Finding The Perfect Gift: God’s Gift Is The Best In The Worst Times!

Those Who Enter This Holy Season With The Greatest Needs Stand The Best Chance Of Encountering The Messiah.

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But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah.  Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf. The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies until the woman in labor gives birth.  Then at last his fellow countrymen will return from exile to their own land. And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.  Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honored around the world. 5 And he will be the source of peace.  When the Assyrians invade our land and break through our defenses, we will appoint seven rulers to watch over us, eight princes to lead us.

Micah 5:2-5

Today we are in the Second of our Advent Series we’re calling:  Finding The Perfect Gift.  In a season where people should be celebrating God’s gift of love by sharing gifts of love with each other, it seems so many are obsessed with finding that perfect gift.  We think of the perfect gift as the one that satisfies the desires of the heart.  Truth is the perfect gift has already been given; and found by  those who can recognize it:  Emmanuel, God With Us.  And this perfect gift comes to us even in, NO, Especially In The Worst Of Times.

These are difficult times.  Soldiers are still being scattered around the globe trying to bring peace, trying to end terrorist threats.  Washington D.C. who should be leading us forward, is spinning in circles.  For many, maybe even some of you, there is not much joy or hope in this Christmas Season.

On Hampton Plantation in coastal South Carolina, there was an elderly sharecropper, illiterate but very wise.  One of his favorite sayings was this:  If you ain’t in trouble, your prayers ain’t got no suction.”   The Bible declares that our impossibility is God’s opportunity.  God is found at your wit’s end, just when you need Him most, when you have run out of answers and almost out of hope.

The Old Testament prophets were not called in good times.  They were called up by God in times of crises.   Jesus did not visit this planet when we became good enough to receive him. The Bible says, “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”  He faced us at our worst, and loved us anyway, all the way to a cross.

If you can remember only 1 thing from today’s message, then this is it:  Those Who Enter This Holy Season With The Greatest Needs Stand The Best Chance Of Encountering The Messiah.  Jesus did not come to the healthy but to heal the sick.  His mission is not to round up the pious, but to draw in the worst.  If you are hurting or lost or spiritually hungry this season, the odds are in your favor that you will encounter Him.

What causes me to believe this?  I got it straight from an Old Testament prophet named Micah.  Here is yet another reason why I loathe what well-meaning editors and scholars have done to God’s Word. One reason is they put misleading “headings” above passages that obscure greater truths. Another reason is their use of the term “minor prophets”. No prophet is minor and neither are their messages. Case in point is Micah.

700 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Micah was called by God to speak His word to the nation of Judah.  Though he was a simple farmer, he was outright fearless.  The national situation was awful:  morals were low, crime was raging, the government was immoral, the courts were corrupt, most organized religion was formalistic and cold, and the dominant religion was materialism.  Sounds just like today, doesn’t it.  To make matters worse, Judah was a tiny nation positioned dangerously between two hostile superpowers—Assyria and Egypt.  

They had as much security as a gambler’s dollar in Las Vegas.  At that critical moment, Micah attacked the nation’s sin.  But he did much more than that.  Inspired by God, he looked out into the future and said:  A Messiah will be born in tiny Bethlehem.  God is going to send someone great to us.  So, don’t despair.  God has good news coming!

Micah and his people could only look forward to the Messiah’s coming at some future date.  But it’s different for us.  We live in the excitement of A Bethlehem Manger, An Atoning Cross, And An Empty Tomb.  What Micah could only promise, we can receive and experience.  Look with me at the specific promises from Micah concerning the Messiah:

1.  In The Worst Of Times, The Messiah Will Restore Us.

If you can handle it, here’s the truth:  We Are All Broken Somewhere.  Somewhere We Need To Be Restored To The Person God Created Us To Become.

Being in a relationship with Him is more than making it a habit of coming to church for an hour or so on Sunday morning.  It’s more than saying before the meal:  “God is great God is good, let us thank him for our food.”  It’s more than saying at bedtime:  “Now I lay me down to sleep.”

  • It Is All About Intimacy—Knowing And Sensing The Nearness Of His Presence. 
  • It’s Living Out The Name Joseph Was Given To Name That Child—Emmanuel-God With Us.  God Offers Us More Than Nice Sounding Words Or Lofty Ideas And Virtues.  He Offers Us The Nearness Of Himself. 
  • And In The Worst Of Times—It Is That Holy Presence That Restores Us Where We Are Broken. 

Now, I’m about to meddle in your life:  What Are You Doing To Cultivate And Nurture That Nearness?  Are you spiritually hungry and thirsty this Christmas?  If so, Jesus wants to be for you The Bread Of Life and The Living Water.  Let the Messiah feed you during this Holy Season and all the seasons afterwards.  Invite him into your life as Savior and Lord.  Allowing God to restore you will be The Best Gift In The Worst Of Times.

2.  In The Worst Of Times, The Messiah Will Lead Us.

Do you feel insecure in this Advent season?  You do if your marriage is less than solid.  You do if your job is at risk.  You might if you or a loved one has a medical problem.  You might if you have lost a loved-one in the last year.  You might if you have had a lot of “stuff” to deal with.

Preacher and writer Dr. James Moore tells a story about a young man whose wife had died, leaving him with a small son.  Back home from the cemetery, they went to bed early because there was nothing else he could bear to do.  As he lay there in the darkness—heartbroken, the little boy broke the silence with a disturbing question, “Daddy, where is mommy?”  The father got up and brought the little boy to bed with him, but the child was still disturbed and restless, occasionally asking questions like “Why isn’t she here?” and “When is she coming back?” 

Finally, the little boy said, “Daddy, if your face is toward me, I think I can go to sleep now.”  And in a little while he was quiet.  The father lay there in the darkness, and then in childlike faith, prayed this prayer:  “O God, I don’t see how I can survive this.  The future looks so miserable.  But if your face is toward me, somehow I know I can make it.” 

That’s what the Messiah came to teach us:  That God’s Face Is Always Towards Us.  Let the Messiah replace your uncertainty this Advent with this bedrock conviction:  God And You Are In This Together.  Nothing can happen that God and you together cannot manage.  Nothing will ever be able to separate you from his love.  That is how He leads us.

3.  In The Worst Of Times, The Messiah Will Be Our Peace.

We need peace!  Inner War and turmoil is everywhere and it spans the globe. Some of the streets resemble a war zone as drugs, greed, poverty, and anger create an explosive mixture.  In America people yearn for inner stillness and the absence of turmoil.  So, they turn to alcohol, drugs, sex and anything else that will help them forget their pain, trouble and sense of chaos.

Peace is not placing a police officer on every street corner and U.N. Peacekeepers in every troubled nation.  

  • Peace comes when Jesus Christ washes sin from human hearts.
  • Peace comes when Jesus opens eyes so that people will see each other as brothers and sisters
  • Peace is a personal friendship with Jesus who said, I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give.  It isn’t like the peace that this world can give. So don’t be worried or afraid.  (John 14:27)
  • Listen to how The Message puts it:  That’s my parting gift to you.  Peace.  I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft.  So don’t be upset.  Don’t be distraught.

During Advent, The People Who Most Often Meet The Messiah Are Those With The Greatest Needs.  It seems that Jesus seeks them out.  Just as Micah declared 700 years before Jesus’ birth, God’s best gifts are given in the worst of times.  

Are you experiencing the worst of times right now?  Do you need strength?  Is it security you hunger for?  Are you longing for a deep and lasting peace?  Ask Him for it. His Nature Is To Give It And So Much More.  The Messiah comes to us offering Himself as our gift.  When we accept the gift of the Messiah, it matches exactly Our Hurt, Our Fear, And Our Need.  When we tie our destiny to this Messiah-King, we can face whatever the future brings, knowing that we are more than conquerors through Christ who loves us.

Knowing the He will restore you, lead you, and give you peace, What are your Next Steps?

  1. Find Ways To Build People Up, Especially Those You Don’t Like.
  2. Seek The Power Of The Holy Spirit And Treat Him As A Real Person Because He Is.
  3. Be A Peace-Maker, Not A Peace Breaker.

Finding The Perfect Gift: A Gift Is On The Way!

1 Think of it this way.  If a father dies and leaves an inheritance for his young children, those children are not much better off than slaves until they grow up, even though they actually own everything their father had. 2 They have to obey their guardians until they reach whatever age their father set. 3 And that’s the way it was with us before Christ came.  We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world.

4 But when the right time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 5 God sent Him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. 6 And because we are His children, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” 7 Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child.  And since you are His child, God has made you His heir.

Galatians 4:1-4 (NLT)

Did you hear about the man who got tired of the Christmas hoopla.  All the frantic rush and the commercialism was disgusting to him.  So, he decided not to go along with the crowd.  Among other things, he decided not to send Christmas cards, feeling that the expense and effort were non-productive.  For the first 10 days of December he felt good about his decision.  But then, as the mail brought him greetings from his friends, he began to feel guilty about not sending any cards.  4 days before Christmas, he couldn’t stand it any longer.  He rushed down to the drug store and grabbed the only box of cards still on the shelf.  He bought them, purchased stamps, rushed home, and addressed cards frantically all evening.  He addressed 49 cards.  He had one card left over which he tossed on the mantle. 

That same evening he drove down to the post office and mailed the cards.  The next day he was walking through the house and happened to see that extra card on the mantle.  It occurred to him that he had addressed and signed all those cards but had not actually read what the card said.  So, he grabbed the card and took a look. This is what it said:  “This cheery card has come to say:  A gift from us is on the way.”

For many, this is that frenzied time of trying to find the Perfect Gift.  This quest creates a lot of stress for many, maybe some of you.  But Advent Season is different.  The whole meaning of the Advent season is this:  God Has The Perfect Gift For Us.  The  reason we offer Christmas gifts to each other is to honor and reflect the only perfect gift ever offered—the gift of God through a Bethlehem baby named Jesus.

What makes a gift “The Perfect Gift”? 

  1. The Giver Puts Something Of Him Or Herself Into It And
  2. The Gift Is Suited To The Needs Of The Recipient.

That’s The Perfect Gift.  And if you can remember only one thing, this is it:  God Has The Perfect Gift For You.  When our loving God was thinking about this sin-scarred world that would be filled with warring, selfish, corrupted people, He had a plan.  God knew that if he sent 10,000 educators, the people would simply become more inventive in their evil.  God could have dropped tons of food to alleviate all hunger, but the people would have hoarded it rather than sharing it.  God could have sent a powerful general to clean up the mess by force.  As soon as the good general was gone, everything would deteriorate to business as usual.

And if you can remember only one thing, this is it:  God Has The Perfect Gift For You.  When our loving God was thinking about this sin-scarred world that would be filled with warring, selfish, corrupted people, He had a plan.  God knew that if he sent 10,000 educators, the people would simply become more inventive in their evil.  God could have dropped tons of food to alleviate all hunger, but the people would have hoarded it rather than sharing it.  God could have sent a powerful general to clean up the mess by force.  As soon as the good general was gone, everything would deteriorate to business as usual.

So, to give the perfect gift, God did not send a general or an educator or even a preacher.  God sent himself.  The late great preacher Wallace Hamilton put it this way, “God Came Walking Down The Stairway Of Heaven With A Baby In His Arms.” 

Paul expressed this message beautifully to the first-century church in Galatia.  Paul said that since the Fall, all people have been slaves to sin.  And we need someone to redeem us, to buy us out of that slavery.  The thing about trying to do enough to atone for our sins, is that it is never enough.  In the process of trying to cover over one sin, we discover that we have another sin to atone for.  And as we try to cover over for that sin, then there is another and another and another, ad nauseum.

We are all slaves to sin.  We are powerless to atone for it, and we certainly are powerless to stop it from happening again and again.  And when the time was both Right And Ripe, God sent the Gift that was prepared for us before the beginning of time.  We celebrate Advent to remember that God has declared: “The Perfect Gift is on the way.”   And we celebrate Holy Communion because we know that His gift has arrived, and is now among us.   The gift of Jesus is the Perfect Gift.  It is an assortment of the most needed items on earth.  Let me mention three:

1.  The Gift Brings Forgiveness. 

(Verse 5) God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.

Forgiveness is absolutely powerful, life changing and soul-saving When It’s Given By Jesus.  Nothing is more powerful, more liberating and more empowering for us than to know that because of the Cross, Jesus has forgiven us. 

Tony Campolo tells a story that happened when he was about 7 years old.  They were sitting in church.  As the Communion Service was about to begin, the preacher read from 1 Corinthians 11:27, Whosoever shall eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.  There was a young woman sitting in front of them who began to cry uncontrollably.  As the plate with the bread was handed to her, she waved in on, then lowered her head in despair, as if there was some sin she couldn’t find relief from.  Campolo said his Dad leaned forward and sternly said in broken English, “Take it, girl!  It was meant for you!”

Sin goes too deep into the human heart for superficial cures.  Only the spirit of the living Christ can free us from sin and teach us to forgive ourselves and others.  It’s a miracle made possible by the Cross that happens each time one of us says to God with all our heart, “I’m so sorry.  I’m not worthy, but please forgive me!”

2.  The Gift Brings A Heart Transplant.

(Verse 6) And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.”

We must have a heart transplant.  Not the surgical variety.  I am talking about the change of Values, Attitudes, And Will.  It happens because of Christ living in us.  He takes up residence in the deepest parts of us.  He will never reside in the shallow places of our heart.  He will live only in the deepest places, regardless of what it looks like right now.  Transformation only begins from those deepest places inside our hearts.  Superficial changes are useless.  Only Jesus living in the deepest parts of our heart brings the transformation we must have.

In that presence we find the strength to do all those things we are created to do.  In that presence we find the strength to keep from doing those things we know are sinful and self-destructive.  We have a new heart because we have a new relationship with God!

A Harvard education is wonderful, but it alone will not touch the heart to change our Values, Attitudes, And Will.  You can take all of the Dale Carnegie courses but still not touch the Values, the Attitudes, and the Will.  But when Jesus becomes not only your Savior, but the Lord of your life, He creates a new heart that changes, The Values, The Attitudes And The Will

Paul hits the bullseye when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17:, This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!  Only He changes us from the inside out; and it happens through The Gift.  What we cannot do in or for ourselves He is able to do.  The miracle of the Gift is that when we allow Him, He gives us a completely new heart that changes our values, our attitudes, and our will.

3.  The Gift Brings Eternal Life!

(Verse 7) Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child.  And since you are His child, God has made you His heir.

Our heavenly reservations were made that moment when we repent of our sins and genuinely Believe In Jesus As Our Savior And Follow Him As Our Lord.  When we dare to step out in faith and claim Jesus as Savior and Lord, we don’t have to wonder where we will spend eternity.  When we die and reach heaven’s gates, our future is secure, because of our faith in Jesus and our love for Him.  The mark of Christ will be visible upon us.  His righteousness will cover us and the gates of heaven will be wide open for us. 

God doesn’t leave us to wonder about or to hope maybe we get it right to get into heaven.  The seal of love is on and there is no doubt, no maybe—Eternal Life is guaranteed and it’s all because one day God said, A Gift Is On The Way.  Why did God do it?  The answer is clear in that most beloved verse in our Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that whoever believes on him should not perish but have eternal life.” And This Truth Frees Us To Live Abundantly In The Here And Now!

People who do not have inner peace have inner war; a war between their selfish desires and the ways of God.  When a person becomes a Follower of Jesus, our personal world changes, because we surrender to Jesus.  The consequence of the surrender is that Jesus sends an inner composure nothing on earth nor in hell can touch. “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give.  So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)

So, there you have it—and why you need to accept God’s Perfect Gift: forgiveness, a heart transplant, and eternal life.   These are the world’s most needed gifts!  No wonder Phillips Brooks wrote in his Christmas carol, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

We celebrate Advent, to remember that God has said that The Gift is on the way.   And we celebrate Communion because we know that His gift has arrived, and is now among us.   The Bethlehem Christ-child, born to die on Calvary’s Cross, is the ultimate expression of love. He is the only perfect gift the world has ever known.  Have you accepted that gift?

This is your homework this week, and the Next Steps as we think about The Perfect Gift:

This Week Answer this Question: “Where is Jesus in these places?”

  1. Your Calendar?
  2. Your Purpose?
  3. Your Desires?

These places reveal if HE is your Lord, or just a crutch. If Jesus has just been a crutch for you, God has a better Gift for you!

What Are You Gonna Do Now?

He Doesn’t Just Come To Visit Us—He Doesn’t Come TO Us—Mystery Of All Mysteries—He Comes, Now Listen: He Comes FOR US!

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(My message this week….)

Isaiah 9:6-7  (NLT)

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.  The government will rest on his shoulders.  And he will be called:  Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  His government and its peace will never end.  He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.  The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!

One of the things I enjoy doing is riding my bike.  And while planned routes and organized rides are fun, sometimes I simply enjoy heading out one direction then making several turns before coming home on a different route.  I will head north for a while, then east for a while before turning south and then to the west.  I know that somewhere along the way I will find a familiar road that will take me home.  Several years ago my wife Debbie joined me on such an adventure.  We headed north on Highway 43 past Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, then I turned east, and then north again, and then east again.  We came to a 4 way stop and I asked her, “Do you know where we are?”  She said, “No, where are we?”  And I said, “I haven’t a clue.”  She replied, “No, really, where are we?”  And I said, “Really, I don’t know.  But if we go in that direction, we should find our way back home.”  I don’t think she was real happy with me, or even believed me. I didn’t know where we were, but I knew a different way would get us home.

Driving to work or going shopping—we tend to always travel the same way, seldom if ever, considering a different route.  Now that Christmas Day has passed and all the refunds and exchanges are complete, and all the After-Christmas Sales have been seen, many people think it is time to go back to the dull routines of everyday life.  We have come face to face with the truth of Messiah—that God is with us. 

But now many think it’s time to get back into our normal routines—Routines That Often Leave Us Feeling Tired, Frustrated, Unhappy, Unsatisfied; And If We Will Be Honest With Ourselves, It Leaves Us Feeling Empty.  More often than not, the word we hear after Christmas is, “I’m glad it’s over!”  And in January, the depression sets in with all those credit card bills.

In the season of Christmas we are brought face to face with God—we have had multiple encounters with the wonder of His grace—a variety of signs and symbols with one single message:  The God of All Eternity has completely revealed Himself by becoming one of us.  Every bit of God’s being and heart has been revealed in the most extraordinary act ever best described by Isaiah:  For a Child is born to us, a Son is given to us.  These words are the words of the Mystery Of Incarnation.  In a precise moment of time The Child Is Born—This Is The Humanity Of Jesus.  Rather than assuming we know that He understands us, God shows us He understands us by becoming us! 

And at the same moment The Son Is Given To Us—Jesus Is Also Divine.  The two natures, human & Divine, are forged together in the womb of Mary and breaks into our world that night in a stable near Bethlehem.  The Child—He’s human; The Son—He’s Divine.  The Child speaks about the life of Jesus and The Son speaks about the death of Jesus. 

And this is the mystery that we are called to accept and embrace—God fully reveals His Awesome Love for in a single moment of time by becoming both The Child and The Son!  The Mystery is that God loves us so much that He enters the stench and the filth not just of that stable, but into the stench and filth of our broken, sinful, dirty lives.

If you can remember only 1 thing today, this is it:  He Doesn’t Just Come To Visit Us—He Doesn’t Come TO Us—Mystery Of All Mysteries—He Comes, Now Listen:  He Comes FOR US!  God doesn’t just wave to us as He passes by like Miss America or the Pope or all those New Year’s Day Parade Queens.  God doesn’t just glance over at us, nod His head at us and then goes on.  He doesn’t come to us as He did when Moses saw only the backside of God’s glory.  God comes to us face to face and heart to heart.

And the government will rest on His shoulders.  Our sin excludes us from the Kingdom of God—so to bring us into the Kingdom, it all depends on Jesus.  There was more than the weight of the Cross on Jesus’ shoulders—it was the weight of God’s predetermined plan to bring to us rebels into His Rule by putting to rest once and for all time the sins of all peoples in all ages. 

Ever felt like the weight of the family was on your shoulders?  Ever felt like the weight of a project at work was on your shoulders?  But try to imagine that the plan, rule and dominion of God’s eternal Kingdom resting on your shoulders.  God’s eternal purpose is carried on the shoulders of Jesus.  God has no plan “B”!

And in the filth and stench of that stable, in the filth and stench of our lives, we encounter the mystery of grace.  Isaiah says, “He will be called” and the Hebrew word comes from another word that means To Encounter. 

  • We Have This Indescribable Encounter With The One Who IS Wonderful!  It really is an incredible moment to come face to face with Grace! 
  • We Encounter The Counselor!  The timeless wisdom and knowledge of God is placed right smack dab in the middle of our broken world. 
  • We Encounter The Mighty God!  We come face to face with Him who holds all power in His hand and unleashes that power in the form of Love! 
  • We Encounter The Everlasting Father!  We encounter the only one who will never ever give up on us!  Love, grace and mercy that is Never Ending! 
  • We Encounter The Prince Of Peace!  He gives us peace not because of what we have done, but because of everything that He has done for us.

There are other ways He has made Himself known to us. He’s been making Himself known through all our activities this Season.

  • In the exchanging of gifts God has been offering to exchange our guilt and powerlessness for the gift of forgiveness and new life. 
  • God has made himself known to us through the poor and hungry with the reminder that when we do it unto the least of these we do it unto Him. 
  • In the bright Christmas lights He has made Himself known as the Light that Shines in the Darkness. 
  • In the parties and family dinners God as made Himself known as the One who will one day bring us to the Great Banquet Feast. 
  • In the beautiful decorations that adorn homes God has made Himself known as the only One who is able to adorn our lives with the beauty of holiness.  
  • Even in cleaning up the torn paper and boxes, God has made Himself known as the One who takes out the trash of our lives to make room for what really matters.

This is our encounter with God—God who has come FOR us.  Now, you have a choice.  You can go back the way you came into this encounter, back to your ordinary life—back to the deadlines and pressures—back to all that stuff that really never completely satisfies us.  Or, you can go back into the real world, a different way. 

Think about those Wise Men.  In Matthew 2:11-12 (NLT)They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

The only way we can go back a different way is to become a different person.  When the Wise Men arrived back home, what do you suppose they talked about?  The sand storms they faced?  The beautiful oases that would surprise them in their journey?  The beautiful palace of Herod?  That spectacular Temple in Jerusalem?  The wonderful eating places they found?  Or the eating places you don’t want to stop at?

We don’t know exactly what they talked about, but I can’t help but think and believe that they talked about their encounter with God through The Child that was given, and The Son that they saw in person.  And it should be the same for us.  This morning you are faced with a choice.  Go back to the old life, the usual things, the ordinary things. 

Or you can go back to your daily life a different way by choosing to become a different person.  Come to the manger, then walk with Jesus and listen as He teaches and watch Him as He works.  Then spend some time at the Cross. 

Focus on the wounds and bruises of Jesus.  Focus on the nails.  Focus on the crown of thorns that pierced His head.  Then focus—focus on that face—watch His lips move and listen as He says “Father, forgive them.”  Now, how can you be the same person who walked in that door this morning?

This Child, This Son who is Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince Of Peace—this is the one that the Wise Men came to see—and this is the One they encountered.  And when they encountered Him they went home a different way.  It was more than just the threats of Herod; it was that They Were Now Different People

Different people can’t travel the same road home—they go a different way.  The mystery of Incarnation, God in the flesh, changed Mary, changed Joseph, changed the Shepherds, changed the Wise Men, changed the whole world!  And It Ought To Change Us!  Throughout this Advent and Christmas season, God has made Himself known to us.   

They went home a different way because they were different people.  The different way is for people who are now different, changed by embracing the Mystery:  He is The Child and The Son who comes FOR us.  This Different Way changes everything.  3 things should change in our lives:

1.  It Changes How We Think About Life!

Life is now more than calendars, appointments and time clocks.  Life is meant to be about relationship—with God first and then in relationships with others.  Because of The Child, because of The Son, life isn’t about us and what we want.  It’s all about Him and what He desires for us and the world.

2.  It Changes How We See Life!

See your life in light of what God can do, not what you can accomplish.  Start looking at situations and problems the way God sees them—as opportunities for growth.  Start seeing people the way God sees them—people in need of His Mercy, Grace and Love.  Stop Seeing Life As A Sentence To Be Endured But Rather An Adventure To Be Discovered.

3.  It Changes How We Live Life!

Make your life an offering to God.  Make every thought, form every word, make every choice as an offering to God.  Listen to how The Message puts it in Rom. 12:1-2: 

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. (emphasis mine)

Robert Frost wrote a poem entitled:  The Road Not Taken.  He talks about walking along a path in the woods when he encounters a fork in the path.  Two paths are in front of him—one obviously traveled frequently and the other was less traveled.  In the last verse he writes these famous words:  “I shall be telling this with a sigh.  Somewhere ages and ages hence:  Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”  You are about to go home, back into the world, your world.  Which way will you go?

Your Next Step

Decide if you will go back to life the same way, or a different way because seeing God with you has made you a different person.

The With Us God: The God Of Peace!

God Is Much Bigger Than Your Circumstances.

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(This is the final installment of my current message series, The With Us God)

Here are the names we have looked at thus far.  Yahweh Yireh—The God Who Provides.Yahweh-Nissi—The Lord Who Fights For Us.Yahweh-Shammah—The God Who Is There!  William Shakespeare wrote in his tragedy “Romeo and Juliet” a famous line:  “What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would be as sweet.”  His point was that a name did not change the essence of a thing or a person.  There is nothing significant about a name.  And to a degree he is right, but not always.  Change the name of the skunk to honeysuckle and he will still stink.  It doesn’t change its nature.

However, when it comes to Immanuel, the With Us God, the name is uniquely special in both meaning and power.  These names of God from the Old Testament say something about God.  And even more important, these names say something about relationship—our relationship with God.  “What’s in a name?”  Relationship is in these names!  And on this Sunday before Christmas, we see this name:  Yahweh-Shalom—God Is Peace!  It comes from the story of Gideon in Judges 6:11-24 (NLT).

11] Then the angel of the Lord came and sat beneath the great tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash of the clan of Abiezer. Gideon son of Joash was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites. 12] The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!”  

13] “Sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?  And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about?  Didn’t they say, ‘The Lord brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”  14] Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites.  I am sending you!”

15] “But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel?  My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!”  16The Lord said to him, “I will be with you.  And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.”

17] Gideon replied, “If you are truly going to help me, show me a sign to prove that it is really the Lord speaking to me. 18] Don’t go away until I come back and bring my offering to you.”  He answered, “I will stay here until you return.”

19] Gideon hurried home.  He cooked a young goat, and with a basket of flour he baked some bread without yeast.  Then, carrying the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, he brought them out and presented them to the angel, who was under the great tree. 20] The angel of God said to him, “Place the meat and the unleavened bread on this rock, and pour the broth over it.” And Gideon did as he was told. 21] Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and bread with the tip of the staff in his hand, and fire flamed up from the rock and consumed all he had brought.  And the angel of the Lord disappeared.

22] When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he cried out, “Oh, Sovereign Lord, I’m doomed!  I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!” 23] “It is all right,” the Lord replied.  “Do not be afraid.  You will not die.” 24] And Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and named it Yahweh-Shalom (which means “the Lord is peace”). The altar remains in Ophrah in the land of the clan of Abiezer to this day.

Let’s get the 1 thing you need to remember this morning:  God Is Much Bigger Than Your Circumstances.  The story of Gideon is the story of the oppression of the Israelites by the Midianites.  And, It is the story of countless lives that live under emotional and spiritual oppression.  Gideon is living a life of fear.  Hiding from the Midianites, smallest member of the smallest clan, Gideon is found fearful, feeling weak and convinced he’s useless. 

Then out of nowhere, this angel appears and says, “Mighty hero!”  Not exactly what we would call a Mighty Hero.  No skin-tight costume with a cape; no special clothes loaded with weapons and devices, and no unique ability that sets him apart from the rest of his world.  Nope, not exactly our image of a hero.  For heaven’s sake, he’s hiding from the enemies.

Now, if this is not bad enough, the angel says “The Lord is with you.”  And listen to his response in verse 13: “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about?”  Maybe you know someone like Gideon, or maybe you understand Gideon because YOU are fearful, weak and convinced you’re useless.

And maybe, just maybe, some of you this morning are wondering the very same thing Gideon wondered.  These words of Gideon are still being said today.  If you aren’t hearing these cries, then you’re spiritually deaf.  If the Lord is with me why does my spouse have Alzheimer’s?  If the Lord is with me why did my child die?  If the Lord is with me why did I lose my job?  If the Lord is with me why is my teenager so rebellious?  If the Lord is with me why do I have cancer?  If the Lord is with me why does all this stuff keep happening to me?  

When you find that life is just too much to bear, you wonder:  If the Lord is with me, why?  It’s a legitimate question and one that must be asked, otherwise we keep it inside us and it festers and we become cynical at best, or disillusioned at worst.  The answer God gave Gideon is the answer he gave us 2000 years ago in the city of Bethlehem.  Immanuel!  With Us God!

When we are in pain, when we are afraid, when we are confused, Life forces the question:  “If the Lord is with me, why has all this happened to me? And where are all the miracles I’ve heard others talk about?”  There are 3 possible answers to this tough question: 

1.  He’s Not Here Because Doesn’t Care About Me.

The oppression of the Midianites made Gideon think God didn’t care.  We think this, and much too often we believe this because we see God as Santa Claus—if we just believe hard enough then all of this stuff will just go away.  And when it doesn’t, we either blame ourselves for NOT having enough faith, or we blame God for not caring for us.

When the weight of fear and worry crushes us, the Enemy whispers, “See, He doesn’t care about you.”  Given enough heartache, given enough pain, any of us is subject to hearing that sinister whisper—more than hearing that whisper, we will entertain that thought—“He Really doesn’t care about me.”  And given enough time, not only do we hear it, we believe it!

This just isn’t true.  In the Garden of Gethsemane God was with Jesus.  When He was beaten and whipped, God was with Him.  When the spikes were driven into his hands, God was with Him.  When the soldiers raised that cross up and the weight of His body rested on those nails and that pain wracked His body, God was there.  Jesus never doubted this truth until…until the penalty of every sin was paid.  Only at that point does Jesus say, “My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?”

Not in the Garden, not at the trial, not during the scourging, not when the cross was placed on His shoulders, not when the nails were driven, not when He was raised on the Cross—but when the Penalty was paid—for the only moment in all eternity, God turned away from His Son.  And Jesus cried out:  “My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?”  Don’t you think it broke the heart of The Father and The Holy Spirit to turn away from that part of them that had always been there? Of course it it–but they suffered that in order that we would not have to face that moment–IF we put our trust in Him and walk with Him for the rest of our lives.

But God came back to Him because He accepted the only sacrifice that once and for all times atones, covers over, and wipes away ever sin.  Another answer to why all this stuff happens is this:

2.  He’s Not Here Because He Isn’t With Me

Because they were beaten back and beaten down, Gideon thought it was because God wasn’t there.  Maybe he realized that they had sinned against God, so God turned away from them.  Maybe he thought that God simply forgot about His promises.  I mean, it’s got to be a tough and time consuming job being God.  Maybe He was so busy, He simply forgot about them and left them alone.

When We Place The Reality Of Circumstances Over The Truth Of The Kingdom, We Can Believe That, Too.  The emphasis is on the Circumstances.  When circumstances are good then it’s because God is with us.  When circumstances are bad, God isn’t with us.

For decades, the “Name It And Claim It” group has been around.  They believe and teach that with enough faith, your circumstances will always be good.  And that simply isn’t true.  Look at the story of Job.  This is what God said about Job (Burbank Paraphrase)—“Have you seen my good buddy, Job?  Man, there’s no one like Him.  He’s always walking with me.”  But Satan said, “Well, change his circumstances and he will change.”  At first it didn’t work.  Job maintained his integrity.  But when his 3 Name It And Claim It friends showed up, it was then that Job got angry. Job isn’t patient, but He is faithful–He still longs to see God.

If your confidence that God is with you only when the circumstances are good, then your faith is shallow and insincere.  Our Confidence In God Must Be Rooted In The Character Of God, not in what God will do for you.  This is seeing God as the Cosmic Vending Machine and all you need is the right amount of coins.

A contemporary song done by Natalie Grant, More Than Anything has this chorus:  “Help me want the Healer more than the healing.  Help me want the Savior more than the saving.  Help me want the Giver more than the giving.  Oh Help me want you Jesus more than anything.”  The message is clear—it’s about wanting God over anything that God can do.  There is one more answer to these tough questions. It comes from the name:  Yahweh Shalom.

3.  He Is With Us Because This Is Where We Learn To Trust And Rest

In All This Painful Stuff, God Has A Plan And A Purpose That We Can Trust.  This means we do not focus on the pain, but on the Presence.  Jesus told His disciples in John 14:27—I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. 

Peace in the worldly sense is the elimination of all the threats, and the absence of conflict.  The worldly view of peace is that it happens when we get all we want, and then some more.  Having more than enough treasures, more than enough food, more than enough shelter, more than enough stuff.  The problem is, there is never enough.  So God gives us something better: peace of mind and peace of heart.

1.  Peace Because He Has A Plan—that plan is always about bring out your best—to reveal His Image in you.

2.  Peace Because He Has A Purpose—to bring honor and glory to Him, not you.

3.  Peace Because He Has Youalways has you in His heart.

It is the inner peace that can only be found in a relationship with God, and on God’s terms.  God’s terms are simple:  Surrender.  Surrender your pride, your will, and your desires.  Surrender your inadequacies.  Surrender your guilt and condemnation.  Surrender you time, energy, abilities and resources.  Surrender to grace.

When Gideon realized he had seen face to face an angel of God, he thought he was doomed.  But when Gideon came face to face with God’s grace—and under that enormous tree, he named that place, Yahweh-Shalom—The Lord Is Peace.  He named the place BEFORE the Midianites were defeated.  Have you accepted the gift of God’s peace?  We do not earn it and we can never deserve it.  So it comes to us as a gift—bought and paid for on the Cross. 

Next Steps

  • Do you have a relationship, or do you just know about Him?  It’s not about how much knowledge you have about the Bible.  You can know all the Books of the Bible in order.  Heck, I don’t know that.  But I do know the person of Jesus.  Do you?
  •   Renew You Commitment To The Relationship As Being More Important Than Anything Else. Jesus longs to be closer to us.  It’s easy to drift, easy to take for granted, to assume.  It’s not about us doing our best for Him, but allowing Him to do His best work IN us.

Yahweh-Shammah—The God Who Is There!

This Advent season we are taking a journey deep into this name, Immanuel—God is with us.  To look at this word literally, we could say it means:  The With Us God.  He moves from the realm of eternity and infinity and steps across into the limitations of time and place.  In the O.T. names of God we find insights into what it means to have God with us.  Week 1 we looked at the name Yahweh Yireh—The God Who Provides. Last week we looked at another name for God:  Yahweh-Nissi—The Lord Who Fights For Us.  Let’s review for a moment what these names mean:

  1. Yahweh Yireh—The God Who Provides.
    1. Release from guilt and condemnation.
    1. Relief when life becomes too difficult to handle on our own.
    1. The Reason for your life—something that you can do only with His strength.
  2. Yahweh-Nissi—The God Who Fights For Us.
    1. Even When You Are Unaware Of His Presence.
    1. Equipping You With The Weapons To Win Those Battles.
    1. Staying In The Battle With You Until The Final Victory

This is the kind of With Us God who wants us to surrender to Him in Relationship.  And today we look at another Old Testament Name:  Yahweh-Shammah—The God Who Is There!  This comes from Ezekiel 48:30-45  (The Message)

“These are the gates of the city. On the north side, which is 2,250 yards long (the gates of the city are named after the tribes of Israel), three gates: the gate of Reuben, the gate of Judah, the gate of Levi.“On the east side, measuring 2,250 yards, three gates: the gate of Joseph, the gate of Benjamin, the gate of Dan.

 “On the south side, measuring 2,250 yards, three gates: the gate of Simeon, the gate of Issachar, the gate of Zebulun.

 “On the west side, measuring 2,250 yards, three gates: the gate of Gad, the gate of Asher, the gate of Naphtali.

 “The four sides of the city measure to a total of nearly six miles.  “From now on the name of the city will be Yahweh-Shammah:  “God-Is-There.”

This passage is about the power of hope.  When you know the background of this passage you can literally see the power of hope drenched in these words.  The people of Israel had been led into exile to Babylon.  The city of Jerusalem had been destroyed and that magnificent Temple erected by Solomon now lay in ruins. 

God sends Ezekiel to them with the word they needed most:  Hope!  God promises them that they will go home and that God will restore them.  And beginning in chapter 40, Ezekiel shares with them the hope that only God can give when one is living their life in exile.  Many of them left Jerusalem with this image permanently etched on their memories:  the walls were destroyed, homes and businesses burned, and the Temple looted and broken in pieces.  That image was burned into their memories.  Try as they might, they could never get rid of that mental picture. 

That mental picture of Jerusalem became their conviction that their life would never be more than broken, burned, looted, destroyed.  Hope was lost and they could not see how things would ever be better.  And in that moment, God delivers the message of His hope. 

And nearly 600 years later, that message of hope, Yahweh-Shemmah–The God Who Is There—came in the form of a child.

Let me ask you, have you ever felt like these Israelites, that your life is broken, burned, looted and in ruins?  Have you ever faced a moment when it seems to be a struggle to hope?  The loss of hope for restoration, renewal, a better day, or just the loss of hope in general, just to survive another day, is debilitating and God understands this. And the message of Ezekiel to those exiles is the same message to those of us who are living in exile.

One Thanksgiving evening we baby sat 2 of our grandchildren, Ethan and Caroline, so that my daughter Leslie and her husband Michael could go see the movie “The Blind Side.”  When they came in, Debbie and I knew we had to go see it, too.  So we did.  It’s the story of Michael Oher.  Michael came from the poorest side of Memphis.  He had little education, and even less encouragement, until the Sean and Leigh Ann Touhy took him in literally off the street one evening and brought him into their home. And an adventure into hope began to take place.  In one scene, Leigh Ann Touhy took him back to the projects.  Picture this white upper class woman driving a BMW in the projects.  But Michael told her, “Don’t worry, I’ve got your back.”  With help and encouragement, Michael graduates from a private Christian school, and is given a scholarship to play football at Ole Miss.  Instead of a criminal record, he achieved a long list of honors.  He had a very lucrative 7 year career in the NFL until injuries took their toll. 

And it is all because one family decided not to turn their back on a kid literally living on the streets and gave him the one thing he never, ever had before:  more than a room of his own and more than his very first bed to sleep in—they gave him hope.  It began to change how Michael saw life.

If you can remember only 1 thing today, this is it:  Hope Changes How We See Life.  And When We Change How We See Life, It Changes How We Live Life.  If all we see is what we don’t have as individuals and a church, then that dictates how we will live as individuals and as a church.  All we will see is what’s wrong, what’s missing, and there’s no hope for the future. 

Advent comes to us every year with not just the promise of hope, but the reality and truth of hope because God doesn’t send us an idea or a principle or nice warm fuzzy feelings.  God has sent us His One and only Son.  The Message of Christmas is more than, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”  The message of Christmas is Yahweh-Shemmah–The God Who Is There!

As Michael promised Leigh Ann Touhy that he had her back covered, and as Michael Oher protected the blind side of quarterbacks, God has us covered.  He protects us by giving us a never ending provision of hope.  Hope is what keeps us going when we would rather give in and give up. 

Are you living in a spiritual exile?  What kind of image has been burned into your mind about your life?  Is it that image of failure?  You try and try to honor God but there is this sin, maybe 2 or 3, that keeps tripping you up and you just can get a handle on it.  Is it relationships that never seem to work out?  So, Failure is the image that is burned into your mind, and hope fades quickly. 

Is it that image of Fear?  When facing situations, you always manage to see the worst possible outcome, and you allow that focus to rob you of joy and you honestly believe there is nothing is going to change and you can do about it.  Coward is the image that is burned into you mind and you resign any hope that life could be different. 

Or is it that image of Despair?  You look around and honesty see very little that is good.  You cannot see how things can change and so you surrender that there is no future for you, your family or your church.  So, Defeat is the image that is burned into you mind and you give up hope that anything will change.  3 things about the Hope that God provides us. 

1.  You Have God Living In You. 

Gal. 2:20—Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

This is why the Christian calendar begins with Advent—The With Us God!  It doesn’t help if we journey through Lent, remember Good Friday, celebrate Easter, commemorate the arrival of the Holy Spirit, or talk about the Kingdom of God if we are not living with the overwhelming assurance and conviction that God is more than with us, but actually living in us. 

God Came To Be With Us Because He Wants To Live IN Us.  Nurture this thought, embrace this thought, cling tightly to this thought, and say this thought out loud every day and all day:  Christ Lives In Me!  Life is not always easy and there will be times when life is too much for us to handle.  That’s why we need more than God with us; we need God In Us

Hope does not come from what WE can imagine or do.  Hope Comes From Knowing That God Is IN You and that He will always give us the strength and courage to face every obstacle in our life.

2.  You Have A World Needing You. 

James 1:27—Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.

It is easy to be overwhelmed by the needs of our world.  It is easier to believe that since we don’t have enough to help everyone, we can’t help anyone.  If all you do as disciples of Jesus is sit here on Sun. morning then it’s no wonder that your reserve of hope is gone. 

The unique and wonderful characteristic about Hope is that it grows in us when we share it with others.  Just like love, when we selfishly cling on to it and refuse to release it, hope dies.  Hope Builds And Grows In Us As We Bring Hope To Others.  Did you see how James formed his words?  It’s not about the homeless and loveless coming to you.  It’s about YOU reaching out to those whose well of hope has gone dry.  Pour the water from your well into theirs. 

Don’t worry about your water running out.  For all the hope you pour into the lives of others, God replaces every drop, and then some.  In the movie “The Blind Side”, when the Touhy’s gave Michael hope, the Touhy’s admit that they received much more.  And this is what hope does—it multiplies over and over again.  In one scene, one of Leigh Ann Touhy’s friends remarks, “You are really changing that boy’s life.”  And her reply was, “No, he is changing our life.”  That’s how hope works!

3.  You Have A Home Waiting For You In Heaven. 

Col. 1:28—The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory.

  • When we worship, it’s the practice field for when we get into the real game of Worship in heaven. 
  • When we choose to honor Christ by helping others with food, shelter, clothes, water and most of all friendship, it’s the conditioning work-out when we get to heaven and raise all honor to the Lamb that was slain! 
  • When we reach out with love and compassion to be a friend to the least, the last, and the lost, it’s prepping us for that day when together we will all sit around the heavenly banquet table that God has prepared for us. 

Everything In This Life Is A Dress Rehearsal For What Awaits Us In Heaven.  If you don’t learn it here, you will not have the opportunity to learn it up there.  Paul wrote in Col. 3:23-24—Do your best.  Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance.  Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ.

When hope seems gone, there is a word for you:  Yawheh-Shammah—God is there!  He will be found in that place your heart is thirty for, that place you are created for—to live in that relationship with God, and to live out that relationship in your world.  God does not want you living in exile.  Christmas reminds us that God is here and yearns to be in you, restoring you, reviving you, and encouraging you.  Christmas is the time for hope—for you and for your world.  Hope is not about waiting for the sweet by and by.  Hope is about empowering you for living today to the max!

Here’s Your Next Steps:

  1. If you have been whining about your life, about other people. or the conditions in the world—Stop It!  Know that there is hope for you; the same hope is for others; and the same hope is for our culture.
  2. Find someone this week who needs Hope, and find a way to give it to them.  The only way you can know how to put Hope back into their life is to listen to their Story and get to know them.

The With Us God–The God Who Provides

(This is the first of my Advent Sermon Series:  The With Us God)

The With Us God: The God Who Provides!  Gen. 22:1-14 NLT)

This Advent season we are taking a journey deep into this name, Immanuel.  We know what this name means thanks to Matthew 1:23—“Look! The virgin will conceive a child!  She will give birth to a son,  and they will call him Immanuel,which means ‘God is with us.’”  In the Hebrew, this name comes from two words: ‘Immanuw’ which means “with us, or toward us.  The other word is ‘El’ which means “God.”  To look at this word literally, we could say it means:  The With Us God.  He moves from the realm of eternity and infinity and steps across into the limitations of time and place.  He is the With Us God because He became one of us.   

Each week we are going to look at one of the many names used in Scripture to describe God.  The first name we are going to look at is:  Yahweh Yireh—The God Who Provides.  It comes from today’s scripture in Genesis 22:1-14 (NLT) 

1 Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called.  “Yes,”he replied.  “Here I am.” 2 “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah.  Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering onone of the mountains, which I will show you.”

3 The next morning Abraham got up early.  He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac.  Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 “Stay here with the donkey,”Abraham told the servants.  “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.”

6 So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife.  As the two of them walked on together, 

7 Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”  “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.  “We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”  8 “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.

9 When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it.  Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. 10 And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. 11 At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham!  Abraham!” “Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!” 12 “Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God.  You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.”

13 Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket.  So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. 14 Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day,people still use that name as a proverb:  “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

This is one of those passages that the more I read it, the more I am amazed at God’s plans and purposes.  And even more amazed that I am a part of those plans and purposes of God. Knowing this, the more overwhelmed I am at God’s love, grace and mercy. 

To fully understand this passage, we need to know all that happened leading up to this pivotal moment in Abraham’s journey of faith.  One day Abraham heard God’s call to leave behind everything he knew and embark on a journey to an unknown, yet to be revealed place.  Abraham had no idea where he would end up,but he followed God’s direction.  God promised him a great nation would come from his descendants when Abraham and Sarah had no children. 

When he finally arrived at that place, he lived there as an immigrant, not a citizen.  As he and Sarah grew older, they still had no children.  So they did the same thing we usually do when God seems to delay His promise. They took matters into their own hands and produced a child through Hagar, Sarah’s servant.

But that was not God’s plan and God waits until it seems that it will be impossible for them to have a child, and God does the impossible.  He tells them they will have a son and they are to name that son Isaac—which means“he laughs.”  That is exactly what Abraham did.  He laughed at the audacity of God. 

But the next year, Sarah gave birth to God’s promise and Abraham named him Isaac—He laughs. And from that day forward, I think every time Abraham looked at Isaac,he remembered the day he laughed at the audacity of God and knew he would never again laugh at God’s boldness.  God had provided him that son. 

Then comes that day he never saw coming.  God tells Abraham that he is to sacrifice Isaac—that Son Of The Promise. Abraham knows not to laugh at or question God’s boldness.  So they set out to the place God is leading them.  When they arrive, listen again to what Abraham says in Verse 5:  We will worship there, and then we will come right back.  These are words of faith—WE will worship—WE will return. 

The sacrifice Abraham was to make meant taking the life of Isaac and then burning his body to ashes.  But Abraham still said—WE will return.  And at that moment of total surrender to God—that moment of total trust in God—God stops Abraham from doing the unthinkable.  And there was provided a substitute for Isaac. 

And not at the place of promise—you will have a son—and not at the place of birth—where Isaac was born—but at the place of sacrifice, Abraham names it Yahweh Yireh—The Lord Will Provide.  End of this story, right?  Wrong! On that same piece of ground Jerusalem will be built and a temple erected.  And in that same area, a new name will emerge:  Golgotha!  And on that same piece of ground, this With Us God provided the only sacrifice that could ever set us free and change our hearts.

At a pivotal moment in his journey of faith, Abraham’s actions and God’s response looks over 2000 years into the future when God provided the ultimate substitute sacrifice in the person of His Son.  What God Would Not Allow Abraham To Do—Sacrifice His Only Son—God Actually Did!  And God continues to provide out of his love,through His indescribable grace, exactly what we need to become who we were created to be:  The Child of God.

I love the Advent Season,and I especially love to receive Communion in this season.  I love it because the single symbol you will find in every church every day of the year is not the manger—but the Cross.  In this holy moment of Communion, we take our place with Abraham to rediscover or make a new discovery, that this God, our God,provides exactly what we need.  These signs, these symbols, above all other signs and symbols, tells us that this With Us God is Yahweh Yireh.  In this holy moment, God provides the 3 things we all need most of all:

1.  He Provides Release

Romans 8:1—So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.  His sacrifice, His death satisfies the penalty of our own sins and releases us from the guilt and condemnation of those sins.  We come and confess—be of the same mind as God about our sins—and because God provided the Substitute, we are unconditionally released. Not only are we released from the penalty of our sins, but we are released from the power those sins hold over us—when this With Us God is the King of our Heart & Desires.

2.  He Provides Relief

John 14:18—I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you.  When life becomes too difficult to handle on our own, He comes to us to help us.  When the ache and pain is beyond words, He shares with us in those pains.  He takes care of birds and creates beautiful flowers and He takes care of you.  The relief Abraham found was in the ram that God provided.  He comes to us to sustain us by giving us His very self.  You are never alone in your struggles because you have the With Us God inside you.  And He is With You in a promise:  I will not abandon you as orphans.  This With Us God provides relief for us as He did for Abraham—at the place of sacrifice!

3.  He Provides The Reason

We see reminders that Jesus truly is the Reason For The Season.  But there is a reason not only FOR the season, but a reason for you.  Abraham and Isaac’s reason was to begin a great nation through which one day, ALL nations would be blessed because of their faithfulness to God’s purpose.  1 Corinthians 11:26— For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again. 

We must follow Abraham’s example and surrender our life to His Reason for our life.  Our Reason is to share what God has done for us and then show others God’s love by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked,caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned. We are to become that living sacrifice for others—To Continue The Promise God Made To Abraham!

We all face pivotal moment sin our own journey of faith.  This Holy Sacrament is always one of those pivotal moments in our faith journey.  Moments when our journey takes us deeper into God’s breathtaking and astounding grace where we discover in new ways, or for the very first time, the heart God has for our life, and His perfect plan for our life. 

His grace and plans will take us to a place we never thought possible—the place of complete release and a peace that is beyond words.  This is your pivotal moment of faith—The Moment Your Breath Is Taken Away By The With Us God Who Provides The Unlimited Resources Of Grace. 

I call this a pivotal moment because right now you are making the most important decision of your life:  Will you choose to be closer to the With Us God, or will you choose to walk away.  This is YOUR moment to come face to face with Yahweh Yireh.  When you surrender to The With Us God, every place you go and every situation you face, becomes Yahweh Yireh.