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.