Sunday, November 29, 2009

Snapshots of Mary

Snapshots of Mary

Intro.: Seven and one-half years ago, on a Sunday morning in late July, I first came to Garland United Methodist Church.
  1. I had met for an hour or so with the PPRC in either late May or early June and a quick decision was made to see how well I would fit into this church.
  2. That first Sunday in July I began a five week series that I entitled “Snapshots of Grace”.  As we come to the end of my ministry here at Garland, I again want to take a look at some more snapshots that God has provided us – but not the same set that we looked at 7-1/2 years ago.  I want to spend my last few weeks looking at what I am entitling “Snapshots From the Manger.” 
  3. Over the next few weeks, I want to be the aspiring photographer who has been assigned to follow the various people we find associated with the Christmas story.  As we will see, not all of them may have been at the manger – but they all have a place in the first year or so of our Saviors life. 
  4. I want to begin today with the mother of Jesus – Mary.
  5. To get us started turn with me to Luke 1:46-55.

Read:  Luke 1:46-55


Trans:  Mary is a common Jewish name.
  1. We first find in mentioned in scripture in Exodus – the sister of  Moses is named Mariam – the older version of the same name. 
  2. The name has its roots in the Egyptian name Marye meaning “beloved.”
  3. Most of us would have no problem understanding her being one of the most beloved women in church history.
T.S.  In the next few minutes I want to look four snapshots of Mary presented in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.

I. Snapshot #1:  Mary meets Gabriel

A.  I do wonder what it would be like to meet an angel face to face.  On the one hand, I would find it wonderful to meet a messenger (that is what angel means) from God. 

B.  But Mary did - 

C.  I wonder how she knew it was angel.  He did not identify himself.  We see that meeting in Luke 1:28, “Greetings, favored ones.  The Lord is with you.”  

D.  It was not his appearance that affected her – rather it was his words.  Scripture says she “pondered” the words.

E.  But the angel was not through - “And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 

F.  Mary did not understand, but she had a choice.  Timothy George suggests that Mary was Jesus' disciple before she was His mother.” 

G.  She could have rejected God's demands on her, but she did not. Though she did not understand everything that was being asked or her, she was willing to be obedient.  
(Appl.)  Sometime ago I mentioned a book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  His most famous book, The Cost of Discipleship was written in 1948.  What he makes clear is that there a cost associated with obedience – a concept that most of us would have no problem accepting.  What we sometimes forget is that there is also a cost associated with disobedience.  Mary was willing to weigh the cost of both of obeying and disobeying.  She chose to pay the cost of being obedient.

H.  Mary set an example – when God asks something of us, we need to be willing to obey – whatever the cost.

I.   Gabriel had more to say – he prepared Mary for what was to come.  But her willingness to obey was what God needed and what God got.

II.  Snapshot # 2:  Mary and Elizabeth

A.  I don't know what relationship Mary had to Elizabeth.  Tradition says they are cousins but the Greek word, sungenis, can mean a variety of things – cousin, aunt, or even a more distant relationship between two female relatives.  But their relationship is close enough that Mary traveled to the Judean hill country to visit Elizabeth. 

(Ill.) Sandra and I like to travel – we take a couple of long trips each year and a couple of short trips. This past year has taken us to Nashville and California and to Corning and Camp Asbury. I don't know how often Mary got to visit Elizabeth, but I suspect that she looked forward to making the trip. It is the one person we know she trust enough to confide in, to share her story

B.  Mary is now pregnant and when Elizabeth and Mary greet each other, the baby that was growing in Elizabeth leaped.  Elizabeth's response suggests that she has some idea of the importance of what is happening in Israel - "Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”"

C.  Mary probably knew very little about having a baby – probably a bit more than me, but not much.  She knew even less about marriage or parenting.  She knew the disgrace that would probably come her way as she carried her child.  If she understood the prophesies, she knew that the child would suffer.    It would have been a awesome load to carry.

D.  Yet when we read Mary's response, as we did earlier, we realize that she was appreciative of the task God given here.  Verses 46 to 55 have come to be called the Magnificat.  The Magnificat does two things – first it celebrates the role that Mary has been given (vs 44-49) and it celebrates the role God has played in getting His people ready to receive their savior. (vs 50-55).

E.  The promise of being God's servant would be painful – in many ways.

F.  It was true for Mary, it may be true for us.

III.  Snapshot # 3:  Mary at the Manger

A.  The final snapshot is outside the inn village inn.  The village is Bethlehem and Mary is about to give birth. 

B.  Mary and Joseph have traveled 40 miles through the hills which lie between Nazareth and Bethlehem.  Now, because the inn is full, they are in a barn with a manger available as a baby bed.

C.  Over there are some donkeys, on the other side of barn may be some sheep or cattle.  With the number of travelers in town that night, there may even be some camels in or around the manger that night.

D.  I don't think any of us – either as fathers or as mothers would want to see our children born in that environment.

E.  Yet, that is where Mary is that night.

F.  Later that night, shepherds from outside the village come and visit.

G.  After the visitors are gone, Mary is left with her child.  Joseph is probably sleeping nearby.  And we are told that “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”  The events of the last nine months would remain with her forever.

(Ill.) Most of us have had times when God had touched our hearts. It may be in the midst of a crisis, or maybe at a time when life is really calm – for a change. But we know God is there. Times that we are left pondering what that moment might mean. For me, it was when I saw the rainbow as I drove back from La Crosse, WI, back to La Farge where we lived at the time. I pulled the car over, I could only stop and praise Him. 

(Appl.) Are there times in your life that have left you pondering what God has done? What was God trying to teach you? May you have more of those days – when God reaches out to you and allows you meet him.



Sunday, November 08, 2009

Extreme Suffering

This sermon was preached on November 8, 2009

Extreme Suffering

Read: I Peter 4:12-19


T.S. I would like to suggest that Peter has four lessons for us.

  1. Suffering should comes as no surprise
    1. Peter starts out, “Beloved, do not be surprised ...

(Ill.) Do you knows how it feels to be at home, expecting a relaxing evening alone, and then someone comes to the door. You know them, but they certainly are not your closest friend. You are surprised – aren't quite ready to entertain. That is the kind of surprise that Peter is warning against.

  1. Beloved, do not surprised at the fiery trial that awaits you ...

(Ill.) As Jews, the readers of Peter's letter had known persecution. As Christians, they had also experienced persecution. But there was a new Roman emperor – a Roman emperor that was so full of himself, that even his friends began to desert him. Ultimately, he gained the reputation (though that may be all it is) of being cruel and vicious. The story goes that he would take Christians and tie them to poles and use their burning bodies as torches for his almost nightly orgies. How much of this is true, but the reputation that Nero had sets a tone that means a great deal of increased persecution for these early believers.

    1. Whether Peter had special insight into the fiery trial that the church would be facing, I don't know.
    1. But the fact that suffering comes, whether it be ordinary and expected or it be suffering to the extreme.
    1. Once Peter establishes that fact, he has three characteristics that he would expect to see in the lives of Christians who are faced with suffering.
  1. Suffering gives us opportunity to rejoice
    1. I can think of a lot of words that could be used to describe suffering – rejoicing is not one of those. But that is exactly the word that Peter uses:

But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

    1. Why rejoice – because we are the body of Christ and we are going to suffer as the body of Christ.
    1. And when we suffer as the body of Christ, we are sharing in the sufferings of Christ.

(Ill.) When I was seminary I struggled with my call to ministry. I stumbled on two books the helped me to decide the process I was in, though it would take me almost 20 years to complete the ordination process. One of those books was written an autobiography by a Presbyterian pastor by the name of Clarence McCartney. Rev. McCartney tells of a series of pictures hanging in the Boston Library in a room known as Sergeant Hall, named after the artist who created all the pictures. At one end of the hall there is a picture of the Jews suffering in Israel under Pharaoh. Along the sides of the hall are pictures from the history of God's interaction with man. On the far side of the hall is a picture of the Trinity standing together in all the glory of the Godhead. But in front of the three members of the Trinity is a picture of Christ on the cross. At the foot of the cross Sergeant has placed a man and a woman, Adam and Eve, symbolic of all humanity. The artist allows us to see that Christ had identified with all humanity through his death. He suffered for us – as we join the body of Christ we can expect to suffer as He did for us.[1]

  1. Suffering prepares us God's blessing

(Ill.) Hudson Taylor was perhaps the most famous missionary to China. Historian Ruth Tucker comments that “No other missionary in the nineteen centuries since the Apostle Paul has had a wider vision and has carried out a more systematised plan of evangelizing a broad geographical area than Hudson Taylor.”[2] At one point while going through a very difficult period in his life, he wrote, “What circumstances could have rendered the Word of God sweeter and the presence of God so real, the help of God so precious?”[3]

    1. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” That is how Peter put it, but it can be found throughout scripture.
    1. The Psalmist writes, “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” (Psalm 119:50 ESV)
    1. In Isaiah we read, In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, 'Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover.' Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord”  God heard Hezekiah's prayer. The illness resulted in blessing.
    1. Perhaps the best testimony comes from Paul. You will remember his words written to the Corinthians:

To keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

    1. Suffering can lead to blessing.
  1. Suffering allows us to trust God.
    1. Suffering and rejoicing, well, maybe; suffering and blessing, you might see the connection – but if I am suffering, how can I trust God?
    2. How am I to glorify God when I am hurting so much? How can I stand up for God, when all I feel is pain?
    3. But it would seem to me that if there never any suffering, why should I trust God?
(Appl.) As Sandra and I have learned over the last few years – whether it be our careers or our health – we continue to come back to three simple questions:
            1. What do I have to do? The best I can
            1. Who do I have to trust? God
            1. What else do I have to do? Nothing
    1. It seems to easy – whether there is stress in your life or if you are concerned about the life of the church.
    1. We can trust God – our suffering does allow us to trust God.



[1] C.  E. Macartney found in Tan, P. L. (1996, c1979). Encyclopedia of 7700  illustrations  : A treasury of illustrations, anecdotes, facts and  quotations for pastors, teachers and Christian workers. Garland TX:  Bible Communications.

[2] Tucker,  Ruth quoted at

[3] Morgan,  R. J. (2000).

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Prepare For The End

This sermon was preached on November 1, 2009

Prepare For The End

Intro.: Can you think of an event that you knew was coming, but you just did not want to wait for?  Wedding, Birthday, Surgery.
  1. You may not even want it – surgery may be one example.
  2. When you know something is coming – you prepare for it. You buy what will be needed. You dress appropriately. You tell your friends that it is coming.
  3. As believers we have just such an event in our future – the return of Christ.
  4. Most discussions that I have been a part of focus on how and when he will return – but scripture makes it clear that this is something we need to leave in God's hands.
  5. What God lets us know is how we are to prepare for His return.
  6. Let's look at one passage that gives us instructions for preparing for His return

Read: I Peter 4:7-11


T.S. Peter provides four key behaviors that allow us to prepare for Christ's return.
  1. Prepare to pray
    1. When touch times come – prayer is the proper response.
    2. But Peter does not tell his readers to pray – what he does do is assume that they will be a praying people. There is no reason to command them to pray – they are already doing it.
    3. Rather, Peter tells his listeners how to pray. There are two standards that Peter provides. The first is to “be serious”. The second standard is “be watchful”. But both words have a similar meaning. Depending on your translation, you might find either of these two words or phrases reading, “be self-controlled”, “clear minded”, “clear headed”, or “sober minded”.
    4. What Peter is getting at is that we don't need anything to get in the way our prayer life. It might be those things that we normally called addictions – it could be alcohol, drugs, gambling, or any of the other addictions that seem to drive our society. Or it could be anything that takes us away from the one who saved us.

(Ill.) In 1982, the US Supreme Court ruled on a case that impacts our local governments even today. It was in that year that the court decided that governments had the right to open their meetings with prayer. The ruling was based on the fact that prayer established a solemn atmosphere and serious tone to the board meetings.

    1. Whether we are in a government meeting, in church, with our family, or alone, when we come to God in prayer it be with the respect, with the attitude, with the clear mindedness due the God we approach.
  1. Love

(Ill.) In 1970, one of the most vocal and most appreciated Christian writers was a man by the name of Francis Shaeffer. Francis Shaeffer ran a retreat center in Switzerland committed to training young men and women to think about their faith. One of his most famous books of the era was The Church At The End Of The Twentieth Century. At some time after the publication this book, the final chapter was extracted and published as a small 35 page booklet entitled The Mark Of A Christian. His answer – LOVE.

    1. Love is what Peter expects to see among Christians. He is not, at least here, telling them to love those around them – neighbors, co-workers, friends, etc. He is telling the church to love each other.
    2. The word is agape – its God's kind of unconditional, no-holds barred kind of love. There is no higher kind of love. But Peter does not stop there. He adds another word. Some translations leave it out – but those that do translate it as fervent or earnest. Our love for each other is not to be just a discussion about God's love, but we are to have an earnest, fervent love. The Holman Christian Standard Bible says it is to be at full strength.
    3. But why? Peter gives them an answer, because “love covers and a multitude of sins.” It was not an original thought. Peter was quoting Solomon who understood the principle - “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.”
    4. There is a important point here – that much of what we find rooted in our faith in Christ has roots even further back in history – what God expects from us, he expected from all men in all times.
  1. Hospitable

(Ill.) Someone has said, hospitality is making your guests feel at home, even if you wish they were.

    1. But for the Christian hospitality is Love put into practice. Love is something we have, it something we talk about – but it is something we also practice.
    2. For the Christian, hospitality was defined by Christ:

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’[1]

(Ill.) The Greek word for hospitality literally means “love of stranger”

    1. Paul reminds us that as we practice hospitality we may find ourselves entertaining angels.
    2. Peter, here, is reminding us that the same hospitality that we would show to strangers, we need to show to each other. We remember to overlook faults, we remember that the people we live with here at church are just as broken as those outside the church. Peter calls on us to show the same forgiveness, the same kindness, the same love that we would show to those outside the church to those who are part of the body of Christ.
  1. Use your gifts
    1. The final command is for us to use our gifts “as stewards of God's grace.”
    2. Each of us has been given gifts – talents, blessings, abilities
    3. We sometimes call these abilities natural abilities – but they really are abilities that God has given us. Each of us has different abilities – you would not want me to join the choir or be in charge of a building project. But most of you would not want to be asked to preach – I found that out the hard way.
    4. But whatever those talents – there are some things that are true for all of us.
      1. They are God given – wherever we use them, however we use them, they are God's gifts to us.
      2. We are to use them as stewards of God – if God game them, then we need to use them to His glory. We need to exercise the same stewardship with our gifts as we do our money.

(Ill.) A concert violinist had a brother who was a bricklayer. One day a woman gushed to the bricklayer, “It must be wonderful to be in a family with such a famous violinist.” Then, not wanting to insult the bricklayer, she said, “Of course we don’t all have the same talents, and even in a family, some just seem to have more talent than others.” The bricklayer said, “You’re telling me! That violinist brother of mine doesn’t know a thing about laying bricks. And if he couldn’t make some money playing that fiddle of his, he couldn’t hire a guy with know-how like mine to build a house. If he had to build a house himself he’d be ruined.” If you want to build a house, you don’t want a violinist. And if you’re going to lead an orchestra, you don’t want a bricklayer. No two of us are exactly alike. None of us has every gift and ability. Our responsibility is to exercise the gifts we have, not the ones we wish we had. And when it comes to making decisions about your own life and the direction it should take, focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses. Know yourself. Know what you do well, and then go with your strengths and shore up your weaknesses.[2]



[1]The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Mt 25:35-40). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2]AMG Bible Illustrations. 2000 (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; Bible Illustrations Series. Chattanooga: AMG Publishers.

Suffering - God's Way

This sermon was preached on October 11, 2009 

Suffering – God's Way

Intro.: In 1894 a man died who struggled most of his life with tuberculosis.[1]
  1. Though he lived the last part of his life in American Somoa, a memorial stone near his home in Scotland reads: 

Give us grace and strength to forbear and to persevere. Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind, spare to us our friends, soften to us our enemies.

  1. Shortly after being diagnosed with TB, Robert Lewis Stevenson traveled with his new American wife to American Somoa in order to care for his disease. He wrote, “Not every man is so great a coward as he thinks he is—nor yet so good a Christian."[2]
  2. I expect none of us would like to leave our homes, with or without a new bride, because of some disease that we have. Yet, Robert Lewis Stevenson did exactly that – and still made a major impact on English literature that is not forgotten even today.
  3. Stevenson was a believer that did not let his suffering stop him from making an impact on his world.
  4. I want to look at a writer in the NT that understood suffering and helped the early Christians deal with it.

Read: I Peter 4:1-6


Trans: We return today to a series that we began last year at about this time.
  1. Peter had spent three years with Jesus. He was a leader in the early church.
  2. Peter knew his own suffering – as he wrote in the early years of Nero's reign of the Roman Empire. In Rome, where Peter probably lived at this time, Christians were used to feed wild animals, they were burned alive as torches for Nero's festivities.
  3. Yet Peter calls Christians to consider why they are suffering.
T.S. Let's take a look at what Peter tries to teach the early church about suffering.
  1. Suffering is a normal part of life.
    1. Peter is does not try to minimize the difficulties that we face in life.
    2. He is readily aware of that Christians, as well as everyone else, will face suffering as part of their life.

(Ill.) In fact suffering is major part of the letter that Peter writes to the Christians who are living throughout Asia minor. Seventeen times in this short 5 chapter book, Peter mentions suffering. Every chapter of his letter draws his listeners to this topic.

      1. In chapter Peter reminds his readers that even the OT prophets wondered about the suffering that Christ would suffer.
      2. Chapter 2 shows how Christ endured unjust suffering
      3. Chapter 3 demonstrates that when we suffer for doing well, we will be blessed
      4. Chapter 4 tells us – well, we'll say more about that later
      5. In Chapter 5, we will see that suffering is not just for the dispersion, but is common to all believers in all parts of the world.

(Appl.) This week when you find yourself suffering (and most of your will), remember that you are not alone. You are not being picked on, you are not the only one being hurt. When you find yourself facing a major decision that leaves you feeling overwhelmed, the pain and confusion that you feel is not yours alone. Suffering is common to all mankind.

  1. There are three causes of suffering.
    1. I would like to suggest that there are three kinds of suffering.
    2. Common suffering
      1. As broken people we experience suffering
      2. It might be an illness – as simple as a common cold or as complex as a mental illness
      3. It might be an accident – if I take plan on using this hammer to put a nail into a board, but hit my thumb – I suffer. But so would everyone else who hits their thumb.(
      4. Common suffering is a result of the limitations we have as humans.
      5. But when Peter speaks of suffering in chapter 4, he never mentions the common suffering that we all share as human beings. Instead he has two other sources of suffering in mind.
    3. Consequential suffering – Peter does discuss what I am calling “consequential suffering” - suffering that is the result of being out of the will of God.
      1. Peter hopes that the believers are willing to aside the way they lived their lives as gentiles.
      2. He list some of the behaviors that had led to their suffering - lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.
      3. It is amazing that the same problems that were so prominent 2000 years ago are still present in our world. And Peter's advice has not changed.
      4. I find myself too often making sin general – Peter gets specific. God is not as concerned about the general idea of sin as he is about how it gets played out in our individual lives. I doubt that the list here is intended to be all inclusive – but it is indicative of the fact that living our lives outside the will of God, can contribute to the suffering we experience in this life.

(Ill.) There is a factory in France where spiderwebs are regularly cultivated, and of the delicate fibers ropes for military or weather balloons are constantly made. It seems almost incredible that so frail a thing can, by multiplying, be made into a strong rope, strong enough to strangle a man; yet so it is. Cobwebs can now literally become cables. Sinful thoughts, shadowy and filmy at the first, may become so strong by constant indulgence that the strong cords of avarice, lust, and hate may at last bind the soul to its utter undoing. Beware of the beginnings of evil.[3]

      1. As Peter says it, “You have already lived long enough like people who don’t know God.” The six sins listed in I Peter 4:3 are not meant to be all inclusive, but Peter is clear in that God is concerned about how we live our lives.
    1. Righteous suffering – I Peter 4 has another type of suffering.
      1. In fact, this third type of suffering is what most of I Peter is about.
      2. It is the same suffering that Jesus experienced – He suffered not because being out of God's will, rather He suffered because He was in God's will.
      3. Those around you will think it strange when you do things God's way, rather than their way. You will seem out of place, you may even, like Jesus, suffer for doing things that seem strange to this world.

(Appl.) Collary – because suffering comes from three different causes, we cannot assume that because we are suffering, that we have done something wrong. Or because someone else is suffering, we cannot assume they have done something wrong.

(Ill.) Do you remember the story in John 9. Jesus and His disciples were walking and passed a man who had been blind from birth. One of the disciples asked the inevitable question, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” The answer is that neither happened – Jesus was there to heal the man. The question is not who sinned, but what does God want of us?



[1]Federer, W. J. (2001). Great Quotations : A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Quotations Influencing Early and Modern World History Referenced according to their Sources in Literature, Memoirs, Letters, Governmental Documents, Speeches, Charters, Court Decisions and Constitutions. St. Louis, MO: AmeriSearch.

[2]Stevenson, Robert Louis. 1889, in his work The Master of Ballantrae—Mr. Mackellar’s Journey. John Bartlett, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1855, 1980), p. 669. Found in Federer, W. J. (2001). Great Quotations : A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Quotations Influencing Early and Modern World History Referenced according to their Sources in Literature, Memoirs, Letters, Governmental Documents, Speeches, Charters, Court Decisions and Constitutions. St. Louis, MO: AmeriSearch.

[3]AMG Bible Illustrations. 2000 (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; Bible Illustrations Series. Chattanooga: AMG Publishers.