Friday, January 22, 2010

“A Mother’s Faith”—John 2:1-11

In every marriage ceremony, there is always at least one mistake. A young couple, very much in love, were getting married. The wife to be, was very nervous about the big occasion and so the pastor chose one verse that he felt would be a great encouragement to them. The verse was 1 Jn 4:18 which says: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”

Rather unwisely, the pastor asked the best man to read it out and to say that the pastor had felt that this was a very apt verse for the Bride and that he would be preaching on it later in the service. The best man was not a regular churchgoer. And so he did not know the difference between the Gospel of John and the first letter of John. As instructed, he introduced his reading by saying that the pastor felt this was a very apt verse for the Bride. Instead of reading 1 Jn. 4:18, he read John 4:18, which says, “You have five husbands and the one that you now have is not your husband.”

There is no such thing as a perfect wedding. There are always going to be problems – some of them small and some of them large.

This morning, we come to look at a wedding that had a big problem. They were quickly running out of wine for all the guests that they had invited to the party. And once they ran out of wine, the celebration would be over. The joy would be gone. They were running on empty.

Among you here, I would imagine that there are some of you who are running on empty. You thought that you had enough to carry you through, but your reserves have just about been depleted. Your joy is just about gone. It’s going to take a miracle in order to renew the supply of joy in your life. This morning, Jesus wants to work a miracle in your life. He wants to fill you with new wine – He wants to restore your joy so that you will have more than enough joy to make it the rest of the way.

Let’s take a look at the miracle that Jesus did at a wedding in Cana. As we do, you will discover 4 things that must happen in our lives before Jesus can fill our lives with overflowing joy.

1. Admit that there is a problem. (vs. 1-3a)
Weddings in Israel at that time were long celebrations usually lasting a week. Instead of getting married and going off by themselves, they were surrounded by their friends and family for the first week of their married life.

How would you like to have your mother-in-law watching your every move after having just gotten married? During that week, they had a huge celebration. It was a week-long feast. The parents of the groom were responsible for providing all the food and drink that would be needed for the celebration.

Though we don’t know the names of the bride and groom at this particular wedding, we are familiar with some of the people that were present there. Mary, Jesus’ mother was there, and it is very possible that she was the hostess for the event. Jesus and His first disciples, having been invited to the celebration, arrived on the 3rd day – almost at the halfway point of the feast.

From a human perspective, it would look like Jesus had bad timing. For He arrived just as the supplies for the feasting were about to run out. Friends, Jesus always arrives just as the supplies for the feast are about to run out. That’s when people recognize that they have a need for Him. In this case, the particular supply that was running short was the wine. To the Jewish people, wine symbolized joy. A joyous celebration without wine was not a possibility.

When the wine runs out, the party stops. You may have seen the TV ads where the celebration ends when a particular item is missing. In one ad the dancing stops when they run out of “Pringles”. In another, the necessary ingredient for joy is cheese. In still another, all hope is lost when the frosted mini-chex run out. Every society has its own idea of what symbolizes joy. I don’t know what it says about our society to think that our joy is symbolized by potato chips, cheese and cereal. For them, wine symbolized joy, and they were running out.

I can imagine that that bride, if she even knew about the shortage, might have been getting pretty anxious. I can hear her saying to her mother, “My wedding day is not supposed to be like this! I’m supposed to be filled with joy. But instead, I’m worrying about what everyone is going to say about us when they discover that we have run out of wine.”

Maybe you have had similar thoughts. Marriage is not supposed to be the horror that you are experiencing. Parenting isn’t supposed to be filled with so much sorrow. Christianity is not supposed to be like this. I’m supposed to be overflowing with joy – or so I’ve heard – but nothing seems to be happening. My joy is gone.

For some of you, your joy is running low. You thought that you had enough to make it through whatever period of your life you’re going through, but you were wrong. You are running on empty. And the first step to seeing that joy restored was to admit his problem to God.

As I said earlier, Mary may very well have been the one responsible for planning and coordinating the feast. It would have been embarrassing for her to admit that she had messed up and not planned on enough wine. Embarrassing or not, she was willing to admit that there was a need.

That’s what we have to do too. We have to admit that there is a need – that we are running dry in our joy. When you come to church on Sunday morning, I know that you feel like everyone is expecting you to have a smile on your face and act like the world is a friendly place, and that all is okay in your life. When someone asks how you are doing, the expected response is “Fine”. But that may not be the case. And you’ve got to be willing to admit that to God. Once you admit that there is a problem, then you can do something about it.

2. Bring the problem to Jesus. (vs. 3b-4)
When Mary realized that there was a problem, she correctly took the problem to Jesus. “The fact that Mary came to Jesus indicates she believed He could resolve the problem.” This family may not have exhibited a great deal of wisdom in how they planned for the wedding celebration, but the wisest thing that they could have ever done was to invite Jesus. The very presence of Jesus at this wedding opened the possibility to a miracle.

In case you weren’t aware of it, Jesus is present with us in this place today. The very fact that Jesus is here means that there is enough to resolve whatever problem you may be facing today. And there is a big enough supply of joy to keep you going even through the middle of the problem.

When Mary came to Jesus and communicated the problem to Him, His response toward her seems a little cold and hard to us. And there are times when we bring our requests to God for what we think would bring joy into our lives that God’s response seems cold and hard. It seems like the windows of heaven have closed. But the response that Jesus gave to Mary was to let her know that she was no longer in control. That he was under obligation to fully obey His heavenly Father not His earthly mother.

When it comes to asking God to do certain things in our lives, God is under no obligation to do things our way or in our time. He does it in His time and in His way.

3. Do whatever Jesus tells you to do to fix the problem. (vs. 5-10)

Inviting Jesus to the party made it possible for the supply of joy to be renewed and refreshed. But the simple fact that Jesus was there did not bring the joy. Some of you and many other Christians believe that all it takes to have joy is to become a Christian. “I’m here, Jesus, in your presence. Now, give me joy!” Just being in Jesus’ presence will not give you joy. In order to experience joy He has to be Lord and Master of your life. You have to listen for what He tells you, and then, you must obediently do it. The servants had to be willing to be obedient. Obedience made the possibility of joy a reality.

To those servants on that day, Mary said, “Do whatever He tells you to do.” At that moment, Jesus ceased to be a guest and became the one who was in control of the whole wedding celebration. And at that moment, a miracle began to happen. People are perfectly willing to have Jesus as a guest in their lives. But they are not willing to turn over control and “do whatever He tells” them, and so they never have their lives changed by a miracle.

The servants heard Jesus speak, and they responded in obedience. They began the process of filling the stone jars with water. Each of these jars held between 20 and 30 gallons of water, and there were 6 jars. That’s 180 gallons of water. It would have taken a lot of time and energy to accomplish this task. Trip after trip to the well to draw water and pour it into the jars. And we don’t know how far it was to the well.

It would have been tempting to do a half-hearted and half-completed job. After all, Jesus only said to “fill” the jars with water. He didn’t say how far to fill them. And “fill” is a word that can be interpreted in many ways depending on how hot it is and how late in the workday it is.

Anything over half way is full, isn’t it? That’s what potato chip companies seem to think. But these men didn’t think so. When Jesus told them to fill the jars, they took Jesus’ words quite literally, and they filled them all the way to the brim, just shy of overflowing.

I would say that most everyone here would admit to wanting joy. And in order to receive that joy you might even be willing to be obedient to God – to a certain extent. But are you willing for your obedience to reach all the way to the brim even when the obedience that Jesus asks for doesn’t make sense to you? Or when it requires more work than you had originally intended on giving?

Or when it forces you to rearrange your priorities and your schedule like these servants had to do? You see, the amount of joy that you experience is in direct proportion to the amount of obedience that you give. The greater your obedience, the greater your supply of joy will be. When Jesus tells you to do something, never do it halfway because Jesus wants to give you joy to the full.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. You are here present at the 10:15 worship service. That’s great. I commend you for that. That is obedience, but it is not obedience to the brim. Prior to this hour, we had an half hour of Sunday school. Thursday morning we meet together at the parsonage. On Friday nights, we have Youth and Adult Group Bible studies. You see being a part of those things can get you closer to the brim, but you’re still not there. In order to get to the brim, you need to spend time every day meditating on God’s Word and spending serious time in communication with God. Each of these will get you closer to the brim. I don’t know where the brim is for you, but I know that in order to get there, you have to do whatever He tells you to do. It will require work. It will not be easy. I guess the question that you have to ask yourself is how badly you want the joy that God has to offer.

A miracle happened on that day. Jesus brought joy to a situation where there was great apprehension and impending embarrassment. The miracle couldn’t have happened without the request of Mary as she admitted the problem. It couldn’t have happened without the presence of Jesus for them to bring the problem to Him. And it couldn’t have happened without the willingness of the servants to work hard to do whatever Jesus commanded them to do. But the miracle didn’t happen because of any of these things. The miracle happened because they all were willing to totally submit themselves to the authority of Jesus over their lives. And that brings us to the last that you must take in order to have overflowing joy.

4. Commit yourself to Jesus, the Problem-solver. (vs. 11)

Mary’s initial request was fulfilled – not in her timing or in her way – but the result was far more than quenching thirst or saving from embarrassment. The result was faith.

The Bible records that Jesus’ disciples that were present there at the wedding put their faith in Him as a result of what they saw.

Two miracles happened on that day. The first was the changing of water into wine so that a celebration could continue for the rest of the week. But the second was much more significant. In the second miracle, the hearts of Jesus’ disciples were changed from condemned sinners to forgiven children of God so that a celebration could continue for the rest of eternity. You tell me. Which was the greater miracle?.

Jesus wants to do a work in your life that doesn’t just provide joy for today but is a continual spring of joy flowing up inside of you every day until the day that you stand in His presence. That miracle in you requires that you commit your life into His hands.

There is no such thing as a perfect wedding. There is no such thing as a perfect life. How are you going to respond when things don’t go the way that they are “supposed to”, and they threaten to steal your joy? Are you going to obey God’s command to rejoice in the Lord always, or are you going to wallow in self-pity?
Do you want God’s kind of joy today? Then you’ve got to…
1. Admit that you don’t have it right now
2. Bring your need to Jesus
3. Do whatever He tells you to do
4. Commit yourself completely to Him…Amen

“At the End of the Line”—Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

How many of us have waited in line? Whether you went to a public service place (like the DMV) ate breakfast at a fast food place (like a McDonalds), went grocery shopping, or flew through an airport to go somewhere, I am sure most of you have gone through the experience of waiting in line.

Waiting is one of those things that have always been part of everyone's lives or experience, though this does not certainly mean that we all want to do it. Most of the time, we are forced to do it, that's why.

Unsurprisingly, this is one of those activities that I personally can't stand. I cannot express how much bad feeling I have for the people who make me wait in line and spend precious minutes standing for no other useful reason but to wait for my turn or give people grease money.

I'm sure that all of us can already imagine the long lines waiting for us once Thanksgiving ends and we officially enter the Christmas shopping season. Thousands of cash registers will render themselves hardly useful to the millions of impatient, or perhaps, angry people waiting for their own items to be paid.

Interestingly, this phenomenon of waiting in line has been the subject of a lot of psychological research on psychology and the limits of human patience. This may seem to be a mundane topic (NOT!) but it's actually a high-profile field in psychology. The subject of most researches in the area is pretty simple: how can we make sure that waiting times are turned into positive experiences rather than negative? It can.

I can remember it used to be unpleasant (the feeling of eternity), on certain days and times, to be shopping and waiting in line at an Albertson’s grocery store. But nowadays you see lcd screens with interesting programs on to keep customer’s occupied and entertained, and not mind the long wait.

In today’s passage we find people lining up to see this person named John the Baptist; who was the son of Zechariah; who received a message from God; who went out through the country around the Jordan River to preach a life-changing message of repentance and forgiveness.

So you can just imagine the enormous amount of people who went out to see John the Baptist. Add to the fact that the activity of baptism is the “popular thing to do” in those days and you have the potential of people engaging in a very long wait.

Many people, from all walks of life such as the poor, the disabled, the outcast, the troubled, the lonely, the religious leaders, the soldiers, the rich; even Jesus himself, went in line, to see the Baptist strut his stuff.

Have you ever attended an event that attracts so many people. Many years ago I attended Fuller Seminary in Pasadena. I can remember on New Years Day you see a lot of people from all walks of life visit the city to see the different floats at the Rose Parade. So over the years I saw myself surrounded by a sea of people during the final days of December up to January first. So it’s hard for me to move about in and around Pasadena because of the crowd. It has became so bad for me that I decided to leave Pasadena prior to the weekend of the Rose Parade and stay with my Aunt who lives in West Covina. It’s just crazy. I don’t want to experience that kind of crowd ever again.

Going back to our passage, I guess back then people didn’t mind the wait since they all wanted to see John and be baptized by him.

For the most parts people will be patient enough and subject themselves to a long lines and long waits as long as they like what they are going to get at the end of the line.

I mean people will not mind going out, camping out, falling in line on the day after Thanksgiving or Christmas as long as they are going to receive a very substantial savings on highly coveted consumer goods or items, right?

People won’t mind coming out early early in the morning to line up just to be able to position themselves good at the Golden Globe Awards, the Grammy’s, or perhaps, the Oscars and see their favorite celebrities, right?

So we are not surprised to see big crowds that morning as John the Baptist came out and visited the Jordan River. People from all over came to see and hear him preach his life-changing message.

I am sure, like us today, people back then were also experiencing trouble, hardships in life, and alike. Like us they too are tired of their situations in life and so they relief, they wanted to hear John’s message that everybody has been talking about.

Even Jesus came out to hear this message. John the Baptist claimed that the One (Messiah) who is coming is greater than he, one whose sandals he is not fit to stoop down and untie.

Interestingly enough, Jesus came out, went in line, and submitted himself to be baptized by John.

Over the years, this action of Jesus has caused a stir among the people of the faith community. They say, if Jesus is truly sinless Son of God, then how come he submitted himself to a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins by John?

Even John the Baptist thinks it is not “appropriate” to “baptize” Jesus as he “resisted” the whole notion when Jesus came to him to be baptized.

However, Jesus said, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness” (vs.15).

Over the years people have speculated as to why Jesus subjected himself to this baptism by John? He could have easily said “no” to this whole ordeal of waking up early that morning and lining up to see John the Baptist.

After all, he is Jesus; he is the Son of God, right? He could have gotten free pass, and a few more hours of sleep.

The Bible says his actions were made to fulfill all righteousness. It is a way to become close to God. There is something life giving at the end of the line. That is why the people came. That is why Jesus himself came. There is something of great value and life giving at the end of the line.

If there is anyone who could easily be excused from this meeting it was Jesus. He could have easily done that since he is God’s Son. Why does he need to wake up early and line up and be baptized by John. He is without sin!

The problem with us is that we don’t see that there is something of great value at the end of the line. We find ourselves no longer interested with such things. We tend to excuse ourselves and say we don’t need that anymore.

I remember several years ago in Iowa several churches in our county had a revival event. People from the different churches came. We had a number of staff people to cover the event. I remember one of the staff persons came to me. The boy didn’t recognize who I was as he asked me if I needed to ask Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and have a personal relationship with him.

At first I was kind of outraged (and felt insulted) at the notion of that young man. I kind of said to the boy, “Excuse me…do you know who I am? I am Pastor Neil Platon…the pastor of Macksburg United Methodist Church one of the sponsors of this event.” How dare you ask that question.

Later on I realized how a lot of times we tend to say to God that we don’t need that, or we think that we are excused from those events, or perhaps, we don’t have a need for such things.

The thing is “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

All of us are in need of God’s grace. Even us pastors. We are all need of something life giving at the end of the line. We are all in need of God’s grace.

Sometimes I think the problem with us is that we think of ourselves as exempt from these things since we have been with the church for a long time. We think of ourselves as too cool for church events…mid-week, Bible Study, or Sunday School…or what have you. We say, “been there done that.”

It’s interesting people will wake up early in the morning, drive the distance, and fall in line for a drive to Las Vegas, a good bargain or sale at a mall or an outlet store, to play golf, go for an out of town trip or vacation, a good breakfast, a chance to meet and greet a celebrity or famous people, or to attend a sporting event, etc.

But when it comes to God, or having quality time with God through prayer time with God’s people at Church, Bible Study, or perhaps Sunday School…we have a hard time doing it. It feels like pulling teeth.

At times when I schedule extra events for the Church such as for Advent or Lent, I get responses like, I am sorry Pastor can’t do it I just came off from a hard day at work. Things came up. I don’t feel like it. I am tired.

It’s interesting when it was time for Jesus to give his life for us and our sins he didn’t say while being nailed on the cross I am sorry I can’t do this, just came off a hard day, or that things came up, or I am tired, or I don’t feel like doing it.

How many of you watch the View on channel 7. How many of you are familiar with the role of Barbara Walters on the show. Do you know that she only comes to the show whenever she feels like it? She is not there every day.

It’s a good thing Jesus is not like that: showing up only when he feels like it.

It’s a good thing Jesus is not tired of us; that he showed up on the Cross to pay for our sins; otherwise we will all be in big trouble.

Back in the late nineties there was this movement called the Million Men March. It was their premise that fathers have been absent in the American families for a long time, and that they are encouraging fathers from all over the country to show up and take responsibility.

Story (God’s Secret Service)


“What Ever Happened to that Cute Little Baby”--Matthew 2:1-2:

Some have said that Christmas is a dangerous time. This is because there is that possibility of missing the real meaning in the midst of the tinsel and presents.

Christmas proclaims God’s love, and reminds us that God was not satisfied to speak His word from a distance, but became a man and lived among us. Jesus was "God with skin on, the perfect means of revealing all we can comprehend about the mind and heart of God."

The other danger lies in rediscovering Jesus as the focus for the holiday season. Bible scholars say, "For then, life can never be the same. To celebrate the Incarnation is to say ’yes’ to God’s plan to raise us to life in Christ - it is to say ’goodbye’ to our old comfortable lives enjoyable sins, and private agendas, and lay ourselves on God’s operating table."

I. Response of Herod

v.3 -- "disturbed" or troubled

-you cannot have Jesus in your life AND remain the same.

Why troubled? He felt THREATENED -- wise men were looking for a king -- Herod: "But I’M king!"

The essence of sin: Thinking of yourself as king: autonomous, powerful, call the shots, make the rules, live to please self, others exist to serve you

However, to have a "saving faith" means to look away from self and to look to Jesus. Faith is relying on and resting in Christ to be and to do what we cannot do in our own resources. -- Tim Keller

II. Response of the religious leaders

"disturbed" rather than excited. These are men who knew their Bibles -- memorized, taught it to others ... yet missed Jesus

In December 1903, after many attempts, the Wright brothers were successful in getting their "flying machine" off the ground. Thrilled, they telegraphed this message to their sister Katherine: "We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas." Katherine hurried to the editor of the local newspaper and showed him the message. He glanced at it and said, "How nice. The boys will be home for Christmas." He totally missed the big news--man had flown!

Can it be! -- read the Bible and MISS JESUS/THE GOSPEL?!

You? -- read it but all you find are rules, laws, stories; doesn’t break you, move you, lead you to the cross?

Religious leaders knew all about the Messiah, but when he finally arrived, they didn’t feel compelled to seek him out.

Herod had a problem with Jesus being a king, the religious leaders had a problem with Jesus being a Savior.

Herod didn’t WANT Jesus, the religious didn’t NEED Him.

Religious people are so hard to convince, because they are so convinced of their own worthiness

III. Response of the Magi/Wise Men

These men saw something extraordinary in a star that millions paid no attention to. Some say "It’s just a star; "It’s just a story"

"Jesus was just a man"

v.10 - Their reaction: "overjoyed" cp. RAY BOURQUE when he finally won the Stanley Cup after 22 years.

In finding Jesus, they found everything that their hearts were longing for: peace, forgiveness, hope., purpose

-this is the "normal" Christian experience -- "good news of great joy"

v11. "they bowed down and worshipped him"

Herod’s Response:

The opposite. Herod didn’t seek Jesus. He wanted to be freed of Jesus. Herod saw in Jesus someone who would away all of the things that he held dear.

He was afraid that Jesus would take control of his work, his family, his life. And Herod wanted to be the one in control. If there was one thing about Herod, he was always in control.

If Herod were here today, he would probably be mystified that the one thing for which he is remembered is a brief conversation with the Wise Men, the Magi from the East, the astrologers from Persia.

To this day there are remains of cities he built still hugging the Mediterranean. But he is not remembered for those things.

He is remembered as one who had to stay in control. He is remembered as one who had to watch after himself. He is remembered as one who was threatened by the holy child of Jesus.

So badly did Herod want to be in control that he was determined to kill Jesus. He was not about to let Jesus have control of his life.

Herod is the one and only villain in the Christmas story. Pilate, Judas -- they all come later. But here at the birth of the holy child, it is Herod who is the one and only villain.

He was so desperate to be in control that nothing else mattered -- even the life of children.

Poor Herod. He didn’t have a clue. He heard about this little baby boy who had been born, and he didn’t know who he was. Jesus was not going to take control of Herod -- unless Herod let Jesus into his life and allowed him to do so.

And everything would have been so different in Herod’s life, if he had let this baby born on Christmas Day take control. Herod would have found the security he never had in this life. Herod would have found the love he had never known.

Herod would have been accepted by a Lord who did not care that he was half Gentile and half Jew. Herod would have served for a purpose, rather than ruled in vain.

How many of us are just like Herod? We will do anything we can to keep Christ out of our lives, because we want to stay in control.

We may not be as dramatic as Herod. We may not be killing babies, but we are still adamant that we are not going to let Jesus take control of our lives. We are not going to let Jesus get too close to us. As MC Hammer once said, “Can’t Touch This.”

This world is happy to let Jesus Christ be a baby in a manger (not threatening), but not willing to let Him be Lord and Savior.

People do not mind celebrating the birth of a baby, but they do not want to hear about the Lord of lords.

People are willing to sing about the nativity of Jesus, but they arrogantly reject His authority.

People are willing to adore Jesus as an infant, but will not pay homage to Him as God Incarnate.

They can tolerate the trappings of Christmas, a manger, shepherds, wise men, and Joseph and Mary. But they cannot bear the thought of giving their life to Christ in a commitment that involves the entire calendar year.

Herod didn’t know. He didn’t know who this child was. He was God. We can see that clearly now. The Scriptures are clear.

The only question is, will you be like Herod, and do everything you can to keep Jesus out of your life?

Will you do everything you can to keep Jesus as a baby who never grows up?

Or will you be like the Wise Men, and seek Him, worship Him, and serve Him?

Lesson: There is no joy in God without worship of God. -- worship is the way in which joy expresses itself.

What is worship? Worship is to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring awe and astonished wonder and overpowering love in

the presence of that most ancient Mystery, that Majesty which philosophers call the First Cause, but which we call Our Father Which Are in Heaven. A.W. Tozer

-it’s not simply to know about God but to be drawn; feel him; experience him; thoughts up him lift you up and carry you away

Have you found Jesus?

The fear is that some of us may have only come as far as Jerusalem, but have never followed the star to Bethlehem; have read our Bible but don’t find Jesus; gone to church but don’t worship. NICE PALACE BUT NO KING!

Does the news of Christmas threaten or thrill you? Leave you the same or effect you to the very core of your being? Amen

New Year's Eve Meditation--Isaiah 43:18-21

Several of you must have heard of this passage that “God says He will do a new thing. But what exactly is it that Isaiah is talking about? Remember that Isaiah very accurately prophesied of the Babylonian captivity to come. He gives the reasons, the indictments for which God is bringing the captivity as judgment.

What is the new thing that God will do? It’s a prophetic statement about the re-gathering together of Israel. Please don’t misunderstand the text, which was written with a direct application to the Jewish people. What is the principle we learn from it today? It gives us great insight into the character and heart of God. I believe we can learn some great lessons from God’s Word to Israel as we approach a new year…

I. We must forget that which is behind us. (v. 18)

God says that if we’re to move forward with the confidence of God, there are some things we need to completely forget but there are always things we must remember as well. Let’s sort it out.

A. What to carry.

1. The Word of God.
2. The work of God among His people.
3. The positive responses of God’s people.

2 Thess. 2:15 – “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.”

B. What to bury.

1. The sins of our past.

Ps. 103:12 – “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.”

2. The suffering of our past.

Here are two important questions for some self-evaluation as you start your new year:
1.) What do I need to bury from my past? What will hinder me from living for Jesus in ’10?
2.) What is something God has given me in 2009 that I need to carry with me?

II. We must face that which is before us. (vs. 19-20)

One of the most prominent ways we often face the new year is with fear and intimidation. We’re afraid of change, of the unknown, of the uncertainties of life. But God always gives us reason to “fear not.”

A. When we are lost, He has a map for us.

B. When we are thirsty, He has a river for us.

C. When we are afraid, He has a Word for us.

What are you facing in 2009 that you need to pray about today? What do you believe God is going to lead you to do this year that you need to be ready for?

III. We must foresee that which is beyond us. (v. 21)

Notice something about this statement. God makes it through a prophet to a people who are being very rebellious. Isaiah’s message has been one of judgment because the people are backslidden. But here God looks at His people and says, “They will show forth my praises.” God looks at Israel and He sees what they can become.

We can look forward to the ways in which God might use us this year if we are fully surrendered to His will. We can also look forward to the great worship service in the sky when all of God’s people will be gathered together.

Philip. 2:10-11 – “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Are you looking forward to 2010? If Jesus is in charge, then you can anticipate God being active in your life this year. What are you praying for God to do in your life this year? What kind of growth do you want to see?

Resolutions are faulty only because they are uttered by such weak lips. In reality, it’s good to make commitments to God periodically. Jonathan Edwards made some great resolutions at a very early age and one was to meditate more upon his own impending death. Another was to always be doing what he would want to be doing if he knew Jesus was going to come in the next hour.

What if Jesus came today? Are you prepared for His coming?

Christmas Eve Meditation

Christmas Eve at last, a night on which memories are made. A night so full of memories that it's hard to keep your head clear, so full are they of nostalgia and expectation. There is magic and wonder in the air, even for us who are well past magic and wonder.

What is it about Christmas that can fill our hearts again with wonder and childlike expectation, we who are old for such things, and yet feel it nonetheless? It's not the buildup, really. It's not the special offers or deep discounts in the stores.

It's not all the folks crowded into the malls so dense you can hardly walk down the wide aisles without bumping into someone. And it's definitely not the mad rush for parking places, the circling, circling, circling of the lot only to get outdone by the one car that pulls in ahead of you when the guy backing out blocks your way in.

None of those things evokes Christmas for us. It's more the traditional things that do it. The houses dressed with lights. Santa's helpers on the corner ringing their bells for the Salvation Army. Carols sung in church. Putting up the tree and hanging the ornaments, each one a memory in itself.

I suppose what evokes Christmas most in our memories is the idea of going home, going back to some special place in our minds and hearts where Christmas is centered.

A place in our lives with dimensions and walls furnished in a specific way and inhabited with specific people. It's a place where we belong, which is to say that it belongs to us, where we feel safe and good even though things at any given time there may not really have been all that good, and yet they were.

Wherever home is on Christmas Eve, that place where we go in our heart, it is no doubt a composite, a place of reunion and peace and joy that is the fulfillment of a hope and expectation of a lifetime to find the home again that lives inside of each of us in spite of the disappointments and heartbreaks we have known.

Tonight we know precisely where that home is, don't we? Our home is in a manger far away from here, where a long time ago a worried father, a just and righteous man who wished to do the right thing by his engaged, made his way along with his expectant wife, into the city of David which is called Bethlehem.

There in the lowliness of a stable amid the wondering eyes of some sheep and perhaps a donkey, a child was born. The mother, barely more than a child herself, wrapped him in swaddling clothes, this boy, her firstborn, and laid him in a feeding trough, nestling him in the hay.

And as she lays him down for the rest he will need to grow strong and brave, this Christ child, we rest as well. For there in that place which is our spiritual home all the hopes and fears of all the years are met in him tonight.

That is the place where we long to go, to the heart of all our homes and the center of all our hearts. That place where we may run with shepherds and kneel with kings and lay down the burdens of our lives with all the treasures we have brought him, with no treasure being more valuable to him than simply the treasure that we are, just the way we are; don't change a thing. For he welcomes us "as we are", and all the rest he makes right - he makes whole - simply by our being there, by worshiping him, by being so close to someone so good.

At last we know why we have come tonight, because it wouldn't be Christmas without being here. We needed to come home, to be with our family, the people of God, poor broken lot that we are, to be with Mom and Dad, with our children and grandchildren, with our brothers and sisters and our goofy uncles and corny cousins, with the tax collectors and prostitutes, the Pharisees and hypocrites, the skeptical, the bored, and the baptized. God's own.

This is that place where we have longed to be. That place of reunion and peace and joy, where the glow of human love meets the warmth of heavenly compassion. Amen

Come sit by the fire and warm your hands. Have something to eat and take a cup of cheer. What a sight for sore eyes you are. You've been expected! Welcome home. And Merry Christmas to all. Amen

“What Then Should We Do?”—Luke 3:7-18

Opportunity comes with so many different faces that we often don't recognize it. That's probably why we sometimes miss its call. A previous generation said that opportunity comes dressed in overalls. And they were largely right, for nothing succeeds like hard work. Our generation thinks that opportunity comes with a college diploma. It may, but there's no guarantee.

The divine opportunity comes in what is, to our human eyes, the most unlikely garb of all. It's no wonder we don't recognize it; or that, recognizing it, we resist it. This Advent season is an especially good time to experience the divine opportunity. Any time is God's season; but because you and I find certain settings and circumstances especially hospitable to religious experience, Advent and Lent are particularly attractive.

The first Advent preacher, John the Baptizer, offered opportunity in a compelling, almost ferocious way. When you read his words, you don't think he's offering opportunity; I expect that if we had heard him in person, we would have been even more doubtful. William Barclay said that John's message "was not good news; it was news of terror" (The Gospel of Luke, Westminster John Knox Press, p. 28). I understand what Professor Barclay was saying, but I see it differently. It seems to me that good news must sometimes come dressed in rough clothing.

That was surely the nature of John's approach. When we read the brief gospel summaries of his messages, we wonder why people went to so much trouble to hear him. Were they masochists courting abuse, or did they perhaps hope to hear him thunder against the sins of their neighbors?

One way or another, the crowds flocked to him. And largely, I think, because they felt, in the integrity of his message, an opportunity which they had sought for a long time. His was a message of judgment; but in the judgment was opportunity. And opportunity was wrapped up in the word repent.

People say John the Baptist may have had an effect on people not unlike that of the famous Green Bay Football Coach.

Vince Lombardi. One of his former players said that when you were summoned to Coach Lombardi’s office and he told you to sit down, you didn’t even bother to look for a chair. You just sat right where you were. His players were absolutely intimidated in his presence. And these were fully grown, huge, muscular, adult men!” End quote.

To be sure, John the Baptist is pictured by the Gospels as an intimidating figure. Aside from his rugged appearance and even more rugged diet, his preaching style was anything but gentle. Could you imagine me, stepping into this pulpit, week after week, and screaming out insults at you. “You brood of vipers…you poisonous snakes. Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Listen to me. The ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Somehow, I can’t imagine myself doing that. And if I did, I can’t imagine that our worship attendance would improve significantly. We United Methodists are a little too refined to appreciate such rugged, blatant talk, especially when it is aimed at us. And yet, the Gospels tell us that crowds came out to hear John preach, and to be baptized by him. And they weren’t only the people of Israel who flocked to hear John. As our lesson indicates, there were even some Roman soldiers among the crowd.

So why is it that the people traveled out of the cities and towns to hear John preach and to be baptized in the muddy Jordan? One of the reasons that Dr. Campbell suggests, [Ibid.] “is that John was no respecter of persons. He treated everyone alike – rich or poor, young or old, titled or untitled. The Baptist apparently paid no special deference to privilege or influence. We all like to see that in leaders…” End quote.

Well, that is certainly true. John showed no partiality to anyone in his call to repentance, including Herod, whom John had rebuked because of his relationship with Herodias, his brother’s wife. Of course, that was one time that John should have kept his mouth zipped, because Herod had John imprisoned, and Herodias later had him killed. But John spoke the truth, even when it was not politically correct – even when the truth cost him his life. And that is an admirable trait.

But I doubt that John’s integrity was the sole reason that the people came out by the thousands to hear him preach. John not only spoke the truth without partiality, his message, as rough and direct as it was, proclaimed the Gospel. John was calling people to prepare themselves, to repent of their sins, to open their hearts to the will of God, because God’s Messiah, who would usher in God’s kingdom, would soon be revealed.

That is the significance of the last verse of our text for this morning, which reads, “So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.” Yes, John spoke with harsh words, calling a spade a spade, in order that he might motivate the people to prepare for what God was about to accomplish through Jesus the Christ.

John’s message had a tone of urgency about it, to be sure. He wanted those who heard him to not delay, to turn away from those things that they knew hindered their relationship with God – because God was about to accomplish their salvation. John calls us to repent because we are about to behold the grace of God in Jesus the Christ.

And unlike Vince Lombardi, whose players were so intimidated, simply by being in his presence that they would sit on the floor at his command John humbles himself before the people. As they were questioning about whether John might be the Messiah, he stated, “I am not even worthy to untie the thong of his sandals.

I am certainly not one who preaches in the style of John the Baptist, but I do believe that if we want to take this text seriously during this Advent season, we need to realize that we are not just preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ. As important as God’s incarnation is to the faith of the Christian church, John’s message is not about a baby born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger.

His message is about opening our hearts and minds to the fact that in the person of Jesus the Christ, God has come among us, and invites us to become members of his kingdom. It is an awesome message that John proclaims – a message that states that God is acting to redeem us from sin and to restore us to a new life in relationship with God.

This is the Good News that the people came out to hear John proclaim. This is the Good News that we proclaim today, centuries later. And yes, it is a message that calls upon us to be honest with ourselves, to take a good look at how we live our lives, in the hope that we might repent of our sins, in order to embrace God’s kingdom with integrity.

For although we are in the midst of preparing to celebrate Christmas, and the amazement of the incarnation, John reminds us that the true glory of God is not just revealed in our Lord’s birth, but in Christ’s faithfulness to his Father’s will. John call us, as he did the people of his day, to open our hearts and prepare to receive God’s presence among us, in the person of his Son.

For it is through Christ’s faithfulness to God’s will, that he endured the pain of the cross, and died, that the forgiveness for our repentant sins, which John preached at the muddy Jordan, might be accomplished. So let us not take this call of the Baptist lightly. For it is as timely a message that any of us might hear. And don’t be offended by the fact that we are all called a brood of vipers, for that is what we are. We are all in need of God’s grace, in order to redeem us from our sins.

Thanks be to God, for the truth of John the Baptist, who calls us to prepare for God’s kingdom. Amen.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Promises, Promises--Jeremiah 33:14-16

I am really looking forward to Christmas. I saw the Christmas items in the store during the latter part of Black Friday so I am really looking forward to it. This kind of anticipation and excitement has been instilled in me every year. But this year, with a nine year old and a five year old really coming to look forward to it themselves, it is more exciting than ever, and I can’t wait.

Advent is our time in the church year when we look forward. Advent is a season of the year when we focus on the future nature of the Promised Land, of life in the full presence of God. This is the time of year when we look at the Promises of God that are not yet fulfilled. We focus on them, and we get excited about them.

What I would like to do this morning is to take a quick look at the promises we live our lives by. Just, very quickly have us examine our own lives, see what promises that we hold onto, for better or for worse.

“Dr. Jerome Frank at Johns Hopkins talks about our "assumptive world." What he means is that all of us make assumptions about life about God, about ourselves, about others, about the way things are. [I would say that these are the promises we hold onto in our lives.] He argues that when our assumptions are true to reality, we live relatively happy, well-adjusted lives. But when our assumptions are distant from reality, we become confused and angry and disillusioned” (Haddon Robinson, "How Does God Keep His Promises?," Preaching Today, Tape No. 130). Nothing is more destructive than hoping in failed promises. Everybody knows what that is like, and how much it hurts. But we have to believe something.

I remember a few years ago. I was coming home from Bible study when I accidentally dented Joy's car. Feeling guilty about the whole thing I tried to find a way to fix it myself (like a real man). As I was watching my late night program I came across a Ding King commercial by Billy Mays on television. So the next day, full of hope, I went to a local Target store and purchased a Ding King kit. When I got home i took the kit out and followed the instructions. It didn't take long for me to realize the product is not going deliver what it promised. Words can't describe how disappointed I was. Another broken promise!

So our world is full of promises, promises of things that will give meaning and purpose and value to your life. Promises that you don’t have to feel what you’re feeling. Promises that everything is going to be all right. Promises that tomorrow is going to be a better day. Promises that you’re better than that, that you’re pretty and strong and smart and loved and liked. And we live our lives by these promises. And how well we pick these promises is how good our lives are.

I have to tell you, there are a lot of people having a very hard time. I struggle with so many people day to day who are putting their hopes in promises that are deceiving, self-serving, and simply false. When I was in Iowa, I have met people struggling to get by. I got to know them fairly well. Three or four times while I was there, they put their financial hopes in pyramid schemes. A lot of promises were made to them about how they could make a lot of money. All of it was false, and they got in deeper and deeper. It was hard to watch. They learned the hard way what promises to hold onto. Many lives are deeply scared or destroyed before that.

Church, Advent, our relationship with God, is all about promises. Our faith is about the promise of the salvation of our souls from sin and death, and our deliverance to a new promised land – the Kingdom of God! That is an incredible, huge, glorious promise for each one of us. And as we begin advent, it is right that we remember again just how huge and glorious that promise is. That is what we will be celebrating this Christmas, is the fulfillment of the promises of God.

It has become a Christian cliché, and therefore in danger of losing its meaning, to say that “Jesus is the reason of the season,” and that we must remember the “real meaning of Christmas” amidst all the hoopla. The extent to which we are relying on the real promises of God that we have great cause to celebrate, it is to that extent that we truly celebrate the meaning of Christmas.

The great D.L. Moody said, “God never made a promise that was too good to be true” (Christian History, no. 25 cited on Do you know those promises, and do you trust them?

The passage in Jeremiah is written by the prophet when things looked real bad for his people. About 600 years before Jesus, they are about to be taken away from their Promised Land because for generations they have been not relying on the promise-giver, but on any other sort of promise. Everything that has given them meaning and identity, it all looks like it will be destroyed. And right then, Jeremiah, says that one will rise up – a Messiah – another David, who will restore Jerusalem to justice and righteousness. It is said that He, himself, will be our righteousness.

The situation in our lives is more confusing. Each of us is in a different place, and it is hard to lump us all together in regards to how well or how poorly we have done in choosing the promises we follow. But all of us, in the deepest needs in our lives, and, finally, in everything, have only one final source of promises that will be wholly, completely, true, reliable, forgiving, freeing, meaningful, real, and everything that we need.

A man is coming at Christmas, at the end of the world, that is going to make everything in the world right, and going to make you right as well. That is the big promise, and the one worth holding onto and celebrating above all others.

“Professional golfer Paul Azinger was diagnosed with cancer at age 33. He won a PGA championship and had ten tournament victories to his credit. He was doing well.

He wrote, "A genuine feeling of fear came over me. I could die from cancer. Then another reality hit me even harder. I’m going to die eventually anyway, whether from cancer or something else. It’s just a question of when. Everything I had accomplished in golf became meaningless to me. All I wanted to do was live."

Then he remembered something that Larry Moody, who teaches a Bible study on the tour, had said to him. "Zinger, we’re not in the land of the living going to the land of the dying. We’re in the land of the dying trying to get to the land of the living."

“Zinger” recovered from chemotherapy and returned to the PGA tour. He’s done pretty well. But that bout with cancer changed him. He wrote, "I’ve made a lot of money since I’ve been on the tour, and I’ve won a lot of tournaments, but that happiness is always temporary. The only way you will ever have true contentment is in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I’m not saying that nothing ever bothers me and I don’t have problems, but I feel like I’ve found the answer to the six-foot hole" (Robert Russell, "Resurrection Promises," Preaching Today, Tape No. 151 cited on

I believe there are two of us that this message is addressed to. The first are those are devastated because you have been putting your hope in all the wrong places. If you have never known Jesus, the real promise for your life, before, I invite you now to trust him, the one real promise.

But I also think this is for those of us who have known the promise of God and get sidetracked by smaller, busy, promises of the season, of the world, even of the peripheral things of our church and our religion. This season, remember how amazing, how glorious, how deep, how much there is to celebrate from the depths of our heart in the promise of God, this little child who saved our lives forever. Don’t let anything distract your trust in that promise. Amen