Monday, December 18, 2017

Mary's Story Pt. 3

Distractions are interruptions that interfere with us accomplishing what we believe is important. They are rabbits in our minds that capture our thoughts and take them away from what we are supposed to be thinking about. They compete for our time and try to occupy space within our minds needed to stay focused. They compel our eyes to look at images not associated with the task at hand. Basically, distractions take us away from what is considered the main thing.

Amazing amount of ways to fight distractions.
1.       Determine what is most important—that is your priority.
2.      Organize your time around that priority.
3.      Schedule your day accordingly.
4.      Refuse to allow anything to keep you from your schedule.
5.      Say no to interruptions.

But what if the distraction proves to be more important than what we had thought was most important? What if the rabbit is a better catch than what we’re after? What if the interruption solves greater problems than it causes? What if in denying the distraction we lose one of the greatest moments of our lives?

One cold winter day in 1971, students at a small Kentucky college went to their weekly chapel service. It was their duty. Attendance was required. They expected nothing but getting their name checked to prove they were there. 185 hours later they came out of that chapel, changed beyond their wildest dreams. God had scheduled the Asbury Revival, a divine moment, within a busy college curriculum.

A lady had an eating disorder caused by using food to cope with life. “There is nothing life can throw at me that I cannot eat away,” was her motto. The comfort she found in eating was only compounded by the guilt she experienced when she was done. She went to church one Sunday in her usual mindset of no expectations. The Pastor shared that Jesus was the Bread of Life. Suddenly it dawned on her that the desire to eat wasn’t the problem. The problem was what she chose to eat. She had been expecting food to do what only Jesus could do. Four years and 172 pounds later she has held to her new diet. Her divine moment gave her a new life.

Every morning a man went out into the garden to spend time reflecting, doing his devotions and reading the Bible. After his wife died it was four days before he went back. As he was reading his Bible, considering how alone he felt, reading of the Spirit of God descending like a dove, he begged God for comfort. A bird suddenly flew up and perched on his foot. The bird showed no fear and spent several minutes chattering to him.  This had never happened before. After a while the bird jumped from his foot to his knee.  He said he just put his hands out and said, no food. But the bird seemed happy just to be there twittering to the man for a few more minutes and then it flew away. He thought about the comfort the little bird had given him but the loneliness came back when the bird flew away. The man went back to his prayer and asked for comfort again and the bird actually came back.  He said afterwards, “I was just amazed at the whole thing, enjoying the moment with the bird, then missing his company when he flew away.” Which was how his emotions were—unpredictable and raw. “But, then the bird came back to me. Then I realized, by a little insignificant bird, God gave me a divine moment to remind me I wasn’t alone. He was with me.”

A divine moment is when God interrupts our lives to give us something better than whatever it is we’re after at that moment.

They are extraordinary because in that moment we discover something we might miss had we pushed it away as an interruption. They are moments that remind us that we are part of a much bigger picture of what God is doing.

Vance is a Black man living in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood. But that isn’t the only reason he stands out. He is a servant-hearted father who also cares for the many other kids who play in the streets by his building. One night at 9 p.m., there was a knock at Vance's door. The 16-year-old boy who lives a few doors down needed help tying his tie. He had a big presentation at school the next day, and he had no father to help him get ready. After Vance had finished tying the tie, the boy asked, "Do you have a pair of black dress shoes I could borrow?" Vance thought about the $60 pair of shoes in his closet that he hadn't even taken out of the box yet. He cringed when he was certain God was telling him to give the boy those shoes. Vance cringed inside. He told the boy to wait at the door as he headed into the apartment to look for any pair of shoes but the new pair. Before he went to the closet, though, he told his wife what he sensed the Spirit was saying to him. She agreed that it sounded like something God would say. So he got the new shoes and brought them to the boy. His last hope was that they wouldn't fit. After all, how many 16-year-olds have size-12 feet? They fit perfectly. Just a few weeks after Vance gave away his new shoes, he and his wife sensed God telling them to start a Bible study for the kids in their building. They bought four Bibles and put out word a Bible study was beginning. That Sunday, seven kids showed up at Vance's apartment—brought there by the 16-year-old owner of a new pair of shoes. The following week they bought more Bibles, and the 16-year-old brought in 14 kids! Who would have thought the kingdom of God would come to the kids of that apartment complex just because one man, in a divine moment, chose to give away a new pair of shoes?

What is a divine moment? It is slice of time into which God slips a unique and unexpected encounter. It is a sovereign act, not something you can plan for or schedule. Can you miss it? Sure, by being so focused on what you think is more important, you can miss what God wants you to see.

An old shoe cobbler dreamed one Christmas Eve that Jesus would come to visit him the next day. The dream was so real that he was convinced it would come true. So the next morning he got up, straightened up his shop, sat down and waited. The hours passed. But an old man came inside for a moment to get warm out of the winter cold. As the cobbler talked with him he noticed the holes in the old man’s shoes, so he reached up on the shelf and got him a new pair of shoes. He made sure they fit. He dried his socks and then sent him on his way. Still he waited. An old woman came who hadn’t had a decent meal in two days. He sat and visited for a while. He prepared some food for her to eat then sent her on her way. Then he sat back down to wait for Jesus.  Then he heard a little boy crying out in front of his shop. He went outside and found out the boy had gotten lost from his parents and didn’t know how to get home. The cobbler put on his coat, took the boy by the hand and led him home. When he came back to his little shoe shop it was almost dark and the streets were empty. And in a moment of despair he lifted his voice to heaven and said, "Oh Lord Jesus, why didn’t you come?" And then he heard a voice say, "Oh cobbler, lift up your heart. I kept my word. Three times I knocked at your door. Three times you answered. I was the man needing shoes. I was the woman needing food. I was the little boy on the street." Jesus had come. The cobbler just didn’t realize it.

Luke 2:21  And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "EVERY firstborn MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD"), and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, "A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS."

All of this was routine, simply carrying out what was expected—following the Law. Nothing unusual or exceptional about it. No one would have looked at them and said, “Look at those religious fanatics.” If you were a Jewish family, this is what you would do. Eight days after the most spectacular night of the presence of God and angels and shepherds, they were now into the ordinary schedule of life.

Who expects God to show up in the ordinary stuff of life?

Let me tell you about Simeon: Luke 2:25  And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him.

Righteous, devout
            Righteous – a title given – we are righteous (right with God) because God
                        declares us so.
            Devout – a title earned
Devout: totally committed to our beliefs. Believing strongly in the principles of our faith and structuring our lives to live by those principles: To be deeply devoted to God. Living out our righteousness.

Men typically judge someone more by what they do than what they say they are.
·         If you give a man a title with a job description and he doesn’t do what is on the job description, then he isn’t being what his title says he is.
·         But, if a man does the job he’s called to do he can wear the title.

Simeon was both righteous and devout.
            He wore the title righteous but backed up that title through his devout actions.

Ask a man if he is righteous, he’ll answer no, not really. Ask him if he is devout, he’ll stay he’s trying or working on it.
Which tells us this story didn’t come from Luke interviewing Simeon. It’s what Mary remembered him. She saw him as a righteous man first then told Luke what he was doing.

A man would look at what someone does, then define him.
·         He passed for 389 yards, threw for four touchdowns, ran for one. His QB rating for his last game was 147.7. He’s an MVP Quarterback.
·         He shot from 300 yds and got a 14 pt. buck that scored a 127. He’s a great hunter.

By the things a man does he either deserves the title he is given or he doesn’t.

That’s probably what Luke heard when Mary told him about Simeon. She saw a righteous man who did things that blessed them. Luke heard the things Simeon did that demonstrated he was a righteous man.

Acknowledged the presence of the Lord in his life. Something a righteous man would do.
·         Looking for the consolation of Israel – the Messiah – Meaning he was open to God’s Divine Moments.
·         Lived with a promise. What are you trusting God for? What in your life needs God’s intervention?
·         Came in the Spirit – sensitivity to God’s promptings and anticipation of God’s workings.
·         Took the Baby into his arms and blessed God. Why did Jesus come as a baby? Because even burly old men will hold a baby in their arms.
·         Shared insight with Mary.

Luke 2:26  And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, "Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Your people Israel." And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, "Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed--and a sword will pierce even your own soul--to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."

Simeon’s Divine Moment:
·         Were it not for Simeon’s desire to see God, he would have missed seeing God in a baby.
·         The Holy Spirit was upon him – He was sensitive to the promptings of God.
·         Wasn’t looking for a baby. He was looking for God so was prepared for however God would reveal Himself to Simeon. He found both in the same package.
·         He didn’t get up that morning saying, “This is the day I see the Messiah.”
·         He didn’t have it on his to-do list: go to the Temple, meet Jesus.
·         He simply lived in anticipation of God fulfilling His promise.
·         His desire for God made him open to this divine moment with God.

Righteous men live that way. They’re not weird, they just leave room for God.

Does God have a divine moment planned for you this Christmas?

Easy to lose the gift in the wrappings.

1.       God does many extraordinary things within the ordinary.
2.      Since every day is a day the Lord has made, we can expect there will be moments within those days in which He does something special.
3.      Being preoccupied is the easiest way to miss what God is doing.

4.      If we choose to live in anticipation, we will be in a better position to recognize the Lord when He visits us.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Mary's Story Pt. 2

I read an article this week on information trends. In medical school, they tell you half of what you are about to learn won’t be relevant when you graduate — they just don’t know which half. A procedure will be replaced, new medications will be discovered, causes and treatment of diseases will be reevaluated and changed. Diseases not in the books today will be the new threat for health tomorrow.

We’ve seen it in a drug claiming to be safe a few years ago and now is listed as a bad drug subject to lawsuits. Substances that are dangerous now will become acceptable in the future and things we trust now will be untrustworthy before long.

A few years back eating eggs was harmful, today eggs are good for you. Sugar substitutes were considered safe, now they are a hazard. Cigarettes were harmless and asbestos was a safe product. Once Brussel sprouts were bad…and they’re still bad.

In every field of knowledge, most of what is true today will one day be updated by better information.

This is what the author called “the half-life of facts.”  The premise that for every category of knowledge, the facts that knowledge was built on will slowly be overturned, changed, and replaced. In medicine, the rate of that overturning is high enough that you never really complete your education. For a doctor, Medical school is an on-going process.

In physics, about half of all research findings will be discredited within 13 years. In psychology, information changes about every seven.

Some of that change is due to revision. The field of History is being tampered with continuously as people want to sanitize the ugly out of what went on, or rewrite events to twist the truth to fit a political or social agenda. Simply throwing in a lie or two or leaving out key information to unsuspecting students can change the whole impact of an event.

Kids are used to beliefs being taken away from them. One of our families told me of the discussion about the reality of Santa Clause with their grandson. They went ahead and used that moment to clear up other myths—tooth fairy, Easter Bunny, Great Pumpkin. The grandson thought about it and asked: what about God? Is God a myth, too?

With so much information changing, will there be a day that our belief in God will be replaced by some History Channel exposé that in a manuscript found in a mayonnaise jar in a cave in Western Kentucky says: I don’t exist, signed God. Will that be the silver bullet Atheists are looking for?

So in a culture where change is the rule and nothing lasts forever, where truth is flexible and can be spun, twisted or stretched as needed, how can we believe what the Bible says is true?

  1. Inability to disprove it. Men who have tried ended up surrendering their lives to what it says: C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel
  2. Continuity of the story. It is one story of Redemption from start to finish. Over 40 different writers, written over a period of 1500 years, one message.
  3. Historical accuracy of its details. Archeology has reinforced the Bible not disproven it.
  4. The compelling affect upon those who believe it. Seeking lives have always been transformed.
  5. It is based on eyewitness’s accounts. Strongest testimony is a first person story.

Ultimately, we believe the Bible is true because we believe in God. Scripture says God breathed the very words into existence. We believe that God, who cannot lie, presented us truth through men He chose to write His words. Luke being one of those men.

But what makes Luke’s version of the story of Jesus’ life correct? Well, even if you take out the effect of inspiration and just made it a deposition of facts, what Luke wrote came from the people who experienced the stories. They were told to him by the people who were there. Luke also wrote the Books of Acts where he made 46 historical references. Every reference has proven accurate. He seems quite trustworthy as a historian.

He started his gospel with: Luke 1:3  it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; Luke 1:4  so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

Exact truth is different from relative truth. What we think about what he wrote is immaterial. Whether we believe what he wrote doesn’t matter. Truth remains true. His accounts are true because he extracted from those who were there what they saw, heard and felt relative to Jesus’ life. That intersection of their lives with Jesus was their testimony of what happened. The lasting effect of Jesus in their lives was indisputable.

I’d like to take you back to that interview Luke had with Mary. Remember, he never met Jesus and didn’t know all the backstory. All he knew was what he had been told. In this moment, he’s trying to fill in the gaps of his understanding by asking Mary to share her story.

Okay, so Mary, I believe I’ve got the things about Elizabeth and John, let’s shift over to the story of Jesus’ birth.

Well, we were planning for the birth in Nazareth but then a Roman soldier came to town and announced the census from Caesar Augustus. It meant Joseph would have to go to Bethlehem right when the baby would be born.

Now, which census was this? I know there was one in celebration of Caesar’s victory over Marc Antony…

No, this was the first one, about 12 years before that one. Quirinius was governor then.
But I didn’t think Quirinius was governor until later than that.

Actually, he was governor twice, during the first census before Herod died and then reaagain during the second census.

From what I know, most censuses take place at your home city? Why did Joseph have to go to Bethlehem? You guys were from Nazareth. Shouldn’t he have been registered there?

This wasn’t like most censuses. This one had something to do with a man’s ancestral roots. It was like a reverse migration back home to be counted. Since Joseph’s family traces back through David, he had to go to Bethlehem.

But the Romans didn’t count women in their censuses. Why did you go?

Well, you remember, when I got back from Elizabeth’s, I was already three months pregnant? Well, we were married right away. But being pregnant that soon would make people think we had been together before we got married, so we kept it a secret. Flowing dresses helped and I stayed home a lot.

You know I never realized you would have had a full-term baby in only six month. I can only imagine the shaming by your family and friends and even the people in town. So, you were actually married when Jesus was born?

Yes, but since we never consummated our vows before the birth, I guess we were technically still betrothed. And, of course, I was still a virgin.

And fear of the shaming made you go with him to Bethlehem?

That, and I didn’t want to be alone having the baby with Joseph so far away, so I went with him. And we planned to stay away for a while.

Oh, I get it. That’s why you stayed in Bethlehem after the census was over.

No one questioned us when we came back to Nazareth with a child like they would have if we came back with a baby.

That makes sense.
We thought so.

Ok, so, back to the birth.

Well, it was time for the baby to be born so I found some cloth strips to wrap around him then used a manger for a cradle.

Why cloth strips and not a blanket?

We didn’t have a blanket and the cloth strips were already there in the corner.

And why a manger?

We had to stay in a stable.

Okay, why in a stable?

Because there were so many people in town for the census there were no rooms available at the inn.
So you weren’t all alone?

No, there were others around. In fact, some shepherds came in from the fields.

Wait, Bethlehem…that was where they tended the sacrificial sheep for the Temple?

Yes. They told us a fantastic story of angels and lights. They said our baby was the Savior. They said the angels spoke to them and said: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men.”

They spoke? I would have thought angels would have sung.

The shepherds were very nervous, but they clearly said the angels spoke.


Yes, I even had to tell them not to be afraid. They said that was the same thing the angels told them. Apparently all of this had been pretty unnerving: Angels, lights and now the Savior.

Did they stay long?

No, they were only there for a few minutes. They said a blessing over our baby then went back to their fields. But they left praising God.

So what impressed you most about the shepherds coming?

That everything was exactly like the Angel said. They told them they would find our baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger and that would be the sign from God that Jesus was the right One—Christ the Lord.

Amazing. So strangers coming in, telling you how special your baby was. How did that make you feel?

Emotionally overloaded. Flooded by such precious thoughts. All I could do was try to take in as much as I could and let it settle in my heart.

What kinds of things were you thinking about?

Oh, all kinds. What’s going to happen, how is everything the angel told me going to work out, who this baby will become and how that will affect me.

Mary…did you know? Did you have any idea what this baby would become?

How could I? I was a young girl who had just become a mother. My life was now His life. My future was right then, in that moment. Tomorrow was a million miles away. All I knew was…I loved Him more than I ever loved anything in my life. (pause) And I still do.


Luke 2:1  Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. "This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased." When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, "Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us." So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

1.       When God is at work He leaves no dangling loose ends.
2.      He accomplishes everything that concerns us.
3.      Even in completing the big picture He takes care of the smallest details.
4.      Nothing is considered insignificant to Him.
5.      You and your concerns matter greatly to Him.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Mary's Story 1

Memory is fickle. The elephant is supposed to have the best. My memory works just opposite of an elephant’s. Once I forget something it’s forgotten forever. 

Some things intensify memory like when a sense is attached to a place or person or event. Smells can trigger memories for me. I’ve walked by a group of pine trees and their combined scent is so strong I’m suddenly in the gully in the woods where I grew up. I can smell Stetson cologne and flash back to a Deacon friend from a church years ago as though he’s in the room with me. I’ve walked into a flower shop and been transported to a funeral service. Sounds can trigger memories. I’ve heard an old style siren and found myself in the back of an ambulance being jostled along on a trip to the hospital after a car wreck when I was in High School. I hear a Neil Diamond song and I’m singing along with a bunch of guys in a dorm room in college.

Another intensifier is emotion. When an emotion is connected to an event, we have a stronger memory. Not only do we know details, we also feel how we felt. We remember with the emotion attached. Ask a war veteran about their experiences and you’ll get more than a historical narration. He’ll go back there. Losing a loved one. We can give a play by play of all that was going on when they died but not in sterile facts, we are there again, feeling with the same emotions. Or in the birth of a child. I can take you back into the birth story of our firstborn and describe the moment I was overwhelmed with tears and begged the doctor to put him back in. Why do we remember so much? It’s the power of emotion—fear, terror, inadequacy, hope, future, love. They add depth to a story.
Emotions help us remember details we might otherwise dismiss as unimportant.

Most women remember much better than men do. Primarily because men aren’t as in touch with their emotions as women. Men remember in general. Women in specific.

In a man’s mind are dozens of little boxes. There’s a box for each subject he might be concerned about. A box for the car, the house, work, the kids, the pets, recreation, sports, vacation, church, health, finances, the wife.

Every subject has a box. If you want to talk about one of those subjects, he’ll go to that box, open it up and talk about what’s in the box. Ladies, if you change the subject, he will close that box, go back and get another box relative to the new subject, open it and talk about what’s in that box. If you go back and throw something in from the first subject, you’ll get the deer in the headlights look as he closes the current box and reopens the other one.

A man has limited RAM – random access memory – the ability for our computers to multitask. Even with all those boxes he is limited to the information he has available at the time to discuss a subject.

Men, your son calls and the grandbaby is born. You take the call and he tells you you are a grandfather. You tell him congratulations and how excited you are for them and hang up. Your wife asks, what was it? A baby. Boy or girl? I don’t know. How big was it? Small, probably. How much did it weigh? He didn’t say. How long was it? I didn’t ask. What did they name it? Smith.

Why? Men aren’t into the details? Those weren’t the main things of the story. The main thing was our son and his wife had a baby and we are grandparents. Women are into the details. So, your wife will by-pass you and your son, call your daughter-in-law and get the details she wants to know.

In a woman’s mind are wires going everywhere. Instead of boxes she has a circuit board with all the wires connecting to everything on that circuit board. Why? Because for a woman everything connects. Every story intertwines. Talking about dinner connects with your mother which connects with how she raised you which connects with why you can’t iron your own shirts. You compliment her new dress and she can’t accept the compliment because it connects with her new size which connects with her weight which connects with Thanksgiving which connects to your mom who brought the pumpkin pie and she had that extra slice.

But let her tell a story and she’ll give great details. A man, not so much.

Now when Luke wanted to write the story of Jesus, not having direct information from personal observation, he interviewed people who did have that information.

Luke 1:1  Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, Luke 1:2  just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, Luke 1:3  it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; Luke 1:4  so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

Who would know more about the birth of Jesus than Mary? You want specifics ask the mother. Matthew told the story from Joseph’s side. He wrote 7 verses about the birth and 23 about the Magi and the trip to Egypt. Luke wrote 132 verses, never mentioning the Magi or Egypt.

Why was the Magi’s story important to Joseph and not to Mary? Magi were men of renown from a strange land who traveled a long way to see this child that they declared a king. These men did something fantastic, so to make that journey to Bethlehem spoke volumes to Joseph. That would impress a man. But even still, Joseph’s story was just reporting an event as though he was describing stuff in the box that said Nativity. His story was factual but impersonal.

Mary told about family and faith and shepherds who made this birth a fulfillment of God’s love for His people.  That would impress a woman. Her story was relational.

A man’s life-strength comes from what he does. A woman’s life-strength comes from who she is. In a man’s mind what he does defines who he is. For a woman, who she is, expresses itself in what she does. The worst thing you can do for a man is take away his ability to do. What he does gives him his identity. The worst thing you can do for a woman is to take away her concept of who she is. Who she is is why she does what she does.

That’s why the empty nest is harder on a woman than a man. Her life is all about relationships. But retirement is harder on a man than a woman. His life is all about doing.

When you read Joseph’s story you understand he was focused on telling the story from what he was to do—take Mary as wife and protect her virginity and name the baby Jesus.

Matt 1:18  Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. Matt 1:19  And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. [What must I do to fix this?] Matt 1:20  But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
Matt 1:21  "She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." Matt 1:22  Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: Matt 1:23  "BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL," which translated means, "GOD WITH US." Matt 1:24  And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, Matt 1:25  but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

Mary was focused on telling who she would be—the mother of the Messiah. And who He would be—the King of the Kingdom of God. She told about this birth as it affected her.

Even though this interview with Luke was after Jesus had died, it was fresh to Mary. It was seasoned with emotions that maintained the flavor of every word. Garnished with details that created the warmth we expect in the story of a baby’s birth.

But why did Mary start her story with her Cousin Elizabeth’s story about the birth of John the Baptizer?

It gave credibility to her unbelievable story of virgin birth. Elizabeth’s was a miraculous birth in her old age. Who else would understand the visit by an angel and being left with a promise of a special child? Elizabeth could give Mary confirmation that this was God at work. Mary probably didn’t even know she was pregnant until Elizabeth told her. Elizabeth was Mary’s sonogram.

Elizabeth was married to a Levite Priest. Not that women married to preachers are any more spiritual than others, but she was probably the one Mary respected most. If you have a divine moment with God, you generally want to run that by someone you believe has spiritual wisdom.

Mary went to see Elizabeth and spent 3 months there, until John was born. Came home three months pregnant. When did she conceive? Most likely the very moment she agreed.

Luk 1:26  Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, Luk 1:27  to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.

Luk 1:30  The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. Luk 1:31  "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. Luk 1:32  "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; Luk 1:33  and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end." Luk 1:34  Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" [I need more details.] Luk 1:35  The angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. Luk 1:36  "And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. Luk 1:37  "For nothing will be impossible with God." Luk 1:38  And Mary said, "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word." [Not: what do I have to do?] And the angel departed from her. Luk 1:39  Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, Luk 1:40  and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. Luk 1:41  When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Luk 1:42  And she cried out with a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! Luk 1:43  "And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? Luk 1:44  "For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy.

There’s her confirmation. The promise was a reality. God was writing a fantastic story of salvation and deliverance, presenting the Messiah to the world, and Mary’s life-story gets woven in. God brought Mary into the greater story of Jesus. He does that for us. In a divine moment our life intersects with the truth of who Jesus is and we embrace it. We are now part of that greater story. His story becomes our story.

1.       Hidden within Mary’s story is one of the most significant statements in Scripture – Nothing will be impossible with God.
2.      When God is writing the story, everything fits in its proper place, the timing is perfect and the result is good.
3.      Wherever He is in the story of your life, anything is possible because your story isn’t finished yet.
4.      Faith is the ability to trust God to work out all the details in order to bring about a good conclusion.

5.      So don’t judge your story by how it began, wait and see how it ends.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Thanksgiving 2017

The word Thanksgiving or Thanks is an interesting word in Scripture. In Greek it is the word: Eucharist. Eu in Greek is an adjective meaning good, and charis is the Greek word for grace. So it literally means good grace. Or: declaring God’s grace as good. We might just say it is: giving of thanks to God for His good grace. Some have made this a ritual, a sacrament to remember Jesus’ death on the cross. But it is far greater than a single event, as great as that single event was, it is the life that resulted from what Jesus did. It is the unexplainable goodness of God in behalf of His children.

Grace is God’s unmerited favor—the undeserved, unachieved, freely given blessing of His goodness to us.

It is God giving us what we don’t deserve—the blessings of favor.

Gen 6:8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.

Exo 33:16-17  "For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?" The LORD said to Moses, "I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name."

Psa 30:5  For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime…

Psa 30:7  O LORD, by Your favor You have made my mountain to stand strong…

Psa 89:17  For You are the glory of our strength, And by Your favor our horn is exalted.  Horn – our reputation.

Psa 90:17  Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; And confirm for us the work of our hands; Yes, confirm the work of our hands.

Psa 119:58  I sought Your favor with all my heart; Be gracious to me according to Your word. Favor is the promise of God working in our lives.

The favor of God, God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves, becomes the source of our thanksgiving. The focus of our thanks is on what He has done in us and through us. How He has shown Himself faithful and accomplished good things on our behalf.

George Washington gave us Thanksgiving as a day to remember our blessings. Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

He went on to mention God’s name 16 times in this proclamation. He had the right spirit to direct us to know who it was who deserved our thanks.

But never was thanksgiving intended to be a single day of the year when we concentrate on what we’re thankful for. We are to live as thankful people.

It affects us, personally:

Php 4:6-7  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Prayer – connecting with God – continuous connection – constant communication
Supplication – Supplicate: to ask or beg for something earnestly or humbly. It is connecting our need with God

The promise is Peace. Not the answer. Peace comes when we know God has heard us.

It affects others: 2Co 9:10-15  Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

What gift? The gift of His favor, the work He does in us and through us, simply because He is God and we are His children.

This church is a gift of God’s grace, an expression of His favor. I pull into the parking lot and I see the blessings of God every day. I feel God’s embrace through those with the ministry of hugging. I look out on a crowd of people who fill this place every week and I see the blessings of God each Sunday. I listen to our band and I hear the wonder of God in music. I watch you interact and spread the love and I see God smiling on us. I notice how many are participating in Bible Study groups and Home Groups and I enjoy sensing God’s delight. I read of what is happening through our missions’ partners and I sense God’s hand touching people all over the world through us. I stand in this pulpit and am confident God is speaking to us all and I feel His pleasure.

The Bible speaks of enjoying times of refreshing from the Lord. We are in that time of refreshing. We are in special days. What this church has is rare. It is the exception to the rules of how you do church. God is pouring out His favor and we give Him thanks.

Now, when God works in a church, He is typically working through the people He has brought together. I would like to recognize some of those people and have you join me in thanking God for how what He doing at North Shore Church.

Ministry List 2017

1.       North Shore Church is an incredible church.
2.      The head of this church is the Lord Himself.
3.      He is good and His goodness is seen in every facet of who we are and what we do as a church.
4.      He is blessing this church beyond anything we deserve.
5.      Thank you, Lord, for the incredible gift of Your favor!

Give thanks: For our families and friends – may they see You through me
            For our health, wealth and wellbeing – regardless of what’s going on
            For our church and what God has planned for our future
            For knowing me, loving me and for the plans You have for my life

            For giving me the favor that comes from belonging to You

Monday, November 20, 2017

1 John Pt. 7 -- Greater

The world God created is both physical and spiritual. He governs both by Laws. There are physical laws as well as spiritual laws. Throughout the years, brilliant and inspired men have discovered many of those laws and designed theories and principles that explain how those laws operate.

Sir Isaac Newton realized there was a force that caused apples to accelerate when they fell to the ground. That force he called gravity – the heaviness. No one ever questioned why apples fell down instead of fly upwards. It was just the way it was. And until Newton, no one ever calculated the speed at which apples fall to determine the amount of force gravity is exerting.

This force pulls things down. It’s the reason we when we jump up we come back down instead of fly off the planet. So the expression was coined: what goes up will come down.

But what about birds? Don’t they know the law? Why does it seem they aren’t affected by it? Or an airplane that by weight isn’t going anywhere but, can, by another law, not only get off the ground but fly all over the world. Neither bird nor plane has cancelled the law of gravity. But they have overcome it, by countering it with another law – the Law of Aerodynamics. Through speed and wing shape, thrust and lift they overcome gravity.

At the same time, there are laws that govern the spiritual life on this world.

Go back to the beginning: When God made the world He made a specific declaration over what He had made. He said: It is good. But to demonstrate this good He included the opportunity for contrast. How do we know it’s good unless we have something to compare it to?

Within that good of creation was fellowship with God, the privilege of walking with Him in the cool of the day in the Garden. But wanting that privilege to be something desired rather than just expected, He added the opportunity for temptation. The apple was an invitation to remain in fellowship or to choose to walk away. Into the good world God gave mankind free will.

Free will now produce a spiritual tension pulling us in two directions—between God’s good and man’s choice. This was God’s idea. It didn’t just happen, nor was it an accident. It was anticipated and prepared for.

Back up a bit more: Satan was created as an Arch Angel. He did not exist before God spoke him and all those like him into existence. He was created to serve the purposes of God. But he also was given the ability to rebel. So when he found the apple of desire, he bit.

How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations! But you said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north.  'I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.' "Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol, To the recesses of the pit. Those who see you will gaze at you, They will ponder over you, saying, 'Is this the man who made the earth tremble, Who shook kingdoms, Who made the world like a wilderness And overthrew its cities? (Isa 14:12-16)

Satan rose up against God, challenging God’s authority to rule, lost his heavenly position and became the devil. And from his very name devil or the evil one, Evil spread from him to possess the world.

Adam and Eve bit second: Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden'?" The woman said to the serpent, "From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'" The serpent said to the woman, "You surely will not die! "For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. (Gen 3:1-7)

Adam and Eve gave in to Satan’s temptation, which included challenging God’s right to rule their lives and therefore lost the Garden.

God’s good creation was now a fallen world populated by fallen mankind. Evil had introduced sin, built a stronghold in the hearts of men and would now expand its tactics to steal, kill and destroy all people by distracting them from God’s best.

John said: Jn 2:13  I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father.
1Jn 2:14  I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
1Jn 2:15  Do not love the world nor the things in the world. [what world is he talking about? God’s perfect world or the fallen world Satan has damaged] If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
1Jn 2:16  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.

John is talking about deciding. By showing the fallen world in contrast with God’s intended world, He asks: Which world do you wish to live in? The perfect world as God designed that includes fellowship with Him, or the fallen world Satan has counterfeited? Two worlds but which will be our home?
When Jesus prayed for His followers, including those who would become followers—us, He said: I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.  (John 17:15-17)

In simple terms, we are in the world but not of the world. He explains this in terms of growth:

·         Children – new believers, newly born again ones. Learning the ABC’s of forgiveness and relationship.
·         Young men – maturing believers who have entered into the struggle for the quality of spiritual life. (It is the young men who go to war.) They are engaged in the battle to defeat Satan’s influence on their lives.
·         Fathers – Older believers, who’ve been through the war and now live in the peace which comes from having defeated the enemy.

The children are learning the promises.
The young men are testing the promises.
The old men are living by the results of the promises.
·         Each is progressing in their faith, growing in their understanding of their privileges as Believers.
·         Growing toward God and away from the Evil.
·         The recognize it, respond to it, resist it. They overcome.

Paul discovered the spiritual Laws governing this life. For though I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. (Rom 7:22-25)

My physical body seeks to be governed by the influence of the fallen world. But my spirit wants fellowship with the Father.

White dog/black dog – which do I want to win? It comes down to which choice holds the higher value for me.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;

Storing up means collecting that which I consider important.
·         My Mom was a hoarder, yet in that hoarding she had collected some things of greater value that she considered her treasures.
What’s important to me holds my attention—whatever I treasure holds my focus.

Where’s our focus? Is it wrapped up in what I gain from the physical world? From which do I seek my answers? Do I look up or down? Why does that matter?

…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt 6:10-21) Which holds the greater value, attraction, influence, desire?

John gives us the answer as a truth: 1Jn 4:4  Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.

Greater in:
·         Power – Satan doesn’t have God’s power
·         Knowledge – Satan doesn’t have God’s insight
·         Wisdom – Satan doesn’t care what’s best
·         Presence – Satan isn’t everywhere at all times
·         Goodness – Satan is evil and bent on stealing, killing and destroying
·         Acceptance – Satan is the one who condemns

A truth is a true statement whether we accept it or not. A principle is a truth that we make a building block of our lives, a fact added into the structure of who we are. We take a truth and apply it to our lives. So how do we take a truth and make a principle out of it?

We frame it into an if/then. If this is true, then this is true, or if this is true, this cannot be true.

If God is greater than Satan, then how shall I live?
·         I will demonstrate confidence in God’s abilities.
·         I will exert faith to trust Him in all areas of my life.
·         I will make my decisions on what He says is right or wrong.
·         I will measure my effectiveness as a man, woman, parent, grandparent by the standard He sets.
·         HI will I conduct myself during my stay upon this earth looking to Him for my answers.
·         I will refuse to submit to Satan’s attempts to minimize God’s importance in my life.
·         I will reject his counterfeit life.
·         I will resist the urges to choose evil over good.
·         I will choose God as ruler of my life.

Then ask myself: God is greater than what?
·         Our enemy
·         Our fears
·         Our failures
·         Our faithlessness
·         Our disappointments
·         Our struggles
·         Our addiction
·         Our afflictions
·         Our illnesses
·         Our loses
·         Our death
·         Our heartbreaks
·         Our defeats

We live in a fallen world, governed by the law of evil leading to sin and death. But we are not of that world. We live in the Kingdom of the One greater than the one who is in the world. Though affected by the laws of the evil one, we overcome by the power of the Laws of our God. One law pulling us down, the other lifting us up to soar on wings like eagles,

1.       Free will indicates God wants fellowship with us by desire not obligation.
2.      By giving us free will, God never leaves us without a choice.
3.      Within that freedom to choose are good choices and bad choices.
4.      God has designed us to seek the good choices even while Satan tempts us with counterfeits.

5.      Until we resolve that God’s choices are best, we will be suspended in the space between whether we will live in the world or of the world.