The Miracle of the Method

As we start another week we will be looking at the method of Christmas and the miraculous nature of the incarnation story. Everyone has heard the phrase “there is a method to the madness” and that can be applied to the Christmas story. We can ask the question, “If God were to become man how would he accomplish it?” And the answer of the Christmas Story doesn’t make any sense to the world. Certainly the geniuses of the marketing world could have come up with a better plan?
1 Corinthians 1:19
For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
Paul says the message of the gospel seems like folly to the world. But the message changes lives and the method God uses requires that we humble ourselves before God and submit to his will and not our own.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalms 51:17
Are there some things God is doing in your life that you don’t understand? Most of the things God is doing we don’t understand. But don’t worry, that is God’s method. His ways are not our ways… but we can humble ourselves before him and let him be God. We can trust him with our lives because he is trustworthy.
God was at work in the Christmas story to bring Christ into the world and he is at work today forming Christ in us. And whatever method he uses, one day we will see that it was perfect.
Prayer: Give me the grace and patience to let you do your work in me.

An Eternal Message

As we prepare for church this morning there is one thing I want to remind us of: The message of Christmas is eternal. The son of God became man… and he will always be man. He is the God-Man and will live with us and rule the eternal kingdom forever.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.” – Isaiah 9:6-7
The message of Christmas is that God became man so that he might redeem us from sin and restore us to fellowship with God by paying the penalty for our sin on the cross. He was born for this purpose and he fulfilled it in actual time and space, recorded in the annals of history and forever and ever we will be praising God for his eternal plan.
And the things that are waiting for us are beyond our comprehension.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.   Romans 8:18-21
Prayer: May I live with an awareness of the redemption… what it cost God and what it accomplished for us now and forever.

A Hopeful Message

The message of Christmas is a message of hope.
If you think about it, it’s entirely appropriate for Jesus Christ, who is the hope of the world, to have come in the form of an infant, because babies are hope personified. They are pure potential. Their lives are all in the future. Is there a mother or father who hasn’t looked into the face of their newborn baby and wondered, “What will this little child accomplish, what will he become? A doctor saving lives, a lawyer pursuing justice, an engineer; painter, ballerina, astronaut, college professor, athlete, research scientist. . . anything is possible.
But Mary had even more than the usual maternal pride to justify having great hope for her son. The previous year, she had been visited by an angel, Gabriel, who gave her this promise:
“You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” – Luke 1:31-33
This promise to Mary echoed the prophecy of Isaiah, given seven centuries earlier:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.” – Isaiah 9:6-7
And to Joseph the angel said:
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:21
The hope of nations is also the hope of all people. He is the hope of world peace and justice and he is the hope for all who are far from God because of their sin. He was sent to save us from our sins.
Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you. – Psalms 33:20-22
Prayer: My hope has become my salvation and my friend.

A Transforming Message

Lee Strobel, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, was an avowed atheist. Lee was antagonistic towards God. His wife said she was confused about faith. When they were dating and got married Lee said there was no room for God in their relationship. When Leslie started attending church Lee told her that this wasn’t what he had signed up for. He thought nothing good could come of it, but in the following months he saw positive changes in her character. Why do you think some people fight against faith in God?
Leslie said she came to know God with her heart. Lee needed to investigate and believe in God with his mind. When Leslie invited Lee to church he attended with his reporter’s notebook confident that he’d be able to explain to her that she was involved in a cult.
Lee thought it was going to be easy to expose the wrong thinking of Christianity but instead it took him two years to investigate the issues. He said it was the most exciting story he ever investigated.
Lee knew that the Gospels were ancient historical documents. He went to experts to study the accuracy of the documents and to learn how they were verified as part of the Bible. Lee began his quest believing that the Bible was full of contradictions but when he actually studied it he found that wasn’t true. As Lee tried to disprove the Bible he found himself fascinated with it.
He said he started out as a hard-hearted atheist and found himself so intrigued by the Bible that he was willing to follow wherever the evidence led him. What he didn’t realize was the evidence would lead him onto a relationship with Jesus Christ through faith in the very person he sought to discredit.
The message of the gospel transformed his life. The book, The Case for Christ was the result of that initial investigation. Several other books have been written since that time, A Case for Faith, A Case for the Creator, The Case for Christianity and the Case for the Biblical Jesus.
Lee came to Christ because he was willing to openly examine the evidence. His life was transformed because of the miracle of the message. Lee tells us in his book that the evidence of people with changed lives after coming to faith was the most compelling in his thinking. He came to believe the gospel message was true because he witnessed the transformation of his wife first hand.
That is the miracle of the message. It captivates us with the compelling story of redemption and it has the power through faith in Jesus that transforms lives.
Prayer: Thank you for the transforming power of the gospel.

An Authenticated Message

The testimony of a credible eye witness is one of the most reliable pieces of evidence in a court of law. Thieves, rapists and murderers are sent to prison by the testimony of a single witness. If you have 2 witnesses who agree, you have an airtight case.
The message of the gospel has a number of credible witnesses. There are 4 men who record the life and times of Jesus. There is an historian named Luke who recorded the events of the disciples and the early church. There as the man named Saul who was converted to Christ and became Paul the apostle. He wrote much of the New Testament as he sent letters to the churches he established. There are letters from the brother of Jesus, James, who wrote concerning how we should live. The apostle Peter wrote letters that we have today. All these writers are credible witnesses to the explosion of the gospel and the birth of Christianity.
But all these writers devote their attention to the person of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for sin on a roman cross and his resurrection from the dead 3 days later. This is the Gospel:
That Christ (the chosen messiah of God) was born of a woman and was crucified on a cross, yet without sin because he was innocent, but was the sacrifice for the sin of all mankind and that his death was accepted by God the Father as payment for our sins and he was resurrected from the dead after 3 days and is a living savior able to be the mediator between God and man.
Hebrews 1:3
3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high
The writers of the New Testament gave us much more than history, they gave us their spiritual insight to see beyond the events of the times and see the eternal purposes revealed by the author of the New Testament – The Holy Spirit.
The New Testament gives us the factual information along with spiritual commentary to understand the message. But the message is authenticated by the life and death of Jesus Christ and all these events are proven true by the resurrection.
According to Luke there were 500 eye witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. The question of the authenticity of the message has been thoroughly documented and proven. The question remaining is do you believe it?
Prayer: Thank you for the authenticated truth of the gospel and for the power it has to those who believe.

An Historical Message

The message of the Gospel was unveiled by people who can be verified with a high degree of historical accuracy. Down through the centuries many skeptics have denied the existence of Biblical characters. Their purpose? If you can prove the people who brought the message didn’t exist… then the message must be false as well.
No historical figure has endured as much criticism as Jesus of Nazareth. If the so called historians can prove Jesus never existed then Christianity can be defeated and the gospel can be discredited.
Unfortunately for these skeptics there is too much information from non-Biblical accounts to discredit the life and times of Jesus. The following is just one of these accounts.
Tacitus—or more formally, Caius/Gaius Cornelius Tacitus (55/56–c. 118 C.E.)—was a Roman senator, orator and ethnographer, and arguably the best of Roman historians.
Tacitus’s last major work, titled Annals, written c. 116–117 C.E., includes a biography of Nero. In 64 C.E., during a fire in Rome, Nero was suspected of secretly ordering the burning of a part of town where he wanted to carry out a building project, so he tried to shift the blame to Christians. This was the occasion for Tacitus to mention Christians, whom he despised. This is what he wrote—the following excerpt is translated from Latin by Robert Van Voorst:
Neither human effort nor the emperor’s generosity nor the placating of the gods ended the scandalous belief that the fire had been ordered [by Nero]. Therefore, to put down the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits and punished in the most unusual ways those hated for their shameful acts … whom the crowd called “Chrestians.” The founder of this name, Christ [Christus in Latin], had been executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate … Suppressed for a time, the deadly superstition erupted again not only in Judea, the origin of this evil, but also in the city [Rome], where all things horrible and shameful from everywhere come together and become popular.
Is Tactus a believer? Hardly. Tactus hated Christians. But his admission as to the purpose in Nero’s arson also concludes with the certainty of the existence of this man Jesus.
There are many other historical references to the person Jesus Christ of Nazareth, enough to conclude that indeed Jesus lived and taught and died by crucifixion exactly as portrayed by the New Testament writers.
Our message is historically accurate, but that does not conclude its authenticity. The gospel must be believed… and that is where the miracle of the message is tested. Historical accuracy opens the door to intellectual investigation and when the gospel is thoroughly evaluated we can choose to believe or not believe it. This is where faith comes in.
Prayer: Thank you for the evidence preserved through history so that we can know that Jesus lived and died just as the Bible declares. Thank you for the conviction of the Holy Spirit who took that truth and revealed my sin and my need of a savior.

An Ineffective Message

1 Corinthians 9:22-27
22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. 24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
A disciplined believer is an effective witness to the world. But to be more precise, you can lose your ability to effectively share the gospel with the people you know if you are not living a disciplined Christian life.
Paul said he disciplined his body and kept it under control as not to be disqualified as an example to the people he was witnessing to.
We can lose our effective witness to the people around us as well. Are there people you know who need to hear the message of Jesus Christ but you have lost your influence with them? What steps do you need to take to regain trust?
Sometimes we have to go to people and apologize to them for our behavior. We have to acknowledge that we are not perfect (they already know that). Sometimes we have to make a change in the things we allow as not to offend people we want to share the gospel with. Sometimes we need an attitude check – or we need to get closer in our own walk with Jesus in order to be prepared to share Christ with others.
Whatever discipline we need to apply, it must start with a desire to be closer to Jesus and to be used to share the miracle of the message.
Prayer:  Reveal the undisciplined areas of my life and give me grace as I make the changes that are needed. I want to be used by you to lead my family and friends to Christ. Give me boldness to share the message of the gospel with them.

A False Message

Christian Smith is a sociologist from Notre Dame and he is the preeminent expert on emerging adulthood in our day. He writes about the fastest growing religion in America today. It’s not Buddhism or Hinduism or even Mormonism or Scientology…
It’s called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and it’s the fastest growing faith in America today.
These ideas are so commonly embedded into the culture of young people today that they have become the most common belief system for this age group. What is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism?
There is a God…who He is? …that’s kind of fuzzy
This God wants us to be good…that’s the moralistic part
What does good look like? …that’s kind of fuzzy
The central goal of my life is to feel good about myself and be happy
That’s the therapeutic part.
What does human self-image and happiness look like… that’s kind of fuzzy
God doesn’t need to be involved in my life, doesn’t need to put demands on my life but he is available to me if I have a problem.
That’s the deism part.
How does God intervene? …that’s kind of fuzzy
And then the last part to this belief system is…
All good people go to heaven when they die.
Exactly what constitutes a good person? …that’s kind of fuzzy
And what kind of community is heaven? …that’s kind of fuzzy
But that is the deism part and that is the fastest growing faith in America today.
Smith says the really insidious part to all of this is that many, many people in churches today think they are being good Christians but what they are really practicing is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.
It sounds good, but it is a false message. There is no salvation in a false message. Real hope and real peace only come through a relationship with Jesus Christ. The gospel invites us to realize we need a savior, not a grandfather who watches over us. We are sinners who are separated from God and Christ is our only hope.
Faith in Jesus Christ as our savior brings forgiveness of sin and new life to all who believe.
Prayer: Examine my heart and give me the courage to boldly proclaim the true gospel message, for only truth can transform lives.

Sunday Expectations

Every Sunday morning churches around the world open their doors to people who want to honor God. They meet to worship and to study God’s word together. They meet to fellowship with other believers and to hear the message brought by the pastor. They meet to obey God’s word about assembling together. But some meet every week to experience a moment with God.
As believers we know that you don’t have to be in church to have a moment with God but we also know when believers meet together to worship God that he is in the midst.
So what are our expectations on Sunday morning as we prepare to worship? Do we expect to meet God today? Are you looking for a moment where God shows up and you feel his presence again? If not, why not?
All too often we fall into routines that take us away from experiencing God. Even our worship can become routine and boring. We find ourselves going through the motions Sunday after Sunday. But today, think about the miracle of a moment with God.
Jeremiah 23:23
23 “Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away?
God is not far from us. He has promised to be found of us when we seek him with our whole heart. When we come to God in the right frame of mind, with a willing heart he invites us to worship him. Jesus declared:
Matthew 7:7
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
And as we worship today may we ask God to give the miracle of a moment to an unbeliever as they understand the gospel and place their trust in Jesus Christ.
Prayer: Invite me into your presence today, forgive my sins and cleanse me so that I am whole, and give me a burden for the lost around me that they might also come to know you.

Living in the Moment

Matthew 8:13
13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.
For the Jewish people living at the time of Jesus’ birth there was a longing for the way things were. They did not like the current political system, Rome was an occupying force, the land was overrun with foreigners, taxes were too high, their leaders were corrupt and they were all in danger of living in a secular society because their religion was in the hands of the Sadducees who didn’t believe in the resurrection and they were progressive and power hungry.
Sound familiar? I wonder if they had yard signs: “Make Israel Great Again”
Into that societal mess comes Jesus.
He does not seek to change the political system. He does not bring them back in time. He doesn’t challenge Roman authority and he doesn’t seek to revamp the religious institutions or positions.
He came to seek and to save that which was lost. People.
His attention was on people. People in need, people who were cast down and helpless. People who had given up on religion. Hurting people, desperate people, enslaved people, crippled people, blind, diseased, demon possessed people. He came to them where they were and touched them. And in that moment they were healed.
But not to Israel only, but to the whole world Jesus came. When Simeon the priest welcomed Joseph and Mary into the temple with their newborn son Jesus to make the sacrifice required by the law he said this:
Luke 2:30-32
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32
a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
Jesus was salvation for all people. He was brought into the world in a moment of time, prepared for a moment of death so that we might have a moment of faith.
When was the centurion’s servant healed? At the very moment of faith.
Prayer: Thank you for Jesus and for the free gift of salvation made available to all who believe.