Sunday, May 08, 2016

SERMON: THE POWER OF A MOTHER



THE POWER OF A MOTHER
8 May 2016

I.  Introduction
            -- turn in Bibles to Ruth 1:1-18

Ruth 1:1-18 (NIV)
1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.
2 The man's name was Elimelech, his wife's name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.
3 Now Elimelech, Naomi's husband, died, and she was left with her two sons.
4 They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years,
5 both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.
6 When she heard in Moab that the LORD had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, Naomi and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there.
7 With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.
8 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go back, each of you, to your mother's home. May the LORD show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me.
9 May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband." Then she kissed them and they wept aloud
10 and said to her, "We will go back with you to your people."
11 But Naomi said, "Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands?
12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me--even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons--
13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD's hand has gone out against me!"
14 At this they wept again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-by, but Ruth clung to her.
15 "Look," said Naomi, "your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her."
16 But Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.
17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me."
18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

            -- in the movie, "Spiderman," there is a great quote that bears repeating -- "with great power comes great responsibility" -- the character in the movie used this quote to shape his life -- to give his new-found superpowers direction so that all his actions were for truth and justice and righteousness -- for good instead of evil
            -- sometimes, I think that we tend to overlook the power that we all have in our lives and the great responsibility that goes with that power -- we look at our jobs -- our positions -- our family -- we look at where we live and who we are and we think to ourselves that we don't have any great power -- any great influence -- over another
            -- but, truth be told, most of us have greater powers than we could ever imagine -- and we have a responsibility to use that power wisely -- in fact, one of the greatest powers in the world is the power that a mother has to shape the life of her children

            -- the first person that any child ever knows is their mother -- and from that point on, their mother becomes a special person -- more than anyone else, it is their mother who begins the process of shaping them and molding them -- from their earliest days, it is their mother who influences them -- who leads them -- who teaches them how to live and how to love
            -- the power of a mother is without measure -- we can tell you from our own lives just how important and how powerful a mother is in the life of her children -- if a mother is not there from the beginning -- if she misses the first few months of her child's life -- there is a great likelihood that child will grow up unable to give or receive love -- unable to know right from wrong -- unable to make wise decisions -- the absence of a mother reflects in that child for the rest of their life
            -- conversely, the presence of a mother is the determining factor in the ultimate success of a person -- you've all heard the statement, "behind every great man, there is a great woman" -- truth be told, that great woman that shapes the life of every great man is always his mother -- and the same holds true for great women as well -- why do you think Mother's Day is the biggest card-giving day in America? -- why do you think pro football players only hold up signs that say, "Hi, Mom!" instead of "Hi, Dad?"
            -- it's because we all know that more than presidents or politicians -- more than actors or singers or American idols -- mothers are the most powerful human force in existence today -- and who we are today is, in large part, a reflection of them

            -- just consider the story of basketball great Richard Jefferson, who has played most of his career with the New York Nets1
            -- when Jefferson was born, his mother, Wanda Johnson, was a single mother with two other kids living in Los Angeles -- a high-school drop-out, she didn't have a job and survived on welfare -- and in that neighborhood, with its high crime rate and rampant joblessness, Wanda knew that she was going to have to do something, or her kids would have no hope or future other than what they had known all their life
            -- so, when Jefferson was six years old, Wanda moved her family from Los Angeles to Phoenix because of its lower cost of living and lower incidence of crime and violence -- already a Christian, Wanda became heavily involved in a charismatic church in the area, and began to turn her life around
            -- rather than accepting her condition and allowing her kids to follow her path into poverty, Wanda started turning her life around -- she began trusting that God would provide -- that God wanted more for her and her kids than what they currently had
            -- she got a job and got off welfare -- she remarried -- and went back to school, earning her GED and then going to college -- eventually completing her PhD in English and serving as a member of the teaching faculty at a community college in Phoenix
            -- but, that's not all she did -- at the same time she was clawing her way out of welfare and poverty, she did all she could to serve God -- going on mission trips to Kenya and other countries and becoming a leader in her Phoenix church along with her husband
            -- today, Wanda Johnson is a changed person -- a far cry from the single mother of three on welfare living in the slums in Los Angeles
            -- but, the most remarkable part of her story is the impact that it had on her children -- the power of a mother's life can result in significant changes in the life of their children -- and as Richard Jefferson watched his mother change her situation -- as he watched her start to believe in herself -- he began to believe in himself, too
            -- he quit making excuses -- he started working hard -- and he became one of the best players in high school and college and eventually began playing professional basketball -- if you ask him today, Richard Jefferson is quick to give the credit to his mother's influence in his life -- if not for her, he would not be who he is today -- if not for the power of his mother, he might be just another statistic
            -- but because of her example -- because of the power she invested into his life -- he is highly successful and well-respected by all who know him, not only for his playing ability, but also for his behavior and his Godly lifestyle -- and he owes it all to Wanda Johnson

            -- that's the thing about a mother's power -- it has the ability to affect lives forever -- even if the mother is doing nothing more than just living her life, her example will influence the next generation
            -- we see a clear example of that power here in this passage reflected in the lives of Naomi and Ruth -- let's look at it again in more detail

II.  Scripture Lesson (Ruth 1:1-18)
            -- verse 1-2

1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.
2 The man's name was Elimelech, his wife's name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

            -- here we are introduced to the family of Elimelech and Naomi -- they lived in Bethlehem in Judah during the time of the judges -- this was the time the Bible describes as wicked -- when everyone did as he saw fit -- when obedience to God or living a Godly lifestyle was rare
            -- evidently, God had allowed a famine to come into the midst of the Israelites in this time -- perhaps as a judgment against the people -- perhaps just as a way to bring hard times into their lives so they would turn back to Him -- but the famine was affecting the day-to-day life of the people -- there wasn't enough food to go around -- so Elimelech moved his family east to the land of Moab where the famine hadn't reached
            -- Elimelech's name literally means, "My God is King" -- and Naomi's means, "pleasant" -- these names indicate that both Elimelech and Naomi were true followers of God -- they lived out their faith in their lives -- this might be another reason why it was so easy for them to leave Israel and go to another land -- they might have been wanting to get away from the wickedness and the idol worship that so permeated the Promised Land

            -- verse 3-5

3 Now Elimelech, Naomi's husband, died, and she was left with her two sons.
4 They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years,
5 both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

            -- shortly after the family arrived in Moab, Elimelech died -- leaving Naomi a widow with two sons to raise -- this was probably harder for Naomi than you might realize -- her son's names indicate that they were sick and weak -- Mahlon means "unhealthy" -- and Kilion means "weak"  or "puny" -- in all likelihood, they were unable to work and to help provide for their family as they should
            -- this is probably one reason why Naomi arranged marriages for them with Orpah and Ruth, both Moabite women -- it would have been a way to secure wealth for the family through the marriage dowry and position in the Moabite society through their union with Moabite families
            -- but, just 10 years later, both Mahlon and Kilion died, leaving Naomi completely alone except for her two widowed daughters-in-law

            -- verse 6-14

6 When she heard in Moab that the LORD had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, Naomi and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there.
7 With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.
8 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go back, each of you, to your mother's home. May the LORD show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me.
9 May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband." Then she kissed them and they wept aloud
10 and said to her, "We will go back with you to your people."
11 But Naomi said, "Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands?
12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me--even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons--
13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD's hand has gone out against me!"
14 At this they wept again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-by, but Ruth clung to her.

            -- when Naomi got word that the famine was over and that Israel once again had food, she made plans to go back to the land of her birth -- Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth got everything ready and started on the road to Israel, but before they got very far, Naomi stopped and told Orpah and Ruth to go back
            -- by law and by custom, Orpah and Ruth were bound to Naomi's family, even though their husbands were dead -- in fact, according to the Mosaic law, when a man died, the nearest of his kin was to marry the widow so that any children they produced would be the heirs of her first husband -- it was a way of continuing the family line through what the Bible calls a "kinsman redeemer"
            -- as they headed towards Israel, Naomi realized that she had no kin who could redeem her son's lines -- traditionally, the kinsman redeemer would be a brother to the deceased -- but Naomi knew that she was too old to have any other children and that Orpah and Ruth were too old to wait for children to grow up to be adults
            -- also, because they were Moabites -- because they were foreigners -- no close kin left in Israel would be willing to marry them -- so, their journey to Israel would be the end of the line -- they would be returning as widows without hope for the future
            -- because of this, Naomi urged Orpah and Ruth to go home -- to go back to Moab where they would have a chance to remarry and have a better life
            -- Orpah understood and went back to Moab -- but Ruth refused to go

            -- verse 15-18

15 "Look," said Naomi, "your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her."
16 But Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.
17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me."
18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

            -- here we see, in Ruth's words, one of the great promises in Scripture -- we see Ruth making several statements of faith and promise as a covenant to Naomi -- that she would never leave her but would go with her to the land of Israel, come what may
            -- Why would she do that? -- knowing that she had little to no chance of being married again -- knowing that she probably faced a lifetime of poverty and discrimination in a foreign land -- why would she agree to do this?
            -- it all comes back to what I talked about a few minutes before -- it all comes down to the power of a mother's love -- or, in this case, the power of a mother-in-law’s love -- even though Naomi was not her mother but was her mother-in-law, Naomi's love and power in that relationship with Ruth had affected Ruth's life -- Ruth had seen the faith and attitude of Naomi and had been changed -- her promises reflect repentance -- a change of heart -- they reflect a turning from her people and her ways and her god to Naomi's people, Naomi's ways, Naomi's God
            -- Ruth had been born a pagan -- someone outside the faith of the one true God -- she had been born worshiping the gods of Moab -- living in the culture of that land -- but now, through the example of Naomi, she had changed
            -- Ruth refuses to go back to Moab because her heart is just not there any longer -- and she binds herself to Naomi with these words:

            -- "Where you go, I will go -- Where you stay, I will stay" -- in other words, Ruth was going to identify herself with Naomi -- she was going to live with her no matter what her condition -- in sickness and in health -- in poverty and in wealth -- she wasn't just using Naomi as a passport to the Promised Land, but was pledging to stay with her and support her and live with her forever

            -- "Your people will be my people" -- Ruth was saying that she was forsaking her people, their customs and their ways -- she was going to become an Israelite and live as them -- she was going to follow Naomi's example and live like Naomi -- Ruth wasn't going to be like someone who comes to a place and spends all their time telling you how they used to do it at home -- she's going to be part of the family

            "Your God will be my God" -- with that promise, Ruth rejected her people's false God -- she proclaimed her faith and trust in the one true God of Israel -- where did she hear about Him? -- from Naomi -- Naomi and her family may have left Israel and gone into the far country of Moab, but they didn't leave God behind
            -- Naomi lived out her faith in the land -- even through the death of her husband -- even through the death of her sons -- and her example changed Ruth's life forever -- for Naomi and her family, God was not just something you do for an hour on Sunday -- God was real and part of their lives day in and day out

            -- "Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried -- nothing but death will separate you from me" -- with these words, Ruth promised to stay with Naomi forever -- this wasn't a passing fad -- this wasn't just something Ruth was doing for now -- this was for ever -- Ruth was going to stay with Naomi and be part of her family for eternity -- she would live in the land and die in the land -- she would be buried there and would look for her salvation and resurrection through the God of Israel

III.  Closing
            -- so, what is the lesson of Ruth and Naomi for us today as we celebrate Mother's Day? -- it is simply this -- a mother -- or even a mother-in-law -- has the power to change lives forever through her example of Godliness, faithfulness, and righteousness
            -- Naomi changed Ruth's life without even trying -- just by being herself and by demonstrating what a Godly woman looked like on a daily basis, Ruth turned from her people and their ways and their false gods and became a woman of faith -- a woman who believed in the one true God of Israel -- a woman who was blessed of God and chosen to be a part of Jesus' family tree

            -- I want to leave you with an excerpt from a poem by Mary Rita Schilke Korzan that speaks to the power of a mother in the life of her children -- and I hope it reminds you of your own mother -- and of the power you mothers and mother-in-laws have in the life of those around you

            -- it's called, "When You Thought I Wasn't Looking"

            -- “When you thought I wasn't looking, You hung my first painting on the refrigerator and I wanted to paint another one.

            -- When you thought I wasn't looking, You fed a stray cat, And I thought it was good to be kind to animals.

            -- When you thought I wasn't looking, You baked a birthday cake just for me, And I knew that little things were special things.

            -- When you thought I wasn't looking, You said a prayer, And I believed there is a God I could always talk to.

            -- When you thought I wasn't looking, You kissed me good-night And I felt loved.

            -- When you thought I wasn't looking, I saw tears come from your eyes, And I learned that sometimes things hurt-- But it's all right to cry.

            When you thought I wasn't looking, You smiled And it made me want to look that pretty too.

            -- When you thought I wasn't looking, You cared, And I wanted to be everything I could be.

            -- When you thought I wasn't looking, I looked... And I wanted to say “thanks" for all those things you did When you thought I wasn't looking.”

            -- mothers, who is looking at you today? -- who's lives are you influencing just be being you? -- Naomi changed Ruth's life forever even though she didn't know Ruth was looking -- and you are changing someone else's life even though you might not know they are looking
            -- as we close now, let me remind you of the power you have to change lives for better or worse -- and let me encourage you to always consider what your actions and your words can do to those around you
            -- may God bless you today and keep you in His grace as you seek to live out His example for others
            -- let us pray

1 http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/06/sports/pro-basketball-nets-jefferson-follows-mother-s-example-succeeds-through-positive.html?pagewanted=1

Sunday, April 17, 2016

RUMORS OF REVIVAL




20 March 2016 (Palm Sunday)

I.  Introduction
            -- turn in your Bibles to John 12:12-19

John 12:12-19 (NIV)
12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem.
13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Blessed is the King of Israel!"
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written,
15 "Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt."
16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.
17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word.
18 Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him.
19 So the Pharisees said to one another, "See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!"

            -- one Palm Sunday, little 5-year-old Johnny had a sore throat and really didn’t feel like going to church -- so his family let him stay home with a  babysitter -- when they got back to the house, they were carrying several palm branches -- just to let you know, on Palm Sunday a lot of the larger churches actually pass out little palm fronds and let the people wave them during the service as a reminder of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem almost 2000 years ago -- and evidently that’s what Johnny’s church had done
            -- well, when Johnny saw his family come walking in with those palm branches, he wasn’t happy -- Johnny said, "Where did you get the palm branches?  What are they for?” -- Johnny's older brother said, "People held them over Jesus' head as He walked by" -- Johnny looked disgusted and said, "That's just great -- The one Sunday I don't go to church and Jesus shows up!"

            -- well, that’s exactly what this passage in John is all about -- it’s about Jesus showing up -- it’s about God coming to town

            -- today is, of course, Palm Sunday -- it marks the start of Holy Week -- the holiest and most important week of worship in the Christian church
      -- the next important event occurs on Thursday, what many call Maundy Thursday -- we get the term “Maundy” from the Latin term "Dies Mandati" meaning the Day of the Commandment, referring to Jesus' command to us to love our neighbors
      -- this is the day of the Last Supper in the Upper Room -- the Betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane -- followed by the trial of Jesus by Annas and Caiaphas, the high priests of Israel, and the rest of the Sanhedrin, the religious and political leaders of Israel
      -- we remember Jesus being turned over to the Romans by the Jews and Pontius Pilate eventually caving in to political pressure and condemning Jesus to death by crucifixion
      -- Friday of this week is known as Good Friday -- the day of the crucifixion -- the day of Jesus’ death and burial in the empty tomb -- a time of darkness and sadness for Jesus’ disciples as they mourned the death of Jesus
      -- but finally we reach Sunday -- Easter -- the day of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and the pronouncement of His victory over sin and death forever

            -- this is such a momentous week, and so much is happening, that it’s sometimes hard to really understand the significance of it all and how it would have been experienced by the people in Jerusalem who lived through those events
            -- to truly understand how they would have received those events -- how they would have interpreted them -- you need to put yourself in their place and understand how the Jews would have viewed themselves during that time
            -- the Israelites recognized themselves as God’s chosen people -- out of all the people in the world, God had chosen the Israelites to be His special people -- and He had established a covenant with their ancestors -- Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob -- and promised to be their God and to bless them and all the world through them
            -- but their lives were anything but easy -- they spent 400 years in captivity in Egypt -- slaves in bondage to Pharaoh and the Egyptians -- but when things were at their darkest and the Israelites were wondering if God had finally forgotten His covenant with them -- when the people were ready to receive Him again as their Lord and Savior, He sent Moses to lead His people out of captivity and across the Red Sea
            -- God’s was present with the Israelites in their journeys through the wilderness -- He appeared as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to show them the path they should follow -- God’s grace leading the people to salvation -- speaking to them through Moses and Joshua and the prophets -- giving them His word and His law to guide them as they settled in the promised land
            -- but familiarity breeds contempt -- and the people kept turning from God to follow after foreign gods, worshiping idols and graven images -- and although God would speak to them and call out for them to return, they wouldn’t hear His call and would continue on their path until God disciplined them and allowed them to experience the consequences of their sin
            -- and, just like in Egypt, when it seemed as if all hope was lost and the people’s hearts finally turned toward God again, God would deliver His people and restore them to the land and revive worship in Israel again
            -- this went on time and time again -- this wandering away from God -- this refusal to seek His presence -- to hear His voice -- to follow His commands -- and then, when things got bad, the people cried out again and God would save them by sending His word to the people through a prophet and reviving their faith in Him yet again

            -- the people of Israel had enjoyed their special relationship with God for a long time -- but one day, it seemed like God quit talking -- times had gotten bad again and the people were experiencing difficulty and discipline in their lives, but this time, instead of sending another prophet into the world to warn them and lead them back to Him as in the past, God just quit talking
            -- you see, God had warned the people through the prophet Malachi -- the last prophet in the Old Testament -- and told them to return and to worship Him again with all their hearts and souls and minds and strength because the end was coming -- the great Day of the Lord would soon be at hand when they would be judged for their sins -- and when Malachi wrote down all that God had told him to write and he proclaimed it to the nation of Israel, God stopped talking because the people weren’t listening and weren’t responding
            -- so for the last 460 years, the people of Israel had not heard a word from their God -- God had never left them alone so long before -- even in their sins, God would speak to them and would call them home -- but now, no one heard from God -- there had been no prophets since Malachi for almost 500 years -- and the people were lost
            -- but rather than calling on the Lord with their whole heart and opening their ears to hear from God and responding to His message through Malachi, the people of Israel just went through the motions, like so many of us today
            -- they continued to go to church -- they continued to offer sacrifices -- they continued to follow the law of God -- but it was all lip-service -- it wasn’t real -- it was just an act without heart -- and because the people did not respond to God with their hearts, God was silent -- there was no inspiration -- there was no word from God -- there was no indication that He was near
            -- for 500 years God was silent and the people suffered and wondered and hoped -- until one day, a man dressed in camel hair and wearing a leather belt appeared in the wilderness proclaiming the coming of the Lord and calling people to repent
            -- and, as John baptized people in the Jordan River, the people wondered if this could be the messenger that Malachi told them about in the last book of the Old Testament --- the one who was going to be like the prophet Elijah and who would prepare the way for the return of the Lord
            -- the faith of the people began to catch fire again -- they began to seek the Lord -- to respond to His word -- to chase after Him with their whole hearts

            -- and then Jesus appeared as a great light shining in the darkness -- a man who was more than a man -- a man who spoke with power and authority -- a man who touched the blind and the lame and the sick and they were healed -- a man who knew God and who spoke with God and who seemed to be God -- and the people wondered at this sight in their midst
            -- the nation of Israel flocked to Jesus -- they surrounded Him wherever He went -- some came for the healings -- some came for the bread from heaven -- some came to watch the show -- but others came seeking that which they had lost -- they came looking for God and hoping to hear His voice again
            -- the people began to whisper that God was back -- they began to hope and believe that God had returned -- there were rumors of a revival going on in Israel through the ministry of Jesus as the hearts of the people were turned towards God once again
            -- this is the setting of this passage -- just as in the past, the people are beginning to return to God with their hearts -- they are finally getting ready to receive God into their presence again -- and the time has come for God to return to Jerusalem
            -- this time He comes on the back of donkey

            -- look back at verse 12  

12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem.

            -- the city of Jerusalem was crowded that day -- faithful believers from all over Israel and beyond had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread -- we know it better as the Passover Feast
            -- this feast celebrated the protection of Israel by God as the angel of death passed over Egypt and slew the first-born children in the land as the final plague on the Egyptian Pharaoh -- only those people who had sacrificed a lamb and placed its blood on the doorposts of their homes were protected and delivered from death on that night
            -- as commanded in the Jewish law, every year people would come to Jerusalem to remember the Passover and to worship in the temple
            -- but this year was different -- this year it seemed as if the celebration was more than just a party -- more than just a mandated gathering required in the law -- this year it seemed as if the people were truly looking for God -- remembering His deliverance in the past and, hoping beyond hope, that He might return to deliver them again
            -- so on that Sunday before the Passover, Jerusalem was filled with people who had truly come to worship God -- it was literally busting at the seams with people -- and all of them had heard of Jesus and were wondering if He was coming or not

            -- verse 13-15

13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Blessed is the King of Israel!"
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written,
15 "Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt."

            -- when the people heard that Jesus was coming, they ran out to meet Him -- John says here they took palm branches with them and waved them in the air in anticipation of His coming
            -- palm fronds signified victory -- they were waved when a victorious army came back home after winning a battle -- and they were waved when the king returned back to his palace -- through their actions, the people were saying what they truly believed about Jesus -- although they might not have fully understood that Jesus was God -- they knew that God had returned and that He was speaking through Jesus -- and so the people flocked to the road to welcome the voice of God back to Jerusalem after He had been silent for nearly 500 years
            -- one thing to note here is that our actions proclaim what we believe, too -- more so than our words, what we do and how we live our lives tells others what we truly believe about God and about Jesus -- do we go through our lives proclaiming Him for the world to see -- or do we act like we haven’t heard from Him in a long time?
            -- the other three gospel writers tell us that the people also spread their cloaks on the road in front of Jesus as He passed -- this was symbolic of royalty -- it’s kind of like our red carpets that we put out today for celebrities and dignitaries
            -- this was another way for the people to show that they were offering themselves and their possessions to Jesus -- by placing these cloaks in front of Him, they were saying, “We trust you -- we believe in you -- take our lives and take all that we have -- be our King and restore Israel to its former glory”

            -- as Jesus made His way down from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem, the people shouted at Him and said, “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
            -- “Hosanna” means “Save” -- it carries with it the idea of God delivering the people just as He had done during the Passover -- it is a cry to God for salvation and deliverance and healing
            -- the phrase “Hosanna” was usually only heard during official worship services as an expression of praise -- but here, the people are shouting it in the streets to Jesus, showing that they recognized Him as worthy of their praise -- as someone who was touched by God -- as someone who might be their long-awaited Messiah -- God returning to Israel

            -- verse 16

16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.

            -- isn’t this verse amazing? -- “the disciples did not understand all of this” -- isn’t that the way it always is?
            -- the people closest to someone can’t always see them for who they really are -- sometimes it takes distance and a new look in order to fully see and understand just how special someone is -- let me give you an example of what I’m talking about
            -- a few years back there was a miniseries on television called, “The Kennedys,” about the Kennedy family and their political dynasty, focused primarily on the life of John F. Kennedy
            -- and during this miniseries, the director recreated a scene that you may have seen pictured before -- John F. Kennedy is at his desk in the oval office working, and peeking out of the modesty panel underneath the president’s desk is JFK, Jr.
            -- and what has always struck me about that picture is that JFK, Jr. really has no idea who his father is or how important he is because he’s so close to him -- he doesn’t understand what it means to be that close to the president of the U.S. -- the leader of the free world -- he could only understand later, when he looked at his father’s political career from a distant viewpoint, at just how privileged he was to have been ushered into the presence of the President in such a close and personal way

            -- well, that is what is going on here in this passage -- the disciples were Jesus’ closest friends -- they had come to know Him in a special way -- they had lived with Him for three years -- they had traveled together -- they had shared meals together -- they had seen Him do miracles
            -- but, because they were so close to Him, they just couldn’t see Him for who He truly was -- it was only later -- after the resurrection -- after Jesus’ ascension -- that they finally started to understand who this Jesus was that they had been with for so long and started to see Him as more than just a prophet but God Himself

            -- verse 17-19

17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word.
18 Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him.
19 So the Pharisees said to one another, "See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!"

            -- now here’s what I really want you to see in this passage -- word had spread about Jesus and what He had been doing -- especially after He raised Lazarus from the dead
            -- so, when news that Jesus was coming to town spread, the entire town gathered on the street to praise His name and to wave palm branches and put their cloaks in the road
            -- they had heard the stories of the miracles -- they had heard of the miraculous healings and the bread from heaven -- they had heard of the teachings and all that Jesus did -- and the people came to see for themselves if Jesus was the Messiah
            -- this is always the pattern of God’s work in our world -- when God begins to move, people respond -- when they hear rumors of revival -- the rumors of God showing up in power and presence -- people flock to be with Him and to hear His voice and experience His presence -- let me give you an example

            -- on February 3rd 1970, the students at Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky, were having their regular morning chapel service -- instead of preaching, the leader that morning gave his testimony and encouraged the students to come forward and talk about their own Christian experiences
            -- one student came -- and then another and another -- the entire altar filled up -- and students began to confess their sins and offer forgiveness to others for wrongs that had been done and offer their lives back to God
            -- this wasn’t a normal chapel service -- everyone could sense that -- everyone knew that God was truly there
            -- the service was supposed to last 50 minutes -- instead, it went on non-stop for 185 hours -- 24 hours a day -- as students and faculty poured into the chapel and turned back to God with their whole hearts
            -- just like on Palm Sunday, word began to spread about what God was doing -- and the revival grew and grew and grew -- people started flocking to tiny Wilmore, Kentucky -- seeking God and His presence in their lives
            -- they knew God was there -- they knew He was doing something special -- and they wanted to be a part of it
            -- by that summer, the revival had spread to more than 130 other colleges and seminaries and scores of churches -- there were reports of revivals occurring from New York to California and even as far away as South America

            -- that’s what happening here in this passage as John tells us about a nationwide revival that took place about 2000 years ago -- a revival that started a fire that has still not been extinguished
            -- the Pharisees, who had been hoping to capture Jesus in secret, looked at the crowd and listened to their voices of praise and said, “The whole world has gone after Him.”
            -- isn’t that the way it is supposed to be? -- why should Palm Sunday just be one day on the Christian calendar? -- why aren’t we expecting our churches and our streets to be filled with people looking for Jesus every Sunday? -- why should this be something that we just read about and not something that we are experiencing?

            -- I think it comes down to the condition of the heart -- looking at the history of the Jewish people, it was only when their hearts were right and they actively sought the Lord were they able to hear His voice and experience His presence
            -- when the people went their own way and tried to live life in their own power and their own strength -- when they refused to follow God’s word or listen for His voice in their lives -- it was as if God didn’t exist -- and that didn’t turn out so well for them
            -- the true message of Palm Sunday is of a God who loves to save and deliver His people -- when the people turn to Him and cry out for His deliverance, God responds -- when the people begin to seek God with their whole hearts, they begin to hear His voice again
            -- the word revival means to bring one’s faith back to life again -- it means to return -- to repent -- to remember God -- to seek Him and to trust that He is there -- to rely on Him and know that He will save
            -- this is more than just lip-service -- this is more than just going through the motions and showing up to church on Sunday mornings -- revival only comes through a change of heart
            -- in this passage about Palm Sunday, we see a change of heart in the people of Jerusalem, and the nation of Israel experienced the presence of God returning to their land
            -- as we begin this Holy Week together, let our first prayer be that our hearts might be changed through the power and presence of God -- that He would revive our hearts and renew our lives and restore our faith in Him -- that we would truly seek His presence in our lives and in this church and in this land
            -- let us pray

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

SERMON: OVERCOMING FEAR




13 March 2016

I.  Introduction
            -- turn in Bibles to 2 Timothy 1:3-10

2 Timothy 1:3-10 (NIV)
3 I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.
4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.
5 I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.
6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.
7 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
8 So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God,
9 who has saved us and called us to a holy life--not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time,
10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

            -- last night we were watching The Amazing Race, one of my most favorite TV shoes of all time -- I really enjoy following the teams as they travel around the world and face the various challenges in each country -- it is very interesting watching the teams have to navigate through foreign lands and foreign customs and then face challenges that test the very limits of their strength and internal fortitude -- it’s really interesting watching the different people have to confront their fears as they faced these challenges
            -- this week’s episode required the teams to go up to the top of an 11,000 foot mountain in the French Alps on a cable car, and traverse a knife’s-edge mountain summit to deliver supplies to an avalanche crew -- and, as seems always the case, the team member who was selected to do this challenge was the one that has a fear of heights -- several of the people literally broke down and were sobbing because they were scared to death of what they were being asked to do -- it was only because of the encouragement of their team members, the lure of the $1 Million prize, and knowing millions of people at home were watching and judging them that enabled them to overcome their fear and complete the challenge
            -- that’s one reason why I like The Amazing Race -- because you get to see people face their greatest fears and overcome them, and it causes you to think about your own fears and what it would take for you to overcome them -- last night as we were watching this episode and saw them taking that cable car 11,000 feet up the side of that mountain on that little wire, Kim said, “There’s no way I would do that” -- and I understand
            -- As most of you know, I’m heading out of town tomorrow to go to Pittsburgh for a conference -- I usually go to one of these conferences every year, and when I do I always face one of the greatest fears in my life -- fear of flying
            -- I have always been somewhat scared of flying -- even though planes don’t really crash that often, when the plane starts rolling down the runway, it’s always there in the back of your mind -- you worry about crashes and accidents, and not just in a general way -- you worry that you’re going to be in a crash or accident -- that the plane that you are on is going to have an accident
            -- you’re already in an uncomfortable situation -- you’ve already been poked and prodded and x-rayed like you’re a terrorist hiding something -- I feel guilty every time I go through the TSA checkpoint even though I’m doing nothing wrong -- and when you finally get to the gate and board the plane, they put you in a tight little cramped up seat with absolutely no leg room
            -- and, as they get the plane ready to take off, you don’t really know what’s going on -- as the plane takes off and gets into the air, it lurches and jerks -- you hear motors whine and then pieces clicking into place and you don’t know if that’s supposed to happen or if there’s a problem -- and sometimes the plane takes an immediate hard bank as it turns sharply to the left or the right, and you just don’t know whether it’s doing that on purpose or if there is a problem and you’re about to crash
            -- it’s a very scary time for someone who isn’t used to flying, and I’m not -- I only fly one time a year, so I’ve never gotten comfortable with flying -- thinking about it rationally, I think one of the reasons I fear flying is the lack of control -- I don’t know what’s going on, and because I’m not in control of the situation and I have to trust someone else that I don’t know, it adds an extra level of worry and fear as I head into the unknown
            -- one time several years ago, I got to listen to the air crew go through their checklist as we took off -- I had plugged in my headphones into the plane sound system so I could listen to music and drown out the noise of the airplane as we were getting ready to take off, and I found a channel on their sound system that actually let you listen in on the pilot and his crew -- and listening to the crew go through their checks, and hearing them explain what all the different lurches and bumps were as they talked to one another, removed the fear because I knew we were in control -- someone was watching out for us who knew exactly what was going on and what was going to happen

            -- fear is one of our primal emotions -- it’s something that we’ve had with us since the Garden of Eden -- fear is a deep-seated anxiousness and worry about the unknown -- we all have fears in our lives, and it takes different forms depending on who you are -- fear of being alone -- fear of getting married -- fear of driving -- fear of getting hurt -- fear of heights -- fear of spiders and snakes and tigers and bears, oh my -- fear is common to all people everywhere
            -- perhaps that's why the Bible talks about fear so much -- the most common command in the Bible is not one of the Ten Commandments -- the most common command in the Bible is not even "Love one another" -- no, the most common command in the Bible is "fear not"
            -- 366 times, in one form or the other, we are told by God, "Fear not" -- from the beginning of man in the Garden of Eden to our end in the Book of Revelation, over and over God has repeatedly told us, "Do not be afraid -- trust in Me -- Believe in Me -- Have Faith in Me"
            -- when God came to Abram to establish a covenant with him, His first words were "Do not be afraid"
            -- when the Israelites faced enemies on their way to the Promised Land, God told Moses, "Do not be afraid, for I am with you"
            -- when Joseph found out Mary was pregnant and thought of divorcing her, God told him, "Do not be afraid of taking Mary to be your wife"
            -- and when the women first encountered Jesus after His resurrection, the first words He said to them were, "Do not be afraid"
            -- Jesus had earlier taught His disciples in Luke Chapter 12 to not fear the world -- He told them in verses 4-6, "Don't be afraid of those who can kill the body but do no more -- not a single sparrow is forgotten by God -- so don't be afraid -- you are worth more than many sparrows"
            -- God knew that this was a scary world -- He knew that there were times when our mortal frames would quake in fear and when our hearts would be in our throats -- He knew that there were going to be times that we would be terrified with life and with the future -- and, for that reason, He tells us time and time again in His word, "Do not be afraid"
            -- fear is part of life -- but so is conquering fear -- that’s the message that Paul is giving Timothy in this passage -- fear should not control you

            -- so let’s look at this passage together again and see what we can learn about fear from Paul’s instructions to Timothy
            -- we’re probably all pretty familiar with 2 Timothy 1:7 -- “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity -- [or fear, as the KJV puts it] -- but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline” -- but usually we hear that verse out of context, so this morning I wanted us to look at it and consider it in context with Paul’s whole message to Timothy in this passage, using verse 7 as the hinge for what comes before and after

            -- let’s look back at verse 3-7

2 Timothy 1:3-7 (NIV)
3 I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.
4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.
5 I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.
6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.
7 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

            -- I think the easiest way to sum up what Paul is saying in these verses to Timothy is that, because we know God, we should have no fear in our lives
            -- Paul begins with the statement that he is a servant of God -- that his conscience is clear -- in other words, the fear of guilt and shame and sin and death have all been overcome through the presence of God in his life -- his eternity is certain -- his faith is sure -- his future is set -- so what does the man or woman who knows God truly have to fear? -- what threat can this world offer up that is not already overcome through God?
            -- Paul makes the case here that faith trumps fear -- he reminds Timothy of the faith of his grandmother and mother -- he reminds Timothy that he shares this same faith in the promise of God so fear should have no part in his life
            -- the message here is clear -- God didn’t give us a spirit of timidity or fear -- this is not the way He intended us to live -- to overcome our fears, He gave us a spirit of power -- a spirit of love -- a spirit of self-discipline -- that is activated through faith
            -- without God, you cannot leave a fearless life -- without God, you are still bound by fear’s dread power -- the key to living fearless lives is knowing and trusting God and standing on the promises He has given

            -- verse 8

8 So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God,

            -- in this verse Paul points out to us the two areas of fear that we all share -- even though we are Christians, even though God has given us a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline -- even though He promises power over fear -- too many of us continue to live our lives defeated by fear -- we cower in our sanctuaries and never see the gifts of God fanned into flame in our lives -- we never experience the power of God in our lives because we remain gripped by fear of the immediate -- we don’t trust God enough to leave fear behind

            -- in this verse Paul says our fear takes two forms -- spiritual and temporal
            -- the first one he talks about is spiritual -- look at what Paul tells Timothy here -- “don’t be ashamed to testify about our Lord” -- if you were to ask Christians what their number one fear is, it would be telling others about Jesus -- in the Great Commission, Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all the things He commanded -- and the church is failing to do this for one reason:  fear
            -- we fear sharing the gospel with others -- we fear being mocked as Christians -- we fear we don’t know enough or we’ll say the wrong things -- and we let this fear keep us from doing what God has commanded
            -- although called to be pastor, Timothy apparently had a problem with witnessing to other people and telling them about Jesus -- I can relate to that -- that’s a fear in my life, too
            -- Paul tells Timothy here to stop it -- he writes, “Stop being scared of testifying about the Lord -- stop being ashamed of telling others what Jesus has done for you -- remember, Timothy,” Paul says, “God has not given you a spirit of fear -- He has given you a spirit of power -- so go forth and testify in His name”
            -- if we are to live the lives Christ has called us to live -- if we are to be His servants and fulfill the Great Commission as He commanded -- then we are going to have to depend on God’s power to help us overcome the fear of testifying to the gospel of Christ -- and that means testifying with our lips as we share the good news of Christ, but that also means testifying with our lives as we live out Christ’s commands and do what He says as we go about our daily lives

            -- now Paul talks about our temporal fears -- he mentions how he has personally suffered for the gospel -- why? -- why does he bring this up? -- because this is the other great fear of Christians, and it obviously was a fear of Timothy -- we worry that we are going to suffer for our faith -- that we are going to be persecuted because we are Christians -- we worry about being hurt by this world -- we worry about accidents and crime and violence and sickness and death -- we worry about the temporal -- about what is going to happen us here and now
            -- my fear of flying is a temporal fear -- the fear of heights that I saw so clearly portrayed on The Amazing Race? -- a temporal fear -- in both cases this is a fear of getting hurt -- a fear of being killed
            -- but Paul tells Timothy here to not worry about sufferings or temporal fears -- he tells him to join with him in his suffering -- to find joy in the midst of it -- and then he goes on to tell Timothy why

            -- verse 9-10

9 who has saved us and called us to a holy life--not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time,
10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

            -- why do temporal fears hold no power over us? -- because of Christ and His grace in our lives
            -- think about it like this -- what is the worst thing that can happen to me when I fly? -- let’s say the plane does crash -- what’s the worst thing that could happen? -- I could die, right? -- what’s the worst thing that could have happened to one of the teams on The Amazing Race if they had fallen from the top of that mountain? -- they could have died, right?
            -- but here’s where faith comes in -- death holds no fear for the Christian -- Philippians 1:21 says, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” -- and Paul wrote over in 2 Corinthians 5:8, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord”
            -- the worst thing the world can throw your way -- death and the fear of death -- has already been defeated by the cross of Christ -- as Paul says in verse 10, Christ Jesus has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel
            -- Paul’s point in this message to Timothy is that there is no fear in death because of Jesus -- there is no fear in suffering, because these are light and temporary afflictions -- there is no fear in this world, because Christ has overcome the world
            -- fear has no part with the Christian because the gospel has conquered fear

III.  Closing
            -- when God tells us in His word, "Do not be afraid," He is not telling us that we will never face fearsome things -- when He tells us, "Do not be afraid," He is not telling us that we will be able to conquer giants on our own -- that is not the message of the Bible
            -- no, what God is saying when He says, "Do not be afraid" is "Trust Me -- have faith in Me -- allow Me to take care of this problem for you"
            -- I like what the editors of the Thompson Chain Bible put together to summarize God’s reasons why Christians should not fear -- they call this list the “Fear Nots”

1.  Christians should not fear because God blesses us as we follow Him -- Genesis 26:24
2.  Christians should not fear because God supplies our needs -- 1 Kings 17:13
3.  Christians should not fear because God protects us in our peril --2 Kings 6:16
4.  Christians should not fear because God provides strength in our weakness -- Isaiah 41:10
5.  Christians should not fear because God is our ever present help in trials -- Isaiah 43:1-3
6.  Christians should not fear because God provides constant care -- Matthew 10:30-31
7.  Christians should not fear because God provides victory over death -- Revelation 1:17-18

            -- no matter what the situation is that you are facing -- no matter how hopeless it might seem -- no matter how big or fearsome it might look, God says, "You don't have to face it on your own -- don't fear -- I will take care of it for you"
            -- how do you conquer fear? -- you conquer fear through faith -- through trusting God and standing on His promises -- John tells us in 1 John 4:18, "perfect love drives out fear" -- God is love -- and His perfect love drives out our fear
            -- we know we don't have to fear the future, because God will take care of it for us -- He has promised to never leave us or forsake us -- and no matter how big the obstacle may seem -- no matter how scary the future may look -- God says, "Do not be afraid -- trust in me"

            -- Let us pray