The Impact of A Child’s Birth

Luke 1:26-1:33
(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

Advertisements

The Attitude of Gratitude

Psalms 136:1-136:9
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

What is in Your Heart?

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.

Playing Second Fiddle

Exodus 3:1-3:6
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:

Slide 3
Around what will I center my life?

Why is my spiritual center so confused?

Why isn’t my faith deeper?

Are the best years of life over?

Slide 4
How do I deal with angers and resentments that I’ve never resolved?

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.)
David Fitch recently wrote, ‘we do have a relationship with God which becomes personal but it is inseparable from His mission.’ And we see this personal and missional relationship in the first story we encounter in this series – Moses and His encounter with God at the burning bush.
Before we examine this familiar story, we need to remember a couple of things about Moses.
First of all Moses was born under very difficult circumstances. We first hear of Moses in Exodus 2 and as we read chapter 2 we discover that he is born an Israelite then hidden to prevent his murder as an Egyptian law had been passed to stop the births of Israelite boys out of fear of being overrun by them.
Next we notice that Moses, hidden in fear of being discovered, is found by, of all people, Pharaoh’s daughter, the very man who has decreed Moses’ execution. She takes him and, without knowing it, ends up asking his mother to be the baby’s care taker.
Years pass and Moses goes, as we read from the text, to see how his people are doing and discovers their unjust working conditions. It angers him and he kills an Egyptian foreman who is mistreating some Israelites. The next day, in an attempt to intervene in a dispute between two other Israelites, his actions are made public to others, including Pharaoh, who orders his arrest, and he flees Egypt.
Years pass and Moses grows old, very old, then Pharaoh dies but the Israelites are still in desperate straits. But God hears their crying and knows their situation and decides to send Moses to bring them out of Egypt and back to the land of Abraham.
Now I don’t know about you but my focus has always been on and my attention called to Moses and his role in this story. But, recently my attention was drawn to the fact that Moses was asked by God to do something for God. In other words I was reminded that as a follower of Christ, it is not about me and God, but about God then me, and this story, like the other stories in the Bible, is about God’s story, not my story. I have a role to play, I have a part in the story, but it is not (to use a musical analogy) as the conductor, or even first chair or first fiddle, but it is second fiddle. But how do I do that? I think that we need to look at Moses’ story or, better yet, God’s work in Moses’ story.
Charles Spurgeon, a pastor of another generation, once said, ‘It needs more skill than I can tell/To play the second fiddle well.’ Then Mason Cooley quipped, ‘Those who refuse to play second fiddle may wind up playing no fiddle at all.’
Moses’ role was to be that of second fiddle. But, as we start reading verse 11 Moses begins to make excuses when the Lord tells him to return to Egypt and lead the people out. “But who am I to appear before Pharaoh?”… “How can you expect me to lead the Israelites out of Egypt?”
As I have re-read this passage again this week, I have begun to think that not only was Moses disinterested in what God asked him to do, he also did not seem to care to be second, first, third, or even last fiddle! Why?
Slide 5 We notice in the dialogue between the Lord and Moses, he made excuses. I believe that his basic excuse is an implied one, ‘I have a past.’
Moses does not come right out and say this but I believe it is very plausible that he was thinking about his past as he responded to God. He had murdered someone which put a price on his head. Then having been seen by members of his own ethnic group committing the murder, his credibility from his own people was called into question and the combination of the shame and fear from the two experiences drove him out of Egypt.
We all have a past. We have all have skeletons in our closet. We all have said things and have done things (and perhaps still say and do things) that we are ashamed of. But that has never stopped the Lord from calling us to Him, has it? Though there are changes we must make to live in a right relationship with Him, God knows what we have done but He also knows what we are capable of as we give ourselves to Him.
A second excuse Moses made was (Slide 5a) ‘I don’t have the ability.’ I don’t have the ability to appear before Pharaoh, I don’t have the ability to lead the Israelites out of Egypt,’ and then, as we read in chapter 3, ‘I don’t have the ability to speak clearly.’
I like what Louie Giglio says about our weaknesses. ‘God knows you better than you know yourself. He knows just how small and frail you are. He knows that you’re just one person, and a tiny one at that. He knows all the things that you are not-and He made you that way for a purpose. That’s why He has never asked you to be more than you are-little you with a great big God.’
I really think that we have trouble accepting the truth that God knows all the things that we are not. I think that we have been thoroughly indoctrinated with the belief that we can do anything we want and God will help us. That’s not Biblical! The Biblical truth is that God will help us to become the person that He wants us to be and sometimes, “we just don’t wannna” be that person!
Moses comes up with all sorts of excuses to not go back, ‘I don’t have the power,’ ‘they won’t believe me,’ ‘I can’t speak well!’ But God, who, as we read in Exodus 4:14, got impatient with Moses, finally told Moses that his brother Aaron, who was on his way to meet him, would be added to the team.
Moses was limited in his abilities and the Lord already knew this. That is why he kept saying over and over to Moses, ‘I will go with you, I will be with you, I will do this and you will do that! The same hold true for us!
St Paul spoke of this same issue in a couple of places in the New Testament. He spoke of having a ‘thorn in the flesh;’ some kind of impediment that kept him humble. He also talked about being inadequate to task of preaching as we read in 1 Corinthians 2 where we read verse 3, “I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. I did not use wise and persuasive speeches, but the Holy Spirit was powerful among you. I did this so that you might trust the power of God rather than human wisdom.”
The Christian faith is about God’s power being released in and through us and us cooperating with that power so that God’s grace and love transforms us as well as others as God directs us. So one of the ways our connection to Christ can have less static and more clarity is Slide 6 by accepting our place in God’s story and mission and then, for God’s honor and glory, serving in that place. But how do we do that? How do we discover God’s place for us?
Here are a couple of things to consider:
(Slide 6a) We need to remember that we are not alone. God’s constant reminder to Moses that He would be with Moses and that He would give Moses what he needed when he needed it, is a reminder to us of the same thing.
(Slide 6b) We acknowledge our limitations because the Lord can work with them. Moses, out of fear, listed his limitations and the limitations of his situation. But, God still said go! The same holds true for us. God knows our limitations and those of our situation, but He will go with us as He leads in the way He wants us to go according to His plans and purposes. He will, and does, work with our limitations.
(Slide 6c) We partner with others to accomplish God’s work. Moses had Aaron and together they took on the world’s most powerful man, Pharaoh, in God’s name and led the people of Israel out of their slavery and bondage. We have the church; we are the church!
When the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost Day, He came to a group of people, not one single individual. God created the church to proclaim the faith, it is not the sole possession of one person. We grow much better in our faith when we grow together.
Remember the Fitch quote I gave a few moments ago? He said, ‘we do have a relationship with God which becomes personal but it is inseparable from His mission.’
But what he says just prior to this statement gives us an important insight into Moses’ situation and ours as well, ‘The gospel is not about getting something,’ he says,’ it is about participating in something—God’s work of reconciling the whole world to Himself. And yes, we do have a relationship with God which becomes personal but it is inseparable from His mission.’
Going and growing in Christ, gaining a more static free connection with Him, requires us to join the team, God’s team, and a humble admission of our own limitations that requires us to play second fiddle, because the story that has made a difference in our lives, is not our story, it is His story, it is God’s story, we are the supporting cast.
Have you felt out of touch and out of tune in your relationship with the Lord? Are your frustrated with your life and faith? Then I encourage you to reconnect with the Lord in these ways. He knows you, He loves you, and He has a place of service where He wants you to be. When you hear Him say ‘Go’ and do what I am asking of you, obey and respond. A group of people and God Himself, is counting on you. Amen.

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

Agreeing With God

John 15:5-15:7
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.
Slide 3:
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)

Slide 4:
Do I have anything of value to give any longer? (50s)

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.
I like how David Mains states this issue of supplication, “How do I get God to pay attention when I say, “Please, Jesus, can you just do these one or two things for me?”
These are important prayers because we believe in a God who does great and marvelous things. We also believe that He cares for us and for the needs and issues that are important to us.
Slide 5 For a moment this morning, I am going to ask you to think of two prayer requests that you would like the Lord to answer and then you are going to have one minute to spend time in prayer for these people or situations. Ready? Begin…
Slide 6 I would like to suggest today that the key part of supplication is ‘agreeing with God in prayer.’
When Jesus, in response to His disciples’ request to teach them to pray, gave them a guideline for prayer, he included this line as we read in Matthew 6:10, “May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done here on earth, just as it is in heaven.”
A businessman named Jacob finds himself in dire trouble. His business has gone bust and he’s in serious financial trouble. He’s so desperate that he decides to ask God for help.
He goes into the church he attends and begins to pray: “God, please help me, I’ve lost my business and if I don’t get some money, I’m going to lose my house as well, please let me win the lotto.”
Lotto night comes and somebody else wins it. Jacob goes back to the church: “God, please let me win the lotto, I’ve lost my business, my house and I’m going to lose my car as well.”
Lotto night comes a second time and Jacob still has no luck! Back to the church again, Jacob asks: “My God, why have you forsaken me? I’ve lost my business, my house, my car and my wife and my children are starving. I don’t often ask you for help and I have always been a good servant to you. Why won’t you just let me win the lotto this one time so I can get my life back in order?”
Suddenly there is a blinding flash of light as the heavens open and Jacob is confronted by the voice of God himself: “JACOB, MEET ME HALF WAY ON THIS ONE….BUY A LOTTO TICKET.”
As I think about this humorous story, I have to ask, ‘Is this God’s will, God’s way for Jacob to get out of his financial crisis?’ I don’t think so.
Praying for God’s will to be done is very, very hard to do at times because God’s will is perhaps the opposite of what we are praying for. Maybe it was God’s will that Jacob’s business failed because he made some bad business decisions and had to suffer the consequences of those decisions. Or maybe the economy turned sour and his business took a big hit and the failure was the result of natural economic factors.
Does this then mean that God is a nasty who does not want us to succeed or have a good life? Mains makes a very good point when he says, ‘When making requests of God… Is what I am asking of the Lord just my agenda, or does it mesh with his as well?’
Slide 7 He illustrates this statement with a common request that we have asked God for from time to time, for either better pay or a better paying job.
He says, ‘How, in such a case, might you make a request for his help more in line with where God is coming from? I’m suggesting that you pause for a moment to look at your prayer request from his divine perspective. Will he see any reason to respond positively?

• What if you explained that you would honestly be more supportive of various ministries if you had a better paying job?
• Or you could spend more time with your kids, even pray with them at bedtime, if you didn’t always have to work the second shift.
• God, I want to be more involved in the life of the church, but I can’t if I’m always scheduled to work weekends.
• My spouse and I want to get involved with one of the small groups at church, but at the moment none of my weeknights is open.

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.
Jesus again reminds the disciples, and us, in part of our main text today, ‘if you stay joined to me and my words remain in you, you may ask any request you like, and it will be granted!’ Think of it this way, if we want God’s power and more important God’s love and forgiveness in our life, then we must remain in God by obeying Him and praying, ‘Your will not my will, be done.’
Quite frankly this might seem rather harsh to some because it appears that there are conditions attached to God’s answers to prayer for after all, are we not to ask with faith believing? There are conditions to God answering our prayers. And the main condition is this one, ‘Is it in line with God’s agenda or not?’ Sometime it is and sometime it is not and sometimes it is wait.
Let me be honest and say that it is sometimes hard for me to pray for God’s will to be done on your behalf and the behalf of others. I hate to see people suffering. I hate to stand by small casket of children, like I did last week, with a couple who buried their stillborn premature baby.
I remember a time when as I was getting ready to graduate from seminary, I had applied for a position at the church I had attended in college. I really wanted to go back to that community and serve the Lord there.
But, I’ll never forget the conversation that I had with the pastor of that church. He told me that he had spoken with the pastor of the church that was seriously considering me and said something to the effect of you are more of a youth man than Christian Education and so we will be looking at someone else.
I was angry and devastated. I did not want to go to the church that we were to interview at a few weeks later. But feeling the pressure of needing to have something before graduation, I took the position. To this day over 20 years later, Susan and I, aside from the normal butterflies of interviewing and search, did not feel that it was the right decision to make.
Jesus’ words in our main text make clear a couple of important points as we seek His answers to our prayers.
Slide 8 When He says, ‘if…my words remain in you,’ He indicates the very important need to stay in constant communication with Him through scripture study and prayer so that we are able to ‘pause to consider whether [our] request is in line with his desires.’
The Bible clearly reveals the Lord’s desires for us from Genesis 1:27, ‘So God created people in his own image; God patterned them after himself; male and female he created them:’ to John 3:16, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life;’ to Revelation 3:20 and 21, “Look! Here I stand at the door and knock. If you hear me calling and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal as friends. I will invite everyone who is victorious to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne.”
Being aligned with God in prayer requires us to live the Bible not just study it and talk about it! We need to, as Paul wrote in Colossians 3:16, ‘Let the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in your hearts and make you wise. Use his words to teach and counsel each other.’
God’s words to us, in the Bible and through the work of the Holy Spirit, must live in us. They must shape and cleanse and mature our soul, mind, and hearts. They are not just there for a mere mental study. They are there for life change which brings me to a second and final point this morning.
Slide 9 For not only are our desires to be inline with God’s will but so must our lives be in line with God’s will.
Again, we turn again to scripture to find this truth. Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command to not eat of a certain tree in Eden. There was King Saul who overstepped his boundaries as king and lost God’s favor as king.
In the New Testament there was Judas whose hopes and dreams for a political revolution (the most common view for his betrayal) caused him to turn Jesus over to be crucified.
As we engage in prayer for our concerns, which the Lord wants us to do as we read in Philippians 4:6, ‘Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done,’ we need, however, to make sure that we are truly inline with God’s will in all aspects of our lives.
As I conclude, I want us to take time to pray for the people and situations that appear on the screen in a moment. But before we do, I want to have us remember that God wants us to bring our concerns and our hopes to Him in prayer. He is interested in every area of our lives and He truly, truly knows what is best.
After we see this clip, we are going to spending time in corporate prayer and I will be inviting you to pray for those concerns and person that are important to you as part of our prayer time.
Slide 10 (Video clip, ‘Supplication’ from
Making Prayer as A Second Language)

MacDonald article can be found at:
http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2007/003/14.48.html

Mains’ quote is taken from his sermon on supplication that is part of the ‘Prayer as Second Language’ series available from sermonview.com

Prayer: An Attitude of Gratitude

Psalms 100:1-100:5
This past week, our elementary, middle, and high school students joined with thousands of other Indiana students in taking the ISTEP test. I have not heard a great deal of thankfulness from my two for the test but I sense there has been a great deal of thankfulness for the conclusion of the test. Am I wrong, students?
This got me to thinking about how humorous, and honest, kids are sometimes when it comes to prayer and thankfulness. For example there was the child who was asked to pray before the evening meal one night.
He looked over the table before bowing his head to pray. But instead of praying aloud, he picked up his fork and began to eat.
Puzzled, his parents asked him why he did not pray before his meal. He responded, ‘I already prayed for this food; these are leftovers!’
Slide 1 We are in the third segment of a four-part series, ‘Making Prayer Your Second Language’ and today we focus on the place of thanksgiving in prayer.
Now, one of the issues that we have addressed in this series deals with the attitude we bring to prayer.
Slide 2 For example, if we follow our simple outline of ACTS: (Adoration, Confession, Thanks, and Supplication) we can be in prayer with an attitude that says, ‘God! You’re awesome!’ And in that attitude we are able to truly praise God for who He is.
Then as we move into confession an attitude of humility before God as we admit the truth about ourselves and our condition is an essential attitude for us to receive forgiveness and a clean slate.
But as we move beyond telling God that He is awesome and that we are truly and deeply sorry for our sins, having an attitude of gratitude for what He has done for us is also very, very important.
For what are you thankful this morning? Is there not at least one thing that you are thankful for? In our brief video clip this morning, we are going to be presented with several things to be thankful for. Use it as a time to thank God for what He has done for you.
Slide 3 Video clip from ‘Making Prayer a Second Language’ on Thanksgiving
Slide 4 Our main text for this morning is Psalm 100 and here it is again…
Shout with joy to the Lord, O earth! Worship the Lord with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy.
Slide 5 Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Slide 6 Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and bless his name.
Slide 7 For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.
Each of these verses contains items to be thankful for, how we should be thankful, and why we should be thankful. Let’s look more closely at them.
Slide 8 ‘Shout with joy to the Lord, O earth! Worship the Lord with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy.’
We are to joyfully and audibly thank God! Thanksgiving is something that cannot and should not be done silently and though we at times do praise God in silence, there is a necessary place for corporate and joyful praise!
Together let’s shout out our praise by saying ‘Amen’ together! Amen means ‘so be it!’ So be it that God is worthy of praise! Amen!
An attitude of joy and gladness is essential to praise. This attitude serves a corrective to the gloom and doom of life.
As followers of Jesus though we have difficult times, we need to spend a great deal of time in thanksgiving to God for what He has done for us.
Slide 9 ‘Acknowledge that the Lord is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.’
It never ceases to amaze me that when an actor or actress receives a big award like an Oscar, they spend a few moments thanking others for their support, encouragement, and the ‘Academy for this award.’ I supposed that if I were to win an Oscar for my work on or in a film that I made that required months to film and even several different countries to film it in, I probably would thank a lot of people, the least of which would be my family.
We have something that much greater to be thankful for, however. We have the God who created us and gave us our talent and abilities. He made us! We are his people! He is God! How thankful are we for the truth, the reality that we are God’s people and that is He our God and our Lord, our leader?
Slide 10 ‘Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and bless his name.’
A key part of worship is thanksgiving. God, through the Psalmist, clearly tells us that as we enter the gates (the front doors of the church) we are to do so with thanksgiving and praise. Now, as I think about my experiences on Sunday morning I have to admit that in the hustle and bustle to get not only myself ready but also myself ready for worship, praise and thanksgiving is not often on my mind.
When we get out of bed, get ready for church, get in the car and drive here, get out of the car, and walk up the ramp or steps into this building, are we in an attitude of praise and thanksgiving or some other kind of attitude?
Marjorie Thompson makes an interesting point when she says, ‘As people become hungrier for spiritual nurture, they often become more dissatisfied with their own tradition of corporate worship. Part of the problem is that average person in the pew has little say over how worship is planned, much less over how leaders read, preach, and pray.’
‘How, then, are we to become lively actors in the drama of human worship before God?,’ she asks. ‘How can we become better attuned to God in spite of the foibles of worship leaders, the frailties of worshipping communities, and the inadequacies of our own feelings and judgments?’
She makes several suggestions:
Slide 11
• Revitalize personal worship
• Spend half an hour on Saturday nights or Sunday morning before God assessing our life
Slide 12
• ‘Be prepared to hear God speak’
(Do we believe that God shows up here?)
• Stay focused on the parts of worship that speak to you
• ‘Claim for yourself the freedom to respond to God in worship with the fullness of your heart.’
To enter worship and to pray with thanksgiving and pray in the courts with praise requires us to be personally prepared every time we enter this place of worship with an attitude that we are going to meet with God today.
Slide 13 ‘For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.’
To me this verse gives me a long view that I need to look at from time to time as it assures me that the Lord’s unfailing love and faithfulness are evidences of His desire to be at the center of our lives throughout our lives and those of the generations to come. Times change, people change, but the Lord does not change. God is a constant point of reference in a sea of change.
One of the things that we then need to be thankful for is God’s unfailing love and faithfulness.
Slide 14 As we conclude this morning we are going to practice what I have been ‘a preachin!’
Listed here are ways to practice the language of thanks as part of our very important language of prayer. We are going to spend some time doing the first one as we close today.
Then as part of our prayer time in a few moments, you will have the opportunity to express your thanks to God for the things you listed on your sheet.
Are you grateful this morning? Are you thankful… for what the Lord has done for you?
I am going to play the song’ Give Thanks’ as you write and then we will conclude our service with this song and our prayer time… Let us come to the Lord in prayer…

Sources:
Thompson quotes are from her book, Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life
Mains’ quote is taken from his sermon on thanks that is part of the ‘Prayer as Second Language’ series available from sermonview.com

Confess to God

1 John 1:9-1:9
Slide 1 The story is told of a prominent Washington DC area priest who was honored one evening for his ministry and service. One of his parishioners, a prominent politician was to serve as the emcee for the evening but was unavoidably detained.
So a fill-in was arranged and began to heap honor after honor upon the humble priest. Finally the priest was able to speak and he said, ‘The seal of the confessional can never be broken and therefore I can only hint of my impressions since coming to Washington twenty-five years ago.’
‘At first, he said, ‘I thought that I had come to a terrible place as the first man who entered the confessional confessed to graft and corruption. But as time went on, I knew that I had become a part of a great community and it has been an honor to serve you.’
About that time the politician arrived at the dinner and rushed to the front to apologize for the delay and said, ‘I’ll never forget the first day our honored guest arrived at this parish. In fact, I had the honor of being the first to go to his confessional.’
What is confession to you? A place? A religious habit? Something that you do on the fly? Something that is a part of Communion Sunday?
There are two things that I want us to remember today about confession and this is the first thing:
Slide 2 Without confession there is no forgiveness of sins.
Let’s spend a few moments thinking about this important aspect of prayer by watching and hearing the following passages of scripture being read aloud.
(Slide 3 Video Clip from ‘Making Prayer A Second Language’ on Confession)
Slide 4 We are spending this month learning and re-learning an important second language, the language of prayer. Last Sunday we were reminded that adoration is a very important part of prayer because adoration of who God is assures us of what God does and that is life change through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
And today we focus on how that personal relationship with Jesus is made possible through the important act of confession.
Can you remember being so dirty that you would have given anything for a good and hot shower or bath? Can you remember the wonderful feeling of clean when you did get that hot shower or bath?
Confession is like a good hot bath or shower… it removes the dirt and grime from our souls. It removes our sins and shortcomings. It frees us up with an inner peace and joy that comes from having our sins forgiven.
In our main text for today we read very plainly, ‘But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.’
We need to have some important background to this verse because it helps us to more clearly understand, believe, and practice the truth that this verse contains. By the time John wrote this book, probably between 85 and 90 AD, Jerusalem had been destroyed 15 to 20 years earlier and Pentecost had taken place 60 years ago. So Christianity had been in existence for a generation or so and it was facing several challenges from various groups about key beliefs. To counteract the incorrect teachings of these groups John wrote this letter to remind the Christian church of the basics of the faith.
One of the truths had to do with the reality of sin. Some groups denied that there was sin in humanity and therefore no need confess it. But in 1 John 1:6 and following we read, ‘So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness. We are not living in the truth. But if we are living in the light of God’s presence, just as Christ is, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin.
If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.’
If there is not such a thing as sin, then what do we call, among other things, domestic violence, abortion, murder, cheating, and child abuse?’ Again I remind us this morning we only look at our local paper to see the effects and results of living contrary to what God has intended.
Sin is more than wrong behavior or bad language or ‘whatever you want to call it by filling in the blank.’ We need to see beyond our narrow definitions of sin to the wider and more Biblical view of sin as both an act and an attitude of rebellion against God. This rebelliousness, this self-will, is what has gotten the human race in difficulty.
I believe that it is very safe to say that this rebellion has economic, political, social, and educational implications. Our rebelliousness and our selfishness have created the conditions that our families, our country, our world, and ourselves live in. But more than any thing else, this rebellion, sin, has created a problem between ourselves and God and only the confession, the admitting of, our sin, our rebellion to God and our repentance of that sin can begin to change our circumstances as it changes our heart.
So if we say there is not sin, we are in the dark about reality! Confession of our sins and repenting or turning away from that sin and believing that Jesus Christ has made possible our forgiveness and therefore accepting that forgiveness is what makes a personal relationship with God through Christ a reality.
What is your status in this regard? Where are you with Jesus Christ this morning?
Slide 5 Confession in prayer creates the climate by which true life change can take place.
Have you ever hurt someone you love? I have and you have. A careless (or a well-chosen) word or act creates great pain in the other person’s heart.
Sometimes we recognize it immediately and we make amends for the hurt we have caused. At other times we don’t immediately recognize what we have done but one day the gravity of our situation finally dawns on us and either we are at a loss to know what to do or we go and patch up the situation or we try to assuage our guilt with a belief that the other person will forgive and forget.
How do we ‘do’ confession in the right way? What makes for good confession? It begins with the right attitude that we bring to our time of confession.
Slide 6 David Mains makes this clear when he says, ‘There needs to be an awareness of the seriousness of the offense. All sin is anathema to God.’ In other words God hates the sin, but he loves us.
I really wonder these days if we are too flippant about confession. It almost seems that we say a weak ‘imsorry’ instead of a having a deep, deep regret over what we have done. I just wonder, especially with myself sometimes, if I am truly sorry for my sin or I am truly sorry that I got caught. Good confession begins with an attitude of humility that we have deeply hurt our creator and redeemer God.
Slide 7 Another point made by Mains with regards to confession is that it ‘should be accompanied by a deep appreciation for the length to which God went to make forgiveness possible.’
Are we truly grateful for the forgiveness of our sins? Quite frankly I fear that all we are interested in these days is ‘fire insurance.’ In other words we want to have enough salvation to get us into heaven and keep us out of hell.
But how much salvation is enough to stay out of hell? May be this humorous illustration helps us understand the importance of life after death.
Bill Gates suddenly dies and finds himself face to face with God. God stands over him and says, “Well Bill, I’m really confused on this one. It’s a tough decision. I’m not sure whether to send you to Heaven or Hell. After all, you helped society enormously by putting a computer in almost every home in America, yet you also created that ghastly Windows ’95 among other indiscretions. I believe I’ll do something I’ve never done before; I’ll let you decide where you want to go.”
Bill pushed up his glasses, looked up at God and replied, “Could you briefly explain the difference between the two?” Looking slightly puzzled, God said, “Better yet, why don’t I let you visit both places briefly, then you can make your decision. Which do you choose to see first, Heaven or Hell?”
Bill played with his pocket protector for a moment, then looked back at God and said, “I think I’ll try Hell first.” So, with a flash of lightning and a cloud of smoke, Bill Gates went to Hell.
When he materialized in Hell, Bill looked around. It was beautiful and clean, a bit warm, with sandy beaches and tall mountains, clear skies, pristine water, and beautiful women frolicking about. A smile came across Bill’s face as he took in a deep breath of the clean air. “This is great,” he thought, “if this is Hell, I can’t wait to see heaven.”
Within seconds of his thought, another flash of lightning and a cloud of smoke appeared, and Bill was off to Heaven. Heaven was a place high above the clouds, where angels were drifting about playing their harps and singing in a beautiful chorus. It was a very nice place, Bill thought, but not as enticing as Hell. Bill looked up, yelled for God, told him his decision and was sent to Hell for eternity.
Time passed, and God decided to check on the late billionaire to see how he was progressing in Hell. When he got there, he found Bill Gates shackled to a wall in a dark cave amid bone thin men and tongues of fire, being burned and tortured by demons.
“So, how is everything going?” God asked. Bill responded with a cracking voice filled with anguish and disappointment, “This is awful! It’s nothing like the Hell I visited the first time!! I can’t believe this is happening! What happened to the other place…with the beaches and the mountains and the beautiful women?” “That was the demo,” replied God.
This life we live now will come to end. Either we will die or Christ will return before we die. But we will face judgment either way. Is all of our pursuits and adventures and successes worth loosing our souls over?
Do we truly appreciate Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf?
Slide 8 A third thing that Mains reminds us about confession is that we ‘should always express the intent to end the practices that are obviously outside the will of God. Said differently, true confession involves turning one’s back on the given offense, plus a serious commitment to walk God’s way in the future.’ I have quoted Patrick Morley on this point before and it bears repeating. He says, and I am paraphrasing here, ‘we add Christ to our lives but fail to subtract sin.’
This is where the second thing I want us to remember comes in.
Slide 9 Without thorough repentance forgiveness’ hold is unsure.
I don’t claim to know how much repentance is needed before God acts on our behalf. Nor do I claim to know your heart.
But, based on my reading of scripture, especially Luke 18:9-14 where Jesus makes clear, in the story of the Pharisee and Tax Collector and their Temple confession, we get an idea of what God is pleased with in confession. “I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For the proud will be humbled, but the humble will be honored.”
By thorough I mean thoroughly honest about our role, actions, and attitudes as well as the seriousness of our sins. What Jesus noticed in the confession of the Tax Collector was an honest and humble assessment of his spiritual condition.
It is interesting to note that Luke begins this segment with the phrase, ‘Jesus told this story to some who had great self-confidence and scorned everyone else.’
True confession requires us to let go of our selfishness and our pettiness and recognize that we have an inner attitude, an inner bent, toward evil and what is wrong that we can only have changed by God and not our own self effort. It was the attitude of the Pharisee that prevented him from really receiving the forgiveness that God wanted to give him as well.
Confession is a vital and necessary part of prayer. I encourage you today to make confession a daily part of your prayer language. I believe that the language of confession, as difficult as it is to speak sometimes; I believe that it is a liberating language.
It is a foreign language. I don’t hear the language of ‘I was wrong’ or ‘I’m sorry’ spoken too often these days. What I hear, even in myself, is the language of ‘it’s their fault’ or ‘I didn’t do it!’
I conclude with the story of a young nun once claimed to have had a vision of Jesus. Her bishop decided to test her truthfulness and ordered that the next time she had a vision she should ask Christ what the bishop’s primary sin had been before he became a bishop.
Some months later the nun returned and the bishop asked if she had asked Christ the question, to which she affirmed that she had. “And what did he say?” the bishop asked, apprehensively.
“Christ said…” and the nun paused a moment… “He said, ‘I don’t remember. ’”
Slide 10 We have a God who not only forgives but forgets! But that forgiveness is only possible when we confess (admit the truth about) our sins and we repent (make the determination to stop) of them. God then forgives us and makes right with Him!
How is your relationship to the Lord this morning? Do you need to do some confession? The altar is open for prayer, respond as you need to. Amen.

Mains’ quote is taken from his sermon on confession that is part of the ‘Prayer as Second Language’ series available from sermonview.com

The opening illustration is from 1001 Humorous Illustrations by Michael Hodgin

The Bill Gates illustration is from beliefnet.com
The Nun illustration is from sermoncentral.com