|(Slide 1) I begin this morning with the reading of several passages out of the books of Luke and John and as I do so, I invite you to find a common link to the passages:
First Luke 2:15 – 19
‘When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Come on, let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this wonderful thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” They ran to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. Then the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary quietly treasured these things in her heart and thought about them often.’
Now Luke 2:41 – 51
‘Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. When Jesus was twelve years old, they attended the festival as usual. After the celebration was over, they started home to Nazareth, but Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t miss him at first, because they assumed he was with friends among the other travelers. But when he didn’t show up that evening, they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they couldn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem to search for him there.
Three days later they finally discovered him. He was in the Temple, sitting among the religious teachers, discussing deep questions with them. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.
His parents didn’t know what to think. “Son!” his mother said to him. “Why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.”
“But why did you need to search?” he asked. “You should have known that I would be in my Father’s house.”
But they didn’t understand what he meant. Then he returned to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them; and his mother stored all these things in her heart.’
Now our main text for this morning, John 19:25 – 27
‘Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Woman, he is your son.” And he said to this disciple, “She is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home.’
What is the common link? The common link that I want to point out is that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is featured in each of the accounts just read.
An increasingly popular Christmas song these days, at least in church circles, is ‘Mary Don’t You Know?’ It is a song that asks a series of questions to Mary about her newborn son, Jesus, who He is, what He will do and what will happen to Him.
Mary, don’t you know these things? As we reflect on the texts that have just been read, we are told that both at Jesus’ birth and then as He became of age in a dramatic and even scary way, these events became a part of the ‘treasured memories’ which all mothers have of their children.
You know what I am talking about, right? They are the stories that all mothers have, and publicly share when you sometimes wish they wouldn’t. But they are treasured memories and no matter if they are embarrassing or not, moms have a right to tell them. (Oh, yeah, dads have such stories as well and we like to tell them, too.)
I think that one of my mom’s treasured stories is a July date, I cannot remember the date but she can, on which the first church I served voted me in as their first full-time youth minister. That is a treasured memory for her. It was an important day for me, but not in the way it is for her.
Mary had her own treasured memories of Jesus and His life and as moms here can attest, they serve an important role as good reminders of a deep bond as life moves forward and their relationship with their children changes. The gospel writers remind us of this importance as we have read.
Little is known about Mary other than what we read in the Biblical accounts. In addition to what we have read already, John in his gospel account notes that she was present at the wedding in Cana where Jesus performed the miracle of changing the water into wine as we read in John 2:
‘The next day Jesus’ mother was a guest at a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother spoke to him about the problem. “They have no more wine,” she told him.
“How does that concern you and me?” Jesus asked. “My time has not yet come.” But his mother told the servants “Do whatever he tells you.”’
I chuckle at this interchange between Mary and Jesus. I can imagine that upon hearing the wine had run out (a very embarrassing situation) that Mary hunted Jesus down and said, because she knew her son could do something about it.
I can see her in my mind’s eye scanning the crowd looking for Him and when she saw Him she made her way quickly and efficiently (as mothers do when they are on a mission) to Him and said, ‘They have no more wine.’ Now translated this statement means, ‘Jesus, they have no more wine and you need to do something about it.’ It was a mother’s request of her son.
Then there is Jesus’ response. It is almost a ‘so what, mom?’ kind of a response. ‘How does that concern you and me?’ (A very interesting question, isn’t it?) ‘It’s not my time yet.’
Is Jesus being disrespectful? Some might argue that He is but what about the suggestion that He is responding as a son who is doing the necessary identity separation and development that all children need to do in order to become responsible adults? Furthermore, He is also reminding His mother, as He did many years earlier, that His agenda is not what she thinks that it is. Mary, as mothers sometimes do, ignores this line of questioning, ‘Do what ever he tells you (to do),’ she says to the servants who are probably at their wits end about the beverage situation. This mother knows something about her son is different and powerful and wonderful. “Mary did you know?’
Then a year or so later we read in Matthew 12 about Mary again. ‘As Jesus was speaking to the crowd, his mother and brothers were outside, wanting to talk with him. Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, and they want to speak to you.”
(Have you ever though what it was about? Maybe Mary and the family thought that Jesus was getting more and more ‘weird’ or maybe He had not been back home enough and they decided to pay Him a visit? Or that they had important news or needed His input on an important decision and they decided to show up?)
Matthew continued, ‘Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “These are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!”’
Many people, especially Christians, I think have trouble with this passage because it appears to them that Jesus does not care for His mother and family, one bit. But He does care for them as He also cared for those He was speaking to.
His comments are about larger and deeper matters that go beyond the important and valuable family bonds. As we read time and again in the gospels, Jesus is there to establish the new covenant in which the old rules and practices no longer apply.
It is a faith issue. It is a spiritual issue and when He hears that mom and the family want to have a chat He uses the opportunity to make a very important point about ultimately loyalty.
He ties the very important social concept of family into a very important spiritual concept because the new covenant that would occur with His death and resurrection is about the larger community of humanity for which He is concerned and for which He comes to redeem.
(Slide 2) Then there were those moments at His crucifixion. I wonder how many of these scenes we have just reviewed Mary remembered and pondered in heart, grief stricken and torn even shocked perhaps at what was happening to her son, (her son!) as she stood watching Him die. ‘This should not be happening! It is not supposed to be this way! Sons are to bury their mothers not the other way around!’
But Jesus, in great and terrible pain, recognized that his mother, who had miraculously conceived and given birth to Him, need to be cared for and as a good son does, did exactly that. Mary did you know?
Now the gospel accounts do not indicate that Mary was among the other Mary’s who went to the tomb that Resurrection morning. But in Acts 1:14 we read that, after Jesus ascended back to heaven and the disciples returned to Jerusalem, ‘They all met together continually for prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus.’
Mary was not just the mother of Jesus she was a follower of Him as well! You would have thought that she would have wanted to be at the tomb that morning. Maybe she went the day before or later in that day after hearing reports of an empty tomb. We don’t know. But I believe that she was mourning as a Jewish mother would properly mourn the death of a child.
But, then I ask, ‘When did she know beyond doubt that Jesus was alive? When did she realize that what He had said to her and about her in Jerusalem, at Cana, and in Capernaum, became very clear and understood?’ Maybe Jesus appeared to her at some point or at another time when she was with the disciples. We don’t know, but Acts 1:14 leaves no doubt that Mary believed in Jesus!
My point is this: Mary serves as a role model of faithfulness. I think that Mary had motherly concerns about Jesus throughout His life on earth. I think that as we have heard this morning, was concerned about Jesus as a good mother is concerned about her kids. I think that we get glimpses of this in the gospel accounts.
But, she was faithful. One of the comments that I read about her as I prepared this meditation was that for 30 years (actually 33) she did the simple and important tasks of motherhood. Even when the angel appears with incredible news of what is about to happen to her, she believes and says, “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants. May everything you have said come true.”
As we face a new year with unknown challenges but also unknown opportunities, I encourage you to remember Mary and her simple but important faithfulness to the purposes of God. By some she is venerated, held in very high esteem. By others she is simply thought about once a year and then forgotten. But her story, her actions, her life, serves us as a reminder that faithfulness to the simple and important roles in life, when done in service to God and for others in His name, matter.
(Slide 3) As we prepare for communion, let me encourage you to recommit to the Lord for 2008 willingness, as Mary expressed it so well, ‘to accept whatever he wants.’ Amen.
|(Slide 1) Do you remember the day or days that your children were born? I remember both of those days very well. I would like to think (although I am not sure that a case could be made for it) that Jonathon and Daniel were already acting like preacher’s kids as Jonathon was born on a Sunday afternoon and Daniel was born on a Wednesday night (and almost Thursday morning).
As some of you know, we had been married for 10 years before we started trying to have kids and in the course of that decision, we found out that I needed infertility surgery. And, praise God, it worked!
I was 37 when Jonathon was born, 39, and pushing 40 when Daniel was born. I recall that it took me about a week when we first knew that Susan was pregnant with Jonathon to get used to the idea of having children and that there were many changes to my life and in my life that would occur because of his birth. Their births changed my world and Susan’s world in many amazing and challenging ways. Children are so much fun to have around and they keep us hopping, no matter how old they are!
I have no doubt that every mother here can recall the birth of their children and some of us dads can recall those moments as well when we realized from the first moment of birth how different our children already were at that point.
Children change our lives don’t they? The birth of a child is a major event in a person’s life. Life is never the same when children arrive. It’s not supposed to be the same and a recent column by Kathleen Parker makes that clear.
Perhaps you read her column in the paper a week ago. It was entitled ‘Survival of the Stupidest,’ and she opened with the story of an Englishwoman and an environmentalist named Toni Vernelli.
Parker quotes from an interview featured in London’s Daily Mail newspaper that noted Vernelli, ‘had herself sterilized. Baby-making, she says, is “selfish” and “all about maintaining your genetic line at the expense of the planet.” In other words, not having children is more environmentally friendly than having kids.
After expressing shock at the environmental self-centeredness of Vernilli and others, Parker goes on to say, ‘Raising children is quantifiably the most persistently unselfish act known to mankind, as millions of veterans of sleepless nights will attest. Parenthood is when “I” takes a backseat to “thou” — when the infant-self submits to adulthood so that the real infant gets a necessary turn at the well of self-importance.’
We may be shocked and angry at this perspective of kids, but we need to remember Herod’s desire to get rid of Jesus because he was a political inconvenience. A child’s birth does change things. But how do they change things?
(Slide 2) A child’s birth changes three things: our focus, our priorities, and our goals.
Having kids changes our focus because, as Parker put it, the ‘I’ takes a backseat to ‘thou.’ Before there were children, we pretty much could come and go as we please. Once we entered adulthood and the workplace, many of us did not have to worry about all things that we noticed parents worrying about.
We did not have to worry about the noisy and upset child in aisle 5 who wanted ‘Cap’n Crunch’ instead of ‘Cheerios.’ We did not have to worry about leaving the party early because the baby sitter meter was running. We did not have to worry about penciling in five different events on our calendars all going on at the same time. (And wondering how we would get everyone to their assigned destinations.)
However, our shifting focus has also given us the ability to see things in some wonderful ways. For example, Brenda Roberts of Georgia shared the feedback from a group of pre-schoolers regarding the birth of Christ.
‘I was reading the story of Jesus’ birth to [them] one morning,’ she wrote. As usual, I stopped to see if they understood.
“What do we call the three wise men?” I asked. “The three maggots,” replied a bright 5-year-old. “What gift did the MAGI bring baby Jesus?” I corrected. “Gold, Frankensteins and smurfs!” the same 5-year-old replied.’
Eventually children give their parents a great gift: Grandchildren! I have always been amused with the bumper sticker that says something like, ‘If would have known how wonderful my grandchildren would be, I would have had them first!’
Author Erica Jong recently wrote in the AARP magazine of the difference having a grandson makes as compared to have raised all daughters. The exuberance of his search, his attention to ‘creepy and crawly’ things, his ways of playing, all have given Jong some positive pause for reflection in having this little boy as part of her family and life.
In our main text, Mary and Joseph’s focus would change from being just another couple of newlyweds to become the human parents of God’s Son and our savior. They are now a key part of God’s plans and purpose. They have the important task of raising Jesus. They are key persons in the salvation of the world although as we later read in Luke 2 when they desperately search for him on a trip back from Jerusalem, they did not fully understand his mission and purpose when He said, “You should have known that I would be in my Father’s house.” However, they loved Jesus and they provided for Him as good parents do.
Children change our priorities as well. I knew that in becoming a father my priorities would change. Yet I did not realize how much they would change.
One of my priorities that changed, and it was a good change, was the time I had to myself on my days off. Before fatherhood, I would have time to go by myself to watch airplanes at our local airports while I read. Go to the mall or local bookstores and browse. Susan and I would have time for us as well but often, especially when she was working, Friday mornings were her work time.
When the boys came along, I simply incorporated time with them into my day off activities. We would go to a park, even with snowsuits on, and play on the playground. I would load up juice and snacks for the boys and we would walk the mall (where I would get some interesting looks) and while they snacked, I drank a cup of coffee.
As the boys have gotten older, scheduling their events into my calendar has been a priority. I think that I have missed very few, games or concerts or other events. (And I have Susan to thank as well for helping me with this.)
Joseph and Mary probably expected to become parents at some point in their marriage. I don’t they figured to become Jesus’ parents.
But children do change our priorities just as they change our focus. Certain things that we did before kids are no longer essential or important. Instead of an additional round of golf or extra hour of fishing, that time becomes the hour of rag ball practice or a trip to the dentist for the annual check up.
Finally having children changes our goals. One of my goals in life has been to travel to Europe. I may get to do that someday, and I may not. For now however, that is a goal that I set aside and exchange for the goal of helping my kids have good physical health by paying health insurance and doctor’s visits.
I have been privileged to go many places and do many things. However, when the boys came along, my vacation goals were one of the biggest changes I had to make.
I think that one of the biggest challenges in parenting is this changing of goals because when you become a parent, certain personal goals are no longer feasible. One’s role as a parent is more important than the personal goals one has for oneself.
Having time to and for one’s self is important. Self-care is essential for a parent to be a better parent. But putting one’s personal goals ahead of one’s children is not a good thing.
As I said earlier, Joseph and Mary did expect to become parents but not in the way, that Matthew and Luke record. In fact, the announcements to both Joseph and Mary that God’s messengers make clear that the purpose of Joseph and Mary’s son is not to be anybody but to be the savior of the world!
Matthew records, “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to go ahead with your marriage to Mary. For the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Luke records, ‘You will become pregnant and have a son, and you are to name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
Now my kids and your kids are not Jesus. They are not royal blood. But they are important to God. Jesus died on the cross for their sins as well as ours.
They are truly God’s, just as we are truly the Lord’s as well, and as we approach another Christmas, and as we will be reminded by ‘our’ kids next Sunday of Jesus’ birth, I remind us this morning of the importance of the baby in the manger. What impact has Jesus had on your focus, goals, and priorities as it relates to your own life and the lives of your family?
Some of us here this morning, are parents with young or younger children. We are just beginning the journey of parenthood. I pray that you will ask the Lord for help in this season of parenting and that you will allow God, through the Holy Spirit, to help you develop and carry out the right focus, goals, and priorities in both your life and your family life.
Some of us here this morning, are parents with teens and pre-teens. We are either entering or in a new chapter in our parenting and family life. The landscape has or is changing. Our relationship with our kids is changing and while we are still ‘their parents’ our influence is a different kind of influence. I pray that God will help you in this season to empower your kids to live the life that God has for them and that the new focus, goals, and priorities that are a part of this season are God’s.
Others of us here are at a different season. Some call it the empty nest season. The kids are gone. They are in college or out of the house living on their own. They are close by and far away. Others of us in this season are launching kids out at the end of High School and college. We are still active in our parenting but in a few years (or even months) that will all change. We are left with memories and mixed feelings as our kids move on. I pray that God will help you in this season to see new possibilities for the focus, goals, and priorities that you are to make at this point and to affirm you in good ways.
Then there are those of us who are grandparents or great-grandparents. We have a great opportunity in this season whether or not we have been ‘grampy’ or ‘grammy’ for a short or long period of time to be used by the Lord to influence the life of the new generation. I pray that the Lord will sharpen your focus, revision your goals, and adjust your priorities in this time and season.
And some of us here are not in these categories. We are in a different place for what ever reason and for some of us it is a frustrating place to be. I pray that God will remind you of His good focus, goals, and priorities for you and those you love.
(Slide 3) Jesus is the reason for this season. Our children need to hear it and see it in us. May the Spirit help us not to just tell the story but live it this season and every season… to all the children everywhere. Amen.
Parker’s article can be found at townhall.com
Brenda Roberts’ story was found at sermoncentral.com
|This is the season of the song. What holiday, other than perhaps Easter, do we celebrate and remember with so much singing? Christmas carols and songs are a part of this holiday season. What would Christmas be like without the classic carols, “Silent Night” or” Away In A Manger?” Or the traditional favorites like “I’m Dreaming of A White Christmas,” or a song about a famous reindeer, “Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer?”
We look forward to the annual kids program because the heartiness with which they sing means a great deal to us. Our bell choir is also a looked forward to group because of the richness of their music.
In Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth, angelic praise, which I think we can call singing, is a part of the story.
That night some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terribly frightened, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news of great joy for everyone!
The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David! And this is how you will recognize him: You will find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth!”
Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to all whom God favors.”
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Come on, let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this wonderful thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
They ran to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. Then the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary quietly treasured these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their fields and flocks, glorifying and praising God for what the angels had told them, and because they had seen the child, just as the angel had said.
Also in Luke’s account we read of Mary singing for joy after she is told that the baby she will carry is the promised Messiah who will ‘save his people from their sins.’
“Oh, how I praise the Lord.
How I rejoice in God my Savior!
For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and now generation after generation
will call me blessed.
For he, the Mighty One, is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
His mercy goes on from generation to generation, to all who fear him.”
Over the centuries we have praised the Lord not only in prayer but also in song. The Bible, as we know, is filled with songs; songs of praise, songs of deliverance, songs of hope, and even songs of grief and sadness.
Music, as we know, is a powerful, powerful thing. And the songs that we have sung this morning are powerful and important songs.
They are songs that remind us of the greatness of our God, of His power, of His love, of His care, of His salvation.
I sometimes try to imagine just how different this time of year would be without the wonderful music that is such a part of the season. But I really can’t image what it would be like. So much of this season is remembered in our music.
But even as we have sung this morning, we need to remember the words of Matthew as we enter another Christmas season because they are words that were spoken first and then set to music and without them, there is no Christmas season, no Christmas reality and of course no Christmas music.
“Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to go ahead with your marriage to Mary. For the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All of this happened to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and he will be called Immanuel
(meaning, God is with us).”
The child came, God was with us (and still is!) we have been set free from our sins by Jesus’ sacrifice! And because of this freedom, this salvation, we sing, ‘Praise the Lord! Great is thy faithfulness, Holy, Holy, Holy, and He walks with me and He talks with me,’ and a whole host of other great truths that began long before the baby in the manger when in the heart of God the Father, He said, “I am going to get them back, I am going to make it possible for them to come home to me!”
So let us again sing, sing, sing to the Lord a song of praise and thanksgiving for all He has done for us. Amen? Amen!
|Holidays get interesting don’t they? They bring out the best in people and they also, unfortunately, bring out the worst in people. I’ll have you determine which is true in the following story.
The day before Thanksgiving an elderly man in Phoenix called his son in New York and said to him, “I hate to ruin your day, but I have to tell you that your mother and I are divorcing; 45 years of misery is enough. We’re sick of each other, and so you call your sister in Chicago and tell her.”
Frantic, the son called his sister, who exploded on the phone. “Like heck they’re getting divorced,” she shouted, “I’ll take care of this.”
She called Phoenix immediately, and said to her father. “You are NOT getting divorced. Don’t do a single thing until I get there. I’m calling my brother back, and we’ll both be there tomorrow. Until then, don’t do a thing, DO YOU HEAR ME?”
The man hung up his phone and turned to his wife. “Okay, honey. The kids are coming for Thanksgiving and paying for their flights.”
We are also aware that one’s perspective about holidays change as you get older (or as you experience them in your youth). Here is one a teenager’s perspective on Thanksgiving in the form of ‘The Top 15 reasons to be thankful on Thanksgiving.’
15. That someone else kills the turkey and removes those nasty gizzard things from their bodies.
14. That peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches are always a safe stand-by when Uncle Dave’s trying to cook the turkey in the microwave.
13. For conversation about a bunch of distant relatives you don’t know, but you don’t care ’cuz the food’s so good.
12. For a family that loves you, even if Aunt Dorothy can’t stop pinching your cheeks and exclaiming, “My how you’ve grown!”
11. That Thanksgiving is the one time you can eat for 8 hours straight, feel like ya gotta be rolled away from the table, but you keep right on eating.
10. For the crazy relatives who make you laugh right after you put mashed potatoes in your mouth just so they can watch you blow them out your nose.
9. For getting two days of school off even though your teachers gave you so much homework, you’ll never get it done by New Year’s.
8. That this is the one time you don’t have to sit next to your little brother who talks with his mouth full. He’ll sit across from you instead.
7. For that one food dish you never quite know what it is.
6. For finally graduating from the “kids’ table” to the “adults’ table.” (I graduated a few years ago.)
5. That there’s always a football game to snooze through, despite the fact you’re sharing a love seat with five of your relatives.
4. For hearing Grandpa pray.
3. That black olives, a.k.a. finger puppets, can add entertainment to any meal.
2. For washing your dishes and those of 14 other relatives.
And the number 1 reason to be thankful on Thanksgiving:
1. That God loves us so much, he gave us a family to love, a turkey to eat, and a Son to save our souls.
Finally, there is the story of the five year old boy who took his turn to express praise and thanksgiving. He began by looking at the turkey and expressing his thanks to the turkey, saying although he had not tasted it he knew it would be good. After that rather novel expression of thanksgiving, he began with a more predictable line of credits, thanking his mother for cooking the turkey and his father for buying the turkey. But then he went beyond that.
He joined together a whole hidden multitude of benefactors, linking them with cause and effect. He said, “I thank you for the checker at the grocery store who checked out the turkey. I thank you for the grocery store people who put it on the shelf. I thank you for the farmer who made it fat. I thank you for the man who made the feed. I thank you for those who brought the turkey to the store.”
Using his Columbo-like little mind, he traced the turkey all the way from its origin to his plate. And then at the end he solemnly said “Did I leave anybody out?”
His 2-year-older brother, embarrassed by all those proceedings, said, “God.” Solemnly and without being flustered at all, the 5-year-old said, “I was about to get to him.”
What are you grateful for today? Having an attitude of gratitude is a very important thing to have and not just this time of year but every day of every year that we live here on earth.
Having an attitude of gratitude is a very, very Biblical way of counteracting the often overwhelming despair and cynicism of our day. In being grateful to God for His grace and mercy in our lives, we know that we have the ability to go on and move forward in spite of.
A few years ago, I preached on our main text. I’m not preaching that same sermon again, but I would remind us with this slide that Psalm 136 has some very important things for which we can and should be grateful. (Slide 2)
Being grateful for these things lets God’s love and power in and expels the darkness with its gloom and doom. Gratitude is connected with hope and in Psalm 136 the Psalmist continually reminds the people of what to give thanks for because they serve as a remind of how God has acted on their behalf.
God has acted on our behalf as well, has he not? We have had our ‘Egypts,’ our moments of suffering and slavery and God has rescued us out of them, hasn’t He?
We have our needs for food and water and safe places, don’t we? And hasn’t God provided us with these things?
What are you grateful for this morning? Do you have an attitude of gratitude?
(Slide 3) In conclusion, I want to read I Thessalonians 5:16-18: ‘Always be joyful. Keep on praying. No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.’
What does this passage say to you this morning? Is it conditional on our situation and circumstances? No! Is it subject to our plans and purposes? No!
What it says to me, and I think that it says this to all of us, is that being joyful, continuous praying, and constant thankfulness is God’s will for us. Our joy, our praying, and our thankfulness is not based on us and our circumstances. They are based on who the Lord is and what is God’s will for us who belong to Jesus Christ.
The challenge for us today (and it is a challenge for me as well) is to have an attitude of gratitude each and everyday no matter what and no matter where because this is what the Lord wants us to have. And He will help us develop this attitude if we ask for His help in developing it! How do we do this?
(Slide 4) We make the decision to. We have the ability to choose to ask God for help in developing an attitude of gratitude. We identify the barriers in us to gratitude and ask God to do the same.
We study the Bible because it gives us many things to be thankful for. We ask the Holy Spirit to change our attitudes so that this attitude is able to grow and thrive. We keep praying and seeking God. We choose to be thankful.
There are many things that can make us ungrateful. But there are many more things that make us grateful. What are you looking at? Happy Thanksgiving! Amen.
Opening illustrations are from sermoncentral.com
|Slide 1 This is the concluding sermon in the series ‘Grow as You Go.’ The first sermon in this series took us to Moses and his encounter with God. We were told that God had a role, an important one at that, for Moses and it was in line with God’s plan and story and not Moses’ plan and story. In other words, we ‘grow’ in our Christian faith and character as we ‘go’ along in life by remembering that the Christian story and faith is about God and not about us and though we have a role in that story and it is not the role of director.
Out next stop took us to 2 Chronicles 26 and the painful and tragic story of King Uzziah. We learned that Uzziah, who became King of Israel at a young age, governed well because he governed with the help of God who made him successful. But one day, due to an increasing belief in himself and a less increasing reliance on the Lord, Uzziah exceeded his authority and with a heart that was filled with pride and power, fell from power and afflicted with leprosy, and spent the remaining years of his life literally cut off from his people.
Uzziah’s story thus serves us as a powerful and important reminder that as we go and grow in our faith and character, we must pay attention to the gaps between our skills and our character because the latter rather than the former will undo us and cause us tremendous pain and disconnect with God.
This morning we move through the Old Testament to the book of Daniel and the person of Daniel and here we encounter the opposite of Uzziah. Here we see a man who says yes to the right things so that he can say no to the right things. (You heard me right, Daniel is some one who says yes to the right things so that he can say no to the right things.)
The lesson we learn from Daniel’s life as it applies to ‘growing as we go’ is, in the words of Eric Simpson, ‘what we say ‘yes’ to grants us power to what we have longed to say no to.’ Spiritual growth and development; the process of going and growing as followers of Jesus; requires us to say ‘yes’ to some things and ‘no’ to other things. Daniel’s story tells us what he says ‘no’ to, at least in this chapter of his life.
Now it is always important to place the text we examine in its context and, very briefly, here is the context of our main text this morning. Our text begins with a statement about a governmental decision being made by a new King, a new ruler, in fact a conquering king and ruler, ‘Darius the Mede.’
As we read in Daniel 5:30 and 31, the former King, Belshazzar, the last of the Babylonian kings, was overthrown and the Babylonian empire, which had overthrown the remnants of Israel, was no more. A new empire, the Persian-Mede empire was now the top dog in that part of the world.
And by this time in his life Daniel most likely was 80 years of age. He had already served two kings, often at risk to his life and those of his friends, because of their faith and their commitment that they kept saying ‘yes’ to God while saying ‘no’ to the challenges. Now he was beginning service to a third king.
So now Darius is the new ruler and he orders some administrative changes and places Daniel and two others in key leadership positions much to the jealousy and anger of others who decide to play to the pride and power of the king and get him to make a law setting himself up as god of the nation. The result is a very serious and life-threatening challenge to Daniel, his character, and his faith.
So Daniel hears the new law, ‘For the next 30 days, only King Darius is to be worshipped and anyone who does otherwise will be cast into the lion’s den,’ and he goes home. Now there perhaps is a tendency to think that Daniel was unmoved by the turns of event because he goes home. Maybe he was. Maybe he wasn’t.
Let’s suppose for a moment he wasn’t moved. Let’s suppose that he went home, to pray, ‘just as he had always done.’
Wow! What kind of faith! What kind of assured confidence in God that God, His God, whom Daniel had faithfully followed throughout the years, would take care of the situation.
What really moves me in this passage is that Daniel went home to pray ‘just as he had always done.’ This three times a day prayer was more than a religious ritual, it was a habit of the heart and soul, that God used to nourish and grow Daniel into the man of God that he was.
But what if Daniel went home, troubled and uncertain? What if this time he thought, ‘This might be it?’ And yet, he went home and prayed ‘just as he had always done.’
Well, as the story continues, Daniel is observed praying (he is easily seen through the open windows) and later he is arrested, charged with breaking the new law, and sentence to death in the lion’s den. But, God protects him and he survives and is vindicated by a very, very relieved and humbled king who orders that a new decree honoring Daniel’s god.
So while the fear of Moses and the pride of Uzziah serve as reminders of the struggles and temptations we deal with as we grow and go, Daniel serves us as a reminder of how to respond to those temptations and struggles by saying yes to certain things and no to others.
Slide 2 Daniel said yes to God over and over over again. That phrase, ‘just as he had always done,’ is one that we need to pay attention to. It indicates a habit, a priority, a practice, (and an intentional one at that) that Daniel did for many, many years.
He went home to pray not just because he was taught it or was told to do it. He went home, day in and day out, when it was easy and when it was hard, and prayed to God. He set his face and heart toward God because he believed in God and believed that God’s way was THE way.
This consistent practice of prayer shaped Daniel’s character. It enabled him to become the person that we read about in this book; a person of consistency, honesty, faith, and maturity. And because he did, God was honored and Daniel thrived through both difficult and quiet circumstances.
(Slide 2b) Daniel said yes to those things that helped him perform God’s agenda. In the first story of this book, Daniel makes the decision not to eat the rich and tasty food given to him and his friends. He did for perhaps two reasons. First, because the foods offered went against the Jewish dietary laws and second it would put himself in the position of becoming dependent on the King in ways that could leave him vulnerable later on.
(Another reason, based on the results of the different diet chosen by Daniel in verse 15, could have been was that it was simply not healthy for someone to eat.)
But whatever the reason, Daniel, even at this early age, said ‘yes’ to God’s ways and purposes so that he could say ‘no’ to whatever would cause him to compromise his faith.
(Slide 3) In saying ‘yes’ to God and God’s ways, he said ‘no’ to some things as well.
By saying ‘yes’ to God and His ways, Daniel had the power and the willingness to say ‘no’ to certain things that I believe we can safely say were a part of his life and experiences as recorded in the book of Daniel.
In our main text he said no to worship another human being as god. Now, it seems that we do a good job of such worship these days.
Think for a moment about the entertainment industry. Many people spend many hours and spend (and pay) much money to learn ‘the latest’ about an entertainment star. Paparazzi chase people and automobiles to the far corners of the world just to get ‘that picture’ that could tell a new and sordid story.
Now it’s one thing to admire someone for a meaningful performance or good character acting. But it is another thing to worship, to put before anything else, another human being, who seems to make more money and get more fame by being bad than being good. (The same could be said for leading sports figures.)
Stephen Covey believes that about 90 or so years ago our society and culture began to be more concerned with, (and I am paraphrasing Covey here) a ‘winning personality’ rather than a ‘winning character.’ Some would probably say that Moses did not have a winning personality, that he was too moody, too uncertain, and probably too old. Others would have probably not picked him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. But God used him.
Uzziah, on the other hand, had that winning personality. He was a great king who did much for his people. He was a winner! Who could ask for more in a king?
Then there was Daniel; he was probably good looking. He had talent. He could have been a bigger influence and an even bigger star if he would have joined the party more. But his character was more important than his popularity.
Daniel said ‘no’ to the very powerful and tempting offer to ‘join the crowd.’ He was more concerned about honoring God with his life than being popular and liked. He said ‘yes’ to God so that he could say ‘no’ to those things that would create the conditions for character (and spiritual) breakdown.
(Slide 3b) He said no to those things that could compromise his faith and character. As we read and re-read his story, we see Daniel consistently refusing to take shortcuts that would make life easier for him. And I truly think he did so because he had seen first hand what the wrong kind of compromise had done to his nation. A turn to chapter one reminds us that Daniel was among those taken away from his homeland and brought to the capital of the conquering nation and chosen to be education in the ways and life of the new nation.
But even while God, as the text says, gifted Daniel with the ability to understand dreams, Daniel said ‘yes’ to God and ‘no’ to the compromises his new surroundings offered him. I just wonder if the memories of his defeated homeland remained in his mind.
So, growing in our faith in and relationship with the Lord requires us to do three important things: (Slide 4)
1. Remember that we are a part of God’s story not the other way around. This is about becoming a humble person.
2. We need to shorten the gap between our giftedness and our character. This is about becoming an authentic person.
3. We need to learn and practice saying ‘yes’ to God so that we can say ‘no’ to those things that would destroy us. This is about becoming an obedient person.
Humility, being authentic or real, and obedience are character issues. I would have us remember this morning that when Jesus called the disciples together at the beginning of their three years together, He focused, as we read in Matthew chapters 5 through 8, on character issues not ‘tips for success.’
A few weeks ago I told you about a question that had begun to occupy my thinking and reflection: ‘What is in your heart?’ As I have continued to process this question and allow God to show me what is in my heart, the image of my heart has changed from being a room to being a garden.
And in this garden there are the weeds that are challenging the growth of healthy qualities in my life. They are called, ‘fear,’ ‘resentment,’ ‘jealousy,’ and the like while the healthy plants are really the ‘fruits of the spirit’ and qualities like humility, authenticness, and obedience.
As I have thought about that image, I have more fully understood that what the Lord wants to do in us is cultivate within us His character. And what that requires is that the soil of hearts be fertilized with a key ingredient… holiness.
Remember what Jesus said at the conclusion of the Matthew 5? He said, ‘But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.’ What this means is that in our character and the life that we live out of that character, we work at becoming more like Jesus as the years go by. And one of the most important ways that we do that is by allowing God to pour His character into us, one day, one moment, one second at a time.
Take a moment at look within your heart and life. What is there? Is God there? Is love there? Is holiness there?
I encourage you to renew your commitment to the Lord this morning and humbly give him permission to start rooting out those character qualities that need to be taken out and to also start planting the qualities that can help you, like it helped Daniel, respond to life with a strong faith and deep trust in the Lord who loves us and walks with us when we ask Him to. Amen.
|Slide 1 Last week I said that we never give up the ability to choose; that it is always present in every life circumstance. Now granted there are times in a person’s life and some of us have experienced this, when a loved one has been incapacitated and someone else, usually a designated person, has to take over the decision making process for a while. But for the most part, we never, ever, give up the ability to choose and one of the hallmarks of being a mature adult and a mature Christian adult is taking responsibility for our choices and accepting the consequences of those choices, intended and unintended.
I encountered our main text for this morning during my daily reading this past week and the Spirit spoke to me about this passage and I now simply share the insights that came during that time as a prelude to communion.
Slide 2 What first occurred to me was that the Lord gave the Israelites one basic choice but stated that basic choice in three different ways: life or death, prosperity or disaster, blessings or curses.
Let’s look at these three pairs of words for a moment. The first pair of words is the basic choice that the Israelites were asked make – Life or Death? What does it mean to choose life or death?
To choose life is to choose to live in a right relationship with God through Christ. It is to be open to and empowered by love, joy, peace, and the rest of the Fruits of the Spirit. It is to love God and others as we love ourselves as Jesus said when someone asked Him what the greatest commandment of the entire Jewish faith was.
Now if you are like me, you have found reading through Leviticus and other front-end Old Testament books to be a bit tedious with all of those laws. Let me give you a big picture view of all those laws: They describe the choice of life, prosperity, and blessing and what it should look like.
One of the intriguing and noteworthy passages to me concerns the ‘Cities of Refuge’ that are described in Numbers 35:9-34. These were places to which, as we read in verses 11 and 12, people could ‘flee to if they have killed someone accidentally. These cities will be places of protection from a dead person’s relatives who want to avenge the death. The slayer must not be killed before being tried by the community.’
To me a choice for life, prosperity, and blessing gives people the chance to be innocent until proven guilty because it values human life and a properly followed system of justice. Things that we have said as Americans we believe in while we are aware of the often glaring flaws and mistakes in our system and history.
In these so called boring passages there is an understanding of the need for health and hygiene because as we are all aware of, bacteria and viruses travel very quickly between humans and back then as well as in our time and recent history, we know what unchecked epidemics can do to humanity. Is this not also a case for choosing life?
To choose life is to say no to death. And death in this context is alienation from God, conflict with others, hate toward those who are not one of us and apathy toward the human condition. The kind of death that we so easily choose – spiritual death, moral death, relational death, comes from the pursuit of selfish goals and desires. It says, ‘me first, then everybody else.’
Slide 3 Life brings prosperity not necessarily wealth. One of the other unique laws on the books for the Israelites had to with the period of Jubilee as it appears in Leviticus 25. It was a time that came every fifty years when the land was returned to the original owners. It was designed to not take advantage of others and was to level the playing field. Debts were to be cancelled and slaves were to be freed. Why? God makes in clear in Leviticus 25:14, ‘When you make an agreement with a neighbor to buy or sell property, you must never take advantage of each other.’ It was designed to equalize the playing field and give all a chance to prosper. (Hum, I wonder how different our economy would be if maybe we tried this in 2050 or sooner.)
Slide 3a Life brings blessing not necessarily total freedom from difficulties. To bless someone is to empower them. One of the Biblical dictionaries that I consulted said that to bless people is to ‘[express] good wishes to someone or [offer] prayer to God for his welfare.’ It also said this, ‘among the Jews in their thank-offerings the master of the feast took a cup of wine in his hand, and after having blessed God for it and for other mercies then enjoyed, handed it to his guests, who all partook of it.’ (Does this remind you of something?)
To curse someone according to this same dictionary defines cursing in this manner as a ‘prediction’ of trouble and divine rebuke down the road. It was a logical conclusion to disobedience.
Death is an embrace of everything against God and the opposite of life. It brings un-life, it brings disaster and cursing. It brings about loss and hardship and grief and sorrow and guilt. Why do we keep choosing death? Why do we seem to prefer disaster and cursing instead of prosperity and blessing?
Because we are easily seduced by the Devil’s temptations to take shortcuts thinking that it will lead to life and prosperity and blessing. Years ago I heard someone say, ‘good is the enemy of the best.’
This table before us, on which the bread and the wine sit, is a table of life, of prosperity, and of blessing. It is a remembrance of God’s loving sacrifice on our behalf through Christ. It is the best and not merely the good.
Next week we will conclude our current series, ‘Growing as We Go,’ with a look at a third Old Testament character who intentionally, consciously, and courageously choose the way of life, godly prosperity, and tremendous blessing – that person was Daniel.
Daniel, probably having heard the words of Moses many times, chose life, prosperity, and blessing even though it nearly cost him his life. He said yes to the right things, to God and obedience to Him and Him alone, so that when the time came to say ‘no’ to a lesser life and commitment, he was able to do so.
Jesus did the same after He broke the bread and served the cup. Though He came face to face with a deep fear of death, He said yes to the Father and chose the way of life through death with the result that we can have the prosperity and blessing that comes with the forgiveness of our sins.
Slide 4 Last week I shared with you the experience of having two questions enter my mind that I try to think about on a daily basis, ‘What is in your heart today? Is love there?’
Slide 4a Since that time a third question has entered my mind, ‘What are you after?’ It is a question about intent and direction and to answer it correctly we have to determine what we are going to say ‘yes’ to so that we know what we will be able to say ‘no’ to when that time comes.
And it will come this week, perhaps even today, when we are presented with a temptation to short cut our faith and relationship with God in some way. When those moments come, and they do and they will, we need to remember that Jesus said ‘yes’ so that we can say ‘no’ and chose life, eternal life through Christ that will provide us with a prosperous and blessed life. Say you ‘yes’ this day to God?
Let us prepare for communion. Amen. Slide 5
Sources: Bible Dictionary sources are found in the ‘Ouick Verse Application Life Bible software.’
|2 Chronicles 26:1-26:5|
|Slide 1 From my college days I recall that sometimes at Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays, college students often took home a young man or young woman for the first time, to ‘meet the family.’ And sometimes it was the precursor to what often took place during Spring Break and which, at least at my college, was announced in chapel after we returned from Spring Break, namely, ‘Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So’ announce the engagement of their daughter, “So-and-So’ to ‘So-and-So,’ the son of ‘Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So.’ And there were times when the announcement was made between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The story is told that Jonathan Edwards, the third president of Princeton University and a great preacher of another generation, had a daughter who had a nasty temper, which was not well known to many people outside the family. Well it happened that a young man met and fell in love with this young woman and went to Edwards to ask for her hand (and the rest of her as well) in marriage.
‘You can’t have her,’ was his abrupt answer. ‘But I love her,’ the young man replied.
‘You can’t have her.’ ‘But she loves me.’
‘You can’t have her.’ ‘Why?’ the young man finally asked. ‘Because she is not worthy of you,’ Edwards replied.
‘But, she is a Christian, isn’t she?’ ‘Yes, she is a Christian. But the grace of God can live with some people with whom no one else could ever live with.’
I don’t know if this is true or not, it was stated as a legend, but the point it makes is very true. Our character and the actions which arise from that character have an impact on others and a very wise father knew what this young man would be facing and thought it best to not encourage the marriage.
Someone has said, ‘The collapse of character falls back down the steps of compromise.’ Character, our character, is a very, very important aspect to our lives and the Bible, directly and indirectly, speaks to the reality of our character and today we are going to look at the story of a man, a king, who followed and then turned away from God, not intentionally at first but little by little, and then in a moment of crossing a very important boundary, lost his power and throne and was literally set aside for the rest of his life from that power and throne.
His name was King Uzziah and from our main text we learn that he was 16 years old when he became king and that he did what was right in the sight of God as king and that (verse 5), ‘Uzziah sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. And as long as the king sought the Lord, God gave him success.’
Then we go on to read that Uzziah’s leadership helped Israel to defeat their enemies and be well organized for defense against them. He also did some crucial building to improve the quality of life for the people of Israel. He was known also as a farmer as we read in verse 10. And as a result of this work, we note in verse 15, ‘His fame spread far and wide, for the Lord helped him wonderfully until he became very powerful.’
But then we come to verse 16 and a dramatic turn of events and circumstances, ‘But when he had become powerful, he also became proud, which led to his downfall. He sinned against the Lord his God by entering the sanctuary of the Lord’s Temple and personally burning incense on the altar.’
This is the second sermon in a series entitled, ‘Growing As We Go.’ Two weeks ago, we took time to review and re-examine Moses and his encounter with God at the Burning Bush and were told that it was ‘God and Moses’ not ‘Moses and God.’ In other words, to grow in our faith and relationship with Christ as we go along in life, we need to remember and accept our place as ‘second fiddle’ because the story, the musical score, is God’s and not ours.
Today, we take a look at King Uzziah and the lesson for growing and going is, as Eric Simpson noted in a talk that I heard about this story and passage, about the gap between giftedness and character.
And we notice this gap when we read the pivotal beginning word of verse 16, ‘but.’ When we read and hear the word, ‘but’ it says to us, ‘okay so far this is true about this situation or this person, however, there is something else to the story as well.’
We dread hearing this word, don’t we? ‘Mr. Jones, this is the Noble County Sheriff’s department, your son, Sam, has been in an accident, he is fine, Mr. Jones, but, your car is being towed away!’
Sometimes however, ‘but’ does indicate that good news is a part of the story as well, ‘It was a difficult surgery and we were not sure at first if we could get all of the infection, but we did and while he will be very sore for a while, and there is pain meds for that, prognosis for his recovery is very good.’
So when we hear or read ‘but’ in the Bible, there is something very important coming that we need to pay attention to. It is a word that is used to make a contrast between two different conditions, choices, or situations.
In Uzziah’s case, we read in verse 15, ‘His fame spread far and wide, for the Lord helped him wonderfully until he became very powerful.’ (Now that word, ‘until’ is another one of those important words that we need to pay attention to.’) Then there is verse 16, ‘But when he had become powerful, he also became proud, which led to his downfall.’ So together we read, ‘His fame spread far and wide, for the Lord helped him wonderfully until he became very powerful.
But when he had become powerful, he also became proud, which led to his downfall.’
Uzziah was a very skilled and today we say, ‘gifted’ person. He was talented (another word that we use) and as he served God with his talents, his gifts, he grew successful. But the problem came when his character failed; when it changed; when it was seduced by power and then pride and he began a downward journey that ultimately led him to be literally isolated from everyone and powerless.
In a recent article I read that was interestingly titled, Hero Boycott, Angie Ward wrote about an increasing ‘groupie’ mentality in ministry that causes us to be personality rather than Jesus driven. And she quoted one of her friends that goes to an Anglican church because, ‘as she put it, “I kinda like the personality taken out of my church experience.” Ward went on to say, ‘What a contrast to the celebrity mindset so prevalent in our culture.’
Character transformation is at the heart of the Christian message and faith. The mission of the church is about helping people with life change through Christ. Skills are important but character is more important because we will stand before the Lord and give an answer about our character and not our skill base.
God is more concerned about who we are than what we do. Now granted Paul did say in 1 Corinthians 10:31, ‘Whatever you eat or drink or whatever you do, you must do all for the glory of God.’ But when we read that verse in context, it is part of a chapter that deals with the choices we make based on our values which is rooted in our character.
But why did Uzziah make the choices that he did to move away from a humble servanthood and into power and pride? This is a question that we must ask and answer if we are going to deal with our own character issues and the sinfulness of our hearts that impacts and shapes our character.
As I studied this passage, several things became clear to me as it relates to Uzziah’s choices and their impact on his character:
First, he (Slide 2) forgot the lesson of Moses – it is it is God’s story not Uzziah’s story. Please remember that in our look two weeks ago we were told that it was not Moses telling God to bring the Israelites out of Egypt it was God telling Moses to ‘go back’ and leading them out. It was God’s plan and Moses has a part to play.
In Proverbs 11:2, ‘Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.’ Somewhere in the time frame of chapter 26, Uzziah becomes too focused on his skills and ability and his success. Success is the result of faithfulness to God’s role for us not what we think is our role for God. Uzziah, somewhere along the line began to believe the press about himself and forgot who the true head of state was – God and not himself! Instead of wisdom becoming a hallmark of Uzziah’s character, pride became that hallmark.
Jesus had to deal with this issue when two of the disciple’s mother asked Him to grant her the request of a place for her sons near the head of the table in the heavenly boardroom. Paul faced it as well when he and another servant of God, Apollos had a bunch of groupies who said, ‘We follow Paul,’ and ‘We follow Apollos.’ But Paul said it is not Apollos or Paul that makes the difference it is Jesus who makes the difference.
Our character requires constant attention and submission to God’s power and direction. Uzziah was a gifted man and was a successful king primarily, not in part, but primarily, because he had ‘sought’ and followed the Lord.
About a decade ago I read a sentence that went something like, ‘hire for attitude, train for skill.’ The point being made was when it came time to bring new people on board (in this case new paid staff) a person’s attitude (their character) needs to be assessed before the hire takes place because it cannot be changed whereas new job skills (and perhaps the willingness to learn those new job skills) can be influenced. In other words, you can hire a gifted person but if their character is flawed all the giftedness in the world cannot change those flaws.
This brings me to my next point: (Slide 2a) ‘The choice when it comes to character development and maintenance is always our choice and no one else’s choice.’ We always have a choice. Though we may encounter a situation that is not of our own choosing, we still have a choice in how we are going to respond. Somewhere, deep in his heart, Uzziah made the choice, because of the influence of power and pride, to exceed the boundaries that God had created many, many years earlier when only the High Priest could enter the temple and burn the incense.
Now there are some who believe that our basic character and personality is shaped at birth and changes very little over the years. I used to believe that until I had children. Susan and I thought they would turn out one way and so far they have surprised us by turning out differently (not in a bad way, however)!
Now, does this mean Jim that God can’t change us? Absolutely not! Although I am reminded what Edwards said about his daughter and the grace of God, I am aware that God can change our bent toward anger or impatience or fear and replace it with love, joy and patience.
Another thing that I have noticed regarding the choices we make is that (Slide 3) we must identify our own character defects and deal with them. Here is a list of common character defects from Keith Miller’s book, A Hunger for Healing: (Slide 4)
Selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, fear, jealousy, self-pity, greed, envy, depression, hatred, self-will, self-reliance.
Do any of them hit home? Do you see your self here? Are any of these familiar friends?
In Proverbs 16:18 we read, ‘Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.’ And a comment on this verse makes clear this third point of being aware of our defects. It says, ‘Proud people take little account of their weaknesses and do not anticipate stumbling blocks. They think they are above the frailties of common people. In this state of mind they are easily tripped up. Ironically, proud people seldom realize that pride is their problem, although everyone around them is well aware of it.’
The Bible indicates that power or control and pride were Uzziah’s defects that led him to his downfall. The question I have is, ‘When did he finally realize that it was?’ Probably when, as we read in verse 20 Uzziah saw his leprosy develop and he was ‘was eager to get out because the Lord had struck him.’
After that, everything went down hill from there for Uzziah. He was, as was the custom of that day and for many centuries, removed from the population and his son was ‘put in charge of the royal palace, and he governed the people of the land.’
Uzziah’s power and his pride blinded him from seeing the boundaries that God sets in place that were for his benefit and are always a part of God’s will for humanity.
Finally, I note that it was not God’s will that Uzziah’s reign and really his life, should end this way. I think that just God is heartbroken over us when humanity disobeys and turns our backs on Him, He was heartbroken over Uzziah.
Now I think that most of us have heard Uzziah’s name quoted in an oft quoted passage of scripture that also deals with the transformation of character, Isaiah 6:1-8:
‘In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. Hovering around him were mighty seraphim, each with six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with the remaining two they flew. In a great chorus they sang, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty! The whole earth is filled with his glory!” The glorious singing shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire sanctuary was filled with smoke.
Then I said, “My destruction is sealed, for I am a sinful man and a member of a sinful race. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord Almighty!” Then one of the seraphim flew over to the altar, and he picked up a burning coal with a pair of tongs. He touched my lips with it and said, “See, this coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven.” Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to my people? Who will go for us?” And I said, “Lord, I’ll go! Send me.”
‘In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord.’ A major transition was taking place in Israel as a popular king was dead and the seemingly endless cycle of kingly transition was taking place as Uzziah’s son would finally become king.
Was it this transition that brought Isaiah to his knees and to the realization that his character was flawed and in need of transformation? I think that a case can be made for this assertion.
Think about Peter and his declaration, ‘Lord, don’t just wash my feet, wash all of me!’ He made it at a crucial time in his life, at the last supper, and I think that two of those character defects, self-will and self-reliance, went down to defeat when Jesus said, ‘If I don’t wash you, you won’t belong to me.’ They crumbled within Peter who I think relinquished control, when he said, ‘Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!’
As we move toward conclusion this morning I would have you think about your own life and the transitions that you have been in or maybe are in right now. Have those transitions caused you to look at your life and your priorities? Probably it has, but what about your character? Is there a need for a reassessment in this area that requires a surrender to God? Is it time for some change?
In the past couple of weeks as I have been praying to the Lord about my own life and character, a question has come to me, a simple question that has burned into my mind and my soul (Slide 5): ‘What is in your heart today?’
As I began to process this simple question, a second one appeared, if you will, in my mind (Slide 5a): Is love there?
What I then began to realize was “Is God there?’
We talk to children about Jesus ‘being in your heart’ and I think after a time that may seem simplistic to us adults. But as I have had these questions enter my mind and conscious thought, it seems to be that they are not simple but profound, and necessary when it comes to our character and faith.
(Slide 5b) They have enabled me, required me even to view the interior of my heart as a spacious place with room for many things to love and give attention to such as family, faith, friends, work, and country.
But it in contrast to a spacious living room like you see on the screen, there are only two chairs in the room, in the center of the room to be precise. One chair is my spot, the center of my will and decision making. The other chair contains only one thing at a time and what I allow in that chair determines the course and direction of my character and life.
Lots of things can sit, do sit, and have sat in that chair. But for me to live as I was created to live and really live, only God, only Love because God is love, can sit in that chair. When that happens my heart becomes more ordered and at peace. When I demand that something else sit there – things like anger, fear, self-pity, discontentment, and loneliness that constitute major challenges for me, then there is disorder in my heart and in my character.
Uzziah made the fatal mistake of letting power then pride sit in that second chair and because he did, he exceeded the boundaries God had set down and thought that he could do something that God did not want him to do. In short, he sinned and he paid dearly for that choice and that sin.
(Slide 6)What is in your heart this morning? What sits in that second chair? Is it the Lord? Is it love? Or is it something else?
Our character matters. If we are going to not just play but live the role that God has for us in His plan then our character must have God and God alone in that other seat. Otherwise our giftedness (and we are all gifted in different and wonderful ways) will be rendered ineffective and our lives will be wasted. What does God say to you about this area of life today? Respond in obedience to Him. Amen.
Ward quote is from: http://www.christianitytoday.com/leaders/newsletter/2007/cln71022.html
Character list is found on page 176 of A Hunger for Healing. © 1991 Harper Collins books.
Comment is from the electronic Quickverse Life Application Bible. © 1995-1997 by Parsons Technology.
|Slide 1 A few weeks ago, I shared some questions that Gordon MacDonald believes are being asked by people at different stages of life. Now not only did those questions really interest me and cause me to think about the questions that I am asking at this point in my life, the story that MacDonald opened the article with, about a man in his small group, really grabbed my attention as well.
He began, “The man’s 51-year autobiography took more than an hour to read, and it disclosed struggles with addictions, difficult personal relationships, and career disappointments. It included accounts of success and failure, discoveries and disappointments. Mixed in were his ongoing efforts to improve a static-ridden connection with Jesus.”
Slide 2 I was struck by this phrase, ‘a static-ridden connection with Jesus,’ and I have become vitally concerned in my own life and in the lives of believers of all ages that we need to move beyond a ‘static-ridden connection with Jesus.’ Which begs the question, ‘How do we get a better and clearer connection to and with Jesus so that we are able to ‘grow as we go? For this sermon and the next two, we are going to study the lives of three Old Testament characters, Moses, King Uzziah, and Daniel, and the choices they made (or did not make) in their faith in and relationship with God.
Some of those questions that MacDonald believes we are asking I believe address the issue of developing and maintaining a better and clearer connection with Jesus as we ‘grow and go;’ through life, through joy, through pain, through disappointment, through changes and transitions, and through new opportunities. These questions are vital ones that must be answered and I believe can help us move beyond a ‘static-ridden connection’ with the Lord.
Here are the ones that I am encouraging us to write down this morning and prayerfully reflect on over the next month:
Why is my spiritual center so confused?
Why isn’t my faith deeper?
Are the best years of life over?
How do I cope with all this increasing weakness around me?
Then there is one that I believe at a very basic level reflects all of these questions, Slide 4a ‘Can Christianity still work for me?’
(Now before I continue, I must give credit for this sermon series to God and to a pastoral colleague, Eric Simpson of Eagle Church here in Indiana, whose presentation at a Holiness Pastors Meeting in Indy last month forms the basis of this series.)
Sources: MacDonald story and questions are located at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2007/003/14.48.html
Fitch quote is from: http://blog.christianitytoday.com/outofur/archives/2007/10/me_myself_and_j.html
Spurgeon and Cooley quotes are from bartleby.com
|Slide 1 This past week I took a step back from the Bible as I prepared for this communion meditation and as I did so, I believe that the Holy Spirit began to show me some patterns in scripture regarding how the Lord related to humankind throughout the course of Biblical history. Slide 2
Slide 2b One theme that was revealed to me is that the Bible begins and ends with perfection. Just beyond the creation account we see a perfect world and just before the curtain closes on John’s deep and marvelous revelation, we see the new heaven and new earth that is perfect and peaceful.
Slide 2c I also noticed that in God’s working with humanity there is a balanced emphasis between the individual and the group. Early on God speaks to individuals such as Adam and Eve, then Cain, followed by Noah, then onto Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Then as we move into the story of Moses, God hears the cries of the Israelites, a group, and eventually frees them and leads them out of bondage and slavery in Egypt which brings us our Exodus 25 text.
Please notice what the Lord said to Moses in verse 8, ‘I want the people of Israel to build me a sacred residence where I can live among them.’ Slide 3
Around 430 years after Abraham was given the promise of becoming the father of a great nation, God seeks to live among that great nation, His people.
So, He tells Moses to tell the people to build Him a Tabernacle, a portable place of worship that would be moved as the people moved back to the Promise Land. The slide shows one artistic representation what the Most Holy Place may have looked like as the High Priest, the only one who could rightfully enter the Most Holy Place, made a sacrifice for the sins of the nation.
Then, following the idea of the emphasis between group and individual, the story of Moses transitions to the story of Joshua. Key to this story is the Ark of the Covenant leading the way across the Jordan as they returned to the Promise Land because it served as a reminder of God’s presence in their midst leading them across the Jordan.
As Joshua and the Judges of Israel pass on and off the stage of both Biblical and world history, we come to a new chapter in the life of Israel as it develops into a monarchy. First there is Saul and then David to whom plans for a new place of worship, a Temple, are first made but because of the bloodshed that David had created his son, Solomon, would be the king that would build the temple and this brings us to the 1 Kings 5 passage in which we read, (Slide 4) ‘So I [Solomon] am planning to build a Temple to honor the name of the Lord my God, just as he instructed my father that I should do.’ (Here we see a cross section of what the Temple may have looked like.)
Israel has now been established as a nation, is at peace with her enemies, and a more permanent place of worship, where God still meets the people through the High Priest, is established. God still seeks to live among his people and the Temple is visible evidence of that. But as we continue to read the Biblical story, Solomon’s story includes a long, slow decline in the relationship between God and the Israelites.
It affects the leadership first as we read of the Kings and Queens who decide to make the Temple a place of worship for something else that the Lord. The result of the decline is first the split of Israel into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms and then the eventual conquering of both Kingdoms and exile of key leaders and persons to foreign lands.
During this decline and exile, God calls forth prophets named Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel as well as others, to tell the people to “come home, come back to me!” God seeks for the re-establishment of a relationship with His people.
Listen to Isaiah 51:4 and 5: “Listen to me, my people. Hear me, Israel, for my law will be proclaimed, and my justice will become a light to the nations. My mercy and justice are coming soon. Your salvation is on the way.”
Then a few chapters later we read in chapter 53, “Who has believed our message? To whom will the Lord reveal his saving power? My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot, sprouting from a root in dry and sterile ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised, and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God for his own sins! But he was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed! All of us have strayed away like sheep. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the guilt and sins of us all.”
Who does this refer to? Jesus Christ, the Son of God who lived a sinless life, died on the cross for our sins, rose from the dead three days later, then after giving His disciples the command to ‘go make disciples [that is born again and maturing followers of Jesus], He returned to heaven and will come again some day.
But during a critical moment, away from the Temple that had been rebuilt but to Jesus had become a ‘den of thieves’ instead of a ‘house of prayer,’ Jesus sat at a table, (Slide 5) during a remembrance and a celebration of liberation, The Passover, and said, as we have already heard in our Luke 22 passage, “I have looked forward to this hour with deep longing, anxious to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. For I tell you now that I won’t eat it again until it comes to fulfillment in the Kingdom of God.”
“Then he took a cup of wine, and when he had given thanks for it, he said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. For I will not drink wine again until the Kingdom of God has come.”
“Then he took a loaf of bread; and when he had thanked God for it, he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This wine is the token of God’s new covenant to save you—an agreement sealed with the blood I will pour out for you.”
God the Son, Jesus, Our Savior, gets personal with His disciples. He says very important things to them about love, obedience, His Father’s will, and what lies ahead. But in all that Jesus says, and then does through His death and resurrection, He makes it clear that God wants to dwell in us and be at the center of our lives and very being.
Slide 6 As I reflect on this progression from the tabernacle, to the temple, and finally to the table, the common thread, the common theme is that God was always seeking to live in us and with us and among us and, as He pursued that dwelling, He got very personal and very human. Why? Because He loves us and He created us for His pleasure and seeks to be in relationship with us!
Slide 6a But also common to this progression was the other side, our side, the dark side, the side of disobedience, of self-will, of sin which enabled humanity then, and enables humanity still, to try and get away from God and not just live without Him but try to exist without Him.
Slide 6c And between the two was the need for something, anything– a sacrifice, a confession – to make reconciliation possible between God and humankind. As we read the Old Testament the solution was animal sacrifice. But in the New Testament, the human sacrifice, sat at a table with 12 men, handpicked to carry on the story and the message of forgiveness and reconciliation with God. Why? Because, as I have said before and will say until I cannot say it any longer through illness or death, ‘God wants us back!’
As we prepare to take communion this morning I want to read portions of Hebrews 9 which provide us with the importance of the tabernacle, temple, and table because it served the purpose of God in re-establishing a relationship with His greatest creation, us!
“Now in that first covenant between God and Israel, there were regulations for worship and a sacred tent here on earth. There were two rooms in this tent. In the first room were a lampstand, a table, and loaves of holy bread on the table. This was called the Holy Place. Then there was a curtain, and behind the curtain was the second room called the Most Holy Place.
In that room were a gold incense altar and a wooden chest called the Ark of the Covenant, which was covered with gold on all sides. Inside the Ark were a gold jar containing some manna, Aaron’s staff that sprouted leaves, and the stone tablets of the covenant with the Ten Commandments written on them. The glorious cherubim were above the Ark. Their wings were stretched out over the Ark’s cover, the place of atonement. But we cannot explain all of these things now.
When these things were all in place, the priests went in and out of the first room regularly as they performed their religious duties. But only the high priest goes into the Most Holy Place, and only once a year, and always with blood, which he offers to God to cover his own sins and the sins the people have committed in ignorance. By these regulations the Holy Spirit revealed that the Most Holy Place was not open to the people as long as the first room and the entire system it represents were still in use.
On to verse 11 we read, “So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that great, perfect sanctuary in heaven, not made by human hands and not part of this created world. Once for all time he took blood into that Most Holy Place, but not the blood of goats and calves. He took his own blood, and with it he secured our salvation forever.”
Then at verse 24 we read, “For Christ has entered into heaven itself to appear now before God as our Advocate. He did not go into the earthly place of worship, for that was merely a copy of the real Temple in heaven. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, like the earthly high priest who enters the Most Holy Place year after year to offer the blood of an animal. If that had been necessary, he would have had to die again and again, ever since the world began. But no! He came once for all time, at the end of the age, to remove the power of sin forever by his sacrificial death for us.”
Slide 7 I pray that the Holy Spirit would really help us grasp the greatness and personal-ness of Christ sacrificial death for us and that we respond to God during these moments as we need to. Amen
|Slide 1 We are concluding the fourth and final sermon in this series, ‘Prayer as a Second Language’ with a look at the vital prayer of supplication. Now, I ask you what does the word, ‘supplication’ mean? It means to request or plea for something and sometimes that is done on behalf of another person. Intercession is another name, I believe, for supplication.
Slide 2 To help us develop a frame of reference and understanding for this morning, I want to you ask you a question, ‘Who are you thinking about right now?’ Is it a spouse, a relative, a child or grandchild, a friend, a co-worker, someone in this sanctuary? Who are you thinking about right now?
What are you thinking about as it relates to who you are thinking about? Is about their health? Is it about their work situation? Is it about their spiritual life and condition?
In a recent article that he wrote, Incarnate Preaching, Gordon MacDonald listed a set of questions that he believes are asked by adults from age 20 on up to age 70 and beyond and which need to be addressed in preaching and teaching. Here are a few of them with the age segment MacDonald believes is asking them listed alongside them.
Around what will I center my life? (20s)
Why haven’t I resolved all my sin problems? (30s)
Why are some of my peers doing better than me? (40s)
What does it mean to grow old? (60s)
Does anyone around here know who I once was? (70s)
As I think about these questions, I know that I have asked some of them (and still do) in my prayers over the years. This part of prayer we call supplication is a part that I believe all of us here are the most focused on. I have no doubt that as I am praying each week on your behalf from this pulpit (and throughout the week as well) that you are praying on behalf of others as well as your own personal concerns.
• What if you explained that you would honestly be more supportive of various ministries if you had a better paying job?
A key part of developing and maturing in our prayer life is examining our motives as we pray and Jesus address this issue when he says pray like this… May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done here on earth, just as it is in heaven.
MacDonald article can be found at:
Mains’ quote is taken from his sermon on supplication that is part of the ‘Prayer as Second Language’ series available from sermonview.com