Sunday, November 28, 2004

The Christmas Miracle: Changed Lives

Intro: I would have a difficult time providing leadership to a church with a great deal of liturgy.
  1. But as I approached this advent season, I decided to try something a bit different.
  2. I took time to find out what the liturgical readings were for the advent season.
  3. I was surprised to find that this years selection included a series of readings from the book of Isaiah.
  4. The Old Testament has always fascinated me - it is part of the reason that I am where I am today. The oldest book of the Old Testament was written 400 years before Christ was born, but yet it makes some very clear references to the coming of Christ including the place and manner of His birth.
  5. And it was partly my memory of that truth that got me through some very dark times in my faith. If God was able to reveal facts about Christ's birth 400 years before Christ was born, then there must be some truth to it. I was able to cling to my faith during some very dark days as I clung to that truth.
  6. And so, as I saw the possibility of focusing my preaching on the book of Isaiah for a few weeks, I took the opportunity.
Read Isaiah 2:1-5
Tran. Isaiah lived in Jerusalem about 700 years before Christ.
  1. His name means “The Lord is Salvation”.
  2. He is quoted more than any other OT prophet in the NT – 65 times. He is mentioned by name over 20 times.
  3. John MacArthur says that he “has no rival in his versatility of expression, brilliance of imagery, and richness of vocabulary.
  4. Isaiah uses 2,186 different words – which means little unless you realize that the Psalms have only 2,170 different words.
T.S. Like a journalist, Isaiah begins to lay out the basic truth of Christ's coming in Isaiah 2:1-5
  1. When – The Latter Days (Isaiah 2:2)
      1. The word prophet has changed over the years. To us it is someone who is able to tell the future – sometimes in accurately, but close enough that we can recognize some kind of fit.
      2. But to the people of the OT, the prophet had a different job. That job was to be a “forthteller” - giving forth the word of God accurately and without error. These messages did sometimes look to the future – but not always. But when they did look to the future, they had to get it right 100% of the time. Deuteronomy 18:22 says “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.” Isaiah proved himself a prophet.
      3. But there is a bigger issue – and that is when are the “latter days”. Three answers present themselves.
        1. Some scholars suggest that it refers to the end of time – when Christ returns for his church.
        2. But there are fair a number of scholars who suggest it refers to today – we are living in the time in those latter times.
(Ill.) Biblical prophesy is much like looking at a mountain range. As you look at those mountains, at one point they all look the same distance. And in some ways they are – I am as overwhelmed by the distance whether the mountain is ten miles or fifteen miles away.
        1. So as the prophets wrote, they were sometimes referring to our time and at times to a time when he will return for His church and at times to both. It it is not so much “Either-Or” but “Both-And”.
      1. So as we look at Isaiah in the next few weeks – we are looking at a man who has proved himself as God's spokesman and who is speaking to the people of his time and to us. We need to be willing to listen.
  1. What – Changed Lives (Isaiah 2:2-4)
    1. There going to be changes – God caused changes. Changes that only God could do.
    2. First, there would be a new focal point for worship – we have the advantage of knowing the focal point, the person of Jesus Christ.
    3. AndHe will teach us His ways, And we will walk in His paths.
        1. I wonder if sometimes we fall into the trap of expecting the church to teach us all we know about God
        2. Yet as God's people the Holy Spirit it part of our lives. The Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth
(Ill.) Some has said, “The desire of knowledge, like the thirst of riches, increases ever with the acquisition of it.” It is just as true in our desire for spiritual truth as for any other kind of truth.
    1. Then God will serve as judge. It starts when God begins to reshape our conscience. We begin to experience that little twinge that tells us we are off track. Then we listen and respond. And God continues the process of shaping every part of us.
    2. And he takes our anger and reshapes it – look at the end of Isaiah 2:4: They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
(Appl.) But it occurs not only for nations, but for individuals as well. God take the anger we bring, the hurt we feel, the frustrations that are part of life and reshapes them. Taking our anger and changing it into forgiveness is no different than having people take swords and beating them into pruning hooks. God wants to change us, he wants to take the old man or woman and remake us into a new person that can serve Him.
  1. How (Isaiah 2:5)
    1. These five verses contain only one command.
    2. Isaiah has laid out the promise – it is a future promise, but it is a promise none the less. And then he gives a command: “Come! Let us walk in the light of the Lord.
(Appl.) That word “come” is a translation of an interesting Hebrew word. It can be translated in any number of different ways – for example: to go, to depart, to come, or to follow – that is just the start. But it does mean “to follow”. Perhaps you remember what Jesus' first command was to his disciples - “follow me”. Isaiah did not have the whole picture, Isaiah did not understand everything he taught. I don't either. But He did know that faith began with following the Lord,Come ... let us walk in the light of the Lord.
    1. Following the Lord, following Jesus, will never be easy – whether it is Isaiah calling those living in the 5th century BC or Christ calling his disciples in the first century or our making a commitment today.
    2. And the command does not change. As I have reminded you before, the first command that Jesus gave to his disciples was also the last command he gave to Peter - “Follow me."
Conclusion: As we enter the advent season, take time to consider what it means to follow Jesus. Whether the idea of following Jesus is new to you, as I know it is, or whether you have been following Him for sometime, it seems an appropriate question – what does it mean for you, what does it mean for me, to follow Him?

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Thanksgiving: An Ancient View

Read Psalm 100

Intro: Bible Study can take on many forms.

  1. For most of this fall, we have spent time looking at the broad strokes of truth found in Paul's epistle to the Romans

  2. Bible Study can also take us closer to scripture – allowing us to examine every word and it meaning and use in scripture.

  3. But it is also possible stand back and take a look at the big picture.

  4. That is what I did this week – I took the English work “thanksgiving” and looked to see what other words were used with in the OT

  5. Four words stood out – four words that will help us that will help us to understand the meaning of Thanksgiving.


The Hebrew word for thanksgiving is Tow-dah

  1. Used in many different ways

  2. The Thanksgiving offering sacrifice

  3. Used to refer to songs of thanksgiving

  4. Used to refer to a worship service whose focus was thanksgiving

  5. And it is used with four words that help us to better understand what it means to be thankful.


  1. Peace Leviticus 7:13

      1. I don' know about your house, but around the Johnson

      2. And yet to the Jew of the OT, these two terms were connected

      3. But peace comes in two forms

        1. First it is the gentle, restful times when we can find ourselves away from the craziness of this world live in. And for those times we can be thankful – though they don't seem to come as frequently as we might want. The Bible calls this the “Peace of God”.

        2. But there is another kind of peace. The kind that Paul mentions in Romans 5:1 “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.“ We have just finished our study of Romans where we looked at the impact of sin on our lives. As unsaved men and women, we stand as enemies of God. But as people of God, we have “Peace with God.”

(Ill.) In failing health, Patrick Henry wrote in 1799 to President John Adams, to express regrets that he would not be able to serve as the U.S. Minister to France, nor the term he had been elected to in Virginia’s legislature. Knowing his time was short he told his family: “Oh, how wretched should I be at this moment, if I had not made my peace with God!”

      1. I trust that this Thanksgiving that you, too, can be thankful that you have “Peace with God” regardless of how much peace you may have in your lives right now.

  1. Praise Psalm 100:4

(Ill.) If you had been attending our Wednesday evening Bible Study, you would know the relationship between Praise and Thanksgiving. In fact if you would wander downstairs later this morning, you will find over in the corner of the fellowship hall a white board with the definitions that help us understand the difference between Praise and Thanksgiving.

    1. Praise puts the focus on God and who He is – the all powerful, all knowing, blessed creator, and Redeemer of our souls.

    2. Thanksgiving places the focus on what God is doing in our lives.

    3. Praise and Thanksgiving invite two errors.

        1. First there is the tendency to forget who God is

        2. Second is the tendency to forget what God has done

    4. Our Thanksgiving holiday gives us the opportunity to quiet both of these errors -

    5. Take time to Praise God by remembering who he is.

    6. Take time to be thankful for what God has done for you this year.

  1. Prayer Isaiah 6:10

    1. Prayer – is having a conversation with God and, as such, certainly is connected to Thanksgiving

(Ill.) Chuck Swindoll, President of Dallas Theological Seminary, reminds us that we never learned to pray at school. In fact, he says, we never learned to pray at church. Most people did not learn to pray in PJ's at their bed. No, most people learned to pray at the dinner table – starting from the very first solid food. Blessing was part of every meal – and we learned to pray.

    1. And when we sit down at this year's Thanksgiving feast, for many of us prayer will again be a part of our meal.

(Appl.) Look at your table. Look at the mashed potatoes, the jello salad, the green bean casserole, the turkey. And then remember that 13% of the world's population will go to bed hungry that night, earning less than $1 per day. Remember that 11 million children die each year from malnutrition. American food banks serve 23 million people – that is 10% of our population. Now look again at those mashed potatoes, the jello salad, the green bean casserole, and that turkey. And then, as a family, remember to pray and give thanks for all that God has given you and yours this year.

  1. Psalms Psalm 100 - “A Psalm for giving thanks.”
    1. I was caught by surprise. I mean Christmas is about music, Christmas is about singing Christmas carols.

    2. But of all the word's I found connected to “Thanksgiving” the group of words associated with songs, singing, the Psalms, occurred more than any other.

    3. When I think of the music that has meant the most to me over the years, it is music that has touched my heart. It is music that has brought tears to my eyes. Songs that have made me thankful.

(Ill.) I have spoken before of the fact that I like country music. Though I spent most of my teen years but as I grew older, I lost interest and started to listen to golden oldies and Christian music. But seven years ago, the summer before we moved to New York, my kids, much to their consternation, introduced my wife an I to a song that relit my appreciation for country music. It was Shania Twain's song, “You're Still The One.” It is the story of how one couple survived, with a lot of hard work, the rigors of marriage. It is the story of my marriage. It is a song that still brings tears to my eyes. Those are tears of thankfulness.

    1. We don't usually think about music being about Thanksgiving – but many of us can think of a song or two that expresses our thankfulness for the things that God has provided to us.

(Appl.) Let me encourage you consider adding a song to your Thanksgiving feast.

Conclusion: There are lots of way to be thankful

  1. It may be finding a few minutes of peace to remember our what God has done

  2. It may be learning to praise God – in the midst of our hectic world

  3. It may be just remembering what we do have – and letting our prayers express our thankfulness

  4. Or it may be taking time to sing a song that will help you to remember that you do have things to be thankful for this year.

I truly hope that you this year you will find Thanksgiving a remarkable holiday – with a fresh view of God's gifts and God's love.

Read Psalm 100

Monday, November 15, 2004

Wrong Again?

Intro: Charles Wesley, studying Abraham’s faith as described in Romans 4:13, wrote a hymn of eleven stanzas about faith. The most popular stanza has provided a watchword for the Victorious Christian Life movement for a hundred years:

Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees, And looks to that alone; Laughs at life’s impossibilities, And cries, It shall be done!
  1. Learning about Faith is never easy.

  2. It challenges us to look at life differently, in new ways

  3. Yet, as children of God, we are called to be people of faith

  4. Today, as we finish our study of the book of Romans, we look at one of the great men of faith.

Read Romans 4:9-25


Tran. Paul is using Abraham's life to review the great truths that have been given in the first quarter of Paul's largest book.

Romans can be divided into three major sections: Romans 1-4 provide a foundation for all believers Romans 5-8 provide framework upon which the Christian life is built Romans 9-16 provide practical guidelines for living out the Christian life.

T.S. So today, as come to the end of the first part of Romans we are reminded of the great truths of Paul's introduction:

1. We can't get it right 2. God got it right

  1. We can't get it right

(Ill.) Stop for a minute – make a mental list all the requirements that you would make for getting into heaven. Now stop – for you see you don't get to make those rules. That is God's province.

      1. It is true today. It was true in Abraham's day.

      2. The Israelites had two claims that they thought would keep them safe before God.

      3. Circumcision was, to the Jew, a mark of their salvation. Except they got it wrong.

      4. Paul knows if the Jews are ever to believe in Jesus, he will need to convince them of this fact. You see, circumcision never saved Abraham – rather it served as a mark of what had already happened in Abraham's heart. It had been years before that Abraham had believed God and chose to follow Him.

(Ill.) Paul has already spoken of a circumcision of the heart. When we believe on Jesus, God changes us. That change starts inside – we begin to see the world differently, we begin to make decisions differently, we begin to live differently. There has been a change in our hearts. There has been a circumcision of the heart.

      1. But it was not only circumcision that got in the way. It was also the law. The Jews knew that if they obeyed the law, they would spend eternity in heaven.

      2. But Abraham presented a problem to their thinking. You see, the Law was given to Moses around 1400 BC – more than 600 years after the death of Abraham. Abraham never had the law; Abraham, without the law, still found favor with God.

(Ill.) There are 2,000,000 laws in the United States. If we could learn those laws at the rate of two a day, it would take almost 3000 years to become a law abiding citizen. But even then we would not be any closer to heaven. These are man made laws – not God's. And God makes it clear that only if we follow His laws will he let us into heaven. And Paul has made it very clear that we cannot fall God's laws.

      1. And that is the bottom line – we can't get it right.

  1. God got it right

    1. But God did what we cannot do.

    2. Salvation is not something we can do – it is something that God gives.

    3. Listen to Paul's description of Abraham's faith, Rom 4:18: Romans 4:18 (NIV) Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed ...

    4. Take a minute to reread Romans 4:22-25. Let me point to three key words in this brief passage.

        1. TRANSGRESSION – this is a new word for sin, that we have not discussed before. Its root meaning is make a false step, to stumble or trip, to cross the line.

(Ill.) I am reminded of the old childhood bully. He takes his foot and draws a line in the dirt and then looks you in the eye and says, “I dare you to cross the line.” Knowing full well that there will be consequences if we do, we do.

It comes back to the point that Paul made in the previous chapter - “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

        1. RIGHTEOUSNESS – In one sense, righteousness is not what we do, but what we are. As believers, God has taken our sins, laid them out and marked them “Paid in full.” Before God we stand righteous – not because we are good, but because of what Christ did on the cross. But Righteousness is also something we are becoming. Theologians call it “sanctification” - it God making us what he wants us to be. It is a process that will not be completed until we die and are finally stand before God, but it is a process that he starts the minute we come to Jesus Christ. Ten times in Romans 4, Paul speaks of God crediting us with righteousness.

        2. JUSTIFICATION – I have never had to be in court. Even better, I have never had to stand trial. But if I did, I know that the words I would most like to hear are “innocent”, I would be “acquitted.” I am no longer guilty of my sins. God has forgiven me.

(Appl.) It is where, for me I begin to understand “unconditional love.” If God can take me, one who sins, a transgressor, and call me innocent, then perhaps I can do it for those around me. God has forgiven me – I can learn to forgive those around me.

(Appl.) But there is another application here – if God has forgiven me of my sin, then I can forgive myself as well. Hey, I do fall short. Hey, I do sin. But if God has forgiven me and I can learn to forgive others, then I can learn to forgive myself.


We are going to leave Romans for a while – we will return after the start of the new year. It might be wise to remind ourselves of the two basic lessons from these first four chapters:

  1. We are all sinners and deserving of God's wrath.

  2. God has given his Son to take our punishment – so that we no longer need to fact that wrath.

Not only is that the basic message of Romans 1-4, it is also the basic message of Christianity.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Living By Faith

Intro:  Do you like getting something for nothing?

  1.  I do – Christmas and birthdays are important 
  2.  I occasionally get the pleasure of winning something – tee-shirts, phones, or books have all come my way as the result of winning some kind of prize.
  3.  I have never won anything really big – trips or cars, that kind of thing 
  4.  But I have won the biggest prize of all – the right to spend eternity in God's presence.  
  5.  I certainly do not deserve to be there.  Those who know me best know just how true that is.  
  6.  And that is, of course, what Paul has been teaching in his letter to the Romans.  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  And that does include me.
  7.  That God would allow us broken people into heaven is a bit easier for us to accept than it might have been to the first century Jew.  

Read  Romans 4:1-8

Tran.  Paul uses two examples to help the Jewish readers of his letter understand what it means to be saved by faith.
Paul is aware that the Roman church is made up of two very different audiences.  There are the Romans who are much like you am me – grateful that God is willing to love us.

But there is also a group of Jewish element who have spent their entire lives knowing that they must serve the law.  And now this strange new cult (as they would see Christianity) comes along and says that they don't get into God's presence through good behavior – but by faith.

T.S.  Paul uses the examples of Abraham and David to help them understand what this means.

  1. First Example of Living by Faith is Abraham
      1. I expect that Abraham is remembered more fondly than any other person in the history of the Jews.

(Ill.)        His name in Hebrew means “Father of Multitude”.  Though not everyone in the middle east has roots going back to Abraham, a great many of the people groups that we find there today have roots going back to Abraham.  But perhaps more importantly, each of the three major religions that have their roots in the middle east can trace their spiritual heritage to Abraham.

      1. The story of Abraham was one of the first I ever taught in Sunday School – even as a young college student.  It is the story of a young man who is asked by God to leave his own country, and eventually his own people, and move to a land he had never seen.  The journey would originally take him 400 miles to the Northwest and then, after a period of fifteen years, at the age of 75, he would travel with his immediate family to the the Southwest to what we know as the land of Palestine.  
      2. Abraham was the kind of person that others could look up to for an example of faith.  He obeyed, he prayed, he was blessed by God.
      3. He is the type of believer that might find themselves feeling pretty good about their spiritual life.  I mean, if any OT character deserves a pat on the back, it would be Abraham.
      4. It's not just me that feels this way.  Paul did too – look at verse 2:  Romans 4:2 (NIV) “If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about.“ But Paul does not stop there.  Look at the whole quote - “If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God.”  

(Appl.)  It is an easy trap for any of us to fall into.  Things are going pretty well.  We have seen some prayers answered.  We have had our devotions for the past week.  I mean, I (or you) have done all that you might expect.  And I deserve some recognition.  And then I can hear the words of Paul echoing, “If, in fact, Floyd was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God.  We have no more reason to boast than did Abraham.  

      1. Listen to what Paul says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness  .. to him who does not work, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.

(Ill.)        It is a banking transaction.  We take a check into the bank and they credit our account just as if we it were cash.  

      1. Justificationis exactly that – when we place our faith in Christ, we are justified.  It is just as if we had never sinned.  

  1. Second Example of Living by Faith is David
    1. Paul gives a second example – David.(Ill.) 
    2. David had less reason to boast – you remember the story of David and Bathsheba.  Here was a man who sinned.  You might remember his words of confession found in Psalm 51:
1 Have mercy on me, O God, 
               according to your unfailing love; 
               according to your great compassion 
               blot out my transgressions. 
2 Wash away all my iniquity 
               and cleanse me from my sin. 
3 For I know my transgressions, 
               and my sin is always before me.        
(Appl.)  There is a problem with confession in modern American culture – if I have to confess, it means that I have done something wrong.  But that is exactly what we mean when we  talk about being broken people.  If David, “a man after God's own heart” finds it necessary to confess, I suspect the same is true of me and you.
(Ill.)  Under the Lights
In How To Be Born Again, Billy Graham wrote: Several years ago I was to be interviewed at my home for a well-known television show and, knowing that it would appear on nationwide television, my wife took great pains to see that everything looked nice. She had vacuumed and dusted and tidied up the whole house but had gone over the living room with a fine-tooth comb since that was where the interview would be filmed. When the film crew arrived with all the lights and cameras, she felt that everything in the living room was spic and span. We were in place along with the interviewer when suddenly the television lights were turned on and we saw cobwebs and dust where we had never seen them before. In the words of my wife, “I mean, that room was festooned with dust and cobwebs which simply did not show up under ordinary light.”
The point is, of course, that no matter how well we clean up our lives and think we have them all in order, when we see ourselves in the light of God’s Word, in the light of God’s holiness, all the cobwebs and all the dust do show up.* [Billy Graham, How To Be Born Again (Waco: Word Books, 1977), 118.]
    1. Where Abraham might have reason to boast, David did not.  And yet David knew he was called “blessed”.  
    2. “blessed” is an interesting word.  It means to be content, to be happy – even in the midst of difficult times.  David was blessed.  Not because of what he did – but because, in spite of his sin, he placed his faith in God.
    3. Whether it is Abraham, David, you, or me, our works will not get us into heaven.  
Conclusion:  Let me finish by reminding you of three key truths that form the core of the Christian message:

        1. We are broken people - YES
        2. We are believing people – YES
        3. We are forgiven people – YES

Saturday, November 06, 2004

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