The Christmas Story According to Jesus

Matthew 1:18-25; Hebrews 10:1-18

Have you ever read the Christmas story according to Jesus? I don’t mean the Christmas story given us by Matthew; how the angel came to Joseph and convinced him to take Mary as his wife. Nor am I talking about Luke’s wondrous description of the baby born in Bethlehem accompanied by the singing of angels. I am not even referencing John’s masterful prologue: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

What I propose to speak about today is the Christmas story according to Jesus Himself.
I can hear the wheels turning. Some of you are trying to remember just where in the Bible Jesus talked about his own birth.

Well for $25.00, I’ll tell you where you can find it. Better yet I’ll read the passage to you.
His story can be found in the NT letter addressed to the Hebrews, in chapter 10. Now so we don’t mistake anything that Jesus says, we need to hear what the writer says prior to Jesus’ words and I’ll also read his commentary after Jesus speaks. The writer begins,

The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good
things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared. But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said to God,

Hear then, the Christmas story according to the Christ. + Read More

Come, Before Winter!

Matthew 24:30-44; I Timothy 4:1-22

Once again, it’s that wonderful time of the year; when Indian summer gives way to fall and all its delights: autumn colors, gourds and pumpkins, the pungent smell of burning leaves, Thanksgiving, OSU and Michigan. What could be better than that?

But you and I know that when autumn’s leaves begin to fall, it won’t be long before something else begins to fall (got a little appetizer last Saturday). It won’t be too much longer until we’ll be surrounded by bare branches, icy shadows, frozen ponds; and we will experience the “dead of winter.”

And because we know that winter is coming, we have time to prepare for it. Last week, Gail and I began to do just that. We took down the canopy over our back patio, wrapped tarps around Gail’s potting station and an outdoor wooden swing, disconnected the hose and shut off the water supply, checked out the fireplace chimney and lit the pilot light.

Have you started to make your preparations for winter yet?

The changing of the seasons is not unique to North America. If we could take the time tunnel to the city of Rome in the Fall of 65 AD, to a cold dark, damp prison cell, we would see Paul spending time making his last minute preparations for winter. + Read More

Count It Joy

I Peter 1:3-9 (Call to Worship) Luke 19:41-44; James 1:1-4

Talk about a guy down on his luck, experiencing a little pain and suffering as he’s lost in the desert . . . desperately needing a drink . . . of anything. He comes upon another man riding a camel. He asked the man if he had something to drink. The man on the camel said “No, but I have a nice selection of ties. Would you like to buy one?”

“Are you crazy? I need something to drink, not a tie!”

So the man on the camel rode on, and the walking man continued his slow and very thirsty trek for several days. Finally, he came upon a cantina. He gratefully approached the doorman and said, “I’m so glad I made it! Can I come in and get some water?”

The doorman frowned at him and said, “Not without a tie.”

As we attempt to come to grips with pain and suffering, we really have two main issues that boil to the surface:

  1. the cause of our pain and suffering, (which we have already talked about) and
  2. our response to it.

These two issues are often intertwined, in that folks tend to expend a lot of energy trying to pinpoint the cause before deciding how they are going to respond. And that’s why I spent some time last week dealing with causality.

But the real issue for Christians should not be . . . “Is God responsible?” but rather, “Now that this pain and suffering has occurred . . . how am I going to respond to it?”

So, how should we respond to this job loss, this divorce, this broken relationship, this illness, this death of a loved one? + Read More

Faith Under Fire

Luke 13:1-9; Hebrews 11:17b-12:2
There was a farmer who had three sons: Jim, John, and Sam. No one in the family ever attended church or had time for God. The pastor and the others in the church tried for years to interest the family in the things of God to no avail. Then one day, Sam was bitten by a rattlesnake. The doctor was called and he did all he could to help Sam, but the outlook for Sam’s recovery was very grim indeed. So the pastor was called and appraised of the situation. The pastor arrived, and began to pray as follows:

“Oh wise and righteous Father, we thank Thee that in Thine wisdom Thou didst send this rattlesnake to bite Sam. He has never been inside the church and it is doubtful that he has, in all this time, ever prayed or even acknowledged Thine existence. Now we trust that this experience will be a valuable lesson to him and will lead to his genuine repentance. And now, Oh Father, wilt Thou send another rattlesnake to bite Jim, and another to bite John, and another really big one to bite the old man. For years we have done everything we know to get them to turn to Thee, but all in vain. It seems, therefore, that what all our combined efforts could not do, this rattlesnake has done. We thus conclude that the only thing that will do this family any real good is rattlesnakes; so, Lord, send us bigger and better rattlesnakes. Amen.”

Do you think God operates that way? Is He really in the business of sending snakes? Does God cause people to get sick? Is God responsible for pain and suffering?

To keep the question in context was God responsible for the ill, sometimes barbaric, treatment that the “Hall of Faith” people listed in Hebrews chapter 11 endured? Was it God’s will that some of His best people go naked, homeless, hungry, imprisoned, tortured and even murdered?

What does the Bible say about it? + Read More

Bold Faith People

Last Sunday, the author of Hebrews made the point that stepping out in faith has a way of rewarding us with more faith as we become more and more convinced that our unseen but everywhere present God has our backs.

This past week, I continued to brood in that wonderful 11th chapter and although I initially planned on dealing with the question of causality, I realized something there too good to pass up about bold faith living. So the question, “does God cause bad things to happen to good people?” will have to wait till next Sunday. In the meantime, this message fits our overall theme of being better prepared to face whatever curveball life throws us by encouraging us to boldly walk in faith.

Acts 4:1-13; Hebrews 11:1-2; 17-35a

A 5th grade science class was having a discussion about whales when a little girl mentioned her favorite Bible story was the one about Jonah being swallowed by one of those great mammals of the sea. The teacher said it was physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human because even though it is a very large mammal, its throat is very small. The little girl stood her ground, insisting that if it was in the Bible it was true. Irritated, the teacher reiterated that a whale cannot swallow a human; “it is physically impossible” she said.
The little girl said, “Well when I get to heaven I’ll ask Jonah all about it.”
Her teacher asked, “Well what if Jonah went to hell?”
The little girl replied, “Then you ask him.”

Would you say that little girl qualifies to be inducted into the ‘Hall of Faith?’ It was an act of bold faith, wasn’t it? Standing up to her teacher like that took guts!

As I read this hallowed passage of scripture I couldn’t help but note that these heroes of the faith not only acted boldly in faith (as we discussed last week) they often did so in the face of some kind of opposition. + Read More

Faith’s Reward

On the first Sunday of this month, we began to dig into this letter known as Hebrews – the overall theme of which is how to maintain a durable, robust vibrant faith even in the midst of difficult circumstances.

We noted the three kinds of Biblical faith:

  1. The first of which is referred to as saving faith“We have been saved by grace, through faith, not as a result of good works.” This is the initial faith that we exercise when we first come to embrace that Jesus died so that we could live.
  2. Then there is what we would call doctrinal faith. That is the composite of Christian truths that make up our basic beliefs. Such as in I Co. 16:13 where Paul encourages his readers to “stand firm in the faith.”
  3. Thirdly, we come to the faith we are talking about in this series; practical faith. This category refers to the faith principles upon which we must operate in order to rise above the weight of our own personal circumstances or the times in which we live. When practical faith is hitting on all 8 cylinders, we can think of it as a deep, abiding, unswerving confidence in God.

Hebrews 10:39-11:16

In his book, In the Eye of the Storm, Max Lucado begins: “Chippie the parakeet never saw it coming. One second he was peacefully perched in his cage. The next he was sucked in, washed up, and blown over. The problems began while Chippie’s owner was vacuuming Chippie’s cage the phone rang, she turned to pick it up, barely said “hello” when “ssssopp!” The bird owner put down the phone, turned off the vacuum, and opened the bag. There was Chippie — still alive, but stunned. Since the bird was covered with dust and soot, she grabbed him and raced to the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and held Chippie under the running water. Then, realizing that Chippie was soaked and shivering, she did what any compassionate bird owner would do she reached for the hair dryer and blasted the pet with hot air. Poor Chippie never knew what hit him. A few days after the trauma, Chippie’s owner wrote: ‘Chippie doesn’t sing much anymore — he just sits and stares.’ It’s hard not to see why; sucked in, washed up, and blown over; that’s enough to steal the song from the stoutest heart. Can you relate to Chippie? One minute you’re seated in familiar territory with a song on your lips. Then the pink slip comes, the rejection letter arrives, the doctor calls, the divorce papers are delivered, the check bounces, a policeman knocks. The life that had been so calm is now so stormy. And somewhere in the trauma, you lose your joy.” 1

And I would add, times like that can have an impact on our faith as Heb. 10:39 attests.

That’s why Hebrews was written. The recipients of the letter were experiencing their own version of Chippie’s story. Hebrews 10:32-39 taught us how to remain faithful using mental gymnastics: remembering how God has been faithful in the past, cultivating patience in the present, and placing our hope in the eternity. Now beginning in chapter 11, he encourages us to exercise our faith muscle by doing something.

For Hebrews 11 teaches that those who choose to act on the faith they have will be rewarded with even greater faith. + Read More

Patiently Waiting

Isaiah 40:11; Hebrews 10:32-39

Speaking of patiently waiting, a turtle family went on a picnic. They had prepared seven years for their outing, then left home, searching for a suitable place. During the second year of their journey, they found it. For about six months they cleared the area, unpacked the picnic basket. They discovered, however, that they had forgotten the salt. A picnic without salt would be a disaster, they all agreed. After a lengthy discussion, the youngest turtle was chosen to go back for the salt. He agreed to go on only with one condition: that no one would eat until he returned. The family consented and the little turtle left. Three years passed, and the little turtle had not returned. Five years. Six years. Then in the seventh year of his absence, the eldest turtle could no longer contain his hunger, announced that he was going to eat and began to unwrap a sandwich. At that point, the little turtle popped out from behind a tree shouting, “SEE! I knew that you wouldn’t wait!”

How many of you have trouble waiting patiently?

A man in Los Angeles, California recently ran out of patience and was arrested for negligent discharge of a weapon after shooting his toilet bowl five times with a 38 caliber handgun. His daughter had flushed a hairbrush earlier in the day and it clogged the pipes.
He had been using a snake to try to clear it when he just lost it, so he shot the offending toilet. I have no word on the toilet’s condition, but the man’s patience was long gone.

Don’t you just love to wait? We wait in lines; we wait to hear about a new job. We wait for a decision to be made. We wait to grow up, wait to find a spouse, wait for children to come along, wait for them to grow up, and then wait for them to get it together. We wait to retire. We wait for someone to change his or her mind. We wait on traffic. Boy, do I love to wait in traffic; almost every day I go crazy trying to turn left onto North Court Street and enter into a solid line of stop and go traffic all the way up to the square.

By the way, if you are growing weary of waiting for red lights to turn green you can purchase a MIRT (mobile infrared transmitter). They’ve been available to police and fire/rescue crews for years in order to speed their deployment to the scene of a crime, a fire, or an accident. But you can purchase one for about $500 and never have to wait again. Never mind that it is a felony for an average Joe like you and me to use one.

Patiently waiting on God to answer our prayers, change our circumstances, or open closed doors is very much like sitting at a very long red light. Wouldn’t we all love to push a button and magically force God to give us a green light for all our plans and desires?

But it doesn’t work that way, does it? His timing seldom coincides with ours. But the Bible says, “God makes all things beautiful in His time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). + Read More

Exercising Faith

Hebrews 10:32-39

Most Bible scholars are in agreement that the historical context behind the writing of Hebrews is the terrible persecution being suffered by Christians in and around Rome sometime after that city was burned by the emperor Nero. He pinned the crime on Christians; thus one of the worst waves of persecution began to wash over the fledgling church. This persecution in its extreme called for some Christians to either renounce their faith in Christ and live, or if they chose not to; die.

Hebrews 10:39 indicates there are two kind of people:

  1. There were “those who remained steadfast” in their faith, and
  2. there were “those who faded.”

As I stated last week, the purpose of this series of messages is to help us grow our faith in a faithful God
so that we remain in the former group.

So let’s begin by talking about ‘faith’ in general. The Greek word translated ‘faith’ occurs 245 times in the NT always of faith in God or Christ or in things spiritual. The word means ‘confident assurance. Perhaps the best synonym would be ‘trust.’ Those 245 uses can be categorized in three ways.

The first is the one most familiar to us; it is called saving faith. The best known saving faith verse is probably Ephesians 2:8, “We have been saved by grace, through faith, not as a result of good works.” This, of course, is the initial faith that we exercise when we first come to embrace that Jesus died so that we could live.

Then there is what we would call doctrinal faith. This is the composite of Christian truths that make up our basic beliefs. References of such faith are contained in verses such as: I Corinthians 16:13 where Paul encourages his readers to “stand firm in the faith.” And Jude 3, where the writer encourages us to “contend earnestly for the faith.”

Thirdly, we come to the faith we are talking about in this series; practical faith. This category refers to the faith principles upon which we must operate in order to rise above the weight of our own personal circumstances or the times in which we live. When practical faith is hitting on all 8 cylinders, we can think of it as a deep, abiding, unswerving confidence in God rather than ourselves. It has to do with relying on and trusting in God to help us through troublesome times. One of the best known verses of practical faith can be found in II Co. 5:7, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

We can think of practical faith as a muscle. And like any muscle it needs to be exercised for it to be most useful. In Hebrews 10:32-39, I see the writer giving us 3 ways to exercise our faith muscle; one of which we will consider today and the other two will have to wait till next time. + Read More

Developing Enduring Faith

Lamentations 3:19-25

Thomas Obadiah Chisholm was born in a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky in 1866 and grew up in a ‘dirt poor’ family. He only received an elementary education in a little country schoolhouse, but even so was recognized as being one of the smartest kids in the county and at age 16 became the teacher at the same school. Ten years later, he walked the sawdust trail at a revival meeting to give his life to Christ. In the next few years, he developed a passion to become a pastor and although he had no college or seminary training he was ordained to the Methodist ministry at age 36. Unfortunately for Thomas, he was extremely frail and suffered from increasingly poor health that required him to give up his ministry after only one year. His poor health plagued him until the day he died.

But even so, he didn’t give up on God. He turned to writing Christian poems. Over 1200 were published in several Christian periodicals of the time. In 1923 at the age of 57, he wrote a poem about God’s continual faithfulness over his lifetime despite his difficulties.
That poem was so moving it was set to music and became one of the most loved hymns of all time. + Read More

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