God Chooses You!

God speaks of his relationship with you in permanent, irrevocable terms of adoption, ransom and guarantee. God chooses you, and that will never change.

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(Sermon for June 2, 2019)

I remember playground games.  Whether it was softball, kick-ball, football or dodge ball, we would divide into teams.  Sometimes the teacher would select captains, sometimes 2 would just volunteer.  But one thing I remember most, is that in the process of selecting teams, no one wanted to be the last person picked.  It meant people didn’t see much in you, that you lacked the skill necessary to be a vital part of the team.  Being picked last was often humiliating.  As we celebrate Communion, I want you to know that in God’s eyes you are never the last person picked for God’s team!  Let’s look at today’s passage from Ephesians 1:3-14 found in The Message

3-6 How blessed is God!  And what a blessing He is!  He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in Him.  Long before He laid down earth’s foundations, He had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of His love, to be made whole and holy by His love.  Long, long ago He decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure He took in planning this!)  He wanted us to enter into the celebration of His lavish gift-giving by the hand of His beloved Son.

7-10 Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, His blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds.  And not just barely free, either.  Abundantly free!  

He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans He took such delight in making.  He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in Him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.

 11-12 It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for.  Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, He had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose He is working out in everything and everyone.

13-14 It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit.  This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.

Today is the most important day in your life.  Not yesterday, not tomorrow, not next week or next year.  This leads me to the one thing you need to remember from today’s message:  God speaks of his relationship with you in permanent, irrevocable terms of adoption, ransom and guarantee.  God chooses you, and that will never change.

If you’ve ever felt unsure about your usefulness in God’s plans or if you are acceptable to God, then I want you to pay close attention for the next few minutes, because these few verses tell you three important things about You in God’s eyes.  Embrace these 3 truths into your life, you will experience a greater sense of self-worth and more spiritual confidence than you have ever known. 

1.  You’ve Been On God’s Mind From The Beginning.

Go back to my image of standing on the playground.  At first, you were just part of a crowd, but now selections have been made and now you are standing alone, and the captain who has the last pick, says “Oh well, I guess I’ll have to take them.”  I think all of us can relate to this feeling; we all know what it is like to be the last chosen—the least talented in at least some area—academically, athletically, musically, and so on.  But there is an area where you never need feel that way: Your Relationship With God

Probably all of us have wondered, at one time or another, “If they had it to do all over again, would they choose me?  Would they hire me?  Would she marry me?”  Maybe some of you have even thought, “If Jesus had to do it over, would He die for me again?”  Some of you may believe that you have been such a disappointment to God that you would have been better off not to have been born.  The message from God is the exact opposite. 

The message from the heart of God is that you are accepted not because He had to, but because He wanted to.  You are part of His plan.  From The Beginning, He Has Wanted You To Be A Member Of His Family.  Whether or not you think it’s possible, the Bible makes it clear that God Believes It Is Possible.  Whether or not you believe in your potential, God Believes In Your Potential.  You are part of His plan.  

God knew that you would be where you are today in all areas of your life.  He knew you would be here at this moment and for some, it may have been a rough ride.  There may have been mistakes and disappointments along the way and you may have wanted to give up many times.  Even though your past may be littered with failures, it doesn’t change the fact that God Loves You, He Chooses You, And He Believes In You.  You have been, are now and will always be on His mind and in His heart.  This is RANSOM!

2.  You Belong To God, And That Will Never Change.

This passage defines your relationship with God in permanent terms.  It says, first of all, that we have been adopted.  The citizens of Ephesus understood the significance of adoption, because it was common in their society. Adoption wasn’t just a case of parents choosing to provide a home for a parentless child. 

Adoptions also frequently occurred for business or political reasons—for one grown man to adopt another grown man to ensure that his wealth and power were passed on in the way that he intended it to be.  The Most Important Thing To Remember Is That Adoptions Were Irrevocable.  A man could disown his birth son, but could not disown his adopted son.  It was a permanent relationship. 

Paul said, “You’ve been Adopted into the family of God.  Get comfortable because He’s not going to give up on you.”

3.  Everything You Need, You Can Have.

Jesus didn’t die on the cross just to abandon you now.  God is generous.  He doesn’t withhold His kindness, His love, His mercy, His forgiveness, His compassion, or His blessings from you.  He showers you with kindness.  He will lavish His generosity on you, If You Are Willing To Receive It

It’s not just about your physical needs; he is referring to your spiritual and emotional needs as well.  God will give you All The Joy You Need—All The Love You Need, All The Faith You Need, All The Mercy You Need, And Much More

You may have spent most of your life thinking that you had to manufacture these things on your own, and that most of the time God is ticked off that you don’t do a better job at it.  You may have spent most of your life thinking that God doles out blessings only with great resistance, and only to the most deserving. 

The truth is, He Wants To Shower His Kindness On You.  Everything you need, He wants to provide.

See your relationship with God in a new way—in a non-adversarial way.  God isn’t mad at you.  He isn’t sorry that He chose you.  And if He had to do it over, He Would Die For You Again.  Why?  Before you were born, you were on His mind and IN His heart.  He chooses You to be His very own.  You belong with Him, and that will never change.  And He will be with you every step of the way, blessing you with what you need each and every moment.

How do I know this?  Even more important, how can YOU know this?  You and I can know this without a doubt because the Holy Spirit is given as our guarantee.  “Guarantee” Is A Term That Means The Assurance That Another’s Obligation Will Be Fulfilled

It comes from a Hebrew word that means “a pledge”—God has made a pledge to fully restore you back to His Intended Design—To be the you He created you to be.  Until that work is finished He gives us the Holy Spirit, as His Personal Pledge

The presence of the Holy Spirit is the assurance that God’s commitment to you will not stop until the final result—We become exactly like our Intended Design—The Perfect In Every Detail Reflection Of God.  We come to the table, the ONLY Table where it all starts, where we are called to live, and one day where it will be completed—the Table of Grace…

Next Step

This week it’s rather simple:  Find where God is at work and join with Him.  After all, He has chosen you to work with Him!  Or, find a place where you know God wants to work, and get started.  After all, He wants you to work with Him!

GOD MEANT WHAT HE SAID AND HE SAID WHAT HE MEANT!

(Message from Resurrection Sunday 2019)

Mark 16:1-7 (NLT)

1 Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went out and purchased burial spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on Sunday morning, just at sunrise, they went to the tomb. 3 On the way they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 But as they arrived, they looked up and saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled aside.

5 When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side.  The women were shocked, 6 but the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed.  You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He isn’t here!  He is risen from the dead!  Look, this is where they laid his body. 7 Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee.  You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.”

It’s devastating when people break their word, isn’t it.  It does much harm.

  • It Crushes The Spirit,
  • It Drains The Hope,
  • And It Steals The Joy Of Living Right Out Of Us. 

When Jesus came on the scene preaching the Good News of God’s Kingdom, people found hope.  Many believed in what Jesus was saying.  It seemed to ring so true in their life.  It was almost too good to be true, but they knew, deep down inside—man, this is the real deal.  Many believers abandoned their old lifestyles, lucrative careers all to follow Jesus.  And they did it without regret or remorse. 

But then it happened.  Jesus was arrested.  Justice was thrown out the window.  He was delivered into the hands of Roman authority—and when that wasn’t enough—the religious leaders incited the crowd to cry out for Jesus’ crucifixion. 

The women saw him after the Roman soldiers had beaten Him; bleeding stripes on his back, with chunks of flesh missing or just hanging there.  They saw him led to Golgotha, and they watched the spikes being driven into His hands and feet.  They watched as he hung in agony, and then—die! 

As bad as it was to watch the death of Jesus, it was even worse for them—For Their Hope And Peace And Joy Died Also.  Maybe some of them felt betrayed by Jesus.  They thought he hadn’t kept his word to them.  We all need people who will keep their word.

When you experience a person who keeps promises, it’s a life-changing experience.  Some of the great historical moments have been moments where people kept their words.  In May of 1942, when the United States evacuated Corregidor, a submarine came to take General MacArthur and his staff to Australia.  Before MacArthur got on that submarine, he made a very famous promise: “I shall return.”

MacArthur had a great sense of the dramatic, but it went deeper than that. When the war in the Pacific turned, American troops began to fight their way back toward the Philippines.  Some advisers in the Pacific theater felt it was foolish to try to go back. “Just bypass the Philippines, and go on.” they said.  But MacArthur felt a sense of history—a promise had been made.  He went back to Leyte Gulf, and you may remember the famous Life magazine photograph as MacArthur, with his adjutant at his side, stepped on the beach at Leyte to keep a promise.  Keeping promises is important!

One of my favorite children’s story writers is Dr. Seuss. The best character in Dr. Seuss has got to be Horton the elephant.  I love that guy.  Remember that flaky bird who left her egg with Horton and said, “Would you watch this egg please?”  She leaves that egg and never comes back.  Horton stays with that egg until it hatches.  He’s a wonderful mother.  Remember that great line Dr. Seuss gives to Horton, when his friends tried to get him off of that nest?  He says,“I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant is faithful 100 percent”

Easter comes to remind us of the one thing that we need to always remember: God Meant What He Said And He Said What He Meant.  God Is Faithful 100 Percent! 

  • He Promised Abraham That All Nations Would Be Blessed Through Him.  And He Kept That Promise.
  • He Promised Isaac That The Promise Would Live Through Him.  And He Kept That Promise.
  • He Promised Jacob That The Promise Would Live Through His Descendants.  And He Kept That Promise.
  • He Promised David That The Messiah Would Come Through His Family.  And He Kept That Promise.
  • He Promised Joseph And Mary Their Son Would Save The World From Their Sins.  And He Kept That Promise.

What a wonderful time to remember that God keeps His promises to us.  Easter isn’t about new clothes and dinners and egg hunts.  Easter Is About Jesus—The One Who Keeps His Word To Us.  The angel says to the women, “He is alive.”  Notice, that Jesus of Nazareth is alive.  The one they had put their hope in.

There’s no mistake about it. It’s not a phantom-spiritualized-Christ the angel is talking about.  It’s Jesus of Nazareth.  This is the historical name of our Lord—His name, plus the city, Nazareth.  Jesus of Nazareth is alive.  He has conquered death.  He will meet his friends in Galilee, As He Said He Would.“Do you remember what he told you?  It’s all true.”  

That’s what the angel said. Jesus keeps his word. I want to reflect upon the amazing fact that Jesus still keeps His promise.  God Meant What He Said And He Said What He Meant.  God Is Faithful 100 Percent

1.  He Loved Us Then, He Loves Us Now, And He Will Always Love Us—Just Like He Said He Would.

Before the Cross, Jesus said in John 15:12-13, This is my commandment:  Love each other in the same way I have loved you.  There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  The fact of the Cross is nearly 2000 years old.  If He loved us while He hung on that Cross—and He did love us—do you really think at any point now he will stop loving us?

  • Nothing You Can Do Now Will Make God Love You More Than When Jesus Hung On The Cross. 
  • And Nothing You Can Do Now Will Make God Love You Less Than When Jesus Hung On The Cross

You can count on God’s love.  1 John 4:15 says, “We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love.”  God is offering us all a love relationship because He is love.  His love is not an emotional, mushy feeling.  His love is that radical transforming love that changes us back into His Image.  His love never fails, never gives up on that Goal! 

God Meant What He Said And He Said What He Meant.  God Is Faithful 100 Percent.

2.  God Will Forgive Us—Just Like He Said He Would.

In Luke 23:34 we read, “Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”  Remember where Jesus said this!  He wasn’t writing a book when He said it.  He wasn’t leading a motivational seminar when He said it!  It wasn’t on the Mount of Transfiguration when He said it.  It’s wasn’t during Triumphal Entry a week earlier when He said it.

  • On That Cross, That’s Where He Said It. 
  • In The Middle Of That Pain, He Said It. 
  • While People Were Mocking Him, He Said It. 
  • While Soldiers Were Gambling For His Clothes, He Said It.
  • And Whatever Sin Has Not Been Confessed And Repented Of Today In Your Life, Jesus Says It To You“Father, forgive him, he doesn’t know what he is doing.”  “Father, forgive her, because she doesn’t have a clue.” 

Forgiveness was extended from the Cross to everyone who had a part in that Horrible AND Glorious Day.  Forgiveness did not end on that day.  Forgiveness continues to be extended to all people in all times in all places.  Not just to those around that Cross, but to us as well. 

God Meant What He Said And He Said What He Meant.  God Is Faithful 100 Percent.

3.  Finally, God Will Stay With Us—Just Like He Said He Would.

Jesus said in Matthew 28:20, “And be sure of this:  I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  The Tomb was empty then because He was alive.  There are all kinds of speculations about where the tomb of Jesus was around Jerusalem.  Several spots claim to be the tomb of Jesus. Some say, “It’s here.” Some say, “No, it’s over here.” Others say, “No, it over there.” But do you know know what?  That doesn’t matter—because He’s not in tomb.  Tombs are for dead people.

  • Stalin is still in a burial vault. 
  • Mohammed is still in a burial vault in the city of Medina.
  • Abraham Lincoln is buried in Springfield, Illinois 
  • Sigmund Freud’s remains are in London.
  • Princess Diana’s tomb is in Althrop, England
  • Who’s in Grant’s Tomb?  I don’t know and I don’t care!
  • And I Don’t Care About Which Place Jesus Was Buried. 

Truth is, He’s alive.  Tomb’s don’t matter for Jesus!  He conquered death, and now He seeks to live in the hearts and lives of those who accept Him.  Jesus Lives Today, and He comes to live in us by the Holy Spirit because

God Meant What He Said And He Said What He Meant.  God Is Faithful 100 Percent.

Spend a moment now, thinking about that.  Stop and think about God’s faithfulness. On Resurrection Sunday, There Is Only 1 Next Step For All of Us.

Walk Towards Jesus!  Think about this:  What would it look like in your life if you spend the rest of your life walking with Jesus?

  • How Would You Spend Your Time? 
  • What Would You Be Doing With Your Life? 
  • How Would You Make This Community Better?
  • How Would You Treat Other People? 
  • How Would You React When Life Becomes Difficult?

Don’t Walk Away From Jesus, Surrender Your Life To Him.  Can you really walk away this morning of all mornings, when we remember that

God Meant What He Said And He Said What He Meant.  God Is Faithful 100 Percent!

Can you really put off going deeper in your relationship with Jesus?  How can you hold back a part of you knowing that God Meant What He Said And He Said What He Meant.  God Is Faithful 100 Percent.

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.

Not All Good Things Must Come To An End

Image result for goodbye

Well, it’s time to pack up and leave.  I wouldn’t call it graduation day from this special classroom, but then again, maybe it is.  Graduation means that one has learned the required curriculum and is now ready to apply the lessons.

Well, everything that we brought is packed up, leaving nothing behind that we didn’t bring.  Well, minus the foods we consumed.  We packed nothing that was here.  Well, except some sand.  It seems that no matter how much you shake, some of that pesky sand will stay with you.  And here is the final exam, which I passed.

The lessons I discovered here at the beach, are still true in Fayette, Alabama.  What I soaked into my mind and heart about the Truth of God on the beach, is still the Truth in Fayette.  And the faithful God who revealed His Heart to me on the beach, still longs to reveal that Heart to me wherever I am.  I do not have to be in some special place to hear God’s heart.  Every moment of every day contains something to see about God–His Heart and His Desires for each of us.

So, I carry this with me–some sand and the truth that to see and hear God, I only need to be ready–to open my eyes, my heart, and my mind.  This doesn’t mean I can give up our vacations, excuse me, our spiritual retreats.  For like Jesus modeled, we need times apart from the ordinary routines in order to find that time of cleansing and refreshing.  I prepare to go home–but like those Wise Men who found the Christ-Child, I go home a different way–because I am a different person.  I am a different person because I made the decision to seek and listen to The Master Teacher.

Classes aren’t really over.  It’s just the location of the classroom has changed.  And thought the classroom changes, the Teacher remains.  If I ever doubt this, I’m sure I will find a grain of beach sand somewhere in the car, in my home–and I will remember that God still has much to teach me.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way God loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!