"FELLOWSHIP OF THE MAT"

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FEBRUARY 3rd. 2019                                                                                PASTOR DON PIEPER

RIGHT ON THE MARK                                                                            MARK 2:1-12

"FELLOWSHIP OF THE MAT"

In short, quick sentences Mark sets the scene: Jesus' miracles over demons, leprosy, & illness, draws crowds of people to the places Jesus stays. Back in Capernaum, Jesus is the celebrated guest of a local family, connected to the fishing business. Here we find Jesus teaching the people about the kingdom, forgiving the sins of a cripple and then abruptly, publicly healing him. Jesus also celebrates the bold faith and friendship of this guy's buddies. I mean, you gotta love these guys!

In the face of formidable obstacles —time, stigma, inconvenience —they chose to become friends They became, as John Ortberg puts it, the fellowship of the mat, and as such invested themselves in one another. They made time and allowances for one another. After all, "everyone comes with a mat"! A great John Ortberg quote. And for much which is to follow, I give John the nod.

Anyway, when this circle of friends hears that Jesus is in town they drop everything and tell their friend that they'll pick him up bright and early the next morning, and when they say they'll pick him up — well, you know! But when they arrived, "The house was so packed with visitors that there wasn't room even for one more person, not even outside the door!" (Mark 2:2)

Apparently this all took place before that crucial verse was written: "Thou shalt reserve thy seat and anyone who sitteth thereupon shall be cast into outer darkness."

So they put their heads together...until one of them gets an idea: 'Dude! What if we make a hole in the ceiling and lower him thru the roof..! It would be totally wicked!' They look at each other with raised eye-brows. "Okay," says one, "any other lame ideas — any body?!"

So it is that these dedicated friends climb up on the roof and start remodeling this guy's house. Can you imagine being the guy who owns the house? I wonder who he was and what he was thinking. Mark gives us a clue: "When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread that he was back home..." (Mark 2:1) Back home? I thought he was from Nazareth? The reference here to his return several days later, calls back to what we read last week, that "Jesus and his companions went to the town of Capernaum..." (Mark 1:21), where he taught in the synagogue, cast out a demon there, after which, "Jesus left the synagogue with James and John, and they went to Simon and Andrew's home" (Mark 1:29) where Jesus healed Simon Peter's mother-in-law and she fed them.

Apparently, Capernaum became Jesus' new home, his base of operations if you will, and his home away from home, thanks to Peter's in-laws. It was there that Mark told us that "that evening after sunset (after Jesus' healed Peter's mother-in-law),many sick and demon-possessed people were

brought to to Jesus and the whole town gathered at the door to watch"              (Mark 1:32-33)

So there you, Peter's-father-in law, watching as yet another crowd shows up, not merely at your door to watch and listen, but they've actually taken over your entire house!

So if its not bad enough that all these people showed up unannounced and uninvited, eating you and your wife out of house and home but now a group of young scalliwags from the other side of the tracks has shown up and are busy installing a spontaneous skylight... Your wife wanted the living room to have more light but I don't think this is what she had in mind.


-2-

The fellowship of the mat - you gotta love these guys - they're not about to let a little roofing stand in their way. Relentless, they become roof-crashers for their friend. True community is built on the kinds of friends who make irrational, roof-crashing commitments to those around them, who gladly carry each other's mats and crash thru roofs without asking, `What's in it for me?'

But what about the man on the mat? Imagine for a moment what this experience was like for him. You're about to go through the roof — literally! How will those who arrived early enough to get a seat respond? What about the fellow who owns this place with the gaping hole in his ceiling?

I don't know — the whole thing sounds pretty risky. What if it starts to rain? What if the ropes the boys are using don't hold? What if one of them sneezes, for goodness sake? Clearly you have a decision to make. If you go thru the roof, you could get dropped, you could get ridiculed, you could get rejected. On the other hand, if you don't go through the roof, you'll stay stuck in a rut, flat on a mat. This is your shot at being whole. So you nod your head...and become a roof-crasher too.

Then there's Jesus. You've interupted the preacher! He looks up with dust and dirt and chunks of first century plaster in his hair and as the dust clears four smiling faces appear...

Mark tells us that as Jesus looked up he saw their faith; but what exactly was it that he saw? He saw four hopeful faces peering down, eyes glistening with anticipation, eyes reflecting their motivation - "If we can just get our friend close to Jesus..."

Jesus saw evidence of a radical commitment, a little of what God intended when He created human community. He saw an island of peace in a sea of brokenness, a glimpse of the love of God in human faces! "If we can just get our friend close to Jesus!"

So Jesus turns and looks down at this twisted, motionless body on a mat. He sees not only a broken body but, as in every one of us, a broken, fallen soul. Their eyes meet and Jesus speaks tenderly, "My son, your sins are forgiven." (Mark 2:5) His words prompt others to murmuring...

"What is he saying?" The question isn't asked out of curiosity but as an accusation. They've already drawn their conclussion: "This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins." (Mark 2:7)

Perhaps the man on the mat is wondering the same thing. He hadn't really signed up to have his sins talked about! What is Jesus saying? He's saying that if we want to be whole we've got to get real.

Consider Joe. His mat was a sexual addiction he'd wrestled with for years. In desperation he sought help and wound up in a therapy group. After a couple of weeks Joe suffered a relapse. Then for the first time he shared his deep sense of shame and failure, how, as a Christian, he was the biggest hypocrite. And yet, for all the pain his behavior caused him, he couldn't stop. As he told his story, his voice strained, he couldn't look anyone in the face. "Look up at the group," his counselor said.

"I can't. I'm too ashamed."

"Look up at the group. I want you to look into the eyes of the people listening to you, Joe. You must do this...for your own good "

Fearfully Joe looked around the circle. Every pair of eyes looking back at him was filled with tears. Every heart ached with pain for his anguish. There was no condemnation — just compassion. The fellowship of the mat before him saw his depravity, yet still chose to be his friends. For the first time he had a few mat-carriers who helped carry him to a place of healing. Joe's addiction was broken that day.


-3-

Oh, he still had a long way to go. There were confessions to be made, new habits to be formed, inner lies and wounds to be healed but in that moment he was changed...by love and compassion and it was in the fellowship of the mat by which Jesus offered a glimpse of that love.

Many of us were raised that you don't air your dirty laundry, you bury it. We tell ourselves and others that we're fine, we can handle it, that we're in control..and the grip of lie based thinking tightens. To be sure, the fellowship of the mat doesn't come easy. They're often heavy and awkward and there's always a roof of busyness, fear or doubt that needs to be crashed thru but it's precisely in such a fellow­ship where Jesus can be found. As he promised, "Wherever to or more are gathered in my name..."

There are seasons in our life when we are called to carry an incapacitated friend and there are others in which we ourselves must be carried. Such is the subtext of J.R.R. Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring, particularly of the two Hobbit friends, Frodo and Sam.

At the outset of their adventure Frodo is the stronger of the two, a friend of Gandolf the Grey, the wizard who scolds Sam first for spying and later for not keeping up. As their journey progresses the evil ring plays off Frodo's weaknesses, deceiving him to believe lies about himself, about his sense of purpose and about the trustworthiness of his dear friend, Sam. But when Frodo is in danger of losing hope and perspective Sam repatedly steps in to show what kind of friend he is...

[DVD, The Return of the King, scene # 9, 2:34:03 — 2:36:12]

Frodo's greatest asset was that of his friend, Samwise Gamgee, just as the greatest asset of the man on the mat was his four friends. Thanks to their reckless abandon and fierce determination he and his mat wound up at Jesus feet, where Jesus set him free from his guilt & his mat, and sent him home dancing: "Your sins are forgiven. Stand up, take your mat, and go on home! You're healed!"

(Mark 2:5, 11)

What's he saying? He's saying that our spiritual health or lack thereof influences everything and that he has the power to set things right and make you whole, if you will but bring your mat to him.

So what's your mat? Maybe it's a temper you can't seem to control. Just under the surface is a button that those closest to you seem to always be pushing. Maybe your mat is an inability to trust or the need to be in control, or a terrible secret of an awful thing you did, or some deep hurt that seems to define you or perhaps its a lie based belief entrapping you in a disabling addiction.

Here's the thing, it is only when we allow others to see our mat, when we give and receive help from each other, that healing becomes possible. If you want deep friendship, you can't always be the strong one. You will sometimes have to let somebody else in...and let them carry your mat.

For this, Jesus gathers us together, as the Fellowship of the Mat, that among us he may make his presence known, fill us with his compassion for those in need of a lift, in need of hope and healing, and set us all on our feet once again, utterly mat free, and with a renewed sense of purpose,like that of those roof-crashing friends: "If we can just get our friends close to Jesus..." !

Is there anyone you know who needs some help crashing Jesus' party, who needs a friend willing to help carry them up the mountain, to help rid them of the baggage of guilt and shame that weigh them down? What roof would you be willing to crash through...?

“A KINGDOM ON THE MOVE!”

JANUARY 20th, 2019                                                                                   PASTOR DON PIEPER

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Right On The Mark!                                                                         Isaiah 52:1-2,7-10/Mark 1:14-34

 

                                                “A KINGDOM ON THE MOVE!

 

            Mark's is a concise, fast-paced gospel that reveals that the kingdom of God Jesus came preach-ing is on the move, and, what keeps it on the move, is the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. 

 

            But if the kingdom of God is near, as Jesus proclaims, and he comes to make it so by baptizing us in the Holy Spirit, how do we know we're moving in the Spirit?  Is this what that looks like?  (*)   

           

            I don't know...  Looks kinda scarey...!  Thankfully, our reading from Mark provides a few clues as to how we can identify this kingdom on the move.  First of all, Mark draws us in to this movement in the way he frames Jesus' story.  For instance, Mark tells us Jesus is on the move, walking along the shore of the Sea, inviting some local fishermen to join him.  It’s a call to action: Come, follow me...! 

                                                                                                                                    (Mark 1:16-17)

            You get the sense that they dropped what they were doing and had to hustle after him.   Jesus doesn't stop, he's on the move, heading further down the seashore, he calls a couple of other fishermen and they immediately drop what they're doing and follow suit.  Next thing we know, they're on the road together, heading north to the town of Capernaum.  Jesus is on the move and if you want to follow him, as these four fishy fellows soon discover, you better keep up!   In fact, his story has barely begun and already my Bible has to provide a map of his movements to help me keep track of them...!

 

            Mark is emphasizing Jesus as a man of action.  We're informed that once in Capernaum, “Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach”, (Mark 1:21) Mark doesn't bother reporting the content of his teaching.  This stands out especially in light of the fact that “the people were amazed at his teaching, for he taught them with real authority”, (Mark 1:22) and yet Mark tells us nothing of what Jesus taught there.  Instead, Mark draws our attention to Jesus' actions, his casting out of an evil spirit. 

 

            What's more, Jesus is quoted only three times in the span of twenty verses, and each time Jesus speaks he uses the imperative verb tense, conveying an intense sense of urgency.  What is the imperative verb tense?  Every parent in the room has used it.  Consider Calvin's mom...

 

Calvin:                        Hi Mom!  I'm up!  I'm up! I'm up!

Mom:               Hey!  Get back in bed!     I mean it, Calvin!  It's way too late for this nonsense! 

Calvin  :           Wheee!   I'm gonna watch TV!  Ha, ha, ha! 

Mom:               Calvin, stop this!  You go straight to bed! 

Calvin:                        No! 

Mom:               GOTCHA!

Calvin:                        WAAUGH!    I don't wanna go to bed!  I wanna stay up!  Put me down!  I'm not tired! 

                        AAAAA!          Mom has to earn a night's respite from me.      

                                                                                   

            His mom spoke almost exclusively in the imperative there.  And what about the next morning?

Calvin:                        Brrr, it's freezing out there!  I don't want to leave my nice warm bed.     On days like this,    

                        I wish mom would come in, lay an extra blanket over me, pat my head, and as I sink into

                        the pillow under the weight of the covers, she'd say....

Mom:               HEY, LET'S MOVE IT!!  This is the third time I've called you!  You're going to                               miss the bus!   LET'S GO!! 

Calvin:                        These mornings are going to kill me. 

                                                                                    -2- 

 

            Most moms are the masters of the imperative, but far more so, is Jesus.  In fact, all three times Mark quotes Jesus, he's speaking in the imperative – the verb tense in ancient Greek that is used in the utterances of commands and statements conveying tremendous urgency: “The Kingdom of God is nearRepent and believe the Good News!”  (Mark 1:15)

            All three verbs are in the imperative.  Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men!”  (Mark 1:17)  Two of the three verbs are imperative.  Be quiet!  Come out of the man!”  (Mark 1:25)  Two verbs – both imperative!  The point!  From his actions to his words, everything about this Jesus of Nazareth, this messianic son of God, is tremendously urgent! 

 

            What's more – Jesus' words call for action!  Repent and believe!  Come, follow me!   Be quiet; come out!   The first is a call to action to those in the crowd intrigued with his teaching and miracles, the second is a call to action to those who seek to live as his followers, his Kingdom players, and the third is a call to action delivered to his enemy, the Lord of darkness and deception and his evil horde. 

 

            We looked at that first command last week.  Here Jesus calls us to let go of the distractions and the counterfeit sources of security – all of which compete for our heart and devotion, evident in where we tend to spend our money and invest our time – and put our trust and hope in him. 

 

            Jesus' second command is delivered to those who are responding, seeking to go deeper, to learn, as any fisherman does, from someone who knows the trade, only now they'll learn to fish for people, to creatively draw others to the one who loves them inside and out! 

            Likewise, Jesus calls us to step and learn from him: “Come!  Follow me and I will show you how to fish for people!”  (Mark 1:17)   And that's what he does!  He reveals the power of God's love in action as he heals Peter's mother, sets a man in torment free, and makes a leper whole... 

 

            It's significant that immediately upon calling these four fishermen to follow him and learn the trade of being fishers for men and women that he encounters a man in the synagogue enslaved in the dark spiritual bonds of demonic possession.   It’s as if Jesus is saying, do you want to follow my lead, than learn to trust in God so deeply, to love his hurting people so sincerely, that anything is possible.

In this kingdom, where Jesus reigns supreme, he pushes back the kingdom of darkness in very specific and dramatic ways.  As John said of him, “The Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil.”                                                                                                                                                              (1 John 3:8) 

            Note, that's ALL the works of the devil.  Jesus came to bring us victory – not only over our own sinfulness, but also against the enemy and the kingdom of darkness he's been trying to build around and within us.  Mark very deliberately begins the story of Jesus' ministry with the account of his casting out a demon from a man in the synagogue. That's equivalent to Jesus showing up as the guest preacher here one Sunday and casting a demon out from one of us here at Redeemer.  Does he still do such things...?

 

            In his book, Miraculous Movements, Jerry Trousdale reports that anywhere from 50-70% of all the churches planted in the last decade in Muslim Africa, many of which were violently opposed to Christianity, experienced miracles of healing or deliverance as part of their church's birth. 

 

            In one such village, the mother of the local sheikh began to manifest demonic spirits.  She was taken to a witch doctor, and then to the muslim teachers, to no avail.  The sheikh also tried everything but nothing helped.   He was told about a group of people meeting to pray with a local missionary so he brought his mother there, but as soon as she entered the doorway she froze up and collapsed on the floor, becoming so deathly still that she lay there for several days without stirring.  

                                                                                    -3-

 

            The mother of the household was a devout Christian and prayed for her several times every day and then on the eight day ,as she prayed, the woman suddenly sat up, ate something, and spoke clearly.  Word traveled fast: “The sheikh's mother is healed.  The spirits have been defeated!”   The sheikh heard the news and came running.  When he saw his mother eating and in her right mind he begged the believers to teach him about their God and that day he and his mother became followers of Jesus. 

 

            In the days that followed, that little hut looked like an outpatient clinic, a hospital for body and soul, as many were healed of ailments both physical and spiritual.  Now that former sheikh is planting churches.  There are now 17 churches in that community.  Persecution is still strong, but there is a foot-hold of the gospel there, and it is the work of ordinary people achieving the extraordinary!   

                                                                                    (from Jerry Trousdale's “Miraculous Movements”)

            So how's this ministry of pushing back the darkness by advancing God's Kingdom achieved?  It begins by silencing the demon or demons within. Too many of us give the enemy too much leverage in our lives by listening to and buying into his lies. If you find yourself perpetually subject to thoughts and feelings of doubt, discouragement, anger, fear or despair, the enemy's getting too much air time. There's a reason why Paul urges his friends to give thanks in all circumstances.  Thanks and praise readjust our inner antenna to tune out the enemy's interference and tune in the Lord's providence.

 

            Every time we share the Gospel and lead a lost person to Christ, every time we heal in his name, or forgive a grievous hurt, of pray someone out of captivity to the enemy, or speak an encouraging word even, or embody Christ's love to someone, we're destroying the works and lies of the enemy. When we step out in Kingdom work, reclaiming what's been lost, we extend the Kingdom of God! 

                                                                                   

            When Peter witnessed to Cornelius, the Roman centurion stationed in Caesarea, Peter told him and his family: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power.  Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” 

                                                                                                                                                (Acts 10:38)

            When Jesus sent out the 72 disciples to do kingdom work in his name, they came back amazed that even the demons submitted to them. Jesus' response?  “Behold, I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy...”  (Luke 10:19)  All who are in Christ have received this authority. 

 

            “Being in Christ is not a sugary Christian metaphor – it's a riveting spiritual reality that should send shock waves down our spine, just as it sends demons screaming!”  (Thomas Torrance)

 

            Being a Kingdom people means that like Him, we live our lives in agreement with heaven, speaking and acting to accomplish what God wants to do here on earth, and Mark's gospel makes it pretty clear what that is – to loving us into the kingdom by healing and liberating us...!

 

            Robby Dawkins talks about his early years in youth ministry when one of the girls brought some of her friends.  These friends had two other friends who were into vampires, one of whom would make little cuts on the girls and drink their blood.   He went on to hypnotize them, telling them they're under his control, leading them into a room where he locked them in.  From that point on, whenever they closed their eyes, dark spirits would torment them, particularly at night. 

 

            Robby urged them to accept Christ, and all but one of them eagerly did so.  One by one they reported that the feeling of heaviness over them lifted.  They were completely set free and began having amazing experiences with the Lord, including being filled with the Holy Spirit. 

                                                                                    -4- 

 

            We really do have more authority than we realize.  One of the primary battles Satan wages is his attempt to keep us from a full revelation of that.  Called the Accuser, he works to keep us in poverty when it comes to knowing God's love and walking in the authority Christ has given us. 

 

            Jesus calls us to follow him, and as we walk in His footsteps, we'll see the demonstrable reality of the Kingdom break in around and through us.  Not that everything happens just the way we want it to, because the Kingdom of God is near but not fully, it’s still coming, evident that even Jesus had to submit of suffering in this life.  Yet wherever he went, he brought the breaking in of the Kingdom of God. 

 

            As Paul put it, “I pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God's power for us who believe in him.  This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead....  God has put all things under the authority of Christ...for the benefit of the church..., and the church is his body!”

                                                                                                                                    (Ephesians 1:19-23)

            How does this work?  How can we grow in our confidence in our Christ-given authority as his ambassadors of his love and grace?  How do we live that out? It's that question that Robby asks as well:

 

            “How do we live that out?  How do we demonstrate that we actually believe God will work thru us?  We do it through praying, ministering, speaking and acting.  There not a situation in the world God can't break into.  When we walk into a situation as carriers of His presence and authority, God is there because we are there.  He shows up because we've shown up and He's in us.  This doesn't mean that we never doubt, but where we let our actions exceed our doubts, that's faith.  Since God says to abide in Him and He'll abide in us, should we expect anything less than the authority to heal those who are sick, bring wholeness where there is brokenness and by his authority route every demon? Authority that comes from abiding in Christ allows us to minister out of a sense of the generosity of God's love!”

                                                                                                (from Robby Dawkins' Do What Jesus Did)

 

“WHO IS THIS REALLY?”

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JANUARY 13th, 2019                                                                                   PASTOR DON PIEPER

Right On The Mark!                                                                         Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11/Mark 1:1-13

 

                                                “WHO IS THIS REALLY?

 

            This morning we begin a new series entitled, Right On the Mark, because as we'll see, in telling us about Jesus, the author of this gospel hits it right on the Mark.  But whenever digging into scripture, it’s always wise to consider the historical context, such as who the author is, and for who and why he writes.   Without it, it's a little like opening up a mysterious letter with no return address.

 

Calvin:                Gosh, I never get mail!  I wonder who sent this?  There's no return address!  In its place

               there's a crude human skull with x's for eyes and it's tongue hanging out.  Maybe it's the I.R.S.

 

            Okay, maybe not; but if you read thru this book, this letter to us, you won't find the author ever identifying himself here either.  So like Calvin, I can't help wonder who sent it.   It's kinda exciting!

 

Calvin:                        This is so exciting to get a secret untraceable message in the mail!  It said a coded letter 

                        would  follow!  Maybe it will arrive today!  I can't wait to get home and see!  I wonder                             what it will say?  I wonder who sent it?  I wonder why it's in code?  ...I'll bet I grow up                             to be a spy!   I'm so good at figuring out what's going on!                (...Jungle Cat, p 6, 8)

 

            Yeah...  Right.   And then, comes the moment of discovery....!

Calvin:                        I'm home!  I'm home!  Did I get a letter today?? 

Mom:               Yes, it's on the table. 

Calvin:                        Hey!  This says, 'Calvin is a porridge brain!'   It's..., it's an Insult!

Hobbes:           Some people have secret admirers.  You have a secret detractor!

Calvin:                        Wait a minute!  These are coming from our house?? 

Mom:               Oh, and I want you to ask before you cut up my magazines, ok?

Calvin:             All right, where's that miserable bunch of stripey orange flea bait?!?

           

            Well, Calvin's mystery letter writer is solved – what about ours?  The ancient fathers, Clement, Jerome and Eusbius, in referring to the writings of an early second century church leader by the name of Papias of Hierapolis, identify John Mark as the author, and Peter, Jesus' disciple, as Mark's source. 

 

            Those of you who were around for our series on the apostle Paul might recall that John Mark was also a traveling buddy of Paul's, having gone with him on his first missionary trip.  Paul later refers to him repeatedly in his letters as a trusted partner in the gospel, as he does in his letters to Timothy: “Bring (John) Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me in my ministry.” 

                                                                                                                                    (2 Timothy 4:11)

            Peter also refers to Mark in his letters: “My son, Mark, sends his greetings.” (1 Peter 5:13) The fact that Mark is referred to in Peter's letters reveals that he was with Peter in Rome when the disciple penned his letters from prison there and Mark probably wrote this gospel around the same time, early in the reign of the Roman emperor, Nero, who was in power from 54 to 68 A.D. 

 

            Written within a generation of the events it conveys, Mark's gospel is the earliest as well as the shortest of the four gospels. About 93% of the Markan material is repeated in Matthew and Luke, many times using the very same words, confirming that they had access to Mark.  It's rapid pace, concise telling of Jesus' miracles, the frequent use of the Greek imperative verb tense and its abrupt, cliff-hanger ending make Mark's Gospel feel like an action novel, told with an increasing sense of urgency. 

                                                                                    -2-

 

            Written in a political, social environment of skepticism and persecution, Mark addresses a truly timeless question: Who is this Jesus, really – and why should we care about him, all these years later?   

 

            Mark launches his gospel with an opening statement addressing that question and identifying the book's purpose: “Here begins the Good News, about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.” 

                                                                                                                                                (Mark 1:1)   

            Mark's purpose, here, is threefold: 1) to show that Jesus is the messiah promised through the prophets, 2) to show that Jesus is also the Son of God, and 3) Mark writes for those who never saw or heard Jesus themselves so that they will see why Jesus is such good news for them as well.  

 

            The word, messiah, is the Hebrew word for the anointed one, or in Greek, the Christ.  As sup-porting evidence that Jesus is the messiah, Mark quotes from the prophets, Malachi and Isaiah.  Such messianic prophecies date back hundreds of years before Jesus. They point to the anointed one who makes good on God’s promises by setting us free from the vicious cycle of sin and deception that ensnare and diminish us. 

 

            Mark wants his audience to immediately make this messianic connection so his opening story reveals how that happened.  “One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River.  As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove.”  (Mark 1:9-10)   He was anointed in the Spirit. 

 

            But Mark also wants us to recognize this Spirit anointed one as the very Son of God, so he adds a detail that only someone like Peter would've known: “And a voice from heaven said, 'You are my dearly beloved Son, and you bring me great joy!'”  (Mark 1:11)  Who is this, really?  He's God's son!

 

            In the stories we'll be exploring in the weeks ahead, Mark will, in rapid-fire, show how Jesus proved that he was God's Son through the remarkable miracles he performed.  What's more, the Baptist identified Jesus' mission or purpose by declaring “I baptize you with water but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  (Mark 1:8)  Only God can baptize people in the Spirit of God and that's what Jesus came to do, the Baptist was saying, and that's what he's still doing! 

                                                                                   

            This then is the third reason Mark writes his gospel – that we might grasp why this is all really good news, which is what the word, 'gospel', means – and why its good news not only for those who walked and talked with Jesus – but for all of us who would later follow as well!

 

            How so?  Mark's opening chapter point to three ways.  One, as already indicated, it's good news for us because God is even now keeping his promises to us.  The first words we hear spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of Mark point to this: “The time promised by God has come at last!”  (Mark 1:15)

                                                                                                                                                           

            The time Jesus mentions here is the messianic age in which God would walk among us in order to reconcile us to himself by paying the price for our sinfulness.  As the prophet Isaiah promised of the messiah: “He'll be pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins, beaten so we could be made whole and whipped so we could be healed.  ...The Lord laid on him the sins of us all!”  (Isaiah 53:5-6)

 

            That's why Jesus' opening message, echoes that of his cousin, John the Baptist: “The promised time has come...!  The Kingdom of God is near!  Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”

                                                                                                                                                (Mark 1:15)

                                                                                    -3-

 

            Even now God promises to cut you loose by forgiving you and claiming you as his perfect son or daughter as he sees you through the lens of his son.  We access this promise by acknowledging that we're stuck in sin, unable to kick the habit on our own, and that we need He who is greater than ourselves, that his grace is greater than any mistake, addiction or sin we are guilty of!   God promises to let you off the hook not because of who you are but because of who he is!  You can bank on that!

 

            Two, this is good news because God is on the move!  Mark reveals Jesus as a man of action! 

Jesus' opening message points to the same: The Kingdom of God is near!  God's reign and powerful, life-giving presence can be experienced not only in the future, but here and now! 

 

            I sat in wonder as God recently did that for one of you.  As you opened your heart in prayer the walls came down and tears of joy flowed as you experienced wave after wave of his presence, and with that presence the burden lifted, healing came and you sensed how near the kingdom of God really is!   

 

            Three, this is good news because Jesus loves to baptize us in the Holy Spirit, just as John the Baptist prophesied: “I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!” 

                                                                                                                                                (Mark 1:8)

            For what purpose, you may ask.  One to give us boldness as his witnesses.  As Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses, telling people about me every where...”  (Acts 1:8)  And two, to do what he did, as Luke records: “Jesus called together the twelve and gave them power and authority to cast out all demons and to heal all diseases, proclaiming as they did that the kingdom of God was near.”   (Luke 9:1-2)

                                                                                                                                                 

            As author, Vance Havner, put it: “We are not going to move this world by criticism of it nor conformity to it, but by the combustion within it of lives ignited by the Spirit of God.”  (Vance Havner)

                                                                                   

            In his book, Do What Jesus Did, Robby Dawkins writes: “Living in obedience to the Lord of Life is the biggest adventure we'll ever have.  Life is short, and God wants to give away so much thru us.  God is on the move.  Underground churches in China and Iran overflow with those who are desperately hungry for God despite constant persecution.  By the power of God, demons are cast out all over Africa....and America!  From the urban slums of the Philippines, to the gypsy camps of Eastern Europe, to the explosion of prayer movements all over Latin America, the Kingdom of God is being declared.  The Lord is supernaturally breaking in with power to free people and heal them, bringing them into the reality of His love.  When we declare the Good News of the Kingdom, things happen!  Blind eyes open, cancer disappears, hearts are made new, crooked legs are straightened, families are reconciled, Satanists start preaching Jesus and hope springs up anew in the wastelands.

 

            This is what it means to be the Church – not to be perfect, or better than our neighbors.  It means the good news of God's love actually lives inside us and is available to build up, restore, heal and transform the world around us.  This is the treasure – the hidden pearl of great price that we seek before anything else.  It's the beauty of the Kingdom and the wonder of its King that compels us. 

            God is on the move and we can do what Jesus did!  He's not only saving people from sin, but He's saving people for victory and glory over the kingdom of darkness!”                        (Robby Dawkins)

 

            This is what Jesus is about – he offers to fill us so that he can give us new eyes to see, a fresh passion to witness, the power to heal and be healed, a new heart to love and a longing to be changed more and more, day by day, into a closer likeness to him!   How can you be filled with the Holy Spirit?   

                                                                        -4-

 

Jesus answers that himself: “If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit, to those who ask him?”                                                                                                                                           (Luke 11:13)

            Sounds like we just have to ask…!   So, shall we ask?

 

“WHAT AN EPIPHANY!”

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Audio OnlyJANUARY 6TH, 2018                                                                                    PASTOR DON PIEPER

EPIPHANY SUNDAY                                                                                 Isaiah 60:1-6/Matt. 2:1-12

 

                                                “WHAT AN EPIPHANY!

 

            In the opening verse of Matthew 2, we're informed that “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem..., wise men from the east arrived in Jerusalem, asking about the whereabouts of the newborn king...”

                                                                                                                                                (Matthew 2:1)

            Okay, hold on, how do we know these guys were so wise?  Did they pass a bar exam or go to wise guy school or something?  I remember being called a “wise guy” when I was a kid – but it never sounded like a compliment!  So is it an I.Q. thing or is there some kind of formal education required?

 

            I'm not the first person to wonder about this. Cartoonists and critics have been musing for years:

As one critic put it, “What’s so wise about three grown men, wandering around in the dark, claiming

to follow some star?  Doesn’t sound very wise to me!”    In a cartoon from 11 years ago...:

 

Mary:     Frankinsence and myrrh?  What the heck am I going to do with frankinsence and myrrh?  If                        they're such wise men they could have at least come bearing a couple of gift certificates!

 

            Another cartoonist explored the untold story of the three wise women.  After the three wise men left, the three wiser women arrived, bringing more pragmatic gifts of fresh diapers, casseroles and lots of formula.   There's also this one, that my Dad sent me on Facebook a couple of weeks ago... 

Caspar:           Right.  We've picked up the gold and myrrh...., but what on earth is THAT?!

 

            So who were these guys?  Our current understanding has been shaped and colored by additional 

sources outside of the Bible causing no small degree of confusion about who these “wise guys” really were.  Fact is, much about them is shrouded in mystery. Matthew's the only gospel writer who provides us any information about them and even here, it is rather limited.  For instance, contrary to popular belief, we don’t actually know who these guys were.  Tradition tells us their names were Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar but those names don’t appear anywhere in Scripture. 

 

            We also don’t know where they are from exactly.  Matthew tells us they came from the east – but where exactly: Arabia, Mesopotamia, China, India, Chimacum? We don’t know.  Films and greeting cards depict the magi arriving that first Christmas Eve but it’s apparent that they don’t arrive till later. 

                                                                                                                                                (Matthew 2:1)

            For one thing, Matthew tells us that they arrived in Jerusalem first, but not until after Jesus was  born.  Matthew also tells us that when they do arrive in Bethlehem that “they entered the house where the child and his mother were.”  (Matthew 2:11)  So by the time they arrive Joseph has obviously moved his young family from the stable to a house. We've also been led to believe that there were three magi but Matthew doesn’t say that either.  He mentions that they brought three gifts from which the ancients assumed that there must have been three wise men.  Maybe there was a fourth wise man...

 

Magi:               “I, the Fourth Wise Man, bring fruitcake...”  (That explains it...!)

 

            Matthew’s reference to their coming from the east suggests that these “wise men” came from a number of places spread out over a vast area.  The prophecy from Isaiah 60 also suggests that these wise men traveled in a caravan that would’ve included not only camels for their gifts and food but also for their armed escort, a necessity to insure safety from bandits and thieves, in light of the treasures they bore.  Chances are there were quite a few more than three magi on the scene that night.

                                                                                    -2-

 

            So there are unresolved questions, wrapped in mystery, questions about who these wise men were and where they specifically came from.  But still, there is much we do know. We know they are not of the Jewish faith evident in that they do not claim this newborn king of the Jews as their king nor do they know the biblical prophecies. We also know that they are students of the stars, as they declare: “We saw his star, (the star of the newborn king of the Jews), as it rose in the east.”  (Matthew 2:2)   

 

            That is, they've been tracking that star for some time.  We know that they are esteemed men of means as the Jewish King, Herod Antipas, welcomes them to his court.  We know they come bearing gifts fit for a king and come seeking to find that new born king in the nation’s capital..., and that they're as surprised as any to find this king, not born to royalty in the palace, but to a couple of refugees!

 

            So there is, in fact, much we do know about these mysterious magi, as they're identified in the original Greek New Testament.  But still, we have yet to resolve the question: “What’s so wise about these wise men, these star-studying magi from the east?”

 

            We cannot answer that question based on our knowledge of their past.  We just don’t have enough information.  But three things we do know, about these mag-nan'-imous magi, point to their divine wisdom, the first of which being their inclination for investigation.  That is, they're seekers...!

 

            These students of the stars have stumbled upon something.  Astronomers today know that what they observed was an alignment of the planets Jupiter & Venus and Regulus – an event that only takes place once every three thousand years and did, in fact, occur around the time history has identified as “the year of the Lord”.  Such an alignment would’ve been very bright indeed and would explain a lot! 

 

            This cosmic and historical event was the theme of an annual showing at the Planetarium in Chicago when I was growing up.  More recently, it was covered in the film, The Nativity....

            [DVD clip from the film, The Nativity;                                                          ]

 

            Having seen something in their star search these seekers from the east decide to investigate further.   What’s noteworthy is the fact that they conduct this investigation themselves.  That was not typical.  When Queen Isabella sought a new trade route to the Indies she didn’t hop on a ship and set sail, she sent Columbus.  When King Herod wanted to seek the Christ child out to kill him he didn’t go himself he sent out his troops.  When Thomas Jefferson wanted to find a trade route across the Ameri-can wilderness, he didn’t jump on his horse and take off, he sent Lewis and Clark and the Corps.... 

 

            Not so with the magi. They sense something big is going down.  They interpret what they see in the night time sky as a clue that a king is to be born, and not just any king, but a king of kings.  So what do they do?  Do they make room in their daily planner to attend the next symposium on the mysteries of the cosmos?  Do they hire a Corps of Discovery to send out on their behalf?  No, they grab some camels, don some sporty traveling attire and head off to investigate this mystery themselves!

 

            That is indeed wise.  And we do well to do likewise.   Too often we get so caught up in the business of life that we don’t pause to investigate life’s greatest mysteries: Why am I here?  Does my life serve some greater purpose?   Is there more to life than this?  

 

            [* Alpha DVD promo]

 

                                                                                    -3-

 

            Like these three young stars of the U.K. we’d do well to investigate such timeless questions.  Who knows, your investigation, as it did with the magi, may lead you to a life changing insight or experience!   If you have yet to take Alpha, or have and seek renewed connection, come join us!  After all, as it has been said, wise men – and women – still seek him!    

 

            So curious, so eager, to experience something deeper in life than what they’ve known so far, the wisdom of the magi is manifested in how far they went out of their way to connect with the Creator of the cosmos, the God who places clues before us that there's more to life than we can imagine. 

 

            A second thing we know about them is that this discovery had a profound impact on them.  Matthew reports that, “After their meeting with King Herod, the wise men went their way, and the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem...  When they saw the star, they were filled with great joy, as it led them to the place where the child was.”   (Matthew 2:9-10)

 

            Such is the experience of those who realize that they're being led...., and that which they long to know and experience at the deepest part of their soul is actually true!  God does exist.  And more than that we exist because He exists and we exist that we may seek him and finding him come to know that we matter not because of the things we do or don't do but because He loves us so much that He sent his one and only son, that whoever should place their hope and trust in him, may live a life of significance!

            Realizing that God was leading them to this discovery of a lifetime brought great joy indeed! 

 

            As the apostle Paul declared to the Greek seekers in Athens: “God's purpose is for the peoples of the nations to seek after Him and feel their way toward Him and find him – though he is not far from any one of us...   For God has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man He has appointed, and He proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead!”  (Acts 17:27,31) 

 

            The wise men did just that!  They went out of their way to seek after him, and in so doing set out with one purpose in mind – to bring gifts to this new born king and to worship him.   That's the third thing we know about these mysterious magi, these wise men from the east. 

           

            The magi were wise because somehow they got it!  Even though they knew little to nothing of the Bible nor the prophecies about a royal birth in Bethlehem, yet they still recognized a God moment was on the horizon and they pursued it with everything they had!  They came to worship him as an act of humility and to give it up for the king of kings!  Worship, after all, is not about us.  It's all about lending our voices and our gifts and abilities, in union with others, to glorify and magnify the Lord. 

            As Mary so beautifully put it: “Oh, how my soul magnifies the Lord!  How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!  For the Mighty One is holy and He has done great things for me!”  (Luke 1:46f)

 

We, too, can follow in the footsteps of the magi, those wise men from afar who let it all go - all the stress, and distractions, and self-indulgence, and unforgiven hurts - and let it all go.  They came to give it up....and to gain a kingdom!  They came to worship the newborn king.  They did this not only in spoken and sung words of praise but also by offering their gifts to His service.  In the original Greek this is made clear by the fact that their gift-giving and their praise was all one sentence!

 

“And coming into the house, they saw the child and Mary his mother, and bowing down they worshiped him, offering to him their treasures of gold, frankinsence and myrrh.”  (Matthew 2:11) They gave him their all – contributing as well as praising!  Even now, there's time to do the same! 

“HAVE YOU GOT THE TIME?”

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DECEMBER 30th, 2018                                                                                PASTOR DON PIEPER

YOUTH SUNDAY                                                                                       Gal 4:4-7/Luke 2:22-33,

                                                                                                                                                            39-40

                                                “HAVE YOU GOT THE TIME?

 

Pastor:             When I was growing up a jazz-rock band from my home town of Chicago, who called             themselves, Chicago, came out with a hit song entitled, “Does Anyone Really Know What Time   It Is?” The lyrical question was followed by another, “Does anyone really care?”  

 

            I can only say, I hope so!  Because time.... is precious and mysterious, brief yet eternal. Authors, songwriters, artists, filmmakers – even scientists from Newton to Einstein have reflected on its signifi-cance.   Its even a key biblical concept.  As wise Solmon wrote: “For every time there is a season...”

                                                                                                                                    (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

            In the Greek New Testament, the word, Kairos, is a moment in time pregnant with meaning and significance.  It was such a kairos moment in time that Luke refers to when he writes: “Then it was time...to present (the     boy Jesus) to the Lord (in the temple).”  (Luke 2:22)  

 

            So what do we know about this 'time', this kairos moment, scripture speaks of?   What if time.... took on flesh and blood?  What might he have to say?  Well, this morning, we're going to find out!      Would you give please a warm welcome to Mr. Kairos....

 

                        ['Father Time' shuffles in from the sacristy, muttering to himself...]

           

Father Time:    (Whatta ya gonna do?  No one gives you the time of day, anyway...)

 

                        (looking up and noticing cong.)   Oh!  Well, well, well - what have we here?  Looks like   quite the little birthday party going on out here!  Reveling in the reason for the season, ah? 

 

                        Well, that's great.  So, uh, does anyone know what time it is?   I'm gearing up for my big

            retirement party tomorrow and there just seems to be so much to do and so little time.  In fact,

            that could well summarize the plight of the average American!   “So much to do and so little

            time” - isn't that what you like to say?   Rush, rush, rush!   “Where does the time go?”  It’s one 

            of the most frequently asked questions of our time, so to speak. 

 

                        So, uh, anyone got the time?   Because you know, mine is almost up!  Yes, siree, it won't be long before my face and my name are nothing more than a memory! 

 

                        That reminds me, I forgot to introduce myself.  My name is “Kai” - Kai – ros; but most

            folks know me simply as 'Father Time'.  In my time, I've seen countless individuals and nations             squander theirs, living lives of distraction and self-indulgence.  It’s such a shame, too, because     time, the time you have, is so very precious, few realize until it’s running out. 

 

                        On the other hand, I've also seen timeless moments of kindness and goodness that've         sent ripples of compassion and tenderness through the greater community they were a part of

            and have even been passed down through the annals of time.  I think of time masters like Saint             Francis of Assisi, Martin and Katy Luther, Corrie ten Boom, Albert Schweitzer, Oscar Romero

            and Mother Theresa, just to name a few. Each have provided such timeless moments – Kodak

            moments, if you will, of God's love and grace that have inspired countless others ever since! 

 

                                                                                    -2-

 

                        Such individuals made timely decisions – decisions that allowed them to make the most   of their time – decisions that were a response to God's initiative and immaculate timing.  They         recognized, that in some shape or form, the time had fully come, that God had everything in    order, and that there was now, absolutely no time to lose! 

 

                        This is what is generally referred to as a kairos moment – that moment of opportunity in             which God and man, woman or child, are connected with a common purpose and a common dot on God's infinite timeline.  The Kairos moment occurs when we humbly oblige with God's    master plan – a master plan centered on the mission of reconciling God's people to Him.  The        kairos moment is the point in time in which the Holy Spirit blows in our midst, calling us,        beckoning us, to come of age – as disciples of this holy Christ child! 

 

                        As the Apostle Paul wrote to the early church meeting in Galatia: “But when the time

            had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, to redeem us, so that we may

            receive adoptions as his heirs.”  (Galatians 4:4)

 

                        The time was ripe for redemption...., as it is, once again, today!  Once again the time is     ripe for God adopt to us as his very own and, in so doing, place before each one of us the         challenge to make the most of our time, reborn as children of God!  The time has fully come...,          for God to step in and initiate a new and lasting relationship. 

 

                        (checking the time) You know how timely all of this is, too, don't you?  Simeon certainly did!   It would seem that Simeon was running out of time.  He was no spring chicken any more and he knew it.  He was, how do you say, 'advanced in years' and he's spent them waiting and

            waiting and waiting for God to answer his prayers for the messiah.  What was impresssive about

            that was the fact that he hadn't lost hope in spite of the many years he'd been on hold.   He'd

            come to realize that God's timing was not his timing...

 

                        Yet, even so, Luke notes that “when the time had come”, God's time that is, God blessed

            his faithful servant with a long-awaited glimpse of the young Christ child.  It was Simeon's             kairos moment and he seized the moment by praising God in such a way that the child's parents             couldn't help but marvel at what was said about him.   Simeon's kairos moment is so significant that his praise and blessing are recorded here to for all generations to marvel at as well. 

 

                        Luke also tells us that a prophet by the name of Anna's was “coming up at that very

            hour” to offer thanksgiving to God, and “just happened” to come across the young messiah as

            well, prompting her to spontaneously proclaim this young child as Israel's only hope for

            redemption. The time had fully come and God's people were seizing the moment to pass along

            the good news, witnessing to the source of theirs and our salvation.   The time was ripe, to do

            what is right – to proclaim the year of the Lord, as it were! 

 

                        And what about you?   Have you got the time?  Better yet, will you take the time, as and   when God intervenes to make the most of that kairos moment – that opportunity God provides   to be a part of the action, a participant and co-worker in the kingdom God is building here in             our midst, here in your heart, as you allow him the time and space to do so in your life? 

 

 

                                                                                    -3-

 

                        “When the time had fully come God sent forth his son...”, revealing just how reckless,             messy, and unconditional the love of God really is, that he would send his one and only son into such unsavory, demeaning surroundings – to a people who were really not giving God and His

            covenant the time of day.  

 

                        When the time had fully come, God sent forth his son..., and placed His infant son..., in

            your lap, saying, in effect, “Unto you a child is born, to you a son is given...” - receive this,

            my son, then, with loving eagerness, making your home, his home. 

 

                        Have you got the time...., to make room for God's Son in your home and in your life? 

            Will you take the time for that kairos moment when God comes knocking at your door?  

 

                        Truth is, my friends, you haven't got time to lose!  The time has fully come!  It’s now!

 

                        (turns to leave, pauses, and then turns back to say....)

 

                        Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm not getting any younger....! 

 

                       

“DEALING WITH DISAPPOINTMENT”

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DECEMBER 23rd, 2018                                                                               PASTOR DON PIEPER

Dealing With Your Feelings                                                            Romans 5:1-5/Matthew 1:18-25

 

                                                “DEALING WITH DISAPPOINTMENT

 

C.B.:                I made you a great big chocolate sundae for dessert........, but I had to eat it myself                                     because I just heard on the radio that ice cream isn't good for dogs.

Snoopy:           Disappointment isn't good for dogs either.  

 

            Poor Snoopy!  So how're you dealing with your feelings of disappointment?   Such feelings are all too common, especially at this time of year.  Disappointment comes from unrealized expectations, as expressed by one little girl in a note to her grandma: “Thank you so much for the socks and under-wear you sent me for Christmas.  They were something I wanted – but not very much!”  

            When things don't turn out as we hoped we're naturally disappointed...

 

Calvin:                        I can't believe this.  Every day I get all my hopes up, thinking my beanie will come...,                                   and then it doesn't.  I've been disappointed so often now, I'm finally getting numb to it,

Hobbes:          Maybe the mailman made a second trip today and delivered it in the last five minutes.

Calvin:                        Wow!  I never thought of that!   C'mon! 

Hobbes:          He's not numb. 

            For some of you, it goes much deeper.  Some of you have been thru separation or divorce and the feelings of disappointment run deep indeed, particularly at this time of year.  For others, your income has been disappointing, making gift-giving problematic if not impossible.  For still others, its a matter of unfulfilled dreams, unresolved conflicts or an illness or earth in the family.  Instead of feeling delighted this time of year..., you feel disillusioned at best.  What do you do with that? 

 

            It may surprise you to realize that there was a lot of disappointment that first Advent as well.  Consider Mary, for example.  Her wedding bliss was colored by the reality of her rather inexplicable pregnancy.  Her wedding night lost its luster.  Talk about disappointing!  We don't know how her family reacted to the scandal, but we do know that it was customary for all the relatives to work together to help with the delivery of the baby.  Mary was no doubt looking forward to this. 

 

            But then, as the time drew close, the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, put out an order that a census should be taken that forced Mary to hit the road several months pregnant.  It was the first census of its kind and Mary must've been thinking, “Why now, Lord?   Why now – and why me?!'

 

            So instead of being surrounded by her mother, sisters, aunts and cousins, she's surrounded by her donkey, chickens, sheep and cow pies.  How romantic!  There's a cartoon that shows Joseph leading Mary on the donkey as they pause on a hilltop overlooking Bethlehem, with a long, long caravan of people heading into the city.  Mary's eyes are bulging, as she says, “Its Christmas, I'm pregnant, God only knows how, and now you tell me you forgot to book a room?!    ...Terrific!” 

 

            So much for premarital bliss!  Joseph's heart is full of disappointment too.  After all, his fiancée is expecting and he's clearly NOT the father.  He's so disappointed, Matthew tells us, that he seeks to divorce her.  “He did not want to disgrace her so he decided to divorce her quietly.”   (Matthew 1:19)

            The angel convinces him otherwise but also that he's not to be intimate until after the child is born.  Can you imagine Joseph's reaction? “Wait – what?   No honeymoon?  I have to wait how long?” 

            He also has to tear down his trade and start over.  He'll be moving his family from the city of kings, (very lucrative), to backwater town of hamburger buns.  (Bethlehem means, 'the city of bread').

                                                                                    -2-

 

            And if that’s not all disappointing enough, when they finally do arrive, Joseph finds himself in a barn, delivering a baby, without any help from a doctor, the innkeeper, or any family.  Disappointed! 

                                                                                     

            Considering all the disappointment Joseph and Mary faced, and the level to which they experi-enced them, how is it they didn't succumb to them?  How is it that they are remembered as heroes of faith and not as victims of happenchance?   What can we learn from this simple carpenter and his young wife that can empower us to overcome disappointment in our own lives? 

 

            First of all, they avoided negativity.  Perhaps Satan's greatest snare for those who experience significant disappointment is to become negative or embittered.  One thing that leads to this is our tendency to throw in the towel.  We quit, and thereby accept defeat, forgetting that God's on our side. 

 

            Another ineffective way we deal with disappointment is by playing the blame game.  We cast accusations.  We get in someone's face.  Discontent, we disassociate.

            One father asked his daughter one spring what she'd like for Christmas that year.  'I want a baby brother!' she said.  Sure enough, that Christmas, her mother brought home a baby boy.  When the father repeated the question the next year, his daughter looked down with disdain at her fussing baby brother, and replied, 'If it wouldn't be too uncomfortable for mommy, I would like a pony next time!'

 

            In contrast to these and other unhealthy coping habits, Mary & Joseph overcame all the areas of disappointment their circumstances brought them with a more positive approach.  Second, they listened to what God had to say.  Mary sought understanding as she asked of Gabriel: “How can this be?”

                                                                                                                                                (Luke 1:34)

            The response was both profound and timeless: “Nothing is impossible with God!”  (Luke 1:37) Christmas often brings us face to face with the seemingly impossible: a grief that seems impossible to bear, a financial situation that seems impossible to recover from, a relationship that seems impossible to restore, a personal problem that seems impossible to solve.  What God had to say to Mary applies to you and I as well.  God can and does use our impossible circumstances to reveal his love/grace for us. 

 

            I know of a woman who lost her husband to cancer in a slow, heart-wrenching battle.  She wrestled with the question, how can anything good come from this?  Some time later Dianne found herself on the Alpha Course and in the aftermath of impossible circumstances she experienced God's love for her anew and that verse leaped off the pages of her Bible: “Nothing is impossible with God!”

 

            At one point, a growing number of widows and other lonely, hurting hearts were being impacted by Dianne's loving kindness, thoughtfulness and humor.  Her whole countenance changed from a woman huddled in inner pain to a daughter of the king joyfully engaging others with his love and grace.  Dianne became living proof that nothing's impossible with God! 

 

            Joseph also was given a word.   As his disappointment led to thoughts of divorce, the angel Gabriel, quoted a prophetic promise to him: “Behold!  The virgin will conceive a child!  She will give birth to a son and he will be called, Immanuel, meaning, God is with us!” 

                                                                                                                        (Isaiah 7:14/Matthew 1:23)

            Joseph also listened to what God had to say and realized that his moment of massive disappoint-ment fit into God's master plan.  God had anticipated this, had planned for it, and was going to see him thru it.  That's another thing we can learn from Mary and Joseph.  They avoided negativity, they listened to God's Word, and third, they embraced God's mysterious and wondrous plan. 

                                                                                    -3-

            Disappointment became a divine appointment.  Amidst life's disappointments lies opportunities to discover God's appointment in your life.  That does not mean that every disappointment is of God.  Some occur because of our own selfishness, stubbornness or unforgiveness.  Others occur because of the evil that is done to us.  To discover God's appointment means letting go of your own agenda so that God's perfect plan for your life can begin to unfold within and thru you. 

            And of course, in order for God's plan to have its full impact we must work with God to bring it about.  Both Mary and Joseph followed up.  “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded.  He brought Mary home to be his wife..., and Joseph named her son, Jesus.” 

                                                                                                                                    (Matthew 1:24)

            He followed up.  He did God's will as it was revealed to him.  Mary's response is even more emphatic: “I am the Lord's servant and I am willing to accept whatever He wants.  May everything you have said come true!”  (Luke 1:38)

            They avoided getting negative and listened to what God had to say.  They sought to discover and embrace His incredible, if difficult, plan for them.  They signed on!  The very areas of their disap-pointment became the catalyst for God's amazing will and love coming to life not only in their lives, but in the lives of all who would follow suit, and embrace this awesome gift of new life! 

 

            In the book, Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul, Renée Bondi tells her story...:

            “I had such wonderful plans laid out for my life, and they all seemed to be right on track.  It was my last year as choral music director at our local high school as I was engaged to be married in the spring and would join my husband in Denver after the wedding, where I'd found a job teaching. 

 

            My students were obviously nervous as they got back on the bus at the music competition at our city's Performing Arts Center. Our hearts soared as I opened the envelope to read our rating: Superior – the highest rating with the comment, 'Now this is Brahms!'

 

            Then it happened.  One morning, I slipped and fell from the foot of my bed onto my head.  As I hit the floor, I heard a crack from my neck.  I tried to roll over and sit up.  No go.  Instead I heard another craaaack and felt a burst of pain that took my breath away.  I awoke in the hospital's icu.      'Renée, the doctor told me, 'your neck is broken.  You're paralyzed from the neck down.  I'm afraid you will never be able to move your arms or legs, much less walk, for the rest of your life.  And, as a result of your injuries, I'm sorry to say, but you'll never be able to sing again either.'

 

            “God', I later moaned, 'this is not what I had in mind for my life!  I can't do it!  Why – why...?' And then I heard a still, small voice: 'You may not always get to choose the songs, but if you put your trust in me, you'll surely make beautiful music.' 

            It's been nine years..., and God has been good.  The first 'song' he gave me was that my fiancé insisted on becoming my husband.  I teach choir now, not at school, but at church, working with three youth choirs.  I've made a recording of songs for people who need courage, strength and hope like I did.  I've been able to give concerts where I sing and tell my story to prisoners, teenagers, church and women's groups.  No, my life is not at all what I'd planned, but every now and then I see the sweetest harmonies and sweeping cascades of God's concertos all around me and I think, Now this is music! 

                                                                                                (from Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul)

            My friends, whatever the disappointment you may be facing, no matter how slight or severe, all are potential breakthroughs in the hands of God.  Resist that inner voice of negativity and like Renée Bondi, Mary and Joseph, allow God to bring to life divine possibilities out of impossible odds, that God may transform your dis-appointment into an awesome appointment, so those around you may see your good works and glorify the Lord saying, in essence, now THIS is music!