Monday, December 3, 2018

Mary’s Trust – Luke 1

I want some mothers to tell real briefly about how they heard the news that they were pregnant for the first time.  Did you take a home pregnancy test? Did the doc tell you?  Or did you just know?  Or maybe your husband just told you, “Hey, you’re getting fat.” How did you feel when you heard the news?  Were you scared, excited, worried?

A little boy went to his dad and said, “Daddy, where did I come from?”  The dad, not wanting to get into all that with such a young kid, said, “Your mother hatched you from an egg in a nest.” He went to his mama and asked her where SHE came from.  His mother said, “Well, the stork brought me.” So, he goes to grandma and asks her where SHE came from and his grandmother told him that God had formed her. The little boy goes back to one of his little friends and says, “You know, there hasn’t been a normal birth in our family in 3 generations.”

Is there such a thing as a “normal” birth?  Oh, sure, doctors see it every day.  It’s no big deal to them. But to me, every birth is a crazy miracle.  And the birth may turn out like the doctor expected it to, but there’s not much that is normal when you give birth to a baby.  Your version of “normal” just changed forever.  It’s no over-statement to say that a baby changes everything.

When you are around a pregnant woman, what does she want to talk about?  The sky may be falling and the grass is turning blue but the question on her mind is, “Which stroller is safest?  What should I be eating?  How many diapers should I buy?  How long before that husband of mine brings me some chocolate???”

And there is not only the physical aspect of pregnancy but I don’t know how mothers do it mentally.  It would freak me out knowing I had to take care of myself and the baby when there are so many decisions to make.  What to eat, what to drink, what to wear, where to go, when to go, is the baby gonna be normal, what to name him, what color is the nursery going to be?

It’s a miracle anybody ever gets through it, much less the baby.  But the birth of a baby is one of the greatest miracles God has ever done.  And like I said, it happens every day.  But what if you were to be…THE mother?  What if your child was to be THE Child?  What if you were carrying…the Christ child?  No pressure there, right?

How did Mary not just freak smooth out when she found out?  And, oh, how she found out!  She didn’t have a doctor to do a blood test.  The rabbit didn’t die for Mary.  No, she had none other than the angel Gabriel come to her house and say, “Hey, how ya doing?  I’m Gabriel, sent from God, to tell you that you are the one chosen from all women in creation to carry the baby Jesus.  But don’t worry about anything, ok?  Have a good day!”

What would be your response?  How would you handle that kind of news?  Well, let’s look at Luke chapter 1 to see what Mary’s response was. I like Luke’s account of the story.  I read a commentary that said Luke was a good person to tell this story because he was a doctor and would know full well how babies were born.  Well…I’m pretty sure you don’t have to be a doctor to understand the fundamentals but Luke is very thorough like you would expect of a doctor.  So, let’s turn to Luke 1:26-38.

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

I’m quite sure that no first-time mother has ever been completely prepared for what motherhood would bring.  Nobody could ever be completely prepared for the joy and the heartache that it brings.  Nobody could prepare for the laughter and the tears or be ready to have their heart broken or be prepared for their child’s heart to be broken like all mothers experience.

How much more those things, the wild pendulum of emotions that would soon come to Mary?  Probably just a teenager, Mary had yet to experience a lot of things in life and yet now she is to be the caretaker for the Savior of the world.  And yet here we see young Mary had faithful obedience to what God had planned for her life.

I want to look closer at that phrase “faithful obedience” this morning.  We would all like to think that we had faithful obedience to God but what does it really mean?  What does it look like to have faithful obedience as a mother…as a person? Mary truly was, in the literal sense of that first word, full of faith.  She was faithful. 

See this? It’s a leaf.  There is nothing special about this leaf.  It looks just like all the others.  But I want to ask you a question.  Do you believe that God made this leaf?  Sure you do.  Even a little child can understand that God made the leaves. Have you ever made a leaf?  Have you ever made a real leaf out of nothing?  Have you ever truly created anything out of nothing, especially something as beautiful as a leaf?  If you had all of the resources known to man and money was no object and you had all the scientific knowledge in the world, could you make one leaf out of nothing?  Of course not.

And yet, how many leaves are on one tree?  How many trees are there in the world?  And we believe that God made them all and yet so many people get hung up on the virgin birth.  If God can make a leaf; if He can make a tree and a mountain and a sunrise and sunset; if He can part the Red Sea, make a donkey talk and float an axe head and even sell the Runaway Bay property, then why would you think that He can’t make a baby in an unconventionally miraculous way?

One of my Bible commentaries is written by a very smart man that I go to a lot to help understand different passages.  And when I opened it to the part of Luke chapter one where it talks about the angel coming to Mary, he says that this is not to be taken literally.  It is just “a beautiful way of stressing the presence of the Spirit of God in family life.” (Barclay, Family Study Bible Series)

He goes on to explain all the reasons he thinks so.  I was amazed!  Toward the end of the book he says with confidence that Jesus died on the cross but was raised again and lives today.  He didn’t have any problem with that!  But virgin birth?  That couldn’t happen.

But look at Mary’s response to Gabriel.  Of all the people who should be skeptical; only she knew for sure that she was a virgin.  Only she was there to see the angel.  Of all people she should have doubted and yet look at what she says in verse 34“How will this be since I am a virgin?”  She’s not doubting like Zechariah did in verse 18. She just needs a little clarification and the angel knows that so he tells her simply that the Holy Spirit is going to be in control of all that.  And that’s all she needs to hear.  She didn’t ask the obvious questions that must have flooded her mind.  “What am I going to tell Joseph?  What will my family think?  What will the neighbors think?”  There is no way that she understood it all.  And yet she was full of faith.

And do you know what faith brings?  When God tells you to do something, He rarely tells you the whole story.  He just tells you what to do and when you, full of faith, just do what He says, do you know what always comes with that faith?  Peace comes with that faith.  Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In Mark 5:34, Jesus tells the bleeding woman who touched Him, “Dear woman, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”  There is a direct connection between faith and peace.  Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”  And one of those rewards is peace.  And we know that Mary had peace.  “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”  She didn’t understand.  She just believed.

She believed that if God brought her to it, He would bring her through it.  She believed because she had read the old scriptures where God had proven Himself faithful for all those years and because God was faithful, she could be full of faith.  So why worry if God is in control?  All she had to do is be obedient.  Ah!  But that was the trick, right?

It’s one thing to say we believe; to say we have faith.  We might say we are the Lord’s servant…”but how, but why, but when?  I’m going to have to fix this.”  I gotta do something.  But obedience is a combination of us doing what we are supposed to do and then just allowing God to do what He wants to do.  Do you know what obedience is not?

Obedience is not worry.  Philippians 4:6 says not to be anxious about anything and so that makes worry a sin.  Worry is not obedience.  Do you know what obedience is?  Obedience is prayer.  The rest of that beautiful verse in Philippians says, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  So, obedience is not worry.  Obedience is prayer and even thanksgiving to God.

Obedience says, “I don’t understand this.  I don’t know how this is going to work out.  It doesn’t make any sense to me.  But, Lord, I have faith in you.  I have faith in you in spite of my circumstances.  And I give you thanks in spite of my circumstances.  In fact, I give you thanks FOR my circumstances.”

A.W. Tozer said, “The Bible recognizes no faith that does not lead to obedience, nor does it recognize any obedience that does not spring from faith. The two are opposite sides of the same coin.”  And do you know what obedience brings?  We saw that faith brings peace.  Well, when you have done everything you are supposed to do; when you have prayed and thanked God for what you are going through, and you haven’t been worrying, then you can just relax and have joy.  Obedience always brings joy.

Several years ago I decided I was going to find out how to get joy.  I wanted to know what the Bible said about how to get it and how to keep it.  So, I scoured the Bible.  I looked at the people who had joy.  I read what it said about joy.  I did word studies, book studies, people studies and everything I read led me to one thing.  To have joy, you have to be obedient.

Anytime you see somebody in the Bible with true joy, you look close and you will see that they were being obedient.  Paul – obedient Paul, right? – Paul, probably more than anybody else talks about joy.  Paul, who had more physical problems and struggles than anybody else -even more than you - says in 2 Corinthians 7:4, “I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.”

The world would say that is impossible because for the world, joy and happiness are the same thing.  Their state of mind fluctuates with their circumstances.  When things are bad, they are depressed but Paul knew what Mary knew what some of you know that when you are obedient to God; when you are doing what He has told you to do and no more and no less then you can just relax and have joy because the one who made the leaves is in control and He loves you!

Dr. B.J. Miller once said, "It is a great deal easier to do that which God gives us to do, no matter how hard it is, than to face the responsibilities of not doing it."  (Today In The Word, November, 1989, p.11.)  Have you ever had to face the responsibility of not doing what God has told you to do?  It’s miserable, isn’t it?

I’ve told you before that there was a period in my life that I spent away from God.  I went were I wanted to go, I did what I wanted to do and I said what I wanted to say.  And I have never wanted to die any more than I did back then.  I had no joy.  I had no peace.  Because I was not faithful and I was not obedient.

Look, we are making this harder than it has to be.  Do you want joy and peace?  Then go where God wants you to go, do what He wants you to do and say what He wants you to say.  And you don’t have to worry about the consequences because you are not in control.  God is.

But the reason this is harder than it has to be is because the world doesn’t want us to live that way.  The world wants us to live like them.  Misery loves company.  And so everywhere you go there is someone or something trying to distract you.  “Hey, look over here.  Something shiny!”

Look one more time at how Mary answered the angel in verse 38.  “I am the Lord’s servant.  May your word to me be fulfilled.”  How refreshing that must be for God to hear.  She didn’t say what we usually say.  “But God, I can’t because…  But God, I won’t because…  That’s not fair.  I don’t understand.  I can’t afford it.  What will the neighbors say?”

No.  She simply said with faithful obedience, “I am the Lord’s servant.”  That’s what God wants to hear from you today as well.  Honestly tell Him that you are His servant and He will give to you the peace and the joy you have been looking for.  Let’s do that right now.  As the music plays…

Please remember that sweet little baby in a manger came to this earth for one reason. He was born to die for you on a cruel cross as a substitution for you. His perfect life and His death paid the penalty that God requires for your sin and all you have to do is believe in Him and ask Him for forgiveness and allow Him to come into your life and change you and He will.

And with that comes peace and joy in this life and eternal peace and joy with Him in Heaven. Make that decision today. We aren’t guaranteed another breath.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Joseph’s Obedience – Matt. 1:18-25

*Skit* with “Mary” and “Joseph”

So…what would you do if the woman you agreed to marry said she was pregnant and you knew there was no way it could be your kid? Would you call off the wedding? Would you get mad? Well, let’s find out what Joseph did in Matthew 1:18-25.

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20But after he had considered this, an angel of the LORD appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." 22All this took place to fulfill what the LORD had said through the prophet: 23"The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (which means "God with us"). 24When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the LORD had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

“I have a dream.” says Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

While we know that things have gotten considerably better on the civil rights front, it might be debatable whether that dream has come completely true.  While I will never be the preacher that Dr. King was, I too have a dream.  I have a dream of revival breaking out in Wise County, led not by me but other members of this church.

I have a dream of seeing this church ministering to the poor, addicted and incarcerated and it breaking out into a great turning-back of people to have a life-changing relationship with Jesus.  I have a dream of seeing our neighbor behind us coming to know God through His Son Jesus.  I have a dream of seeing the neighbors across the street know the peace and joy that comes with being a true believer.  I have a dream of seeing Lake Bridgeport being known as a hotbed of radical Christianity.

That’s my dream; well, one of my dreams.  I also dream of someday being a cowboy and a racecar driver.  Just being honest.  How about you?  What is your dream?  Do you dream about being rich and famous?  Do you dream of retirement?  Travel?  Anybody else want to be a cowboy or racecar driver?  Maybe we could go in together on something.  I don’t know.

The Bible talks quite a bit about the things that some people dreamed about.  In Luke chapter 2, it says, 25 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.  For my eyes have seen your salvation, 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.

His dream was to see the Messiah.  Right after that it talks about a woman named Anna who had the same dream.  It had been prophesied over and over again in the Old Testament in places like Isaiah 9 that says, “For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”

That part about sitting on the throne of David was a big deal to the early Jews because David was kind of a big deal with God and God told David in 2 Samuel 7:16, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever."  And ever since then the Jewish people were waiting and hoping and dreaming of being able to see that prophecy come true.

Fast forward a thousand or so years and the Jewish people had not forgotten.  They would never forget.  They are still dreaming of one day seeing the Messiah fulfill the prophecy and reign on the throne of David forever.  There was a young carpenter who lived in Nazareth, which was north of Jerusalem, and I don’t know if he dreamed that same dream but I’m sure he was aware of the prophecy.  In fact, I’m sure he was aware of his genealogy that included David and how the genealogy of his soon-to-be wife also included David.  I wonder if they ever dared to dream that maybe the Christ, the Messiah, would come from their lineage.  It’s quite possible that their marriage had been arranged by two sets of parents with just that thought.  We don’t know.

But then the man’s fiancée comes to him with what seems to be obviously horrible news.  She is pregnant.  Since he knew that it could not be his child, he is devastated.  He loves her and wants the best for her but this will never work.  He can’t marry a girl who has obviously been unfaithful to him before they even get officially married.  In Jewish custom, they are in the betrothal period which is just like being married except they didn’t live together and this could only be broken by divorce.  Technically he could even have her stoned to death but he would never do that. So he went to sleep determined to do the right thing by her even if she hadn’t by him.  But in this sleep, he too had a dream. 

Has anybody ever told you something and you really wanted to believe them but it was just too incredible of a story?  I used to work with a good friend of mine and he was always coming in and telling me these wild stories about crazy things that had happened to him.  He got mugged.  He got in a fight.  He met Merle Haggard.  Crazy stuff and I wanted to believe him but it was just too much.  Except it always turned out to be true.

Don’t you know Joseph wanted to believe Mary?  He really did, but come on!  You’re pregnant and an angel told you that it was ok because the Holy Spirit caused it.  That’s just too much to believe and even if he could believe it, nobody else would.  So, obviously the best thing to do for everybody was just divorce the girl quietly and move on.

While God chose Mary to be the mother of the Savior simply through His grace, she also had put herself in the place to be blessed by being pure.  Now we look at it from Joseph’s point of view and look at what the scripture says about Joseph in verse 19.  He was a righteous man.  What do you think that means?

I did some research (not google this time) and looked up the word “righteous” in my concordance and believe it or not, do you know what the word means?  Righteous means to be right!  It means to be right with God.  Joseph was right with God before any of this happened.  Do you think that is a coincidence?  Do you think that God chose Mary who was pure and she just happened to be about to marry Joseph who was righteous?  This is a perfect example of what I have said so many times.  God’s will is going to be done one way or another and you can choose to be obedient and be a part of it or you can choose to disobey and suffer the consequences.  Joseph was righteous and that means he was obedient and so he got to enjoy the benefits of it.

But we don’t know much about young Joseph.  We don’t know specifically what made him righteous in God’s eyes so what does it mean and what does righteousness look like?  Well, there are several people named in the Bible as righteous.  Moses, Noah and Abraham were all called righteous and do you know what all three had in common?  All three were also named for their faith. 

In fact, if you turn over to what we call the “faith chapter” of the Bible, Hebrews 11, you will see several others named for their faith.  In verse 4, Abel was commended as a righteous man because of his faith.  In verse 7, by faith Noah became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.  By faith Abraham, by faith Isaac, by faith Jacob, by faith Moses and on and on and then look at this fascinating verse 39 that says, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.”

What had been promised?  What had been prophesied and predicted?  The Messiah, the Christ had been prophesied and it was what they all dreamed about getting to see.  But none of these mentioned had lived long enough to see that promise come true.  They all had a dream that one day they would see Jesus.  They all had faith that led to righteousness.  So, how does faith lead to righteousness?

I used to have an Australian Shepherd named JD. JD was a great dog and he went with me everywhere including to work every day.  I worked at a feed store in Arlington and JD loved to ride and loved to go with me even though the little store had no air conditioning.  So, I opened all the doors and windows and turned on all the fans and it was bearable.

JD liked to stay outside though either on the front porch and greet the customers as they came in or he would be in the back in the shade of a tree watching traffic go by.  He was always right there until one day he wasn’t.  He wasn’t in the front or back when it was time to go home so I closed up and went looking for him.  I drove around and saw this little kid playing and I asked him if he had seen a small grey and white dog running around.

He said, “Oh, like the one down at Accent Tire?”  I said “Thank you” because I knew the people at Accent tire and knew they didn’t have a grey and white dog.  So I drove two blocks down the road and parked in front of Accent Tire store and walked up the sidewalk to go in and who do you think I saw laying in the front office soaking up the a/c?

When I walked in, the bell on the door chimed and JD lazily looked up and just put his head back down but then he jerked it back into a double-take when he realized it was me.  Busted!  I asked the lady in the office why she didn’t call me and tell me JD was there and she said she didn’t want to wake him up!  He was enjoying himself so much.

See, JD was not laying there dreaming of me or his job down at the hot feed store.  He was dreaming of the secretary giving him more jelly donuts.  Yes, she told me later she had given him jelly donuts.  I couldn’t believe it.  JD had no faith that I would walk in and find him there and so he was being disobedient thinking he would get away with it.

Joseph, on the other hand, along with all those others mentioned in Hebrews 11 dreamed, longed and hoped for the day the Messiah would come and so they kept themselves righteous, having great faith that any day their dream would come true and they wanted to be found worthy.  Joseph was righteous because of his faith.

Joseph was chosen by God because of God’s grace but also because Joseph had put himself in position to receive that grace just like Mary had.  From Joseph’s point of view this first Christmas was his dream come true even if it started out so unbelievably.  From Joseph’s point of view that took a lot of faith.  How about you?  Do you have faith?

“Oh, amen, pastor!  I have lots of faith!”  Do you?  How do we know?  How do you know if you have faith?  Look at verse 24 and we will see proof of Joseph’s faith and we will see how we, too, can prove our faith.  It says, “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him.”  When Joseph woke up he was obedient and he was immediately obedient.

Thomas a Kampis said, Instant obedience is the only kind of obedience there is; delayed obedience is disobedience. Whoever strives to withdraw from obedience, withdraws from Grace.”  It was God’s grace that allowed Joseph to be the legal father of the Christ-child but, again, Joseph put himself in a place to receive that grace by being instantly obedient.

Roger Staubach who led the Dallas Cowboys to the World Championship in '71 admitted that his position as a quarterback who didn't call his own signals was a source of trial for him. Coach Landry sent in every play. He told Roger when to pass, when to run and only in emergency situations could he change the play (and he had better be right!). Even though Roger considered coach Landry to have a "genius mind" when it came to football strategy, pride said that he should be able to run his own team.  Roger later said, "I faced up to the issue of obedience. Once I learned to obey there was harmony, fulfillment, and victory."

“Harmony…fulfillment…victory.”  Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?  Well, since God is not going to ask you to be obedient by taking the virgin Mary to be your wife like He did with Joseph, what is He asking you to do?  Yea, sure, there’s the 10 Commandments.  We should all obey those.  Don’t have idols.  Don’t kill.  Don’t steal.  Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain.  Can I please stop right there and take a quick time-out?  This is not the Christmas story from Joseph’s point of view but I think he would agree that unless you are talking to God or about God…don’t use his name.  Saying OMG is a sin.  Stop it!  Ok, thank you.  Time in.

But I want you to realize how much more there is to being obedient to God than just following the 10 Commandments.  Having a relationship with God through His Son Jesus means that there is communication between you.  Isaiah 30:21 says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it."

That’s the voice of the Holy Spirit inside you telling you what to do, where to go and what to say.  Are you being obedient to that word from God?  Are you close enough to God to hear Him?  Being close to Him means you are righteous.  You are obedient.  What is there that God is telling you to do?  It may be some big thing that changes the world or it may be some small thing that changes you into someone more like Jesus.

Joseph had a dream and he was close enough to God to hear what he was supposed to do.  He believed God’s word and he was obedient to it.  It sounds simple and it actually is but you can’t even do that without God’s help.  It starts with having faith that the little baby born to those two young people was and is still God and that He lived, died, was buried and after 3 days was raised back to life.

Ask Him into your life today to be Lord and Savior; to forgive you of your sin.  You need to repent of that sin; turn away from it and accept His forgiveness and when you do your dream will start to become more and more like Abraham’s and Moses and Simeon…and Joseph.  That’s my dream for you today.  I want you to see Jesus.

“Praise Songs” – Psalm 95

Thanksgiving is just around the corner.  How many of you have nothing for which to be thankful?  How many of you have lots of things for which to be thankful?  How many of you just wish Thanksgiving was over and done so we could get on with Christmas because you need some more stuff?  I don’t know about you but I don’t need any more stuff and I love the Thanksgiving holiday.  And if you can’t think of anything for which to be thankful, you and I seriously need to talk! I’m thankful for this time and this place.  I’m thankful for this group of people who consistently prove themselves to be loving and generous even to people who are not members here or to people who can’t repay you.  I’m thankful for the freedom we have to meet and the health we all have that allows us to be here.  I’m thankful for my family.  I watched a Billy Graham special on TV the other night and afterward heard several people talk about his integrity and how he never had any kind of sexual or financial scandal and I was reminded of my dad.

Pop rarely had stadiums full of people to preach to but he was always faithful to do and say what God wanted him to do and say and never a hint of anything inappropriate.  And he did that for something like 50 years!  That’s pretty incredible to me.  And I say all that just to say how thankful I am for him and my family for modeling how a Christian is supposed to act.  And while very few of them are perfect, I am very thankful for them.  😊 I’m thankful for my dogs. I’m thankful for my house and a reliable car; for my health, for friends, for history, for all kinds of blessings that God has given me.  And did you catch that last one?  Did you hear me say I was thankful for history?  Is anybody else here thankful for history?  Do we have any history teachers here today?  I figure they are pretty thankful for history but maybe for reasons that differ from mine.

I haven’t always been thankful for history.  I remember history class in school, trying to memorize all those dates and places and wars and generals.  I understand that those who don't study the past will repeat its errors.  But I’m pretty sure that those who do study it will find other ways to mess up.  But today I’m thankful for history because it proves God’s goodness, His mercy, His forgiveness, love, generosity and power.  That’s why we have this little jar of pebbles up here.  This is a reminder of our history that shows God’s provision and protection over this church when we are obedient.  If you don’t know what it is, I would love to tell you about it later. And while there are blessings for obedience, history also reminds us of what happens when we rebel against all-powerful God.  It is quite the motivation for us to stay true to what He wants us to do when we remember the consequences of disobedience.  We don’t want to dwell on the past and be drawn into joy-sucking guilt that comes from remembering all the bad things we might have done.  But a healthy remembrance of the consequences will certainly keep us from repeating them.

And that is exactly what our psalm is all about this morning.  We can be thankful for history because it reminds us of the good things God has done and it helps us stay obedient as well.  Let’s look at Psalm 95.  There are only 11 verses but they are packed full of good, rich, life-giving words for us to live by.  And it is believed to have been written by my favorite psalmist, David.  So that’s good too.  And we know that David was the author, not because it says so in the psalm but because the Holy Spirit revealed it to the author of Hebrews who quotes it in Hebrews 4:7 and gives the credit to David. So, let’s read Psalm 95.  You should have a Bible there in front of you if you didn’t bring one.  I believe it to be very important that you see what God’s Word says and not to just hear it read.  Psalm 95 says:

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;     let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving  and extol him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God,
    the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth,
    and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it,
    and his hands formed the dry land. Come, let us bow down in worship,
    let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God     and we are the people of his pasture,
    the flock under his care. Today, if only you would hear his voice,
“Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
    as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested me;
    they tried me, though they had seen what I did.
10 For forty years I was angry with that generation;
    I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray,
    and they have not known my ways.’
11 So I declared on oath in my anger,
    ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”

I only have two real points today.  I want us to look at praising God and how and why we are to do that.  And I want us to look at provoking God and how and why we should not do that.  Everybody likes to be praised.  Everybody needs to be praised.  You can tell people that didn’t grow up with nurturing parents because they are the ones who praise themselves and then hope that you will join in.  I heard the story about the little boy that said, “Daddy, let’s play darts.  I’ll throw and you say, Wonderful!” But we don’t praise God because He is a needy youngster.  We praise God because, according to the psalmist, we have joy!  That’s what he says in verse 1 and for some of you that may be quite the assumption.  I stand up here and watch how you sing and some of you look like, instead of singing, “Just A Closer Walk With Thee”, you ought to be singing, “Just A Little Closer To Getting Out Of Here”.  It ought not to be that way.  We ought to have joy in our lives if anybody does and it ought to show in our worship.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was a member of the U.S. Supreme Court for 30 years. His mind, wit and work earned him the unofficial title of "the greatest justice since John Marshall." At one point in his life, Justice Holmes explained his choice of a career by saying: "I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers." (

Ouch!  That stings.  That’s awful.  But it makes me wonder how many people visit a church and never go back because of the attitudes and actions (or lack of) of the people in the church.  We learned a while back that part of the fruit of the Spirit is joy.  And you get that joy, not by trying to get joy, but by focusing on being closer to and more like Jesus.  Do you know that Jesus wants you to have joy?  John 16:24 says, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”  He wants you to be full of joy and we should.  James 1 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds” because in the end you will not lack anything.

And do you know what people who don’t lack anything do?  They shout!  David says to shout out loud to the Rock of our salvation!  Let me tell you something.  I went to a football game the other day.  I don’t even like football but I went because I like the people I see there.  I’m a social footballer.  But do you know what I did there?  Some guy was running somewhere and he did it pretty well, I thought, and so I shouted. I shouted because some kid I didn’t know outran some other kids I don’t know in a game that I don’t remember who won and matters very little in the scheme of things.  How much more should I get excited and shout when I think about the Rock of my salvation.  When I think of God’s unfailing strength as a fortress and refuge for me, I get excited.  Who do I call when I need help?  I call on God and He answers me and he protects me and He provides for me.  He is my deliverer from Hell and from guilt and shame.  

David knew this as well as anybody since he literally had to hide in caves and buildings to keep Saul from killing him.  And David would cry out to God and God answered him and protected and provided for him.  So, David says to shout.  Get excited.  Now, I know, I understand that not everybody is vocal in their worship.  I’m not saying you should fake it or be dramatic about it.  I won’t judge you in your worship.  In fact, I’ll make a deal with you.  If you want to worship with your hands up and jumping up and down or crying and laughing, that’s just fine.  I won’t pay much attention to you because your worship is not about me.  And if you want to worship quietly, that’s fine too because your worship is not about me.

But let me tell you about the average unbeliever (and probably too many believers).  Their life pretty much consists of going to work, taking the kids to soccer practice and watching TV where they can vicariously have some excitement through a movie star.  And they save up all year so they can take a vacation to go have some excitement somewhere so they don’t go crazy the other 51 weeks of the year. And if they come to church and see us looking and acting like undertakers, as Justice Holmes said, then what’s the attraction?  There is a good movie on.  I might as well go play some golf.  At least there is some excitement to it.  Folks, we have been bought with a price and redeemed from Hell and to Heaven!  That’s kind of a big deal.  We have a Rock of salvation that we can count on today and every day.

Come before Him with thanksgiving and with music and song.  That’s how we are to praise God.  Now let’s look at why we are to praise God.  The reason is not just because He is our Rock.  In fact, our worship of God is not all about any of us.  It’s about Who He is and what He has done, not just in our lives but in all of creation.  The fact that we are to approach Him with joy does not mean that we are to be flippant or irreverent.  We should always remember His majesty as is described in verses 3-5.  The ancient pagan world had different gods for every aspect of life and for every corner of the world but the psalmist describes everything as fitting in God’s hands.  The One Who created all things holds all things and controls all things.  That is the definition of majesty.

A couple of months ago, I traveled up through new Mexico and Colorado through the most beautiful country I have ever seen.  The mountains were majestic.  The rivers were majestic.  The valleys covered in flowers and wildlife…were majestic.  And I use that word “majestic” today because that was the word that kept coming to me as I went along.  And it’s surprising because until then I don’t think I had ever actually used the word before.  “Majestic” just didn’t fit into my vocabulary.

But it is the perfect word to use to describe the creation of the King.  It is appropriate to use that word when it is the King that created, sustains and controls all of that.  Now I want you to look at verses 6 and 7 again.  It says to “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; 7 for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.”  

Do you notice what it doesn’t say to do?  It says nothing about speaking.  The psalmist says we are to come, bow down and kneel.  There is a time for coming with loud shouts and singing for joy and there is a time to just be still and know that He is God, submitting yourself to Him and His Kingdom knowing that we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care.  How do we praise Him?  With loud shouts and with silent submission.  Why do we praise Him?  Because He tells us to and because he is worthy and because we have joy in that knowledge.

The end of verse 7 starts a transition from encouraging us to praise to discouraging us from provoking.  I’m quite sure that nobody here this morning would say they have ever tried to provoke God.  We would never do that.  We know better, right?  So, we can just skip over this part since it surely doesn’t apply to us at Christ Fellowship. The nation of Israel was God’s chosen people.  It still is.  They are special to him and only He knows why He chose them but He did.  And they knew it.  He told them over and over from Genesis and Exodus on.  And so surely because they were special He would overlook a small amount of provoking.  It wasn’t really a big deal.  When the psalmist mentions Meribah and Massah he is reminding them of the time in the desert when they didn’t know where they were going to get water and they were ready to stone Moses.

It was just a short lapse of faith.  They weren’t trying to provoke God.  They were just starting to get thirsty and uncomfortable and things looked bad so they complained a little bit.  That’s all.  How did they provoke God?  It says they hardened their hearts.  They forgot Him.  They shut Him out of their situation and relied on their own knowledge and ability.

God’s special people temporarily hardened their hearts in forgetfulness and look what God said in verses 9 and 10. “…though they had seen what I did.  10 For forty years I was angry with that generation.”  By just being forgetful of God, they suffered His wrath for 40 years.  If God’s chosen, special people can suffer for that, who are we to think that the United States should be any different?  Who are we to think that we as individuals or even as a church will not suffer God’s wrath if we harden our hearts in forgetfulness.

But do you know what the worst of it is?  You know how we provoke God; by forgetting Him and not acknowledging Him but the reason why we should not provoke God comes in the very last verse.  “They shall never enter my rest.”  Can you imagine God’s special people wandering around in circles out in the desert just waiting to die?  Can you imagine the futility of life?  How difficult it must have been to struggle through life day in and day out only so at the end you can die?

But that is the price we pay even today when we disobey.  When we harden our hearts in forgetfulness of all that God has done or we lack the faith He requires of us, do you know what happens?  We miss out on His rest.  We miss out on His peace and joy and the ability to just let our hands hang down and know that He is God and that he is in control and that he loves us.

How much is that worth?  How much would you pay to have that kind of peace?  If you knew that in the end everything was going to be ok; that everything was going to work out for your good and the good of God’s Kingdom, would you pay $1000?  A million?  Everything you have?

Let me tell you a secret.  That’s what God wants.  He wants all that you have.  He wants your effort, yes.  And, yes, I’ll even tell you He wants your money.  But He also wants your sin.  He wants your guilt.  He wants your pain and your fear and your doubts and your regrets and He will trade you all of that for all that He has.

He says, give me your worries and I will give you rest.  Give me your regrets and I will give you joy.  Give me your life and I will give you the life of my Son Jesus.  I will give you a full life here on earth plus all the riches and glory of Heaven when you die; co-heirs with Jesus to everything that the Creator, Sustainer and Controller can give. That’s what happens when you trust Jesus to be your Sacrifice and your Savior.

Monday, November 12, 2018

“Ask Job Why God Allows Suffering” – Job 42

I’ve told you before that one of these days I was going to tell you a story where I’m the hero; where I do something great and wonderful and we’ll all laugh and rejoice and that will be a good day.  But that’s not today.  Years ago, I was asked to teach an adult Sunday School class for the first time at another church I was going to.  So, I started doing it and I rocked along for a few months, I guess, and people seemed to really enjoy it and were inviting others and I got some compliments along the way.  Do you know what happened?

I started believing it.  I started thinking, “Hey, I’m pretty good at this.  I gotta admit I’m really bringing it.”  Well, you can probably guess the moral of this story but let me give you a few gory details.  I got up one Sunday morning just raring to go, teaching on the passage in Acts 27 where Paul was shipwrecked.  I was prepared and ready to bless this little group with my knowledge and grasp of difficult spiritual truths.

I remember standing up behind this little podium and I got all my notes out and I was just as confident as I could be, knowing that God was really using me.  But for some reason I had a hard time getting the words out.  I managed to say something about where the passage was and that Paul got shipwrecked but that was about as deep as it got.  I stuttered and stammered like I was using the dictionary for text.  The dictionary would have been more beneficial though.

I had notes but they didn’t make sense and I got lost and pretty soon it wasn’t just Paul that had a shipwreck.  I’m looking around for somebody to throw me a life jacket.  Finally somebody did.  Somebody stood up and just said what that passage meant to them.  Then somebody else stood up and did the same and somebody looked up some words and somebody else testified about it and I remember literally just sitting down behind that podium and trying to hide until I could finally call on somebody to dismiss us.

I was humiliated.  I left the room and went and found a quiet place and just bowed my head and let God talk.  What could I say?  “Why God?”  I knew why immediately.  The only thing to say was, “I’m sorry” and “Thank you for showing me.”  There are not many weeks that go by that I don’t remember that situation and I never want to be there again although it still happens sometimes and I’m sure I need it even today.

So, I’m preaching today to all of us about how to really know God and how to hear from Him and how to ask Him the deep questions of life like why God allows suffering.  Job found out and the situation God put him in makes mine not worth repeating.  I want to ask you to turn to the end of the book of Job; to chapter 42.  Job is in between the books of Esther and Psalms in the Old Testament.  It’s on page ??? in most of the Bibles in the pews.

We read before about how even God considered Job to be the most righteous and upright man on the planet and yet God used Satan to take everything away from Job, including his family, his health and all his possessions.  Now what you miss by only reading the first and last chapters is the introduction of Job’s three friends who wax poetically for chapter after chapter about how Job has obviously sinned and just needs to repent of that sin and then God would bless him again.

Then over and over, Job answers them by swearing his innocence, as, in fact, he was innocent.  But Job’s three friends just insist on giving him bad advice.  Do you have any friends like that?  They mean well but they are just totally wrong.  Another friend comes in at one point and basically says, “Y’all listen to me.  I have perfect knowledge.” (Chapter 36) His advice is even worse.  Do you have any friends like that?  If not, then your friends probably do.  😊

Now, listen to how Job answers his buddies when they again make the assumption that he is being punished for his sins.  In chapter 29, he answers them by saying that not only was he not guilty but, “When I went to the gate of the city
    and took my seat in the public square,
the young men saw me and stepped aside
    and the old men rose to their feet;
the chief men refrained from speaking
    and covered their mouths with their hands;
10 the voices of the nobles were hushed,
    and their tongues stuck to the roof of their mouths.
11 Whoever heard me spoke well of me,
    and those who saw me commended me,
12 because I rescued the poor who cried for help,
    and the fatherless who had none to assist them.
13 The one who was dying blessed me;
    I made the widow’s heart sing.
14 I put on righteousness as my clothing;
    justice was my robe and my turban.
15 I was eyes to the blind
    and feet to the lame.
16 I was a father to the needy;
    I took up the case of the stranger.
17 I broke the fangs of the wicked
    and snatched the victims from their teeth.

I hope you can get the whole picture here and see what is really going on.  Job, as he is saying this, is sitting in dust and ashes, wearing torn robes with a shameful lack of hair on his head and face for the time, owning nothing and covered head to toe with sores and boils…and he is proud.  Do you see it?  I, I, I…me, me, me…look at who I am and what I have done…as I sit here king of the dung heap.

It would be laughable if we were all not just like him.  The problem of the sin of pride is that it is so easy to be proud…even of your humility.  In “The Screwtape Letters”, C.S. Lewis wrote about a senior demon instructing a lesser demon who was having a hard time getting his assigned human to sin.  The older demon advised the younger that if he couldn’t convince the man to sin then just let the man be proud of that fact.  Either way, Satan wins when we give in to the sin of pride.

God says in Proverbs that pride goes before destruction.  He says in Psalms that men are so consumed with themselves that their thoughts are far from God.  This is proved in the book of Job in that even while Job was so afflicted, he was still proud and from chapter 2 all the way to chapter 38 Job and his buddies talk about the situation and what they wished would happen and Job actually says to God at one point in chapter 13, Then summon me and I will answer, or let me speak, and you reply to me.”  (Verse 22

Now, I am a big proponent of learning scripture and then praying back to God what He has written in His Word but I do not recommend ever saying this to God.  Don’t even memorize it.  I say that because in chapter 38 Job gets this wish.  I know I told you to find chapter 42 and I will get there in just a minute but you need to see what God says to Job in chapter 38.  He starts out with the question, “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?”  Then He says, “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.”

Then for the next couple of chapters Job goes three rounds with the Creator of the universe…and it’s not pretty.  God asks him something like 150 different questions that are completely unanswerable.  Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?  Have you seen the gates of death?  Where is the rain stored?  Have you seen the storehouses of snow?  Do the lightning bolts take orders from you?  Did you give the horse its strength?  On and on and on He goes humiliating Job with question after question.

He ends by talking about how small and powerless man is compared even to some of the animals God has created.  He says at the end for Job to consider the alligator (or Leviathan). “He looks down on all that are haughty.  It is king over all that are proud.” (Verse 34) God verbally pokes Job in the chest with His mighty right hand.

Do you remember that iconic picture of Mohammed Ali standing over Sonny Liston who is on his back in the middle of the ring?  I have a picture in my mind of God standing over Job something like that.  Job is done.  Stick a fork in him.  It’s over for him. He finally gets to the point where he can say to God – and here is where we pick up in chapter 42

I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.  “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes

W.A. Criswell said, “Before God can remake us, He must unmake us.  And before God can bring us to life, we must die.”  He’s not talking about physical death.  He’s talking about dying to one’s self; dying to one’s own will, plans, dreams and hopes and honestly saying to God, “I see Who You are and I see who I am and I despise myself in comparison.”

My friend Scott Parrish always says that Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good.  He came to make dead people alive.  But we are only really alive spiritually when we die to ourselves by allowing God to have control over our lives.  It’s not optional to be a disciple of Jesus and it is exactly what God was teaching Job.  We talked a few weeks ago about how God is the source of all things and I believe that is important to learn but I also believe that having the knowledge about the proper term for what God does – does he allow it or cause it – is not the whole lesson God wants us to learn.

The lesson He really wants us to learn is that no matter what He does – cause or allow, good or bad, bless or curse – our job is just to trust Him; to trust His character that is love and His judgment that is true - and to make Him look good in it.  This life isn’t about us!  Quit trying to be comfortable in this wisp of smoke that is this life and seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness.

You have heard it said that it’s not about thinking less of yourself.  It’s about thinking of yourself less.  Abraham – the great Abraham, father of Israel – said in Genesis, “Behold, behold, I have taken upon me to speak to the great High God, I who am but dust and ashes” [Genesis 18:27]. 

Do you remember what the tax collector said in Luke 18?  “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  When King David came to God in Psalm 51 he said he had a broken and contrite heart.   Do you know what these people all have in common?  Do you know what David and Abraham and Job and throw in the thief on the cross and the prodigal son and Paul when he said he was spiritually crucified with Christ – do you know what all these people had in common?

They heard from God.  They knew God in a new and real way.  They were able to come before the Creator of the universe, the One who keeps the stars, tells the ocean where to stop and clothes Himself in glory and splendor and truly have a relationship.  They were able to talk to Him and hear from Him, receive blessings from Him and trust Him in the tragedies because they knew Him and He knew them.

Andrew Murray said, "The humble man feels no jealousy or envy. He can praise God when others are preferred and blessed before him. He can bear to hear others praised while he is forgotten because ... he has received the spirit of Jesus, who pleased not Himself, and who sought not His own honor.”

He also said this: “Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is for me to have no trouble; never to be fretted or vexed or irritated or sore or disappointed. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me and when I am blamed or despised.”

I believe the book of Job should at least teach us two things.  It should teach us that God is sovereign and will do whatever He wants with or without our opinions on the matter and when we understand that God is love that should bring us great peace.

The other thing is that sovereign God will not put up with pride.  If you want to truly know God and fellowship with Him you better see yourself as you truly are and humble yourself or He will do it for you.  Truly knowing God is at the same time a one-time thing and a life-long process.  We have been talking about the process of humbling ourselves and coming to the realization of who we really are compared to Almighty God.

But it starts with a first step.  That first step also involves humbling ourselves but it begins with repenting of our sin and trusting Jesus as our Savior.  That is lived out in a life that is obedient to what God wants.  Just as Jesus Himself said in the garden before His death, “Not my will but yours be done, Father.”

Can you honestly say that?  Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life and no man comes to the Father except through Him. (John 14:6) You too can have a relationship with the Father of all creation through His Son Jesus Christ.  There is no other way.  Today is the day of salvation.  Do it today.