Sunday, December 18, 2011

"Emmanuel" Isaiah 7:14

There was a little boy in his first Christmas play.  In his only line he was to come out and say, "It is I.  Do not be afraid."  Just before he was to go out stagefright set in and he came out and said, "It's me and I'm scared!"

I don't know about you but many times that is the way my prayers start...  "God, it's me and I'm scared.  I don't know what to do, say or go.  God, help me."

How do you think God feels about prayers like that?  Sometimes I think God must get tired of me saying that.  "I told you what to do.  Now go do it!  What are ya, stupid?"  But the Bible would teach us to bring everything to God.

Now some people go to God and say that they want a sign.  God, if you do such and such I'll know it's the right thing for me to do so and so.  I went to visit a woman in the hospital a few years ago and met her husband in the parking lot.  He was going in at the same time but we had to cross a busy street before we got to the hospital.  He wanted to wait to cross the road until a yellow car passed because that was how he knew that God was going to take care of his wife.

That may sound silly but anytime you tell God he has to do something before you do something I think you may have a problem.  God has provide His word for us to read and He has provided His Spirit to guide us.  We shouldn't be asking for a physical sign.  We can find the answers in prayer and Bible study.

But there were a couple of times in the Bible when God wanted to provide a sign like that.  One of them is in our passage today.  Turn to Isaiah 7:14.  We heard from Hank the shepherd a couple of weeks ago who told his story of the angel coming to visit him in the field and in his story he mentioned a couple of OT passages that prophesied about the Messiah so we are looking closer at those for a couple of weeks.

I want to read Isaiah 7:1-14 but it's a little difficult to understand but don't worry, I will give you the gist of it afterward.  Read. 

It helps to know that at this time the country of Israel had been divided in two and the northern part was still called Israel but the lower part that included Jerusalem was called Judah.  The King of Judah was Ahaz.  Ahaz found out that Israel had allied itself with another powerful country, Ephraim, and was prepared to attack Judah and so the Ahaz and all the people were very scared.

Isaiah was a prophet and he told Ahaz not to worry because God was on his side.  He told him to just ask God for a sign and He would give it.  Instead, Ahaz says he doesn't want to test God which sounds noble enough but what he really means is that he will figure it out himself.  He doesn't need God.

Now, if you remember last week I told you as we studied Isaiah chapter 9 that the book of Isaiah has lots of doom and gloom prophesies in it.  Isaiah tells Israel over and over that if you continue to do this then all these bad things are going to happen.  But ever so often Isaiah brings good news.  Like last week when he said y'all keep doing this and bad things are going to happen, nevertheless God is going to be merciful and provide a baby to be born.

It's the same kind of thing here with Ahaz.  Ahaz is disobedient but God says basically "Nevertheless I will give you a sign.  A baby will be born and you will call him Immanuel".  And Immanuel means what?  God with us.

So, there you go.  Thanks for coming.  We have learned some history today and we can check off the box on the to-do list that says "church".  See ya next Sunday.

Or, we can stay for a few more minutes and try to decide what this means for you today.  What does it mean for you to know that God is with us?  Is that comforting or is it scary?  I've said before that knowing God is watching you all the time can be one of the two depending on what you are doing at the time.

Hopefully it's comforting to know that but I would submit to you that during the Christmas season it is even more important to realize that He is with us.  It's important to know He is with us when everybody else around us is celebrating.  It's important to remember He is with us when we are going through Christmas without a certain loved one.  Or when we don't have enough money to buy all the presents we need so we are tempted to just charge it.  Or you feel like you're going to punch the Salvation Army guy for ringing that bell over and over.

Whatever your problem is, I want you to remember that not only is God with us but He cares and is powerful enough to solve any problem you have.

Do we serve a violent God?  Have you ever thought of God as violent?  I want you to turn to Psalm 18.  You need a Bible.  If you don't have one, find one and turn to Psalm 18.

David has been literally running for his life.  He is scared and knows he is about to be killed and so he cries out to God.  Read Psalm 18:1-24. 

Today, God is with us and that should be very comforting.  It should also be comforting at this stressful time of the year to know that God is not only with us but He cares about you and is powerful enough to solve all of your problems when you are faithful and obedient to Him.

In verse 41 it says that David's enemies cried out to God but God didn't answer.  If God is not answering your prayer for help maybe He doesn't hear you because you have built a wall between you and Him.  Or maybe you have never asked Him into your life at all.  Today is the day to do that.  Today is the day of salvation!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Baby Names - Isaiah 9:6

Those of you that are parents know just how important it is to pick out just the right name for your baby.  People spend hours and hours picking out just the right name and matching it with just the right middle name, taking into account what the initials will be, will it be easy to make fun of by kids at school, how easy it is to say.  Some people want Bible names.  I looked online at the most popular names this year and was surprised by how many were biblical.  Noah, Caleb, Benjamin, Jacob, Levi, Gabriel, Isaac, James were all popular boys' names this year and interestingly, Elizabeth was the only biblical girls' name that was popular. 

When my sister was pregnant and found out it was a boy, my bro-in-law wanted to make sure that whatever name they picked would sound good when announced by the Major League Baseball announcer.  "Chase Caywood at the plate!"  "Homerun by Chase Caywood!"  15 years later and I was at one of his little league games when the announcer said just that and I looked at my sister and said, "That does sound good."  She just nodded knowingly. 

Somebody tell me what you named your child and why.  I know Carol had several boys and named them all the same thing.  We will see in just a minute how important names are for us as we relate to Jesus.

Last week we had a "guest speaker" who told his version of what happened to him when an angel came to him to tell him about Jesus being born.  He quoted some scripture from the Old Testament prophesying the birth of Jesus and I wanted to spend a little time looking at some of those for the next week or two. 

Turn to Isaiah 9:6 and as you do I want to tell you that Isaiah wrote his book about 700 years before Jesus was born and wrote it to the Hebrew people who lived in Israel.  I continue to be amazed at the relevancy of the Word of God as where else could a group of Gentiles in Runaway Bay, Texas find hope and encouragement 2700 years after it is written?

Read Isaiah 9:6 

Isaiah is a book that shows completely both God's wrath and his provision for his people.  In chapter one he calls Israel a rebellious people.  In chapter 6 he says they are blind and deaf.  In chapter 5 a vineyard to be trampled and in chapters 5 & 10 they are devoid of justice and righteousness.  In fact, in just the previous chapter (8) he uses the words "distressed and hungry, famished, enraged, curses, darkness, fearful gloom".   

But then in chapter 9, the first word is "Nevertheless".  He says in the previous chapter that there are consequences for your disobedience.  But in chapter 9 he brings hope.  In the previous chapters he says God is "the Holy One of Israel" who must punish His rebellious people.  But in our passage today we see God fulfilling His promise that He had made so many years before with Abram that we were looking at in Genesis. 

We could stop right here and learn that lesson and see that application that when we sin there are consequences.   NEVERTHELESS God is faithful to do what He said He would do.  But I want us to look closer at these names that are given to Jesus who fulfills this prophesy and I want us to see that even today, Jesus is the embodiment of these names. 

"...And He will be called Wonderful Counselor" 

The term refers to a king or someone of royalty that has a plan or a program to carry out.  They know what is going on.  They know how to fix the problem and are willing to help you do the right thing. 

One morning the young new president of a bank made an appointment to see his predecessor to seek some advice.  He began, " Sir, as you well know, I lack a great deal of the qualifications you already for this job.  You have been successful as president of this bank, and I wondered if you would be kind enough to share some of your insights."

The man looked at him and said, "Young man, two words:  good decisions."

The young man responded, "But how do I know which is the good decision?"

"One word young man:  experience."

"But how does one get experience?"

"Two words young man:  bad decisions."

Now that may be true but I want to make the right decision the first time.  In the Bible, Jesus was constantly being asked questions.  Usually it was somebody trying to trick Him but Jesus always answered correctly.  He always answered wisely. 

In Matt.22:34 it says..."Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind."
It's just an example of Jesus knowing what was going on and knowing the right answer.  I go back to one of my favorite verses, Proverbs 3:5-6 that says, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;  in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight."
Jesus has the credentials to be our advisor because he is completely trustworthy and wise.

Jesus provides two things that we’d look for in a great counselor:
a. He is understanding. – “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin.” (Heb. 4:15)

b. He is someone who really cares. – “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Pet. 5:7)

So when we face any and every decision, this prophecy tells us that Jesus is there to advise us and give us direction. What should I do with my investment portfolio? When do I retire? Should I spank my child? Which movie will we rent? Should I re-model my kitchen? Jesus is our top advisor. He can see every possible outcome, and knows which choice is best. Every time.
Now I want you to go to the insert in your bulletin and take the first part of the self-evaluation that is in there.  How well do you do going to Him with your decisions?  How much do you trust Him to understand you and care for you?  Do you trust in Him or do you lean on your own understanding? On a scale of 1-10 how do you rank?  Don't show anybody and don't look at anybody else's. 
The next name given to Jesus is "Mighty God".The word “mighty” was commonly associated with warfare and has to do with the strength and vitality of a successful warrior.
King David had a group of bodyguards around him.  Do remember how they are called?  His "Mighty Men".  I love to read in 2 Samuel 23 about those guys.  There were 3 main ones and it says that one of them killed 800 enemies in one encounter!  The other 2 both fought off entire armies by themselves when all the other men had fled.
That's some serious special-ops, Green Beret, special forces, Navy SEAL bad dudes right there!  They were brave and strong but not only that they had to be wise in the ways of battle.  You don't kill 800 other warriors just by being brave or just by being strong.  You have to know the secrets, you have to have skill.  You have to be experienced.
And that's why the name "Mighty God" fits Jesus so well.  Jesus never got into a physical fight but we know he was a powerful man from reading in Luke 19 where he had the physical aptitude to drive out all the money-changers.  And then in John 18:6 it tells that with a word Jesus made his enemies fall back and drop to the ground.
 But even more than just being a physically mighty man, Jesus was spiritually mighty as well.  In all 4 Gospels it tells that Jesus was powerful enough to overcome death and the grave and after being dead for 3 days He rose again and has the might and the power to remain alive.
And not only that but it says in Ephesians 1:18-20 that Paul was praying for the church at Ephesus:  "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms."
So, not only is Jesus mighty enough to overcome death but we have that same power today in our lives as believers to overcome anything that God has asked us to overcome.  We have the power in us but through Him to do anything He asks us to do!
Now I want you to rank yourself on a scale of 1-10 on how well and how often you believe and use God's power.  How often do you try to use your power to fix something or how much do you use the power of God?
So, not only do we have a Wonderful Counselor who can help and will show us the way, we also have a Mighty God who gives us the strength to do it and we also have an Everlasting Father. 

Several years ago one of the mens' prisons decided they would do something nice for the inmates on Mothers' Day and provide them with free Mothers' Day cards to send.  It was a great idea and was so popular they decided to do the same thing for Fathers' Day.  Only this time hardly anybody took a card.  What was the difference? 

One of the common denominators for those men was not knowing or having a relationship with their fathers.  They all knew and loved their mamas but most didn't have anything to do with their fathers.  Today, no matter how you think of your father, you can understand the importance of having a good relationship with your him.

But I hear what you are saying.  Pastor Todd, I thought we were talking about Jesus the Son not God the Father.  You're right.  We are, but Jesus the Son also has fatherly qualities.

In Luke 13:34 Jesus is coming into the town of Jerusalem.  As he tops the last hill before the city limits He says, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. "

Can’t you just hear the longings of a parent in those words?  And in Matthew 11:28 He says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."  In Luke 7:13 Jesus sees a widow crying because her only son had died and just before He raises the boy back to life it says that His heart went out to her and He told her not to cry.

Who here doesn't need a father-figure?  Who here doesn't need a strong hug from someone you know will give you good counsel, someone who has the strength to protect you and loves you like only a good father can?

How well do rate when it comes to running to Him when you are in trouble?  On a scale of 1-10, how do you rate trusting Him with your secrets and telling Him your dreams or just curling up with Him and His Word when you have had a bad day?

This ties right in to the next name that we see in Isaiah.  Prince of Peace.

I can probably just skip this one especially this time of year when we sing about peace, we talk about peace on earth, everything is so peaceful.  I'm sure you all have your Christmas shopping done and that sure is peaceful, right?  Maybe if you do have shopping left you just skip over to the store, getting a great parking place and then breezing into the store where you find what you want quickly with the help a friendly and knowledgeable employee and then you ease on home where you sing "O Holy Night" around the fire with your spouse looking at you lovingly.

Or maybe not.  Maybe there is no spouse for you this year.  Maybe there is no job to provide for a house, much less money to buy gifts.  Maybe you're in poor health or maybe you drag around guilt like a boat anchor.  Maybe addiction or relational problems have stolen your peace.  Or maybe you just don't have a relationship with the Prince of Peace.

I've told you before that some years ago I spent a long time away from the Lord.  I knew what I was supposed to do but I was too stubborn to give up doing what I wanted because I was having fun.  I would go out with my friends and laugh and have a good time but when I was alone, laying in bed, and this is the part I've never told anybody ever, sometimes, oftentimes, I wanted to kill myself and end all of the hurt.

I had a job, friends, stuff, hobbies.  I had everything except peace.  And that hurt was almost unbearable.  But Satan kept telling me that I was having too much fun.  I was living my own life, doing what I wanted and that was worth it.  But Satan is a liar and a thief and he wanted me dead.  It wasn't until, by the grace of God through His Son Jesus, I asked for forgiveness and the Prince of Peace was waiting for me there.

He was waiting like a Wonderful Counselor with a plan for my life.  He was waiting like a Mighty God with the power to help me overcome.  He was waiting for me like a loving and Everlasting Father ready to forgive me and like the wonderful Prince of Peace He continues to sing over me and make this life worth living.  And without Him I have none of that.

How do you rate your peace?  Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

If your peace is lacking then maybe it's because your relationship with Him is lacking.  You may have heard me several times say that we have these things as believers.  As believers we have all of this and more but it's not guaranteed to non-believers.  Have you asked Him into your life to be your Lord and Savior?  Have you asked Him for forgiveness?  Today is the day of salvation!  Today a child is born.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Our Guest Speaker: Hank the Shepherd

Have you ever had a crazy dream? A dream that seems so real but too crazy to have really happened? I want to tell you about a night I thought I must surely be dreaming, but it really happened.
My name is Hank.  Hank the shepherd. I’m one of the shepherds mentioned in the second chapter of the book of Luke, verses eight through twenty. My name is not in the Bible and I’m not terribly important in the scheme of things and yet I had something wonderful happen to me many years ago. Allow me to tell that story in my own words.
Being a shepherd is hardly glamorous work. It is long hours and low pay and we are generally looked down upon by most people. I do not have much education nor much money and most of the time I smell like a sheep. One can see that with all of that going for me that I do not have many close friends.
There have been a few of us shepherds to go on to bigger and better things with our lives. King David is probably the most notable example. But most shepherds live and die in poverty and obscurity and to be honest that was fine with me. I never expected anything of note to ever happen in my life. I had gone to work when I was very young to support my mother when my father died and shepherding was the only thing I could do.
They were not even my own sheep. A man hired me to take care of his sheep but I took my job very seriously. During the day we would let the sheep graze on open land but at night we would round them up and put them in a makeshift corral and we would guard them there.
Nighttime was when thieves and wolves would come out so we would sit in the doorway of the corral and protect the sheep with our bodies. The secret was to have another shepherd there with you at night to talk to you. Not only did it keep you from getting bored and falling asleep but the noise kept away the thieves and wolves.
The other shepherds and I would talk about anything and everything during the night as one can imagine. Some of the other guys liked to talk about God and religion But I was not much into that. I had a hard time believing that there was more to this life than eating, sleeping and sheep.
The ironic thing about this one special night was that some of the other guys and I had just been discussing some of the prophecy in scripture about the coming of the Christ. They had been sharing with me that several prophets had predicted Christ’s birth. Moses, Micah and Isaiah had all predicted the coming of the Christ and that could be something I could get excited about if only I could really believe it.
They told me about the passage in Isaiah chapter seven that says, Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Also, Isaiah chapter nine says, A child will be born to us. A son will be given to us. He will rule over us. And he will be called Wonderful Adviser and Mighty God. He will also be called Father Who Lives Forever and Prince Who Brings Peace. The authority of his rule will continue to grow. The peace he brings will never end. He will rule on David's throne and over his kingdom. He will make the kingdom strong and secure. His rule will be based on what is fair and right. It will last forever. The Lord's great love will make sure that happens. He rules over all.
That passage says that Christ will reign on David’s throne! I like that. I can relate somewhat to David because he was a shepherd - a lowly shepherd. Then in the fifth chapter of Micah it says that the baby will be born in Bethlehem. That is where I am from. That is my hometown! I started to feel some hope where previously there had been just despair.
We were, in fact, camped just outside of Bethlehem that night. I will never forget it. It was a beautiful, quiet, starry night. Some of the others were talking and I heard a noise. It started out like a low hum and gradually built up to a sound like a huge herd of horses were stampeding across the hills.
My first concern was for the sheep and so I stood up and listened and waited. On a typical night the most exciting thing to happen might be a shooting star so one can imagine how shocked I was when a bright light flashed and an angel was right in front of me.
I thought it must surely mean I was about to die! My heart was pounding, my knees almost failed to hold me up. I thought I should avert my eyes but I could not quit staring at this incredible creature.
The first thing out of his mouth was, “Do not be afraid!” Easy for him to say! One minute I am counting stars and the next minute I am face to face with Gabriel himself. And yet, while he was an intimidating and exciting creature, huge, powerful and stunning, he was at the same time strangely calming. He was like a good military commander who knows what is going on and knows what to do. I felt immediately like I could trust him.
He said, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people”. He could have stopped right there. He could have said no more and I would have been thrilled! “For all the people” included me! Nobody had ever included me and here I am being included to an invitation by no less than an angel of the Lord!
The angel continued, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Before I could catch my breath, and to my continued amazement, more and more angels appeared. Millions and millions of angels dressed all in white and with a glow like the sun spread from one horizon to the other and they began singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.” They were the brightest, loudest most perfect celestial choir and I was the audience.
Over and over again they sang “Glory to God in the highest!” Gloria in excelsis deo! “Glory to God, Glory to God!” I cried. I laughed. I sang with them! I worshipped. I hoped it would never end.
It felt like a dream but it was real. When the angels left I could not wait to accept Gabriel’s invitation to find the baby so we all left the sheep and ran into Bethlehem. I think I expected it to be easier to find the baby. After the unplanned angelic choir program I expected there to be long lines of people crowding to see a baby king laying in purple robes with bright lights and flying angels but there was none of that.
When we finally found the baby he was just…a baby. His parents were pleasant but looked a bit overwhelmed like every parent feels the first day and when we told them everything that had happened to us I was afraid they might not believe it. Joseph thanked us and Mary smiled with a mix of pride and gratefulness.
There is another passage in Isaiah chapter 61 that says, The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn.
I feel like that passage might have been written about me. I could not keep from telling other people about what I had seen and heard that day. I wanted everyone to know about the Christ. I did not know much about this baby Jesus but I knew that he was the savior and I needed a savior. I needed the Prince of peace in my life.
The time in which I lived was undergoing what they called the ”pax Romana” or Roman peace which was a good thing in that we were not involved in any war at the time but I had no peace in my own heart. In the quiet times in the field with my sheep I often felt like there must be more to this life! The starry nights and snow-covered mountains fairly screamed of a divine creator but I had no joy and no peace in my heart until I met Jesus.
One more passage from the book of Isaiah chapter forty: He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.
Being a shepherd has it’s rewards sometimes. Sheep often stray off and are easily in danger of wild animals or malicious people but when I find them safe and bring them back to the herd I know it is for their good. It lets me relate to other shepherds like David but I now realize I have a greater connection with the Good Shepherd since that special night in Bethlehem all those years ago.
I will never know why God chose to reveal himself to me the way He did or why He wants me to have a relationship with Him like He does but I know now that I have that peace and joy that He promises as well as life forever with Him in Heaven and I will continue to celebrate that as the true meaning of Christmas and the meaning of my life everyday.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Wait like Abram or Charge like David?

"Believe It or Not, God Sees, Hears and Works."  Genesis 16

God's time clock is certainly out of sync with ours as Little Jimmy learned one day as he was laying on a hill in the middle of a meadow on a warm spring day. Puffy white clouds rolled by and he pondered their shape. Soon, he began to think about God.
"God? Are you really there?" Jimmy said out loud. To his astonishment a voice came from the clouds. "Yes, Jimmy? What can I do for you?"
Seizing the opportunity, Jimmy asked, "God? What is a million years like to you?"
Knowing that Jimmy could not understand the concept of infinity, God responded in a manner to which Jimmy could relate. "A million years to me, Jimmy, is like a minute."
"Oh," said Jimmy. "Well, then, what's a million dollars like to you?" "A million dollars to me, Jimmy, is like a penny."
"Wow!" remarked Jimmy, getting an idea. "You're so generous... can I have one of your pennies?"
God replied, "Sure thing, Jimmy! Just a minute."
Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God."  Is there anything more difficult than waiting on God?  It's like standing in a fire ant mound and somebody saying,  "Now, don't move."  Why is God that way?  Is He up there just getting His divine grins from making us suffer and squirm?  He is obviously just a big old meany-head who doesn't like us and wants us to stress out over so many things in our lives, right?
In fact, how many of you have prayed and prayed for something to happen and it seems like you get no answer?  Honestly, sometimes I pray and ask God which way I should go or what I should do and...he just doesn't answer.  I know I'm not the first one that has felt that way.  Job says in the Old Testament, ‘I go east, but he is not there. I go west but I cannot find him. I do not see him in the north for he is hidden. I turn to the south, but I cannot find him.” (Job 23:8).

Maybe right now you have a situation in your life and you are wondering where God is. Maybe it’s a disease you deal with and you are wondering if God notices. Maybe it’s a rebellious child and you’ve asked God to help; but your child just dives deeper into rebellion. Maybe you’ve been abused and the pain is deep and it just won’t go away and you wonder if God even cares. Maybe you have a decision that you need to make but there is no clear picture as to what you should do. And God is not helping you see what you should do. He’s silent.
John Claypool, who in his book The Light Within You, tells of his young daughter who was diagnosed with Leukemia and was in a tremendous amount of pain. One night in the hospital she asked him, “Daddy, when will my pain go away?” And John said, “Honey, we’re doing everything we can to get rid of it.” And his daughter asked, “Daddy have you asked God when my leukemia will go away? Have you asked him daddy? What did God say?”

And Claypool writes that he didn’t know what to say to her. “What do you say to a little girl when God seems as if he is not listening. What do you say,” he writes, “when the heavens seem silent.”
Sarai was a woman in the Bible who became frustrated with God’s silence when she could not get pregnant. She wanted desperately to have a child but it just wasn’t happening. Open your Bibles up to Genesis 16 and let’s look at Sarai’s story and then draw some lessons for our lives about how we should react when it appears that God is silent.
I told you last week that the story of Abram and Sarai, or Abraham and Sarah as they are called later, is a story of fulfillments and obstacles.  In their story we see God fulfilling His promise to Abram or we see obstacles to that fulfillment.  Every time we see them it is something that is going to keep God from fulfilling His promise but we see that every time God comes through.
As you remember God promised Abram that Abram was going to be blessed and that he would be a blessing and that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky or the sand on the beach.  Look at 15:5 where God says so.  The problem is that when God made this promise Abram was 75 and Sarai was 65, well past the age of reproduction.  Now here we are 10 years baby.  What would you do?
The whole 16th chapter is not very long.  Let's read it and see what they did.
Wow!  Women!  Can't live with em and you can't shoot em.  You know, it's just like that whole Garden of Eden thing.  It's all the woman's fault.  That's obvious.  No, I'm kidding.  Abram was just as much at fault here.  The thing is, while we would never consider doing such a thing, back then it was not only acceptable it was almost expected to take a servant and have a child by her if your wife could not bear one.  There were laws that said that a man should do that.
I want us to see three things in this passage.  As the title of the message says, God sees,  God hears and God works.  Whether you see it or not, hear it or not or believe it or not, God is at work.
Now, I'll be honest with you.  I would rather be preaching about my friend David going up against Goliath.  I love that story!  I love everything about it.  Have you read that lately?  I Samuel 17.  I'm not going to read it right now but it says that David saw what was happening and he ran toward Goliath and used his slingshot to put a rock right in Goliath's forehead.
Yes!  That's what I'm talking about!  Kill him David!  Now cut off his head and kick him in the ribs and poke him in the eye!  That'll teach him.  And honestly, that's what I want God to give me permission to do sometimes.  That's a whole lot more satisfying than "Be still and know that I am God."  My question is how do we know when to wait and when to run forward?
Look at verses 1 & 2.  Sarai says in verse 2 that God has kept her from having children and she's right.  But then she says perhaps I can build a family through Hagar.  What you don't hear her say is that God said to or God told me to.  So often we pray that God would open a door for us so we will know what to do.  Well, that's not a bad thing to pray but just because a door is open doesn't mean that we are supposed to walk through it.
It might even be the right door but the wrong time to walk through it so the secret is to wait on God to say, "Ok, the door is open.  Now walk through it."  Or run through it!  So, while it may have been legal for Abram to do what he did and he even had Sarai's permission, it was not God's will or timing and so let's look at what happens.
The end of verse 2 says Abram agreed and verse 4 says she conceived.  Good news, right?  The plan worked.  Well, yea, technically their plan worked but since it wasn't God's plan it started coming unraveled pretty quick.  Right off the bat Hagar starts feeling like she is better than Sarai.  Sarai blames Abram and Abram doesn't want any part of it and so Sarai starts mistreating Hagar and Hagar runs off.
I'm so glad we are not that way.  I'm so glad that we know better and when we do mess up we know to take responsibility and ask for forgiveness and then we deal appropriately with the consequences because the way these folks handled conflict is dumb, right?
I have some headlines for you just from within the last couple of days:
Now I have some "headlines" from scripture:  Psalm 138:6 says, "Though the Lord is on high, he looks upon the lowly."  2 Chronicles 16:9  For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.  Psalm 139:1 O Lord you have searched me and know me.  Proverbs 15:3 The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.   Jeremiah 16:17 My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes.
When I say that God is watching you there are 2 ways to take that.  Negatively or positively.  You will think it a bad thing if you are not doing what you are supposed to do and if you are doing what you are supposed to do then it's a good thing.  But however you want to take it you need to remember that God always sees you.  He is always aware and he always hears you.
Look at verse 7.  "The angel of the Lord"...There is some discussion about who this person is.  Some believe this to be the pre-incarnate Christ and maybe it is but I believe that it is, as it says, an angel that God has given the right and responsibility to speak for Him.  He asks where she is going to and coming from.
Hagar says she is running away.  She doesn't even have to give the details.  The angel knows what is going on and with the right and responsibility to speak for God the angel lets Hagar know that God has heard her.  Read v.10.
Then in v13 Hagar says that she realizes that God has seen her and has made Himself known and calls Him El Roi (the God who sees).  God sees.  God hears and God is at work.  She went back to Sarai and did as she was told and gave birth to Ishmael.  I've said before that God's will is going to be done.  His overall will is going to be done and you can be a part of it and be blessed or you can choose the way that seems right to you and like Sarai you can say "perhaps this will work" and you can suffer the consequences.
So, how do we know which way to go?  How do we know if we are supposed to wait like Abram or charge like David?  Turn to Proverbs 3:5-6.  If this isn't marked in your Bible it should be.  If you don't have it memorized, you should.  Proverbs 3:5-6 says, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight
If only Abram and Sarai had continued to wait on God.  If only they had trusted in the Lord with all of their heart and had not leaned on their own understanding then how much better off they would have been. 
3 more verses from Psalms to close:  Psalm 27:14, “Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” Psalm 38:15 “I wait for you, O LORD; you will answer, O Lord my God.” Psalm 130:5, “I wait for the LORD , my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.”
Whatever it is that you are waiting on today know that God sees you.  He hears you.  And he continues to work in your life whether you believe it or not.  Trust Him.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Where God Guides, God Provides

I want to see how well y'all listened last week to anything besides the opening phone call.  Do any of you remember any of the promises that God gives us?  I named just a few.  The Bible is full of God's promises but we only talked about a few. 

He promises to supply all our needs. Philippians 4:19

God has promised that His grace is sufficient for us.

We will not be overtaken with temptation.

All things work together for good to those who love and serve Him faithfully.

Those who believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins will be saved.

Eternal life.

Do you believe those promises?  Of course.  Nobody is going to say they don't.

Would you say that you are a person of faith?  Is that an apt description of you?  I'm sure we would all say yes to that.

If you are a person of faith, when was the last time you proved it?  I mean, it's easy to sit here or stand here, fat and happy and comfortable and say that we believe God will supply all our needs when we really mean that Walmart will supply all our needs.  Yes, that maybe part of God's promise to provide everything we need, that He gives us food, clothing and shelter.

But when was the last time you ever really had to depend on God to provide?  When was the last time you knew there was no way out of this situation except for the grace of God?  When was the last time you took God up on His promise to provide a way out of sin and you resisted even though everything in you wanted to give in?

For some of you it might not have been too long ago.  I know a lot of you are going through difficult times right now.  I know I am not the only one that Satan is hammering on here lately.  As a church we have been obedient and we have seen God bless and we can expect Satan to attack and that is where a lot of us are right now.  Physical problems, relational problems, financial problems.

Some of you may need to have your faith strengthened a little bit but the problem with becoming a person of faith is that it is very similar to becoming a person of patience in that it almost always involves going through difficult times.  And maybe that is why God allows that vicious cycle because it strengthens our faith and we are told in Hebrews 11:6 that without faith it is impossible to please God.

George Muller was a great man of faith.  If you have never read his autobiography you are missing out.  He said, "God delights to increase the faith of his children.  We ought, instead of wanting no trials before victory, no exercise for patience, to be willing to take them from God's hand as a means.  I say - and say it deliberately - trials, obstacles, difficulties and sometimes defeats, are the very food of faith."  End quote.

He use the word "obstacles" there and that is an appropriate word to use for the situations that Abram is going through as we look at his life in Genesis.  Today we are in Genesis chapter 12 verses 10-20.  Last week we read in verses 1-5 that God promised Abram that Abram would be blessed and would be a blessing and that all people would be blessed through him.  And God told him to go and without hesitation Abram left.  A real man of faith.

Most of the rest of the story of Abram, or Abraham as he was later called, hinges on that promise and we see over and over again the fulfillment of that promise or what is an obstacle to the fulfillment of that promise.

So, last week we left Abram with the promise that God was going to do incredible things through him and with him and this week, right out of the gate we see a huge obstacle to that promise.  In 11:30 it says that Sarai was barren and had no children.  Abram had to be having some doubts about it all right off the bat but he goes on as it says in 12:4, he left.

So, now, skip down to verse 10 and let's read through verse 20.

There are 2 things I want us to see from this passage:

1)  You don't have faith until you are tested.

2)  God is faithful even when we are not.

As usual in the Book of Genesis we are not given all the details in this story but hopefully by now you are used to that and understand that this is not meant to be a biography about Abram.  It is not just teaching us history.  In fact, as with the rest of Genesis, it is not really about the character being talked about.  It is, once again, about the character of God.

We saw God's sovereignty and love brought out in the creation story.  We saw God's grace and justice in the flood narrative.  We saw his power and trustworthiness through the story of the tower of Babel.  Last week we talked about God's provision as seen through His giving of this promise.  Don't doubt that this week, too, we will see some aspect of God's character that He wants to reveal through His Word.

First, let's take a closer  look at the text and see that we don't have faith until it is tested.   In verse 10 it says that there was a famine in the land.  Abram started out in the area of what is today Iraq and Iran where even today famine is common.  He headed WNW toward the Mediterranean Sea and then fairly south toward Egypt.  Egypt rarely has problems like that since the Nile River regularly overflows and supplies them with plenty of water.

So the famine is the first real test of Abram's faith and what does he do?  He does what makes sense to him.  In fact, it makes sense to us today, right?  Famine over here.  Go over there.  That's just common sense.  The problem is that God told him to go to Canaan and while going to Egypt solved one problem, it caused a few others.

Now look at verse 11.  Guys, how many times has a good-looking woman gotten you in trouble?  (Read 11)  If he had just stopped right there by telling her she was beautiful and kept on going to Egypt.  But no.  The thing is, evidently this was not just Abram being biased toward his wife because in several places it says that all the guys noticed her and wanted her.

There are a couple of interesting things here.  First off, Sarai was 65 years old and still turning the heads.  She must have been something.  I think she must have been beautiful inside and out.  She carried herself well, as they say.  Although she is complicit in this scheme.  She agrees to it.  That doesn't say much for her but in those days she probably didn't have a whole lot of choice.

The other thing I found interesting here is that it was true that men would find her beautiful and if Abram was her husband he might have been killed which means that the people of that day put a much higher value on marriage than they did life.  They wouldn't just take her if she was married.  That would be wrong.  So they just killed the husband.  Interesting to me.

Now look down at verse 16.  It's looking pretty good for Abram about now, right?  Pharoah just gave him a whole lot of stuff.  He's still alive.  Good news, isn't it?  Abram is standing there the proud owner of sheep, cattle, camels, servants and donkeys...and no wife.  No way the promise of God comes through now.

Have you ever been there?  "God, I know you said such and such but I really messed up this time and have really gotten off track so bad that there is no way to fix it."  We don't know that Abram said anything like that but he had to be thinking something along those lines.  And I'm sure I'm the only one who also thinks like that.

God, I know you have called me here but I can't afford it.  I'm paying on a house in Lake Worth.  What?  It sold already?

Yes, but God, I don't have any place to live and can't afford any place if I could find something.  A parsonage?  But it doesn't have a fence for my dogs!  It does now?

God, there is no way we will ever find a worship leader to come way out here...who's there?  Bill and Pat Lightsey?

God, we only have about 15-20 people here.  There is no way we are going to be able to pay all our bills this summer.  What Dale?  The bills are all paid and we got an insurance check as a bonus?

You know what?  I'm gonna ask God for a swimming pool and a helicopter pad just to see if He ever says, "No."  No, I'm kidding.  I'm not asking for that.  Because God's not near as concerned about whether we are comfortable and having fun as He is about our ministry.  He is not worried about us having well-known names.  He wants His name to be proclaimed and He will provide all of our needs to make that happen.  Even when we are not faithful, God still is.  Amen?

In closing, I want to look at a passage that, to me, shows what true faith really is.  Turn to Daniel chapter 3.  Daniel is in the OT between Ezekiel and Hosea if that helps.   I love the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  The king had a giant golden idol set up and made it a law that everyone bow down to it and these 3 guys refused.  The law said that if you didn't bow down then you would be thrown into the furnace.  You probably remember the story from when you were a little kid.

Read 16-18

That is faith.  Shad, Shack and Bed knew that God had guided them to where they are right now and that God would provide.  Even if it was not like they would choose.  Even if it meant they didn't live through it.  They believed God's promises.  And even today, where God guides, God provides.

Do you know Him today?  Do you have a relationship with Him?  Today is the day of salvation.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

What is God calling you to do?

"God's Call", Genesis 11:27-12:5

Phone call from POTUS.  Hello?  Mr. President?  You want me to what?  When?  Biblical Advisor?  Is that in the Constitution?  No, but you don't care about that?  Yes, sir, I heard about what you said.  No, sir, "God helps those who helps themselves" is not in the Bible.  But sir, I'm enjoying myself too much here.  Yes, Runaway Bay.  No, sir, I don't think Gov. Perry is going to hide here after that last debate.  I'll get what?  How much?  And an office?  With a secretary?  Hillary Clinton?  But I think being Secretary of State actually over-qualifies her for the job, sir.  But, sir, I love these people and God is working here.  We just had a man saved here a couple nights ago so I can't leave.  Thank you, though.  You might try calling my Dad.  You did and he didn't believe it was you and kept calling you Todd?  Sorry about that.  Good bye Mr. President.

That was a very flattering phone call.  I'm sure y'all have gotten similar calls.    I'm sure that's common.  I know of at least one other person who has gotten a call from Someone pretty high up.  His name was Abram.  Maybe you remember him better as Abraham.  We'll get to that later.  In fact there will be more than a dozen more chapters in the Book of Genesis dealing with Abraham so we will see a lot more of him.  It's not until the 17th chapter that God changes his name to Abraham so we will see who is this man Abram.

Today we will be talking about God's call to Abram.  It has some similarities to my call from President Obama but not exactly.  As the outline shows there are 3 things I want us to see in God's call to Abram.

I.    It is not about who you are.

II.   It requires sacrifice.

III.  It comes with promises.

Let's look at the text in Genesis 11:27-12:5.

God seems to specialize in taking the most unlikely of characters and calling them into special service.  Ever notice that?  Abram is the first of these but there is a long line of ner-do-wells, misfits, uneducated, inexperienced, scared, and stuttering idiots that God taps on the shoulder and says, "I want you to do something."  You know what I'm talking about.  .

We will see Joseph come on the scene later in Genesis.  He was a young, arrogant, dreaming shepherd and God used him to save millions of people.

Moses was a murderer who was not a good speaker and God used him to convince Pharoah to let all of his slaves go free.

God knew David was a lowly shepherd who would become a murderer, liar, fornicator and more and yet God called him to be king.

And one of the few educated men God ever called said in Philippians 3 that all of his background and upbringing and education was rubbish after he came to know God.

So, the first thing I want us to see with Abram's call from God is that it is not about who you are.  God didn't call Abram because Abram was a powerful political figure of the day.  He didn't call him because of his good looks or for his oratory skills or anything else Abram had going on.  Why did God call Abram?  I don't know.  In Isaiah 55:9 God says, As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

Maybe he saw the potential Abram had to be a great man of faith and maybe it was because God chose him that he became a great man of faith.  I don't know.  The point is that God's call on Abram was not about who Abram was, it was about who God is.  Here we go again as we read through the Book of Genesis, we have to remember that God is doing more than telling us a history lesson about Abram.  He is revealing Himself to us today.  He is showing us His character and how He works.

We celebrated Veterans Day last Friday.  We have several vets here today and I am proud to know each of you and I'm very grateful for the service you all gave.  I'm sure most of you volunteered.  You chose to serve.  You wrote the country a blank check saying take as much as you need.  It was very difficult.  You had to make a lot of sacrifices and praise God that you did.  Even today we have young men and women sacrificing everything they have in answer to the nation's call.

One reason so many people today don’t hear clearly God’s call or are not fulfilling the call of God on their life is because they are not willing to make sacrifices. And God’s call….

Requires sacrifice.

Many of you recognize the name Pat Tillman.  Tillman played football for Arizona State University and was then drafted by the Arizona Cardinals.  He made the College Football Hall of Fame and was well on his way to a storied pro career with the Cardinals when, in May of 2002, compelled by the attacks on 9/11, Tillman turned down a contract offer of $3.6 million over three years from the Cardinals to enlist in the U.S. Army.

He graduated from Ranger school in 2003 and was deployed to Afghanistan where, in 2004, he was accidentally killed by friendly fire in the middle of a firefight with insurgents.

Tillman responded to his country's call and he did it willingly and quickly and with his whole heart and I know that he is just one of many who have made that kind of sacrifice so we don't have to.

Read Genesis 12:1.  God calls Abram and tells him he is going to have to make some sacrifices.  "Leave your country, your people and your father's household..."

Why would God do such a thing?  I mean, couldn't he have made Abram into the person He wanted without making him leave everything he knew and loved?  Does God just want to see if Abram would obey and so he made it extra hard for him?  What kind of god would do such a thing?  That's just mean.

God is sovereign and can do whatever He wants but we get some insight into this by reading Joshua 24:2 that says, "Joshua said to all the people, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River and worshiped other gods."

Abram came from a family and a country of idol-worshipers.  God doesn't explain Himself and He doesn't have to but it is obvious to us now why He wanted Abram to leave all that.  I'm sure Abram couldn't see it at the time but God was actually being merciful to him.  If Abram had tried to do what God wanted him to do later while he still lived among idol-worshipers, it would be extremely difficult for him and so God told him to leave.

If Abram did have questions or difficulties obeying God, it is not mentioned.  In fact, it simply says in verse 4, "So Abram left..."  He was obedient even though he had to give up almost everything.  He didn't wait for the weather to clear up.  He didn't wait for his allergies to get better.  He didn't say, "Ok, but let me just get a few more sheckels together and then I'll go."  Any parent will tell you that delayed obedience is not obedience but Abram was obedient immediately even though it cost him a great deal.

I know what you are probably thinking right here.  If God told me He was going to bless me and make my name great and curse all my enemies then I would leave the housekeys in the door and leave right away too.  It's obvious that for Abram, verses 2 and 3 mean God is promising to do something incredible.  We have seen that God's call was not about who Abram was and that it required sacrifice and now we see that God's call comes with promises.

In Genesis 1:28 God says to Adam, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

Adam messed all that up and then the people of Noah's day sealed it but God's original blessing will now be restored and fulfilled by Abram and his offspring.  Understand that God is going to reveal Himself through Abram's family.  The Law was given through them.  The prophets came from them.  Scripture was written by them.  And to climax it all, His own Son came through them and revealed the Father and the Kingdom and the plan of salvation for the world through His death.  (John H. Walton, Genesis)

"Pastor Todd, all that history is real interesting but what's that have to do with me?"

Well, I don't know.  I mean I don't know what God has called you to do.  I don't know that He has called you to be a great nation but maybe He has called you to serve a great nation like the veterans here today have.

I don't know that God has promised you that He will make your name great but maybe He has called you to make His name great by just telling your neighbor about what's going on down at the FBC Runaway Bay.

I don't know that He has promised to curse those who curse you but we are told in Romans 12:14 to "Bless those who persecute you."

What is He telling you to do today?  I love how the King James version translates 12:1.  "Get thee out!"  Maybe today God is telling you, "Get thee out!"

Get thee out of that extra-marital affair.

Get thee out of that bar.

Get thee out of that bad habit.

Get thee out from in front of that TV.

Get thee out of your comfort zone and go to Nicaragua next June.

But God, everybody else is doing it.  There's nothing wrong with a little bit of this or a little bit of time with that.  And besides, why should I?  My neighbors do it and they are healthy and wealthy.

Well, honestly, that's a good point.  If the Bible taught that obedience to God meant that we would have good health and be prosperous, trust me, I would be yelling it loud and clear but the Bible absolutely does not teach that.  I always wonder how the preachers who say that explain what happened to people like most of the prophets, most of the disciples or Paul or Jesus Himself.

No, we are not guaranteed health and wealth and what he asks us to do probably will involve some sort of sacrifice on our part but do you know what we are promised?  First, God may promise you something besides these.  He may say, "If you do this then I will do that" but no matter what, we are promised a few things if we are obedient.

I grabbed just a few from the Word.  You may want to right down the address of each one and find them later.  But if you want to know what God promises He will do if we are obedient, if you want to know some of the blessings of obedience then first off, he promises to supply all our needs. Philippians 4:19.  I could stop there but I have a few more.

God has promised that His grace is sufficient for us. (II Corinthians 12:9).

God has promised that His children will not be overtaken with temptation. Instead, He assures us that a way of escape will be provided. This promise is recorded in I Corinthians 10:13

God has promised that all things work together for good to those who love and serve Him faithfully (Romans 8:28).

God has promised that those who believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins will be saved. (Read Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38).

God has promised His people eternal life (John 10:27,28).

That's a pretty hefty list but it's only a few.  What is God calling you to do today?  You may be wondering how God calls us today.  It may be through His word.  It may be through prayer.  It may be through a friend or your pastor.  Many times, though, it is just like He spoke to Elijah, through a still, small voice.  That's another promise we have, that the Holy Spirit will come to live inside of us.  Jesus promised that in John 14:16.  He speaks to us, not audibly, but in our spirit, in a still, small voice.

Maybe that voice inside of you is the Holy Spirit saying that you have never asked Jesus into your heart for forgiveness of your sins.  I want to close with another story told to me by a friend of mine who was in the Air Force in Vietnam.  Most of you have met Art and Marilyn Barbour, my friends from Ft. Worth who have visited here a couple of times.  Art told me this story a few weeks ago about being an airplane mechanic in Vietnam.

He said a plane made it in one day with the front tire suspension system completely shot up and unable to rotate down.  The pilot eased it down on the back wheels as soft as he could but had to finally set the nose of the plane on the ground which messed up the front tire gears even more.  They flew Art into the airbase where it landed so he could work on it and Art jacked it up and worked and worked on it, finally getting the front landing gear down but it couldn't be fixed with the parts he had so Art told the pilot he could leave but he could only land once and then the front gear would be useless.

The pilot asked Art if he trusted it.  Art said he did.  He assured the pilot that it would work.  Only once, but it would work.  The pilot then said, "Well, if you believe it will work then get in and I will fly you back to the base."  Art said he did get in and they made it home just fine. 

Some of you are like that though.  You say you believe but you have never actually trusted.  You know the words to say but you have never actually stepped out on faith and told God, "Yes".  Has there been a time in your life when you know for sure that on or about such and such a date you prayed to God to forgive your sins and accepted Him into you life to be Lord and Savior by His grace and through your faith and faith alone?

Today is the day of salvation!!!