A&D Biker Ministries "Growing the Kingdom of God . . . one Biker at a time"

Sermons

 

January 18, 2020

 

JAMES:  TRUTH FOR TODAY”

 

(Sermon series on the book of James)

 

For the Christian Church, in the year 2020, I don’t think there is a more pertinent message for us than the New Testament book (epistle / letter) of James.  The book of James is one of the first pieces of New Testament literature given to the Church.  James was the flesh and blood brother of Jesus, and the pastor of the very significant church in Jerusalem.  Many Bible scholars believe that James is the most practical book in all the New Testament.  I believe that James is as relevant to the many issues of the Church AND our culture today, in 2020, as it was when it was written - between A.D. 45-60!

 

James addresses this letter “to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” (James 1:1).  In the language of the New Testament, the word for “scattered” is diaspora.  From it we get the English word “dispersed.”  Those who were dispersed were scattered, like seeds.  After Stephen was killed, outside the gate of the old city of Jerusalem, the Christians were scattered (diaspora) through­out the Roman world (Acts 8:1-3).  God permitted this test of the Jerusalem church for a purpose

 

Had there been no diaspora, the Christians would have stayed in Jerusalem and the growth of the church would have been very limited.  Instead, in one generation the Gospel spread throughout the known world - and all the way to Rome.

 

James wrote his letter to Christian Jews scattered outside Palestine.  He wrote to those who had been dispersed - to those who had to leave their homes, their jobs, and their property.  However, in a very real sense, he was writing to us too!  In a way, all Christians are in the diaspora.  We are living as exiles from our eternal heavenly home.  Thus, the letter of James is directly from God to us . . . because, directing the hand of James is the hand of God (2 Timothy 3:16).

 

James wrote his letter to those under persecution, and those engaged in a complex and difficult culture, in order to teach them how to deal with the stress and pressure of trials in life.  He was writing to women who were at their wits end.  (Their children were screaming and crying and trying to adjust to new surroundings.)  He was writing to men who had lost their jobs and their sense of dignity.  The people who would read his letter were emotionally hanging on to life by a thread.  Persecution had driven them from their homes.  They were wrestling with how to live out what they believed.

 

Sound familiar in YOUR life?

So, James is very direct and practical.  Christians today also face pressure and stress.  The good news is that we too can learn from James how to react to certain circumstances.

 

James addresses 13 Themes in his letter which are timeless, concerning issues that are prevalent in our culture today.  The CORE of James’s message is that we should become doers of the Word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22, KJV).  James was more of a “hands-on practitioner” than a theologian.  He got his hands dirty.  He calls on the Church, in every age, to practice what we preach!  He calls on US today, in 2020, to not simply hear the Word of God, but to “DO IT!”  Long before Nike, James was the originator of the theme - “JUST DO IT.”

 

Let’s begin our journey at A&D Biker Ministries to explore these prevalent issues for Christians in our culture today - which James presents.

 

 

“Stress:  FROM FOE TO FRIEND”

 
James 1:1-12

1 This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I am writing to the “twelve tribes” - Jewish believers scattered abroad.  Greetings!  2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.  5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.  He will not rebuke you for asking.  6 But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone.  Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind.  7 Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  8 Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.  9 Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them.  10 And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them.  They will fade away like a little flower in the field.  11 The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements.  12 God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation.  Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

 

Stress is a common buzzword in our society.  In some ways it has even become the scapegoat, the excuse of modern man.  James writes his letter to Christians who have been dispersed during the first century.  And, his first words to them were about how to deal with stress and pressure in the places where they lived. 

 

The recipients of his letter were facing very difficult trials.  So, James sought to show them, AND US, that stress is not necessarily our enemy.  When stress is understood and dealt with biblically, it can actually become a friend.  James begins his letter by pointing to five fascinating facts that can turn stress from a foe to a friend.

 

1. Stress Is Predictable (James 1:1-2)

 

1 This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I am writing to the “twelve tribes” - Jewish believers scattered abroad.  Greetings!  2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 

 

The verse does not say “if” we face trials of many kinds, it says “when.”  James’s point is obvious - Stress Is Predictable!  It is inevitable, inescapable, and unavoidable.  We all have stress.  Some of us have learned to deal with it, some of us have not.

 

“Trials” (peirasmos) are predictable.  We all face them.  Christians encounter two basic types of trials.  Trials of correction come our way when we are out of the will of God, and he allows a trial to come our way in order to correct our life (Jonah).  Trials of perfection, on the other hand, come to us when we are in the will of God, and he is about the business of perfecting our faith.

 

(For example, the disciples on the Sea of Galilee in the midst of a storm were where God told them to be and were doing what he told them to do.)

 

Stress is predictable.  Paul said these trials were “common to man” (1 Corinthians 10:13).  Once we realize that stress is indeed predictable, we can move on and learn to deal with it.

 

2. Stress Is Problematic (James 1:2)

 

2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 

 

Just because these trials are predictable does not mean we should deal with them lightly.  Stress can be problematic.  Stress not only happens, it also hurts!  James tells us to con­sider it an opportunity for great joy when we “face trials of many kinds” The Greek word for that last phrase is poikilos - and it means many-colored or varied.  James knew that trials were not all alike.  Some are job related, some are financial, some are domestic, some result from fear of failure.  The point is we are faced with trials of all sorts of colors and shapes.  Some trials are natural - accidents, sickness, disappointments, or painful circumstances.  Other trials are supernatural.  Although these stressful trials are problematic, there is hope!

 

We should take comfort in the fact that the stress of trials is temporary / momentary / short-lived!

 

1 Peter 1:6 (NLT)

So be truly glad.  There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while.

 

Stress is predictable and problematic, and . . .

 

3. Stress Is Paradoxical (James 1:2-4)

 

3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. 

 

In verse 2, James said we should consider it great “joy” when we face these trials of many kinds.  Could this be a misprint?  We generally count it all joy when we avoid trials and tribulations.  Talk about a paradox! James’s admonition seems completely counter intuitive to the way we naturally look at difficulties.

 

James says “consider” (hegeomai) it great joy.  The word means, “to think ahead, forward.”  The tense of the verb indicates that James was signaling the fact that the trial was not joy in itself, but what came afterwards is joy. 

 

Job did not consider losing his health, family, and all possessions a joy . . . but he did look forward to the joy that would follow his trial.  Job was “thinking ahead” when he said -

 

Job 23:10 (NLT)

“But he knows where I am going.  And when he tests me, I will come out as pure as gold.”

 

Jesus himself “looked beyond” his own suffering.  Hebrews 12:2 reminds us that “for the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross.”

 

The stress of trials is paradoxical.  James said that we should consider stress joy, because it is used to bring us to spiritual maturity.  Stress does not have to be our foe; it can be our friend.

 

4. Stress Is Purposeful (James 1:3-8)

 

3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.  5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.  He will not rebuke you for asking.  6 But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone.  Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind.  7 Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  8 Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do. 

 

Stress produces purity.  One purpose of stress is to lead us to purity.  James reminds us that the testing of your faith develops endurance and perseverance in us.  “Testing” (dokimion) can also be translated “purging.”  The obvious word picture is a precious metal being heated until it is liquid and all impurities rise to the top and are scraped off.  James reminds us that our trials are for a purpose, and one of those purposes is to produce purity in our lives.

 

Stress produces perseverance.  James said the testing of our faith develops endurance / perseverance (hupomeno).  This particular word comes from a preposition meaning “under” and a verb that means, “to stand fast.”  So, James is saying that the testing of our faith develops the staying power that will help us stand up under other tests!  Stress is purposeful.  It produces purity and perseverance in life.

 

Stress produces perfection.  Another purpose of stress is to lead us to perfection. 

 

4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. 

 

The word “mature” (teleion) means to end, to carry work to completion, to become full-grown.  A student goes to school to earn a diploma and along the way may fail a few tests and even confuse a few historical facts - but all that is incidental to finishing the course, walking across the stage, and receiving the diploma on graduation day.  Our goal in Christian living is spiritual maturity . . . and trials produce perfection in our lives!

 

Stress produces prayer.  Another benefit of stressful trials is that they drive us to pray.  James puts it this way:  5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.  He will not rebuke you for asking. 

 

The greatest need of modern man is wisdom (sophia).  James says God gives a supernatural ability to discern - what we call the gift of wisdom -to those who ask for it.  It is God’s gift to us.

 

Knowledge is the accumulation of facts.  Wisdom is the ability to deal with facts and use them in practical ways.  Stress is not only predictable and problematic, it is purposeful.  It produces purity, perseverance, perfection, and prayer in our lives!

 

5. Stress Is ProFitable (James 1:9-12)

 

9 Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them.  10 And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them.  They will fade away like a little flower in the field.  11 The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements.  12 God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation.  Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

 

James 1:9-12 describes three men:  the man with poverty, the man with plenty, and the man with pressure.  The trials God allows have a way of bringing us all to one level.  As a pastor for many years, I have often been with those in poverty; I have sometimes been with those in plenty, and I am regularly with those under pressure!  I have seen how stress and trials have become profitable for those who have learned to deal with them.

 

9 Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. 

 

The world may think that such a person is not worth much, but God says they is worth very much!  Here is a mystery of the Christian life - the last shall be first and the low shall be made high. 

 

10 And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them.  They will fade away like a little flower in the field.  

 

The Gospel has a leveling effect.  In Jericho, Jesus and his disciples met two men on the same day.  One was impoverished, and the other had plenty.  To Bartimaeus (a poverty-stricken and blind beggar on the side of the road) Jesus said, “Rise,” (Mark 10:49).  To Zacchaeus, the wealthy tax collector who had climbed the tree, Jesus said, “Come down” (Luke 19:5).  That sounds just like what James is talking about in verses 9-10!

 

James 1:12 reminds us that stress is profitable not only for those in poverty and those in plenty, but for those under pressure . . .

 

12 God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation.  Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

 

Stress is a menace of humankind.  Remember, stress it is predictable.  The question is when, not if, we will have stress.

 

Stress is also problematic.  if we do not deal with it, it can be destructive. 

 

Stress is also paradoxical.  We can count it as joy - because we know that the final, eternal outcome will be glorious! 

 

And, stress is also purposeful.  God is testing us, putting us through the furnace, so that we might come out as ‘pure gold.’ 

 

Finally, James reminds us that stress is profitable. 

 

We MUST think ahead, and again remember, that -

 

12 God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation.  Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

 

 

December 28, 2019

 

WHAT’S YOUR PLAN FOR 2020?

 

A boy asked his dad, “If three frogs were sitting on a limb that hung over a pond, and one frog decided to jump off into the pond, how many frogs would be left on the limb?”  The dad replied, “Two.”  “No,” the son responded.  “There are three frogs and one decides to jump, how many are left?”  The dad said, “Oh, I get it, if one decides to jump, the others would too.  So there are none left on the limb.”  The boy said, “No dad.  The answer is three . . . because the frog only DECIDED to jump.” 

 

That kind of sounds like last New Year’s resolution, huh?  We get inspired and we make resolutions - but often we only “decide.”  And, months later we are still on the same limb of doing-nothing.

 

This final weekend of 2019, let’s look into God’s Word as we begin to answer the question - What’s my plan for the New Year?

 

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13

1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:  2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, 6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.  9 What does the worker gain from his toil?  10 I have seen the burden God has laid on men.  11 He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.  12 I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.  13 That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil - this is the gift of God.

 

Solomon is telling us that God has a plan for all of us and a cycle for everything we are to do in accordance with God’s will. 

 

To do all that our life demands of us, we must find balance!

 

The first thing you have to do, if you are going to have balance in your life, is:  You have to discover your PURPOSE

 

What is your purpose in this world?  This is the core question of our lives.  If you have not thought seriously about this, you probably haven’t taken life seriously.  Many of the problems in people’s lives would be settled if they understood their purpose in life AND lived it out. 

 

Romans 14:8

If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord.

So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

 

If it is true that we belong to the Lord, then we have the obligation to live for the Lord.

 

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body.

 

Our lives are not our own.  They do not belong to us. We belong to God!

 

The Bible says . . .

 

Philippians 2:12-13

Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

 

Your purpose in life is to live out and fulfill the purpose of God for your life.  He is working to unfold that plan in your life, and your responsibility is to cooperate with his work in you. 

 

1 Corinthians 10:31

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

 

The grand purpose of your life is to know God and have an ongoing relationship with him that brings him glory in the way you live your life. 

 

The Bible says . . .

 

Ephesians 2:10

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

 

What is your purpose?  It is to know God through his Son Jesus Christ and live for him.  Your purpose is to do as much good as you can do for him and others.  You’re not here to serve and please yourself; you have a higher calling.  If you don’t understand your purpose, then your life is built on the wrong foundation.  And if your life is built on the wrong foundation, it doesn’t matter how magnificent the structure is, it will crumble and fall.

 

Your primary purpose here is not to be successful or have a wonderful career.  Your purpose is not to be happy in your earthly accomplishments or earn a lot of money.  Your purpose is not even to find love and have a family. 

 

The Bible says . . .

 

Matthew 6:33

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,

and all these things will be given to you as well.

 

It is not that these other things are bad.  They are not!  It’s just that they cannot come before the main purpose for which you were created - to know God and glorify him with your life.

 

When you get that straight, then the rest will all fall into place!

 

The second thing you have to do, to have balance in your life, is: 

You have to establish your PRIORITIES.

 

You may have a grasp on your real purpose is in this world, and understand that your life belongs to God.  Now you need to understand God’s specific plan for you.  Begin by asking yourself, “What are my gifts,  specific talents and interests that God has put in my life?  How can I use these to fulfill his purpose for me in this world?” 

 

The reason that these questions are important is that you may be doing many good things, but you may not be doing the things that God has in mind for you.  God has given you YOUR gifts to promote growth and influence for his kingdom!

 

Setting priorities is not about choosing between what is good and what is bad.  That was settled when you decide to live out your God-given purpose in life.  Priorities must be set when the choice is between what is good and what is best - between what’s just beneficial and what is actually God’s will for you. God has made you with particular interests, skills and gifts.  Go in the direction of them, because this is how and why God has created you;  to live your life to the fullest - in his design!  Setting priorities helps you to trim down your involvement in the simply beneficial things to a reasonable level.

 

The third thing you have to do, if you are going to have balance in your life, is: You have to make your PLAN.

 

You can understand your purpose and set your priorities, but if you have no plan on how to make it happen, it will never happen!  Nothing is going to happen until you make it happen.  It is too easy to let life sweep you along and let your agenda be filled with the urgent little things of the day.

 

If you are not deliberate in planning out your life, your life will drift, and life will “just happen.”  I want my life to happen on purpose.  If you can’t get everything done, it is because you are trying to do more than God wants you to do.  You have just enough time to do what God wants you to do.

 

Ephesians 5:15-20

15 Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.  18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.  Instead, be filled with the Spirit.  19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

It is important to take the time to sit down and write out your life purpose.  Put your priorities down on paper.  Make a plan to fulfill those priorities and make them happen.  Begin to say NO to some things and cut back on other things.  Make sure there is enough time for the important things.

 

Pencil in time for God and for ministry to other people.  Your ministry may be encouraging someone over the phone, writing notes of blessing, baking a pie, singing, teaching a class, witnessing to your neighbor, leading a group, working with children, or calling on shut-ins.  Your ministry will be unique to your personal gifts and calling, and you will have time for God to use you because you have made a plan.

 

If the New Year of 2020 could literally speak to you, I believe this is what it would say:

 

Here I am . . . the New Year.  I am an unspoiled page in your book of time.  I am your next chance at the art of living.  I am your opportunity to practice what you have learned about life during the last twelve months.  All that you sought and didn’t find is hidden in me, waiting for you to search it . . . but with more determination.  All the good that you tried for and didn’t achieve is mine to grant - when you have fewer conflicting desires.  All that you dreamed but didn’t dare to do, all that you hoped but did not will, all the faith that you claimed but did not have - these wait to be awakened by the touch of a strong purpose.  I am your opportunity to renew your allegiance to HIM who said, “Behold, I make all things new.”

 

Please, find & live God’s purpose, priorities, and plan for YOUR life IN 2020.

 

HAVE A Happy & BLESSED New Year!

 

 

December 21, 2019

 

FOURTH Week Of Advent

 

“IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE . . . IN THE FACE OF TROUBLE”

 

Life is difficult, and Christmas can bring crisis time for many people.  But, it can still be wonderful, because God came (in Jesus) to be with you personally!

 

Have you ever felt you might be better off dead than alive?  The struggles of life seem greater than the beauties of life . . . and you begin to wonder “what’s the point?”  That’s what happened to George Bailey in the classic Christmas film It’s A wonderful Life.

 

In this scene, that I hope you are about to see, George owns the only business in town that the rich villain Mr. Potter hasn’t taken over.  George goes in desperation to Mr. Potter for help.  Uncle Billy has lost their bank deposit, which unbeknown to him, Mr. Potter had found AND kept!  George takes responsibility and he frantically needs a loan . . . from the last man he’d ever really want to ask.

 

In that scene, George has hit bottom.  The complete & total unfairness of it all is overwhelming.

 

George didn’t lose the money.  Uncle Billy did.

 

George didn’t use people.  He even gave up his honeymoon money, at one point, in order to help other people.

 

Mr. Potter, on the other hand, uses everyone and now is putting the screws to George in his misery.  Mr. Potter has George’s money, for goodness sake!  So, how is this a wonderful life?

 

If you know the story, you know that this is where George decided to take his own life.  But let’s stop for a minute and think about YOUR story, and mine.

 

Life is difficult, but . . .

 

Life is difficult.  We know that’s true!  And, Christmas can be difficult.  Even the life of a person who strives diligently to be godly, and helpful, and close to God experiences difficulty.

 

God walked and talked with Adam and Eve.  After sin came in their hearts, God was still God . . . but life was difficult!

 

Abraham is the only person in scripture specifically called “God’s friend.”  He was hand-picked to bring God’s blessing into the world.  Still, life was difficult.  Old Abe waited 25 years for the promised child of his to be born . . . when he was 100!

 

Moses was raised in a palace, and had the best of everything!  But you know the story of the whole 40-years-in-the-wilderness-thing.  He delivered God’s people from Egypt, but life was difficult.

 

And we could share a story or two about difficulty in our lives, right?  We’ve all been at the end of our rope.  Sometimes it’s no fault of our own, and sometimes it’s because of the mud of evil that we’ve gotten ourselves into.

 

It’s winter!  That means cold, several months of gray skies, scraping ice, shoveling snow, shorter days, and longer nights.  Sometimes we call it the winter blahs or the winter blues.  It’s a difficult season, and it can lead to depression.  Psychologists even have a name for all of this:  Seasonal Affective Disorder, or, S.A.D.  S.A.D.  Appropriate, huh?

 

Life is wonderful?  Life is difficult!!

 

Just because it’s the holiday season - Advent / Christmas - that does not mean we find all of life to be joyful and wonderful.  In It’s a Wonderful Life, this is the way George Bailey was feeling.

At Christmas time, we usually read Isaiah 7:14.

 

Isaiah 7:14

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign:  The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. 

 

We read that verse, because it is God’s promise to all humankind of a coming wonderful life (eternal life) - it’s the promise of ADVENT.  Our Savior, Jesus Christ, is on the way!

 

Today, let’s look at several very difficult verses which surround that single “wonderful life verse”.  Read and see the truth that It’s A Wonderful Life, Even In The Face Of Trouble!

 

Isaiah 7:1-17

1 When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.  2 Now the house of David was told, “Aram has allied itself with Ephraim”; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.  3 Then the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Launderer’s Field.  4 Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid.  Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood - because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah.  5 Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’ss on have plotted your ruin, saying, 6 “Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.”  7 Yet this is what the Sovereign Lord says:  “‘It will not take place, it will not happen, 8 for the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is only Rezin.  Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people.  9 The head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son.  If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.’”  10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”  12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”  13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David!  Is it not enough to try the patience of humans?  Will you try the patience of my God also?  14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign:  The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.  15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.  17 The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah - he will bring the king of Assyria.”

 

WHAT A WONDERFUL LIFE?

 

In the context of our text, Israel (10 of the Hebrew tribes) and Aram are about to make war with Judah (2 tribes, which include David’s line - the line in which Jesus would be born).  So, their young boys were putting on camo, and getting ready to leave home.  The moms were chewing their fingernails with worry.

 

God promises to use Assyria to wipe out Aram and Israel, and invited Ahaz, King of Judah to believe him and ask for a sign.  But, Ahab won’t.  So God says, “Ok, you don’t want my encouragement?  Assyria is going to conquer you too.  Life is going to be difficult!

 

But, in the midst of the difficulty there are some eye-catching strands of hope.

 

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign:  The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14

 

Here’s the central truth for us today:  Life is difficult, but God is with me.

 

Times were about to get really bad.  But that didn’t mean for a minute that all of it wouldn’t filter through the loving fingers of God.  Even a nation who didn’t always want God’s help was going to have it.  And when they felt the rising water of a difficult life about to cover their heads, God wanted them to remember he was right there - never leaving them, never forsaking them.

 

700 years later, instead of sending another angel, God sent his SON to the blue & green planet to be born of a virgin!

                 

Matthew 1:21-23

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” - which means, ‘God with us.’”

 

Matthew sees that what God wanted Ahaz and Judah to learn from Isaiah is also what he wants us to learn from Christmas . . .

 

God comes to us.  God cares about our difficult lives.  God knows how sin has ruined you and me, and he is NOT content to let it be.  That’s what the name Jesus is about:  “God saves!”

 

It’s not so explicit in the movie, It’s A Wonderful Life, but the fact is - God is there!  He’s watching George’s life.  He is, after all, the one telling his angels to pay attention.  He hears George’s prayer.  He does send an angel to help.  He is not, as George prays and many people think, just “up there.”  GOD IS WITH US!

 

And the movie doesn’t say it, but the Church must always preach it:  It’s a wonderful life because God does not leave us alone.  Life is difficult, but God is with me.

 

Do you understand what God is saying to you this Advent season?  He is saying . . .

 

Don’t be afraid.  Don’t be in despair.  I know your trials.  That is part of this fallen world.  Don’t be surprised, and, don’t despair.  I have not left YOU!

 

Peter puts it like this:

 

1 Peter 4:12

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.

 

God is a realist.  He never said it’s all butterflies and fawns.  He never said, “Walk with me and everything will go your way.”  He does say, “I WILL see you through.”

 

Let’s be honest, there are things we face in our lives sometimes that flat out make us afraid . . .

 

A new relationship, and you’re not sure if it’s right.

 

A friend in trouble and you don’t know what to say.

 

A job that makes you think, “Why am I here?”

 

News about terrorist bombings, and crime, school AND church shootings.  And you’re afraid.

 

You need to know a simple truth . . . It’s a wonderful life, even in the face of trouble!

 

Think of a place in your life that feels overwhelming.  Now close your eyes a minute, and listen to our Lord’s voice speak into your situation. 

 

He is saying,

 

I’m here.  I’m with you.  I’m still in control for you.  My coming to your earth is my supreme word on it!”

 

Jesus said, in John chapter 16 . . .

 

John 16:33

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” 

 

In his writing, Peter goes on to say:

 

1 Peter 4:19

“So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

 

This is my question to you today.  Will you commit yourself to your faithful Creator?  George Bailey said, “I’m not a praying man, but God . . .” 

 

That’s nothing to be proud of, friends! 

 

Will you become a praying man, or woman? 

Look to your Maker and Savior and say, “Show me the way.  I’m at the end of my rope.”  Invite him in.  It is his very identity - to be Immanuel, God who is with us.

 

Isaiah 8:22; 9:2,6

22 Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.

 

2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

 

6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

 

Matthew 28:20

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  

- Jesus -

 

Please, pray this prayer . . .

 

Jesus, I invite you in to my heart.  My body.  My soul.  I invite you into my day.  Live through me.  Show me the way to live in the wonderful life that you have promised me.  I want to learn from you.  I want you to save and restore me.  Be my Savior  - in every sense that word can mean.

 

AMEN.

 

 

December 7, 2019

 

SECOND Week Of Advent

“A FRESH START . . . IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE!”

 

Isaiah 61:1-11

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion - to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.  4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.  5 Strangers will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.  6 And you will be called priests of the Lord, you will be named ministers of our God.  You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast.  7 Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance.  And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours.  8 “For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing.  In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them.  9 Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples.  All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”  10 I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God.  For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.

 

It can be a wonderful life, because God is all about helping us start over . . . and find a new beginning.

 

In many ways the season of Advent is a lot like a pregnant woman.  It’s all about expectation!  We say, “She’s expecting.”  Expecting what?  An email?  A phone call?  Well, a birth of course!  She’s looking forward to a birth that will make the struggles of the last 9 months of her present life wonderful, after all.

 

I mean, she walks around with a watermelon strapped to her stomach.  She feels dizzy in the morning.  Her legs swell up.  When she squats down to pick up an ear ring she dropped, she may find herself unable to stand back up again.  She isn’t her usual sweet and sensitive self.  It’s a hard way to live . . . but, she’s expecting!

 

So, it’s wonderful anyway.

 

This is the message of Advent.  We are expecting a birth.  There is good news coming!  Isaiah speaks of it in our text today:  1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

 

Good news.  Isaiah is the only book in the OT to use that term.  Good news liberates.  It releases you from apprehension.  The doctor got the results of your tests back, and it’s good news. That kind of good news!

 

Well, Isaiah has good news.  Chapter 61 is Messianic, that is, it describes the coming Messiah.  And there’s something in the promises and expectations of the Messiah that convince us again that indeed It’s A Wonderful Life.

 

Here’s the key and the central message I want us to remember today . . . 

 

It’s A Wonderful Life because a sovereign God has purposed to give us a fresh start, and a new beginning, a “new birth.”

 

Jesus came to remake my physical world

 

The God of the Bible is different than the gods of other world religions.  In other religions, the gods don’t come into our world.  People are all trying to get into theirs.

 

Escape of reincarnation is the goal of Hinduism.  You know, getting out of the repeated life-cycle with all its hardships, into the indefinable state of non-being.

 

Islam teaches that after years of obedience, heroic deeds, pilgrimages, prayers, and rituals - one may get rewarded in heaven.

 

Fatalism says “stuff happens.  That’s life.  You must endure it.  There may be some joys, there will be pains and hurts.  But it’s pretty much random.  Different day, same old . . . stuff.  Stinks to be you!”

 

But God’s Word says it all differently . . . 

 

Genesis tells us that God came down and walked beside Adam and Eve.  The Gospels tell us that God came down (Jesus) and walked among the Jewish people of the first century in the Middle East!

God created human existence in tissue and cartilage.  God walked on earth and stone and water.  And all of that will be reclaimed and put back together!

 

Look at all the reversals Isaiah says the Messiah is all about, in vs. 1-4:

bind the broken hearted (v. 1)

free the captive (v. 1)

release the prisoner (v. 1)

comfort the mourner (v. 2)

praise will replace despair (v. 3)

ancient ruins will be rebuilt (v. 4)

 

This is celebration language!  The “year of the Lord’s favor” (in v. 2) comes from Leviticus 25 - The Year of Jubilee.

 

God instructed Israel that every 50th year they must free their slaves, cancel all debts, and return land to the families that originally owned it - who may have sold them to pay debts.

 

The message of Jubilee was that when you live with God, your failures can’t ruin you for good.

A fresh start was always coming.  God is the One who flips things around to remake them.

 

God’s nature is all about new beginnings / fresh starts, for you, and me, and even for the ground we wa

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