When God Says No

Number 24:12-14


The last two Sundays of this month are being spent taking a look at two Old Testament characters that we perhaps know little about or have heard something about and find interesting, at least as it relates to today’s character, Balaam.


Now Balaam’s story begins in chapter 22 of the Old Testament book of Numbers and ends with chapter 24 and our focal text for this morning, recently read by Pastor Regan, is toward the middle of chapter 24 and it really is a wonderful summary of Balaam’s story.


And Balaam makes an interesting statement (actually a question) to his patron, the King of Moab, Balak who became frustrated with Balaam’s inability and unwillingness to curse and use magic on the Israelites, because they thought the Israelites were using some kind of magic to defeat these other nations.


It is found in Numbers 24:12-13:


Balaam answered Balak, “Did I not tell the messengers you sent me, 13 ‘Even if Balak gave me all the silver and gold in his palace, I could not do anything of my own accord, good or bad, to go beyond the command of the Lord—and I must say only what the Lord says’?


I could not do anything of my own accord, good or bad, to go beyond the command of the Lord.


There was a wall, a boundary, that God put up which kept Balaam from doing what Balak wanted Him to do. What was it? Why was it there? What was its purpose?


God put limits on Balaam. He tells Balaam no.


Let’s go the beginning of Balaam’s story, found in Numbers 22 and walk through to the end of chapter 24. I am reading Numbers 22:1-8


Then the Israelites traveled to the plains of Moab and camped along the Jordan across from Jericho.


Now Balak son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites, and Moab was terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites.


The Moabites said to the elders of Midian, “This horde is going to lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field.”


So Balak son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor, who was at Pethor, near the Euphrates River, in his native land. Balak said:


“A people has come out of Egypt; they cover the face of the land and have settled next to me. Now come and put a curse on these people, because they are too powerful for me. Perhaps then I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed.”


The elders of Moab and Midian left, taking with them the fee for divination. When they came to Balaam, they told him what Balak had said.


“Spend the night here,” Balaam said to them, “and I will report back to you with the answer the Lord gives me.” So the Moabite officials stayed with him.


Well, we have Balak, scared to death of this new group of people entering his kingdom, and he is seeking ways to defeat them before they wreck havoc on his land and kingdom. And he hires Balaam to do, well, dark magic, on the Israelites because, as one source I read says, they believed that the Israelites were using some kind of magic to be victorious. This is power behind the curse that Balak asked Balaam to put on the Israelites.


Let’s pick back up at verse 9 of Numbers 22


God came to Balaam and asked, “Who are these men with you?”


What would you say if you were Balaam?


Balaam tells Him and God says, “Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed.”


God says no.


But think with me about this for a moment:

“Is this before or after Israel’s faith falters and they choose to believe 10 of the 12 spies sent out to survey the land which God had promised them who said, “We can’t take the land. We will lose. Those people are too powerful?”


Balaam comes on the scene afterward.


Would Balaam have been part of the Biblical story if Israel would have believed and obeyed the Lord and taken the land as He promised?


So God tells them in Numbers 14:30 “Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.”


Then in chapter 20, Moses loses his temper and God says to him (verse 12)


“Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”


So the Israelites, and now their leader, Moses, are wanderers. Has their faith been weakened? Their lack of faith in the Lord because of their fear and impatience, causes them to wander for 40 more years and for Moses to see the promised land only from a distance. Would they have faced the opposition they ended up facing in the Moabites and other groups, had they not said, “We can’t do it?”


Have you ever felt like Moses and the Israelites? Your fear is bigger than your faith and you don’t push through that fear and trust God? Or, your impatience flares and you lose out on something that maybe God wanted to give you?


The Israelites are now going to wander for another forty years because they refused to believe that God could help them take possession of that which He had promised them and their ancestors.


But God tells Balaam, “you must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed.”


How can this be true? How can they be blessed when their faith in God faltered and they have been forced to wander around another 40 years and their leader banned from leading them into the promised land?


Think about it…


Balaam obeys God (he has run up against someone more powerful than his curses) and he does not go with them. Another delegation comes and asks again for Balaam to come and do his thing. And God says (Numbers 22:20: “Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you.”)


So Balaam goes and one of the most interesting and fascinating stories in the entire Bible unfolds. Balaam’s donkey becomes one of God’s messengers! He talks! (And no he is not Dominic the donkey!)


But notice what the story says in verse 22, “But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him.” (Kind of like a Damascus Road experience, like Paul had in Acts 9!)


When was the last time God stood astride your path and stopped you from doing something He did not want you to do?


Well, Balaam loses his temper with the donkey not once but three times as the donkey, who sees the angel of God in front of him, refuses to stay on the path! And eventually Balaam’s eyes are opened and he sees what the donkey sees.


Now we read in verse 20 says “But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him.”


Why was God angry with Balaam?


What was God angry about?


Was it that Balaam was not seeing what he needed to see? That he wasn’t supposed to go with them at all?


Or was God angry with the situation and with everyone involved, Balaam, Balak, and the Israelites?


I think that we might safely conclude, that God was hoping that Balaam would have learned his lesson the first time. But he didn’t and now God acted again to stop Balaam. So we have this incredible story about a donkey who sees an angel of the Lord and tries to keep his master from getting to where he doesn’t need to go!


Is it another ‘no’ from God?


Eventually, as we continue, Balaam finally sees the angel and we read in Numbers 22:34 “I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back.” And the angel responds in verse 35 “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.” So Balaam went with Balak’s officials.” But in verse 38 he says to Balak “But I can’t say whatever I please. I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.”


Well, as we walk in to chapter 23, Balaam and Balak make a sacrifice of seven bulls and Balaam says in verse 3 “Stay here beside your offering while I go aside. Perhaps the Lord will come to meet with me. Whatever he reveals to me I will tell you.”


So Balaam meets with God and God says, verse 5, “Go back to Balak and give him this word.”


And it is a word of blessing on the Israelites which makes Balak angry but Balaam says, verse 12 “Must I not speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?”


This scenario is repeated twice and in all three situations, Balaam speaks only blessings and repeats the reality that he will only speak, can only speak and do what the Lord tells him to do!


And finally, this brings us to out main text, which is really a repeat of what Balaam has already said to Balak and in Numbers 24:14 “Now I am going back to my people, but come, let me warn you of what this people will do to your people in days to come.”


And in four final messages, prophetic statements, he indicates defeat for Moab and others and only victory for the Israelites.


God calls Israel blessed even though they are living in limbo for another 40 years because of their lack of faith!


They continue to disobey God, they continue to sin. Just read the opening verses of Numbers 25.


But God does NOT give up on them. They are part of His plan and mission to eventually offer the forgiveness of sin to the entire world, including you and me!


He will not be deterred from His plan of redemption! He uses a Balaam, a donkey, and some stubborn and sinful people to make that happen.


So what does Balaam’s story say to you, to us today?


Let me suggest, that in the early history of Israel, when they could have stepped out on faith and possessed the land which God had promised them and they did not, God called them blessed.


What might that be called?


Grace, is it not?


Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be;
Let that grace now like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it;
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.


Thanks be to God for His great grace.








A Courageous Faith, A Courageous Woman of Faith

Sermon for Sunday, January 21, 2018

1 Samuel 25

One of the many things I have read and heard over the years is that people look at the Old Testament with a mixture of disgust and fear.

It comes from passages like Genesis 19:8 where Lot says to a group of men trying to beat down the door to his house wanting the two young men (who are really angels from God sent to get Lot and his family out of Sodom) for sexual purposes.

Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”

What father, people ask, would do such a thing with his daughters?

Then there is the book of Leviticus which contain verses like this:

Whoever utters the name of the Lord must be put to death. Leviticus 24:16

In the King James translation, it is rendered

And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death,

And in the New International Version it is rendered

anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death.

Blaspheme is to take lightly or disregard God so it is how the name of God is spoken.

But then the whole idea of stoning someone who is basically swearing does not sit well with us, does it?

But there are people in the Old Testament who are unforgettable and to whom we relate today, centuries after they lived. Their experiences and our experiences mesh in some uncanny ways because they too were human beings.

Some of these characters are well known – Moses, David, Abraham, Ruth, Jeremiah, Rebecca, Leah

Others are not – Josiah, Nahum, Phineas

But these characters have something to teach us about faith, character, and how we deal (or not deal) with life. How we remain faithful to God or not.

For this Sunday and next, I am going to focus on two Old Testament characters and what they might teach us about the importance of following the Lord, even in challenging circumstances.

This morning we are going to study what the Bible, specifically 1 Samuel 25, tells us about a woman of courage named Abigail. And next Sunday, we are going to spend time in Numbers 24:12-14 listening to and learning from one of the more interesting Old Testament characters Balaam.

Now, I am going to be making some changes within my messages (not content but in structure and application) to you and today the first one that I am making is that I will be creating “pause points” where I will ask you a question for your reflection. You can use your bulletin to write down your response or your note taking app on your phone or tablet.

Here is the first pause point for this morning:

What is the or one of the most courageous thing you have done in your life?

As I began seminary, I wanted to find a part-time ministry job. I saw a position open for a part-time youth director at a church in the city near where I was attending seminary. So, after making a call to the pastor, we went to a Sunday evening service at the church.

It was one of the most high-pressure services I had ever been to. As we concluded the service, the pastor walked up and down the aisle stopping every now and then and confronting someone in the pews about their faith.

I almost did not introduce myself after the service because I did not like what I had experienced. But I did, and we were invited to the fellowship time afterward.

It was one of the most awkward moments in my life. We spoke briefly with the pastor who indicated that we would talk later.

As my wife and I sat there, no one speaking to us, we quietly processed what we had experienced. Finally, as we measured the distance to the door with our eyes and determined if we could make a clean get-a-away, we did.

Out the door we flew and to our car. We feared that we would be tracked down and cornered but no one came after us. And we never heard from the pastor again.

The next day, the pastor of the church we finally settled on, talked with us and when he realized where we had gone, said that he wished we would have talked with him before going there as the pastor of that church had a reputation that was not good.

The fear I felt during that service and in the walk out the door, was one of the most intense experiences with fear that I have ever had. The courage to leave that situation we judged as not the right one for us, came from a realization that something had to change…now.

And I am reminded of the Nelson Mandala quote

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

And President Franklin Roosevelt also pointed out something similar when he said

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.”

But what about Abigail? What fear or fears did she face down? What was her source of courage?

Abigail, is a woman of courage, and courageous faith, as we shall see. We are introduced to her in 1 Samuel 25 and the entire chapter reveals a courageous woman whose courage, and faith, pays off.

Let’s take a walk through this passage from the Bible and note a few things as we do.

Verse 1: Now Samuel died, and all Israel gathered for his funeral.

Samuel refers to the prophet Samuel who anointed David as the new king of Israel because the current king Saul had disobeyed God. So, a very influential person in David’s life has died.

And the conflict between David and Saul is very active as Saul chases David around Israel and David, as noted in chapter 24 has the chance to kill Saul but refuses to do so. So, when we come to chapter 25, David is, in Saul’s eyes, a fugitive. And the man who makes David king dies.

What kind of mood do you think David was in as he seeks food and supplies for his men from Abigail’s husband Nabal?

 He is tired. He is stressed. He is hungry. David is hurting on many different levels.

So, he seeks out Nabal and asks for food and supplies for he and his men? The reply from Nabal is noted in verses 10 through 11:

“Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. 11 Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?”

12 David’s men turned around and went back. When they arrived, they reported every word.

And David’s response?

 13 David said to his men, “Each of you strap on your sword!” So they did, and David strapped his on as well. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies.

David has been insulted and he is angry.

The last time you were insulted, how did you handle it?

 It hurts. It makes us angry. We want to retaliate.

Well as we continue, Abigail steps into the picture. (verses 14 through 17)

One of the servants told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “David sent messengers from the wilderness to give our master his greetings, but he hurled insults at them. 15 Yet these men were very good to us. They did not mistreat us, and the whole time we were out in the fields near them nothing was missing. 16 Night and day they were a wall around us the whole time we were herding our sheep near them. 17 Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him.”

I like the first sentence of the next verse, verse 18

Abigail acted quickly.

What fear or fears did Abigail have face down? What was her source of courage to act quickly?

Let me suggest that one source of courage we often tap into is simply survival. We do what we have to do to survive.

And Abigail family’s survival was at stake!

She packs up a veritable feast for David and his men and made the decisions to face an angry King of Israel herself.

But not only did she have to have the courage to face David she also had to face, if she returned home, the courage to face her husband for as we read in verse 19: But she did not tell her husband Nabal.

Abigail honors David as the King of Israel as she seeks to curb his anger.

“Pardon your servant, my lord, and let me speak to you; hear what your servant has to say. 25 Please pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name—his name means Fool, and folly goes with him. And as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my lord sent

“Please forgive your servant’s presumption. The Lord your God will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my lord, because you fight the Lord’s battles, and no wrongdoing will be found in you as long as you live. 29 Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my lord will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the Lord your God, but the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling. 30 When the Lord has fulfilled for my lord every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him ruler over Israel, 31 my lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when the Lord your God has brought my lord success, remember your servant.”

Okay, here’s a question for us this morning?

Was Abigail being sincere here or was she simply trying to keep her husband from being killed?

 Notice that she appeals to David’s legacy, his integrity, his faith:

When the Lord has fulfilled for my lord every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him ruler over Israel, 31 my lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself.

The gifts and the words of respect do their job

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. 33 May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands.

Then David accepted from her hand what she had brought him and said, “Go home in peace. I have heard your words and granted your request.”

But she is not “out of the woods” as we say. She still has to face her husband.

When Abigail went to Nabal, he was in the house holding a banquet like that of a king. He was in high spirits and very drunk. So she told him nothing at all until daybreak. 37 Then in the morning, when Nabal was sober, his wife told him all these things, and his heart failed him and he became like a stone. 38 About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal and he died.

There is a belief that Nabal had a stroke from the shock of her confession and then passed away ten or so days later.

And then, a fairy tale like ending!

David sent word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife. 40 His servants went to Carmel and said to Abigail, “David has sent us to you to take you to become his wife.”

41 She bowed down with her face to the ground and said, “I am your servant and am ready to serve you and wash the feet of my lord’s servants.” 42 Abigail quickly got on a donkey and, attended by her five female servants, went with David’s messengers and became his wife.

(Yes, I know, David, as noted in the remaining verses, has more than one wife. This too is an issue for many regarding the Old Testament. But that’s for another time!)

What do you take from this message and this story today?

 Let me suggest one:

The courage in doing the right thing always involves risk…which could be another name for faith.

 Abigail had no idea how both David and Nabal would respond to her. But she knew how serious the situation was and she acted to save her husband, even though he was not a nice man, and her sons.

What do you need to have the courage to do this week?

 May the Lord give us all the courage to do what is the right thing, the God honoring thing.

And let us be thankful for a woman of faith, who did the right thing in the face of an uncertain outcome.




A Faith of Resolve Not Just Resolutions

Text: Philippians 2:12-13

I am speaking this morning to the issue of having a faith of resolve and not just resolutions.

When I was a college student, we had a group of chapel speakers that came just about every year that I was in school. A couple of them I enjoyed looking forward to hearing every year.

One of them, a professor at another Christian college, an author and a leading evangelical voice, was one of those “big challenge” speakers that make the rounds of college and universities in which the students are challenged to go and change the world!

Several years later, I heard one of his colleagues speak and knowing that perhaps many of us gathered (it was a youth minister’s gathering) had heard his colleague speak, said, “So and so tells students to go and change the world! I tell my students to go home and clean up their room!”

So take note that this message is a “clean up your room” message today as I have us consider “a faith of resolve not just resolutions.”

How many of us here this morning has made at least one New Year’s resolution this year?

You’ll probably fail at keeping it.

“That’s very helpful, Pastor Jim, thanks for your word of encouragement!”

Well, it is true that the majority of us, about 90 percent, fail to successfully fulfill a New Year’s resolution.

A question to ask yourself this morning (and write down) “Is my New Year’s resolution/intention a large bucket list or an attempted extreme makeover?”

Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen wrote back in 2013 about the frustration they felt, in making meaningful change in their lives as it related to New Year’s resolutions.

I don’t have enough time to live my own life!

I reached this conclusion after trying to follow all the advice given on a morning news show one week in January. It seemed like a smart way to start my day. I figured I’d tune in, get the forecast, learn the headlines, and maybe hear a celebrity interview. I wasn’t expecting all the show segments telling me how to live my life better.

Most of these segments offered the promise of deliverance: … Others, I decided, were designed to scare the socks off of me:…Motivated by this combination of hope and fear, I compiled a to-do list of ways to improve my life and its management according to the experts. The more I listened, learned, and listed, the more behind schedule I felt…

Looking at the list of things I was supposed to do to live my life right, or well, or whatever all this was going to do for me, I felt defeated. The list that was going to improve my life left me overwhelmed. I’m sure you can relate; you’ve made lists too. Lists of things you want to start doing or stop doing — things you want to change about yourself. Lists of ways to improve your life and your character…

(Now, take a moment, and write down five thing on your list, you have one, we all do, of what you are trying change… how do you feel?)

Ashcraft and Olsen go on to say:

When I open my Bible, I find more lists. Things a follower of Christ should do. Things a follower of Christ should resist doing. Traits a follower of Christ should display — all the truly important stuff that never makes it onto morning show segments.

Pause point: As follower of Christ, what expectation do you feel the greatest pressure to meet?

When was I going to get to any of this? I decided to drop my list of ways to get the most out of my life. I realized I needed to find a new way to approach personal change.

The personal change of which I speak this morning is very much part of our spiritual growth and development, our emotional growth and development, even our physical and mental growth and development.

Take note of this: But what Ashcraft and Olsen speak of is ‘cleaning up your room,’ an incremental approach to change. And it is one that with a simple focus.

Ashcraft is a pastor and Olsen is a member of his congregation and together, they wrote a book that I highly recommend called:

My One Word

It outlines a process of how to discern one word to focus on in place of New Year’s resolutions.

I have found it to be very helpful and this is the sixth year I have done the One Word focus. Here are the words that have been my focus since 2013.






And this year it is re-engage.

The focus and the experiences I have had with these words have been very personal at times. The Lord has used them to help me live with more focus and clarity. And it has been interesting to note that as I focused on practicing silence by listening more to and for the voice of the Lord last year, I found myself starting to re-engage with people and with the Lord in a deeper way. It is a process I am still involved in and I also strongly believe that there is a link between all six words.

Now, let’s take a moment: Here is an another question, what might be one word for you to focus on for 2018?

Now before I conclude this message with some suggestions on how to determine what your one word might be, I want to have us spend a few moments with Philippians 2:12-13 because I think that there is a link between a focused approach to personal change and what Paul speaks of in this passage:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,  for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Notice that Paul said to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” and NOT “work FOR your salvation with fear and trembling.” What does this mean, to work OUT my salvation?

It means to take our responsibility for our daily walk with the Lord. It is not all of us nor is it all the Lord!  It means to work alongside the Lord, with the Lord. It means to think through the implications of serving the Lord and following Him on a daily basis.

To work OUT our salvation, is to work through our salvation, to deal with the ethical issues in the workplace, at school, the relational issues at home, in our marriages, these are daily things.

Paul notes that it is the Lord “who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” But He asks of us our cooperation. So what do we use, where do we turn to help us work out our salvation?

We have the tools of scripture, prayer, worship, small group of some kind…but what else do we use, do we need?

A point to notice here: We need a daily plan. We need a clearer focus. We need a “clean our room plan.”

To work OUT our salvation is to work toward, work at, our own personal spiritual maturity and change. That is a daily thing.

There are so many things offered us, too many in my opinion, that are big things to help us work OUT our salvation. Big events. Big goals. Big plans. Big experiences. They are like Saul’s armor on David – they don’t fit us. They don’t help us with the daily things we live with.

(Nothing wrong with Big events…we need big from time to time…we need experiences and events that stretch us…)

Consider with me for a moment some One Word focus that appear in scripture…especially from the words of Jesus…especially when it came to Jesus’ directives at the end of His earthly ministry.

First, we go to Matthew 28:19-20

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”


We know what it is like to go somewhere, make something, baptize people, and teach something.

Then over in Acts 1 and verse 8 we read

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.”


Jesus focuses on the being here…BE my witnesses…

We understand what it means to be a witnesses…to tell what we saw, what we experienced…

These familiar words offer us focus…a clear focus…and this focus is helpful

Point to consider here: The One word focus can be a course of action we need to take or a course of being we need to make. It is designed to help us focus on one aspect of our lives where God is working or perhaps wants to work in us.

For example, in 2016 my One Word was simplify. It was something that I needed to do…and it was hard to do…one major way I simplified my life was that I gave up chairing our Ministry Council and chairing our congregational meetings. It was the right thing to do…and it has helped me focus more on what I do well.

Are you interested in this focus? I highly recommend it!

Let me suggest the website, oneword365.com as a starting place. They have a suggested list of words for you to consider.

Many times I have read in the OneWord365 Facebook group posts or on Twitter, “My word has found or chosen me.” That has been my experience because I believe that it has been the Lord that has been involved in this process.

Here are some steps to help you get started, if you choose, on picking one word for this year. It is from the website myoneword.org

Step 1: Determine the kind of person you want to become.

Step 2: Identify the characteristics of that person.

Step 3: Pick A Word

A point to note for your notes: Our faith requires of us change… Paul makes this clear in our main text for this morning. It requires us to work OUT our salvation, carefully and thoughtfully. And one of the ways we can do this is with a close up “clean up your room, first” focus.

Let us resolve to have a faith this year of Resolve Not Just Resolutions, but transformation.

Thanks be to God for the resolve of a loving, heavenly Father who came that we might have life and have it more abundant.



A Walk Around the Manger

Christmas Eve Sermon

December 24, 2017


One of my favorite exhibits at EPCOT is the one in the China exhibit called Reflections of China.

You walk into a room, this room, and stand while watching screens that completely encircle you thus giving you a full 360 degree view of China. 360 degree camera set ups have been around for a while, the first one was at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1901.



Disney used one for an exhibit at Disneyland called  ‘A Tour of the West, when it opened in 1955. Since then, the ability to do a 360 degree shot of just about anything, has been made possible.




For a few moments this morning, I want to do a 360 degree walk, if you will, around the manger. We are going to jump around in the gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke this morning so I invite you to follow along in your Bibles, the one in your hands, or in the pew rack in front of you, or on your smart phone or tablet.


As we walk through these passages I want us to keep the following thoughts in mind:

There were some threats against Jesus that developed soon after His birth

There were some interested parties, admirers, and bystanders beginning to gather around Jesus

There was one, considered by historians to be the founder of an empire, who probably had no idea that the Messiah would be born during his reign and that his demands for a census would fulfill God’s ancient plan of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.


We begin our walk around the manger with Joseph and we stop at Matthew 1:18-25 as we do.


Two things about Joseph to notice this morning has to first do with his character in verse 19:


Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

Joseph was faithful to the law, the Covenant the Lord made with the people of Israel that was given to Moses. And because he was he was a man of faith. He believed in what the law said and was faithful to it. He practiced living the covenant the Lord had made with his ancestors.

And because he was faithful to the law, it shaped his character as noted in the next phrase of the verse, “and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace” even though “he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” Joseph’s faith said that Mary could be divorced because she was carrying another “man’s” child. Jesus was not Joseph’s son!

But Joseph wanted to do a compassionate thing. He did not want, as he could have done, publicly embarrass and shamed her. He wanted to be quiet about it and allow her to keep her dignity.

I think that there is a lesson to be learned here from Joseph about our character and how we treat people who are in difficult situations.

The second thing comes as we consider the whole of Matthew’s genealogical link between Abraham, David, and Joseph. David was the king of Israel at one point, and at points in the Gospel accounts Jesus is referred to as the Son of David, for example in Matthew 20 and verses 30 and 31 we read:

 “…there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”  The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”

Joseph, I think we can argue, came from a line of royalty! Have you ever stopped to consider that?

“But pastor, the Bible says that he was a carpenter!”

You’re right!

But think about this, I have for the past couple of weeks, “was Joseph, as a descendant of David and Solomon, a political threat? Did the Jewish leaders know about him and his lineage? When he and Mary went to Bethlehem, were they and their family, watched for signs of political intrigue?”

Who knows. But what we do know is that when the angel visited Joseph as noted in Matthew 1

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

He did the right thing…

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife,

We know little about him, and read little about him after they return from Egypt and the long-held view is that he died at an early age.

But what did Joseph think about this baby as he held Him? And what did Joseph believe about Jesus?

Was Joseph an admirer or an interested party or a by-stander or something else?

And speaking of Joseph, I recently read that a precocious 10 year old who played Mary during a Christmas play reminded her Joseph as he complained of the travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, “Shut up! It’s not your kid, anyway!”

Let’s spend a few minutes with Mary now.





A couple of things to note about Mary today…

In Luke 1:38 we read “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word,” and in Luke 1:46-47 “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

She considered herself a servant of the Lord and she magnified, she held in high esteem, the Lord as she praised Him.

To me, there is great simplicity in Mary. She is focused. She is focused, understandably so, on her child. But she is also focused on allowing God’s will to be done.

She will watch her son, grow up, become a prominent teacher, become a lightening rod for political power and jealousy, watch him die, most likely was one of the women who found the empty tomb and experienced a resurrected Christ.

Was Mary a threat, an admirer or an interested party?


Then there is the angel Gabriel who plays the role of messenger to Mary as noted in Luke’s gospel in chapter 1 and verses 26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,  to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.  And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

I have an author friend named Jane who has written some incredible novels which feature angels as the main characters. And having read several, it has given me a helpful perspective on the role of angels in God’s kingdom.

A couple of things caught my attention about this passage


“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,  to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.”

Ponder this segment for a moment. God sends an angel to be His voice to a young woman in a town, probably then of only a few hundred people. (Today a city of about 75,000). Put yourself in Gabriel’s place for a moment – try to take in what you see, hear, smell! And he is sent at a specific moment in Mary’s pregnancy. Why? The sixth month is the beginning of what? The third trimester of pregnancy.

Angels figure prominently throughout the life and ministry of Jesus. For example as we read in Matthew 4 Satan mentions them as he is tempting Jesus:

“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

And their presence when the temptations were done…

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him

Then in Matthew 30, in the midst of a conversation that was about marriage and heaven, Jesus said

For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.

And in Luke 15:10 we read

Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

 So angels are part of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life on earth as well as His birth.

The other thing that we notice is that the angel has a name, Gabriel, Gabriel is mentioned in the Old Testament book of Daniel. So Gabriel has visited with Daniel, and now he visits with Mary.

Was he a threat, an interested bystander or an admirer…or merely the messenger?

And speaking of angels, we cannot forget to stop and revisit the shepherds as noted in Luke 2


And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”  And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

The shepherds were minding their own business…and sheep when first one angel and then a host of angels showed up and announced and celebrated Jesus’ birth. Their work got interrupted…Their lives got interrupted!

Did they take the sheep with them into Bethlehem? Or did they leave them with the youngest member of the group? If they took them, how many sheep went with them?

“Pastor Jim, you are going a bit off topic…who cares where the sheep were…and how many and…well…you know…”

Has Jesus ever interrupted you at work? A sudden insight or awareness entered your conscious thought? Or a conversation with someone took a turn that you did not expect and it went toward Jesus?

When we encounter Jesus, He interrupts our lives! Think about the people we read about in the gospel accounts who were interrupted by Jesus’ words and actions? Not all of them made changes that He asked of them. But they were stopped in their tracks and forced to deal with Jesus and His agenda. Think of the rich young ruler.

And these shepherds…were they mere by-standers? Were they a threat? Did they become admirers?

I don’t think there was a shepherd in the 12 disciples that Jesus selected. We know little about a few of them…maybe one or two were…we don’t know.

But how did this encounter affect these nomadic men? In the years that passed, did they remember that night if and when Jesus walked through their pastures or across their paths as they led their flocks?

We don’t know…but the announcement and their encounter with the Christ child left them stunned and amazed…and they were not quiet about it!

But Jesus did not only affect these wander sheep herders, He affected one who sat in a place of great political power and some who were of great learning and travel…we go again to Matthew 2


Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Lots of debate and discussion over the years about who these three men were.

Were they astrologers? (We have seen his star…)

Were they wise men? Men of wisdom and discernment.

Were they kings of some kind?

The gifts they brought, I have recently read from the pen of Pastor Chad Ashby in an article at christianitytoday.com, had many of the early leaders of the Christian faith seeing the

“…significance in wise men bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh “from the East.” In the estimation of Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian these gifts were particularly Arabian in nature. Martin Luther agreed. He writes concerning the wise men, “At first they did not consider this king to be God, but in the usual manner took him [Jesus] for a temporal king, just as the queen of Sheba considered Solomon a king, coming to him with presents from her country.” Luther read Matthew 2 and thought: Foreigners from Arabia bringing gifts and seeking wisdom in Jerusalem?”

We know little about them…but were they merely by-standers or an interested party or a threat?

And then there is King Herod, paranoid about a possible contender to his throne.


And when the wise men do not return, Herod embarks on a heinous act of murder… of children, trying to kill the young, very young Jesus.

I think we know what Herod was…a threat…the first of many political and establishment threats to Jesus that would finally “win.”

Which leads me to have us consider another powerful, very powerful leader whose distant order set in motion God’s plan…

Luke 2:1

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered…

Historians consider this Caesar the founder of the Roman Empire. And he makes the decision that he needs to know how many people are in his empire and perhaps who they are. And so he orders a census… and that census put into motion – Joseph and Mary – to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem as the wise men of Herod notes in Matthew 2

he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea…

Augustus died in 14 AD before Jesus began His ministry. So probably Augustus never knew who Jesus was…

He was the most powerful man in the world of that day…but was merely a by-stander to history.

And this brings us back to Bethlehem from Rome. From power and wealth and splendor to a small town, a village, and a crowded place where the simple and poor gather to be counted…and a baby is born



Matthew 1:21 “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Babies cause change don’t they?

Not just diaper change…

But change in life, routines, priorities…

Some of that change is expected…somewhat prepared for…

And some of the change is unexpected…

Joseph is roused in a dream by an angel after Jesus’ birth and told

“Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod.

 I do not think that Joseph expected that.

This child would cause a substantial interruption in the events of that day, when as a man, He would speak of a Kingdom that was not contained in nor would be controlled by a specific area of the world.

This child…

would speak of being born again… of a God who loved the world and would send His one and only son, that whoever would believe in Him would not perish but have eternal life.

This child…

came so that we might have life and have it to the full.


As we have walked around the manger this morning, where do you see yourself in relation to the manger?

In relation to the baby in the manger?




As an interested bystander?

As a threat?

As an admirer?







An historical figure?

A nice guy?

A person who said a great deal of things that were wise and insightful?

Or is He more?

What the baby in the manger came to seek, were fully devoted followers, disciples, of His and His alone. Those who experienced the saving grace and mercy of Christ through His death and Resurrection.

I believe, and the Bible teaches, that Jesus was the one and only begotten Son of God who died on the cross for our sins and then rose from the dead three days later.

I believe, not just because the Bible teaches, but because I have experienced it first hand, that Jesus offers us the chance to be forgiven of our sins, be freed from the guilt and shame that has weighed us down, and to live a better life now, on this earth. A life of meaning and purpose.

And so, on this Christmas Eve, I believe because I believe the Bible to be true, that Christmas has been, currently is, and always will be about Christ.

And I invite you this morning to give yourself a wonderful Christmas gift, the gift of forgiveness and grace through Christ. He wants each of us to live a life of peace, of hope, of joy, rooted in His saving grace. And that great gift is available to you right where you sit this morning.

Thanks be to God for the baby in the manger, the savior of our world.






Merry Christmas… and Amen

When Does Love Begin?

Sermon for November 26, 2017

(All songs mentioned in this message are their respective copyright issues are acknowledged.)

John 19:17-30

Lucy says to Charlie Brown: “You know what I don’t understand? I don’t understand love!”

He responds, “Who does?”

She says, “Explain love to me, Charlie Brown.”

He says, “You can’t explain love. I can recommend a book or a poem or a painting, but I can’t explain love.”

She says, “Well, try, Charlie Brown, try.”

Charlie Brown says, “Well, let’s say I see this beautiful, cute little girl walk by.”

Lucy interrupts, “Why does she have to be cute? Huh? Why can’t someone fall in love with someone with freckles and a big nose? Explain that!”

Charlie Brown: “Well maybe you are right. Let just say I see this girl walk by with this great big nose.”

Lucy: “I didn’t say GREAT BIG NOSE.”

Charlie: “You not only can’t explain love, you can’t even talk about it.”

Is Charlie Brown correct? I think he is…

Love is not only hard to explain, it is also hard to talk about, to put into words. But when we see love in action, we know it when we see it! And if we are going to accept and celebrate the Biblical message about Christmas, then we must talk about and demonstrate love…in both practical and sometimes very challenging ways.

As we approach this advent season I want to suggest the following gifts that we all need to receive and give. They are: joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control and love.

And love is common thread which ties all of them, together as Donald Grey Barnhouse, so well puts it:

“Love is the key,” notes Barnhouse. “Joy is love singing. Peace is love resting. Long-suffering is love enduring. Kindness is love’s touch. Goodness is love’s character. Faithfulness is love’s habit. Gentleness is love’s self-forgetfulness. Self-control is love holding the reigns.”

(I feel a sermon series coming on.)

Barnhouse weaves the foundation of love into this listing of what are the Fruits of the Spirit that are recorded in Galatians 5:22-23. Love, by the way, is listed first in that very important catalog of Christian character and evidence of Christian maturity.

If Charlie Brown is right, and we really cannot explain love, then demonstrations of love are key to helping us understand what love really must be, and possibly when it begins. especially as it relates to how Christ loves us and how we are to love as Christ loves. Consider the following story.

When Wycliffe translator Doug Meland and his wife moved into a village of Brazil’s Fulino Indians, he was referred to simply as ‘the white man.’ The term was by no means complimentary, since other white men had exploited them, burned their homes, and robbed them of their lands.

But after the Melands learned the Fulnio language and began to help people with medicine and in other ways, they began calling Doug ‘the respectable white man.’

When they began adapting the customs of the people, the Fulnio gave them greater acceptance, and spoke of Doug as ‘the white Indian.’

Then one day, as Doug was washing the dirty, bloodcaked foot of an injured Fulnio boy, he overheard a by-stander say to another: “Whoever heard of a white man washing an Indian’s foot before? Certainly this man is from God!”

From that day on, whenever Doug would go into an Indian home, it would announced: “here comes the man God sent us.”

Where did love begin in this story? Where did it start from?

Certainly we see love expressed as patience. The Melands were truly outsiders and learning how to gain respect from people who had no respect because of their experiences. They had to be very patient, enduring, as they sought to earn the right to be respected and accepted so they could translate the Bible into the Fulnio language.

We could also make a case that love originated in kindness. Notice that when Doug washed the foot of a Fulnio boy that it caused the tribe to look at Doug very differently. He became ‘the man God sent us.’ In this case it was an act of kindness that created if not at least a love for Melands, a greater respect, and an openness to God.

Consider then this story…

Some years ago there was a shipwreck off the coast of the Pacific Northwest. A crowd of fishermen in a nearby village gathered to watch the ship as it was smashed on the rocks. A lifeboat was sent to the rescue, and after a terrific struggle the rescuers came back with all of the shipwrecked sailors but one.

“There was no room in the lifeboat for him, so we told him to stay by the ship and someone would come back for him,” shouted a young man.

“Who will go with me?” shouted another young man.

Just then a mother cried out, “Don’t go Jim, my boy. You are all I have left. Your father drowned in the sea; your brother William sailed away and we’ve never heard from him; and if you are lost, I’ll be left alone. Oh, Jim please don’t go.”

Jim listened patiently to his mother’s pleading then said, “Mother, I must go! It is my duty. I must go!”

The onlookers watched as the men in the lifeboat fought their way toward the wreck. Anxiously Jim’s mother wept and prayed. They saw the boat start back. a frail little shell tossed about by the angry ways.

At last it came close enough to hear, and they shouted, “Did you get him?”

And Jim shouted back, “Yes, and tell mother it’s William.”

Where did love begin in this story? Where did it start from?

Goodness can also be the root of love. Jim’s character, forged on the anvil of reality – the loss of his dad and his brother – the challenge of his work, dangerous, uncertain both because of what it is and where it takes place – his character is one of goodness.

He wants to do the compassionate, the right thing attempting to save the life of a fellow fisherman, only to save the life of his brother. What did Jesus say that was evidence of the greatest love possible?

There seems to be a faithfulness in Jim’s heart. He knows what must be done. He knows the risks and the potential challenges. Yet, his heart is moved by duty borne by a faithfulness to his task of saving the life of a fellow fisherman only to discover that he has saved the life of his own brother.

Perhaps here is where love in born.

Finally, we turn to our main text for this morning John 19:17-30.

Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”

Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

“Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”

This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,

“They divided my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.”

So this is what the soldiers did.

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
The Death of Jesus

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Where did love begin in this story? Where did it come from?

Patience or longsuffering, what Barnhouse calls Love’s enduringness, is certainly a part of Jesus’ actions and reactions in this situation.

Here he is, in tremendous physical pain, and he has the ability, if he so chooses, to stop his suffering by just a word or an act. He does not. His love, God’s love is expressed his in longsuffering.

What about self-control, closely tied to longsuffering? As Barnhouse notes, ‘self-control is love holding the reigns.” And that is what the Son of God is doing. Holding the reigns of the situation. By allowing Himself to be persecuted, prosecuted, and crucified, he expresses love holding the reigns – he expresses self-control so that we might choose to accept and experience God’s love through forgiveness.

I want us to think about Christmas and Easter like a set of bookends. Bookends help frame and keep a set of books in balance. Christmas and Easter frame God’s love and helps us understand it. We see the balance between the life and death. Beginnings and endings. Starting and completion.

Where does love begin? It begins with a choice, an act of the will. It begins with a decision, a very personal decision. Real love is not an emotional experience that our culture tells us that it is. Emotions are the after effects of love.

The gift of love of which I speak this day really began in the heart, the very character of God. For as John reminds us in I John 5:8 – God is love.

John does not say, a part of God is love. He says, God is love. Love is such an integral part of God that it cannot be separated from Him.

And as we read and hear the account of Jesus’ birth again this advent season, I would invite you to remember that God’s expression of His love for humanity, his desire for a personal relationship with each one of us, is demonstrated by His identification with us in the day to day challenges of living and loving.

As I talk with you and many others, I hear many expressions of concern about our nation and our world. What is going to happen? Where are we headed? How are we to respond? Let me suggestion one way, a very important way.

Give hope by giving affirmation.

Affirmation takes many forms. A card, a phone call, a simple gift, time spent together, with a note that says you are wonderful, you are special, thank you for being you, period.

Give a gift of hope by giving someone a word or an act of affirmation totally apart from what they have, or have not done for you. Watch em, light right up!

But, what about the gift of love, Jim. How do we give that?

Good question.

I have three suggestions this morning on to give the gift of love. They parallel the three stories that I have told this morning.

Love is given when we seek to understand and accept one another where people are currently at. The Meland’s story illustrates this.

The Meland’s went to Brazil with a purpose: to translated the Bible into the Fulino’s language so they could experience the forgiveness and love of Jesus Christ. But they had to start with earning the trust of the Fulino’s. The sought to understand and accept where they were currently at…

One of the ways we can give the gift of love this season is by seeking to understand and accept some one new in the sphere of our lives or by making the choice to get reacquainted with someone who we need to be reacquainted with. When we begin meeting people where they are…that’s where love begins as well.

When Jim made the choice to get into the boat and rescue a person who turned out to be his brother William, he took a risk. One of the ways we give the gift of love is by taking a risk.

By taking a risk, I do not necessarily mean a foolish risk. The risk taking I speak of is much harder. Maybe it is taking the risk of doing something with the underlying hope that love possesses that the risk will bring life and love. It means stepping out in faith to repair or improve a relationship so that God is honored and His love brings healing and hope to that relationship.

The final story of love that we have reflected upon this morning is one that requires sacrifice – giving something up.

The gift of love requires us to give something up, to surrender, to let go.

Love requires us to sacrifice. To give up ourselves, all of our ourselves to God.

Patrick Morley, said this in regard to giving up, to letting go, as a gift of love:

“Every new generation of believers must be discipled. Once shown how to add Christ to their lives, they must be taught how to subtract sin-and to obey. Paul’s gospel was adamant that adding Jesus must be accompanied by subtracting sin. “I preached that they should repent [subtract sin] and turn to God [add Christ] and prove their repentance by their deeds [obedience].”

Morley paraphrases the New Testament writers who say that we prove our love for God by sacrificing, by changing, our ways and demonstrating our commitment to Christ by a changed life.

Receiving such a gift also makes a difference in our human relationships. By allowing ourselves to accept and experience God’s gift of love – salvation – the change in attitude, in behavior, makes a difference in our relationships. Instead of fighting and conflict, we can begin to resolve our difference and see our relationships thrive and grow.

And when we allow these changes to take place, it is one of the best ways that we can give the gift of love. I have learned over the years that best way to give the gift of love is in the little things.

Like picking up your underwear . . .and making sure that it gets in the hamper.

Making the bed, without being asked to do so.

Putting things away that you, and even someone else, got out, without saying a word and with a spirit of cooperation.

(I still forget to do these things…and I am working on it.)

Saying thank you for a meal that was put on the table by a harried and hurried spouse.

Thanking a waiter or waitress for doing a good job in spite of the demands that he or she is under while you are eating.

Opening the door for a mom, or a dad, whose hands are full with just bought gifts, a stroller, and the entire train of items needed to take care of three children during an expedition to the mall.

Saying, “I’m sorry, I was wrong.”

I think that Charlie Brown was right. It is hard to describe, even talk about love. Maybe a painting, a word picture might be just the thing. Or how about a song like Don Wyrtzen and John Walvoord?

‘Love was when God became a man. Locked in time and space without rank or place. Love was God born of Jewish kin, Just a carpenter with some fisherman.
Love was when Jesus walked in history; Lovingly he brought a new life that’s free.
Love was God nailed to bleed and die, To reach and love one such as I.
Love was when God became a man, Down where I could see love that reached to me, Love was God dying for my sin; And so trapped was I, my whole world caved in.
Love was when Jesus rose to walk with me; Lovingly He brought a new life that’s free.
Love was God only He would try, To reach and love one such as I.

I think that a more important question to ask is not

When does love begin but

Where does love begin?

It began before the baby in the manger…

It began before the creation of the universe…

It began before the creation of Adam and Eve…

It began before Joseph, David, Jeremiah, before Job, before Ruth and Boaz

It began before the Bible was written and finalized

It began, ultimately, in the heart of God!

Thanks be to God that He loves us so!



The Attitude of Gratitude

Colossians 3:15-17; Philippians 2:1-11

Has anyone ever said to you

“What side of the bed did you get up from this morning?”

Or have you said to someone,

 “You got up on the wrong side of the bed!”

What are they talking about?

Your attitude!


And what is attitude?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary has seven definitions for attitude in their online definition for the word but here are three which points to my usage for this morning:

a mental position with regard to a fact or state
a helpful attitude

a a feeling or emotion toward a fact or state
a negative attitude
an optimistic attitude

a negative or hostile state of mind
a cool, cocky, defiant, or arrogant manner

He was showing some attitude in practice today, so the coach benched him.

How’s your attitude this morning? Also, how’s your gratitude this morning?

This week is Thanksgiving and is a time in which we express gratitude for many things.


What is that?

The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines gratitude as

the state of being grateful

Throughout my message this morning I am going to invite you to list on paper several things that you are grateful for as a way of doing what many people do – a gratitude list. Here is the first prompt:

I’m grateful for three things I hear:

Write down three things that you are grateful to hear…

Now pick one of the three and take a moment to write down why you are grateful to hear that sound then share it, and the reason why, to the person sitting next to you…make sure you both share your what you are grateful to hear and the reason why…

Here is mine

I am grateful for the sound of my family’s voice…especially family members I don’t often talk to… I am glad that I can hear their voice and not just see pictures of them on Facebook

There is an online article at the website positivepsychologyprogram.com titled “What is gratitude and what is its role in positive psychology?” It says some interesting things about the power and importance of gratitude that I will share later but I want to now turn to the first of two passages of scripture which form the basis of this message.

The first is Colossians 3:15-17

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.  Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

The Colossians passage comes at the end of the opening segment in Colossians 3 a letter from Paul to the Christians in the ancient city of Colossae, located in what is now southwestern Turkey.

Paul spends the first fourteen verses of this chapter telling the Christians in that city what they need to let go of…

…. whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry…and a host of other things…

And what needs to be added to their lives…

clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love,…

And he concludes, in the text just read, with two references to thankfulness and gratitude…

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Notice that the simple sentence, “And be thankful,” appears after Paul’s call for the Colossian Christians to let the peace of Christ rule in their hearts because they are called to peace.

And one of the many definitions of peace is that of harmony, something that Paul is hitting on throughout verses 1 through 14 as he speaks of how they are to live together, as witness of God’s peace to their community. Thankfulness thrives when there is peace, when there is harmony, in our relationship with the Lord and…with others.

Then, in the context of corporate worship, we read a bit further…

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

“…singing to God with gratitude in your hearts,” reflect on that statement

“…singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”

We have recently sung a song that we have not sang in a while that goes

When the music fades
All is stripped away
And I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that’s of worth
That will bless your heart
I’ll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You’re looking into my heart

I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about You
It’s all about You, Jesus
I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it
When it’s all about You
It’s all about You, Jesus

Do you come to worship, every Sunday, with gratitude in your heart for who God is and what He has done for you?

When you pray throughout the week, do you pray a prayer of gratitude in your heart for the blessings that the Lord has given you?

Are we grateful, every day, consciously grateful, for what we have been given in Christ?

Let’s go to that on-line article I mentioned a few moments ago and look at something that was said there…

Expressing your thanks can really improve your overall sense of well-being: studies show that grateful people are more agreeable, more open, and less neurotic (McCullough et al., 2002; McCullough, Tsang, & Emmons, 2004; Wood, Maltby, Gillett, Linley, & Joseph, 2008; Wood, Maltby, Stewart, Linley et al., 2008). Furthermore, gratitude is related negatively to depression and positively to life satisfaction (Wood, Joseph, & Maltby, 2008).

By neurotic they mean anxious.

Gratitude has its benefits and it is an important expression of our faith in Christ.

Something to consider, do our words of gratitude and our attitude of gratitude, reflect our faith in Christ?

Now for another gratitude prompt before we move to our second passage of scripture.

I’m grateful for these three friends:

Now take a moment and pick one of those friends and share with a neighbor why you are grateful for that friend…

Our second passage is Philippians 2:1-11,

And I call our attention to verses 5-8 of Philippians 2:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

There are a couple of places I want us to look at in this segment regarding the importance of attitude and gratitude…

The first, actually a phrase, appears in verse 5,

have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…

In another translation, the New American Standard Version, it reads

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,


Now Paul begins chapter 2 with a therefore…and as I have said before, when we see a sentence begin with the word therefore, it means that the writer, in this case Paul, is about to make a statement based on what has been previously said, in this case what has said in chapter 1.

Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

And he goes on to say,

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

And then he finally says

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset, have the same attitude, as Christ Jesus:

Paul is telling the Philippian Christians, if you are going to find encouragement from being united with the Lord, have the same attitude as Jesus Christ as follows:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,

And this is the second place I want to call attention to…

he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

The word translated as humility here means, among other things, “to behave in an unassuming manner and devoid of all haughtiness (or arrogance) …”

Paul is telling the Philippian Christians that the humility Jesus showed while He walked this earth, is the attitude we are to have. He did not, as we read in verse 6

“consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage…”

So, as we approach Thanksgiving our attitude, one of humility, of gratitude, expressed verbally and in other ways, needs to reflect our faith and hope, in Christ.

Here is our final gratitude prompt for this morning:

Three ways that I want to express gratitude this week are:

Thanks be to God for His attitude of love and grace toward us!

Happy Thanksgiving!


“Now this is living!”

Awakening to Life “Now this is living!”

Sermon for Sunday, October 8, 2017

Our text for this morning is Luke 15:23-24

We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

We are concluding our journey of the past six weeks, that I have called Awakening to God, Awakening to Life with one last look at the prodigal son, whose story is told by Jesus in Luke 15:11-32 and I would have us consider the question, “Have you found what you are looking for?” as we begin our final time in this series.

We began the series with a statement, a declaration, Coming to our senses, and in the time since then we have walked through a list of awakenings which Pastors Dave and Jon Ferguson discovered as they talked with members of their church about how they came to Christ or came back home to Christ.

They wrote a book about it that I highly recommend:



Finding Your Way Back to God






Here are the awakenings they discovered in the stories of the persons they talked to:

Awakening to Longing “There’s got to be more”

Awakening to Regret “I wish I could start over”

Awakening to Help “I can’t do this on my own”

Awakening to Love “God, loves me deeply after all!”

Awakening to Life “Now this is living!”

We conclude today with the final awakening – the awakening to life and I again repeat the question that I asked a moment ago:

“Have you found what you are looking for?”

I am reminded of the U2 song that says in part,

I have climbed the highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you.

I have run, I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you.

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.

Have you found what you’re looking for?

The journey of the prodigal began with an instance that “I want what is mine…and what is coming to me…” “The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate…”

He was looking for something…something better. What was it?

Fun? Could have had it at home! He was probably among the wealthiest kids in the town!

Adventure? He could have had an entire desert nearby to go adventuring in!


Or was he bored? And boredom I remind us today is a dangerous thing.

Was he like many young men and women today who are ready to strike out on their own.

Or was there conflict with the older brother? Or even with his father?

“I hate you! You make me sick!”

“Oh yeah, well you’re lazy and stupid and don’t do your chores. And besides mom always likes me best!”

“You are so out of date, old man. You don’t know anything! Everybody else has a new camel but me!”

Whatever it was, he wasn’t finding it at home!

So, he decided to strike out on his own.

“…the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living….”

But it all came, eventually, crashing down,

“After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.”

And now he was looking for something else to satisfy him…


And then came the moment, the moment, when he came to his senses and realized that home did not look so square and boring and out of date…

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.”

He went home expecting not to be welcomed as a son but hoping to find work, and food and a comfortable place to live as a servant, not as a son.

But the father had other plans…

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

As a son…

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

The son admitted what he had done…

‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

And the father loved on him deeply

Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

The son finally found what he was looking for…

But the life he was now living, in a familiar place, was not the same life he had left with. Remember these words?

“Most of us when we are ready to start over, simply want to go back to the life we had before everything went south. But God has other ideas. He doesn’t just want to help us get back to that better life as we imagine it when we’re surrounded by pigs. He wants us to experience a different kind of a life altogether.” Dave and Jon Ferguson

Now the son is home and he is loved and he is at peace. I also think he was overwhelmed. But I cannot help think (and others, I believe, think the same thing) he said, “Now this is living!”

Do you remember when you first came to Christ? Do you remember the joy, the peace, the celebration of life you experienced?

Do you still have joy, peace, and celebration?

If we are really honest with ourselves… No.

Life has dinged us. We are dented, bruised, cracked.

We cannot live off the emotional high of those first wonderful experiences.

We have “mountain top” experiences from time to time that we need to have. But we cannot stay there. Life is lived in the valleys and the paths we all tread…together.

However, there are ways we can continue to live victoriously, to celebrate our life in Christ, and be at peace with God, ourselves, and others.

The first way is that we don’t celebrate, we don’t live life alone.

The father threw a party! Not a funeral service!

It was not a private dinner!

It was a party and I don’t it was just the family, I think that the dad invited the neighborhood if not the entire village!

We don’t celebrate alone the life we have in Christ! We celebrated it with others who walk this path of faith alongside us!

And one of the ways we celebrate our life in Christ is through worship. We come as we are to worship. Some days we come full of joy. Other days we come to worship full of grief. Other days we come to worship experiencing conflicting emotions. But we don’t worship alone…we worship together!

But we also celebrate alone…in our private moments with gratitude, grief, frustration, joy. We spend time in prayer seeking God’s direction and strength. We read the Psalms and we are reminded that just as the Psalmist cried out to the Lord, we too can cry out to the Lord. We go quiet for a while seeking the presence of God and listening for the soft, still voice of the Spirit.

Now, what happened to this young man, after the story ended?

“Pastor, it was a story that Jesus told to make a point about the great love of God and that’s it!”

Well you’re right…but what has to happen to a person who has lived life in a wild and dangerous manner? What has to happen to a person who has stopped using drugs, alcohol, porn, or stopped raging? What has to happen to them? What has to happen to help the prodigal keep from becoming a prodigal once again?

Here’s a hint:

A group of researchers from Harvard Medical School discovered a few years ago that two of the most powerful and meaningful life experiences we must, I believe, have is the ability to achieve, that is accomplishing something worthwhile, and connecting, which is meaningfully connecting with someone else. The leader of the study, Dr Edward Hallowell, who calls connecting “the Other Vitamin C” indicated that our society has become more obsessed with accomplishment than with connecting. And there are reports which suggest that people who have developed meaningful connections with people, report greater life satisfaction than those who are more focused on achievement.

The point of this is that for us to celebrate life we need to connect with people. (Pastor, you’re right…but how? Do you know what my work schedule is?)

I get it, I really do.

One of the things that I have learned about myself this year is that I have been long on achievement and short on connection. I was told a few years ago by a leader in our county that I am one of the most understated and overachieving persons they have known. And last year one of the boys’ professors said to me, “Do any of the Kane’s know how to say ‘no?’”

As I processed these thoughts I realized that my then deepening isolation goes back nearly 7 years now, after a significant conflict with a ministry I was involved in, caused that ministry, and the relationships within that ministry, to unravel. And, as I wrote these words, I realized in a deeper and clearer way, that I had really isolated myself from meaningful and healthy connections with men who would hold me accountable while at the same time, help me reconnect with my family, my own self, others, and God in a very human and relational way…not to meet and organize the next event or task but to really start living again!

I have this year, started meeting with a group of Christian men that I have known for a while and it has made a difference in my life.

What does this have to do the prodigal?

To more fully experience the life that his father had for him, the prodigal needed to be meaningfully connected so that he could process life better because I think that one of the reasons he took off was that he was disconnected to his father, his older brother (who had some serious problems as well), and to others. He was looking for meaning and connection and he choose to find them in other ways.

I suggest at this point that we consider the prodigal an addict.

You might think that is a bit strong, but I don’t and here is why.

When you hear stories from people who are in recovery from whatever, drugs, alcohol, sex, porn, greed, work, power, relationships, whatever, a common thread as I recall my conversations with them, is that they were seeking meaning, love, a meaningful relationship in all of the wrong ways.

And once they got ‘sober,’ they needed to make meaningful connections not just to stay sober, but to live! So that means what?

They go to meetings, they work their program, and they get a sponsor and they make new friends…for how long?

For the rest of their lives.

Really pastor? Even someone who has had 50 years of sobriety from alcoholism still needs to go to AA meetings?

from http://www.mid-day.com/articles/message-in-a-bottle/195114

(a photo from a celebration in AA in India 7 years ago)

Yes because the pull of addiction, in my opinion, is never fully gone.

The pull of sin is never gone, is it?

No matter how long we have been a Christian, the temptation to sin never leaves us.

So it is important that we have a small group of trustworthy people to whom we tell everything so that the power of temptation is reduced. Remember this verse from last week? James 5:16

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (NIV)

Admit your faults to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous man has great power and wonderful results. (TLB)

Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with. (Message)

Just as the prodigal needed to be connected, and reconnected, so do you and I if we are to live out the last of the five awakenings we have been considering in this series: Awakening to Life “Now this is living!”

And speaking of these awakenings, here they are one last time…

Awakening to Longing “There’s got to be more”

Awakening to Regret “I wish I could start over”

Awakening to Help “I can’t do this on my own”

Awakening to Love “God, loves me deeply after all!”

Awakening to Life “Now this is living!”

I conclude this morning with three distinct threads with a common theme of coming home to Christ.

First, Where are you at in this journey? At the beginning? Perhaps you need to consider the need for connecting – to God and one or two others to help you come home to Christ.

Maybe you are in the middle, you realize you cannot make the changes on your own that you need to make. Perhaps you need to consider the need for connecting – to God and one or two others to help you come home to Christ.

Second, I said at the beginning of this series that I have been praying for revival in the church and a spiritual awakening in our community and country. And I think that this story of the prodigal is a key story to be aware of where people are at in relationship to the Lord. I cannot help but feel that as we have considered the prodigal and his journey of awakenings, there are people we love who are prodigals and who we desperately wish and hope to see come home to us and more important to the Lord.

We keep praying for them. We keep praying, “God if you are real, be real to them.”

We keep the door open for them to return. We pray that they will start to process their longings and regrets so that God begins to speak through them to them and that they will see their need for God.

Finally, I want to invite you to Christ this morning.

The father in the story of the prodigal is who? God the Father.

We are the prodigals.

And until we are safely in the arms and presence of Jesus, we are not truly home.

Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Would you like to have one? Would you like to have Christ come into your life and soul and forgive you of your sins?

He does that very well.

Then I am inviting you to come to the altar this morning and we will pray for you.

Maybe you’re the prodigal and your headed home…you know where you need to be…with God the Father, with Jesus the Son, with Holy Spirit, God’s presence to and for us today…come on home, today.

Come to the altar and we will pray for you as well.

Maybe you are the prodigal and you realize that the changes you need to make, you cannot make on your own…come home… come to the altar and we will pray for you.

I have been praying and I continue to pray for revival for the church and a spiritual awakening for our community and I pray that no matter where we are and our community is in this journey of awakenings, that we will come to our senses and come home to God.

Thanks be to God for welcoming us home with open arms!