“What If” – Advent 1

Advent 1 – What IF?

 

 

Well, well, well….. here we are at the beginning of Advent. Seems like we just did this – oh, I don’t know – about a year ago. Time flies. Advent is the preparation for the “Coming” or the birth of our Savior. So let’s focus on that. Let’s think about the fact that Christmas is the beginning of having it all.

 

 
What is the essence of the story of Christmas? Well, the essence is that whosoever accepts the Son gets it all. As the Bible puts it:  “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life”     1 John 5:11-12.   The one who has the Son has it all.

 

 

 

What do we mean by all?” First, Advent promises new life in Christ because: now we know what God is like. The coming of Christ gave us a living picture of who God is. Christ’s coming put a face on God. The Bible says, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible” Colossians 1:15-16. This is what we mean by the incarnation — God came to earth wrapped in a human body. God of heaven came to live among us that we might know what He is truly like. He came to teach us. He came to die for us that we might be forgiven. He rose from the dead to help us know that we too will be raised. He ascended to the Father to intercede for us. He promised that he will return so that eternal hope would burn in our hearts. He opened the doors of heaven.

 

 

 

Have you ever imagined what the world would be like if God, in the person of Jesus Christ, had never come to earth. We would not have the high expressions in music that came from men like Bach and Beethoven. We would not have Handel’s “Messiah.” Harvard and Yale would not exist, because they were started as Christian institutions of higher learning (believe it or not). The founders of these schools believed that to study “science” was to study the work of God and to understand how He made the world.  It was a way of learning more about what He is like. Many hospitals would not exist, because they were begun by people who had hearts full of compassion for those who were ill, due to their personal experience with Jesus Christ and being transformed by His love. Our way of dating history would be completely different, since all of history is divided into the things which occurred before Christ and the things which occurred after Christ.

 

 

 

There would not be churches on every corner of our cities. Most colleges would  not exist, because most were started as Christian institutions of higher learning. There would be no Y.M.C.A. We would have half a Bible. We would not have heard of the love of a personal God. God would never have visited the world, and we would have no hope of His returning to the earth. There would be no Christmas — no gifts symbolic of God’s greatest gift. There would be no Christmas carols or hymns. The world without Jesus would be “always winter and never Christmas.”

 

 

 

Without Jesus, Mary Magdalene would have died in her sin. Matthew, the tax collector, would still have been a traitor to his countrymen. The Roman soldier would have continued his cruelty. Peter, James and John would have done nothing more with their lives than fish for a living. The Apostle Paul would never have been more than a cruel Pharisee steeped in legalism with an unrelenting demand for perfection from other people. The people who needed healing, during the time that Christ, would still have been broken in body and spirit. The lame would still have been lame; the blind would have remained in their darkness; the deaf would have still lived in silence. We would never have heard the words: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” John 14:27; or “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be completeJohn 15:11; and “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”  John 10:10.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is why we sing about Emmanuel at Christmas — God is with us. He was with us 2000 years ago, and He is with us now in this present moment to show us what He is like. We have a God who cared enough to come. No other religion in the world can make that claim. He showed us what He was like and His name was love. He was the friend of sinners and failures. He showed love and compassion to the outcasts of the world. He healed the sick and raised the dead. He taught us not to use the values of this world to determine our worth, for He said, “The last will be first, and the first will be last” Matthew 20:16. He taught us that our value to God was more important than what anyone else thought about us.

 

 

 

Some of you have seen “The Antique Road Show” on television. Often someone comes who has paid a few dollars for an item at a garage sale asking for an evaluation of its worth. Then comes the look of surprise and shock when they learn the item is worth several thousand dollars. When I see that happen, I think of how God goes about taking people who are not seen as very valuable by the world and placing a very high value on them, because that is the kind of God He is. How do we know that? We know this because we see it in the life of Jesus over and over again. The outcasts of society seemed to be his specialty. The sinful and sick, the poor and weak were the people he pulled out of the trash and transformed into a treasure. If Jesus had not come we would never have known that about God.

 

 

 

And because Christ showed us what God was like, we want to be like Him. We have been transformed by His grace and renewed by His love. We extend grace to others because it has been so wonderfully extended to us. We forgive because we have been forgiven. We give because He gave to us. We live because He has given us eternal life. Because Jesus came, we know what God is like — living love.

 

 

 

Secondly, Advent promises new life because it means our sins can be forgiven. Think for a moment of the worst thing you have ever done — the thing that makes your brain burn with shame. And then think of what it would be like if Jesus had not come and you could not be forgiven for your sin. What would that be like? Your guilt would never be relieved, and condemnation would always be hanging over your head. But since Jesus came, forgiveness has come to those of us who have received the grace that Christ came to offer. We know the freedom that forgiveness brings. We can forgive ourselves and others because we have experienced the liberating forgiveness that Jesus Christ came to give us.

 

 

 

But if Jesus had never come, we would have only commandments to follow, and we would never hear the great words of the New Testament: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him”  John 3:16-17.   We would be missing a Savior. There would be no talk of forgiveness and reconciliation to God, only laws to be obeyed. Grace would not be a word in our vocabulary. We would talk about justice, and people getting what they deserved, rather than finding mercy with God. If Jesus had never come, the woman caught in adultery would never have heard the words: “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin” John 8:11.

 

 

 

The Bible says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”    1 John 3:1.     We are children of God because we have been forgiven as an act of the grace Jesus Christ made possible by His atoning death. It is as simple, and as difficult, as humbling ourselves and asking for the forgiveness which He offers. This brings about a transformation in our lives; it is so much more than just forgiveness.. The Bible says, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit”   2 Corinthians 3:18.   Christ came to not only cleanse our hearts, but to change our hearts. We are being transformed into His character more and more with each passing day. Because we live with Him, we are becoming like Him. His Holy Spirit is working in us to produce His image.

 

 

 

All of this is for one grand purpose, which leads to the third and final point — Advent promises a new life in Christ because: It means we have the hope of heaven. Heaven was made possible by Jesus. As the hymn says, “Christ has opened Paradise, Alleluia!”   Think about what the world would feel like if there was no hope of heaven. What would you say at the funeral of a loved one if Jesus had not come? There would be no hope beyond the grave. You could not talk about heaven, or any reason to hope for eternal life with God — only the reality of dissolving into the night. The Bible says, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men”  1 Corinthians 15:19.

 

 

 

If Jesus Christ had not come, there would be no book of Revelation; no hope for a returning Savior who would overcome the world and open heaven for us. There would be no hope of hearing the words: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” Matthew 25:21.   There would not be any hope of a resurrection — not even the concept of one. There would be no eternal life. Nothing to anticipate, except the closing of the casket lid and the coldness of the grave. But because Jesus came, all that has changed. We live in joyful anticipation of what is yet to come.

 

 

 

In his book  “Dare to Believe”, Dan Baumann illustrates what it is like to know that something is yours even though you have to wait for it. You may even have it in hand, but are not able to enjoy it “out of the box.” He says that when he was young he always did a lot of snooping at Christmas time, trying to find his gift and figure out what was in the wrapped packages which his Mom hid. One year he discovered a large package with his name on it that he knew was a set of golf clubs. One shake of that box revealed the unmistakable sound of clubs. He says, “When Mom wasn’t around, I would go and feel the package, shake it, and pretend that I was on the golf course. The point is, I was already enjoying the pleasures of a future event; namely, the [unwrapping]. It had my name on it. I knew what it was.”  It was his, but it would not be handed over to him until Christmas morning. Then he would see with his eyes what before he had only seen with his heart.

 

 

 

Christmas means that Christ has given us the gift of heaven. At this point it is still wrapped. But the package has our name on it. We know what awaits us. It is ours. We would never have received the gift if it were not for Christmas. But we wait longingly for the day when we will enjoy the gift of heaven in all of its unwrapped wonder. As the Bible says, “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness”  2 Peter 3:13 The day will come when we too will hear the words, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” Revelation 21:3-4.

 

 

 

We know what God is like because Jesus DID come. We experience forgiveness for our sins and the transformation of our hearts and minds. We have received the promise of heaven and eternal life. What better gifts could we ask for?

 

 

And the glorious day will arrive when we will unwrap that gift of Heaven.

 

 

Let us Pray:
Almighty God, we prepare ourselves during this season for the wonderful gift You have given us – Your Son, Jesus Christ. There is nothing we can say or do to thank You enough for caring about and for us to make this ultimate sacrifice. Help us from this day forward to walk in Jesus’s footsteps and be as one with Him. Amen

 

 

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Giving Thanks

The preacher placed two identical jars on the table next to the pulpit. He quoted 1 Samuel 16:7, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. A human looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

 

“These jars came from the same factory, were made of the same materials, and can hold the same amount, but they are different,” he explained.

 

Then he upset one and it oozed out honey. He turned over the other, and vinegar spilled out. “When a jar is upset, whatever is in it comes out. Until the jars were upset, they looked alike. The difference was within, and could not be seen. When they were upset, their contents were revealed.

 

“Until we are upset, we put on a good front. But when we are upset, we reveal our innermost thoughts and attitudes for ‘out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.’ Luke 6:45

 

What if someone “tipped you over” today? What would flow out? Would you reveal the “honey” of grace and patience and overwhelming gratitude to God, or the “vinegar” of anger and sarcasm? Above all, love each other deeply, because “love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8

 

This week, through Thanksgiving and gratitude, let’s bring back to enjoy that which is within us and change the interior of each of us, from bitterness to sweetness.

 

This appears on the Plymouth Rock Monument in Massachusetts: “This monument marks the first burying ground in Plymouth of the passengers of the Mayflower. Here, under cover of darkness, the fast dwindling company laid their dead, leveling the earth above them lest the Indians should learn how many were in the graves. History records no nobler venture for faith and freedom than of this Pilgrim band. In weariness and painfulness, in watching often in hunger and cold, they laid the foundation of a state wherein every human through countless ages should have liberty to worship God in his or her own way. May their example inspire thee to do thy part in perpetuating and spreading the lofty ideals of our republic throughout the world.”

 

This Thursday, we are going to celebrate the greatness of God’s good. It will begin Thursday morning, as we notice the wonderful smell of a turkey in the oven, wafting out from the kitchen. There is no smell like that in the world. Right now, we can smell it – the aroma of the turkey browning and the spices cooking through it seems to fill the air. Some of you will have  a mother, a grandmother, a wife, or a husband who will be in the kitchen. This wonderful aroma, floating through the air, seems to lift everyone in the household.

 

There are other smells too. I love the smell of cooking candied yams. Often, everyone is in such a good mood because of the smells, that there is singing going on in the kitchen. It seems like no matter how small the kitchen is, everyone is gathering there. Other large rooms are standing  empty, but everyone is in the kitchen because they want to breathe in all this good that God has created.

 

As you are celebrating and smelling all these wonderful smells on Thursday, will you stop to think why Thanksgiving is on Thursday? What an odd day of the week on which to celebrate Thanksgiving. Why not celebrate Thanksgiving on a Sunday? Why would it be in the middle of the week? Who would have picked Thursday? If you are going to have it on a weekday, maybe Monday or Friday would be better? Why not celebrate on Saturday, when the majority of people are off of work for the weekend?

 

I want you to think about something else, also. Not only is it on a Thursday, but it is in November. Why is it in November? If we are celebrating the harvest, it was months ago. Why do we have this one day in November when we celebrate and give thanks to God for all that God has done?

 

In recent history, Christmas is always on December 25th. Valentine’s Day is always on February 14th. The Fourth of July is always on July 4th. So why cannot Thanksgiving just choose a  specific date and stop roving up and down the calendar?

Why is Thanksgiving on a Thursday, and why is it in late November? The answer to these questions revolves around fish–something that we never eat for Thanksgiving – says James Baker, the historian at a museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

 

Elizabeth 1, who was the Queen of England, wanted to bolster the fishing industry in England, so she decreed that people could not eat meat on Mondays, Wednesdays, or Fridays. The market day, when everyone seemed to come alive, was on Thursday. Many people would go to the market  half-starved because they would have fasted the other days. At the market, they would get turkeys, the fatted goose, and all sorts of delectable things to eat; things that, when cooked, would fill the house with wonderful smells. That is why a day of thanksgiving was declared to be on a Thursday.

 

Did you know that Thanksgiving Day was not always in November? For a long time it was held on December 18th. The reason it was held on December 18th, in this country, was because it was towards the end of the year, but it was a little ahead of Christmas. It was a celebration of all God had done during the year.

 

Thanksgiving was not officially declared to be held in November until Franklin Delano Roosevelt decreed that it would be. Why did he move it back to the third Thursday in November? He moved it back during the Depression, so there would be a longer Christmas shopping season. We all know that will begin with the biggest shopping day of the year – the Friday after Thanksgiving.

 

The symbol of Thanksgiving is the fatted bird—the turkey.

 

“Birds of a Feather.” That is a saying in this country. I don’t know how old the saying is, but “birds of a feather” means things, or people, of like mind or like activities. We are all going to do basically the same thing on Thanksgiving. We may eat turkey or we may not, but we will all be doing the same thing – at some point, during that day, we will take a moment and realize (more than we do ordinarily) how good God has been to us, and how wonderful it is to be healthy and alive.

 

Thanksgiving is a day to recognize God in our lives, and we will feel good. We will express our gratitude to God through praise, and we are going to see the good everywhere. We will know that God will provide, and everything will be fine.

 

I share a story with you that takes place in Bethany. This particular day was hot, dry, and dusty, with a hot wind blowing. I don’t know of anything more miserable to the human spirit than a hot, dusty  wind. You are all clean, you go outside, and a hot, dusty wind hits you in the face. The air seems so thick with dust that it is difficult to breathe. You feel down because of the environment.

 

A group of people were really feeling down. They were grieving. They were clinging together as grieving people often do. They were weeping and mourning outside a cave in Bethany that was serving as a tomb for Lazarus (the brother of Martha and Mary). He had been dead for four days. Those in the grieving group were talking as Jesus approached. They were saying things like, “If He had come earlier, this might not have happened. He could have healed our brother, and everything would have been okay. But look, He comes now when Lazarus has been dead for four days.”

 

Then the group is absolutely dumbfounded as they see Jesus kneel down, and with a smile on His face He begins to give thanks to God. Can you imagine? Imagine if I was performing a funeral service for someone you loved, and instead of grieving with you, I had a huge smile on my face and gave thanks to God. Can you imagine how dumbfounded, and possibly angry you would be?

 

I want to share this story with you from John 11:38-44: “Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’”

 

I imagine the people standing around were no longer a crowd, but were now a mob. I imagine they were getting more and more angry at Jesus.

 

When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

 

A man is lying dead, and his friend is giving thanks. Everybody just looked at Jesus. Then, with His next breath, Jesus called out, “Lazarus, come out!” At this point, you can imagine how the atmosphere is electric. I am sure time was such that a few seconds seemed like an hour.

 

The “dead” man came out to them. What did that crowd feel? There was joy, shock, fear, and disbelief. But He gave thanks, and that set the miracle into motion.

 

A man was telling about an Alcoholics Anonymous group he attended where a man told his story. The man said, “God caused me to be raised from the dead.” This meant he had the power to give up drinking. Then he looked at all his friends – birds of a feather, people of like mind – and then with tears in his eyes he said to them, “You are unbinding me. Do not leave bound what God has unbound.”

 

God is constantly unbinding us. God is constantly telling us to come forth. If, after looking back at the past and what God has done in our lives, we hold that in our minds, we will have the incredible intelligence in human mind to give thanks in advance. We know, no matter what we face today, that God is with us. No matter how difficult it is in the moment, we can say, “Thank You, God. I know I am connected with You. I am not separate. I know that when I work with You as a partner, everything will work out all right.”

 

And I ask God to give me the power to unbind myself – not holding myself bound by the thoughts of the past – and I ask that my family and my friends will not bind me, either, and I will have the power to go on.

 

During this Thanksgiving week, we need to ignite that feeling. Yes, we are thankful for the harvest, and we are thankful for what God has done in our lives in the past. But we are also thankful for the things that we have not seen as of yet. We are thankful because we know we have a God who responds. We know that everything will be fine. No matter how great our mountain, or how great our difficulty, God is a God who answers our present challenges, instantly, in a way that is beyond anything we can imagine.

 

Because this is Jesus’ way of prayer, a woman in need of her own healing placed a chair opposite her with a picture of Jesus Christ on it. Then she started to give thanks to God and to every part of her God-created body, starting at the top of her head.

She was in pain. Things were not going well. Our human reaction is to curse the things that are not quite right. Instead, this lady gave thanks to the body parts, for God working in the body parts, and brought them into new life, regenerated in the God-Truth that was already prepared for her. We can do the same with any situation in our lives. She gave thanks and unbound herself.

 

 

 

Here is a piece of poetry . I know it will bring back memories of your childhood, too. It is called “Thanksgiving Day.” Enjoy.

 

 

THANKSGIVING DAY
by Lydia Child
1802 – 1880

 

 

Over the river and through the wood,
To Grandfather’s house we go;
The horse knows the way
To carry the sleigh
Through the white and drifted snow.

 

 

Over the river and through the wood –
Oh how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes
Bites the nose
As over the ground we go.

 

 

Over the river and through the wood,
To have a first-rate play
Hear the bells ring,
“Ting-a-ling ding!”
Hooray for Thanksgiving Day!

 

 

Over the river and through the wood,
Trot fast my dapple gray!
Spring over the ground,
Like a hunting hound!
For this is Thanksgiving Day.

 

 

Over the river and through the wood,
And straight through the barnyard gate.
We seem to go
Extremely slow –
It’s so hard to wait!

 

 

Over the river and through the wood–
Now Grandmother’s cap I spy!
Hooray for the fun!
Is the pudding done?
 

 

I am going to close with scripture from Romans. As you read your thanks this week, remember this:

 

 

“In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
For I am convinced 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.” [Romans 8:37-38].

 

Let us pray:

 

Thank You, dear, wonderful God, for my week of thanksgiving. Thank You for
bringing joy to my heart, and helping me to recall all the things to be
thankful for. And thank You, in advance, for all the things I cannot yet
see with my physical eyes, but that I know, through faith, Your blessings will come  forth. I thank You in advance, and will do so all week.

 

In Jesus Christ’s name . . . Amen.

 

 

Martha ….. Martha…

John 11:20(NIV) 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

 

 

“Work, work, work. That’s all I ever do. I work and slave to keep the house clean. I work my fingers to the very bones to put good meals on the table. I work to keep everything straightened up around here, and nobody notices!”

 

 

Does this sound familiar? Well, that was me for years. Now because of my spinal surgery, I am allowed to do nothing at all, so my wonderful husband has taken that role (poor guy).

 

 

But those words above are spoken ALL the time. If you are feeling down-trodden, over-worked, over-burdened, and unappreciated, I have some heartening news for you. You are not alone.

 

 

Luke 10:38-42: “Now it happened as they went that he entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.’ And Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.’”

 

 

Bible scholars tend to downplay Martha’s work and to elevate Mary’s spiritual focus. Can you just imagine sitting at the feet of Jesus and feasting on wonderful and fulfilling words of our Lord? We could understand our own spiritual awareness by learning from the Master.

 

 

But, today, let’s take up Martha’s case.

 

 

I often Think of Martha’s struggles like that in the comic strip called “Peanuts.” Charlie Brown is talking with Linus and he says, “You know, Linus, it goes all the way back to the beginning. The moment I set foot on the stage of life, they took one look at me and said, ‘Not right for the part.’”

 

 

How many of us, like Charlie Brown, stand looking into life’s mirror on a daily basis, and come up with the feeling “Not right for the part”?

 

 

For example, the role of being a parent to teenagers, or being a business mover or shaker, or a parent with multiple responsibilities, makes you feel “not right for the part.”

 

 

It’s also Charlie Brown who complains to Linus about his publisher, saying that the publisher sent him a rejection slip. Linus says, “That’s all right Charlie Brown. Lots of people get rejection slips.” Charlie Brown replied, “But I hadn’t even submitted a manuscript.”

 

 

Many theologians have said Martha represents experience or practice, the worker bee, while Mary stands for protection or conservation of that which already is, the student, learner of all things real.

 

 

Jesus tells another interesting parable about the businessman who goes away on a trip and leaves his three servants in charge. He gives them some money to care for when he’s gone and he says, “When I come back we’re going to have an accounting.” And when he returns many months later, he says to the first servant, “What have you done with the five talents I gave you?” He replied, “I went out and doubled them.” The man said, “Fantastic.”

 

 

Let me assure you that a talent was an enormous sum of money in those days. They say that a talent was equal to about 75 pounds of pure silver, an gigantic sum of money in those days.

 

 

He says to the servant who had the two talents, “What did you do with the two talents I gave you?” The servant replied, “I made 100% improvement.”

 

 

He said, “That’s fantastic.” He then looked at the third servant and asked, “What did you do with the one talent I gave you?” The servant said, “I wasn’t sure what to do with it, so I buried it.”

 

 

What do you think the hearers of this parable would hear as far as Jesus’ words were concerned? Would you pick the servant who had the 100% increase? Or would you select the servant who doubled the talents? And who chose the one who wasn’t quite sure what to do, so he buried it?

 

 

Many respect the MBAs and the wizards of Wall Street who dabble in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and indirect things called securities. But back then, there were no savings or loans institutions. There were no banks. But there were crises and there were wars that could pop up at any time. So it’s possible that the people who were listening to this parable of Jesus were very influenced by that third servant. They might think the first two servants as being extremely reckless, especially doing this with someone else’s money. They might think that the third servant was more prudent than the other two. Puttering around with money (as if any of us could play around with money, not worrying about the outcome), even by today’s standards, can be a rather risky business.

 

 

Jesus may have been, possibly, referring to Israel’s religious heritage as well in this parable. Now this can take us in a whole new direction and ask: “What do you do with religion?” Do you preserve it, or do you practice it?

 

 

For years, the followers of the Torah had to protect their faith from attacks and invasions from all sides—first the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, then the Greeks and the Romans. The Greeks, in particular, were defilers of the temple in their attempt to Helenize (adopting Greek ideas, culture, and language) that part of the mid-east. It’s no wonder the Rabbis taught that to be religiously faithful, one had to defend the faith; one had to hold onto it and protect it, even by hiding it.

 

 

But that was then and this is now. Hiding the Christian faith is no longer the position of the churches that embrace the spirituality of our Lord’s message; it is to serve our members and non-members through evangelism and acts of compassion and benevolence – and to spread the Word.

 

 

As directed in Matthew 28: 18 – 29 18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

 

 

Religion seen in His eyes is to invest, to use, to practice, to share, to splurge, and even to risk. It’s definitely not something to sit on, bury, shelve, can, preserve, freeze, or even pass along to somebody else in the next generation. Jesus also said, “By their fruit ye shall know them” – BY what is produced—not by what is promised.

 

 

So the only question Jesus is going to ask us is “What have we done with what we have been given to invest and to share to make this world a little better place for humanity?” What are we doing with this? What are we going to do with this? Or what have we done with this?

 

 

There was a recent story in the newspaper that made me smile; you may have seen it, too. It said: He Finally Gets What He Gave Up. The sub-heading is: Teen Who Bought Van For Stranger Buys His Car With Help From Others. There is a picture of a 16 year-old boy standing next to his new Honda Accord.

 

 

In July, he attended an American Cancer Society auto auction. He had $1,500 in his pocket to get a used car. What he found was a woman with Lou Gehrig’s disease weeping because she couldn’t afford the $3,700 price tag for the van she wanted and needed to get around. So the boy put down the $1,500, and his mother put down the difference. Then he bought the van and gave it to this woman.

 

 

The people who saw this were touched. They applauded; some cried.

 

 

After the story appeared in the newspaper, funds rolled in from everywhere, – enough to more than purchase a vehicle. Radio talk shows interviewed him, and more than 600 cards and letters came to him, and donations to the boy’s trust fund built up, all he said he was trying to do was to help someone, which is the basic ingredient of service—Martha’s work.

 

 

BOTH Martha and Mary had valuable spiritual work to do. Martha had a purpose, just as Mary had a purpose that evening.

 

 

This planet of ours is starved for kindness. This earth of ours is virtually crying out for compassion. Yes, I know that Martha represents that part of us that is so easily distracted and frustrated that it’s almost impossible for us to not complain about something for any length of time and physically work to make it good. I also know that Biblically speaking, Mary has chosen what one translation calls the “right portion.” But I don’t think that downplays Martha’s work at all.

 

 

She and Mary are sisters. What they represent must have equal importance because of this inter-relationship. Martha, then, gives her service externally, while Mary’s devotion is internal.

 

 

The point is that both are important ingredients that are absolutely necessary for our own spiritual growth and development. They are part and parcel of our spiritual make-up and composition in the soul. Doing spiritual work (that is, applying what we know spiritually and serving) is so much more important than just talking about it or discussing it.

 

We’ve always been confronted with that age-old question: Which is more important? Being or doing? You have to be a human being first before you can be a human doing. You have to know the Truth before you can apply it.

 

 

Jesus said this in so many words: It isn’t the Truth that sets us free; it is knowing the truth that sets us free.

 

 

I believe the essential “to do” ingredient, here, is what I call choice. My life, up to this very point, is based upon what I have said “Yes” to and what I have said “No” to. The definite maybes cannot be counted. They are disqualified. Choosing can be a rather tedious and sometimes difficult task.

 

 

Years ago, when Charlie Grimm was managing the Chicago Cubs (our world champs this year), he got a telephone call from one of his scouts in the field. The scout said, “Charlie, this is George down here in the minor leagues, and I’ve just seen the most stupendous thing.”

 

 

Charlie said, “Tell me about it.”

 

 

The scout said, “Well, I just saw a pitcher throw a perfect game. He retired 27 straight batters without even getting a base hit. It was wonderful! He struck out the side, except for the last batter who got two foul balls, and then he struck out as well. What do you want me to do?”

 

 

Charlie replied, “Go find the man who hit the two foul balls. We’re looking for hitters this year.”

 

 

The power of choice is the executive power of mind, the will in a human. How do we know whether we are on target with this? How do we know whether we’re being willing or willful?

 

 

There is another subtle, but highly important, point here in this situation with Martha. What the world needs more of now are  shakers and movers – doers. That is one of the key reasons why I feel Martha has been short-changed.

 

 

Didn’t Jesus also say: “Those who are going to get into the kingdom of heaven are those who DO the will of My Father, and everyone who hears these sayings of mine and who does NOT DO them shall be likened unto a foolish man who built his house upon the sand,” which is the concluding parable in the Sermon On The Mount (Matthew 7). The Epistle of James adds: “But BE YE DOERS OF THE WORD and not hearers only, deceiving and your own selves.”

 

 

This, again, is conscious choice. No one can do this for us. Sooner or later, we have to do it ourselves for us and allow God’s loving actions work through us.

 

 

In another story, Martha also becomes the central figure. That story has to do with the raising of her brother, Lazarus, from the dead. She is the one Jesus encounters as He is coming into Bethany. It is she who is asked the provocative question by Jesus? “Do you believe that I am the resurrection and the life?” There is no doubt in her mind whatsoever and she says, “Yea, Lord, I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God which should come into the world” [from the  Gospel according to John].

 

 

It is she who leads the way to the tomb cave where Lazarus is buried. She just may have been instrumental in helping to roll away that guardian stone. The scripture only says they took away the stone, without identifying, specifically, who the “they” are. So not only does Martha express faith, but it is a working faith. Yes, I believe, and I’m going to help roll that stone away.

 

 

That’s what Steven Covey in “The Seven Habits of Effective People” says to begin with. Any overcoming, any personal or private triumph, begins with being proactive. Pro-activity is much more than just the taking on a plan. It is also the responsibility to do this as well.

 

 

We have come to a place, now, where our search for God must no longer be just for the rewards. It must no longer be for seeking other people to follow, but it  must be living a full life ourselves, loving and doing and sharing.

 

 

So let’s get Martha and Mary together, in our prayer times. Let’s begin by praying and then with our feet start moving.

 

 

Love to serve and show it.

 

 

God bless you.

FEAR – NOT

Isaiah 41:13: For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you..

 

 

Trick-or-treat time just ended last Monday. I want to discuss this idea this week. I wasn’t here last week, but we can discuss this theme at any time of the year. It’s good to know as spiritual people that God never tricks us, but instead always treats us to better than expected results, better than anticipated answer to prayer.

 

 

With an awareness of God with us, there is never anything to fear. Most fears in life are pretend fears. Halloween is pretend fear. Perhaps for parents the most fearful thing, is paying the inflated price for the costume for the child jumping up and down wanting – that one, and only, that one.

 

 

Fear in life is the darkroom where negatives are developed. Marie Curie said, rightly, “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.”

 

 

Mark 5:36   “Jesus told him, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’”

 

 

Mark 6:50 “Immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’”

 

 

A woman once said, “I dread going to the dentist. Once, to ease my tension, I listed my middle name as ‘Wimp.’” The receptionist read it, laughed and assured me that many patients felt the same way.

 

 

Half an hour later, the receptionist came into the waiting room. Looking directly at me, she said, smiling, “The doctor will now see the wimp.” Three other people got up with me.”
I would have also been one to stand up.

 

 

Do you remember yourself as a child around this time of year? Many people hearing or reading this are baby-boomers. Many will relate to this true Halloween story. There are many wonderful childhood memories we all have. One 65-year-old man said*, “I will never forget my childhood bedtime ritual in the 1950’s.”

 

 

“Every night I’d climb the stairs and go down the hallway to my bedroom. Now, usually, I had to do this with my parents, because I just knew something lived under the bed; something lived in the closet. And it was there, waiting to get me. I was an only child, so every night, we’d go through the same thing. We’d check all the rooms and make sure this monster didn’t come and attack me at night. We’d check under the bed and in the closet. And after we’d gone through this ritual that lasted as long as it possibly could, I asked my parents to leave the light on in the hallway. Eventually, after calling downstairs several more times for some excuse to get my parents up to my room again, I would finally fall asleep.

 

 

“Morning would come and it was like a victory, because I had made it through the night. The monster didn’t get me. I ran down those stairs, stepped on the old brown carpeting with my pajamas that had feet in them. My pajamas would always have some sort of animal on the feet, so when I walked, it looked like two animals were going along in my old cotton pajamas. This is the way it was in Ohio, at that time, with children.

 

 

“I would go downstairs and sit in front of this big, blonde-wood Motorola television set. It was about as big as this lectern, and it had a screen about as big as one of your hymnals. It would flicker while I would watch whatever there was to watch on television, during those early days of black and white TV.

 

 

“I was proud BECAUSE I MADE IT THROUGH THE NIGHT.”

 

 

 Psalm 56:3  “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”

 

 

This baby-boomer said, “I had two favorite things at that time in my life. One was the sandbox in the backyard. The only problem was that every neighborhood cat also liked that sandbox too. On the end of Broad Boulevard, lived my best friend. I would go up there and visit him often. His name was John Cofield. We were both four years old. “I could walk up this street because there was no traffic. It was a small town and I could easily walk over and see John. This one particular Halloween was the best, and the worst, I remember because it was my first real Halloween party. I had gone to parties before where they hung the black and orange crepe paper, and I got candy, and that was good. But, at this particular party, Mrs. Cofield dressed up as a very horrible witch and was unrecognizable, scariest thing I had ever seen. I remember that feeling of fear. I had nightmares for years about this witch.

 

 

“All the other kids were reluctantly edging up to the witch and getting their candy. Not me. I was against the wall, trying to become part of the wall in the corner. I didn’t move during the whole party, and it lasted about an hour and a half. All the other kids bobbed for apples, but not me. I was a part of that wall and the witch could not see me.”

 

 
How many of us have tried to disappear into a “wall,” hoping we could not be seen at scary times during our life. I know a younger me has.

 

 

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

 

 

Halloween has real significance. I would like you to think about this. There are many Halloween experiences in our lives. Many times, we have gotten into situations where we would like to hide, in order TO NOT FACE OUR FEARS. Many times, we have gotten ourselves into a corner and we don’t know how to get out. We, seriously, don’t know, in our own mind, how to get ourselves out of a fearful problem. It’s like a Halloween event over and over. Many times, we have gotten into situations in our personal lives, our homes, our work, our business, our career, even our spiritual beliefs where it appears in our eyes, like a ghost house.

 

 

It is good, that we, as humans, can have a time of conquering, through amusement, our base fears.

 

 

Deuteronomy 3:22 “Do not be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you.”

 

 

Think about this…, Halloween goes into Thanksgiving. That is when we realize, again,  that God is here and God is with us. Then, here is when we complete the big event as we go to Christmas, birth of our Savior.

 

 
Never walk alone; accept the help that is available directly to you from God and His Son Jesus Christ.

 

 

If the fear you’re dealing with today is allowed to proceed to the realization of God in your own spiritual thanksgiving, you will have new spiritual birth. You will have a new life. You will get beyond your fear. You will get beyond where you are today, and you will have a whole new experience of being, that will be better than anything you have ever dealt with. You can take deep, fulfilling breaths.

 

 
John 14:27 “Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.”

 

 

We may wonder how we’re going to get past our fear. Well, we must go to God in prayer, and ask for the help. Realize we’re not doing it alone. Then, while we’re in the experience, we will be so thankful because we will realize we’re not doing it alone, then, we have a new spiritual birth. And, in that new “birth,” we can go beyond anywhere we thought we could with God’s help.

 

 

It is those people who go beyond, who go from the fear, to God, to the new birth of Christmas, who are TOTALLY ALIVE.

 

 

For many people, if they see two holes in the ground and one hole is filled with snakes and the other hole is dark, they will jump in the hole that is filled with snakes, because, at least, they know what to expect. It’s true. It’s sad. It’s human nature. If you are this way in ANY area of your life, realize this is time to ask God for help. You can go beyond fears with God’s help, to courage, strength, and protection. You can jump in the other hole called unknown and you can know it’s going to be okay because God is with you. He is there!!

 

 

One of our scriptures today is from Isaiah 41:13 For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you..

 

 

Jesus said, Matthew 12:27 – 32  (NIV)  12- Now, if I cast out the demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe. But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his plunder. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

 

 

What Jesus is saying here is that we need to go from our personal Halloweens to an experience of God and have true new birth in awareness. If I have a fear inside of me, I can’t get rid of that fear with another fear. I have to get rid of it WITH God.

 

 

I can say, “By the authority of God with me, RIGHT NOW, through the power of the spoken word, I’m NOT going to have this fear in my life, anymore. I refuse it. I evict you from my thinking by the authority of God.”

 

 

I then solve my problem from a higher level of mind than I created it. I wipe out the fear that is inside of me by a higher level of spiritual faith than that which was in me when I created the fear. It works every time. I go from my inner imagined Halloween to safety of the real God in thanksgiving. I realize something has happened; and I have new birth of conscious awareness, the birth of our Savior. – Christmas..

 

 

I have a gift for you, a treat! …. John 3 (NIV): 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

 

 

Pray with me, please:  Lord, we cry out to You today asking You to restore to us joy and freedom from fear. Where you see people struggling and being burdened with fear, I ask You to meet them at the area of their greatest need, and “bind up the brokenhearted Isaiah 61:1 . Where there was once sorrow and fear, I ask you to replace that sorrow and turn it into the “oil of gladness.”

 

We pray for an increase of blessings in all our lives, and a refreshment of hope for our weariness. Help us, Lord, to walk through this new doorway of possibilities, into a renewed and fully restored time of blessing. We pray we will be able to soar on eagle’s wings and ascend to the heights where our vision is increased and our faith and hope renewed, releasing us of all our fears.

 

 

You are Lord over all, and You offer Your armor of protection for all of us. We claim that armor for those of us who are weary, discouraged, and fear locked. Help us to be obedient to You as You use these fears to build us into authentic spiritual leaders. Remind us of the power of obedience and the truth that allows us to be Christ–led and Christ–like. Help us to abide in You.  Free us, Lord, of all that binds us to fear.
May all we do bring You glory and honor! In Christ’s name we pray. Amen