Monday, December 11, 2017

"Simeon's Vision of Christmas” – Consolation – Luke 2:25-35

Okay, are y’all ready?  Is everybody comfortable?  Anybody need anything before we get started?  If you’re cold, we have blankets in the back.  If you are hot, we have fans.  If you want something to eat or drink, you can find it in the Fellowship Hall.  Troy, do you need a pillow, maybe some slippers?  I want to make sure everybody is comfy. 

In fact, believe it or not, that is the point of this message today.  If you need to be comforted today, this message is for you.  But we all know that there is way more to being comforted than being physically comfortable. Some of the most physically comfortable people are the most in need of real comfort.  The question is, where do you find your comfort?

At the end of a long, hard, stressful day, what do you do to find comfort?  Maybe it’s the end of a long, hard, stressful month or even year.  What do you do to find the comfort you need?  Some people overeat.  Some turn to booze, drugs or cigarettes or some kind of prescription drug and I’m not here to hammer on you about any of that this morning.  Come back tonight and I’ll hammer on you then.

No, I’m kidding.  This message is not meant to step on toes, it is to bring you good news because every form of self-medication has side effects but the side effects of this good news I give you today are forgiveness, peace, joy and the promise of eternal life in Heaven.  It’s not just my opinion that it is good news either.  In Luke 2, the angel sent to the shepherds says, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the LORD. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." 13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."

Have you ever been comforted by a baby?  It’s usually the other way around isn’t it?  But this baby, the Messiah, the Christ, the Lord of all is a great comfort even today just as he was prophesied to be by a man named Simeon, also in Luke 2.  Go ahead and turn there to Luke chapter 2.  We are going to read verses 25-35 and for the next few weeks we are going to see what Simeon said about the baby Jesus and what he meant and what it means to us today.

Not much is known about Simeon except what is said in this passage.  Most people picture him as an old man because he speaks like somebody with some age on him but we don’t know that for sure.  We find Simeon in the temple when Mary and Joseph take Jesus there to be circumcised and dedicated when He was eight days old as was the custom.  Simeon probably spent a lot of time in the temple but just like so many other instances we see of God’s sovereignty, he is there at just the right time to see Jesus and have a promise fulfilled.

Let’s read it in Luke 2:25-35.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Simeon says a whole lot in just a few sentences.  He glorifies God.  He thanks Him. He prays.  He speaks comforting and yet mysterious words to Mary and Joseph and prophesies about what Jesus will be and do.  In this passage, I want us to look for the next few weeks at three things Jesus is called here.  In verse 25 He is called the consolation of Israel.  In verse 30, He is “your salvation” and in verse 32, Simeon says Jesus will be a light for revelation.

Let’s focus on verse 25 today and see what is meant when it says Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel. Have you ever tried to console someone who needed it? Have you ever tried to come up with just the right words when somebody really needs it? If you find those words, would you please let me know?  Let me know what to say that will make everything better when somebody loses a loved one because the best I have found is, “I’m sorry and I love you.”

You know, Job’s friends were a bunch of self-righteous, pompous, ignorant blow-hards but I’ll give them this, they started off pretty well with their consoling of Job.  In Job 2:13, it says, “Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.” That’s a good friend right there; someone who will just sit and share your grief with you without saying anything. The problem came when they tried to fix the problem.

But at some point, we all want our problems fixed and nobody knows how, including us.  That’s where Simeon was.  His beloved nation of Israel was promised by God to be a great and powerful nation; a nation from which the Messiah would come and would be a world power and a special people to God and specially blessed by God. But in Simeon’s day, it sure didn’t seem like that was true.

Their land had been taken.  Their freedom had been taken.  Their rights had been taken and all they had was the hope that the Messiah would one day come and save them.  We know today that the Jewish people never did recognize Jesus as the Messiah and therefore they are still waiting for the consolation of Israel but Simeon knew.  Simeon understood.  It says he was righteous and devout but what that means is that Simeon was right with God and close to God and therefore Simeon heard God speaking to him and God told him that this baby that just showed up in the temple…was the One.

Can you imagine the comfort and the relief Simeon had?  He knew it wouldn’t be in his lifetime and he was okay with that.  In fact, Simeon told God in his prayer that he was ready to die now because what God had promised had come true and was now cradled in his arms.  It was one of those “it don’t get no better than this” kind of moments for Simeon. 

Do you remember the first time you met Jesus?  Maybe you had heard of Him before.  You had heard others talk about Him and about what He had done and was going to do but do you remember when you really met Him; when you asked Him to come into your life and be the Lord of your life? 

I remember.  I was seven years old and while I was a pretty good kid, I guess, I knew I was a sinner in need of a Savior.  I remember my Dad explaining to me that sin was anything that displeased God and how the Bible says we are all sinners and what we deserve for that sin is eternal death in Hell. He explained that Jesus died on the cross as payment for my sins and that if I would just ask, He would forgive me of that sin and I could live in Heaven when I died.

I prayed with my Dad that day back in 1975 and asked God to forgive me and do you know what? Even as a child, I think I could relate to Simeon. Simeon said in verse 29 that he could now die in peace. Simeon and I both had forgiveness.  We could live and die in peace.  We have joy even in the difficult times and while all of that is wonderful, the best news in this Good News is that I can now share with Simeon AND with Jesus all the wonderful things Heaven has in store!

Do you ever struggle with forgiveness?  I have found that people who love and forgive other people easiest are the ones who realize how much they have been loved and forgiven.  Later on in Luke 7 when Jesus had started His ministry, He is invited to dinner at a man’s house - a Pharisee’s house - and He goes and when He is reclining at the table, a woman is behind Him just bawling.  She is crying so hard she wets His feet with her tears and she wipes them with her hair and then pours perfume on His feet.

In that day it was quite a scandal, especially because it says she had lived a sinful life, but she didn’t care.  She had been forgiven by Jesus and she just loved Jesus so much, she wanted to show it. The homeowner made mention of it and Jesus told the man, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven--as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little."

When you realize just how much Jesus loves you and what all He has forgiven you for, it’s life-changing.  Karl Menninger, the famed psychiatrist, once said that if he could convince the patients in psychiatric hospitals that their sins were forgiven, 75 percent of them could walk out the next day! (Today in the Word, March 1989)

But how do we really know that we are forgiven?  Some of us have lived a sinful life just like that woman so it’s important to know for sure.  How can we know for sure that our many sins have been forgiven?  Well, if you offend somebody and you ask them for forgiveness for whatever you did, how do you know they have really forgiven you? 

You know because of not just what they say but what they do.  They might say they have forgiven you but what if they don’t act like it?  We know Jesus has forgiven us because it says so in the Bible. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). But He proved it by what He did. 

All through the Old Testament, before Jesus came in the flesh, when there was sin, something had to die.  It’s why Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin is death.  But Jesus came and died on the cross for our sin so we wouldn’t have to sacrifice any animals or pay the price ourselves.  That’s a price we could never pay.  So, we know that we are forgiven.  What is that worth to you? For those of us that have been forgiven much, it’s priceless.

Do you know what else we get with a relationship with Jesus? Not just forgiveness, but forgiveness leads to peace.  In that passage in Luke 7 where Jesus is talking to the sinful woman, He tells her in verse 50, “Your faith has saved you.  Go in peace.”

Jesus forgave her and then told her to go in the peace that only God can give.  Go in peace with God and of God.  Peace that passes all understanding.  Peace, not just in the good times but especially in the bad times. Do you have that kind of peace?

In preparing this, I did some research about how the world finds peace (and by “research”, you know I just googled it).  This is what I found.  #1) Breathe.  Breathe deep from your belly and do this for 10 minutes a day.  I don’t know about you but I think I breath all day, but I hope that helps you. 

#2) Exercise.  This produces endorphins and serotonin and other happy chemicals in your brain.  I’m sure that’s good. #3) Get enough sunlight which produces Vitamin D.  Nothing wrong with that.  #4) Pursue the “flow state” (???).  I hope you know what that is but I don’t. I think the flow state maybe somewhere around Colorado or Wyoming or some state like that but I don’t know. 

Other ideas were to be generous and be grateful and to express yourself and all of those are fine and good, I guess. But is there any kind of peace that comes close to knowing that the little baby in Simeon’s arms that day grew up to live a sinless life, die on a cross for forgiveness of our sins, rose again on the third day and lives today and that He sits at the right hand of God the Father who loves us and is in control?

There is peace in that knowledge but ultimately, peace is a gift.  Jesus said in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Did you see that?  He said it’s a gift but not like the world gives, where you have to breathe, exercise or find your flow.  You just accept God’s gift of peace and if you don’t have peace right now it’s because you have not accepted it by accepting the truth that God is in control and that He loves you.

How much is peace worth to you?  Forgiveness and peace are both priceless gifts from God and that ought to bring you comfort today.  But there is one other thing that Jesus gives us as a gift – another priceless gift – and that is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Turn there.  I want you to see this.  It will comfort you no matter what translation you have. 

The Thessalonian church Paul was writing to here was confused about how and when Jesus was going to come back.  They were afraid some of them had missed it already and they didn’t know how it was going to happen and so Paul wrote them this to comfort them and it comforts us today. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 says, “Brothers, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15According to the LORD's word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the LORD, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the LORD himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the LORD in the air. And so we will be with the LORD forever. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

Therefore comfort each other with these words from Paul.  This life is not all there is and this life is but a wisp of smoke compared to eternity that we will share with Jesus and Simeon and all your brothers and sisters in Christ. 

It ought to give you great comfort today in the midst of your difficulties to know that the same Jesus who once was a baby held by Simeon grew up, lived, died and rose again and waits anxiously to bring you to Him where He will say, “Well done my good and faithful servant!  I know it was hard and I know that life you led wasn’t fair and the people were against you and nature was against you and it seemed like everything was against you. But I was for you and I prayed for you and I can’t wait to show you around the place I have prepared just for you.  Come on in!”

One day the trumpet will sound for His coming
One day the skies with His glories will shine
Wonderful day, my Beloved One bringing
My Savior Jesus is mine

Living, He loved me
Dying, He saved me
Buried, He carried my sins far away
Rising, He justified freely forever
One day He's coming
Oh glorious day, oh glorious day (Glorious Day)

Do you know for sure that He is coming for you?  Accept His forgiveness.  Accept His peace. Turn away from your sin and ask Him to be Lord of your life today and you, too, can be comforted.

Monday, December 4, 2017

“Not Even a Hint” – Ephesians 5:1-4

Harvey Weinstein
Former President George H.W. Bush
Actor Kevin Spacey
NPR top editor Michael Oreskes
Comedian Louis C.K
Republican senate candidate Roy Moore
U.S. Senator Al Franken
CBS anchor Charlie Rose
U.S. Rep. John Conyers-D Mich
Pixar co-founder John Lasseter
NBC anchor Matt Lauer
Minnesota Public Radio host Garrison Keillor

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what all these men have in common but if you live under a rock, just know that all of these high-profile, once-upstanding citizens and leaders of our country have all joined a much longer list of men who have been accused of some sort of sexual misconduct in just the past few weeks.  The charges go back decades for some but are just now coming out.  There are many others that have been accused and for most of these, no legal charges have been brought and we want to always keep in mind that our country still believes in the phrase, “innocent until proven guilty” but almost all of these in my list have admitted to at least some sort of misconduct.

That’s the word that gets used the most with these men as well: misconduct.  Is that the word God uses for actions like these?  No.  God uses the word “sin” but Hollywood and Washington D.C. much prefer the watered-down “misconduct”. Doesn’t that sound better?  Isn’t that easier to say and easier to hear than “sin” which has so much spiritual and religious meaning that this world is so allergic to these days?

I know, I know.  This seems like a strange way of starting off a typical Christmas sermon, doesn’t it?  Well…when have we ever been typical around here?  Yes, I even told you that December would be for celebrating Christmas in our worship time and I am all ready to go with a look at Christmas through the eyes of Simeon in Luke chapter two and, Lord willing, we will get there next week but I was convicted this week that I needed to go another direction, at least just for today.

I’ll be honest.  I don’t want to preach about this.  I would much rather think about, study about, preach on and celebrate the birth of baby Jesus and what that means for us today but instead I have had to trudge through some muck and nastiness in preparing for this sermon which I have entitled, “Not Even a Hint”. But muck and nastiness is the reality of where our society is today and to help keep that muck and nastiness from creeping any further into the church, I would ask you to turn to the New Testament book of Ephesians and go to chapter 5, verses 1-4.

Muck and nastiness, misconduct, sin or whatever you want to call it is not new to 2017.  Believe it or not, Harvey Weinstein is not the first person to ever be found to be living a perverted lifestyle.  I have an idea that most Americans today are secretly thinking, “Man, I’m just glad they don’t know about me. I am glad they don’t know my thoughts and what I have done in the past.  I’m glad I’ve never been caught.” The truth is that people have always perverted themselves and perverted God’s will and God’s Law and for thousands of years, people are just glad it’s not them getting busted.

It was that way in Paul’s day when he wrote to the church in Ephesus.  He wrote them, not like he wrote to other churches, warning or correcting bad doctrine, but instead Paul wrote to encourage a church that he had started and he loved and was passionate for as part of the body of Christ.  He didn’t want anything bad to happen to them and wanted them to be aware of evil and the battle that they were fighting and so he wrote this letter to them. I preach this today for the same reason.  This isn’t to chastise anyone. Not at all.  It is to warn and prepare all of us about the truth of this world. I love you too much not to preach this from Ephesians 5:1-4.  Let’s read that.

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.”

Wow, you didn’t know you were going to need your steel-toed boots this morning, did you?  Paul was good at stepping on toes, that’s for sure.  In fact, if your toes weren’t stepped on there, you might want to go back and re-read that because there are not many people that get out of that unscathed. Just be glad I didn’t read a few verses before or after that.  Paul hammers on them with this letter, again, not because they were bad people or living immorally but because he didn’t want them to slip into that lifestyle like so many others had.

There are a couple of other things that all those men on that list have in common besides being accused of sin. First, none of them started off just deciding to do something like this.  It always starts off with an opportunity and a thought.  Now, if a person could get into trouble just for his thoughts, we would all be in bad shape, wouldn’t we?  In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul tells us we should take every thought captive, meaning we should be aware of what we are thinking and not allow bad thoughts to go any farther.

It’s not a sin to be tempted and sometimes we all have evil thoughts pop into our heads, but we should arrest those thoughts and throw them out before they become something we start to dwell on.  You’ve heard it said that it’s not a sin for a bird to fly over your head but it is a sin to allow it to make a nest in your hair. So, as long as we take those thoughts captive and throw them out then we are okay.  But when we allow those thoughts to stay there and build a little nest and then make themselves at home, it leads to trouble.

Because all we need then is an opportunity and those thoughts go from 0-60 real quick, don’t they?  That flaming arrow of the evil one starts as an unintended thought and the next thing you know, you are publicly humiliated and about to lose everything you hold dear including your family, your job and your good name. But look again at what Paul says we are to do to keep that from happening in verses one and two of Ephesians 5.

Be imitators of God and walk in love…just as Christ gave himself up for us…as a sacrifice. That’s the root of that verse and I believe if we can truly understand that and then live it out, then we will be able to live like God wants us to live. But what does it mean to imitate God and walk in love and give ourselves up as a sacrifice? I mean, that sounds sweet and nice and like what people sitting in church should talk about but what does it really look like?

Well, if we want to imitate God, then Jesus should be our model.  Jesus said in John 14, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” and Paul says here that Jesus gave Himself up for us as a sacrifice. We know that and love that and appreciate that about Jesus but now we are called to imitate Him so what are we supposed to sacrifice?  Are we supposed to die on a cross? Of course not, but we are to sacrifice ourselves and that means, in today’s world, we are going to have to give up some of our rights and in doing so, we will glorify God and keep ourselves away from sin.

Let me give you a really good example of what that looks like.  In 1948, a handsome, young 31-YEAR-OLD preacher was coming off a successful stint as a Youth for Christ evangelist and started an independent evangelism ministry that lasted over six decades. God was blessing his ministry and with his charm and good looks, the doors began to open for radio, magazine, newspaper and TV that would ultimately bring Billy Graham into world-wide attention and fame.

But God protected Billy by giving him the wisdom to know early on that all that popularity could easily lead to trouble. So, with the rest of his revival team, Billy made a promise to himself, the world and to God that he would always conduct himself worthy of the calling.  The team gathered in a hotel room in Modesto, California. They drew up a compact that became known as the “Modesto Manifesto,” and in it they laid out guidelines for every aspect of their ministerial lives including finances and how churches and crowds would be treated but the most famous provision of the manifesto called for each man on the Graham team never to be alone with a woman other than his wife. Graham, from that day forward, pledged not to eat, travel, or meet with a woman other than Ruth unless other people were present.

Our vice-president, Mike Pence has adopted the same rule and now it’s called either the Billy Graham Rule or the Mike Pence Rule and it ought to be your rule as well.  I have had this rule as long as I have pastored, and I’ll be honest, it’s a pain.  Life would be easier if I didn’t have this rule because I hate seeing Sharon walk down the road and all I can do is wave. Sharon understands because we have talked about it several times but I wish I could help her.

It has been a sacrifice sometimes because I have had women get mad at me because I wouldn’t drive them somewhere or wouldn’t meet with them in the church office.  A woman in the community came in one day to the office right there and closed the door behind her and said, “Pastor, I need your help!”  I said, “Not right here you don’t.  Let’s go outside.” I grabbed two chairs and we sat under the tree in the shade and talked.

It wasn’t because I was afraid she was going to do something inappropriate.  My biggest concern is somebody else seeing me meet with somebody or pick somebody up and not know what was going on and start a rumor. “Well, I saw him with so-and-so and they were together a long time and I’m pretty sure something inappropriate was going on.”

Do you know what happens after that?  I lose my job.  I lose your trust.  The church is horribly affected for years and the Kingdom of God suffers…because of an untrue rumor.  Is it fair? No. Is it their business? Probably not. Does it happen? All the time.

Ladies, this ought to be your rule as well. When I was researching those names I started with, I was amazed how many of the women accusers started out their story with something like, “Well, we were in his hotel room alone when all of the sudden…”  Seriously?  Please know I am not blaming the women for what the men did.  Absolutely not.  I’m just saying that ladies need to protect themselves and you do that best by not allowing yourself to be put in that position.

In verse 3 it says, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality.” When we use the Billy Graham Rule, nobody gets tempted.  Nobody has any misconduct and no rumors get started that there were. Now, when it says we are to be imitators of God, one of the major characteristics of God is that He is holy.  That’s what this is all about.  In Leviticus 11, God said we should be holy because He is holy.  So, what does it mean to be holy?  Does that mean we are uptight and don’t have any fun, praying and fasting all day?  Man, I hope not!  No.  Holy means separate, different, literally to be set apart for God’s work and as Christians, that ought to be a main characteristic of us as well. C.S. Lewis said, How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets real thing, it is irresistible.”

It takes some sacrifice to be holy, though.  We sometimes have to sacrifice going where we want and doing what we want so that we are not tempted, we are protected and so there is not even a hint of immorality.  Let me ask you, do you remember what happened to all those women who accused Billy Graham of sexual misconduct?  Do you remember when that scandal hit him? No?  You don’t remember? No, you don’t because it never happened.  It never happened with his son Franklin either because he lives the same way.

I mentioned earlier that sin always begins with a thought. James 1 says that when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin. Not one of those men I mentioned earlier believed his thought life would ever cause him problems.  It was just a thought…but then he had opportunity and that thought came to life.  It’s the same with all of us.

We have to take those thoughts captive and never give ourselves opportunity.  Romans 13:14 says, “clothe yourselves with the LORD Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” The King James says to make no provision for the flesh, that old man that creeps up on us when we don’t take our thoughts captive.

Read all of verse 3 again.  But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. We are holy and so therefore we are different from the world.  The world often uses obscenity, foolish talk and course joking as it says in verse 4, but that is out of place for us. 

Instead, we are thankful, right?  Thankful for what? Thankful for God’s grace and mercy, His forgiveness and love that we desperately need because we all mess up. We all are guilty of misconduct in one way or another and so we need God’s forgiveness of that sin and we all need each other to hold us accountable to keep it from happening again but also, when there is true repentance, we are to be imitators of God who forgives.

I was bragging on this church this past week to a pastor friend and he said, “It sounds like the people in your church understand grace.”  I thought that was very insightful of him because that is true. We have received grace from God and we give grace to others because we are imitators of God.

But you can’t imitate Him without being a follower of Him; a disciple who learns from Jesus and then tells others what you have learned. If you have never asked Jesus to be Lord of your life and to forgive you of your sins, then do that today.  Repent of those sins and turn away from them and ask God to take control of your life here on earth with the promise of Heaven in the next life.

Do that right now as the music plays.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Sovereignty – Ruth 2:1-10

I would like for someone to tell me about a time when God took you out of a situation was pretty good and led you into a situation that was even better. Maybe it was a job or a relationship or even a church. Tell me how God led you from good to better.

I hope that you continue to give God glory and honor for blessing you the way that He has. He deserves that, does He not?

Now I want you to think of a time when God took you out of a good situation and put you in a situation…much worse. Have you ever been there? Of course you have. You just may not have looked at it that way. Everyone has been through a time when things seem to be rocking along just fine, all is well, and the bottom drops out of it. Maybe it is a report from a doctor. Maybe it’s the loss of a loved one. A car wreck, a cheating spouse, a hang nail, or your favorite idol got voted off the show, whatever it is, is that God’s fault?

Think about it now, if you gave God credit for the good things that come your way, shouldn’t He also get the blame when bad things come? Wouldn’t it be disingenuous to not look at it that way? That line of thinking may make some of you uncomfortable, but God is big enough to handle our exploration of this subject.

I believe it is especially applicable in the wake of the recent shootings at that church in South Texas. Here’s a hypothetical situation for you: suppose that insane gunman had not gone into that church that morning (and he was insane by the way. He may not meet the legal definition but sane people don’t do that and more gun laws are not going to keep insane people from killing people.) But suppose he had not gone in there. Those people who worshiped at that church could go home and eat lunch and thank God for a safe and good time with friends and family, right? I don’t know that they would, but they could.

But since many of those will never go home again at all and others will have physical and emotional problems the rest of their life, should God not get the blame? And if He is to blame and since we know Him to be all-powerful, who does He think He is to put us through that kind of pain? Have you ever felt that way? If you have you are not alone. David often cried out to God in frustration. Elijah told God to just kill him. Job wished he had never been born. Jonah told God he was so angry at Him he wanted to die.

In fact, I would imagine that the vast majority of people have at one time felt that way. I can remember a time in my own life where I was driving down the road and pounded on the steering wheel and shouted, “I don’t know what game you’re playing, God, but I don’t think it’s very funny!” Humphrey Bogart, the great theologian, once said, “Things are never so bad that they can’t get a little bit worse.”  I have an idea that at the end of the first chapter of Ruth that Naomi and Ruth were feeling just this way. Our message is going to come from verses 1-10 of chapter 2 but I want us to take stock of what has happened in these widows’ lives up to that point. In chapter one the family endures a difficult time of famine and so they leave Bethlehem and go to Moab where Naomi’s 2 sons marry women but then not only does her husband die but then her 2 sons die as well and she is left with only 2 daughters-in-law.

The one d-i-law, Orpah makes the decision to go back to her family home but as you remember, Ruth says so eloquently in verses 16 and 17 that she will follow Naomi wherever she goes even unto death. Boy, who doesn’t need a Ruth in their life? That must have been a great comfort to Naomi. I can just picture the 2 of them walking back to Bethlehem. They are still in grief from losing their husbands. They don’t understand why all of this is happening to them but at least they have each other.

It’s a long walk back home to Bethlehem from Moab and I can just picture the 2 of them walking along and talking. I bet there wasn’t a moment’s silence, with both of them expressing their feelings to each other, both of them thinking they can’t get a word in edgewise. You married men know the feeling, right? So, while they still have a lot of problems, things are looking up for them. At least they have a plan and pretty soon they will be where they can get some help and then they top that last hill that overlooks the Jordan River.

The scriptures don’t say anything about all this but I want you to see one quick thing in verse 22 of chapter 1. Read. “So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.”  And we know from one other scripture that there is a problem. In Joshua chapter 3 we see the story of Joshua leading the Israelites across the Jordan and God stopped the flow of water and they passed over on dry land because in verse 15 it says the Jordan is at flood stage all during the harvest.

Now can you imagine how Naomi and Ruth felt as they topped that last hill and saw all that water? Can you just hear the desperation in their voices? “God, why? We are trying to do what you want us to do. We are trying to be obedient. We are already in trouble NOT of our making and now this?! Why would you do this to us?”

We don’t know how they got across. Maybe they found a boat or maybe they walked all the way around or maybe they swam. I don’t know. The point is, it was just one more thing! Hadn’t they been through enough? I bet you know that feeling. I bet you have had that same desperation in your voice as you talked to God. But just as God will not let us be tempted beyond what we can endure, He also knows how much heartache we can endure and so Naomi and Ruth finally make it back to Bethlehem. Let’s pick up what happens next as we read chapter 2, verse 1-10.

Now Naomi had a relative on her husband's side, a man of standing from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz. 2And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, "Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor." Naomi said to her, "Go ahead, my daughter." 3So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek. 4Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, "The LORD be with you!" "The LORD bless you!" they answered. 5Boaz asked the overseer of his harvesters, "Who does that young woman belong to?" 6The overseer replied, "She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi. 7She said, 'Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.' She came into the field and has remained here from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter." 8So Boaz said to Ruth, "My daughter, listen to me. Don't go and glean in another field and don't go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. 9Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled." 10At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, "Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me-a foreigner?"

I would bet there are 25 different sermons in that one little passage but I want us to see only 2 things this morning.  I want us to look at what I believe are the main reasons this passage is in here.  Is the reason this passage is in here to teach us about good luck?  Is it to show us how Karma works?  Is it to show us an example of how by working hard we can change our destiny?  No.  I believe that we can see from this passage that God is sovereign and that God has a plan.

The first instance of God's sovereignty is in the first verse.  There is a saying that you can pick your friends but you are stuck with your family.  It's a good thing for Naomi and Ruth because Boaz is described here as a man of standing or maybe in your Bible it says he was a mighty man or a man of wealth.  None of those are wrong.  The original word includes all of that but leans more toward the ethical side than the prosperous side.  In fact, Boaz uses the same basic word or phrase to later describe Ruth in chapter 3 verse 11 where he says she is a woman of noble character.

Ruth proves that she's not lazy by getting up early the next morning and going to look for food.  She knows she is going to have to provide for Naomi and herself and she goes out, a foreigner in a strange land, and decides to glean some grain or corn.  I said last week that there was no Social Security or Welfare but there was an OT law that commanded the owner of a field to leave behind just a little bit, some scraps, to those who may be in need and that is what Ruth is after here. It says that Ruth just happened upon this field.  The King James says she happened upon it and that makes it sound like dumb luck.  It sounds like a blind pig finding an acorn.  Finally, some good luck, advantageous circumstance, fortuitous providence, chance encounter. 

In John chapter 4, was it coincidence that Jesus was sitting by the well in Sychar when the Samaritan woman came to draw water?  Was it good luck when Philip saw the Ethiopian eunuch in the chariot?  Was it good karma that Peter and John were going to the temple at 3 pm and saw the beggar?  No, it was the guiding grace of our Heavenly Father who sees and knows everything and has great, great love for you just like He did for Ruth.

It is the sovereignty of Almighty God who allows us to have free will and still ordains our footsteps.  Sovereign means to have supreme and independent power.  All through the Old and New Testaments God is called Sovereign Lord.  Romans 9:18 says, "Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden."  God doesn't need your permission to do something.  You don't see or understand everything like He does so we just have to trust Him.

Let's say for a minute God did ask you before He did something.  Let's say God comes to you and says, "Uh, hey David.  I have this plan and I need to break your leg.  Will that be okay with you?  You would probably say no.  But if you knew that in the hospital that you would speak to a nurse about Jesus and that nurse would come to have a life-changing relationship with Jesus 10 years later, remembering what you said and that she would then witness to a doctor who would council a young woman not to have an abortion and that child would grow up to lead your grandson to Jesus?  Would that change your mind?  Was that broken leg fair to you?  Did it hurt you badly?  Were you affected by that the rest of your life?  None of those questions even matter anymore!

We don't see things as God sees them so who are we to complain or even question God?

I want us to look at another verse in this passage.  We see that Ruth finds favor in the eyes of Boaz and he treats her with respect and fairness even though she has done nothing to deserve it in his mind.  I want us to read verse 8 again.  "So Boaz said to Ruth, My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me." There are 2 ways you can look at that.  First you could look at it as restrictive.  That is narrowing my options.  Who does he think he is to try to limit what I can do?  He's not the boss of me.  Another way to look at that is to think of what a blessing it is to be separated or holy to these people and this field where Boaz can protect and provide for me.  God doesn't want you to do certain things or go certain places, not because He is mean but just the opposite. He wants you to be in the right place at the right time because He has a plan for your life.  Just like He said in Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

We see that Boaz is an OT picture of Jesus Himself and He wants us to stay in His field.  He knows there is nothing but trouble in another field and even though we don't deserve it He wants to bless us and protect and provide for us.  Ruth is a picture of the church and as part of the church of Jesus we want to do as we are told.  We want to stay under the protective wings of Jesus.  There is work for us to do there just like there was for Ruth but we don't see it as restricting us but it is protecting us.

One last thing I want us to see in verse 10 is the response of Ruth.  At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She exclaimed, "Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me--a foreigner?" I am reminded of another such question.  I Chronicles 17:16 says, "Then King David went in and sat before the LORD, and he said: "Who am I, O LORD God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?”

You may think, "Oh sure.  That's easy for a king to say."  David knew heartache like I hope most of us will never know.  He knew great physical, emotional, even spiritual pain.  He often cried out to God.  He spent years running for his very life for reasons he couldn't understand.  In the end, he acknowledged God's sovereign will was for his benefit and the benefit of the Kingdom of God. Did he understand why everything had happened to him?  Did it make it not hurt to lose an infant child?  Did knowing that God was sovereign and had a plan bring his son Absalom back to life?  No, of course not.  There will always be things we don't understand.  There will always be things in life that still hurt and things that aren't fair; things we can't know until we see Jesus.

My friend Scott told me about visiting a castle in England a few years ago.  He was amazed at the architecture.  He said the furniture was beautiful.  The gardens were amazing.  The pictures on the wall were all incredible.  He said they had in one room several huge tapestries hanging down from rods.  These tapestries were works of art that were sewn by hand and depicted all sorts of important places or events.  The handiwork was intricate and perfect.

He looked on the back of one of them, though, and he said it was awful.  It was nothing but a mass of different color pieces of material that made no sense.  It was ugly and distorted and you couldn't tell at all about what was on the front by looking at the back.  On the back was ugly nonsense but the front was beautiful and perfect. It's the same way with our lives.  From our vantage point, it doesn't make sense.  It's not fair.  We don't deserve it.  It's ugly and horrible for no good reason.  And it may be that way our whole lives.  God doesn't promise to make it make sense.  He never says life is going to be fair in the end.  We just have to trust that He is sovereign and that He has a plan.  And when we do that we are in place to ask God just that one question like Ruth did:  Why have I found such favor in your eyes, Sovereign Lord?

I have mentioned before that in January 2018, this church is preparing for battle.  We have just been talking about it for the last few weeks as we have gone through the book of Ruth.  We have seen that decisions have consequences and we know that we have to decide to fight, as Jesus said in the Lord’s Prayer, against the evil one. We have seen in Ruth what true devotion to God and others looks like and that, too, is vitally important in this fight. But in this battle, we are going to see that we have been given orders by God who is our great General and we won’t always understand why or how or what is going to happen next but we know that God is sovereign and He can see the whole battle field and He knows what is going to happen next and He has a plan and so all we have to do is just be obedient.

To do that we have to be true followers of Him; true disciples of Jesus who are learning from Jesus and telling others what we have learned, as we go.  That starts by repenting of our sin; turning away from that sin and going in the other direction.  Then ask God for forgiveness of that sin and scripture tells us He is faithful to forgive ALL of that sin.  That’s grace.

All we have to do is believe that Jesus Christ died for those sins to be the punishment that we could never be. He took your sins, all of them, to the cross and died and rose again and lives today and wants to have a relationship with you and by His grace allow you to live with Him in Heaven forever.  Is that something you want?  Of course it is.  Do it today.  We aren’t guaranteed another.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Devotion – Ruth 1

If music be the food of love, play on.

She’s beautiful, and therefore to be wooed; She is woman, and therefore to be won.

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.

Hear my soul speak. Of the very instant that I saw you, Did my heart fly at your service.

Whoever loved that loved not at first sight?

The sight of lovers feedeth those in love.

Love sought is good, but given unsought is better.

What is light, if Sylvia be not seen? What is joy if Sylvia be not by?

You know, with a little practice that Shakespeare guy is gonna be pretty good someday. Everybody loves love. Everybody loves a good love poem or a good love letter written by the one they love. What woman wouldn’t want their name to be written in that last line? “What is light if Judy be not seen? What is joy if Carol be not by?”

A young man wrote his sweetheart a love letter and mailed it to her. She opened it up and read how the young man would gladly walk the burning desert to bring her a flower. He would scale the highest mountain to gaze into her eyes. He would fight the wild beast for just one kiss. She was so moved she called him and said, “I must see you. I’m madly in love with you and can’t wait to see you right now!”

The boy answered, “Well, it’s raining right now. How about tomorrow?”

The Bible has often been described as God’s love letter to us. In it you find that God loved us so much He sent His Son to die on the cross and that if we just believe in Him we can have eternal life. But there are also love stories within the love letter. I love the story of Isaac and Rebekah. Jacob worked for 14 years to get Rachel. Hosea loved Gomer even though she was unfaithful. There are lots of others.  But there is no greater love story in the Bible and arguably all of literature than the story we find in the Book of Ruth.

A story about a man’s love for a woman is common enough. Or a woman for her child or a father for a daughter, maybe. A story like David and Jonathan is rare but I have never heard of another story that talks about a mother-in-law / daughter-in-law relationship like this.

Do you remember last week when we read in Ruth 1 what Ruth said to her mother-in-law Naomi? Turn to Ruth chapter 1.  I want to read just verses 15-18. “Look," said Naomi, "your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her. Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.7 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”

Ruth and Naomi and the other daughter-in-law Orpah had all just lost their husbands. They had no children. They were in a foreign country with no relatives around to help them and it looked pretty bleak for the 3 ladies and so Naomi told them to just go back to their own people. Orpah finally agreed but Ruth said, “no way”.  Ruth was devoted to her mother-in-law Naomi.

You can't blame Orpah.  As nice and sweet as Naomi must have been there was no guarantee of even surviving if Orpah stayed with her.  There was no Social Security, Welfare or food stamps and if you didn't have a man to provide for you back then you could easily starve or be abused and so Orpah made the difficult decision to leave and go back to her family home.

In verse 15, Naomi tells Ruth that Orpah is going back home to her family and to her gods and the chief god of the Moabites was Chemosh.  The Moabites were called the Children of Chemosh and they not only worshiped this idol, they also performed human sacrifice to it.  Evidently Orpah had given that up while in Naomi's family but she returned to it.  And nothing is ever mentioned of her again.

I'm reminded of 2 Timothy 4:10 where Paul says that Demas deserted him because of his love of this world.  Orpah made her decision and as we saw last week, decisions have consequences and we never hear from her or Demas again.  I can't blame someone for trying to better themselves but when you turn your back on God you can expect to reap the consequences.

Ruth, on the other hand, says in 16 and 17 that Naomi's God will be her God and even then calls Him "Lord".  The name "Lord" was considered God's personal name or title.  It was used by someone who knew Him, not just knew of Him.  Ruth made the decision to stay with Naomi not just because she was devoted to Naomi but also because she was devoted to God.

The Jordan River divided Moab from Bethlehem and all of Judah and when Ruth crossed over that Jordan, she left behind that old way of life.  She left behind the old idols.  She left behind her old ways and just as the waters of baptism mean to us that we are leaving behind our old life and we are being buried with our Lord and raised to new life in Christ, devoted to Him, Ruth devoted herself to Naomi and to Jehovah God, forsaking completely every tie she had to the old way.

Now, I wonder how Naomi felt at first when her sons came home and said they were marrying Moabite women.  I wonder if she had mixed feelings.  I'm sure she was glad they found someone but for her, as a Hebrew, it must have been bad news to hear that these girls were Moabites.  You see, Moabites weren't just enemies of Israel.   Ammonites and Moabites were the offspring of the incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughters and the Mosaic Law in Deuteronomy 23 forbid them from being in the assembly of the Lord with the Israelites.

This was the equivalent of your son coming home and telling you he was marrying a woman who had been a member of the Branch Davidians or Scientology or some other cult. 

Now, I want to ask you a question.  God has laid out some rules.  There are laws that we are to live by.  There was the Law of Moses, the 10 Commandments, Jesus said we are to live certain ways, Paul told us in his letters what God had told him and there are others.  I would include the laws of our land today.  But we mess up all the time. 

You can call it youthful indiscretion or a mistake.  Maybe you feel better calling it a shortcoming or a deficiency.  Peccadillo is a pretty word, maybe that’s what you want to say.  It means a minor offence.  But God calls it sin.  When we disobey, when we go against what God says, He calls that sin.

My question is, when we sin, is God a just God or is He merciful?  I ask this because Ruth is a sinner.  I don’t mean just an average, petty, no big deal sinner.  She comes from a long line of sinners.  She is a Moabitess and as I told you before the OT law says that no Moabite will enter the assembly of God with the Israelites.  In fact, no Moabite to the 10th generation will worship God with the Israelites or be a part of their religious assembly.  God tells the Israelites not to have anything to do with them or their descendants!

I want to skip over to the last 2 verses in the last chapter of this beautiful book.  There is so much good stuff in this little book and I don’t want to give it all away before I have a chance to preach on it but I have to point something out at the very end.  Let’s read just verses 21 and 22 of chapter 4.

21 Salmon the father of Boaz, Boaz the father of Obed, 22 Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David.

Now, if you were to just read those 2 verses they don’t mean a whole lot unless you see that Boaz is the great-grandfather of David and then you realize that that David is King David and then you realize that King David and the others are in the lineage of Jesus Himself.  And who is married to Boaz?  Ruth!  (I know I just gave away part of the story there but that’s ok.)

That still may not mean a whole lot to you.  To see God’s grace and mercy in the life of a Moabitess in the OT may not be a big deal to you.  If not, it is probably because you are one of those peccadillo kinda sinners.  You are one of those folks who sin little sins and so you can’t appreciate when God forgives big sins.  But I can appreciate it.  I can appreciate the mercy that allows a woman who should be forbidden to even be near God’s people to actually be related to the Messiah.

I can appreciate that kind of grace and mercy because, like Ruth, I am a big-time sinner and I come from a long line of sinners who don’t deserve that kind of grace and who, yet, have received it.  I’m not a peccadillo sinner.  I have done some genuine, messed up, bad stuff that I thank God none of y’all will ever know about; stuff that is hard for me to think about, but God says I don’t have to think about it because He doesn’t think about it.

Because I came to Him and called Him “Lord” just like Ruth did and I repented and begged Him for forgiveness, He says all that nasty stuff is forgiven and forgotten.  And do you know why?  Because He is devoted to me.  Do you believe that?  Can God possibly be devoted to me?  Well, not just me.  Just like Ruth was devoted to Naomi and devoted to God, we see that God is devoted to her and He is devoted to me!

God is so devoted to all of us that He sent His Son to die in our place.  I assure you there is nothing redeemable about me and yet He came to redeem me like an expired coupon.  And like Job says in chapter 19, I know that my Redeemer lives.  And because He lives I can face tomorrow without guilt or shame but not only can I face it, God, like He did with Ruth, has chosen to use me.  And He has chosen to use you.

In Isaiah 55:8 God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”  And this is one of those things I don’t understand.  Why would God use me?  Why is He devoted to me?  I don’t know but it makes me want to please Him.  It makes me want to obey those laws and those commands and it makes me want to tell other people about the all-powerful, all-knowing God who is devoted to them.  I want them to know the great love story written to them.

We talked last week about how we are going to battle in 2018.  As Christians we are in a battle for our very lives against Satan and all his demonic powers.  That’s why the last part of the Lord’s Prayer says, “protect us from the evil one.”  Jesus knew we were in a battle against someone bigger, stronger and meaner than we are and we need God’s help.  So, we are preparing for that battle starting in January of 2018.

I’m tired of seeing Satan pick us off one by one.  I’m tired of feeling helpless when we are attacked and I’m not putting up with it any longer.  We will be going through boot camp first and then have further training just like they do in the military. We will learn what weapons we have and how to use them and where our real strength comes from.  We will learn tactics and methods of attack as well as defense.

Now, if you want to join this fight, it is going to take some commitment.  If you are okay with being attacked and failing, getting hurt and hurting others, then you just keep doing what you are doing.  Just keep coming to church every so often unless you have something better to do.  Just keep praying only for what YOU need.  Don’t worry about scripture or worship or giving or quiet times alone with God.  Some people aren’t happy unless they are miserable, so you keep on doing all that.

But for the rest of us who want to live a full and abundant life as overcomers with our chains broken who are blessed by God in this life and the next, we are going to battle.  We have to.  But it will require commitment.  We learned last week that as we lead up to this battle that choices have consequences.  We are free to choose but our consequences affect us and the ones we love around us.  Do you choose to be part of the battle or do you choose failure when Satan attacks?

Now, this week we see what devotion looks like from the book of Ruth.  Ruth was devoted to Naomi and was devoted to God.  She gave up a lot of things with that devotion.  She gave up her old life, the life she and her family had always known to follow God.  You will too.  It’s not always easy but we are called to be holy, different and set apart for God’s work.

The good news is that when we devote ourselves to God, God devotes Himself to us.  He promises to protect us and provide for us in this life and even more so in the next where we will spend eternity with Him as co-heirs with Jesus to every good thing Heaven has to offer.  This world is a battle.  Choose today what side you are on.  Choose you this day whom you will serve.  As for me and this house, we will serve the Lord.

Maybe you have never really chosen what side you are on before today.  The Bible says today is the day for salvation; salvation from Hell and salvation to Heaven.  Both are real places.  We are all sinners and what we deserve for that sin is Hell.  Romans 3:23 and 6:23 tell us that.  But God is devoted to us and He sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross for all of our sins, even the really nasty ones.  All we have to do is believe in Him and that belief will manifest itself as a changed life. 

Repent of your sins; turn away from them and ask God to forgive those sins and to forget them.  He says He throws them away as far as the east is from the west.  Accept that salvation today and devote yourself to Him.  We have no guarantee of any kind of tomorrow.