Outline to December 25 2016 Talk

It is time for me to begin to put together an outline for my talk in the next 10 days.  Of course, this will be subject to change, but here are some of my ideas about what I want to say:

  • Reading of the story of the birth of Jesus – Luke 2:1-20
  • God has a way of starting amazing new things with a child
    • Of course, we have just read an amazing story with the birth of Jesus, but there are other examples as well.
      • Moses was a baby when he was set out into the river to be taken into the Egyptian palace, only to one day lead the Exodus out of Egypt.
      • As a baby, Samuel was dedicated to the Lord by his mother Hannah and he would go on to anoint the first kings of Israel.  His anointing of David would ultimately produce the family line that Jesus would come from.
      • Just before Jesus was born, John the Baptist was born and he would go on to prepare the people of Israel for the coming of their King.
    • The story of our family
      • Receiving a phone call from Gina while on the airplane waiting on return home from Miami.
      • A very difficult time for Gina and myself gave way to incredible joy with Hannah’s birth shortly afterward.
      • But then, a little while after that, we found that Gina was pregnant again, and yet again, we had another tubal pregnancy.  The doctors tried to be careful in removing the child from the tube so that we would have the opportunity to have more children in the future, but it didn’t work out.  The test showed that the tube had been completely blocked, so that tube was no longer functional.
      • We were foster parents for a while and saw some amazing healing with children born with drug addictions and with major injuries, but after a while, we decided that we wanted to have children permanently because we felt we had love to give, so we pursued international adoption.  This couple from the middle of nowhere America decided to go to China and Ethiopia and bring home two little girls.  They would be our daughters, little sisters to Hannah, and older sisters to their little brother.
      • We still aren’t sure how it happened, but God gave us Evan.  We found out that we were pregnant with him while in the adoption process with Julia.
      • There are so many details that I could tell you about each of the stories of each of these children, but I will simply say that God did a miracle through each of them.
      • Today, we look like a crazy family stumbling around trying to figure out what we are doing here in Italy, but much of that story started with the story of these children.  If God had not shown Himself to us, giving us the faith to do new, amazing things, I don’t think we would be here today.  If God had not taken us to places like China and Ethiopia to see some places that we might call the ends of the earth, I don’t think we would have come to love people across the earth in the small way that we do now.
      • We believe that God began a chapter of His story in our lives through our children.
  • One of my favorite things to do when I am reading a passage of scripture is to try to take a step back and ask a simple question:  “What is God doing here?”.  There are probably many more ways that this could be described, but here are a couple of thoughts:
    • God is demonstrating His amazing love and forgiveness to His people.
      • Yes, of course, when Jesus would eventually die and be resurrected, we were given both a God and Person in whom we could put our faith for the forgiveness of our sins.
      • But if we are going to figure out what God is doing here, we should think about what has been happening between God and His people up to this point.
      • All of the way back in the time of Moses (Deuteronomy 28:62-65), he gives the people a warning that they should follow God and love Him by obeying Him.  And He explains what will happen in the event that they don’t obey him.  Their nation will be destroyed and the people will be scattered across the faith of the earth.
      • God begins this process shortly after the time of King Solomon, around the year 740 BC, by setting in motion the Assyrian empire to conquer the Israelites (1 Chronicles 5:26).
      • And so God carries out an earthly judgment on His people, using other empires on earth to conquer and rule over them.  One empire after the next rules over Israel:
        • Assyrians
        • Babylonians
        • Persians
        • Greeks
        • Romans
      • So this goes on for just over 700 years, and God even cuts off prophetic communication for those last 400 years.  The last thing said is that Elijah will return (Malachi 4:4-6).  And then…nothing.  No word from God.
      • Then suddenly, the angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah.  He and Elizabeth are old and barren, without children, but they will have a child whose name will be John, meaning “Yahweh is gracious”.  God is breaking into this drought of judgment and silence.  This child’s purpose will be to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah.
      • And shortly after that, Gabriel appears to Mary, a virgin.  Her son will be named Jesus, meaning “Yahweh is salvation”.
      • God is passing the baton from the old covenant through Zechariah and Elizabeth who will have John to Joseph and Mary who will usher in the new covenant through Jesus.
      • I believe that God is demonstrating amazing love for His people, giving them a new opportunity to follow Him, to love Him, to obey Him.  He could have just continued on in silence.  He could have just continued on in judgment.  But instead, it is as if rain is falling on a dry and scorched earth and something new will grow.
      • God is demonstrating His forgiveness and allowing them to come back to Him.
    • This leads me to the second answer to the question of what God is doing:  God is going to war to establish His true Kingdom on earth.
      • I believe that the main message of Jesus, and the main thing that he was showing to the people was the establishment of the Kingdom of God.
        • Mark 1:13-14:  After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
        • Matthew 4:23:  Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.
        • Luke 4:43:  But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”
      • When a king wants to create a kingdom, we normally see that he will go to war with those people who are currently in the place that he wants to occupy.
      • For example, when Joshua and the Israelites crossed the Jordan river to begin going into the promised land, what did they do?  At God’s direction, they marched around Jericho until the walls fell, and then they were able to take over that city for the purpose of establishing this new kingdom for God and His people in the land that God promised them.
      • In the same way, through the birth of Jesus, God is establishing His Kingdom by sending His son.
      • This baby is born as both God and man.  He is Immanuel, which means God with us.  Jesus is, and will continue to be, the King of heaven and earth.
      • The weapons of this war are different than the weapons of most wars.  Instead of weapons that bring death, Jesus is bringing grace, love, and healing.  He brings power that gives life.  He is showing them the way to follow God.
      • And so God is breaking into the world that He created, reestablishing Himself, even redefining who are His people, including not just one nation, but all of those who will love and obey God by following His Son Jesus.
  • What does all of this mean for me?  What are the implications of the birth of Jesus?  Here are three that I think apply to me and maybe to some of you as well.
    • First, sometimes I assume that I know what God is doing.
      • I know the program.
      • I believe I know how to please Him, and assume that I am doing all of that very well.
      • But then something surprises me.  Something goes differently than what I expect in a relationship or a circumstance, and I can learn something new that God wants to teach me.  God is working on me and he shows me something new, something I hadn’t thought of before.
      • The Jewish people were surprised when Jesus came.  They weren’t expecting him, really because they weren’t looking for him.
      • They thought that God wanted to continue to bless their kingdom, but in fact, God wanted a Kingdom of people who would love and obey Him.  A Kingdom that would last forever, not just a temporal, man-made kingdom here on earth.
      • God was doing something different than what they were expecting.  They thought they had it figured out.  They were pretty proud.
      • Just as Jesus came into the world, not only lowering himself from the position of God to be a human, but as a baby, I believe we all need to take a posture of humility before God.
      • We need to look to Him because He is God and knows what is right for us, much more than we do.
      • And from this posture of humility, we can be in a much better position to learn more quickly what God is doing in our lives and be ready to follow Him as He desires.
    • The second thing that I learn is the idea of forgiveness.
      • If there is anything that is easy for me to say but difficult for me to do, it is extending forgiveness when I feel that I have been wrong.
      • A man that I know suffers from anxiety consistently.  He is always worried about this fear or that problem.  He says that he sometimes has anxiety or panic attacks.
      • He told me recently of a situation with his family.  He said that someone had really offended him and he felt that he was right in this situation.  He said he was constantly thinking of this person and their disagreement.  He was becoming anxious about it!
      • We discussed that the only way out of this problem was to talk with them and forgive them.  Otherwise, he would continue to be offended and will constantly feel anxiety over this situation!
      • God had been angry with His people for worshiping other gods and doing terrible things as they worshiped this idols.
      • But yet, God decided that He loved His people and wanted to be reunited with them.  And so, He would send His son Jesus.
      • We should all follow God’s example!  Is there anyone that you need to extend forgiveness to?  If you haven’t, do you feel the effects within yourself?  Thinking about the situation and that person a lot?  We all struggle with this, but God led the way for us and showed us first how we can love by extending forgiveness to us.
    • And then finally, we saw that Jesus came to establish the Kingdom
      • Jesus’s plan was to announce and demonstrate the Kingdom.  His final command was that we were to baptize and make disciples.
      • These disciples will be the ones who make up the Kingdom.
      • I have to ask myself, “Am I following Jesus and obeying him in a way that would please him?”
      • “Am I following Jesus in such a way to please God instead of man?”
      • Someone recently asked me…How long to disciple the whole world if we started with one person making a disciple each year, and teaching that other person to do the same?  33 years
      • How long if we started with just the people in this church?  27 years
      • How long if we started with just the Evangelical Christians in Italy?  15 years
      • Jesus came to establish the Kingdom.  As his disciples, we need to be serious about the things that he has called us to do.
  • In this time of celebration and wonderful tradition, my prayer is that we can think carefully about what God was doing when he sent Jesus as a tiny baby and how we can be involved in continuing to carry out the plan that God has been carrying out through history.

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