Sovereignty of God

SERMON LEFTOVERS 12.12.16

Joseph’s Hard News

 

Matthew 1:18-25

 

The Angel Gabriel visited Mary to announce her pregnancy, now Joseph finds out

 

Being chosen as Jesus’ parents, was a difficult honor

Joseph is a deeply hurt man; his fiancé was “found to be with child”

We don’t know how Joseph found out, or if he spoke to Mary

He knows his betrothed is pregnant, and he thinks she betrayed him

The pain and “dishonor” goes beyond Joseph and Mary

Both sets of parents, their extended families and friends were all impacted

Then there was the question who is the father?  Whose life was affected by suspicion?

Joseph was a ‘just’ (righteous) man who wants to do the right thing (v19)

He realizes he cannot marry a woman who is unfaithful and “unrepentant”

But he will show mercy and divorce her ‘quietly’; which means he will not bring charges (she could have been stoned)

Joseph is righteous and Mary is favored by God, but their lives are unraveling

God’s favor doesn’t ensure an easier life, but it will unquestionably bring a fuller life

Even though the angelic visits brought truth, the complications remained

Being in the center of God’s grace doesn’t mean all will be clear to us, or that people will be supportive

Yet, every moment of God’s purposes is gloriously worth it

 

An angel is sent to intervene (vs 20-21)

God knew Joseph couldn’t be expected to accept Mary’s testimony

God provided what Joseph needed, to follow the path given

The statement, ‘Do not fear’ was an assurance that even this will be okay: you will not be a fool, and you will not regret it, for the Lord is fully in it

The angel brought 3 affirmations to Joseph

1.  The child in Mary’s womb was conceived by the Holy Spirit

2.  The name of this child is to be “Jesus”

3.  This child is the Messiah (the “anointed one”)

Anticipation of a Messiah came from Old Testament prophets, who often described a coming deliverer who would bring unparalleled blessing

This Messiah would come from the line of David, the great king of Israel

Messianic fulfillment was clearly in the angel’s words and in the circumstances

Joseph’s response, like Mary’s, revealed his character

They both accepted what God had ordained for them

Joseph obeyed, he “did” what God commanded (vs 24-25)

Joseph will soon fade from the biblical record; and none of his words are recorded

We don’t know much about Joseph, but we know what matters – he was faithful in his part

 

Matthew adds commentary on Jesus’ birth (vs 22-23)

Jesus’ birth fulfilled many Old Testament prophecies: Matthew gives one from Isaiah 7:14

God “with us” is a key theme of the Bible – from the Garden of Eden onward, God is with his people

Jesus transcends all previous expressions of God’s presence (John 1:14 & 18)

Jesus is not only the Messiah, he is Messiah beyond expectations

God himself is our Messiah!  There could be no greater deliverer (Romans 8:31-38)

The deliverance Jesus brings is also beyond what was looked for

Jesus doesn’t simply save us from current problems, he saves us to the uttermost! (Hebrews 7:25)

He saves us as far and as wondrously as is possible to be saved!

 

Matthew gives context for Jesus’ birth (vs 1-17)

The announcement of Jesus’ birth is preceded by his genealogy

Jesus fits the biblical promise that the Messiah be from the line of David

This genealogy shows Jesus’ coming is part of a huge sweeping plan (vs 17-18)

Centuries of events and lifetimes culminate in Jesus’ arrival

No one was more aware of being predestined than Jesus. He often spoke of “my time” and “my hour”

Christ is at the center of God’s plan, but his genealogy shows God uses messy people along the way

Jesus’ genealogy contains as many skeletons as anyone’s closet

The Bible doesn’t hide the mess of these lives, Jesus saves them!

SOMEONE IS IN CONTROL . . AND IT’S NOT YOU

We generally think, “In control = good”, and “out of control = very bad”!

Who really likes to feel that people and circumstances are out of our control.

Yet, life not only is out of our control, it is rather important for us to recognize this fact.

When we think we “are in control” or if we live trying to “be in control”, that is actually a bad place to be.

One of those bad things is that we mix up the role that belongs to us with the role that belongs to God. We are terrible at trying to be God (despite the fact that we work at it rather frequently).

My friend, Ricky Alcantar from Cross of Grace Church in El Paso, Texas wrote this article on facing the reality of it being good to know life is out of our control, “Fear Not, The Universe Is Wildly Out of Your Control”.

This is a healthy and restful lesson to learn.

GOD IS NOT CUSTOMIZABLE

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Have you ever noticed the way people who leave God on the periphery of life feel free to tell Christians how we are following God incorrectly?

They blithely declare how the church needs to act differently in terms of support for social, political, economic and even sexual issues. They will even go so far as to accuse Christians of this head scratcher: we are being unchristian, if we will not agree and go along with other religions.

Accusations such as these reveal that the accusers don’t believe God is real, and they don’t believe His Word has any authority.

Sometimes they will throw out a broad and out of context biblical statement as to justify their accusation, but generally their opinions rest simply on the fact that they want Christians to think and act different.

G Shane Morris wrote an interesting article on this topic for The Federalist entitle “Dear Media: Stop Trying to Teach Christians Theology”.

We shouldn’t be surprised when unbelievers act this way, people will always be desperate to silence the voice of God from their lives.

But what about professed Christians, do we ever act as if the Bible’s authority over our preferences is questionable?

When believers pile up days without giving time or thought to God, how do explain the difference between our life and that of an unbeliever (many of them are nice and moral too)?

God is Creator, Sustainer, Lord of all, Almighty, Glorious and Perfect. He graciously is quite interested in hearing from us, but God has absolutely no interest in adjusting His will and Word for us.

The Bible is clear; if we love God we will bow before him and we will follow his Word. This particularly includes when God’s Word is running against our preferences.

As Shane Morris points out, God is not “customizable”.

 

SERMON LEFTOVERS 1.11.16

‘Life is about what Christ is doing’

 

Philippians 1:12-18

When we are in a place of hardship, limitations or uncertainty, our impulse is that we NEED to get out, because nothing good can happen here. However, when we serve what Christ is doing, every situation becomes fruitful

 

Paul Describes His Imprisonment (vs 12-14)

We can imagine the concern and interest of the Philippian Church

Yet, the only details Paul is interested in sharing are about gospel mission

The central issues for Paul are how he is serving the gospel, and how the gospel is “advancing”

Paul’s tone is not just positive, it’s victorious

We are not to have a ‘success model’ that is separate from Christ’s kingdom: our success and his kingdom success should be the same concern and joy for us

“But what if my life is in a bad place?” How are you defining ‘bad’?

  • A bad place is when we are in sin and pushing God away
  • We may be in unpleasant place, but can still be a Christ advancing place

In Paul’s hardship, limitations and uncertainty, gospel mission is advancing in two ways

(1) The gospel was advancing to unbelievers

The Imperial Guard was an elite force, and Paul was a mere prisoner, yet he has gotten the attention of this “whole” group

From 4:22 we know the gospel had advanced into Caesar’s household

(2) The gospel mission was advancing in believers (v14)

The church could have slunk back in fear, but Paul’s example led them in the opposite of “boldness”

Paul was limited, but the Holy Spirit was not, because God is all powerful, ever active and fully sovereign

Until the “day of Christ” arrives, the gospel will not stop advancing, because God has people to save

The gospel was not advancing despite hardship, it was advancing through it!

The Philippians may have wondered if their continuing support was being wasted

In v12 Paul lets them know that that the opposite is happening

No effort for Christ and his kingdom is wasted because He reigns

 

Sadder Than Paul’s Chains, Were the Actions of Some Believers (vs 15-18)

First, we need to piece together what is taking place

  • They are among the “the brothers” mentioned in v14
  • They are not false teachers, because Paul always confronts and condemns them
  • These are believers preaching out of envy (v15) and selfish ambition (v17)

It seems that they are Christians who want to be known for having bigger ministries than the famous Paul

Once again, for Paul this situation is seen through the eyes of gospel mission

He didn’t approve of the heart in these believers, but he approves of the gospel being declared

There are churches we may not want to attend, because we disagree with their approach to ministry

But if they are clear with the gospel, we should take joy in that reality (v18)

Last week, we saw Paul’s joy was rooted in the progress of the gospel rather than circumstances

We never lose our reason for joy, when our reason is the reign of Christ

If your reason for joy is in other things, then your joy will come and GO

 

Paul Wants the Church to Be Encouraged

His circumstances included chains, but his words include “advance, confident, bold, without fear and rejoice”

This is because the key phrase in Paul’s heart is “for Christ”(v13)

In vs 1-18, Paul refers to Christ twelve times, God four times, and the gospel four times

As Christians, we need to grasp that everything is meant to be about Christ!

v21 “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain”

  • He is worthy of this being true for us
  • It is wise and good when this is true for us
  • God is serious about this being true for us

As a Church family, we want to show grace toward one another as we struggle to grow, but we also want to be zealous to grow

None of us live for Christ in everything and at all times.

But we all can be moving in that direction

1. Live by God’s word; it incessantly points us to Christ

2. Pour your life into gospel mission “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21)

3. Be a worshipper! Your love for Christ and your interest in his kingdom will increase

WHY DON’T ATHEISTS HATE SANTA?

AmericanAtheistChristmasBillboard2014

 

Tis the season to be jolly, or to complain about Christmas displays that have any hint of religious character.

Each year there are people who are indignant over public nativity scenes as if Christmas never originated as a religious celebration.

Others who deny God’s existence compare the Christmas Story to the myth of Santa Claus.

What I find interesting is that people don’t get mad over Santa displays, or his appearing in public places. Yet, they become ferocious in attacking nativity scenes. If as they say, God and Santa are both myths, why are they angry at the myth of God, but not at the myth of Santa?

The reason is simple, people are not in rebellion against Santa or the Easter Bunny, but they are in full force rebellion against the rule of God over their lives.

Most atheists don’t recognize that the heart of their anti-God anger is their own heart condition, but their actions reveal it.

People who are angry at the mention of God in society are angry that God claims to be Lord over all things – including their own lives. Our sinful nature has rejected the rule of God, because we want self-rule. For some people it just becomes easier to convince themselves God doesn’t exist. Problem solved!

However, because God does exist and He is Lord over everything – the problem remains. Romans 1:19 tells us God has placed the knowledge of His existence within all humanity.

This means that while the mind and mouths of atheists declare God doesn’t exist, their souls realize that He does. A downtown nativity scene or a prayer during a high school graduation are unwanted reminders of a reality that don’t want to face.

But atheists are not the only ones who squirm under the rule of God. Even Christians find themselves struggling with God’s claim to have absolute rule over our lives. We see this in a variety of ways:

we don’t like being told that your fantasy life really is a “big deal”

we get angry that another believer has pointed out a sinful attitude in us

we are bothered that God’s Word says He predestines us

we are offended that our pastor challenges the music we listen to, or the shows we watch

we leave our church when leaders tell us we must reconcile a damaged relationship with other church members

we think it is unfair that “good” people are condemned to hell

we complain about decisions our church makes when we are asked to give sacrificially

we stiffen up when we hear a teaching that mentions submission to our spouse, to the church, or to one another

The question of God’s rule is not just for God-deniers, it is also relevant for God-followers.

Next time you see a nativity scene, be reminded that the child born in Bethlehem came to destroy the power of rebellion and establish himself as Ruler over every detail of our life

 

QUESTIONS THE BIBLE ASKS YOU #4

Have you noticed that life so often seems to be a battle? Instead of out into the world, it can feel like we are going off to war!

A normal day can be like a walk through a briar patch with thorns clawing at us from every side. And who knows when the next monster is going to leap out of a hiding place to attack us.

These monsters are not just in the world, some of them are in our own fears, failures and accusations. God who has saved us forever and is committed to caring for us just as long, reminds us He is our greatest reality by asking us this question:

If God is for us, who can be against us?

Here is God’s question to us in its context from Romans 8:31-39  

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 

Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Do you have a confident answer to God’s question?

A RESPONSE TO THIS DISTURBING WORLD

Do you ever get discouraged after reading the paper, listening to the news or just watching the world from your front door?

Only if you are human

The changes in our culture or perhaps the situations close to home in your life can easily wear down our heart. This is not surprising, because our world is in disarray and mayhem.

I wonder what will happen in the days ahead. Even more alarming to me – what will the world be like when my grandchildren have to navigate it?

In these moments (or longer) of discouragement, I consider what will always be true.

The unchanging goodness and sovereignty of our Lord is the medicine that has been settling disturbed hearts – ever since sin began to create havoc in our world.

Here are some ‘What will always be true’ thoughts for every Christian:

Our Lord Jesus Christ will always be “King of kings and Lord of lords”

Jesus will always be the victor over sin, Satan and death

The gospel will always be “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”

We will always have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us

The Word of God will always be true, sufficient and fruitful

Our life in this world will always be the temporary portion and Heaven will always be forever

Our life in Christ’s eternal kingdom will always be wondrously perfect

We will always be “children” and “heirs of God”

We will always be loved by our Heavenly Father as fully as he loves Jesus

Jesus will always love us, as fully as he loves his Heavenly Father

There will always be an eternal “rest” waiting for those who love God

Our destiny will always be glorification

Our Defender will always be greater than

Our Lord will always be better than

Our King will always be wiser than

Our God will always know what to do and when to do it

We will always be in the center of God’s attention and in the palm of his hand

Our hope will always shine more gloriously than the sun

We will always have a response to the disturbances of life

If you have other examples of what will always be true for us as Christians, please share them in Comments.

OUR HOPE CAN HANDLE ANY CHALLENGE

 This is the fourth in a 5 part series on Tuesdays that present the great truth of biblical Hope.

Our Hope Can Handle Any Challenge

In Christ we are never hopeless!

Our hope will be challenged in a variety of ways – but our hope can handle every challenge

The hope we have is that salvation’s entire promise will be fulfilled        

God has promised that his sovereignty and goodness will fulfill that hope

We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, 30and those whom he justified he also glorified (Romans 8:28-30)

Our enemy cannot alter this hope, so he tries to distort our perspective about hope

What are some of the major challenges to our hope, and why can our hope can handle them?

The Challenge of Sin  

Satan lures us into sin and then uses it to condemn us.

He floods our thoughts with a barrage of accusations declaring God’s anger and rejection.

He wants us to give up our zeal by telling us that we will never be godly.

Hope meets the challenge

v30 tells us those who have been “justified” (saved) will eventually be “glorified” (perfected). 

Our salvation is guaranteed by Christ’s work, not by our maintenance of salvation

v29 reminds us that our salvation began by God coming to us – He is totally committed to the preservation of our relationship with Him

The Challenge of Success and Prosperity

It seems that nothing leads us to take our minds off God faster than success.

At first we thank God, but over time we become lax and fall into thinking we are self-sufficient.

We become forgetful and lesser hopes take over our attention. We spend less time with God and think about his graces less often

Our focus increasingly is on what we are accomplishing, what we think we need to do, and our ever lengthening list of wants

Hope meets the challenge

Simply look up and there Christ is – he has never left us or stopped his labors on our behalf

v28 reminds us that “we know” wonderful truths about God

We are surrounded with memorable works of God and the wonderful promises of God

Our hope is so extraordinary, just to look at one facet, is enough to outshine the empty hopes of our own success

The Challenge of Disappointment and loss

The reality of living in a world groaning under bondage (vs 20-22) is that pain and disappointment are never far

We are regularly assaulted by thoughts that “God may be real, but He is not near”

We take our failures and multiple burdens to be evidences that God has stepped back

Hope meets the challenge    

Our hope is nothing less than the person of God himself and His inability to be unfaithful

vs 28-30 repeatedly remind us that we are on an eternal trajectory. In fact life can only make sense when we look at it with an eternal perspective

God is taking our life somewhere and the final destination is not here

The Challenge of Shallow Hopes

The world is incessantly offering us their false hopes

When the world around us is only talking about these empty hopes, we can get lost in the clutter of it all. The sheer volume of hearing about them creates an obscuring fog of shallow hope.

When we see people enjoying some of these hopes, we start to think they are worth pursuing.

The world’s hopes are not a mirage, but they are a veneer – they are shallow and will wear away

Hope meets the challenge

Our hope is not simply something held out to us to grab, we are a new creation

v28 tells us our hope is in God’s work

All the efforts of this world combined cannot match the grandeur of what God is accomplishing in us and for us

The Puritan preacher, Richard Sibbes wrote:

“As an adult is no longer satisfied with children’s games; so we are no longer satisfied with what the world offers”

We have been made for greater hopes than the world could ever provide – and we have tasted that they are wondrously good

Spit out the false hopes people are trying to feed you and nourish your soul on the person of Christ who is the Bread of Life. Refresh your soul with the person of the Holy Spirit who is the Fountain of Living Waters

POWER

The sound is deafening

The power is deadly

The sight is awe inspiring

Niagara Falls conveys power!

Spread over the borders of United States and Canada, the combined falls form the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world.

In high water season’s more than 225,000 cubic feet of water rush over it every second

Over 5000 people have died going over the falls

Yet, all the waters of the world came into existence by God simply calling for them to exist

The vast oceans are mere drops in His hands

If we want to talk about real power, we must talk about God, for no power exists except for what comes from Him.

God is the source of all power and He rules over every vestige of it. No power can escape from His rule or overthrow His control.

This is why God never fears or becomes anxious. This is how He can make huge and powerful promises that are always kept. This is why at His coming every creature on earth, in heaven and in hell will bow and declare He is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11).

We serve this God

We call upon this God

We trust this God

We are held by this God

We are kept by this God

We find rest in this God

We are confident in this God

Our God who is Power

SERMON LEFTOVERS 12.08.14

“Prayer and Healing”                       

 James 5:13-16

When I was 16, I watched a woman be healed dramatically! Since then I have watched many people die. The subjects of Prayer and Healing are connected and of deep interest to all believers.

James begins with an encouragement to pray (v13)

Whatever is going on in life, we are to respond with prayer and praise

Prayer and praise should be inseparable, neither one existing alone

Prayer and praise are the voice of the Christian life 

As Christians, how can life move apart from interaction with the Triune God?

Prayer and worship are not polite Christianity, or religious form

They are integral to how we think of God, the gospel, ourselves, and Christ’s kingdom

Prayer and praise is our starting place, our safe place, and where we find strength

Let’s look at the text through a series of questions

1.  Why are we told to ‘call for the elders’? (v14)

Elders (pastors) don’t have special power, they represent the Church (v16 tells us elders are not the only ones to pray for these needs)

God’s role in our lives is connected to our local church 

At Greentree we emphasize biblical community, because the Bible does

2.  Why are the sick to be ‘anointed with oil’? (v14)

Oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit; it is a reminder of where the power comes from

The use of oil is not a sacrament (giving grace); and oil from Jerusalem is not more effective

Oil is used in the Bible for anointing to declare we are calling for God’s presence

3.  Why do we need to ‘confess our sins’? (v16)

It’s not because all sickness is the result of a sin; v15 says ‘if’ they sinned. And Job’s friends were rebuked by God for making that accusation against him

The emphasis here is that we must come to God with a right heart

This is similar to the principle behind John Baptist’s ministry; he prepared the way for Christ by calling on people to repent

Prayer for healing must be more than acknowledging God’s power

We are acknowledging His rule over all things, including our bodies and life

4.  What is the “prayer of faith”?  (v15)

This is prayer that trusts in God, by acting on what He has said

It is trusting that we have free access to God, that He is able to heal, that He cares for us, and He is perfectly good

This prayer is offered in Jesus name, which means it is offered according to his will

In Exodus 6:2-3, when God made his “name known” to His people it was to say “I am the Lord”. God was claiming sovereignty over their lives

Prayer offered in Jesus name fulfills what we are taught in the Lord’s prayer “Your will be done”

It follows Jesus prayer in Gethsemane when he said “Not my will, but yours”

Our faith doesn’t leverage God into acting on our behalf

Biblical faith can never involve the lessening of God’s sovereignty

5.  Why are not all Christians healed? (v15)

There is a measure of mystery to this, which we cannot fully answer – now

But Paul was told by God that his “thorn in the flesh” would not be removed.

Paul refers a few times to his co-laborers who he left ill

Concluding thoughts

1.  Sickness can come for different reasons

Sickness at times may be because of our sin, as a discipline from God (1 Corinthians 11:27-30)

Sickness may not be because of our sin, but a test from God (2 Corinthians 12:7-9) 

Sickness may be the mercy of God to deliver us from this evil world (1 Kings 14:1 & 13)

Sickness may be so God can demonstrate his sovereignty (John 9:1-3)

2.  It is good to want healing, but remember those who are healed on earth will eventually die

3.  We are encouraged to pray for healing, expecting God’s activity

It is not more spiritual to accept disease and refuse to ask for healing

If we hide sin in our hearts we should not ask for or expect healing 

4.  Total healing cannot occur until our incorruptible bodies are changed at the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15)

Aging, sickness and death are a direct result of the original sin. Our current bodies are affected by our sin nature

5.  As people of the gospel, we should recognize God uses our condition in His big plan!

The witness of spiritual fruit (godly character) is greater than that of miracles 

God will be good in our sufferings and He will use them well (James 1:2-3)

6.  God will heal all things perfectly and forever!