Sunday, December 9, 2012

“Confessions of Christmas – Elizabeth ” – Luke 1:39-45

I. Confession of Blessing
A. Say it.
B. Hear it.
C. Realize it.
II. Confession of Promise
A. Know it.
B. Trust it.
C. Live it.
“Confessions of Christmas – Elizabeth ” – Luke 1:39-45
Last week we started by talking about stupid criminals. This week, let me start by giving another example. Waylon Prendergast, 37, of Tampa , Florida , committed a spur-of-the-moment robbery while on his way home from a late-night drinking session. A very inebriated Mr. Prendergast forced his way into the house through an open upstairs window, filling a suitcase with cash and valuables before setting the living room on fire to cover his tracks. He then escaped through the back door and made his way home, chuckling all the way. Only as he turned the corner into his own street, however, and discovered three fire engines outside his house, did he realize that in his drunkenness he had, in fact, burgled and ignited his own property. His comment: "I had no idea I had so many valuable possessions."
Now while there is some humor involved with this, it’s also sad. It’s sad because in his drunkenness, he lost all of his stuff but it’s also sad because it took losing all of his stuff to realize how valuable it all was and how he had been blessed. “I had no idea I had so many valuable possessions.” What he is really saying is, “I had no idea how blessed I am.”
Do you think God blesses crazy old drunks? I think it’s safe to say that God blesses all of us in spite of our sin and shortcomings. I can vouch for that. You probably can too. And what a perfect opportunity, right here at the busiest shopping time of the year to think about how blessed we are and how much more stuff do we really need to make us happy?
How many more cd’s and sweaters and electronic gadgets that start with a lower-case “i” do you really need before you are happy? There is nothing wrong with having stuff. That’s not the point of this message. I just hope to encourage you to think about and appreciate all the ways you have been blessed this Christmas and hopefully you will be a blessing to others out of your abundance as well.
We are going to look this morning at someone in Luke chapter 1 who was blessed. I love to go to family reunions. When I see my relatives, it makes me happy. Well, most of them make me happy. But while they seem to enjoy seeing me and always greet me warmly, I have never gotten a greeting quite like Mary gets from her relative Elizabeth in Luke 1:39-45. My relatives and I are happy to see each other but we will see the difference here between happy and blessed.
At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth .41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.42 In a loud voice she exclaimed:“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
If you were here last week, you remember we looked at the previous passage where the angel Gabriel comes to Mary and confesses to her that she is about to be the mother of the Messiah. In that same visit Gabriel confesses to her that her relative (we think she was a cousin) Elizabeth was also going to give birth and was in her 6th month. Here we see that Mary has gone to visit Elizabeth but we are not told exactly why. Any of us might guess why. It could have been that Mary didn’t want to be around when word got out that this young woman who was not yet married had become pregnant.
Maybe she just wanted to be around another woman who was pregnant. Maybe she just wanted to tell somebody she saw an angel. Maybe it doesn’t matter why and so the Bible doesn’t say. And that’s ok. There are still a couple of things I want us to see in this passage.
As we continue talking about the confessions of Christmas, I want you to see in this passage Elizabeth’s confession of blessing and her confession of promise.
Have you ever been so excited for somebody else that you couldn’t help but holler? A friend of mine at the biker church got a new trike the other day. I saw it outside and knew it was his and I practically ran inside and then ran up to him and hugged him and realized I was almost hollering as I told him how pretty it was and how glad I was for him. I think I almost scared him but I couldn’t help it. I saw that he had been blessed.
See, blessed or bless-ed means more than just “happy”. “Happy” indicates how a person feels. “Blessed” is what he is. A person is blessed when God’s favor rests on him, when the Lord delights in him. And when Mary came through her door, Elizabeth knew that she was blessed and she said so in a loud voice! In verse 42, she says, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear.”
This is the same thing that Gabriel told Mary in verse 28. “You are highly favored and the Lord is with you!” I’m sure that made Mary happy to hear both of them say that but happiness is a feeling that can fade. Blessed is a fact. And I’m sure it was a fact that Mary needed to hear.
Now there are 3 things about Elizabeth ’s confession of blessing to Mary that I want to elaborate on real quickly. As a blessed people we need to say it, hear it and realize it.
When we see other people have been blessed we need to say it. I love the fact that Elizabeth was so excited for Mary. There was no jealousy. There was no envy. She was truly excited for Mary. Even though she knew through the Holy Spirit that Mary was going to be the mother of the Messiah, Elizabeth was nothing but happy for her and not envious at all. You know why? I Corinthians 13:4 says, “Love does not envy”. Love doesn’t envy.
Elizabeth loved Mary so much she was glad for her and wanted the best for her. Here at Christmas time it is easy for somebody else to unwrap a present or get a great gift and for us to be envious. “Her sweater has two snowmen on it and mine only has one.” When somebody else has been blessed it is important that we not compare and just be glad for that person and to tell them that they have been blessed.
It was also important to Mary that she hear that from Elizabeth and from Gabriel. I’m sure that some people back then were already talking behind Mary’s back about how she was about to be an unwed mother. Rumors were surely flying around about this great scandal and who in her neighborhood was really going to believe the truth at this point? What an encouragement it was to Mary to have a friend who believed and understood and was excited for her!
Sometimes God blesses us in a way that can be hard to understand. It’s easy to see that God has blessed us when we get a new Corvette ZR1 in Velocity Yellow. But other times when God is blessing us with patience or when He blesses us with an affliction that makes us more like Jesus it is hard to believe that it is a blessing at all. Sometimes being reminded that we have been blessed is a blessing itself.
And that helps us with the next thing and that is realizing that we have been blessed. We need to say it, hear it and realize that we have been blessed. As a good parent, do you give your children everything that they want? I hope not. For the same reason you don’t give your 4 year old a new BB gun for Christmas, sometimes God doesn’t give us everything we want. Oh, I’m sure your 4 year old is mature for his age and he has been begging and pleading and can’t understand why you don’t just buy it. Isaiah 55:8 says His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. And while God is able and ready to give you blessings pressed down and running over He doesn’t always give us what we think we want or need and we need to realize that is a blessing. When we truly realize that everything that comes into our lives is being allowed by God for our good and the good of His kingdom, then we realize how much God loves us and we realize that we are blessed.
Elizabeth makes another confession to Mary in verse 45. She confesses a promise. Verse 45 says, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.” The promise is that what God said will be accomplished and what God said was that she would be the mother of the Messiah. But the blessing comes with belief.
I talk a lot about BOOCOD – the blessings of obedience and the consequences of disobedience but there is also BOBCOD – the blessings of belief and the consequences of disbelief. Elizabeth knew this well. Her husband Zechariah was given similar news to what Mary received and did not believe Gabriel when he told him. We see this in verse 20 of the same chapter where Gabriel tells Zechariah, “And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.”
Elizabeth understood the importance of belief. And while some women would think it was a blessing that their husband couldn’t talk for a while, she knew that when God says something you better believe Him. Malcolm Mugridge - "Our 20th century is one of the most credulous in all of history. It is not that people believe in nothing, which would be bad enough, but that they believe in anything, which is really terrible.”
So, how do we know that the things that God says will, as Gabriel said, “..come true at their proper time”? Well, there are 3 things related to belief that we need to understand. First we need to know it, then we need to trust it and third, we need to live it.
If we are to begin with knowing what God says, then how do we do that? Well, we all know that we need to spend time in His word and in conversational prayer with Him but let’s use Elizabeth as our model. How did she know that God had told Mary she would be pregnant? Look at verse 41. “ Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” How does the Holy Spirit work like that?
Let me give you an illustration. A friend of mine, not me but a friend, cheated on a test one time in high school. And it wasn’t even my, I mean his fault. The guy behind him knew that my friend had not studied and was not smart enough to pass the test so he just whispered into my, his ear the right answer. That is sort of how the Holy Spirit works. You know, without the cheating.
The Greek word for HS is “paraclete” which means “one who stands beside”or “counselor”. Think of Him as an attorney highly invested in His client. So, if we are going to believe what God says then we have to know what God says and how we know it is through Bible study, prayer and, like Elizabeth , through the HS. And you receive the Holy Spirit only by having a relationship with God through His Son Jesus. It’s a package deal. So, if you are not hearing from the HS then you better check your relationship. This doesn’t mean God will reveal everything all at once, of course, but John 14:26 says, But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
So, once we know what God says, the next step is to trust it. This is where the real blessing starts to really kick in. John 20:29 says, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” So, how do we really trust what God says? One word: history. In your own life, has God ever let you down? Has He ever told you something that wasn’t true? Now, I could refer you to the Old Testament and to the prophesies that have all come true but I want you to see it for yourself.
And when I ask if God has ever let you down maybe you are not sure about the answer. Maybe there have been times in your history when you wondered if God had let you down. There was a time like that in my own life as a young adult. I was having a hard time believing that everything God said was true and right and so you know what I did? I looked to other people’s history. I made a concerted effort to look at the lives of the wisest people I knew – not necessarily the smartest but the wisest - to see what they thought. In their history, had God ever let them down? I think you know.
So, to wrap all of this up, if we are to be blessed then we need to believe. And if we are to believe then we need to know what God says through His Holy Spirit. We need to trust Him because history shows that He can be trusted. And since He can be trusted, we need to live like it.
This is my last point. And for al of these points I have tried to illustrate it or give a verse to agree with it but for this point I am going to let you practice what I have been preaching. I want us to bow our heads and close our eyes and just let the Holy Spirit whisper to you what this last point means to you personally. What does it mean for you to live out your beliefs? What has God told you lately that you are not fully embracing because you have not acted on it; you haven’t lived it out?
Maybe He has revealed some great secret to you about yourself and yet you have refused to change it. Maybe He has revealed to you that somebody else needs to hear a word of blessing from you and you have yet to do it. Or maybe God just wants to encourage you with a blessing this morning because He loves you so very much. Use this time to just allow yourself to humbly, yet boldly go into the throne room of the King and seek His face. What a blessing it is to be able to do just that!

Monday, December 3, 2012

"Confessions of Christmas - Gabriel" - Luke 1:26-38

Most folks enjoy reading or hearing about stupid criminals.  You know, the guy who robs a bank with a note written on the back of his own deposit slip; or the guy who robs a convenience store with a gun and sets the gun on the counter to grab the money and the clerk grabs the gun.  Those always appeal to us.  That's just funny.


But sometimes the bad guy pulls one over on the cops and it makes for a funny story as well.  Authorities in Florida said that 30 year old Patrick Townsend was busted last week with a large amount of meth and was taken to jail.  There he confessed to the crime.  He said he normally deals in a much larger amount than what he had on him that day so he just confessed.  The funny part is that after he confessed on tape to a detective, Townsend asked to go to the bathroom.  When he did he grabbed the tape recorder without the detective noticing and went to the bathroom and flushed the whole thing.


I understand he was still convicted and even sentenced for tampering with evidence but I bet the detective felt pretty dumb and doesn't let that happen again.  Sometimes we confess things that we wish we hadn't and sometimes we don't confess and wish we had.  But confession doesn't always mean you did something wrong.  The definition includes giving a word of affirmation, truth or significance.  You may confess that God is good or confess that Jesus is coming back soon.


I Tim. 6:13 says that Jesus made the good confession before Pilate.  And that confession that Jesus made was that His Kingdom was not of this world.  He was confessing to be God.  For December, we are going to be looking at some confessions of Christmas; confessions that Jesus is coming, that He is going to be a blessing, how to find Him and what it means for us today.


Today we are going to look at the confession of the angel Gabriel in Luke chapter 1.  Gabriel is mentioned in the Bible a few times.  He is mentioned in the Old Testament in Daniel as the man Gabriel who came to tell Daniel he was highly favored.  Then in the New Testament he is mentioned in the passage just before the one we are going to read today when he chastises Zechariah for not having enough faith in what he was telling him about the coming Christ.


In chapter 1 verses 26-38, Gabriel comes to Mary with some incredible news.  It is basically the same news he gives Zechariah but he tells Mary that not only is the Messiah coming, but she is going to be the mother.  Let's read in Luke 1:26-38.

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Note in verse 26 that Gabriel is "sent".  That word "sent" is the same root word we use for the word "apostle" or "one sent with a message".  And the message he is sent with is very similar in its beginning as the one he gave Daniel many years before.  "You are highly favored!"  Now, I don't care how favored I am, if Gabriel appears to me, I'm afraid the "fight or flight" reaction is going to kick in but Mary; young, sweet, innocent little Mary, who was probably not much more than a child is only "greatly troubled".  I'm sure that was very true.  I would be greatly troubled if an angel appeared to me and said anything.

But Gabriel continued on with his message and actually confessed to Mary 6 different things about the baby.


1.  The first thing he confessed was in verse 31 that she would name Him Jesus.  This is the same thing that Joseph was told in the dream recorded in Matthew: “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).


2. “He will be great” (v. 32.) This concerns His significance. No doubt, He is the most significant personality in human and divine history.  After all, He is God, come in the flesh!   And the work He was to perform, the Atonement, would be the most meaningful in the history of humanity.


3. “He . . . will be called the Son of the Highest” (v. 32). Recall that Psalm 2:7–8 tells us, “The Lord has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance and the end of the earth for your possession.” What David wrote about in the Psalms, Gabriel announced to Mary!


4. “The Lord God will give Him the the throne of His father David” (v. 32). This looks back to the prophetic word from Isaiah, “Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever” (9:7).


5. “He will reign over the house of Jacob” (v. 33). In short, Jesus is Israel’s promised Messiah! They need not look for, nor expect, another!


6. “Of His kingdom there will be no end” (v. 33). Many kingdoms over the course of human history will come and go, but Christ’s kingdom will have no end. Going back to the book of Daniel in chapter 7:13, 14 it says, “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

So, those are the 6 confessions of Gabriel to Mary in the book of Luke.  I hope that is helpful in understanding Who Jesus is.  We will now be dismissed and go have some punch and cookies in the fellowship hall to start our celebration of Christmas.

But now wait just a second.  Before we start celebrating Christmas, maybe we should figure out what this passage means for us today.  If we are truly going to celebrate the real "reason for the season" maybe we should think about how the advent of Jesus should affect our lives some 2000-plus years later.  I don't exactly have to give a "spoiler alert" when I tell you that everything Gabriel said absolutely came true.  We all know that so how should this affect us today?

For me, it brings great joy!  It should bring all of us great joy to know that what was prophesied so many years before in the Old Testament came true with the birth of Jesus in the New Testament.  If all of those prophesies came true then that means all of the other prophesies that are still to come will come true as well.  And in the end (here's another spoiler alert) we win!  I'm tired of this nasty old place called earth and if I thought this was all there was to life then I would be pretty depressed but I know different and it brings me great joy.

It also brings me great peace to know that baby grew up to be a sinless man and die on a cruel cross to pay for my sins.  He was then taken off that cross, a dead man buried in a tomb for 3 days but then, because He is God, He rose again and I can have a relationship with Him even today.  And in that relationship, He proves Himself to be trustworthy even when I am not.  He proves Himself loving even when I am not.  And He proves Himself worthy even when I do not.  What a mess my life would be without Him but with Him I have peace.

And lastly, I have forgiveness.  Thank you Lord for your forgiveness!  I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” I need to be purified and I have an idea you do too.  And because I have been purified by the work of Jesus on the cross and not because of anything I have done, Jesus promises me a place in Heaven with Him.

Joy, peace, forgiveness and a place in heaven; man that's exciting!  That's almost a little too exciting.  I feel my blood sugar going down.  Hang on just a second.  This is the best chocolate.  It's so creamy and good.  The texture is just perfect.  Just melts in my mouth.  I think I better have a little more, you know, for my blood sugar.  Oh, wow!  That's good!  I bet you wish you had some right about now.  Should I share?

How bad do you have to hate somebody not to share the most incredible thing you have ever experienced?!  If that chocolate is the most incredible thing you have ever had in your life, don't you want somebody else to have it too?  If that chocolate changed your life and brought you joy, peace and forgiveness then wouldn't you go tell your neighbor about that goodness?  Wouldn't you tell your family and co-workers about the wonderful, dark, sugary goodness inside that foil wrapper?

But the thing is that while that chocolate is incredible tasting, it will, like everything else in this world, not last.  And people in our community are hungry and thirsty for the joy and peace that lasts for eternity.  And we have it!  It is time for all of us to start confessing it.

The Sinful Woman was Thankful - Luke 7:36-50

Are you thankful to be here this morning? How many of you dared the stores the day after Thanksgiving and got some Black Friday sales? How many of you are thankful you made it through that? You could have been a part of some of these headlines I saw on Friday: 'Gang fight' at Black Friday sale...
Man Punched in Face Pulls Gun On Line-Cutting Shopper...
Woman busted after throwing merchandise...
Thousands storm VICTORIA'S SECRET...
VIDEO: Insane battle over phones...
Mayhem at Nebraska mall where 9 murdered in 2007...
Shoplifter tries to mace security guards...

Men Steal Boy's Shopping Bag Outside BED, BATH & BEYOND

I find it hard to believe that somebody was enjoying turkey and dressing and visiting with loving family members on Thursday afternoon and evening and then after watching some football and telling each other how blessed they were and how thankful they were, then they just decided, “Hey, let’s go get in a gang fight.” Or, “Let’s go steal some kid’s bag in front of Bed, Bath & Beyond”.

I find it hard to believe that somebody said, “Man, I’m full. God has blessed me so much. I have so much for which to be thankful. Now, who wants to go with me to the mall where we can kill somebody over a tv?” “Hey honey, I’m gonna go punch a guy in the face at Target when he cuts in line. Wanna come?”

I have to admit, though, that I almost fell into some of that trap. I didn’t go to the mall or anything but I saw on the news that somebody was having a sale on TV’s for like $97 for a pretty nice set. I have an old dinosaur for a TV and thought that might be alright. So, I went online and checked it out. I didn’t see the $97 one but I saw one marked down from $400 to $200 and thought that wasn’t too bad. Oh, but look. This one was $700 and now it’s only $350. Pretty soon I saw one for $750 that had been way marked down and started justifying it in my mind and then I realized what was happening and had to just turn off the computer and walk away. I realized I was falling into the thought process of spending just a little more and a little more and justifying it the whole time.

But when we realize just how blessed we really are and how little some other people have and what God has blessed us with it should start to make us thankful for what we have and thankful to the One who provides it. And that's just being thankful for "stuff".  Now it's good to be thankful for "stuff".  We definitely should be.  But the real life-changer comes when we are really thankful for the other, more important things God has blessed us with.  It's important that we are thankful for the stuff, thankful for the health, thankful for our family, our friends, our freedom and as my nephew prayed Thursday, "Thank you for the sky and the whole world."  Those are all good and important things that we take for granted all too often.

But if you want to see somebody whose life is changed by their thankfulness, you look at somebody who realizes and doesn't take for granted what they have been saved from and what they have been saved to and the price that was paid for that salvation.  That is a person who is unimpressed by $97 TV's.  That's a person who doesn't get into "insane battles over phones".  That is a person who trusts in the Lord with all their heart and does not lean on their own understanding as it says in Proverbs.

That's a person who knows that this battle is not against flesh and blood as in Ephesians.  That's a person who knows the Lord requires you to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God per Micah.  That's a person who cries out to God, "Create in me a pure heart, oh, God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me" like David did in Psalms; a person who can forget the former things and not dwell on the past as it says in Isaiah.

A person who knows what they have been saved from and to is a person that is described in Luke chapter 7 where we see a sinful woman come to Jesus and her thankfulness to Jesus literally can't be stopped.  It can't be ignored.  She can't help but be thankful and she doesn't care who sees or hears because she has entered into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.

Turn to Luke 7:36-50 and I want to introduce you to a woman with no name and a Pharisee with no future.

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”“Tell me, teacher,” he said.41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,[a] and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

What we have here is an easy comparison between two people.  It's easy to see who the bad guy is and who the good person is.  And it's also easy to compare ourselves to the 2 characters and we all see ourselves in the place of the woman, don't we?  We all think that Pharisee was so rude and unthankful to Jesus and we just can't imagine being like that and we are so glad we are like we are.

C.S. Lewis satiricaly wrote in the book, The Screwtape Letters, about a senior demon, Screwtape writing to his nephew Wormwood, a Junior Tempter.  Screwtape is encouraging the younger Wormwood to do everything possible to secure the damnation of a British man known only as the Patient.  And while the younger and less mature Wormwood keeps trying to tempt the Patient into extravagant and deplorable sins, the older, wiser Screwtape advises him that if the man won't give in to the temptations, then just let him be proud of his resistance to them.  One sin is as good as another, says Screwtape.  One sin is as good as another.

So, there are several things to be learned from this fascinating passage.  It's fascinating on one hand because it gives us a glimpse of life as it was lived in the days of Jesus.  This was evidently a common happening.  One important person would invite another important person over to eat and it was just a fact that some of the town folk would come over and just watch.  I guess it's what you do if you don't have cable.

The Bible, as so often happens, does not tell us all the details.  We don't know the woman's name or why she was considered to be so sinful.  But, as always, the Bible tells us just enough.  It tells us what we really need to know.  And if it makes you feel better about yourself to assume that she was a harlot then so be it.  And maybe she was but it doesn't matter.  One sin is as good as another, right?

It doesn't matter because all that is in the past.  She has evidently heard Jesus speak.  Maybe she had a conversation with Him or maybe she heard Him preach on a hillside somewhere.  We don't know but we do know that her interaction with Jesus has changed her life and when she heard that he was going to be at the Pharisee's house then she knew she had to see Him and honor Him.  And in so doing she not only honored Jesus but became a teaching opportunity to Simon the Pharisee and the others around him and to us as well.

You have to picture the scene.  Jesus and the others would have been laying on very short couches or pillows with their legs out behind them.  And just the act of a woman walking in and being so close to Jesus was enough to raise eyebrows.  Women were not invited to these things especially a "sinful" woman like this.  And then she starts bawling and calling attention to herself but if that weren't enough women did not let down their hair in public at all.  It was very inappropriate per the standards of the day.  And then as if she wasn't already obvious enough, she perfumed the whole room with this expensive perfume.

I'm sure the Pharisee was thinking all kinds of self-righteous thoughts and we have a snippet of his thoughts recorded here since Jesus knew what he was thinking.  While all of this was happening, the pharisee was thinking ill of Jesus and so Jesus tells a story that we see plainly represents the Pharisee and the woman.  And for us it plainly represents everybody else as the ones who owed the small debt and we see ourselves as the ones who owed the big debt because we know we love Jesus more than most other people, right?

Then Jesus goes on to tell the Pharisee how the woman has done for him what the Pharisee should have as basic hospitality.  Jesus told him that the woman had given him a kiss, in fact, the phrase means has given many, many kisses.  A kiss was just a sign of respect and welcome but the Pharisee had not done that.

He says that the woman has given Him water for His feet whereas the Pharisee had neglected that too.  Water was used to simply clean the dust off the visitor's feet and was usually done by a servant.

And the oil was used to freshen a visitor and make them feel comfortable but of course the Pharisee had nothing for Jesus but the woman did even better and used expensive perfume.

Don't you just hate an inconsiderate host?  It's just wrong for somebody to invite you to their place and then not make you feel welcome when you are there.  What makes it worse is when they act like they are doing you such a huge favor and showing you great honor just by being there.  Don't you just hate that?  Makes me sick.

I have to wonder what Jesus thinks about the welcome He gets in our lives.  Oh, I know we all think we are the sinful woman who is so thankful for what Jesus has done but how many times do we act more like the Pharisee?  We talk a good game.  We say we love God and we say He is Lord but do we show it?  Did you notice that the woman never says a word in this passage?  She didn't have to.  Her feelings are obvious.

Have you shown the minimum amount of hospitality to Jesus being in your life?  Have you showed him the respect and welcome of a kiss by not taking His name in vain or tolerating it by someone else?

Have you shown Him you are His servant ready to wash feet or use your own feet to spread the Gospel?  Isaiah 52:7 says, "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!"

Have you made him feel comfortable as the Anointed King of your life by giving Him every aspect of your life?  Have you given Him your fears, your dreams, your kids and grandkids?  Have you turned over your finances, your job, your house and all your "stuff"?  Later on in Luke Jesus says, "How hard it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God!"

I find it hard to believe that someone who is truly cognizant of what they have been saved from and what they have been saved to would have an ongoing problem with their temper.  I find it hard to believe that someone who is truly thankful for their forgiveness of sin would have an ongoing problem with lust or even pornography.  How can you truly be thankful for what God has done in your life and not support His body and His bride, the church?

Matthew 7:21 says, ""Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."  Only those who do my will...It doesn't say those who talk about it.  Not those who teach Sunday School or even preach sermons.  Not those who quote enough scripture.  Not those who cite their spiritual credentials.

There is a time for planning and discussing and teaching others and that is necessary and good but at some point you have to quit talking about being thankful and start showing it.  When you realize what you are saved from and what you are saved to and the price that was paid for that salvation you WILL tell others about your relationship with Jesus.  You WILL submit your whole life to Him.  You WILL spend time in prayer and Bible study.  Your life will be changed.

And like the sinful woman it won't be able to be stopped or ignored and you won't care who sees or hears.  This story isn't about somebody who sinned a lot and somebody else who didn't sin as much.  It's about the person who acknowledges what it took to forgive that sin and what that means for their eternity.  And it shows in their thankful life.


Monday, November 19, 2012

David Was Thankful - I Chron. 16:1-6

When you got to visit a new doctor, the first thing he usually asks is, “So…what brings you in today?”  I want to ask the same question.  What brings you to church today?  Why are you here this morning?

The ultimate reason why we come to church is to worship God.  If you can’t say that is the main reason you are here, then maybe you need to reassess your motives. I’m reminded of the old Dennis the Menace cartoon where Dennis and his parents are leaving church and the pastor is at the back door shaking hands.  Dennis gets up to him and says, “Thanks pastor.  Not a bad show for a nickel.” 

But there are any number of reasons why we come here to worship.  It may be because you just love God and want to please him.  Maybe you are broken-hearted today and know that with a close walk with the Lord, joy comes in the morning.  Maybe you need wisdom and have come for the prayer and closeness that comes with worship.  Maybe you have a lot for which to be thankful and you want to worship while telling the Lord how grateful you are for his protection and provision; his mercy and grace; his power and love, forgiveness, or just His presence!

That’s a great reason to worship.  When we see who we really are in the light of Who He really is then you can’t help but be thankful and you can’t help but want to worship Him.  You can’t help but be thankful for God’s healing presence in your life and in the life of this church.

Do you feel God’s presence here?  I do.  I don’t feel Him physically.  I have never audibly heard His voice.  I have never seen Him here with my eyes or like some people who have seen Him in a painting, an oil spot or a grilled cheese sandwich.  But I feel the presence of God here in a real way.  Especially when others are here as it says that when 2 or more are gathered in My name, I am there also, but even on a Tuesday morning by myself I feel a holiness about this place; a feeling that this place is special and set apart.

And when you know and feel that God is present, that should make you very thankful and that thankfulness should impact your worship.  It did for David in the Old Testament.  In I Chronicles chapter 16 David is thankful and rejoicing in the fact that God is with him and the nation of Israel in a real way.  And it all revolved around the Ark of the Covenant.

Now, as 21st century believers it is hard for us to appreciate the significance of the Ark.  I mean it’s just a box with a few trinkets in it, right?  That “box” was significant enough to have wars fought over it.  It was significant enough that many lives were lost because of it, some of those lives were lost because the person only touched the Ark.  It contained the stone tablets of the 10 Commandments, Aaron’s rod that had budded and a jar of manna; all significant reminders of how God had provided and protected the nation of Israel.

Let’s look at I Chronicles 16:1-6 and see that David was thankful and because he was thankful, it impacted his worship. 

16 They brought the ark of God and set it inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and they presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before God. 2 After David had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord. 3 Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each Israelite man and woman.

4 He appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, to extol,[a] thank, and praise the Lord, the God of Israel: 5 Asaph was the chief, and next to him in rank were Zechariah, then Jaaziel,[b] Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obed-Edom and Jeiel. They were to play the lyres and harps, Asaph was to sound the cymbals, 6 and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests were to blow the trumpets regularly before the ark of the covenant of God.


I’m sure some of those guys have their feelings hurt now because of how I pronounced their names but that is not the important part of the passage.  The important things to see here are that David’s thankfulness to God for His presence is reflected in David’s worship.  That Ark is representative of God’s presence in a somewhat similar way that this building is representative of His presence.  We know that God does not restrict Himself to living only in this structure.  God is everywhere.  He lives in us.  His Spirit guides us.  We have a relationship with His Son and for that we are thankful.

Similarly, David and the other Israelites knew that God didn’t restrict Himself to living in that Ark but in a very real way, it symbolized God Himself including the character of God to protect and provide, to show mercy and justice and to bring peace.  And so David rejoiced to have the Ark back where it is supposed to be.  In the previous chapter it says that he danced with all his might in front of the Ark.  I doubt it was Saturday Night Fever-style dancing.  He was just excited to worship and it manifested itself physically.

I have a question I want you to answer.  What is it about worship that excites you?  Is it just something you do out of habit or is there some aspect of your worship of God that still excites you?  David was so excited that it manifested itself physically in the previous chapter but in our passage today there are 3 ways that David’s thankfulness impacted his worship.

1)      It impacted his offerings.

2)      It impacted his prayer.

3)      It impacted his music.

And it should do the same for us today.  It says that David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to God.  The burnt offering signified their total devotion to God.  With these they were saying that all they have belongs to God and He can do with it as He chooses.  They were completely dedicated to God and showed Him through their burnt offerings.  Does that sound like you?  Is your whole life totally dedicated to God?  Have you told Him that?  This is the same kind of sacrifice referred to in Romans 12:1 where it says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”

Let’s take time to do that right now.  Let’s bow our heads and close our eyes and just tell God that we are offering ourselves and everything we have as a burnt offering to Him to use as He sees fit.  What part of your life are you not letting God have?  He knows.  You know it.  Stop being stiff-necked and give it to Him in faith and with thankfulness.

Now the fellowship offering was a little bit different.  It was a voluntary act of sacrifice that was shared with the others in the temple at the time of worship.  They didn’t burn it up.  From what I understand they basically cooked it and ate it right there with everybody sharing in the sacrifice.  Well, things are different nowadays…but not completely.  We’re not going to have a barbeque but I am going to ask you to do something that some might consider to be a sacrifice and that is I want you to get up and share with one person a reason that you have to be thankful for them.  Tell just one person but make sure everybody gets told something.  Don’t make it up.  If nothing else be thankful that they are here.  Go for it.

Next we see in verse 4 that David assigns some of the priests to pray for specific things in regard to their thanksgiving.  Not only did David’s thankfulness impact his offering but it also impacted his prayer.  It says that they made petition, they gave thanks and they praised the Lord in their prayer.  So, what’s the difference in all those?  To petition is obviously to make a request of God; to ask Him for something.  Hebrews 4:16 says, Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

It also says that they gave thanks to God.  Several times in David’s beautiful prayer in this same chapter he gives thanks to God.  In verse 8 he says, Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done.  In verse 34 he says, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”

And then it also says they praised God the God of Israel.  The difference in this and giving thanks to God is that in giving thanks to God they were thanking Him for what He had done.  Here they are thanking Him for Who He is and how He works.  Let’s do all of that right now.  Let’s ask God to meet our needs but also thank Him for what He has done and for Who He is.  Jesus said my house will be a house of prayer.  How appropriate it is for us in our thanksgiving to praise Him in prayer as a church.

So we have seen that David’s thankfulness impacted his worship through his offerings and his prayer.  Lastly we see that his thankfulness impacted his worship through music.  In verses 5 and 6 we see guys with impossible to pronounce names playing all kinds of instruments.  You might say they had a “blended service”.  They had lyres, harps, cymbals and trumpets.  I can’t imagine what that sounded like but there is no doubt it was a joyful noise. 

There is something about music that brings back memories like nothing else.  You can hear a song on the radio and think immediately of somebody you haven’t thought of in years.  Music is powerful and it expresses our feelings like plain words just can’t.  Do you realize that we only have one more worship service in this building?  One more Sunday morning.  And the last few weeks have been tough on some of us.  Satan has been working overtime to distract us and get us off course and I don’t want our last memories of this place to be anything but happy and thankful.

Since we don’t have any lyres or harps or trumpets let’s do something for just a few minutes that we often do at Lake Bridgeport.  Let’s sing a couple of our favorite hymns.  Let’s sing some songs of thanks and praise.

Today’s worship service has been a little different.  I know I broke all the rules.  You are not supposed to get up and have fun during worship.  You’re supposed to pray only at certain times and only sing before and after the sermon.  But if we are guilty of anything it is of being thankful in our worship in a biblical way.  That’s how my friend David did it so I’m pretty sure it will work for us.  And I hope you got what you came here for.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Joseph Was Thankful - Genesis 50:15-21

A little boy was asked by his father to say grace at the table.  While the rest of the family waited, the little boy eyed every dish of food his mother had prepared.  After the examination, he bowed his head and honestly prayed, “Lord, I don’t like the looks of it, but I thank you for it and I’ll eat it anyway.  Amen.”

Have you ever felt like that?  You know you should be thankful but it’s not really what you want and yet you make the choice to be thankful anyway.  That little boy was being pretty mature.  His mother may not have appreciated it but I believe God did.  Thankfulness is a sign of maturity.  Babies are not thankful to their mothers for changing their diapers and giving them food and a warm bed.  But nobody expects that from a baby.  But as we mature, expectations change.

Because of the holiday Thanksgiving, November is a natural month to talk about being thankful.  And so for the next 3 Sundays, I would like to look at 3 different biblical characters that were thankful.  Now, some of you may hear that and think that a whole 3-sermon series is not really necessary since we are all thankful.  I mean, we talked about it just this morning.  Everybody is thankful to some degree or another, right?

And maybe that’s true but at the same time, I believe it is time well spent to see what true thankfulness looks like and how it manifests itself in our lives.  Webster defines it as “grateful and appreciative”.  That’s it.  But I am afraid that there is more to it than that, at least from God’s perspective.  Maybe it is just the depth of your gratitude that is the difference.

If you came to me and said, “Pastor, here are the keys to that new yellow Corvette ZR1 convertible you have always wanted. I hope you like the leather seats and engine upgrade. We just wanted to show you how much we love and appreciate you.” And if I grabbed the keys and walked off toward the car and said, “Thanks” over my shoulder, how would you feel?  I mean, I met the qualification for being thankful at least according to Webster.  But you would tell everybody about what an ungrateful and unappreciative pastor you have!

At Christmas time people can be so sensitive.  Have you ever opened a present and not shown quite enough gratitude? “I’ll just take it back if you don’t like it.  Don’t worry about it.  I picked it out just for you knowing how much you like sweaters with pictures of squids on them but I’ll take it back and stand in line for 2 hours and just bring you the money so you can go waste it on something stupid.  Don’t worry about me.”  Good grief.

At the same time, nobody wants you to drum up or manufacture or fake your gratitude, especially God.  He wants you to feel and show true thankfulness and we do that by wrapping our brains around what all He has given and the price that He paid.  That changes everything about our attitude of gratitude when we realize that.  But over the next 3 weeks, I want us to see what thankfulness looks like when it truly manifests itself in our lives.

Let’s do that today by looking at an interesting and unique character from the Old Testament in Genesis chapter 50, verses 15-21.  Joseph may not be the person in the Bible that most people think about when they think of characters who are grateful and appreciative.  Joseph may be the person you think about when you think of people who have gotten a raw deal from God.

You know the story of Joseph.  As a young man he was sold into slavery by his brothers.  He spent years and years in jail for crimes he didn’t commit.  He had everything taken away from him on more than one occasion.  He was forgotten, abandoned, lied about and yet while we know that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, there is no record in the Bible of Joseph ever doing anything worse than being a little arrogant as a youngster.  And yet, Joseph was thankful.  Let’s see it in Genesis 50:15-21.

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

I got a little creative this week and added a bulletin insert on which you can take notes and follow along.  I hope it helps.  I can’t say I will continue to do it every week but we will see.  And we all know that a good sermon has 3 points and a poem and this one has 6 points and no poem so hopefully it will be twice as good and not twice as long, huh?

I want you to look at verse 20 once again.  That is a sentence that can only be said by a mature person who is thankful.  He is not saying it didn’t happen or that it didn’t hurt.  He is not saying that there was a misunderstanding nor is he saying it was his fault.  He is not pretending to accept part of the blame to make them feel better.  Joseph says it like it is.  “You wanted to harm me…”

So, now he has stated the facts.  The next thing that comes out of his mouth is the important stuff.  Whatever he says next will show how he feels and what is about to happen to his family.  He has all the right to finish that phrase with a death sentence or a hanging or at least a punch in the face and we would know that Joseph had not forgiven nor was he thankful for how it turned out.

Instead we see that Joseph was a forgiving person, which is in itself a sign of thankfulness, but he also sees the big picture and that makes Joseph very thankful.  “But God intended it for good…”

If I were to ask you this morning if you are a thankful person, I am quite sure that almost everybody would say yes.  And as we discussed earlier, depth of thankfulness becomes an issue.  But for some others, timing is the issue.  I was thankful yesterday because such and such happened but not so much today.  I will be thankful tomorrow when it rains but today I wouldn’t say I’m as thankful. 

Looking at the life of Joseph in Genesis 50, we can see that thankfulness has nothing to do with timing.  In fact, in this passage, we see that Joseph has his brothers right where he wants them if he wanted to get revenge.  He remembers what happened.  They remember what happened.  Nobody has forgotten.  It is interesting what they tell Joseph.  I don’t believe for a minute that their father left them instructions telling them to tell Joseph to forgive them.  That was just the brothers feeling guilty and trying to save their necks.

And I believe that Joseph sees this too and that is why he wept in verse 17.  You see, for Joseph, thankfulness is not dependent on the past.  For Joseph, the past was a harsh memory.  Nothing could completely erase those years of imprisonment.  Nothing could change the fact that his brothers had hated him so bad they wanted to kill him.  But Joseph was thankful even in spite of his past and he proved it by not holding the events of the past over their heads.

Joseph was thankful for what God had done and it did not depend on his own difficulties in the past. 

Also, I want you to see that Joseph’s thankfulness is not changed by the present.  In the present situation, Joseph has some options and I can see some pretty unpleasant alternatives for his brothers if Joseph had not been mindful of what God had done.  At this point, Joseph is in the driver’s seat.  He has all the power and the resources to make the lives of his brothers worse than his ever was.

If you had asked Joseph 2 weeks ago if he was thankful, I’m sure he would have honestly said yes but now the proof comes out.  Now in the present, Joseph might have said, “Well, I was thankful but now I’m ready for revenge.  It’s my time now boys!  Bow down before me now and I’ll chop off your heads!”  But we see that Joseph’s thankfulness is not changed by the present.  His thankfulness supersedes his right and ability to be mad and vengeful.

His thankfulness is not dependent on the past nor changed by the present but it is mindful of the future.  He tells his brothers to not be afraid.  “I will provide for you and your children.”  Joseph understands that God has been at work his whole life.  It was not in the way that Joseph had expected and he certainly would not have chosen this path but it is obvious that God has allowed all of the heartache, loneliness and pain so that he would someday be able to provide for his family and so Joseph now does his part to show his thankfulness to God by being mindful of the future of his family.

Now I want us to see how thankfulness manifests itself in our lives.  You can talk about it.  You can say you are thankful.  You can encourage others to be thankful.  You can write long, fascinating books on why and how to be thankful but until it shows up in your life, until it bears bold and bountiful fruit, you are just wasting your breath.

In the life of Joseph, we see 3 ways that thankfulness manifests itself.  The first way is not mentioned with words here in this passage.  Joseph doesn’t say it out loud.  He doesn’t have to.  It is obvious to the brothers and it is obvious to us that Joseph has forgiven his brothers. When we are truly thankful, it will manifest itself in forgiveness.

I wish I had time to do this subject justice but suffice to say that forgiveness, true forgiveness is difficult.  It doesn’t come easy, we all know that.  It is not our default setting.  But it will show up when we see the big picture.  When we see that God has allowed everything in our lives to happen to make us into who we are supposed to be then we can start to truly forgive people.  Repeat.  He allowed Joseph to be sold, made a slave, slandered, forgotten, and abused to bring him to this point in his life where he can save the lives of his family.  And in doing so, God, not Joseph, gets the glory.

That’s how God works in our lives.  It is probably not going to be how we would have done it but His ways are higher than our ways and in the end, we see it was for our benefit.  That makes you thankful and that will manifest itself in forgiveness.

We also see that in the life of Joseph, thankfulness manifests itself verbally.  Joseph could have stopped with the first part of verse 20 and just said, “You intended to harm me!”  But he continued with, ”…but God intended it for good…”.  He voiced his appreciation for what had happened in his life.

We are very thankful for the veterans in our country and we are grateful all year around.  But today is one of the days when we actually voice our appreciation for what they have done.  If you never tell someone you love them or appreciate them, it’s hard to believe that you really do.  If you never tell your wife that you love her but you feel it in your heart, is that enough?  Probably not.

It’s the same way with God.  When you are thankful for what He has done, it will manifest itself verbally.  And lastly, thankfulness will manifest itself in our lives when all of this comes together and our thankfulness is not diminished by timing, it has been shown in our lives as forgiveness and we verbally express it.  But ultimately, it will manifest itself toward God.

Like Joseph, most of us have had difficulties in this life.  Job said, “Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.”  But, also like Joseph, we have a lot to be thankful for.  God knows the trouble you have seen.  Over and over again through Genesis it says this sentence: And God was with Joseph.  God was with him in the well.  He was with him in slavery, in prison, when it was lonely and when it was painful.

God allowed all of that to happen to make him into the man he was supposed to be but to the very end it says God was with him.  And while Joseph was unique in lots of ways, this isn’t one of them.  God promises to be with us in everything we go through; the good times and the bad.  And like Joseph, that should make us thankful to Him.