said and done, and when the Lord returns, may He find us being faithful in our daily lives as we do that which He has called us to do.
WILL HE FIND YOU FAITHFUL?
The scene is enchanting. We have romanticized it to the point of comfort and ease. But the reality was anything but comfortable and easy. After 9 months of stress, accused of being an adulteress, threatened with divorce, and probably the object of scorn, Mary had made the 70 mile trip through the rugged terrain, accompanied by her husband, only to arrive in a town so crowded that there was no room available for them. Exhausted from the journey, it was suddenly time for Mary to give birth. And the best they could do was to find privacy in a cattle stall, a manger. It was probably located in one of the many limestone caves that were found around Bethlehem. There was no comfortable sanitary delivery room. There were sheep and cattle and straw and the harsh smells of a barnyard. But it was there that Jesus was born. And now we see this scene as a sacred symbol of God’s Love reaching out to a world that desperately needed to be rescued.
There are many descriptive verses that point to this event. One of the most familiar is John 3:16—“For God so loved the World that He gave His only begotten Son…”
Galatians 4:4 , “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law.”
But it is Luke’s account that we love so dearly: “…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” (Luke 2:7).
On this 4thSunday of Advent, we have lighted the 4th Candle; the first was the Candle of Hope—Jesus is the Hope of the Ages; the second was the Candle of Peace—Jesus is the Prince of Peace; The third was the
Candle of Joy—Jesus is the Source of Real Joy. And now, this 4th Candle represents the most important symbol of all—It is the Candle of Love—Jesus is the Supreme Example of God’s love.
In the months leading up to the birth of Christ, we read of many expressions of love.
I. THERE WAS THE LOVE OF MAN FOR MAN. (We are using the word “Man” in the broader sense of “Humanity.”)
a. We know nothing of Mary’s parents. But we know of her relatives in Judea—The Priest Zachariah and his wife Elizabeth. The fact that immediately after the Angel Gabriel had appeared to Mary, she picked up her things and went to visit them suggests to me that there was a strong emotional bond in her family. And the reception she received certainly supports that view. Zachariah and Elizabeth were thrilled that Mary came. And Mary felt so comfortable with them that she stayed 3 months. Even though we know nothing of Mary’s parents, we must recognize the importance of the love and support of family. God ordained the family unit in the Garden of Eden at creation. It is the building block of civilization. The family shapes personalities, instills values and promotes morals. The love of family gives security, purpose, and direction to individuals.
b. And there was obviously a love bond between Mary and Joseph. Yes, I know that Joseph gave consideration to divorcing Mary. Understand that they were legally husband and wife from the moment of betrothal. The arrangement was a legally binding relationship even though the marriage was not yet complete. And we know that marriages in their culture were often arranged marriages that were not necessarily because of love. But Joseph definitely displayed evidence of tender feelings for Mary, even though he was confused over the circumstances of her condition. He could have brought her before a judge and had her tried on the grounds of adultery. That may have ended with public execution by stoning. But he didn’t do that. He could have had a public hearing for a very public divorce. That would certainly have been humiliating for Mary as she was shamed in front of the community. But he didn’t . Joseph decided that his only recourse was to divorce her in a private manner. It would have been his way of saving face for both Mary and himself. But because of His love for Mary and for God, he chose to take her as his bride. Some commentaries have suggested that the reason Joseph took Mary along on the trip to Bethlehem was so that no one would do the math and realize that the baby was being born after only 6 months of marriage. And that may have been the reason they continued in Bethlehem for several months after the baby was born. This is an account of a couple who instead of being revengeful and regretful, chose to love and support and provide for one another. When I counsel couples, who are planning to be married, I always try to emphasize that the definition of the kind of love that it takes to make a strong marriage is not some sweet emotion. The kind of love that makes a marriage last is spelled, C O M MI T M E N T. It takes commitment to go the distance, to work through the rough edges, to truly become One. We see that in Mary and Joseph. They were committed to each other.
II. THERE IS THE LOVE OF MAN FOR GOD.
a. The coming of Christ into the world was channeled through people who demonstrated their love for God.
b. The Jewish People were chosen of God to teach the world about the true and living God. Even though they had their ups and downs in the Old Testament, the Jewish Religion provided the framework though which man could find favor with God.
c. The love for God was demonstrated in Zachariah’s service as a priest and in his and Elizabeth’s willingness to obey God by raising the forerunner of Christ, John the Baptist.
d. And Mary’s response to Gabriel’s message that she would be the mother of the Christ Child was an expression of her love for God: “I am the Lord’s servant…May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1: 38).
e. From the time of Gabriel’s visit to Zachariah and then to Mary up until the time of the birth of Jesus, we must remember that interaction of people with one another: the trust, the encouragement, the support, the thrill of shared joy—all the normal relationships in life had the element of Love for one another giving security and support to the Holy Family. In this life, the one thing that keeps us civilized, the one thing that keeps us from destroying one another, is the element of love that binds human hearts together.
f. It is of concern to me that so much of what we hear in the political rhetoric is disrespect, name calling, back-biting, and open conflict. The Golden rule says that we should treat others in the same way that we would want to be treated. Yes, we must confront dishonesty. Yes, we must stand up for our rights and freedoms. But there is a way to disagree in a civilized manner that reflects Christian love. And we must not allow ourselves to stoop to the level of hatefulness that dishonors our Christian testimony!
g. In Mary and Joseph’s world, there were many things that made life hard. But even in that environment there was a spirit of love that gave stability to their lives.
III. BUT THE GREATEST LOVE DURING THAT FIRST ADVENT WAS THE LOVE OF GOD FOR MANKIND!
a. “For God so loved the World that He gave His One and Only Son…”
b. God is the Source of true Love. John said it this way: “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4: 19). Paul said this about love: “…God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). We know that God’s love is an unconditional love. He loves “The World.” “The World” as John uses the phrase in his gospel, is a world that is in rebellion against God. God loves the sinner just as much as He loves the saint. Peter reminds us that “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” ( 2 Peter 3: 9b).
c. We depend on God’s Mercy and Compassion that flow from His Grace. But all of that is because, as John so profoundly tells us, “…God is Love” (1 John 4:8).
d. And the Baby Jesus that Luke describes as being found “lying in a Manger” was and is none other than God’s Supreme Gift of Love.
e. The Old Testament tends to portray God as being a Judge, a Consuming Fire, One who rains destruction on His enemies. But that was just one dimension of God’s Personhood. He wanted humanity to know that He was not just a harsh God who was always dispensing punishment. And so He chose to become a person, so that we could see how he really was.
f. Illustration: A few of you may remember a transient couple to whom we reached out to several years ago. They liked to describe themselves as “Tramps.” They were alcoholics, homeless, and quite colorful in their lifestyle. I learned a lot from them about a certain lifestyle in our society. The Husband Tony and I had many conversations. I remember one in particular when he talked about those homeless that he knew that often gather under bridges across the country, maybe standing around a barrel that is ablaze with fire trying to keep warm. He told me that If I were to walk up to such a group, there was a strong possibility that I would be in trouble. They would take one look at me and know that I did not belong with them. They would not be interested in what I had to say to them because I represent a lifestyle completely different than theirs. But, then Tony said that if he were to walk up to such a group with his old clothes and his black felt hat with a feather in it, they would accept him because he was one of them. And he would have a much better chance to talk to them about Jesus than I ever would. Tony was right. I am glad that I was involved in leading Tony to Jesus even though his lifestyle was so foreign to mine.
g. And in a much nobler way, God chose to communicate to us by becoming one of us. He came in the helpless stage of an infant. He grew through the terrible twos of toddlers and the tumultuous teen years of adolescence. He experienced the hardships of manual labor as a carpenter. And he was a victim of the fickle multitudes who betrayed him. And then we read in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” But wait a minute: Are we here to celebrate the Birth of Jesus? Why are we mentioning His death? And the answer is, The Baby Born in Bethlehem’s Manger came for this express purpose: He was born to die for our sins so that we could be saved from damnation!
h. God’s love for Humanity is what Advent and Christmas are about. Jesus is the embodiment of God’s Love—His Redemptive Love. God loves us so much that He was willing to go the distance, to go to the extreme, to do the only thing that could rescue us. In His love He chose to die on the Cross to pay the penalty for our sins so that we could be brought back into a right relationship with Him.
On this last Sunday before Christmas, we celebrate the Birth of Christ--God’s gift of Love for His Creation.
We celebrate the Life of Christ—God’s Revelation of His personality as a God of Compassion and Mercy.
We celebrate the Death of Christ—God’s Atoning Sacrifice to pay the debt we could never pay for our sins so that we could be brought back into God’s Family.
We celebrate the Resurrection of Christ—God’s triumph over Death, Hell and the Grave so that we could have eternal life.
We celebrate the Second Advent, Christ’s Second Coming when He returns to claim His Bride, the Church.
And all this is implied in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, the partaking of the Bread and Wine, emblems depicting his Body and Blood—a Memorial to God’s Provision for our Salvation.
Luke 1: 39-56
Have you ever known something to be true, but no one else agreed with you?
I had a friend who felt that he was called to be a missionary. The problem was, at that time in our denomination the General Church would not send out missionaries who were over 35 years old. He was getting close to that age. And another requirement before the denomination would allow a person to be a missionary was that they must be debt free. My friend was working toward that, but still had some debts to pay off. And to complicate things further, he and his wife had 4 small children. He was the pastor of a small church and struggling just to make ends meet. To meet all the requirements to be a missionary within the two years or so in his time limit just seemed like an impossible task.
He and his wife applied through the Department of World Missions and were granted an interview. Of course, at that point they were not appointed because they still hadn’t met the requirements. And it didn’t look very favorable that they would meet those requirements by the next year.
But he believed that God was calling them. And even though things didn’t look very favorable, he believed the Church would appoint them to the mission field.
I really didn’t think they had a chance. I didn’t tell him that but in our conversations I encouraged him to have an alternative plan. After all, being a pastor is not that different from doing mission work—He could approach his pastoral work with a mission perspective. Interestingly, the church growth experts encourage all pastors to think like a missionary now days.
But my friend was convinced that he would be accepted by the denomination and be appointed to the mission field. And even though some of us really doubted it would happen, it did. The next year he and his wife were called in for another interview with the Department of World Missions and were accepted. They spent several years on the mission field. He even called me and tried to convince me to apply for a pastorate on a military base near where he served. I didn’t have a call from God to do that. I have always felt my call was to pastor here in the South and Mid-West.
I have often thought about how my friend was able to keep such a positive outlook and had so much faith that God was calling even though the outward circumstances just didn’t seem favorable. It was a lesson on faith for me!
And then I think of Mary. We don’t know how old she was when the angel came to her. The guesses based on what we know of society at that time are that she may have been as young as 15. In that moment her life suddenly took on a whole new perspective. I wonder how she thought she would convince her family and her neighbors that an Angel had really spoken to her and that she was really a virgin. I suspect she was very concerned with how to share such mind-boggling news with them.
Perhaps that is the reason she chose to leave Nazareth and go spend some time with her relatives Zachariah and Elizabeth. In her heart she must have been full of joy, knowing that God had chosen her. But the circumstances must have caused her concern. What would her parents think? What would her friends think? What would her betrothed husband Joseph think?
I’m not totally sure in what town Zachariah and Elizabeth lived. I know that Jericho was one town where many of the priests lived. But they may have been closer to Jerusalem. Either way, for Mary to leave Nazareth and go to visit them was a big deal. It may have been 60 or 70 miles and would have taken nearly a week of traveling time. I wonder what she thought about as she made her way there. She must have realized that there would be people who wouldn’t believe her story. She must have suspected there would be gossipers who would cast doubt on her integrity. She must have known that it would be a challenge to convince Joseph that she had not cheated on him.
In the movie “Two from Galilee,” Mary is depicted as being very serious. She didn’t come across as one who would laugh and joke and be carefree. I know the movie is just someone’s opinion of her personality, but one certainly would think that Mary was doing a lot of thinking as she made her way to the old priestly couple’s home.
With that kind of serious contemplation, it must have been a great relief when she arrived and heard Elizabeth’s joyous greeting: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” (Luke 1: 42b-45).
Advent is the time preceding Christmas. It is the season of anticipation and preparation. This 3rdSunday of Advent is the time we traditionally light the pink Advent candle—signifying Joy. As I think of Mary’s reception by Zachariah and Elizabeth, and the account leading up to the actual birth of Jesus, Elizabeth’s greeting must have been joyous music to Mary’s ears. Mary, who must have been concerned that others would not accept the truth of her pregnancy, was suddenly blessed by this godly relative who affirmed the truth that Mary was to be the mother of the long awaited Messiah. No wonder Mary responded with a song of praise.
The next few months would have its challenges for Mary. But knowing she was in God’s Will and knowing that someone believed in her and knowing that Zachariah & Elizabeth stood behind her must have brought joy.
But, truthfully, it was the Joy of the Lord sustaining her.
In her joyous response Mary gave…
I. PRAISE TO GOD WHO BLESSED HER.
a. “My soul glorifies the LORD and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant” (verses 46b-48a).
b. In this Christmas season as we think of gifts and gift giving, let’s not forget to praise God not just for what He gives, but praise Him for Who He is!
II. PRAISE TO GOD WHO PROVIDES MERCY.
a. “His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation…” (Verse 50)
b. I challenge you to think back over the past year and recount the times when you have failed God. Maybe it was a failure to witness to someone. Or maybe it was a failure to do a good deed. Maybe it was an angry remark or an ungrateful attitude. Recognize that God is fully aware of your failures and sins. But He in His Mercy still offers forgiveness. He is not looking to kick you out of his family—He is looking for ways to make sure you are established in His favor!
III. PRAISE TO GOD WHO IS ALMIGHTY
a. “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm, he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” (Verses 51 & 52).
b. Sometimes we act as if we believe politics or finances or jobs or such are the sources of success and victory in life. But we must never forget that God is the All-Powerful One. Nothing happens without His consent. He can topple kingdoms in a heartbeat. And He can give you victory over your enemies. Our strength is in the LORD! He is the All Powerful, Omnipotent ONE!
IV. PRAISE TO GOD WHO IS JUST.
a. “He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty” (Verse 53).
b. Eternity is God’s supreme plan to correct the injustices disobedience will get their reward. It is written: “Be not deceived. God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man soweth, He will also reap” (Galatians 6:7). Don’t ever think you are the exception. In His Justice God dispenses consequences!
V. PRAISE TO GOD WHO KEEPS HIS PROMISES
a. “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors” (verses 54-55).
b. Mary was well aware of the promises God had made of a Messiah who would come. Her joy was overflowing as she realized that His promise would be fulfilled with her Son!
Advent: Jesus is coming. Joy comes with the realization of God’s greatness: His Mercy, His Justice, His Power, His Faithfulness. And that Joy is realized in Jesus!
Mary stayed with Zachariah & Elizabeth for 3 months—right up to the time that Elizabeth gave birth to John. It would be another 6 months before she experienced to the joy of bringing Jesus into the world. And that event prompted Heaven’s Angels to sing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2: 14).
But we know the rest of the story. Therefore we can sing: JOY TO THE WORLD!
Scripture: Isaiah 9: 1-7
The Jesus Film Project website had this interesting article pertaining to the Old Testament Prophecies that Jesus fulfilled:
Some scholars believe there are more than 300 prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament. These prophecies are specific enough that the mathematical probability of Jesus fulfilling even a handful of them, let alone all of them, is staggeringly improbable—if not impossible.
Peter Stoner, Chairman of the Departments of Mathematics and Astronomy at Pasadena College, was passionate about biblical prophecies. With 600 students from the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Stoner looked at eight specific prophecies about Jesus. They came up with extremely conservative probabilities for each one being fulfilled, and then considered the likelihood of Jesus fulfilling all eight of those prophecies.
The conclusion to his research was staggering. The prospect that anyone would satisfy those eight prophecies was just 1 in 1017. In Science Speaks, he described it like this:
"Let us try to visualize this chance. If you mark one of ten tickets, and place all of the tickets in a hat, and thoroughly stir them, and then ask a blindfolded man to draw one, his chance of getting the right ticket is one in ten. Suppose that we take 1017 silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They will cover all of the state two feet deep. Now mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state.
"Blindfold a man and tell him that he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up one silver dollar and say that this is the right one. What chance would he have of getting the right one? Just the same chance that the prophets would have had of writing these eight prophecies and having them all come true in any one man, from their day to the present time, providing they wrote using their own wisdom."
As we prepare our hearts during this Christmas season, let’s keep our focus on Jesus. He is indeed “THE HOPE OF ALL THE AGES!”
Isaiah is sometimes called “The Prince of the Prophets.” One source listed 25 different verses in the Book of Isaiah as being prophetic verses about the Messiah, and then claimed that this was only a partial list. We are very familiar with Isaiah 7:14 ‘s prophecy that a virgin would have a child, with Isaiah 9: 6-7’s prophecy of a child being born who would carry the government upon his shoulders, and Isaiah 11’s prophecy of a time of peace and harmony, and Isaiah 53’s prophecy of the Suffering Servant. These are probably the one’s with which we quickly recognize, but there are so many more.
And while Isaiah’s Book is the most prolific, the other books also point to the Hope of Isaiah—an anointed King, the Messiah who would be Israel’s Deliverer!
And the Hope of Israel is still the Hope of all the Ages.
Let’s consider Jesus as the Hope.
I. THE HOPE OF ISRAEL.
a. Sometimes the fulfillment of our hope happens in ways we do not expect, and we fail to recognize the blessing because of our perception.
b. Isaiah was a priest and prophet who lived in Jerusalem. We read in Isaiah 6 of his call that came the same year that King Uzziah died—739 B.C. That was the time with the great Assyrian Empire was making aggressive military threats. And it was during the time of Isaiah’s ministry that Assyrians did in fact invade and defeat the Northern Kingdom of Israel, carrying off the inhabitants, 10 of the twelve tribes, into exile and captivity. And things didn’t look very promising for the Southern Kingdom of Judah. So, the prophesies of a Messiah (which means an Anointed One, signifying a King who was anointed with Oil when selected for office, gave the Jews a Hope for the future.
c. We know the rest of the story. Judah continued to drift away from God in spite of the prophesies and the calls to repentance until they were finally conquered by the Babylonian Army. Much of the population was carried off into a captivity that continued for 70 years. But the Hope of Deliverance continued. We read in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah how the Jews were granted permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple and the City Walls. But they remained under foreign control even then. And they continued to Hope for this Conquering King to deliver them. For a very short period of time in the century before Jesus it looked like the Maccabees might be the Deliverers they hoped for, but the Maccabean Rebellion was finally suppressed so that the Jewish people were still looking for that Messiah King who would lead them in overthrowing the foreign governments that ruled them. And their idea of a military King dominated their minds at the time of Christ so that, even after the resurrection, the disciples asked Jesus when God was going to restore them as a sovereign nation. And the Jews were so locked into their perception of how the Messiah would be that they failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah!
d. Jesus was their Hope, but so many failed to recognize Him as the Messiah King. They were looking for an earthly political King, but Jesus was offering them deliverance from the Kingdom of this Fallen World and a way to enter the Heavenly Kingdom. Remember his recurring theme when he taught and preached: “The Kingdom of God is at Hand.”
II. THE HOPE FOR THE WORLD
a. We know that Jesus came to deliver more than just the Jews. He came to save the world. His lament over Jerusalem just a few days before His Crucifixion is a lament that speaks to more than just the Jews—it is a cry over the world: “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you, and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
b. We get so caught up in politics. We think if this party wins, everything will be so much better, or if this other party wins, things will be so much worse. We seem to think that this world’s governments will fix all our problems and someday there will be peace and harmony in our world. And, yet we know that is not happening. Evil still rules this world’s nations. There are wars constantly. Tyrants still hang on to power. And the tyrants who are overthrown are soon replaced by others who are power hungry and seeking to dominate others. In the meantime, morality deteriorates, Human trafficking and Human abuse continues. And all our efforts to make the world a better place through political power continue to fall short.
c. I want to tell you that politics is not the answer to the world’s problems. Socialism is not the answer. Even democracy falls short. No political ideology will succeed as long as our hearts are still enslaved in sin.
d. The thousand years of peace we read about in the Bible where the lion and the lamb will lie down together and the child will not be harmed by the cobra venom, and a little child will lead them—a harmony as described in Isaiah 11, will not come because of human efforts. There was a time when scholars believed that the church would successfully evangelize the whole world and that everyone would become Christians and that would usher in the 1000 years of peace. But most Bible Scholars today believe that it will not be the result of our human efforts, important though those efforts are. Rather, it is more commonly believed today that it will take an invasion by God to set things straight. The Return of Christ –is our Hope for our world. Matthew 24: 27 says, “For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”
Continuing to point to the sudden invasion by Christ, we read beginning in verse 29, “Immediately after the distress of those days, ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”
It will be a sudden cosmic invasion that will confront a fallen world and set into place a new world order—where Jesus rules as the Everlasting King!
JESUS IS THE ONLY TRUE HOPE THIS WORLD HAS!
III. THE HOPE OF ETERNITY!
a. When this world ceases, and time is not more, what then? When we take our last breath in this world and our bodies are lowered into the grave, what then? Two guys were talking. They were drinking and bragging about their reckless lifestyles and how they had come close to death a few times. Then one of them said, “I’m ready to go. I understand that when I die, I will get a new body.” And the other said, “Yeah, that’s what I’ve been told.” But they both failed to realize that the promise of an immortal body is the Hope God has given to those who first of all put their trust in Jesus and accept Him as their Savior and Lord.
b. Someone else was telling me of a movie star who said she believed that when she reaches the end of her life, she will shut her eyes and go to sleep and never wake up. NO, that’s not what God’s word says! After physical death we are told we will be brought before the judgment seat of God Himself. And those who have accepted Christ will be welcomed into the heavenly kingdom where there will be no more pain or sorrow. But those who have not given their hearts to Christ will be cast into an everlasting hell to suffer torment for eternity!
c. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the World that He gave His One and Only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
d. JESUS IS OUR HOPE FOR ETERNITY!
And so today marks on the Christian Calendar the beginning of the season called Advent. It is the time when we prepare to celebrate The Birth of Christ, realizing that He is the fulfillment of God’s provision for our salvation. In Him the Jews have their Messiah. In Him, the World has the promise of peace. In Him, we each have the Hope of salvation and eternal life.
We are just finishing the week of National Thanksgiving. That Thanksgiving is directed to the God who gives us every good and perfect gift. And the greatest gift He has given us is Jesus. His birth, His life, His death, His resurrection all gives us HOPE.
Are you experiencing that Hope? Do you know Jesus as your Savior, Your Lord, Your King?
Advent is the season to make sure you are ready to receive Him as He comes!
FIRST CHURCH OF THE NAZARENE…BRANSON, MO
Pastor Jim Cariker…Sermon Notes…Nov. 29, 2020
THE HOPE OF THE AGES
Scripture: Isaiah 9: 1-7
>Illustration: The probability of one person fulfilling all the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the Messiah…
>JESUS IS THE HOPE
· THE HOPE OF I________
· THE HOPE OF THE _________
· THE HOPE OF E____________
Is Jesus your Hope?
ATTITUDES OF GRATITUDE
Luke 18: 9-14
John Wesley was about 21 years of age when he went to Oxford University. He came from a Christian home, and he was gifted with a keen mind and good looks. Yet in those days he was a bit snobbish and sarcastic. One night, however, something happened that set in motion a change in Wesley's heart. While speaking with a porter, he discovered that the poor fellow had only one coat and lived in such impoverished conditions that he
didn't even have a bed. Yet he was an unusually happy person, filled with gratitude to God. Wesley, being immature, thoughtlessly joked about the man's misfortunes. "And what else do you thank God for?" he said with a touch of sarcasm. The porter smiled, and in the spirit of meekness replied with joy, "I thank Him that He has given me my life and being, a heart to love Him, and above all a constant desire to serve Him!" Deeply moved, Wesley recognized that this man knew the meaning of true thankfulness.
Many years later, in 1791, John Wesley lay on his deathbed at the age of 88. Those who gathered around him realized how well he had learned the lesson of praising God in every circumstance. Despite Wesley's extreme weakness, he began singing the hymn, "I'll Praise My Maker While I've Breath."
(From Our Daily Bread as quoted in sermonillustrations.com)
I see in Wesley’s story similarities to The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. And, too often, it sounds like the reality of our world. It is so easy to take for granted our blessings—and even to surmise that we deserve them—and then look at others not so blessed and think, “I’m glad I’m not like them!”
This week is Thanksgiving Week—a time set aside for our nation to give expressions of Thanksgiving. I have to tell you that I still cringe a little when I hear Thanksgiving called “Turkey Day.” I like the traditional Thanksgiving Dinner menu—Turkey, Ham, Sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, and all the other trimmings that go with it. But the dinner is not the end in itself. It is a meal that symbolizes how God has blessed us and provided for us far beyond what we deserve.
The holiday season is different this year because of the COVID 19 epidemic. We felt it expedient to cancel our All Church Dinner that we have celebrated annually for 38 years. Families are downsizing their family gatherings—and some are cancelling them completely. We have people who have been afraid to come to church for months because of the virus threat, and, yet, we have had a large number of our people who have contracted the virus, some with moderate illness and others with something more severe. And our hearts are heavy at the number of people whose infection proved to be fatal.
So why should we even consider celebrating Thanksgiving? History tells that, “The first American Thanksgiving didn't occur in 1621 when a group of Pilgrims shared a feast with a group of friendly Indians. The first recorded thanksgiving took place in Virginia more than 11 years earlier, and it wasn't a feast. The winter of 1610 at Jamestown had reduced a group of 409 settlers to 60. The survivors prayed for help, without knowing when or how it might come. When help arrived, in the form of a ship filled with food and supplies from England, a prayer meeting was held to give thanks to God. “--(Today in the Word, July, 1990, p. 22. As quoted in Sermonillustrations.com)
There are so many scriptures that remind us of the importance of giving Thanks: The Account of the 10 Lepers whom Jesus healed and only 1 came back to give thanks (Luke 17); the verse about petitioning God with our requests with Thanksgiving in our hearts (Philippians 4:6); the many accounts in the Old Testament of the People of God stopping and having a celebration of Thanksgiving when God had delivered them and performed a miracle for them. But this week for some reason I haven’t been able to get this Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector out of my head. I think God must be wanting us to take time to consider the attitude in which we give thanks.
I. WHEN WE ARE THANKFUL THAT WE GOT AWAY WITH DOING SOMETHING WRONG.
a. Several years ago a young couple that I knew was involved in an automobile accident. The woman was driving, but she did not have a license, so she and her husband quickly changed places and when the police arrived, the husband claimed to be the driver. The accident had not been their fault, so the policemen did not give them a citation. The woman called her mother-in-law and told her what had happened and what they had done. And then she told her mother how she was giving thanks to God because they had been able to mislead the policeman and she did not get a ticket. She seemed to have no regret or guilt at having lied to the policeman. She was just thankful to God that she did not get caught and have to pay a fine for driving illegally.
b. Now, let me tell you, God is never honored when we lie or steal or cheat in order to avoid being caught doing something wrong. God would have been more honored if the couple had owned up to the truth, paid the fine, and accepted the guilt. Of course, it would have been even more God-honoring if they had obeyed the law to begin with!
c. Have you ever been guilty of offering thanks to God for the wrong reasons? >Perhaps you have claimed some questionable deduction on your income tax and were not audited, so you got away with it. >Perhaps you witnessed a crime but did not step forward because you didn’t want to get involved—and were thankful that you were able to avoid getting involved. >Perhaps you found a $100 bill in the parking lot of a store and instead of reporting it in cause the person who lost it came looking for it—but you were sure glad to be $100 richer... I know if I press the issue, I could come up with something for which we are guilty.
d. The point is, we should strive always to honor God by doing the right thing and be thankful that God is being honored by our act of integrity. To be thankful that God allowed you to do something wrong and then to give Him thanks that you didn’t get caught—that is an affront to God’s integrity!
II. WHEN OUR ATTITUDE IS SELFISH OR PRIDEFUL.
a. The Pharisee in the scripture reading was expressing thanks that he wasn’t like the tax-collector and other sinners. In Jesus’ world, a tax-collector was a fellow Jew who was collecting taxes for the Roman Government. He was considered to be a traitor or turn-coat against his own people. And it was common for these tax-collectors to collect more than was really required so they could pad their own pockets with the excess! So, being thankful he wasn’t that type of a person was not necessarily a bad thing. But the problem the Pharisee displayed was that he felt entitled to God’s blessing because he was paying his tithe and doing good works. And his attitude towards the tax-collector was one of “Self-righteousness superiority. And claiming to be thankful to God while having that type of attitude was again an affront to God. God loves every person with an unconditional love.
b. Of course, we say to ourselves that we could never be guilty of having that attitude. But then we see the homeless and accuse them of be worthless and lazy and unwilling to better themselves and we are so glad that we don’t live like they do! I have to admit that I often struggle with having a humble and compassionate attitude.
c. Jeremiah 9:23–24 says,
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
d. Romans 12:3 say, “ For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”
e. Galatians 6:3 says, “If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.”
f. In this Thanksgiving season, let’s not look down on others while thinking that we are better than they are!
III. WHEN WE DO NOT EXPRESS OUR THANKFULNESS.
a. I was the first grandson on my dad’s side of the family. Consequently, my aunts and uncles all helped to spoil me. I remember when I was just a young teen and my Aunt & Uncle gave me a really nice sports coat at Christmas. I tried it on, and it fit perfectly and looked really good on me. Of course, back them I was slim and trim. I took it off and told them thanks, and then laid it aside to look at other things. Later, my aunt said something to my Mom that I must not have liked the coat because I didn’t act very excited about it. Remember, I was only about 14 or 15 years old. I thought to myself after learning about it, “How was I supposed to act? I said, ‘Thank you’? What more was expected of me?” I learned a lesson. When a person does something extra-special for you, it is important to communicate genuine gratitude. Truthfully, I was happy with that sports coat. I just didn’t communicate my gratitude convincingly enough.
b. In the Luke 17 story of the 10 lepers who were healed by Jesus, we read that only 1 returned to give thanks. And Jesus wondered about the other 9. Were they thankful? Why didn’t they say so?
c. The lesson is that we should always openly, directly express thanks for those things we receive. And we receive our very existence from the Giver of Life Himself. And God notices when we fail to express our thanks to Him!
The Pharisee in this scripture expressed thanks to God, but his thanks came from a selfish, arrogant heart. And God was not impressed.
But the tax-collector expressed to God how unworthy he was and in humility bowed before God acknowledging his need of God’s mercy and compassion. He didn’t compare himself to anyone else. He owned up to his unworthiness and cast himself upon God’s grace. And God was honored. And we are told it was this tax-collector that was blessed of God that day.
So, this week we celebrate Thanksgiving. It is a national holiday that is supposed to be a time when we express our thanks to God for His mercy, compassion, and provision for our nation. We are often told that the poorest people in our nation are considered rich in comparison to the poor in impoverished countries. While we give thanks for our freedom, for our food, and for our families, let’s not look down on others. Let’s not think of ourselves as being better than others. Let’s remember that most of us are here not because we chose to be born here. We are just fortunate to have been born in this blessed nation. There are millions of people who live in areas where Christianity has not been accepted, or where totalitarian governments suppress their freedoms. And even in our own nation, some were born in homes where addiction and abuse were prevalent.
Yes, let’s give thanks to God for His blessings. But let’s do so in humility with the understanding that others are just as valuable and just as loved by God. And we should remember what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 9:11—You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”
May our attitude reflect in humility our dependence upon God and our love for our neighbors wherever and however they may be!
John 1: 1-14
Several years ago I occasionally watched the Late Night Show with Johnny Carson. I found it interesting to see him engaging his guests in conversation. I read somewhere that Carson was a master in getting people to talk about themselves.
I have read that those who are masters of conversation are the ones who will get the other person to talk about themselves.
I’ve tried to use that approach when I find myself with a person with whom I am not acquainted, I will try to begin a conversation by saying, “Tell me a little about yourself.” In order to encourage that person to open up, I will sometimes have to be a little more specific. I will ask things like, “Where are you from?” “Do you have family?” “What do you do for a living?”
And I always find it interesting to hear the answers to those questions. It usually doesn’t take long before that person begins talking about the things in which they are most interested. And what they talk about is a key to understanding who the person is. My identity is reflected in the topics in which I am most interested.
If you asked me about myself, I would tell you I am a Pastor, a husband of a beautiful and loving wife, a dad to 2 wonderful kids, and a grandpa of 5 (soon to be 7) grandkids. If pressed, I would tell you that I was raised on a farm in Central Eastern Arkansas, that my family and I really got serious about church and started attending the Church of the Nazarene when I was 10 years old. I accepted Jesus as my Savior when I was 17 and soon after that said yes to God’s call on my life to be a preacher. I love God, Family, and people, America, freedom, informality, and food. I could go on, but you get the picture.
But we have been focusing on one aspect of our identities—Who I am as a follower of Christ. We focused on our identity as Protestants and our identity as Nazarenes in our two previous sermons. Today, let’s get to the most basic and essential aspect of our identity: Who am I as a Follower of Christ?
The Bible gives different titles to those who are followers of Christ. Let’s consider just a few of those titles and what they teach us about our identity as Followers of Christ:
I. AS A FOLLOWER OF CHRIST, I AM A CHILD OF GOD.
a. In our scripture reading of John’s introduction to the Gospel that bears his name, we are told in verse 12, “Yet to all who did receive him [Jesus], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
b. There is a sense in which we could all claim to be children of God. When we recognize that God is the Creator of all that exists, including humanity, we realize our existence is because of God’s Creative Power. But that is not what John means in this verse. The Bible tells us how, because of Adam’s sin, all creation was plunged into chaos and all humanity became inflicted with a fallen nature. Mankind was estranged from God. But the New Testament tells us that when we accept Jesus, the Sinless Son of God, as our Savior, our sins are forgiven and we are brought back into a right relationship with God. We are “Adopted” into God’s Family! Before, we were “children of this world” or “children of sin.” But now, because of the Salvation we receive when we accept Jesus, we are “Children of God,” “Sons & Daughters.”
c. In Romans 8: 14-17, we read, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to son ship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”
d. When I was a boy in my hometown of McCrory, Arkansas, people knew me as the son of Billy Ray & Virginia Cariker. Oftentimes, someone who did not know me personally would see me and say, “You must be Billy Ray Cariker’s son—you look so much like him.” I’ve told you of the car dealer who sold me a car, telling me that the reason he trusted my credit was because I was Bill Cariker’s son. I am proud of my earthly family and my identity as son of Bill and Virginia’s. But I am even more excited about my identity as a child of God. I pray that my actions will reflect my relationship and will honor my heavenly Father!
e. I am a Child of God.
II. AS A FOLLOWER OF CHRIST, I AM HIS WITNESS.
a. In Acts 1:8 Jesus told his disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Notice that verse does not say “You may be witnesses,” or “You should be witnesses.” It says, “You will be witnesses of me.” If you are a follower of Christ, you automatically become a witness for Christ. Your words, your actions, your attitudes—indeed your whole being becomes a testimony of God’s Saving Grace. It is imperative that we realize that our identity as Christians involves what our lives say about Christ! Even more pointedly, Paul declares of our witness that we are Ambassadors for Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5:20 Paul wrote, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us…” The fact that we are Christ’s Ambassadors is a realization that our witness is imperative in this world. The dictionary definition of an “Ambassador "states: “an accredited diplomat sent by a country as its official representative to a foreign country.” As Christ’s Ambassadors we are truly here for a purpose. We represent God’s Kingdom to a world that is under the influence of the Prince of Darkness. Back when the dad President H. W. Bush was in office he promoted the concept of being “Points of Light” in referring to the various volunteer helping organizations in our nation. I want to tell you that as Christ’s Ambassadors we are Points of Light reflecting God’s Light in this world of darkness! Our mission is to testify of Jesus and His provision for our Salvation, and to stand up as His representatives in the face of governments and powers that do not honor Him.
b. A related aspect of being Christ’s Witnesses and Ambassadors is the role that we are expected to fulfill as “Ministers of Reconciliation.” Just before calling us “Christ’s Ambassadors,” Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5: 18-19, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, that God was reconciling the world to himself as in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”
c. In the Sermon on the Mount that begins with the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, in verse 9 Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” As ministers of reconciliation God has authorized us as His Ambassadors to point people to the God who can fill their hearts with peace. That peace helps to bring people together, but even more importantly, it is a peace that comes from being brought back into the family of God.
d. We are Witnesses—Ambassadors, Ministers of Reconciliation as we engage those of this world who do not know Jesus as Lord!
III. AS FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST, I AM PART OF THE BODY OF CHRIST.
a. In 1 Corinthians 12 beginning with verse 13, we read, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.”
b. The context of these verses is in Paul’s description of how the Spirit gives each of us certain gifts—ministry potentials. We do not all have the same gifts, but the gifts we do have represent one function that contributes to the whole body.
c. Illustration: At a meeting of the American Psychological Association, Jack Lipton, a psychologist at Union College, and R. Scott Builione, a graduate student at Columbia University, presented their findings on how members of the various sections of 11 major symphony orchestra perceived each other. The percussionists were viewed as insensitive, unintelligent, and hard-of-hearing, yet fun-loving. String players were seen as arrogant, stuffy, and unathletic. The orchestra members overwhelmingly chose "loud" as the primary adjective to describe the brass players. Woodwind players seemed to be held in the highest esteem, described as quiet and meticulous, though a bit egotistical. Interesting findings, to say the least! With such widely divergent personalities and perceptions, how could an orchestra ever come together to make such wonderful music? The answer is simple: regardless of how those musicians view each other, they subordinate their feelings and biases to the leadership of the conductor. Under his guidance, they play beautiful music.
--(Today in the Word, June 22, 1992, and found in Sermonillustrations.com).
d. Dr. Paul Brandt elaborated on this illustration in one of his books pointing out that some in the body are hands or feet, some are lungs or arteries, etc. I think he said that preachers are like the skin of the body—we are on the front lines and we take the hits and bruises! But the emphasis is that as the Body of Christ, it takes all the parts working in harmony to truly meet the potential of impacting our world for Christ. And we realize that all parts of the body are controlled by the head—the brain—and Jesus is that Head! As members of the body, we receive our direction, our strength, or ability from the Head—that is Christ. It is His Spirit working in us and through us that enables us to function as the Church!
e. Another illustration that caused me to stop and reflect: Remember putting your face above a headless frame painted to represent a muscle man, a clown, or even a bathing beauty? Many of us have had our pictures taken this way, and the photos are humorous because the head doesn't fit the body. If we could picture Christ as the head of our local body of believers, would the world laugh at the misfit? Or would they stand in awe of a human body so closely related to a divine head? (--Dan Bernard as quoted on Sermonillustrations.com)
f. We are members of the Body—we are important to the whole Body and its function. I pray that when People see us, they will think that the Head must be that of Jesus!
There are many other titles that contribute to who we are as Christians. We are Servants—Love Slaves for God. We are The Redeemed of the Lord. We are the Bride of Christ. Peter in 1 Peter 2:9 says, “ But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
You say you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. The Bible places great significance on what that means. Your identity signifies that you are a valuable creation, an essential worker for advancing His Kingdom. And more importantly, you are God’s very own Child, loved with an infinite Love, precious in His sight.
If you did not realize this, just search God’s Word. It is His special revelation to you of how much He cares for you.
Galatians 2: 15-21
Last week we began a series on our Identity as Christians. We examined the five doctrines that were foundational for the Protestant Reformation:
Glory to God Only
Today, I want to focus on “Who We are as Nazarenes.”
We trace our formation back to England. During those turbulent times when the Protestant movement began, the King of England broke away from the Catholic church and established the Church of England—The Anglican Church. It was a formal “High Church” style in worship very similar to the Catholic Church but without the Pope. A certain man named John Wesley was a minister in the Anglican Church who eventually broke from the formality and began preaching to the common people—oftentimes standing outside the coal mines preaching to the miners as they left the mines. Over time Wesley faced more and more opposition, but developed an organizational structure that enabled thousands to be mentored as Christians. He established small groups call “bands” where the members would not only study God’s Word together, but also be held accountable in their day to day lives.
Historians tell us that the results of the Wesleyan Revival were largely responsible for England avoiding the bloody rebellions that occurred in France.
John Wesley’s systemized methods earned his movement the name “Methodist.” But, truthfully, Wesley remained a member of the Anglican Church his whole life.
Out of that Wesleyan movement in England there was a man named Frances Asbury who was a leader in spreading the Methodist teachings in America. And under his leadership and with Wesley’s blessing the Methodist Church was officially established in the USA in the late 18th century and flourished in the 19th century.
In the late 19th century there was a bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church named Phineas F. Bresee who, along with many others across the country, began preaching about a Spirit-filled relationship with Christ. In Wesleyan terms it was called “Entire Sanctification.” Along with that emphasis on holy living, Bresee had a deep burden for those who were considered “the down and outers.” Eventually, Bresee established a work in Los Angeles that became known as the Church of the Nazarene. His church building was called “The Glory Barn,” and they ministered to the needy in the L. A. area. Over time, Bresee was able to start several churches across the West Coast under the umbrella name, “Church of the Nazarene.”
In 1908, several different groups from across the USA who were teaching the importance of Holiness and Entire Sanctification, joined together at a conference in Pilot Point, Texas, and the denomination called the Church of the Nazarene was organized.
So what does it mean to be a Nazarene?
I. NAZARENES ARE HOLINESS PEOPLE.
We stress the importance of having our sins forgiven and our hearts made pure. In our efforts to explain that process we focus on two distinct works of Grace:
(1.) Initial Sanctification occurs the moment we accept Christ as Savior and our sins are forgiven and we are declared pardoned and justified by
God. The guilt of our past sins is atoned and we truly become “born again,” “New Creatures in Christ.”
I mentioned last week that I accepted Christ on a Sunday Night in October 1968 on the closing night of a revival meeting in my home church. That experience was the result of an internal struggle in my heart that had been going on for some time. My family had started attending the Church of the Nazarene when I was 10 years old. We attended regularly almost every time there was a service being held. I had prayed several times as a child to accept Christ but it wasn’t until my senior year in high school that I really became aware of my personal sins and my need of salvation. There were many nights I lay in bed afraid to go to sleep for fear that I might not wake up and would be lost forever. But it was that night in Oct. 1968 that I truly confessed my guilt and asked Jesus to come into my heart. And I promised Him that from that point on I would live for Him. I knew that night that God had forgiven my sins. I knew when I lay my head on the pillow that night that if I died I would be in heaven. I knew that I was a child of God. It was a very real, genuine experience where I knew that I was forgiven and that if I were to die I would go to heaven!
(2.) Entire Sanctification (the cleansing of our hearts by the Work of the Holy Spirit in removing the “Original sin nature,” and making us pure and clean in God’s sight.) In understanding this experience one must understand the difference between personal guilt and our personal nature. Personal guilt comes from our disobedience to God. It is the result of our consciously choosing to live the way we want instead of the way God wants us to live. But there is a sin nature that we possess that is not because we choose to have it. It is a nature with which we are born. It is the result of Adam’s disobedience that plunged God’s Creation out of harmony with God. We call it by various terms—Original Sin, Inbred Sin, The Carnal Nature, The Old Man, etc. We believe that after having our personal sins forgiven, we need the work of God to change our very nature, purifying that sinful condition with which we are born. Let me tell you my own experience. After accepting Christ, I felt the call of God to be a Preacher. I chose to attend our Nazarene College in Bethany, Oklahoma, now called Southern Nazarene University. It was my first time being pretty much on my own, living away from home and in the big city. I remember particularly one student during those years with whom I debated the doctrine of Entire Sanctification. Our discussions forced me to really search the scriptures to determine if what we were being taught was really what the scripture supported. One verse that really sealed the doctrine of holiness for me was Acts 15:9. That is the passage where Peter was addressing the Jerusalem council and testifying about what had happened in the Gentile house hold where he had preached to the Roman Centurion Cornelius. He said in verses 8 & 9: “So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them purifying their hearts by faith.” During the time between when I accepted Christ as a High School Senior and the spring semester of my Freshman year in college, there were several times when I had a flair up of temper and had to ask God and others for forgiveness. And then, with the culture shock of being away from home and in a city very different from my rural home town, I began to question what I was doing. But with the challenge of looking at the teaching of being filled with God’s Spirit, and with hearing some powerful speakers, one night at Bethany College Church, Dr. Ralph Earle spoke on the importance of full surrender to the Holy Spirit, I went to the altar and made that surrender. I believed that the Holy Spirit was in control and that I was totally yielding to His authority. I believe it was at the moment the Holy Spirit purified my heart from the sinful nature. Now, understand that living the holiness life is a work in progress. As a matter of fact, John Wesley spoke not only of Initial Sanctification and Entire Sanctification, but also of Progressive Sanctification. I have come to believe that living the sanctified life involves a continual pursuit of Christ-likeness. It is a pursuit that will continue until the day God calls me home!
(3.) In summary, we who are Nazarenes believe that a person must confess his/her sins and ask God for forgiveness and by faith believe that Jesus’ death on the Cross was payment for our personal sins and that by believing in Jesus we are pardoned and accepted back into God’s family. And after we have asked for forgiveness for the sins for which we have committed, then we must offer ourselves to God placing ourselves fully under His authority.
` So, when a person identifies himself or herself as a Nazarene, it is understood that this is a person who is striving to live a holy life under the control of the Holy Spirit of God!
II. NAZARENES ARE SCRIPTURAL PEOPLE.
(1.) All that we believe and teach is grounded in God’s Word. The doctrine of Sanctification is supported by the clear teaching of God’s Word. Some specific scriptures include the following:
i. Romans 12:1-2, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.”
ii. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”
iii. Hebrews 12:14, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”
iv. Acts. 8:14-17 is the account of the Samaritan revival. The people were saved under Philip’s preaching and then received the Holy Spirit under Peter and John’s ministry—two distinctly different experiences.
v. Acts 19:1-7 tells of a group of believers who were saved according to John’ the Baptist’s message of repentance, were asked by Paul if they had received the Holy Spirit. When they answered no, then Paul laid hands on them and prayed for them and they received the Holy Spirit.
III. NAZARENES ARE MISSIONAL PEOPLE.
(1.) We recognize that God desires for us to go and make disciples of all nations, just as Jesus stated in the Great Commission. From the beginning of our denomination, we have had a strong sense of urgency to carry the Gospel to all people. We have one of the strongest missionary programs of any denomination, currently with mission work in over 160 world areas.
We are evangelical—that is we recognize the need to encourage others to come to Christ and accept His provision for salvation. We are compelled to share our witness to everyone as opportunity is given. We believe that all those who have not accepted Jesus as their Savior will be lost for eternity unless they repent of their sins and ask Jesus into their heart. And we believe God loves everyone and desires that everyone know of the provision He has made for them so they can be saved. And God has entrusted the message of Salvation—the Gospel—with us and we are compelled to share it!
So, who am I when I say I am a Nazarene? I am a person who believes it is essential that we accept Jesus as Savior and completely surrender to His Lordship and be filled with His Spirit.
I recognize that in my humanity I always fall short of Christ-likeness, but I am always striving to be holy—that is, be as Christ-like as I can be with the Holy Spirit’s empowerment.
I believe that the mission of the church is to “Make Christ-like Disciples of the Nations.” I support that mission with my time and my resources as God directs.
I believe that we need to be attached to and involved in a local church. One of our leaders, Reuben Welch, is famous for saying, “We really do need each other.”
As you reflect on who you are in Christ, consider the call God has placed on the people called Nazarenes to preach, teach, and model a holy life, filled with God’s Spirit and Love.
And if you are searching for your identity as a spiritual person, I challenge you to surrender yourself totally to the Lord Jesus Christ and seek to honor Him in all you do!
2 Corinthians 5: 11-21
Key Verse: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here” (verse 17).
When we embrace Christ as our Savior and Lord, we become different people.
I am still Jim Cariker, a guy raised in rural Eastern Arkansas. My family started attending the Church of the Nazarene when I was 10 years old. I was 17 when I accepted Christ as my Savior. Prior to that decision, I was uncertain about my future. I did well in school, loved accounting, and was considering that is a target for my college education. But on an October Sunday evening in 1968, the Holy Spirit convicted me of my sins and my need for forgiveness and I responded to the altar call and gave my heart to Jesus. And immediately I knew God was directing me in a different direction. And the farm boy who thought he might become an accountant answered God’s call to preach and my life took on a whole new trajectory.
Have you ever stopped to think of who you have become because of your decision to surrender to Jesus?
Theologically, I am a Nazarene. I embrace the Wesleyan-Armenian Theological tradition. Because of my birth and childhood, I have traditions rooted in the Southern Evangelical style of worship. And I am a Protestant Christian…
Do you know what it means to be a Protestant Christian?
The history of Christianity dates back to the time of Christ but has roots that go all the way back to Creation. Someone has said of Christ in the Bible that He, “In the OT concealed, in the NT revealed.” Truthfully, the Old Testament lays the groundwork for the New.
The Book of Acts gives us a glimpse of the beginning of the Christian Church as it spread from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and “unto the uttermost parts of the earth." I have in my library several historical books that trace the growth and development of the church over the centuries. For the first several centuries, it was simply the Church Universal—The word “Catholic” means “Universal.” During those centuries God raised up leaders who, under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit, began to clarify and systemize the basic beliefs of Christianity. But as the centuries passed, there were things that were taught that became highly questionable. For example, the necessity of the common person to go through a priest in order to communicate with God. That was just one of many teachings that seemed to divide people and isolate people and makes them dependent upon human authority figures. And some of those human authority figures were more concerned in having power over others than in really communicating God’s truth.
In 1054 the Church Universal suffered a major divide between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. In tracing our heritage, we look at the Roman Catholic Church.
Over time there were godly men who began to question some of the decisions the leaders of the church were saying and doing, until it finally came to a head in Germany. A young man, who thought he was going to train to become a lawyer, surrendered to God one day and entered the priesthood. Conflicted over doubts over his standing with God, Martin Luther sought diligently for peace and assurance. And in that search, he realized there were things being said and taught that just did not stand up in light of the truth God had already revealed in Scripture.
After much prayer and study, Martin Luther decided he wanted to debate the church leaders over certain practices and teachings he felt were wrong. The sale of indulgences to get loved ones released from purgatory was one of the most prominent practices that Martin Luther wanted to challenge. So, on October 31, 1517, he posted 95 points that he wanted to debate—we call them the 95 Theses. Those points ignited a revolution in Christianity causing a major division between the Roman Catholic Church and what became known as the Protestant Reformation—a movement that came out of a protest against what was considered false or incorrect teachings in the Roman Catholic Church.
Today there are many different brands in Protestant Churches, but those of us that consider ourselves Protestant Christians, share at least 5 major points of doctrine.
` `So, when I say that I am a Protestant Christian, there are 5 things that I reveal about who I am in Christ. There are more things that can be added, but these 5 things form the bedrock teaching to the Protestant Church. Let’s consider…
1. Sola Scriptura – “The Bible alone.”
a. Scripture alone speaks authoritatively, and it speaks to all believers, independently of church leaders and councils, human interpreters and so-called spokesmen for God.” Several years ago, we had a series of Sunday School lessons that focused on Church history. The lessons reviewed such men as St. Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley. There was a gentleman who thought those lessons were strictly a waste of time. He said that he really didn’t care what those men believed or taught--he was only interested in what the Bible has to say. In one sense he was right, but in another, he was very wrong. If you have been a student of the Bible very long and have listened to others, you know that two people can read the same passage and get a very different understanding. And the truth is, whether you realize it or not, much of what we believe about what it means to be a Christian has come through centuries of thinkers. Someone asked me one time how it is that two very sincere people can look at the same Bible and have different opinions. I responded by using the illustration of special lens in glasses that hunters use for tracking animals. Those lenses tend to filter out certain colors so that the tracker can see more clearly the blood stains from the wounded animal. And whether we realize it or not, our understanding of Christianity comes through the filtering lens of what we have been taught by others over the centuries. But, having said that, I believe that every doctrine we have, everything we believe and teach and practice as Christians, must be anchored in God’s Word. If my belief is not supported by God’s Word, then I am wrong! Martin Luther wasn’t against the various decisions and interpretations that came out of various Christian Councils and Synods as such. He just believed that all those decisions must stand the test of God’s revealed Word—the Bible. In the Church of the Nazarene, we have a governing body. We have a Church Manual that defines our church government and practices as well as our basic doctrines. But we also have a General Assembly that meets every 4 years (except in very extreme cases such as a worldwide pandemic) to examine that Manual and to make changes as deemed necessary. That Manual is a human document that gives us guidance as a church. But we do not hold it on the same level as the Bible. And we insist that everything in that Church Manual must be supported by the clear teaching of God’s Word. We hold that the Bible alone is the final authority, the inspired, God-breathed, authoritative Will of God for our lives.
2. Sola Gratia – “Grace alone.”
a. “It is only by the unmerited favor of God that Christ went to the cross and paid the price for man’s salvation. Man is by nature depraved—he has no virtue that commends him to God. Therefore, God’s grace to him is truly undeserved and amazing, and God’s grace alone has the power to draw people to himself.”
b. Grace is often defined as “unmerited or undeserved favor. But it is more than that. We have all sinned and deserve God’s punishment. Justice demands that we suffer the punishment. But Grace not only provides pardon and forgiveness, it is the source of God’s compassion and mercy and blessing John pointed out that God initiative in Grace when he wrote, “We love because He first loved us”(1 John 4:19).
3. Sola Fide – “Faith alone.”
a. “Only total righteousness is acceptable to God, and that is found in Christ, not us. Man can only accept Christ’s work by placing his trust in him. Man is justified by faith alone in the finished work of Christ, not by any works of his own.”
b. I mentioned earlier how Martin Luther sought desperately to find assurance that he was right with God. It was while he was preparing notes for a class he was teaching on the Book of Romans that he began to focus on the verse that says, “For in the Gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written, ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Romans 1: 17). Paul summed up this truth in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace we have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God---not by works, so that no one can boast.”
c. As Protestants we realize that our salvation only comes because God in His mercy and compassion has taken the initiative to save us! And the only way to access that grace is by our Faith that Jesus is who He says He is and accepting the fact that Jesus died in our place to pay the debt we owe because of our sins so that we can be reconciled with God and brought into a right relationship with him. In Romans 10: 9-10 we read, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”
4. Sola Christus – “Christ alone.”
a. “Salvation is accomplished by Christ, and mediated by Christ alone—not by angels, saints, relics, sacraments, priests, teachers, churches, or anyone or anything else. Christ alone was the perfect Savior, and he alone is the perfect prophet, priest and king.” Jesus accomplished everything that needed to be done in order to provide for our salvation. No one else could do that. Paul calls Jesus, “The Second Adam” as he describes how through Jesus, we have eternal life. Peter and John when brought before the Jewish High Court were threatened and warned to not teach in the name of Jesus. They responded by saying, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved”(Acts 4”12). Jim Cariker can’t save you. Your Mom or Dad can’t save you. Donald Trump can’t save you. Mohammad can’t save you. Buddha can’t save you. Jesus is the only One through whom we can be saved!
5. Soli Deo Gloria – “To God alone be glory.”
a. “God should be thanked, praised and given full credit for his sovereign grace and spiritual and physical provision. Theology should be God-centered, not man-centered. God should be put in his place and humans in theirs. Our efforts should not elevate and celebrate men but God. We should bring him glory in our work, in our homes and at play. He, not we, should be the center of all things.” “The chief aim of mankind is to bring glory to our God!” So said those who wrote the Westminster Confession. And so, it is. In Revelation 4:13 we read how John heard the heavenly beings worshiping God and saying, “You are worthy, Our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being”
So, who are you now that you have received Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord and have become a new creation?
I am child of God who embraces the Protestant doctrines that state that the Bible alone is our authority and in it we find God’s plan and provision for saving His creation. It was accomplished by Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, when he allowed Himself to die the horrible death of Roman crucifixion, making atonement for our sins. We receive that atonement because God in His Grace and Mercy has offered it to whoever will accept it. He took the initiative by loving me when I was unlovable. And if I will accept the offer of Salvation by putting my faith, my trust, my life in Jesus, I will be saved. And all glory and honor is due to God, our Creator, our Sustainer, Our Lord, and our God.
Does that describe who you are? Wouldn’t you like to have that identity and assurances of salvation?
Matthew 25: 1-13
It is interesting to observe different customs in different cultures. I was telling Gregg this week some of the things I experience in 1996 when I was with a group of ministers who took a quick one week trip to Israel. When our plane landed in Tel Aviv and we were directed to the baggage pickup area, I immediately was aware that everyone was rushing, pushing, shoving as they made their way to the carousel where the baggage was being unloaded. Later that week, several of us took a taxi to a modern mall. It was just a few weeks before Christmas. I’ve been in Battlefield Mall in Springfield during the Christmas season and even though it was very crowded, I could walk right through the crowd and never get touched. Not so in the Jerusalem mall—people were bumping into each other and there was no real effort to stay out of each other’s personal space. In a restaurant in Hoffa the meal was served one item at a time instead of being brought out al together. We had a salad, then a vegetable, then a meat. It was really strange to this Southern boy who likes buffet style meals. I could go on and on about different customs in different parts of the world.
Even within our nation we see so many different customs displayed. Go to a wedding and you may or may not see a unity candle. Or it is not unusual to see a couple mixing different colored sand together instead of the unity candle. Or you may see a couple partaking Communion during the ceremony. In some weddings the couple have written their own wedding vows, while in others the traditional vows are spoken. And the wedding receptions vary from nothing to cake and punch to full fledge meals with live bands playing.
But with all our varying wedding customs, whenever we read this story describing 10 bridesmaids who were waiting on the bridegroom’s appearance, it seems really strange to me. But it wasn’t strange to the people to whom Jesus was relating this story. And even today in parts of the world this story of the bridesmaids describes something very familiar.
William Barclay gives this account of an experience Dr. J. Alexander Findley had when he was visiting in Palestine some years ago. He writes, “When we were approaching the gates of a Galilean town, I caught a sight of ten maidens gaily clad and playing some kind of musical instrument, as they danced along the road in front of our car; when I asked what they were doing, the dragoman [an interpreter or guide]told me that they were going to keep the bride company till her bridegroom arrived. I asked him if there was any chance of seeing the wedding, but he shook his head, saying in effect; ‘It might be tonight, or tomorrow night, or in fortnight’s time; nobody ever knows for certain.’ Then he went on to explain that one of the great things to do, if you could, at a middle-class wedding in Palestine was to catch the bridal party napping. So, the bridegroom comes unexpectedly, and sometimes in the middle of the night. It is true that he is required by public opinion to send a man along the street to shout, “Behold! The bridegroom is coming!’ But that may happen at any time; so the bridal party have to be ready to go out into the street at any time to meet him, whenever he chooses to come…other important points are that no one is allowed on the streets after dark without a lighted lamp, and also that, when the bridegroom has once arrived, and the door has been shut, late-comers to the ceremony are not admitted.”
Another interesting point is that while here in America the newlyweds leave and go somewhere for their honeymoon, the custom in the Middle East in Jesus’ day was that the newlyweds would stay in their new home and entertain guests for several days. We see in John’s account of the first Miracle Jesus performed was the result of several days of entertainment at a wedding leaving them without the customary wine.
So, the 10 virgins had a lot riding on their performance as bridesmaids. They had to be ready at a moment’s notice. They had to make sure their lamps were prepared with enough oil to last as long as necessary while they were waiting on the bridegroom’s arrival.
This Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew’s Gospel is located in the midst of Jesus’ discourse about the end of time and the Second Coming. Chapter 24 contains his discourse describing the signs of the times that would be evidence as the Day of the Lord approached. And immediately after this parable we read the parable of Pounds, or as the NIV translates it, the Parable of the Bags of Gold. The point of that parable is to impress on us the fact that we are to be held accountable by the owner with how we have used those resources he has given us.
So, it is correct to assume that this Parable of the Ten Virgins is a warning that when Jesus the Bridegroom comes, we had better be ready. I have to tell you that Jesus will be coming someday—and if what we are seeing happening around the globe is any indication—fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding, political upheaval, etc.--, His return may be very soon. And If we don’t prepare in advance, it will be too late to get ready at the moment of his return.
Today, I would like to take a little liberty with this Parable. We are one week away from the start of our special Revival Services with Marcus Whitworth. We who make up the congregation at Branson First Church are like the Bridesmaids who are waiting –only we are waiting for God to pour out His Spirit on us in anointed revival services.
Let’s consider the parable from this point of view:
I. The Bridesmaids
a. 5 Wise. I’ve been told that the lamps that would have been used were small lamps with a single wick that would contain about a cup of oil. Such small lamps would need to be constantly cared for, wicks trimmed and oil renewed. So, it only made sense that the girls with the lamps would have an extra container of oil on reserve. That was a commonsense detail that these 5 wise bridesmaids remembered. No doubt they had thought through the possibilities of the event—the bridegroom’s possible delayed arrival—the probably that he would arrive after dark, etc. They knew they had no control on when he would come, but they did have control over being prepared when he did come. We have an advantage over the Bridesmaids. We know when the revival services are scheduled. But, truthfully, we do not know when the Holy Spirit will choose to manifest Himself in the service. But this I know: If I have not prepared myself for revival, when the Holy Spirit comes, it will be too late to start getting prepared. How do you prepare for revival? The old evangelist of yesteryear, Gypsy Smith, when asked about revival is quoted as saying, ““Then go back to your home and draw a circle around you on the floor. Then get down on your knees in the middle of the circle and ask God to convert everybody inside that circle. When you do that, and God answers, you are experiencing the start of revival.” If the church is to have revival it must start in the hearts of the individuals who make up the church. It has to start in my heart and yours. Are you spending time asking God to do a work in your heart? Of course, in preparation for revival we want to be praying for others. Who do you know that needs to give his or her heart to God? You should be praying for those people right now. Don’t wait until the services begin and then start praying—Do the advance work. It may be someone whose marriage is struggling—Pray now that the couple will have the touch of God on their relationship. Anyone you know that is struggling spiritually should be a person for whom you are lifting up to God in your prayers. And how much are you planning to invest financially in the revival? It is a major expense to bring special workers who are called of God to make their livelihood preaching the Gospel. Not only do we have the cost of the extra utilities for having the building open for the extra services, we have to provide lodging and food for the workers while they are here. We have to help them with transportation costs. And above that, we have to give them enough to provide support for their home and families. Over the years I have learned a few things. And one of those things is that when I invest money in something, I suddenly become much more interested in what is going on. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also!” (Matthew 6:21). In Luke 10 we are told how Jesus sent out workers 2 x 2 ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. And he told them when they were staying at the house in the town where they were sent, to “Stay there , eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages…” (Luke 10:7). I read a story of a pastor years ago whose son saw his dad enter the church one Sunday morning and put a quarter in the offering basket. After the service was over, it was the practice of the church for the pastor to collect whatever offering had been placed in the basket and that would be his salary for the week. On this particular Sunday, the son saw his dad go to the basket after everyone else had left and open it up only to find just one quarter. The boy said to his dad, “You would get more out of it if you had put more into it!” –Something to think about as you prepare for the revival!
b. 5 foolish bridesmaids. They had no reserve supply of oil. Their lamps were dry of oil and at that time of night there was no place to buy it. They could not borrow oil from the others because that would have left all of them short of oil. So, they hurried off to their own homes to get more oil, but by the time they returned, the gate was closed to them. They missed escorting the bride to her bride groom. They missed the week of festivities that were traditional at the wedding. They missed the food, the drinks, the dancing, the laughter, the fellowship. They were left in the dark. And, if you fail to get your heart ready, you too will miss out when the Holy Spirit is poured out in revival!
II. THE BRIDEGROOM
a. Of course, we know that Jesus was really referring to himself when he comes to claim his bride, the Church. But there are some things we should note about this bridegroom:
i. The preparation by the bridesmaids did not determine the time of his appearance. They knew he was coming sometime, but they did not know for certain the exact time of his arrival. And so, we are reminded that we cannot not dictate to God when He is going to send revival. He chooses the time and the place, not us. All we can do is prepare ourselves and wait. Remember in Acts 1, when the disciples asked when the Day of the Lord would come, Jesus told them, “It is not for you to know the time or dates the Father has set by his own authority…” (Acts 1: 7). I have said this over and over again: We cannot dictate to God what He has to do! We can only believe what He says He will do and prepare ourselves and then wait on Him to do it! If we could manipulate God, then we would be more powerful than He, making ourselves God and God our slave. But that is not the way it works. God has His plan, His timetable. And it is not always the same as ours. Remember how Abraham and Sarah were promised a child, but God didn’t give them the child Isaac until Sarah was way past child-bearing age. And the Descendants of Jacob were made to be slaves in Egypt and cried out for deliverance, but it was 400 years before God answered by calling an 80 year old man named Moses to lead them to freedom. In Isaiah 55: 8-9 we are told, ““For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” Prayer is not about making God do what we want; it is about me finding out what God wants!” And while we schedule revival services to concentrate on God and plead for His anointing, revival could start today. Or it could start this week. Or it could start next Sunday. Or it could start weeks after the special services are over. The whole point of having revival services is to get ourselves in position to receive the Holy Spirit’s blessing whenever He chooses to bestow it!
b. Secondly, the Bride groom is Jesus. The evangelist is the one sent ahead of the bridegroom to proclaim, “Behold, the Bridegroom is coming.” I have to tell you that I Love Marcus Whitworth. I have known him since his college days in Mid-American Nazarene University. I love his spontaneity, His upbeat message, his way of getting the congregation involved in worship, his funny antics like having us march around the sanctuary waving hankies—all in good fun as He creates an atmosphere where people feel comfortable and open to the Holy Spirit. But as much as I like Brother Marcus and as much as I like good music (and we will have superb professional musicians with us) I know that revival doesn’t come from our evangelist and workers. Revival comes from God. He is the one we are to be seeking. He is the One to be honored and worshipped. So, we must focus first of all on Jesus! It is His Spirit we seek. It is His Spirit to which we yield ourselves. Come, Sweet Jesus! Come, Holy Spirit, we pray!
III. THE WEDDING CEREMONY
a. Matthew 25: 10 says, “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.”
It has always been a concern of mine when the church has planned revival services and the time arrives. Inevitably there are key people who fail to attend the meetings. Of course, there are litigable reasons—people get sick, their employment prevents them from coming, and so forth. But often the excuses are lame, “I was tired, so I thought I would just skip out.” Or “ I really didn’t care that much for the speaker.” Or “I got busy and just forgot!” And so, the Lord comes and blesses the services, people get a fresh anointing, people are healed, sinners are saved –all the things we would like to see happen, but those who didn’t attend missed out on it all.
It has been said that every generation needs to experience a real Holy Ghost Revival.
Could this be the revival for our generation coming up?
Let’s prepare ourselves so that we are fit to receive whatever it is that God wants to give us!
John 5: 1-15
I like small talk. I can talk about the weather, about the pandemic, about politics, and all the other topics that enter into polite conversation. I’m so glad that we have those topics that we can use to break the ice and begin conversations with others. But when I walk into a doctor’s office, the small talk is very brief because I am there for a purpose. If I said to the doctor that I was just passing by and thought I would drop in to say “hello,” he would quickly have me removed. Or he would follow up with, “Okay, what are you really here for? "After all, he or she is there to take care of a person’s medical problem. Small talk is just a time waster when you have a waiting room full of sick patients wanting your attention.
I enjoy those cartoons where the child suddenly becomes very helpful around the house. The smart parent quickly realizes that he or she is being set up for the big question—“Can I spend go with my friends to that music concert?” Or “Can I have the credit card to buy that new dress for the prom?”
People so often beat around the bush with small talk before they get around to the real reason they are there.
As a pastor I have on many occasions sat in my office with individuals who talked about everything except the real reason they are there. It is a mechanism we often use to get up enough courage to say what we really want to say.
And sometimes when a person says, “How about those Chiefs?” referring to the latest football game, what they really want to say is, “Will you be my friend?” Or “Are we comfortable enough with each other so that we can relax and just enjoy each other’s company?”
I like small talk because it can be a door opener to a conversation about something that is really important and that needs to be discussed. Or it can be the first step in developing a real friendship or in strengthening the current friendship.
In our scripture today we read an account of a real event in the life of Jesus as he reached out to help a person who was incapable of helping himself. And He didn’t get side tracked with “Small talk.”
In the Interpreter’s Bible, the commentator on this passage said that people might ask the question, “Where would you expect to find Jesus if you knew he was somewhere in Jerusalem.” He said that most people would probably say, “At the Temple,” but he said he would think first of all at this place called “The Pool of Bethesda” because that was where people who were really helpless and often hopeless would be hanging out. And Jesus being Jesus would most likely go to where there were people who really needed him.
Let’s focus on this event for the brief time we have together today and see what the Holy Spirit would say to us.
I. THE GATHERING PLACE
a. John 5:2 -3 says, “Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to be—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.”
b. In every community there seems to be a place—sometimes many places—where people with common interests gather. For some, it may be the Senior Center. Or it may be at a local restaurant where a group of guys meet for coffee. Or it might be at a local bar (hopefully, none of you hang out there!) There are a number of places where people gather, depending on their shared interests or situations. In our scripture it just happened to be at the Pool of Bethesda. We are told by historians that the pool was fed by underground springs and sometimes there would be a rush of water that would cause the pool to be agitated. There was a belief by many in that day that the water was being stirred by an Angel who would come occasionally and that the first one to get into the pool when the water was stirred would be healed. The description of the location having 5 covered colonnades makes it sound like an extremely comfortable place to just relax—kind of like lounging by a nice swimming pool. A person could soak up some rays, or, if the sun was too hot, could find shade in the covered porches. And there was always someone close by with whom one could visit. And probably there were attendants nearby who could bring you water or help you if you had a special need.
c. If you were looking for a place where there were people who needed encouragement, the Pool of Bethesda was the place. And Jesus is the Ultimate Helper! I’m sure on this trip to Jerusalem, Jesus wasn’t looking for a place to lie down and relax. He wasn’t planning on reclining on a lounge chair and soaking up rays. He stated his purpose over in Luke 19:10 when he told Zacchaeus that, “…the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” The Pool of Bethesda was truly a place where the “Lost” had gathered.
d. It makes sense that if we are trying to be as much like Jesus as we can be, that we too should identify the places where the lost may be and go there with the intentions of offering to help someone find their way to the Helper!
II. THEN THERE WAS THE INVALID.
a. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, when used as a noun, the word “Invalid” is defined as “someone who is sick and unable to take care of himself or herself, especially for a long time.” One commentary suggested that Jesus had probably been walking around the pool looking at the various people who were gathered there. Perhaps someone had been walking with him and pointed out this man who had been in such a terrible condition for such a long time, possibly the most pitiful of all the sick who were there. The man was an invalid—a person who was totally incapable of caring for himself. And he had been that way for 38 years. We don’t know how many years he had been being brought to the Pool of Bethesda, but the implications are that it had been several. He was a helpless man who seemed to be without hope, totally incapable of improving his situation. Interestingly, that is exactly the shape we are in before we have an encounter with Christ. The Bible teaches that since Adam and Eve yielded to temptation in the Garden of Eden and sinned by disobeying God, each one of us are born with a sinful nature. And no matter what we do, we can never rid ourselves of that sinful nature without God’s intervening Grace. In Genesis 8:21, after Noah and his family had ridden out the Flood and departed from the Ark and offered sacrifices to God, God said to them, “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood…” And in Ephesians 2:1 Paul wrote, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” And dead people are totally incapable of doing anything. And so, John wrote in 1 John 4:19, “We love because He [God] first loved us!”
b. Jesus gave this Invalid of a man a new perspective. It has been said that “a person’s perception is his reality.” After 38 years an Invalid, this man’s perception was that he was an invalid and that he would be an invalid for the rest of his life. His perception was that he could do nothing for himself and that he was totally dependent on others to take care of his basic deeds. He perception was that life was just to be lying on a small mat of a bed, surrounded by others who were not much better than he and that was the way life was going to be. That was the way it had been for 38 years and that was the way it would be for the next 38 years if he lived that long. His perception was that life existed of just continued suffering and humiliation.
c. I wonder if the invalid even noticed this man Jesus who was walking among the blind and crippled and paralyzed who were lying around on mats by the Pool? I wonder if there was something in the way Jesus walked, the interest that Jesus displayed, the radiance of his personality that caught this Invalid’s attention. I wonder if he was startled when Jesus stopped by his mat and spoke to him.
d. And you who may think you have wandered too far away from God, who think that you may have committed a sin too horrible to be forgiven, who are so enslaved by addictions that plague your life—How would you react if suddenly Jesus stood by your side? Would His words change your perception of your reality?
i. “Do you want to get well?” Jesus asked the man. “Do you want to be delivered from the demons that taunt you?” “Do you want to find peace with God?” “Do you want to be saved?” We have revival services scheduled in just a few weeks—“Do you want to really have a personal spiritual revival in your own heart” Jesus is still asking those questions today. Even if you feel there is no hope for you, Jesus is asking, “Do you want deliverance?”
III. THE ACTIVATED FAITH
a. I would like to believe that this Invalid had heard about Jesus. After all, Jesus had been performing miracles and had already captured the attention of the religious establishment. And since so many had been taken to Jesus to be healed, it is hard to believe that these who were gathered at the Pool of Bethesda had not heard about Jesus’ ability to heal. I would like to think that this Invalid had probably thought to himself, “It would be wonderful if I could meet this miracle worker named Jesus. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if he could heal me?” But now that wishful thinking was replaced with the real thing. That grain of faith that had thought “Jesus can heal others” was suddenly confronted with the question, “Can Jesus really heal me?” And, to his credit, when Jesus asked him, “Do you want to get well?” He responded with a faith that suddenly became activated. His perception of a helpless existence was suddenly replaced with a perception of wholeness so that when Jesus said, “Pickup your mat and walk,” he didn’t hesitate. An invalid for 38 years just stood right up, picked up his mat and walked!”
b. And when Jesus says, “You are forgiven, Go and sin no more,” your response should be immediately to forsake the sinful lifestyle and start doing the best you can to honor Jesus with your life!
c. Paul pointed out clearly that we are saved by our Faith. In Ephesians 2:8-9 he wrote, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
d. This invalid had not done anything that earned him special treatment. By definition, he as an invalid was incapable of doing anything. But when Jesus spoke to Him and gave him a perception of a new life, He immediately reached for it.
What is it that Jesus is offering to you today? Do you really want the new life He is offering?
Do you really believe that He will do for you what He has done for others?
Do you believe that Jesus is who He says He is—God in the Flesh who dwelt among us, Redeemer, Savior and Lord of all. Do you really believe it when He says, “All power in heaven and earth belong to me?”
Are you willing to “Pick up your mat and start walking?”
Jesus is here. He is making the offer. It is up to you to act upon it!
It is only reasonable that a person stops and consider how much something will cost before he or she jumps into it.
On one of the comedy channels on Sirius FM Radio a comedian was describing how a guy on his first date is so careful to make a good impression. He tells of a guy taking this girl to a fancy restaurant on their first date. He said he knew the waiter was aware that this was a first date because he immediately asks the girl if she would like any appetizers. And the guy said he had no idea how much Sushi was, but he thought he could safely expect the cost of their meal to be around $100. After they eat and the waiter brings the bill, he tries to discreetly glance at the bill without letting the girl know that he really cares about the cost. Then he sees the bill is something like $223. He acts as if it’s no big deal and just gives his credit care to the waiter. Then the comedian says that if the situation were different and this was a husband and wife, the husband would have flipped the bill over and said, ”Can you believe this? You better take a good look at this place because we won’t be coming here again!”
It’s important to get at least a general idea of something’s cost before you get yourself into it.
We were at a jewelry store a few weeks ago. I really hate those fancy jewelry stores where they have beautiful pieces of jewelry on display but no price tag showing. They expect you to talk with the salesclerk, take the piece out and admire it, and then finally ask about its price. My philosophy is, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it!”
Several years ago, I took a phone call just after church service on a Sunday morning. Some guy told me how he and his girlfriend had come to Branson on vacation and had car trouble. He said he had enough money to get his car fixed but now he didn’t have enough money to stay and do the things they wanted to do on vacation. Then he asked me if the church would help them. I responded by asking him what he thought I would do if I went on vacation and ran out of money. There was a silence on the phone, so I helped him by telling him, “When we go on vacation and run out of money, we go home.” It was like it was a new concept to him. I never heard from that guy again. I was sorry they had trouble and were short on cash, but he needed to understand that things have a price tag, and if we can’t pay it, we need to leave it alone. (I do need to tell you that I have on occasion helped stranded travelers with gas money to get them back home.) We have to prepare for emergencies and have a backup contingency plan for when things don’t go like we thought they would.
For years in the church world, September has been the unofficial launch time for the church. Vacation season has ended, school has started, and people are once again settling into some type of routine. So, churches traditionally have used September as the opportune time for launching new ministries or new outreach efforts. That is the time people are making decisions as to what routine they want to establish for the next year.
And regardless of the month of the year, In our individual lives there are times when we need to make changes and to launch in new directions.
In our scripture passage, we find Jesus giving instructions to his listeners on launching into a new life as a follower of Christ. And He is insistent that those considering becoming his followers should make sure they understand just how much it would cost to be one of his disciples.
I don’t know if any of you are considering making any changes in your life. It could be that this whole retirement concept needs to be re-examined. Or maybe there are some personal habits that you need to change.
From a spiritual standpoint, It could be that it is time to consider where you are going to spend eternity. Or it could be that God is calling you to do something new for His sake.
Whatever it is you are considering, there is a cost involved. It may be financial. It may be an emotional investment. It may be a physical challenge.
Jesus reminds us that we should carefully consider the costs as we make plans for our future. Let’s consider his message in this morning’s scripture passage:
I. THE COST OF PUTTING FIRST THINGS FIRST.
a. Family is important. As I grow older, I am more aware than ever how important family ties can be. We are privileged to have my Mom living with us now. When I think of how much she has invested in me during her lifetime, I am so honored that Gloria and I have Mom in our home. We were saddened last week to learn of Mom’s brother in California passing away. Mom was able to connect with his sons—cousins that I haven’t seen in probably 50 years. But now it seems important to know about their lives. My sister-in-law has done a lot of genealogy research. 20 years ago, I wasn’t interested at all in knowing about my past relatives, but now it stirs an interest in my heart. Connections and the stories they provide give meaning to life.
b. But I also understand that loyalty to Christ trumps relationships. Yes, he does say we must “Hate” our parents and siblings, but it is obvious from scripture that he is using hyperbole to make a point. The Bible clearly teaches that we are to love one another, honor our parents, and not hold things against our siblings. But when it comes down to the final straw, all relationships are secondary to our relationship with God. He is not just our Creator God. He is the One who sees after us, provides for and protects us. He gives us strength to face life’s issues. And He loves us. He loves us so much that through Jesus He suffered and died for us to pay the penalty for our sins and to redeem us from Satan’s grasp and set us free to live up to our potential as children of God.
c. So, when I am planning on making changes in my life or of trying something new, I must first and foremost consider how that will affect my number one relationship—my relationship with God.
d. This is what Jesus means when he says in Luke 14: 26 & 27, “If anyone come to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
II. PREPARE YOURSELF FOR THIS NEW ENDEAVOR BY CONSIDERING THE COST.
a. I remember one of my college professors telling us that whenever we add a new discipline to our lives, we must let go of something else to make room for it. In that reference he was talking about committing ourselves to the study time that was necessary to complete his course. That meant giving up some recreation time or some television time—or in today’s culture, giving up some video game time, so that one could do the necessary reading and research and homework required in order to learn the necessary class material.
b. What is it you give up when you decide to follow Christ? Certainly, you are to give up a sinful lifestyle, because accepting Jesus as Savior means turning away from your sins and becoming a follower of Christ. We call that “repentance.” It also means surrendering your priorities to Christ. Even Jesus prayed to the Father, “Not my will, but Thine, Lord.” I’ve known of people who had great dreams of having an extraordinarily successful career in some profession where they would make lots of money. But what if God asked them to serve in an inner city, or go to a foreign mission field, or to use their skills in a position that pays truly little? Jesus described his earthly existence at one point in this manner: “…Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head" (Luke 9:58, NIV).
c. I have known of young couples who seemed to be deeply in love and were planning to be married, but in pre-marital planning it became obvious that God was leading them in different directions. When Gloria and I met in college it didn’t take long before we were boyfriend and girlfriend. And It became apparent to me that this was the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. But I also was sure that God was calling me to be a pastor and that His plans for me was to stay right here in the middle of the country. But Gloria wasn’t so sure about the direction God was leading her. She was struggling with a desire to be a missionary. And I had to tell her that I was sure that was not what God was calling me to do. So, we (actually, she) felt it necessary for us to break up for a while so she could get some clarity on God’s calling on her life. And it finally came down to whether or not her application to the summer Student Mission Corp would be accepted or not. That was a ministry the denomination offered to college students back then. I have to tell you the month or, so we were broken up seemed like forever to me. She didn’t get accepted to the Student Mission Corp. and she finally felt clear that God was leading her to be my life partner and that he would bless her in the ministry opportunities that would open up to her. This December we will celebrate 49 years of marital bless! And God has used her in ministry cross-culturally many times right here in the middle of the country where He has placed me.
d. What does it cost to become a follower of Christ? Salvation that is freely given costs us everything. But the rewards far outweigh any sacrifice.
e. Jesus pointed out the necessity of counting the cost before going into a building program. And then he spoke of a King who was facing an enemy army and stated how it was necessary for that king to consider whether he had strength enough militarily to withstand that enemy army. in either case, If the cost was too high it was incredibly wise to make other arrangements.
f. And if you are going to be a follower of Jesus, you must understand that your life and your lifestyle will have to change. Life will no longer be about you and what you want to do—it will be about Christ and what honors Him!
III. THE COST OF ACCEPTING THE CALL TO CHANGE?
a. In the scripture, the implication is that the wise builder was prepared to not only start but to also complete the building. And the wise King realized that it was better to negotiate for peace than to fight a battle he couldn’t win. Both the builder and the king had considered the costs.
b. What is it that God is calling you to do? Are you willing to take up your cross and follow Him?
i. It could be that God is calling you to a deeper devotional life. It will take time and effort to establish a definite time and place to read your Bible, meditate on What God is saying to you and to spend time in prayer. You will have to work at protecting that time from distractions and wandering thoughts.
ii. It could be that God is calling you to contribute to Kingdom building. It may be towards a building program, or towards hiring an Associate Pastor or to invest in World Missions. Whatever it is, it will involve making some adjustments in your current spending. What are you willing to give up in order to meet the challenge of investing in Kingdom work?
iii. It could be that God is calling you to start a neighborhood Bible study in your home. That will cost you in time and effort. You’ll have to make sure your home is arranged to accommodate at group of people. You will have to personally engage others in your neighborhood to invite them to the study. You will have to set aside time to prepare the lesson and to have a set time for the neighbors to meet. And it may involve investing in some snacks to offer to those who attend.
iv. Or it could be this month that you would like to host a cottage prayer meeting as we prepare for our upcoming revival services. You might have to sacrifice watching a favorite television program or rearrange your dinner plans.
v. It could be that God is calling you to go witness to someone—a neighbor down the street, a co-worker or friend from the senior center, or a family member that you know has lost his or her way. It will involve putting yourself out there, risking being misunderstood or rejected. But their eternity is hanging in the balances. Are you willing to count the costs and take the risks?
Never assume that everything good is just going to fall into your lap when you become a Christian.
There will be people who reject you, mock you, and persecute you. Finding God’s will in various situations will involve much prayer, much soul searching, and maybe even many sleepless nights. Your love for others may involve shedding tears of concern as you are moved with compassion because of the love that Christ has placed in your hearts for others.
In the Old Testament there is a scripture that says, “It was the spring of the year, the time when kings go off to war.” King David failed to launch out in battle and instead fell victim to temptation and lust.
It is September, the time of the year when people make decisions as to what they are going to do with their lives. Are you facing decisions? Are you counting the costs? Isn’t it time to launch out and be the person God is calling you to be?
A summary of facts surrounding Labor Day:
1. It is holiday weekend, many enjoying time off, some still had to work
2. Labor Day been around a long time
a. 1st Labor Day parade was on Sep 5th, 1882 in New York City
- 20,000 workers carried banners that said - Labor Creates Wealth,
8 hours for work, 8 hours for sleep, 8 hours for recreation
- This was the desired situation for all people
- After parade, picnics all over with Irish stew, bread, apple pie
- Ended the day with fireworks
b. The idea spread across the country, cities all over having Labor Day
c. 1894, congress made Labor Day a Federal Holiday
d. Purpose: A day set aside celebrate the value and dignity of work
3. We might not be thinking of this on a weekend like this
a. Most of us probably just glad to have some time off
b. For many, this is a transition from summer to fall routine.
I read somewhere the reason Labor Day is on the first Monday in September. Independence Day (the 4th of July) is a National Holiday. Without Labor Day, the next National Holiday would be Thanksgiving—the 4th Thursday in November. The powers-that-be who made the decision on when to celebrate Labor Day felt that we needed a break between those two existing holidays, so they chose the first Monday of September!
And while Labor Day has its roots in Labor Unions and the establishment of fair and just laws protecting the rights of workers, the whole subject opens the door to some interesting discussion points from a Christian perspective.
I. “WORK” BEGAN BEFORE THE FALL.
a. In Genesis 2:15 after describing the creation of Adam and the creation of the Garden of Eden, we read, “The LORD GOD took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”
Somehow we have bought into the idea that work is a negative thing, a necessary nuisance to keep us alive. I have on occasion joked with someone who told me they couldn’t join me in some activity because they had to work. And I responded by saying, “It’s a terrible thing to have to work for a living.” Of course, it is not a terrible thing—it is a very good thing that we have a job at all. Often we associate the idea of “work” with the curse that God placed on humanity after Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit. When God pronounced judgment on Adam He says in Genesis 2: 17-19, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
Work wasn’t the curse. The pain and hardship that suddenly became part of the process of work from that point on was the curse. Work was good, but now it required an element of hardship in order to produce good results.
II. WORK PROVIDES THE ESSENTIALS FOR PHYSICAL LIFE.
a. In Proverbs 12:11 we read, “Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense.”
b. I was raised on a farm. We had a large garden where we raised tomatoes and corn and okra and purple-hull peas and Lima beans and watermelons and cantaloupes and cucumbers and potatoes and lettuce and cabbage and onions and more. Mom would cook and can the things from the garden and we would enjoy them all year round. It has been a long time since I’ve had a garden like that. Now days, I have 3 tomato plants—and that’s all. We get the rest of our food from the grocery stores-some fresh and lots canned. And it is easy to forget that all those items we buy in the store these days are things that someone somewhere has planted and gardened and harvested and sold to the grocery dealers so that we who no longer have such big gardens can still get our food. And behind all this is the fact that God in the very beginning ordained that we get our food from the dust of the earth!
And, unless someone takes the time to plant and water and cultivate and harvest the crops, there would be no food! Work is good because it provides the rewards of a blessed life.
c. I like that phrase, “and those who chase after fantasies have no sense…” I knew a guy years ago who was always working a scheme to get rich, but he was homeless. I was told that he went to borrow some money that he guaranteed he would pay back by a certain time. When pressed as to how he would pay back the money, he said he prayed and he knew God was going to let him win the lottery. Needless to say, he didn’t get the loan. Dreams are okay, but we must do the work if we really expect to reap the harvest!
III. WORK EARNS THE RESPECT OF OTHERS.
a. In 1 Thessalonians 4: 11-12 we read, “1 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”
b. In our passage in Proverbs 24: 30-34 we read about the sluggard. That is just another word for a person who is so lazy that he fails to do the basic things necessary to produce a decent harvest. When people see others who are that lazy, they lose respect for such people. I hear comments all the time about the homeless and those who are jobless—“All they want are handouts.” And while that is not always the case, too often it is. But I hear people saying of others, “He (or she) is a hard worker. If he says he will do something, you can depend on him to do it.”
c. God has enabled us to be workers who are respected because we are willing to do the job.
d. I talked to a man once who claimed to be chef. He came to Branson looking for a job. At that time the Candlestick Restaurant was one of Branson’s fine dining places. It was destroyed in the Branson tornado a few years back. The Man was hired, worked one or two days. And then one morning it was raining. He didn’t have a car so he just didn’t go to work. And, of course, he was fired. He worked at a couple more places, each being a little less in quality. And he never lasted at any of the jobs more than a few days. I was talking to him about another job and he snarled up his nose and said, “I am a chef. I won’t work at that job!” And in my nice diplomatic way I pointed out to him that, at the moment, he was not a chef—he was an unemployed homeless person who couldn’t hold a job. He didn’t like that, but it was true! It is the person who is willing to get in there and do the job and be dependable that earns the respect of others.
IV. WORK ENABLES US TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE GOOD OF SOCIETY.
a. In Ephesians 4:28 Paul wrote, “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work ,doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.”
b. In other words, strive to be a giver, not a taker!
c. There was a time when people in America hated to get handouts. They wanted to work so that they could maintain a sense of self-respect. But over time, we have created in many a welfare mentality. Not only do people expect to have things handed to them, they feel they are entitled to have those things. The stimulus package is an example. Many, who were on unemployment after their jobs were shut down because of the pandemic, received an extra $600 a week in addition to their normal unemployment benefits. Because of that, many were receiving more money on unemployment than they had been getting in salaries. So when jobs started reopening, they were reluctant to go back to work because they would not be receiving as much money as they did on unemployment. Who cares about self-respect when we can get more without working!
d. As Christians, we should be conscious of those around us who really are in need. The Parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us that being a good neighbor means reaching out to a person who really needs our help. The Parable of the man who hired day laborers to work in his field at various times throughout the day and then paid those who had only worked 1 hour the same amount as he did those who had worked all day is another example of be sensitive to the real needs that people have. In their world, the day laborers earned just enough to provide food and shelter for the one day. The owner of the field in his mercy was providing for that one who had not had opportunity to put in a full day’s work. And remember the admonition of giving a cup of water to the one who is thirsty. We may have to be on the receiving end at some point in our lives, but our goal should be to be givers not takers. Work enables us to help those who really need help.
e. In his final message to the Ephesian elders Paul said in Acts 20:35, “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
V. BUT THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ABOUT WORK IS THAT WE DO IT FOR THE LORD!
a. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 we read, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
b. Over the centuries Christianity has been interpreted by various counsels and assemblies where scholarly Christian people have sought to define the doctrines of the church. One of the big questions that were considered is, “What is the chief aim of man?” In the 1600’s the Westminster Catechism answered that question this way: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
c. Sometimes we think that our primary purpose in life is to make a living and provide for our family or to have fun or to do some heroic deed. But as important as any of those things may be, the primary purpose for our existence is to glorify God. Earning a living should be motivated by a desire to reflect God’s character. Heroic deeds such as serving our country should not be to enhance my reputation—it should be to reflect and honor the character of our God who through Jesus died in our place while we were yet sinners so that we might be saved.
d. I’ve shared this illustration before but it has been awhile. When I was a college student at Bethany Nazarene College, I worked on the janitorial crew. I was placed in charge of the Library Building and the Social Science Buildings. One of the professors in the Social Science Building was just part time, so he was not usually in his office. But every day I would go into his office and empty the trash can and do whatever cleaning needed to be done. He told me one time that he appreciated my commitment. I found out that occasionally he would leave one scrap of paper in the waste basket and then check it the next day to see if it had been emptied. He was very complimentary that it always had been emptied. I had set a standard for myself that whatever I did, I was doing for the LORD and I wanted always to honor him, even if it meant emptying the trash can in an absentee professor’s office every day.
e. I remember having to clean the bath rooms. In the Library, the drain pipes to the sink were exposed. So, every day I would take a little time to shine those drain pipes, knowing that I was doing a little extra because I was wanting to bring glory to the Lord.
f. Work is not a curse—it is a privilege and a blessing. And how we do our work is a reflection on our commitment to the God of Glory!
Labor Day is set aside to celebrate the value and dignity of work.
The Bible has some concrete things to teach us about work. Work is not a
curse, but part of our created purpose so that we can serve God. The curse
is increased hardship, not work. In fact, work is a reflection of the God who
has been working from the beginning. By design, work brings various benefits
to others and us. This does not mean that rest is bad. Idleness is bad but
rest is good, endorsed, and even instructed by God. --(http://epreacher.org/sermons/09-05-10am.html)
On this Labor Day weekend, it is okay to enjoy the holiday. It is okay to spend some time with family, maybe grilling or going to the lake, or even just staying at home and watching a movie together or playing dominoes.
But I challenge you to spend a little time giving God thanks for the provisions He has made for you.
To the Galatians Paul wrote, “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load” (Galatians 6:4-5).
And Jesus in John 6:27 said, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
Our God has created us to take care of His creation and to honor Him in all that we do. As we enjoy the holiday, let us give thanks to God for our livelihood!
Acts 27: 13-26
Key verse: “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved” (Acts 27: 20).
When I first started pastoring, I served a new church in Brinkley, Arkansas, which was only about 35 miles from my hometown. It was a home mission church and the salary was not much, so that fall I had the chance to work for my dad a few days of the week on the farm. On this one particular day I had to hurry back to Brinkley for a meeting. It was late fall and the sun was setting when I left the farm for home and it grew dark very rapidly. I don’t know how fast I was driving, but it was too fast for the road conditions, I’m sure. Something caught my eye just in front of me and I quickly hit my brakes. There was a large panel truck cross ways in the road in total darkness. I realized I was not going to be able to stop and I swerved to the right, closed my eyes and tried to brace for the impact. When I open my eyes I was on the other side of the truck. I could see the tire tracks where I had just missed the truck and had gone between it and a road sign and had never touched a thing. I suddenly realized that a miracle had occurred. I had not steered my car between those two objects. I had my eyes closed and had literally spun the steering wheel and braced, fully expecting to crash. It was as if an angel had steered my car safely pass the stalled truck.
It was a split second moment when I had lost all hope but God had intervened to save me!
There are times in our lives when we find ourselves for whatever reason completely out of options, no idea where else to turn, and have completely given up hope. And then something totally out of our control happens to save the day.
Do you understand what I’m saying? Perhaps it was a medical condition where the doctors finally admitted there was nothing else they could do. Or maybe it was a business crisis where it looked like you were going to lose everything.
I could share with you story after story of testimonies I have heard where when all human efforts were exhausted and there seemed to be no other alternatives, God intervened to save the day.
Remember the story of the woman with the issue of bleeding who had spent all she had on doctors over a 12 year period with no success. But then she touched the hem of Jesus’ garment and was immediately healed!
The missionary Everette Howard in his lifetime testified of many miraculous things that happened. On the mission field in Cape Verde Island during a drought, he told how they prayed and water came out of a rock.
After his retirement when he and his wife were living in Casa Robles, he told how there was another retiree who shared with him how he was estranged from his son and had not heard from his son in many years. Rev. Howard prayed a prayer for him and within just a few minutes the telephone rang and it was the son calling to reconnect to his dad.
The stories abound. And they remind us that our Hope is not tied to just our human conditions. Our real hope is in the God who transcends the human and is able to do exceedingly more than we can imagine.
And such is the case in this account of Paul’s voyage as he is being transported to Rome to be tried by Caesar.
Some of you have served in the Navy or Coast Guard. You may have found yourself in a storm at sea. Others of you have taken those cruises that sound so exciting. With today’s technology, those ships are usually able to steer away from the storms. But you may have seen some choppy waters and big waves.
I’ve heard stories about my uncle who was in the Navy and was extremely seasick . He lost his false teeth overboard during a bout of sickness.
This account is about a real storm—a Nor’easter the scripture calls. It is another word for those terrible hurricanes that happen in the Gulf and the Atlantic –like the ones that have happened this week.
But you and I know that there are storms that are just as real and just as violent and just as devastating that occur in our lives emotionally, socially, and spiritually.
And so Paul’s experience in this storm provides principles that are pertinent to whatever type of storm you may be experiencing in your life.
I. IT IS GOOD TO TRY TO AVOID THE CIRCUMSTANCES THAT LEAD INTO A STORM.
a. In this account of Paul’s arrest and him ultimately being transported to Rome, we learn that it was in the fall of the year. After the ship on which he was being escorted by a Roman Centurion docked for a few days the crew decided it would go a little farther up the coast, Paul cautioned them that it would be better not to do so because it was the time of the year for bad weather. The ship’s captain ignored Paul’s advice and they had set sail only to be caught up in this Nor’easter hurricane force storm.
b. As I think about Paul’s cautionary advice, I realize that God expects us to exercise good judgment in the decisions we make in life. It makes sense to look at the possible consequences before making our choices.
c. When it comes to medical conditions, I think Richard Davis is right on target when he says, “Get a second opinion!” And certainly it makes sense to find out as much as possible about what is being purposed before subjecting yourself to a surgeon’s knife. And if you are looking to make a major purchase, make sure you know what you are buying—read the fine print and shop and compare. And if you are going on a major trip, study the route and means of transportation. I’ve learned the hard way that depending solely on your smart phone’s GPS can get you into trouble!
d. The Bottom line is that as we face our future we should do so informed as much as possible.
e. Paul was an experienced traveler by land and sea. He knew the dangers and he knew the seasons of the year when it was not safe to sail. His advice was to pay attention to the possible consequences and use good judgment.
II. EVEN SO, SOMETIMES WE ARE CAUGHT UP IN CIRCUMSTANCES BEYOND OUR CONTROL.
a. Paul was a prisoner. To the ship’s captain that meant he was a nobody. His words were ignored. Later on, if it had not been for the relationship he had forged with the Roman Centurion guarding him, he and the other prisoners on board would have been executed.
b. And so, in spite of his objections, the ship sailed on. And now, we read in our scripture passage, the ship was caught up in a storm that was relentless and that continued to the point that the sailors and crew had lost all hope of being saved.
c. It was not Paul’s fault that they were in the storm, but Paul was just as much in the storm as everyone else. He, like everyone else on board, suffered the battering of the waves. I wonder how many suffered the old fashioned sea-sickness? He, like everyone else, had to pitch in to do whatever they could to survive—throwing extra baggage and supplies overboard, running ropes around the hull of the ship to help strengthen it and to keep it from breaking apart from the battering of the waves. He too had experienced the nightmare fear of death, the exhaustion of the battle, and even the loss of appetite in face of the impossible circumstances.
d. And in life, there are times when things happen to us that are beyond our control. There’s the corona virus that hit us unexpectedly and devastated our economy. No one really saw that coming. Or there’s the doctor’s appointment where we are given news of a condition that we never expected to have—cancer, Parkinson’s. Blood clots, heart disease. We know those things happen. And they happen no matter what we do to avoid them.
e. Storms come. And we find ourselves trying to ride out the storm. And we do all we can to survive and/or conquer the storm. But it is a struggle and it is sometimes painful, and it is not fun. But it happens. And all we can do is hang on.
III. WHEN WE HAVE DONE ALL, WE REALIZE OUR DEPENDENCE IS ON SOMEONE ELSE.
a. In Ephesians 6, as Paul wrote about spiritual warfare and describe the armor of God that we should be wearing, He says finally, “…and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13b).
b. So, in this account, Paul and the crew had exhausted all human options. Hope had faded, dooms day is at hand. But rather than saying hope is gone, Paul did what he had probably been doing the whole time the storm had been raging. He positioned himself before God, seeking His plan, His Will, His direction. And in that moment when all human hope was gone, God sent His angel to restore hope. And Paul, the prisoner whose earlier advice had been dismissed, suddenly became the voice of Hope and Reason. It was as if suddenly Paul had been elevated to the command of the ship. He gave orders to the sailors and to the ship’s captain. And the Roman Centurion Julius demanded that everyone obey Paul’s directions. And what had seemed totally and utterly impossible became a reality. It wasn’t Paul that saved the day—it was God who stepped in to save the day because He had a plan and a promise that Paul would preach the gospel in Rome.
c. Years ago, we heard a missionary who was a missionary in Israel at a time of great unrest—riots in the street, gunfire exchanges, etc. —not that different from today. He was asked why he stayed in Jerusalem in the face of such danger. I will never forget his reply. It was something like this: “I feel safer caught between the cross-fires of enemy combatants knowing I am in God’s will than I would ever feel in any streets in America and knowing I wasn’t in God’s Will!”
d. In Psalm 91: 7, David wrote, “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.”
e. We sang the chorus a few Sundays ago that says, “God will make a way, when there seems to be no way…”
f. We must never forget that when we come to the end of ourselves, God has only begun.
When you read the rest of this account of the storm in Acts, you see that it did not immediately become smooth sailing. The storm continued. The ship and its passengers still had to deal with difficulties. The anchors had to be cut loose. The lifeboats were cut loose. The boat ran aground and began to break apart. All aboard the ship had to jump into the ocean and swim ashore. Those who couldn’t swim had to hang on to pieces of wood from the broken ship and paddle ashore. And then, of all things, after getting to shore, and building a fire to warm themselves and dry off, Paul was snake bitten.
I don’t think any of that happened just the way Paul thought it would happen. But they were all saved. No one lost their life. And God was the only answer to the question of how they were saved.
And when you find yourself caught up in a storm, remember we have a God who cares about you and will see you through. But you have to abandon yourself totally to Him. And His answer may not be exactly what you expect or even hope for, but it will be the right answer.
In Matthew 28, just before His ascension, after giving the Apostles the Great Commission , He said, ”And surely I am with you to the very end.”
Philippians 3: 17-21
My dad was my hero. I always wanted to be as much like him as possible. As a young person the greatest compliment I could receive was, “He is just like his dad!” I remember one time someone said of me, “He has hair just like his mother’s.” I cried, saying, “I don’t want hair like Momma’s, I want hair like Daddy’s!”
My dad had a great sense of humor. He was well respected. His brothers and sisters often came to him for advice. Dad was about my height, and his weight varied from about 160 to 180, depending on the time of the year and how hard he had to work on the farm.
He was faithful to Mom, worked hard, and loved his family. As far as I remember, he never missed watching all the football and baseball games I was involved in.
He and Mom took me to church and taught me the values of honesty and integrity.
In my mind, he was the wisest person. I consulted him on every major decision that I made in life up until he passed away.
And the night in 1968 when I went to the altar and accepted Christ as my Savior, my Dad accepted Christ, too.
I am so blessed to have had such a great Dad. He passed away in 1992, but his influence continues on even now.
He was my Example, my Hero.
Who is your hero? Who is it that you want to imitate with your life—your role model, your Example?
In his letters to the churches he planted Paul on several occasions offered himself as an example. In our scripture today, in Philippians 3:17, Paul wrote, “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who lives as we do.”
In 1 Corinthians 11:1 he had written, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”
I asked at the beginning, “Who is your hero, your role model, your example?” But Paul’s words raise another question: “To Whom are you being an example?”
Paul was really placing himself out there when he told people to follow his example. Just who did he think he was? What qualified him to set himself up as an example to others? What was his motive in making such a statement?
`Let’s spend some time exploring the implications of Paul’s statement as we weigh the implications this has for our own selves.
I. WHY DID PAUL NEED TO SET HIMSELF UP AS AN EXAMPLE?
a. First of all, let me assure you that this statement did not come from Paul’s need to have his ego stroked! It was not a statement rooted in selfish pride. And it was not a power play in which Paul was attempting to exert his authority over others or to enlist a group of supporters for any show of strength. Paul was very open about his own failures. He on several occasions pointed out how he had been on the wrong side in his early days as he openly, viciously, opposed and persecuted the followers of Christ. His encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road dramatically humbled him.
b. So why did he call on the church people to “follow his example”? He knew that the people to whom he was writing were real people who knew of their own shortcomings and failures and who needed to see a real person who was staying true to Christ. In your own life journey, are there people to whom you have admired who have been your encourage rs in your Christian walk? I can think of a couple pastors from my childhood who greatly influenced me. And in my mind I have vivid memories of a couple different Sunday School teachers that I had. While I lifted my Dad up as my hero, the fact is, I have had many who have modeled Christ-likeness before me in my Christian walk. I needed to see real people wrestling with real life issues who modeled Christian wisdom and maturity.
c. Paul was pointing out to those 1st century believers that here he was, warts and all, but he was hanging in there, striving to become more like Christ every day.
II. WHAT QUALIFIED PAUL TO BE AN EXAMPLE FOR OTHERS?
a. The answer to that is very clear in 1 Corinthians 11:1 when Paul wrote, “Follow me as I follow Christ!” It was Paul’s determination to follow Christ that qualified him to say “Follow Me.” He did not say, “Follow me when I go astray.”He did not say, “Follow me when I do something stupid.” He did not say, “Follow me as I make poor judgment.” He said, “FOLLOW ME AS I FOLLOW CHRIST!” In other words, he was saying,“Those things that you see in me that honor Christ, do those things.”
b. In this passage in Philippians 3, when he writes, “Join together in following my example…” is followed by an admonition to focus on godly living and a reminder that he (Paul) and other Believers had their citizenship in heaven and were to be eagerly awaiting a Savior, Jesus Christ, who had the power to “transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” Paul always pointed out that the goal in life was to be as much like Christ as possible!
c. And I must tell you, that our desire, the desire of every Christian, must be to be as much like Jesus as we possibly can!
d. Gloria and I have on a couple occasions visited in San Antonia, Texas. And while we were there we just had to tour the Alamo—the site of the great battle where some of our American heroes fought to the death against the army of Santa Anna, the Mexican General. I read this week this story: On a wall near the main entrance to the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas is a portrait with the following inscription: "James Butler Bonham--no picture of him exists. This portrait is of his nephew, Major James Bonham, deceased, who greatly resembled his uncle. It is placed here by the family that people may know the appearance of the man who died for freedom." No literal portrait of Jesus exists either. But the likeness of the Son who makes us free can be seen in the lives of His true followers. (quoted by Bill Morgan on SermonIllustrations.com) Paul qualified as an example for others to follow because his life reflected the image of Christ!
III. THE GREATEST EXAMPLE FOR EACH OF US IS NOT PAUL OR MY DAD OR SOME OTHER PERSON WHO HAS BEEN INFLUENTIAL IN OUR LIVES; OUR GREATEST EXAMPLE IS JESUS CHRIST!
a. I am grateful for all those who have been examples for me to follow. But the truth is, we all have imperfections. The best Christian I know still has room to improve in becoming like Christ. I have said many times that we all have our Achilles Heel—that area in our life where we are weak and vulnerable. I can tell you that I have several areas in my life where I fall short. The other night I was in a grouchy mood. We were playing dominoes with Mom and I said something –I don’t remember what—and Gloria asked me what I was angry about. I didn’t have an answer, but I realized my mood was not exactly pleasant. In moments like that I sometimes say or do things that really do not reflect Christ-likeness. That’s just one example. I’m sure if we took time and were totally honest, we all could identify many areas where we fall short. I remember years ago having a dream about a dear Christian pastor and his wife. In my dream I caught them doing something totally out of character—I believe in my dream they were smoking cigarettes. I woke up feeling really disappointed until I realized that it was only a bad dream. But the dream reminded me that I must not allow other people’s shortcomings to influence my desire to be like Christ. Only Christ is perfect!
b. Thirty-Eight years ago this month I became the pastor of Branson First Church of the Nazarene. I remember telling the congregation in that first service to not put me up on a pedestal because I’m pretty clumsy and I would surely fall off. What I meant was to let me be me. Understand that I am human and make mistakes. But I will try to be the best pastor I can be. In those 38 years I have on several occasions had to go to different ones and apologize for something I had said or done. I can say now what Paul said so many years ago: “Follow me as I follow Christ.” In those areas where I have fallen short, Please be merciful and forgiving. I only want to point you to the real example—THE GREAT EXAMPLE: JESUS CHRIST.
c. Like Paul wrote in Philippians 3:20, “…we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Who is your hero? We can have lots of heroes—people who have been good Examples for us to pattern our lives after. But The One who is the Perfect Example, The Great Example, the One we most want to imitate in our lives must be JESUS CHRIST.
Is He your ultimate Example?
He’s the One who is coming back someday to claim us as His own!
May He find us living our lives in a way that reflects His Love!
Philippians 4: 4-13
Illustration: An airline pilot was flying over the Tennessee mountains and pointed out a lake to his copilot. “See that little lake?” he said. “When I was a kid, I used to sit in a rowboat down there, fishing. Every time a plane would fly overhead, I’d look up and wish I was flying it. Now I look down and wish I was in a rowboat, fishing.”
Contentment can be an elusive pursuit. We go after what we think will make us happy only to find that it didn’t work; in fact, we were happier before we started the quest. It’s like the story of two teardrops floating down the river of life. One teardrop said to the other, “Who are you?” “I’m a teardrop from a girl who loved a man and lost him. Who are you?” “I’m a teardrop from the girl who got him.”
--Quote by Steven Cole, Pastor of Bible Christian Fellowship in Flagstaff, taken for Bible.org.
How much do you need in order to be content with your life? Someone once asked that of a Billionaire (J. Paul Getty) and he replied, ”Just a little more.”
Several years ago this was reported in U.S. News & World Report, July 27, 1992, p. 11. By Amy Bernstein,
… Postwar Americans always cherished the expectation that their standard of living would improve with each generation. In polls at the onset of the Reagan era, 2 of every 3 respondents said they expected to be better off than their parents. Now, that figure is being reversed. Almost three fourth of the 1,000 people who answered a Roper poll for Shearson Lehman Brothers say the American Dream is "harder to attain" than a generation ago. And 60 percent say achieving the dream requires more financial risk than it did for their parents. The poll also finds that some of the values held most dear during the 1980's -- like wealth, power and fame -- are those that Americans are now most likely to deem "unimportant." The most important elements of today's American Dream center on family and friends. But money remains something to dream about. For Americans with household incomes under $25,000, it would take $54,000 a year to fulfill the American dream. Those who make $100,000 plus crave an average of $192,000. In other words, the American Dream usually lies nearly twice the distance away.
--This article’s statistics are a few decades old, but the point they make is still relevant. Contentment is just out there a little bit out of reach…
And then we read this short letter, written by the Apostle Paul to the Church in Philippi. He draws to the conclusion of his letter revealing his purpose of saying “Thank You,” to the church for the gift they had sent to help with his needs while he was being held prisoner in Rome awaiting trial before Caesar. And in that Thank You message, he makes a profound statement: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4: 12b-13).
And in the passage of Scripture that we read this morning, Paul has given us the secret. Let’s take these few moments we have together this morning to review the principles that Paul lays out that will enable us to learn how to be content!
I. FOCUS ON JOY, NOT DESPAIR.
a. Verse 4 & 5—“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”
b. You are familiar with the Old Testament personality Nehemiah. He was a Jew exiled in the distant land of Babylon who had been promoted to the position of cup bearer for the King. A thousand miles away from his homeland, the land God had promised to the descendants of Abraham, Nehemiah was heart-broken when he got news that Jerusalem, the City of God, had become just a broken down city dump of a place. But God had favor on Nehemiah and moved the King to also find favor in him and grant him permission to go and rebuild the city walls that had been destroyed. The project was huge and from the beginning was wrought with difficulties. It was the focus of persecution and threat from its enemies. It was so bad that the workers had to keep their swords with them while they worked and had to take turns guarding against the enemies that wanted to stop them. It would have been so easy for Nehemiah and the residents of Jerusalem to have grumbled and complained over how bad everything was. But the words of Nehemiah stand out in contrast to their dismal circumstances. We read in Nehemiah 8: 9 & 10 : 9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. 10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
c. We can fret and stew over the circumstances of life, complain about how unfair everything is, point fingers of blame at everybody and everything, or we can remember The LORD IS NEAR, and remember How Great is Our God, and rejoice that we are Children of the King!
II. CAST OUR WORRIES UPON THE LORD.
a. Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
b. Have you ever had to borrow money from the bank? Did you fret over whether or not your loan would go through? Maybe you experience a similar feeling about coming to God with our requests. Maybe you realize that this need that I am bringing to God is the result of poor judgment on my part. Maybe we are afraid that God will point out to us that we should never have gotten into the mess we are in. And, truthfully, when we sincerely come to God with our requests, God may have to instruct us on how to take certain steps to correct the situation. I remember a time many years ago when I had allowed myself to get pretty deep in debt with credit cards and other payments. And then I thought I needed to buy another car. I went to the bank and applied for a loan and they turned me down. They said the amount of debt I had was out of proportion to my income. And I realized the bank was really doing me a favor, Instead of wanting to get more, I got really serious about getting out of debt. I can tell you that I never missed a payment or defaulted on a loan. But I did have to make some adjustments in my lifestyle. And there is always a chance that God will reveal to you that you need to make some adjustments in your lifestyle when you bring your requests to Him. But the Good News is, God will answer your prayer—even if it means helping you make the adjustments you need to make.
c. And how we worry about those things that are out of our control. It has been said that the majority of things people worry about never happen.
d. I love the chorus that says, “God will make a way, when there seems to be no way. He works in ways, we cannot see, He will make a way for me. God will make a way!”
e. Rather that worry and stew, learn to commit your way to the Lord and put your trust in Him. King Solomon gave us this advice in Proverbs 3: 5 & 8: “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
III. LOOK AT THE POSITIVES, NOT THE NEGATIVES
a. Philippians 4: 8 when put into practice will revolutionize your life! “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
b. Doesn’t that sound like good advice as we are going through this COVID 19 epidemic? I can tell you that focusing on the media driven statistics will leave you depressed and defeated. I had a person text me this past week and say that she is afraid to even leave her house. I agree that we should exercise caution and probably avoid big crowded areas where the epidemic might be spread, but I don’t want to live my life in constant fear. There are too many good things to enjoy. So I will put my mask on when necessary, and go to Wal Mart if I need to purchase something, and I refuse to worry and stew over whether or not the virus is going to get me! These Ozark hills are full of beauty. The fish are still biting in Taneycomo and Tablerock Lakes. Grit TV & ISPN are still showing Gunsmoke, Laramie, and Tales of Wells Fargo. Alex Trebet is still surviving Pancreatic Cancer and plans to host the Jeopardy this fall. I have air conditioning in the summer time and heat in the winter. And I have a wonderful wife, great children, and superb grandchildren. And, God is good all the Time! With so much to enjoy, why would I want to let myself get caught up in all the negatives in life. Life happens, But God’s Grace is sufficient!
And when you keep those principles controlling your life, then Philippians 4:7 becomes a reality: “ And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
In our Wednesday evening study of the Epistle of James, we came across this word translated Peace. It is a Greek word that means much more than the absence of conflict. The Peace of God means the Presence of His Strength, His Joy, His Blessing. It means victory over conflict. Someone pointed out that we cannot have victory unless we first of all have conflict. And in life there will be conflict and troubles. Jesus is quoted in John 16:33 as saying, “"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
And so, I can hear the doom and gloom reports of how bad our economy is. And I can hear the confusion as to the steps the schools are taking to reopen this fall. And I can hear the rhetoric of the politicians as they sling mud at their opponents. And I can wonder what will happen if Biden is elected president or of Trump remains in office 4 more years. And I can wonder if our form of government is going to survive. And in the midst of all the confusion and negativity, I can look up and see the face of God and remember that He said He would never abandon us and I can have peace in my heart!
What would it take for you to be content?
I read an interesting illustration this week: A man became envious of his friends because they had larger and more luxurious homes. So he listed his house with a real estate firm, planning to sell it and to purchase a more impressive home. Shortly afterward, as he was reading the classified section of the newspaper, he saw an ad for a house that seemed just right. He promptly called the realtor and said, "A house described in today's paper is exactly what I'm looking for. I would like to go through it as soon as possible!" The agent asked him several questions about it and then replied, "But sir, that's your house your describing."
(Source Unknown.—taken from Sermonillustrations.com) Remember the little chorus that says, “He is all I need, He is all I need, Jesus is all that I need.”
Is he your “enough”?
A Roman prisoner nearing the end of his life, Paul said that he had experienced it all—good, bad, plenty, poverty—the outward circumstances were irrelevant. He had learned the secret of being content.
It begins by trusting the LORD…