Archive for December, 2008

Christmas, The Season of Miracles

December 31, 2008

Title: Christmas, The Season of Miracles

Text: Matthew 1:18-25

Time: December 6th, 2006

This is the third week in the Christmas season sermon series of 2006, and so I’d like to talk about Christmas: the season of miracles. It’s impossible to celebrate the real Christmas season with out celebrating the miracles of Christmas. It is impossible to understand the Christmas story without also understanding the miracles of the Christmas story. But today, we live in a day and age that largely doesn’t accept miracles. We live in what they call a secular age, an age of science, an age of rationality and reason, an age of material and energy. While many people believe in the miracle stories of the Bible they are less and less believing in those miracles other than just stories. Over the last 200 years, scholars have tried to explain the miracles of the Bible and all miracles as unexplained natural events; we just don’t know how to explain some things but they assure us there are good, natural explanations. And more and more people have begun to accept that explanation of miracles. But that is a false understanding of miracles. A miracle, a full-blown miracle, is the direct intervention of God into our natural world for the purpose of interrupting the natural order to bring about something supernatural. The biggest miracle of all was the direct intervention of God into our world through the birth of Jesus Christ. Jesus was the Immanuel or God with us. Christmas can’t be explained or properly celebrated until that is understood. So when we come into the Christmas season this year, let’s take a look at the miracles that came about with the hope that by better understanding God’s miracles in the past we might put ourselves in a better position to experience them in our lives in the present. Wouldn’t you like to experience miracles in your life? Don’t we all need miracles sometimes to help us through this life? I don’t know about you but there is no question that I need God’s miracles in my life. I need to know that I can pray to God for anything, even if it’s something that calls for a miracle. For people without faith, or for people who have listened to the skeptics who have convinced them there are always natural explanations for everything, when they are faced with a seemingly impossible situation they lose all hope. But for Christians who fully believe in miracles and the God of miracles, there is no hopeless situation. So today I’d like to talk about the miracles of Christmas, because without miracles there can be no Christmas. I hope that it inspires you to believe or believe more strongly in God’s ability and willingness to intervene into our world and our lives to bring about his will. First, there is Mary’s miracle; an angel visits and makes an announcement. Second, there is Joseph’s miracle; an angel visits and gives instructions. Finally, third, there is a miracle for everyone; the birth of the Savior of the world. All these miracles make up the miracle of Christmas. (more…)

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Christmas Continues: Focus on the Holy Family #2

December 31, 2008

Title: Christmas Continues: Focus on the Holy Family #2

Text: Matthew 2:19-23

Time: January 9th, 2005

Is there a God to guide us through life? Is there power to rescue us from danger? Is there Anyone out there we can turn to when we are in trouble? We are looking at the Christmas story and we are coming nearly to the end of it, the part where after Jesus, Mary and Joseph escape into Egypt to avoid Herod’s soldiers. Later, they then return to Israel where Jesus then spends the rest of his life. But what we see is a model not only for our individual lives but also for family life. We see Joseph and Mary working together, in harmony with God and each other in preserving the baby Jesus the Messiah, the Savior of the World. This month I’ve been focusing on the family, that is, I’m talking about topics related to the family, what the Bible has to say about family. Why the family? Because we just happen to live in a day and age when the family, that is, a man, a woman and children, the family unit, is breaking up and breaking apart more than any time in human history. Let me repeat: marriages and families today are breaking up, falling apart, today more than at any time in the history of the world. But these are just statistics. Many of you are statistics. You know first hand what its like to go through a marriage and family break-up. So you know it first hand. Others of us have witnessed it in the marriages and families of friends, relatives, and even close family members. Does God have anything to say to help this situation? Or is there nothing that can be done to hold marriages together and keep families from splitting apart? The Bible and the Christian faith teach that only through the power of God can there be healthy marriages and families. What that means is we have to look to God, not the therapists, not the modern family experts, not the psychologists and psychiatrists you see so often on talk shows or hear on radio – that has gotten us nowhere. We must go to God and hear from Him. Only God can get us out of the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. Now according to the Bible and Christianity for nearly 2000 years, divorce should be a very rare thing. In other words, God gives a provision for divorce, but in the overall community, it should be a very rare thing. And for nearly 2000 years of Christian history, it was a rare thing. Yes, people got divorce but not very many people did. When it happened it was a tragic and terrible thing. But today it is common, happens every day. In fact, 1 out of every 2 marriages, they say, will end in divorce, and the breaking up of a family. The goal of this series is to give us clear thinking and strong convictions about marriage and family. If you are divorced, this is not a criticism of you. It’s an opportunity for you to learn from God’s word. One of the greatest teaching aids the Bible gives us is in the way of example. And Mary and Joseph give us a great example of how a marriage should work, it serves as the ideal we should all shoot for. Read Matthew 2:19-25. Let’s look at some important points we see here and in the related passages. (more…)

Christmas Continues: Focus on the Holy Family #1

December 31, 2008

Title: Christmas Continues: Focus on the Holy Family #1

Text: Matthew 2:13-23

Time: January 2nd, 2005

Christmas day has come and gone, but the Christmas season continues, and so does the Christmas adventure of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. As we watch the news reports of the Tsunami tragedy in Asia, we are reminded again that the world we live in is dangerous. We are reminded of that fact by the passing away of Randy Dunn who attended here. We live in a dangerous world. Death can come quickly as it did to the thousands in Asia, or as it came to Randy in the hospital. What can we turn to? Who can we trust to bring us through the dangers of life. It is only the Lord who can protect us and keep us alive until our appointed time. We’ll see that in the Gospel story I’ll read today. If you have a Bible please turn to Matthew 2:13-23: “When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’ When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.’ After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: ‘He will be called a Nazarene.’” Jesus has already been born. The shepherds, angels, and wise men have already appeared and left. We pick up the story there. I see a number of important points in this account of the first Christmas that I’d like to call to your attention. If we learn these lessons, it will help us make it through this world on our way to the next life. (more…)

The Enemy Never Sleeps

December 31, 2008

Title: The Enemy Never Sleeps

Text: Matthew 2:1-23

Time: December 30th, 2006

The words of the famous church hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” reminds us of the fact that wherever God is active in our lives, the Devil becomes active in opposition too. “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; our helper He a mid the flood of mortal ills prevailing. For still our ancient foe, doeth seek to work us woe; his craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate. On earth is not his equal. Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing. Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing. Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus it is he, Lord Sabaoth his name, from age to age the same. And He must win the battle. And though this world with devils filled, should threaten to undo us. We will not fear, for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us. The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not at him; His rage we can endure, for lo his doom is sure. One little word shall fell him.” Those lines capture the reality that as God works in our lives, so too the enemy the Devil tries to work against us in our lives. It has been that way since the beginning, in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. We see it happening in the story of the first Christmas with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. God was doing a great and wonderful thing in the world, bringing about its salvation. But Satan was right there trying to work sin, evil, and destruction. It’s a reminder to all of us that our Christian lives will be a battle between the good and evil, between the power of God and the forces of darkness, the Devil. We are caught in the middle of this great battle; everyone is, but especially God’s people. In the first Christmas story we see Mary, Joseph, and Jesus caught up between the good of God and the bad of Satan. Right in the midst of the greatest blessing bestowed upon the earth: the birth of the Savior of all mankind, the enemy, Satan, was trying to destroy this great blessing before it could bring about salvation. And that’s the way Satan operates in our own lives today. Right when God is bringing about progress in our lives, Satan will come against us. Right as we are maturing in our spiritual existence, Satan will come against us with temptations to return to sin and selfishness. Just about the time when things are starting to go right, the Devil will try to direct things to go wrong. Just when we are being encouraged, Satan will try to deliver discouragement into our lives. The Devil trails and tracks God’s activity, counters God’s work, and sets up an opposition to every good thing from God. So we should expect that we will encounter this kind of opposition and not be surprised when it happens. It’s happened to Christians before us and will happen to Christians after us. But we aren’t alone in our battle against the enemy. Today, on the last day of the Christmas season 2006, let’s look at what Mary, Joseph, and Jesus encountered with the enemy and see what we can learn from it. Matthew 2:1-23 brings out three truths on this topic: first, when God is active, the Devil gets active; two, God protects his people from the enemy; three, the battle never ends in this life. (more…)

Divine Intervention

December 31, 2008

Title: Divine Intervention

Text: Matthew 1:18-25

Time: November 25th, 2006

It’s officially the Christmas season this year, being two days after Thanksgiving, so we start a five-week series on Christmas themes. Christmas is a great time of the year because for at least a few weeks out of the year people seem to be more open to God than at other times of the year. The Christmas season opens people’s hearts and minds to the Bible stories about the first Christmas and the birth of Jesus Christ. We begin to hear Christmas music in the stores during December proclaiming the birth of the baby Jesus. We begin to see television specials dealing with the birth of Jesus during this time of the year. Manger scenes are seen in front of public buildings and homes. The radio plays Christmas music even if some of it is secular Christmas music; still some of it is spiritual and Christian Christmas music. And it seems that everyone is a bit more open minded and open hearted about faith and belief in God. More people attend churches around the holiday season than do during the rest of the year. There are special Christmas pageants and performances at churches which many people attend. There are special concerts and performances even in secular settings that cover biblical Christmas themes. So Christmas is a most unusual time of the year and a good time of the year to open our hearts and minds to all the things of God. Today I ‘d like to talk about how God totally interrupted the lives of two people, Mary and Joseph, how they reacted to God’s interruption of their lives, and how we can learn from the whole story about being open to God moving in our own lives. We are all familiar with the beginning of the Christmas story, but let’s read it again and then learn what God is trying to teach us today from it. Matthew 1:18-25 (read). Three things that we notice from this account of the beginnings of the Christmas story. First, Mary and Joseph have made plans to marry. They did what millions of couples do every year, here and around the world: they made their plans to marry one another; nothing unusual about that. Second, God intervened supernaturally and changed their plans, not totally but powerfully with the news from the angel that Mary was with child by the Holy Spirit; that is very unusual. Finally, third, both Mary and Joseph learned to be open-minded and open hearted toward God’s plans for their lives, even if it wasn’t what they originally had in mind. We can all learn a lot by looking at their example. We are used to making our own plans in life, especially as Americans in this land of opportunity, but we can easily forget that it isn’t what we want but what God wants that’s important in life. We need to learn how to submit to the plan and purposes of God rather than insist on our own way in life. We can learn a lot about that from Mary and Joseph, about submission to the will of God in life. Let’s see what we can learn from them. (more…)

The Birth of Jesus Foretold to Mary and Joseph

December 30, 2008

Title: The Birth of Jesus Foretold to Mary and Joseph

Text: Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 1:26-38

Time: December 12th, 2004

Some pretty incredible things happened around the birth of Jesus, and we just saw the angel’s announcement to Mary, which was pretty incredible if you think about it. Mary, and Joseph, both, were believing Jews. They had faith, but what God did was above and beyond anything they had experienced before or were prepared for. How many believers ever see and hear an angel? Not many. Some, but not many. How many believers see the kind of miracles that Jesus brought with him to the world? Not many. So what happened with Mary and Joseph was that they were challenged by God to believe greater than they had ever believed before. They were called by God to step out of the realm of ordinary faith and enter into supernatural faith. We are going to look at what a challenge that was for them, but also we are challenged by God today to leave behind the ordinary faith, the kind that most people have, the kind that prompts people to pray a little, to go to church a little, to read the Bible a little, to believe a little, but nothing more. God is challenging us today to leave ordinary faith and step into supernatural faith like Mary and Joseph. Why? Because ordinary faith isn’t much faith at all if you think about it. If you ask most people they would tell you they believe in God or a God. That’s nothing special. It’s better than atheism, but it’s not all that unusual. And if you ask most people if they pray or ever have prayed, they’ll say “Sure.” So that’s not so unusual either. Same with the Bible. If you ask most people if they’ve ever read from the Bible they’ll tell you they have. Nothing special there. And if you ask most people if they’ve ever gone to church, same thing, they’ll say yea, but that’s not so different. But what God is trying to do is challenge us to go deeper in faith than typical, ordinary faith. He challenged Mary and Joseph to something more and He’s challenging us today to something more. Let’s find out what that means. (more…)

Just Who Were The Magi?

December 30, 2008

Title: Just Who Were The Magi?

Text: Matthew 2:1-12

Time: November 29th, 2006

This is the second week in the Christmas season sermon series of 2006. Last week I talked about Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. This week I’d like to talk about the Magi and Jesus. Who were the Magi? Why did God use them in that first Christmas? Recently in the local paper the Jamestown Post-Journal there was an editorial article which criticized me for advocating Christianity as the one, true religion. The writer claimed that I had no right to judge as wrong any other religion such as Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. But he misunderstood me; I never said that all other religions were all wrong in everything they teach. I don’t know why it would upset him to hear a Christian minister claiming that Christianity is the true faith and inviting people to accept it over all others. Isn’t that what Christian evangelists are supposed to do – think, believe, and teach that Christianity is the truth? And try to recruit others to believe the same? So I don’t know why this editorial writer was so upset. But he raises an important topic: what about all the other religions of the world? What should be the Christian response to them all? Obviously we believe that Christianity is true or we wouldn’t be Christians. Obviously we believe that Christianity is the truest faith and if there is a conflict between it and another religion or philosophy, Christianity is to be believed and the other religion or philosophy rejected. But what about the people in these other religions? At Christmas time we celebrate the birth of Christ, the Savior of the world. It is the biggest Christian holiday celebration of the year, but what about all the other people of the world who don’t follow the Christ of Christmas, is there anything God wishes to say to them at this holiday season? We find the answer in Matthew 2:1-23 (read) with the story of the Magi. For some strange reason, God included foreigners in the story of the first Christmas, and not only foreigners but people of another religion, and not only included them in the Christmas story but brought them before the Savior Jesus to bring gifts and worship. Here is what God is wanting to say to all the members of all the other religions and philosophies of the world at Christmas time: let the truest parts of your own faiths and philosophies lead you to the Lord Jesus just as the Magi did on that first Christmas. God can use any means to bring a person to the truth, even confusion, ignorance, superstition, ancient tradition — anything and everything found in the various religions and philosophies of the world. He proves this in how He led the pagan Magi to the feet of Jesus using their own practice of astrology. Does that mean astrology is true? No. But it just shows that God can use certain parts of false religions and philosophies to lead people to the truth if they are open enough to follow. Let’s see how God does this. (more…)

An Inconvenient Baby

December 29, 2008

Title: An Inconvenient Baby

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Text: Luke 2:1-7, Matthew 2:16-18

Date: December 28th, 2008

Today is the first Sunday after Christmas 2008 and I hope you’ve all had a very merry Christmas this year. Before we leave the Christmas season, I’d like to give one more message on Christmas, one more message about the birth of the baby Jesus. The passage is Luke 2:1-7 (read). The key verse being Luke 2:6-7, “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she (Mary) gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the Inn.” I was reading along in one of the many commentaries I have on the Bible in my collection of Christian books. I was reading to see what the different authors and commentators say about the Christmas accounts found in Matthew and Luke, and I ran across one writer whose point was that not only was the problem in Bethlehem that there was no room for the baby Jesus, but the same problem exists today – there is still no room in most people’s heart for Jesus. I love it when I find a little piece of wisdom in some book or resource because I know I’ll be able to use it sometime in the future in a sermon or teaching. That’s why I try to go to a used book sale and browse used bookstores for Christian books because I just might find something that I can use in preparing a message some time in the future. This particular truth I found in a commentary I bought here at the Jamestown Public Library used book sale a couple of years ago. I think I was able to buy the big hardback volume for one dollar or so. But anyway, as I was saying, I was reading along in this particular Bible commentary and ran across this observation – just like the Inn Keeper, most people today still have no room for Jesus in their lives because they are already full of other things in their lives. Most people don’t out rightly reject Jesus, but mostly they reject Jesus indirectly by simply making little or no room in their lives for him. That’s easy to do because life today in the twenty-first century is certainly busy and full of things to do. In the old days, life was simpler and easier to manage because there weren’t as many distractions as there are today. Today with television, computers, video games, radio and the Internet, it’s easy to spend hours and hours on these things instead of other things. Today, many people work long distances from where they live, so there’s commute time, travel time, hours and hours in the car, train or bus going from here to there, and back again. Then there is everything to do in the home. Even with modern convenience appliances, the more time saving devices we have, the more time it frees us to do – more time consuming things. It just seems that the pace of life is speeding up faster and faster, so that it isn’t necessary to out rightly reject Jesus, he can easily be neglected in sea of other things in our lives. So with that as the basic point, let me unpack this theme and see if I can’t remind us all to be careful to leave room for Jesus in our lives this coming New Year. (more…)

The Birth of Jesus Foretold in the Old Testament — Hope

December 19, 2008

Message: The Birth of Jesus Foretold in the Old Testament — Hope

Text: Matthew 1:18-2:6

Time: November 28th, 2004

We are now officially in the Christmas season (applaud!). Thanksgiving is over, all the turkey has been cooked and eaten, and now we await Christmas day which comes in about one month. We await the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ December 25th. But let’s think about what it was like to await the very birth of Jesus 2000 years ago. Did you know that the Jewish people, the nation of Israel was waiting, and waiting, and waiting for the coming of the Messiah, the Savior of Israel for many, many years? And they had real, concrete hope because their prophets had spoken about the Messiah many times, and these promises gave the people hope that no matter how hard things got — and things at times got real hard for the Jews — there was hope of the coming Messiah to save them. How bad did it get for the Jews? Imagine living in Jerusalem or in the nation of Israel and having your whole city and nation conquered and everyone shipped off to a foreign land to live in captivity there. That’s what happened to the Jewish people in exile. But even as they lost their land and lost their famous city of Jerusalem and their nation, they never lost hope in the coming of the Messiah, the Rescuer, the Savior. It was the hope of the Messiah that helped the Jews survive exile and eventually helped them stay unified as a people. Everyone needs hope; we need hope today. If you don’t have hope you really have nothing to live for, you have no reason for getting up in the morning. What is the hope? That tomorrow will be better than today, that things will work out, that dreams — at least some of them — will come true. We all hope for things. And one of the great things about the Christmas season is that it reminds us of the hope we have in Jesus for our lives and the lives of our loved ones. With Jesus, with the coming of Jesus born in Bethlehem, we are reminded again of the hope we share, hope for a better tomorrow in this life, and a hope for a better next life also. What the Christmas season brings is hope, every year, renews our hope for the coming New Year. It’s amazing what the birth of a little baby can do, the power of that special child. What I’d like to do today is look at the hope these ancient people had of the coming of the Savior, and how we can learn from them about believing and having faith. (more…)

He is Our Peace

December 18, 2008

Title: He is Our Peace

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Text: Micah 5:2-5, Matthew 2:1-12

Date: December 21st, 2008

Recently I was reading along in the Old Testament, in the prophet Micah, from the famous verse that is mentioned also in the New Testament Christmas account of the baby Jesus found in Matthew, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times,” Micah 5:2. It’s a prophecy concerning the birth of the Messiah Jesus in Bethlehem. It’s embedded in the Christmas Nativity account we read in Matthew 2:1-12 (read). Now usually when I read this prophecy I stop at the end of Micah 5:2, but for some reason I kept reading on in the passage and found that the prophecy doesn’t stop at verse 2 but rather keeps on going; there’s more to the prophecy than only one verse! Listen to the next three verses, “Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shephered his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.” There’s so much here that could be said, but I’d like to focus on a few points as it pertains to all of us living today in these modern times with all the economic, political and societal problems. Aside from the famous prophetic prediction of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the most interesting part of the verse is found in verse 5, “And he will be their peace.” When I hear the word “peace” mentioned around Christmas time I think immediately of the verse in Luke 2:13-14, “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising god and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests,” or as the KJV reads, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’” Peace on earth, Goodwill towards men. That’s a famous sentence, understood and recognized by millions and millions of people all over the world. It speaks of peace. And as we know elsewhere, Jesus is also called the Prince of Peace. Another reference to peace. So it’s interesting that we find a description of peace in the Micah 5 prophecy. What does it mean? I’d like to explain, because wouldn’t we all benefit from more peace? Isn’t peace of mind, peace of soul, marital peace, family peace, and peace among nations something everyone wants today? What is the most wished for request from the Miss America, Miss World and Miss Universe pageant contestants? World Peace, of course! But everyone, everywhere longs for peace, personal peace and peace in every other area of life also. According to the prophecy, it will only come through the Messiah Jesus. Let me say three things about the Micah prophecy. (more…)