Unlike Us by Pastor Abidan Shah

UNLIKE US by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Unlike UsIntroduction:  Do you remember that old joke? A teacher asked her kindergarteners to draw a picture of someone very important. All the kids began drawing a picture of mom, dad, or some famous person in history. After 15-20 minutes, the teacher noticed that all the kids were done except this one boy who was still working very intently in the back. Curious, she asked him, “Who are you drawing?” Without even looking up, he replied, “God!” The teacher was startled. She went up to him and asked, “How can you draw God? No one knows what he looks like.” He replied, “They will when I get through!” All of us are guilty of doing that. We try to draw God after our own image and understanding. Today’s message will teach us that “God is unlike us. Instead of trying to make him like us, we are to become like him.” The message is titled “UNLIKE US.”

Psalm 50    15 “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” 16 But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to declare My statutes, or take My covenant in your mouth, 17 Seeing you hate instruction and cast My words behind you? 18 When you saw a thief, you consented with him, and have been a partaker with adulterers. 19 You give your mouth to evil, And your tongue frames deceit. 20 You sit and speak against your brother; You slander your own mother’s son. 21 These things you have done, and I kept silent; You thought that I was altogether like you; But I will rebuke you, and set them in order before your eyes.”

Question: “You thought that I was altogether like you.” Is that what you’re doing? Have you created God in your own image? What sin are you justifying by claiming that God does it too? Are you saved? Have you conformed to image of his Son?

Context: In my devotion time I’ve been reading through the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament. As you know, the Book of Psalms was the song book of the children of Israel, later known as the Jewish people. It played a very important role in their worship and daily life. It reminded them of something very important that many Christians fail to understand – It’s not enough to know the truth, affirm the truth, clarify the truth, defend the truth, and share the truth. You also have to take the time to delight in the truth. The Psalms are meant to help us delight in the truth. C.S. Lewis in his book titled Reflections on the Psalms wrote, “The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance.” That’s beautiful!

The psalm we are looking at today (Psalm 50) begins with the heading “The Song of Asaph.” Who was Asaph? I Chronicles 6 tells us that he was a worship leader of one of the groups of temple singers established by King David. He was the worship leader when the ark was brought back to Jerusalem. He was again in charge of the music when the ark was brought to the temple built by Solomon. Later there was a musical school named after him that continued centuries after his death. What I am trying to say is that Asaph was no ordinary one hit wonder. He was a worship leader with great depth and legacy. Something else that needs to be mentioned before we look at this psalm in depth – The placement of this psalm at this place in the Book of Psalms is not by chance. It has been strategically placed here to prepare us to read Psalm 51 which is a prayer of repentance by David when Nathan the prophet confronted him about his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah.

With that in mind, let’s begin – 1 “The Mighty One, God the Lord, has spoken…” If you rush past the opening words, you will miss the significance of the titles for God. In Hebrew it reads “El Elohim Yahweh.” Three different names for God are mentioned here. El – the Mighty God in whom are all the attributes and power of godhead. Elohim – the Creator God who made everything. Yahweh – the Merciful God who reveals himself to us and sets us free. He redeemed the people in Exodus and met them at Sinai.

Application: Is this the God you pray to? Is this the God you worship and sing to? The All-Powerful Creator God Who Alone is Our Redeemer.

One more important description needs to be included here – 1 “…and called the earth from the rising of the sun to its going down. 2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God will shine forth. 3 Our God shall come, and shall not keep silent; A fire shall devour before Him, And it shall be very tempestuous all around Him. 4 He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that He may judge His people: 5 “Gather My saints together to Me, those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice.” 6 Let the heavens declare His righteousness, For God Himself is Judge. Selah (Lift up/exalt) The All-Powerful Creator God Who Alone is Our Redeemer is also the Great Judge of all the earth.

Application: Are you ready to meet this God? Are you going to lift up and exalt his right to judge or are you going to argue and defend your case?

What does this God have to say? First, he will speak to the righteous among his people – 7 “Hear, O My people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you; I am God, your God! 8 I will not rebuke you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings, Which are continually before Me. 9 I will not take a bull from your house, Nor goats out of your folds. 10 For every beast of the forest is Mine, And the cattle on a thousand hills. 11 I know all the birds of the mountains, And the wild beasts of the field are Mine. 12 “If I were hungry, I would not tell you; For the world is Mine, and all its fullness. 13 Will I eat the flesh of bulls, Or drink the blood of goats? 14 Offer to God thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High. In other words, I don’t need you to go out there and get me meat so I won’t be hungry. The cattle on a thousand hills are mine.”

Application: We are easily swayed by favors people do for us. You cannot sway God. Remember what I said earlier that this psalm has been placed here for a reason. Listen to what David says in Psalm 51   16 “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise.” And what’s the reward for those who offer to the sacrifices from a clean heart? 15 Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” Here’s the privilege of obeying God.

But now listen to what God says to the Wicked Righteous – 16 But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to declare My statutes, or take My covenant in your mouth, 17 Seeing you hate instruction and cast My words behind you? In other words, how do you receive God’s truth when you encounter it in your devotion time, in a message, in a Sunday School lesson, on the radio, or in a Christian literature? How do you receive the Word when it is given to you by a godly friend? Do you hate it and cast it aside? How did David receive God’s Word through Nathan? 2 Samuel 12:13 So David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” In other words, he repented.

What happens when you don’t repent? God goes into detail – 18 “When you saw a thief, you consented with him, and have been a partaker with adulterers. 19 You give your mouth to evil, And your tongue frames deceit. 20 You sit and speak against your brother; You slander your own mother’s son. How many sins are mentioned here? Stealing, Adultery, Accomplice/Association, Evil Speaking, Lying, Gossip, Smear, Slander. What did God do about it? 21 These things you have done, and I kept silent…” Just because God does not immediately deal with your sin does not mean that he approves it. Silence is not approval. When we are silent, we are approving. When God is silent, he is extending mercy. But here comes the worst one – 21 “…You thought that I was altogether like you…” This is the sin of misrepresenting God because it suits your purpose and your love for your pet sin.

Application: Do you twist the Bible to justify your behavior, your sin? The worst thing you can do to any person is misrepresent him/her. Yet, people do that to God to justify their sinful action and lives.

What is the consequence? 21 “…But I will rebuke you, and set them in order before your eyes.” If you are a child of God, the Holy Spirit will not let you off easily. He will convict you and expose to you the error of your ways. What if you still don’t change? 22 “Now consider this, you who forget God, Lest I tear you in pieces, And there be none to deliver:” Now it’s no longer private but public exposure. The old principle is true – “You cover your sin and God will uncover it. You uncover your sin and God will cover it.”

Here’s the solution – 23 “Whoever offers praise glorifies Me; And to him who orders his conduct aright I will show the salvation of God.” What will you do? True praise cannot come from a contaminated, sin-filled heart. Furthermore, it’s not enough to say with David Psalm 51    3 “For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 Against You, You only, have I sinned,” you also have to say with him 7 “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Make me hear joy and gladness, That the bones You have broken may rejoice. 9            Hide Your face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

Are you ready to repent? Are you saved?

Redirected by Pastor Abidan Shah

REDIRECTED by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

JourneyWithChristChurchPowerPoint_presentation

Introduction:  How many of ya’ll have ever been frustrated with your GPS? I get angry at mine all the time – “Why are you taking me this way?” “No, I’m not turning here!” “This thing took me around my elbow to get to my thumb!” Sometimes I even want to throw mine out the window! But, there’s another kind of GPS. It stands for GOD’S POSITIONING SYSTEM. Unlike the one in my truck, this one has always rerouted my life for the best! With that in mind, this is our first message in our series through Paul’s letter to the Philippians called GRATEFUL and this message is titled REDIRECTED and we’re actually going to begin in the Book of Acts.

Acts 16    6 Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. 7 After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. 8 So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Question: Paul concluded, through the Holy Spirit and a vision at night, that God was closing some doors for a reason and opening a new one. What doors have closed for you in the past year? What have you concluded? Have you concluded that God is in control of your life and he is redirecting your life for the best? Or have you concluded that God doesn’t care and your life has no direction? Can you see His divine hand directing and redirecting your life? Is Christ your Savior?

Context: The passage we just read gets misinterpreted and misapplied a lot. Any little obstacle is considered to be the hand of the Holy Spirit. Any odd dream is taken as a vision from God. Before we can correctly interpret Acts 16, we need to first correctly understand Acts 15. Listen to how Acts 15 begins 1 And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Who were these men from Judea and why were they insisting that the Gentiles should be circumcised in order to be saved? Paul gives us more information about them in Galatians 2 where he tells us that these certain men were from the “mother church” in Jerusalem where James, the half-brother of Jesus, was their pastor. This church was composed of only Jewish background believers with the goal of reaching other Jewish background people with the gospel. But, something changed in Acts 10 when God sent Peter to a Roman centurion by the name of Cornelius. Remember, God had to convince him first with a vision of the clean and unclean animals coming down on a sheet from heaven. As Peter was preaching, Cornelius and his family and close friends responded to the gospel, and the Holy Spirit came upon them. When the Jerusalem church leaders heard this, they were hesitant to accept them but when Peter explained to them what had happened, they glorified God saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” (Acts 11:18) In other words, they informally approved the conversion of the Gentiles. This was always God’s plan but what a big step for them! Think about it – the Jewish believers moved over to let you and me climb on to their family tree! How many of us would’ve done that!

But, as more and more Gentiles started getting saved, some of the Jewish believers from James’ church in Jerusalem became concerned that these new converts were going to weaken the moral standards of their community and change their identity as God’s covenant people. So, some of them took upon themselves to go from place to place telling the newly converted Gentile Christians that they were not saved unless they were also circumcised. Circumcision is what set the Jewish people apart from the world. It brought great persecution and suffering to them. It was central to their identity as God’s people. They felt that Gentiles needed to suffer a little before they could have equal status among God’s covenant people. These men were “the circumcisionists” or “the Judaizers.” Imagine the confusion and the division this brought in the early church. People were questioning each other’s salvation. They were questioning the truth of the gospel. What was Paul’s response? Listen to verse 2 “Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them…” Meaning: There was a big fight. Souls were hanging in the balance. As they say, “this was a hill worth dying on.”

Application: Church people fight over silly stuff. They die over ant hills and give up the mountains of doctrine and theology. Paul fought for what mattered. Salvation is a mountain worth fighting for. Ephesians 2   8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Don’t let anyone add any rituals, traditions, or personal convictions to your salvation. There are other doctrines like Trinity, Incarnation, Inerrancy, Resurrection, etc.

What happened next? The church in Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to consult the apostles and the elders at the Mother church. Again, Acts 15:7 says, “when there had been much dispute…” Meaning: Hours and days of arguing and debating, proving and disproving went on. You can imagine the frustration and stress, harsh words and hurt feelings. Then Peter stood up along with James and John and others apostles, elders, and brethren and made the decree that the Judaizers had no authority to interfere with the salvation of the Gentiles and that salvation is only by grace through faith. As Paul says in Galatians 2:9 “they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship…” What a powerful decision! If it wasn’t for this, we wouldn’t be here today.

When I think about all this, I can’t help but wonder “why did God allow all this mess?” Why did he allow the Judaizers to go around confusing the people? Why did he allow Paul and Barnabas to go through all these arguments and struggles? Why did he allow this controversy to rock the church? Listen carefully: All this mess was a blessing in disguise. It helped clarify and solidify Paul’s thinking. It prepared him to write letters like Galatians and Romans. If it wasn’t for this controversy, we would’ve never heard of Galatians 2   19 For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Galatians 3   28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And…Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Romans 3   21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed…22…through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Application: You can look at the frustrating times and seasons in your life as a hurdle or you can look at them as a gift from God. You can get bitter and angry with God or you can trust God that he’s still working in your life. You can become discouraged or you can be teachable. The choice is yours. Paul grew the crisis in the church.

I believe that Paul chose to trust God and God helped him to grow in his knowledge and wisdom. But that’s not all. Something more was about to happen. Paul wanted to go and visit those churches that were rocked by the controversy but then there was a falling out between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark. Paul chose Silas and started going through Syria and Cilicia. What if Paul had become bitter over that matter and decided to take a break from God? I believe that would’ve been the last we would’ve heard of Paul. Paul remained faithful in his calling.

Then he came to Derbe and Lystra where he met a young man named Timothy whose mother was a Jewish believer and his father was a Greek. Hint! Hint! When God wants you to head in a new direction, he will bring certain people into your life who will help you in the journey. Now as he was travelling through Phrygia and Galatia, the Holy Spirit closed the door to Asia. As he came to Mysia and tried to go into Bithynia, the Holy Spirit again closed that door too. There is a direction in which he was talking Paul. Then when he came to Troas, there was a vision of a Macedonian man saying “Come over to Macedonia and help us” and it finally dawned on Paul that God was leading him to Europe! If you read Acts 16 without taking into account what has happened in Acts 15, any obstacle and any dream may appear to be God’s will when it’s not. The controversy was being used by God to prepare Paul to go to Europe. We wouldn’t have the Letter to the Philippians if Paul had failed to answer that call.

I’m often shocked at the way people make decisions – They move, change jobs, start relationships, break relationships thinking somehow that the Holy Spirit is leading them when he’s actually a million miles away. It’s only when you are submitted to his leading and guiding, it’s only when you are teachable and obedient, that you can conclude that it’s God who is directing and redirecting your life.

Invitation: What have you concluded? Is the Holy Spirit leading your life? Is Christ your Savior?

 

 

 

 

Love is Liberating by Pastor Abidan Shah

LOVE IS LIBERATING by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Love is LiberatingIntroduction:  If you keep up with politics, I’m sure you’ve heard of Congressman Sam Johnson from Plano, Texas. He has served in the House since 1991 and will be retiring next year. He is an Air Force Veteran and a POW in Vietnam for 7 years at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton,” also known as “Hell’s Hole.” In recalling his experience, he said, “Starvation, isolation and torture were constant companions. There was no news from home, and the enemy worked hard to make us feel alone and forgotten.” He describes one of the torture treatments – “I could recall nothing from military survival training that explained the use of a meat hook suspended from the ceiling…During a routine torture session…the Vietnamese tied a prisoner’s hands and feet, then bound his hands to his ankles—sometimes behind the back, sometimes in front. The ropes were tightened to the point that you couldn’t breathe. Then, bowed or bent in half, the prisoner was hoisted up onto the hook to hang by ropes. Guards would return at intervals to tighten them until all feeling was gone, and the prisoner’s limbs turned purple and swelled to twice their normal size. This would go on for hours, sometimes even days on end.” The torture and malnutrition made Johnson stoop-shouldered and mangled his right arm, besides a cracked back and broken arm when his plane went down. After 42 months in a dark solitary cell with rats and filth, he was finally released and he remembers the sweet embrace of his wife Shirley and their three kids. He said, “I got through those hellish years by the grace and mercy of God.” Our final message in this series on love is titled, “LOVE IS LIBERATING.” There’s no true love in hate-filled, torture like environments. True love flourishes where there is true freedom.

I Corinthians 13   4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Context: At the heart of all the problems in the Corinthian Church was the problem of love. They didn’t know how to love each other properly. Paul wrote this letter to teach them how to love each other the way Christ loves us. In today’s message, you will see that Christ never exposes, never suspects, never discourages, and never threatens.

Question: How do you love people? Do you at times expose the weaknesses and failures of the ones you love? Do you constantly suspect and doubt the ones you love? Do you discourage and steal hope from the ones you love? Do you give up on or threaten the ones you love? Are you saved? Have you truly experienced the love of God in Christ?

Let’s look at the words in Greek: The first is “love bears all things.” The Greek word for bears is “stegei.” It comes from the noun “stegei,” which means “roof.” I’m sure the Corinthians knew what this word meant. Archaeologists have found evidence that by the 7th century BC the temples and houses in Corinth had started replacing thatched roofs with fired tiles. Why? Because thatched roofs were a huge fire hazard, especially in a growing city like Corinth. These tiles were heavy, weighing about 60 plus pounds but they were durable, long-lasting, and protective from the rain, sun, heat, snow, and cold. The word “stegei” took on the idea of covering, sheltering, protecting, keeping out, and keeping in. When Paul says, “love bears all,” he is really saying, “love always covers and never exposes.” Meaning: Love does not find pleasure in exposing others to harshness. Love does not get joy in watching the other person squirm in fear or shame. In the Corinthian culture, it might have been okay to expose your enemy but not in Christianity.

Application: Do you cover people or do you expose people? In the Greco-Roman world, sometimes when the renters would not pay on time, the landlords would remove the front door or even strip off the tiles from the roof. Does that sound familiar? Someone is bound to say, “Are you suggesting we hide someone’s sin?” No. I’m simply saying what Peter also said in I Peter 4:8And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’” Even though Peter uses a different word for “cover” than roof, the idea is the same. Love does not get pleasure out of exposing the other person but wants to help them in their moment of weakness and shame.

The second statement: “Love believes all things.” The Greek word for “believes” is “pisteuei,” which has the idea of trust in others. Again, the Corinthian culture was very competitive and status seeking. They were constantly striving to get ahead of one another by whatever means necessary. You always had to watch your back. Unfortunately, this mindset of distrust and suspicion had also entered the church. Even Christians didn’t trust each other. When Paul tells them “loves believes all things,” he was really saying, “love does not live in the zone of perpetual suspicion but is willing to trust others. It is the foundation of all relationships.”

Illustration: When God called me into the ministry, I went to Nicole’s dad and he helped me with my decision. I asked him if he would also help me find a good seminary. He took me to one. On the way, he told me that one of his good friends was a pastor nearby and he wanted to come visit with us. That sounded fine to me. This man came and after they caught up, he turned to me and began telling me how terrible people were and how they would stab me in the back and how they could not be trusted. He spent the next hour or two emotionally vomiting. I didn’t know what to think. I wasn’t naïve about church ministry. My dad was a pastor and still is. But I didn’t know how to take what he had just told me. After he left, Nicole’s dad said to me, “Don’t pay attention to anything he said. He must be going through some mess. Without trust, you cannot minister to people.”

Here’s the point: If you constantly operate as some kind of a KGB agent, always frisking people, always looking over your shoulder, always questioning their motives, you will never be able to love people. Your relationships will always be sporadic, seasonal, and short lived. By the way, get used to the idea that people will fail you. They will break your trust. If I may add, many times, people will rise or fall to the level of your expectations. If you keeping suspecting them, they will become suspicious. Trust is the foundation of all relationships. Without it, there’s no true love.

The third statement: “love hopes all things.” The Greek word for “hopes” is “elpidzei,” which has the idea of expectation and wish. People often confuse faith with hope. They are related but they are not the same. They are related in the sense that they are both looking to something that is invisible and unprovable. But they are different because just a few verses later Paul says in verse 13 “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” What is the difference between faith and hope? Faith is what you can’t see but you are standing on. Hope is what you can’t see but you are looking for. If faith is the foundation that you can’t see but you are standing on. Hope is the window through which you are looking for what you can’t see yet.

Illustration: In the past few years, the Robertson family from West Munroe, Louisiana has become a household name. You’ve heard of their show – “Duck Commander.” They came from very humble background through some very difficult times. In the book “Duck Commander Family,” Willie Robertson writes this in the prolog: “The dinner table is where I learned to follow my dreams. This is where Dad told us he was going to start Duck Commander, and where I told my family I was getting married and heading off to college. Our hopes and aspirations were never shot down, never debated, only encouraged. We might have been eating fried bologna at the time because that was all we could afford, but there was hope that one day we would be feasting on a big fat rib-eye steak.” Would you agree that they are loving family? Would you agree that their hope has become more than a reality?

Here’s the point: You can have all the covering and all the trust but if you don’t have hope, you will shrivel and die. When a marriage loses hope, when a friendship loses hope, when a church loses hope, when a community loses hope, when a nation loses hope, it is the beginning of the end of love.

Application: Are you a hope giver or are you a hope stealer? Do you open the windows to your loved ones’ dreams and goals or do you lock them up like Congressman Sam Johnson in a dark, hopeless prison cell?

The fourth and final statement: “love endures all things.” The Greek word for “endures” is “hupomenei,” which carries the idea of being patient, remaining, and enduring. In other words, “love does not give up, doesn’t run out when things get tough.” In a transient culture like the Corinthians, when things didn’t work out with one person, move on to the next. If it doesn’t work out again, move on to the next. You don’t have to take anyone’s mess. How do we know this? Think about the different groups in the Corinthian church. I Corinthians 1   12 Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? The Corinthians had moved from one group to another when things didn’t work out with one.

Let me clarify: There are times when you may have to cut relationships because of physical or mental/emotional abuse. Having said, we need to learn to bear with others and their faults and failures. Listen carefully: When you love somebody, be prepared to be hurt. Hurting people will hurt people. But if you drop them, they will never get the chance to heal. In your marriage, family, church family, community, neighborhood, and workplace, you will come across people that you have to be patient with.

Application: Are you willing to endure? Are you willing to look over their failures and hang-ups? Are you willing to cut others some slack?

How can you have this kind of love? First, understand how God loves you. Remember, you can substitute Christ for every time love is mentioned in this verse – “Christ bears all things, Christ believes all things, Christ hopes all things, Christ endures all things. Christ never fails.” Second, understand how to love people. Begin today by setting people free. Think of yourself as a prison warden with keys to 4 cells:

  • Cell #1 Exposure (Remember, love covers all. Let the inmates know that you will always cover them.)
  • Cell #2 Suspicion (Remember, love trusts others. Let the inmates know that you will never doubt them.)
  • Cell #3 Pessimism (Remember, love gives hope. Let the inmates know that you see a bright day in the future.)
  • Cell #4 Threats (Remember, love endures all. Let the inmates know that you will never give up on them.)

True love will being to flow when you set the captives free.

Are you free? Are people in your life free? Are you saved

OUT OF THE GRAVEYARD (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

OUT OF THE GRAVEYARD (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on January 7, 2017)

bef00a78-d76b-461a-be58-7037520c4569This is the time of the year when many people struggle to keep their New Year’s resolutions. According to some surveys, about 70% are broken by the end of January. This is especially true when it comes to spiritual resolutions like growing in Christ, reading the Bible, praying, serving in church, etc. Another year comes and goes and there’s zero progress. In Luke 9 Jesus met three such individuals who were buried in the graveyard of excuses. Let’s see if we can learn something from their encounters:

  1. Grave of Comfort – Verse 57 “…Someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.” At first glance the speaker looks like an eager disciple willing to follow Jesus anywhere. In actuality, he was a young man looking to tag along Rabbi Jesus for a low risk, easy life with minimal sacrifices. Jesus knew his heart and bluntly challenged his assumption about being his disciple – 58 “…Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Don’t misunderstand. Jesus was not calling him to give up his Sleep Number bed or his Tempur-Pedic pillow and wander around and live under some tree like a hermit. If that were the case, we’d all be in trouble. Instead, Jesus was telling him – “To follow me, you have to choose the uncomfortable life. Previously, it was comfortable to tolerate some old sin, habit, grudge, behavior, or desire in your life but following me will require giving them up. How much are you willing to sacrifice?”
  2. Grave of Obligations – Verse 59 Then He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” What a strange request! Was the man’s father dead at home, waiting to be buried?! No. What the man was really saying was “My father is up in age. I need to be there for him. Once God calls him home, then I will follow you.” He was using a very common excuse – “I’ll follow God, when things settle down.” Again, Jesus knew this man’s heart too and responded trenchantly – 60 “…Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.” How could Jesus be so harsh?! Was he actually suggesting that this man ignore his duty to his aged parents? The answer is “Yes.” Again, don’t misunderstand. The Bible is always about honoring our father and our mother. But in this situation, the man was using his obligations to keep him from obeying God. Jesus was telling him – “Life will never settle down. There will always be another obligation. Follow me now or never.”
  3. Grave of One Last Glance – Verse 61 “…Another also said, ‘Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.’” This sounds like a reasonable request, doesn’t it? – “At least my loved ones deserve to know that I’m leaving.” Again, Jesus knew this man’s real intention. He wanted to take that one last look to make sure that this was a right decision. Unfortunately, the world is full of people who took that fatal glance and like Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt. What do they see? Some see pain and feel they can’t leave until they’ve healed; some see regrets and feel they can’t leave until they’ve fixed things; some see failures and feel their past would repeat again; and some even see the disappointed faces of their loved ones and feel they can’t let them down. Jesus warned him – 62 “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Many years ago when I preached on this passage, a farmer in our church told me that when he used to plow with a mule, he would find a fixed point in front and keep his eyes on it. When he looked straight ahead, he had straight rows behind him but if he turned back, he was all over the place. If your spiritual life is all over the place, it’s time to look ahead to Jesus.

By the way, before you can leave your grave of excuses to follow Jesus, you have to come out of the grave of sin and death by asking him to be your Savior. Happy Resurrection!

Love is Calming by Pastor Abidan Shah

LOVE IS CALMING by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

love-is-calmingIntroduction:  This is the second message in our new series – “LOVE IS THE GREATEST.” As Valentine’s Day is approaching, we’re looking at what the Bible has to say about love. Again, please don’t misunderstand, the series is not just about romantic or marital love. It’s about love in general – in our families, church family, community, nation, and world.

I Corinthians 13   4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Bridge: Kids have a way of saying things that make us laugh and think at the same time. A group of little kids were asked what they thought about love. Listen to what they said (This list has been floating on the internet for a long time):

  • “I think you’re supposed to get shot with an arrow or something, but the rest of it isn’t supposed to be so painful.” — Manuel, age 8
  • “Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.” Chrissy – age 6
  • “Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more. My Mommy and Daddy are like that. They look gross when they kiss” Emily – age 8
  • “During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling. He was the only one doing that. I wasn’t scared anymore.” Cindy – age 8

In this series, we’re going to learn what true love is all about and how to show it.

Context: If you remember from last week, Corinth was the place to be in the ancient world. It sat on the crossroads between the north and the south and the east and the west, on the isthmus connecting Mainland Greece with Peloponnese. People from all over came there to make a life, to do business, or to watch the games. Paul purposefully chose to go there because plenty of lost people were there. After 18 months of working as a tent maker and preaching Christ, the Corinthian church was born. Paul moved on to other places but he began to hear that the church in Corinth was having problems. So, he wrote this letter to them not only to deal with their problems but to deal with a deeper problem – misunderstanding and lack of true love.

Question: Before we go any further, do you agree that at the root of a lot of our problems is a misunderstanding and lack of love? Do you understand what true love is really about? Are you truly a loving person? Will people around you say that you are a loving person? Are you saved? If not, today is the day to let God’s love into your hearts.

Today we’re going to look at the first description of love in verse “Love suffers long and is kind…” Before we start analyzing what the Greek word is for “suffers long” and “kind,” we need to step back and try to understand how words get their meanings. Many times people misunderstand what biblical words mean and they base their lives on some misinterpretation. I’ve seen it often and it’s very costly.

Here’s a very important statement: “Words have inherent meaning only to a certain extent. They get their true and full meaning from their context.”

Here’s a simple example, a silly example – think about the word “hotdog.” The context tells you that it’s not some hot canine. It’s a favorite American food.

Here’s an interesting example – think about the word “oversight.” “She had the oversight of that project.” It means she was looking over that project. It’s positive. “It was my oversight.” It means I missed something when I was going over it. It’s negative. Again, the context helps you understand the true meaning.

Here’s an extreme example – think about the word “set.” The Oxford English Dictionary gives 464 meanings for that word! Here’s just a few of them – the stage is set; I did a set of exercises; we had a setback; set it down over there; he’s set in his ways; get set go; we can go on and on. The context helps us to understand which use it is.

Here’s a cultural example – think about the word “smart.” Where I grew up, if someone was intelligent, you’d say – “He/she is really smart.” When we came to the NC, people would tell our children – “Now be smart.” I wanted to ask – “Why? Do they look dumb?”

The point is that words have some meaning on their own but they get their true and full meaning by how they’re used in their context. Here’s another very important point – biblical words also have some meaning on their own but they get their true and full meaning from the biblical context. In other words, many times, words in the Bible take on deeper and richer meaning than how they’re normally used outside the Bible.

Paul said to the Corinthians “Love suffers long and is kind…” To understand what “suffers long” and “kind” really mean, we have to go the biblical context. The Greek word for “suffers long” is “makrothumeo.” It comes from two Greek words “makros” = long and “thumos” = wrath or passionate longing. When you put those two together, it means “long wrath.” In English, you’ve heard of someone with a “short fuse.” It means someone who doesn’t take long to get angry or blow up. Long wrath is someone with a “long fuse,” someone who takes a long time to get angry or blow up. You may say – “Oh I get it. Love suffers long means love doesn’t get angry quickly.” True but there’s more to it.

For starters, this word was used many times to translate Hebrew words for patience in the Old Testament. (As a side note, prior to the LXX, the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT, it is found only once before!) Let me give a couple of examples: Proverbs 19:11 “The discretion of a man makes him (makrothumein) slow to anger, And his glory is to overlook a transgression.” Meaning: A wise man does not get angry quickly and is willing to overlook someone’s fault. But there’s another use for it – Proverbs 25:15 “By long forbearance a ruler is persuaded, And a gentle tongue breaks a bone.” Meaning: If you want something done by a ruler, wait patiently for him to make up his mind. The point is “makrothumeo” has the idea of not getting angry but its more than that. It’s also about waiting patiently for someone to get to where they need to be.

This is especially true in how God relates with us. Listen to Exodus 34:6 “And the Lord passed before him (Moses) and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth.” Here God is meeting Moses for the second time on Mount Sinai. The first time God gave him the Ten Commandments, the people had already built the golden calf for themselves and 3000 died because of that sin. God didn’t give up on His people but told Moses to get a second set of stone tablets so he could regive his law to them. Then God passed before Moses and declared that he was “makrothumia,” meaning “willing to work patiently with people who were not ready to follow him.” This same idea about God is presented in Proverbs 103   8 “The Lord is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. 9 He will not always strive with us, Nor will He keep His anger forever. 10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities.”

This same idea is found in the New Testament. When Peter asked Jesus in Matthew 18 how many times he should forgive his brother, “up to seven times?” Jesus answered him “up to seventy times seven.” Then He gave the parable of a servant who owed a lot of money to his king. When it came time to pay he begged the king, “have patience with me, and I will pay you all.” The king had compassion on him and forgave his massive debt. But this man’s fellow servant owed him a fraction of the amount he owed to the king and he begged him with the same words, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you” but he wouldn’t and threw him into prison. When the king heard about it, he was angry. He caught the man and delivered him to the torturers until he would pay it all back. The point is, Jesus said, 35 “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” Meaning: If you’re unwilling to wait patiently on others like God waits patiently on you, then God will no longer wait patiently on you. The same idea is found in 2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” The point is that the word “makrothumew” tells us not to be angry but wait patiently for others, just the way God does not destroy us in anger but waits patiently for us. Meaning: Yes, God is a god of wrath against sin but he’s not some cantankerous unreasonable old man – “Y’all better get your act together or I’m about to lose it and destroy all of you!” Instead, picture a loving father who patiently helps his little boy/girl ride the bike. The child falls again and again but the father does not get angry or give up but patiently helps him/her.

If all this isn’t enough to understand the true meaning of “makrothumeo,” Paul adds a word to it that is not found anywhere else. It is the word “chresteuomai.” It means “to show kindness.” It is connected to the word that Jesus used in Matthew 18 where He says, 28 “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy (chrestos) and My burden is light.” I can go on and on, but here’s the point – God could burn us in His anger but because He loves us, He waits patiently for us and shows kindness to us.

I can imagine that when Paul heard of the divisions, the pushing and shoving that was happening in the Corinthian church, his heart was broken. How could those who were filled with love of God act this way towards each other? How could those whose sins had been forgiven through the sacrifice of Christ hold grudges against each other? How could they be so impatient and unkind towards each other when God has been so patient and kind towards them? He tells them – “Love waits patiently and shows kindness.”

Question: How do you feel when someone waits patiently for you and shows kindness to you? I can tell you in the definition of the 8-year-old I read in the opening – “During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling. He was the only one doing that. I wasn’t scared anymore.” Cindy – age 8 Why wasn’t she scared anymore? Her dad’s love was calming.

Here’s a test: How do people feel around you? Do they feel judged, stressed, and misunderstood? Or do they feel calm? Someone might say – “Does that mean that I should tolerate anything and everything?” Does God tolerate anything and everything you do? Absolutely not but he works with us to bring us where he wants us to be. You can sense the calm assurance of His presence in your life. By the way, generally speaking men and women show love in different ways. Men may not say all the sweet things that women are able to say. Here’s the test: Did you feel the calm sense of their presence in your life. That’s love.

Invitation: Is God’s calming love flowing through your life? Can you people around you sense that same love flowing through you? Is our church a place where people feel that calm love of God flowing through us?

HARD HEADED PEOPLE

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HARD HEADED PEOPLE by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

hardheadedpeople

As you know, we are in our series on the Life of Christ from all four gospels and this morning we will be looking at not just one but four passages for our message titled “HARD HEADED PEOPLE.” I know when I said that all of us thought of someone we know who is hard headed. But did you know that all of us to some extent are hard headed?

John 1 40 One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas” (which is translated, A Stone).

Matthew 4 18 And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 They immediately left their nets and followed Him.

Luke 5 4…He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” 6 And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking…10…And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” 11 So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.

Calling of the Disciples

Map of the Calling of the Disciples around Galilee (All images © 2015 Abidan and Nicole Shah)

Overall Background: We’ve come to that point in our series where Jesus actually began His ministry and He started by calling certain people to follow Him, to be His disciples. One of them was a man by the name of Simon. We know Him as Peter. We all know of Peter. People smile every time his name is mentioned – the first to jump up, speak out, brag, fall, and even repent. And boy, he was hard headed! For some reason we like Peter. Maybe its because he reminds us so much of our own self. When we think of Peter’s calling we only remember the time when Peter and his brother Andrew were by the Sea of Galilee mending their nets and Jesus called them to follow Him. It says that “they immediately left their nets and followed Him.” It’s as if there were no second thoughts or hesitations, just immediate and total obedience. I’m sure we’ve heard some wonderful messages on the need to follow Jesus immediately. Only problem – did you know that there are 3 other times that Jesus called Peter?!! Apparently, one call wasn’t enough.

The point is – it took 4 different callings (at least that many are actually recorded in the gospels) before Peter left all and followed Jesus. The message is not just that we are hardheaded people. It is that God is gracious and compassionate more than we deserve. As much as we keep going back, He keeps reaching out to us, as He is right now.

Application: Is God calling you? Has He been knocking on the door of your heart? Are you saved? How many times does He have to keep coming by you?

Let the Holy Spirit open your heart as we look at the 4 callings of Peter:

CALLING #1 – SALVATION

John 1 40 One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas” (which is translated, A Stone).

Background: This was no ordinary calling. This was a salvation calling. This is the first calling in the life of every Christian. Without this calling you cannot have any other calling. How do we know that this was a salvation calling? Because Jesus changed His name. Every time in the Bible God changed someone’s name, it was a reflection of something much greater – Abram became Abraham; Sarai became Sarah; Jacob became Israel; Saul became Paul. Name change implied a deep work of God in a person. It implied a change of identity. Deuteronomy 28:10 Then all peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they shall be afraid of you.”

Simon PeterSimon meant, “He has heard” or “God has heard.” His new name was going to be Cephas in Aramaic, which meant, “rock.” Rock in Greek was Peter.

When you become a child of God, you take on a new name and a new identity. Now you are called by the name of your Heavenly Father. John 1:12 “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.”

Did you also know that one day in heaven we’re all going to get new names? Revelation 2:17 “…To him who overcomes…I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” By the way, even Jesus will have a new name – Revelation 3:12 “He who overcomes…I will write on him My new name.

Application: Has God called your name? Has He given you a new name? Are you saved?

Does this mean that Peter followed Jesus from there on? Sadly no.

CALLING #2 – SERVICE

Matthew 4 18 And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.

Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee (All images © 2015 Abidan and Nicole Shah)

Background: Nicole and I walked around the Sea of Galilee and saw some of the fishing boats and the nets lying on the ground. It was awesome tothink about Jesus walking by that same seashore. Simon and Andrew were not just weekend fisherman or just some common laborers. Historical evidence shows that the fishing industry around Galilee was lucrative. There were not a whole lot of places where you could find freshwater fish. These men were successful businessmen. He came by their workplace. I love workplace ministry – reaching people where they are working. Work is not sinful or evil. It is good.

Galilee Fishing Boats

Galilee Fishing Boats (All images © 2015 Abidan and Nicole Shah)

What did He say to them? 19 Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” It was a play on words. Simon and Andrew were casting a net into the sea for they were fishers (literally) but now they will be fishers of men (literally). Jesus did not come to make them jobless. Jesus called Simon not just to stop fishing but to start fishing for men. He came to give them new meaning and purpose in their jobs. No longer would it be just fishing but now it is fishing with a whole new purpose.

Being saved does not mean immediately you have to go preach. Jesus did not tell Simon – “Join the synagogue” or “start learning biblical Hebrew.” What it does mean is that now you have a new master, a new boss. Being a Christian is not just coming to church on Sunday mornings and sitting and listening to this man talk. It is to start living our lives within new purpose which is to build God’s kingdom. It can be done through teaching Sunday school or children’s ministry or something in church but it can also extend way beyond the walls of this church. Here the Holy Spirit helps us understand our spiritual gifts and start using them.

Application: Has God shown you His purpose for your life? It will change the way you see your job. It will change the way you see the people you interact with. Just like Peter we too are called to go find people. That’s what the ministries at Clearview are all about – Kindle, CWA, Sports, and First Responders.

Does this mean Peter followed Jesus from there on? Sadly no.

CALLING #3 – SUPERNATURAL MIRACLE

Luke 4 38 Now He arose from the synagogue and entered Simon’s house.

Capernaum

Capernaum (All images © 2015 Abidan and Nicole Shah)

Background: Where did this happen? In Capernaum. In fact, the synagogue is about 50 yards from Peter’s house. Nicole and I were there about three weeks ago.

VIDEO FROM CAPERNAUM 

What happened at Peter’s house? 38 “…But Simon’s wife’s mother was sick with a high fever, and they made request of Him concerning her. Tradition tells us that Luke was a medical doctor and he is the only one who points out that it was a “high fever.” Meaning: this was serious. What was Jesus’s response? 39 So He stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. And immediately she arose and served them. It was a miracle!

There’s a reason why the Holy Spirit allowed this incident to be mentioned in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. This miracle was not as much for Peter’s mother-in-law as it was for Peter. Jesus had already called him twice but for some reason it did not convince him enough. In short, he was hardheaded. Yeah I’m saved. Yeah He came looking for me. Yeah I have a new purpose in life. But no I am not ready to follow him completely.

There are many Christians like that. Time after time God has called their name but they are still playing it safe. There are still not ready to deny themselves, pick up their cross, and follow Christ. For them, sometimes it requires a miracle. There’s not a single person sitting here who claims to be a Christian who cannot say that God has done a miracle in their life. You prayed for a job and God gave you a job. You prayed for a relationship and God gave you a relationship. You prayed for healing and God gave you healing. You pray for your finances and God opened the gates of heaven and sent you blessing upon blessing. You prayed for spiritual insight and God brought you close to Him. Sadly, it’s still not enough for you.

Application: Did I just describe you? What will it take for God to convince you that He is real? What will it take for God to get your attention? When will you finally acknowledge that He is real and He is powerful and He is calling you trust Him and walk with Him and give your all to Him?

Does this mean Peter followed Jesus from there on? Sadly no.

CALLING #4 – SELF REVELATION

Luke 5 1 So it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, 2 and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets.

Picture that in your mind – the crowd is literally all over him because they want to hear the word of God but Jesus is looking for someone. Who is he looking for? 3 Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat. 4 When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, (I find that very interesting that he called him “master.” He didn’t mean it. Just like we’d talk about Jesus being our Lord but we don’t mean it. By the way, yes you can have Jesus as your Savior and still not have him as your Lord.)

Peter - Big CatchLuke 5 5 But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” 6 And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. 7 So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”

What a response! –“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” He finally saw himself for who he really was – just a worthless, hell bound sinner who had been rescued by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Up until that time, he was a good guy, doing the best he can. Now, he was a sinful man saved by the grace of God.

What did Jesus say to him? Verse 10 “…And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” 11 So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.

Now it was the real response.

Invitation: how many times has God been calling you? What is keeping you from responding? What will it take for God to get your attention? Have you responded to his first call to be saved?

WHEN GOD SEEMS HELPLESS

 WHEN GOD SEEMS HELPLESS by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

When God Seems HelplessIntroduction: It’s good to see all of you here this morning! Also, we want to welcome our radio audience! We are in our series on the life of Christ from all four gospels and this morning we are in Matthew 2 for our message titled: “WHEN GOD SEEMS HELPLESS.” Most of us would not admit it but at some time in our life that thought has gone through our minds – “Is God helpless?” We may never say it out loud but we have wondered in our heart – “If God is all powerful, why doesn’t He stop the evil in this world, protect the innocent, the weak, and the children? Why doesn’t He even take care of His own?

Matthew 2 13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” 14   When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”

Overall Background: So far everything we have looked at in the birth of Jesus has been wonderful, joyful, and according to divine plan but now we come to a rather dark chapter in the Christmas narrative. The magi had been instructed by King Herod to inform him when they had found the baby – the King of the Jews. But that night they had a dream that they should not go back to Herod and they went home another way. When King Herod got the news that the Magi had deceived him, he was furious and Matthew 2:16 says “…he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.” In some Christian traditions, this is referred to as the “Massacre of the Innocents.” Depending on which tradition you come from, either December 27 or 28 or 29 is considered “Holy Innocents Day.”

Can you imagine what that massacre was like when Herod’s soldiers descended upon the little town of Bethlehem and the surrounding area and began brutally killing little boys? Matthew 2 tells us in verse 17 “Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: 18 ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more.’” You can almost hear the cries and the screams and the wails of the mothers and I’m sure the fathers too for their innocent children. I can’t help but remember Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut, where 20 children and six adults were brutally killed just two years ago. We all remember the shock and the pain we felt.

Back to Matthew 2:13, God knew what Herod was about to do and what was His response? 13 Now when they (magi) had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” Have you ever stopped to examine this passage carefully? There are many problems here –

  • Is God telling his son to flee from a mere mortal?Massacre of the Innocents by Léon Cogniet
  • Is God too powerless to deal with King Herod? Can He not just kill him?
  • If not kill him, why not change his heart to receive Jesus as his Savior?
  • Forget about baby Jesus for a moment – how about the innocent children? Why didn’t God send His angels to protect the innocent children from the soldiers?
  • If not, why didn’t He just transform the soldiers’ hearts? Then no one had to die.

Have you ever thought of these questions? You may say – “not really.” Actually, you have. The question underlying all those questions is –

  • Where is God when bad things happen?
  • Where is God when evil people hurt the innocent, the weak, and the children?
  • Where is God when His own people suffer?
  • Where is God when it appears that His own grand plan is in jeopardy?

Bottom line: How can I trust a God who is Himself on the run?

When you raise questions like these, there are several different responses:

  • Some people are afraid of these questions because they feel that it may weaken their faith. “Just don’t question.”
  • Some people admit that they have these questions but they are trying to have faith. “I’m trying hard to have faith.”
  • Some people have already answered these questions with the conclusion that either God is not powerful or not good (doesn’t care) or doesn’t exist (Atheist).

Sadly, some of those people are here this morning. This morning we do not have the time to deal with every question on this topic but at least answer the ones that come from this passage. There is a reason why God allowed this tragedy to happen:

1. REMIND US OF THE REALITY OF SIN AND EVIL.

4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

Background: Herod questioned the Sanhedrin if what the Magi were saying was the truth. The Sanhedrin – the central Jewish authority – did not get along with Herod. But, in this situation they told him the truth. They quoted from two different Old Testament passages – 2 Samuel 5:2 and Micah 5:2. Listen to verse 5 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: 6 “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ” Meaning: Both the Jewish leaders and King Herod knew the truth about Jesus. There was no confusion, doubt, or surprise. Nonetheless, they rejected it enough to try to kill it. Why? Because of sin and evil.

We love everything about Christmas – Buying gifts, decorating the tree, Santa Claus, and singing Christmas carols like “Joy to the World,” “Jingle Bells,” “Winter Wonderland,” and “Grandma got run over by a reindeer.” It’s wonderful but there’s another side we cannot forget. This side is evil and sinful and it did everything it could to sabotage, quench, and destroy the truth of God.

Christmas is not only a reminder of joy and peace and goodwill to all but it is also a reminder that there is real sin and evil in this world. Tragedies like the Newtown shooting, and September 11, and the killing of the innocent people in the Middle East as we speak reminds us that there is real evil and sin in this world. Let me go a step further – that same sin and evil that is in the convicts in prison and those out in the streets and those terrorists and those despots throughout history is also in you and is also in me. It does everything possible to quench and destroy the truth of God.

Tragedies in life remind us that Jesus did not come to die because he had nothing better to do. Jesus did not come to die because people are basically good and they just need to be better. Jesus came to die for a real world that has real evil because of real sin.

Application: Do you believe that there is real sin and real evil in this world? Do you believe that Jesus had to come to set us free from the power of sin and death? Do you recognize the sin and evil that is in your own heart?

2. REMIND US OF THE SACRIFICE OF JESUS.

13 “…behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word…”

Background: This passage is interesting to say the least. Why is Jesus unaware of Herod’s plot and why doesn’t He just zap him from the manger? Because of the Reality of the Incarnation. Jesus chose to restrict his divine attributes. He chose to hold back his omniscience and omnipotence. As Philippians 2:7 tells us, “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.” In order to become just like us He refused to exercise His all knowledge and His all power. He didn’t lose them. He didn’t empty them. He didn’t leave them with the father. He always had them but chose to be like us. Why? Hebrews 2 10 For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings…17 Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest…18 For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted. He was fully God and yet as fully man He restricted himself but He never lost what He had as God. You may ask – “How does all that work together?” It worked for Him.

Application: The real question is do you know when Jesus went through for you? Do you know how much He had to restrict Himself to be like you? Do you also know that there is no suffering that you have been through or are going through or will go through that Jesus does not completely and totally understand? By becoming helpless He is able to help us.

3. REMIND US OF A DEEPER TRUTH.

14   When he (Joseph) arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”

Eugene Alexis Girardet -Flight Into Egypt

Background: This event is known as the flight to Egypt or in some traditions as the second of the “Seven sorrows of Mary.” Matthew explains to us that this episode fulfilled the statement of the prophet Hosea. Egypt represented sin and depravity, not the land but a state. God led His people Israel out of bondage but they repeatedly longed for it and talked about it. They longed for the leeks and garlic and the pots of meat. Compared to them, Jesus came out of Egypt and He never went back (again not the land but the state).

When we are saved, we are in Christ. Because He came out of Egypt, we too have come out of Egypt. We don’t have to live in defeat and captivity. 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

Now all we have to do is keep our eyes on our Captain Jesus. Hebrews 12 1 “…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Do you know Jesus as your Savior? How are you handling your suffering?

WHEN IT’S HARD TO WAIT

WHEN IT IS HARD TO WAIT by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

When it is hard to waitWe are in our series on the life of Christ from all four gospels called – “WHAT IF GOD LIVED NEXT DOOR?” This weekend I’m preaching a message titled – WHEN IT’S HARD TO WAIT.” Most people quit in the last quarter, the last 25%, of the race, whether in marriage, ministry, education, business, or some other goal in their life. They give up, give in, compromise, take shortcuts, and quit. This morning’s message is not just to teach us to wait but to teach us to wait for God.

Luke 1:5-11  5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years. 8 So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.

Overall Background: Unlike Matthew, Mark, and John, Luke introduces us to the extended family of Jesus. In the passage we just read we meet some relatives of Mary, the mother of Jesus. These were not any ordinary relatives. They were to become the parents of John the baptizer. Now, Luke could have just given us the names of John the baptizer’s parents and focused on the coming of Jesus but, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he chose to give us more information about them. It’s almost as if he went off on a tangent. But I’m sure you will agree – in the geometry of the Holy Spirit, even tangents come together. Luke chose to tell us more about Zacharias and Elizabeth to teach us the value of waiting on God. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years. In other words, they were waiting.

Here’s the purpose of this message– Any time God wants to do something supernatural, He makes us wait. That’s just his way. By making us wait He ensures that we will not interfere or claim credit. By making us wait he ensures that only he will get the glory and only His purpose will prevail. In other words, waiting is not a punishment but a preparation for God’s great purpose.

Application: Are you in that holding pattern right now? Have you prayed for something and work hard for something and have questioned why nothing is happening? You’re not in a bad situation. In fact, you are right where you need to be. But here’s a warning – while waiting, some people have the tendency to give up, give in, compromise, take shortcuts, and quit. If you do that, you lose what you’re waiting for. But here’s something very important – there’s one thing you don’t have to wait for. You don’t have to wait for your salvation, your forgiveness of sins, and your eternal life. You can receive Jesus right now and have that this instant.

Let’s see through the lives of Zechariah and Elizabeth what to do while you wait for God:

1. BE BLAMELESS 

5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias…

Background: There’s so much that is packed in this one line. For starters, in the days of King Herod the priesthood of Israel was in terrible shape. As you know from the Old Testament, priests belonged to the tribe of Levi and had to be descendants of Aaron. Through the centuries, priesthood in Israel had continued a downward spiral. In 174 BC, a man by the name of Jason had bribed Antiochus Epiphanes, the Seleucid king, to become the high priest. Three years later, a man by the name of Menelaus, who was not even a Levite, also bribed his way to the position. After that, the Hasmoneans family of priests controlled the position. Then in 37 BC, with the coming of Herod the great, the high priesthood became a political appointment under Rome’s supervision. Gone were the days when holiness and righteousness and integrity where the qualifications for the priesthood. Now it was political savvy and power plays and big pockets. This was the reason why some Jewish people actually built a temple in Leontopolis, Egypt; this was the reason why some Jewish people left to form the Dead Sea community at Qumran; this was the reason why Jesus preached against the Temple and even cleansed it at one time. In short, the people went to the temple but inside they knew it was corrupt.

Now listen further – a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. Abijah was, of course, a descendent of Aaron but he was the chief of one of the 24 orders of the priesthood as set up by David the king. They had earned somewhat of a bad reputation because they did not return immediately after the exile. They were missing for a while.

Let’s summarize: the priesthood was corrupt and his own lineage was a disgrace.

But there’s something more – His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Meaning: Zacharias’s wife, Elizabeth, was also from a priestly line.

But the real point that Luke wants to bring out is in verse 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.

Background: I think there is a play on words here. The Sadducees controlled the Temple, claiming to be descendants of the high priest Zadok from the time of David and Solomon. His name comes from the Hebrew “sadok” which means righteous. So, the Sadducees are the righteous ones going all the way back to Zadok, the righteous high priest. But if you remember, Jesus had nothing but negative to say about the Sadducees.

Zechariah’s and Elizabeth were the true zadoks – the righteous ones before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.

What a testimony! While everyone around them was compromising and corrupted, Zechariah and Elizabeth were walking blameless before God. As God was preparing to send his Son and he looked around to see who was righteous, guess who he found?

The problem with many people who are waiting is that they are not righteous, not blameless. Instead, they have compromised and indulged in some habit, some sin, some corruption, and have become vessels of dishonor.

Application: Let me ask you a question – when the eyes of the Lord come upon you, what does He see? Does He see a young person who is involved in some sin? Does He see an adult indulging in some bad habit? Does He see a couple or a family, behind closed doors, living a life of hypocrisy and disobedience? If so, you are disqualifying yourself from the waiting process.

2. BE FAITHFUL

8 So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, 

Background: Historians tell us that there were as many as 18,000 to 20,000 priests and Levites at the time. As I mentioned earlier, the priest were divided into 24 courses and each course had to serve two weeks per year and the major festivals. Most of the priests lived in other towns and villages and they came up to Jerusalem when it was their time. They had normal jobs and occupations to support themselves along with their priestly responsibilities. It could’ve been very tempting to forget about their Temple responsibilities and focus on their job or business. After all, many of them struggled to make a living.

9 according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. Because of the large number of priests, they used the custom of casting lots, which occurred twice a day, to decide who will burn the incense for the whole burnt offering. This was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Why do I bring this up? Zacharias could have dodged his responsibilities, blamed the corruption, stayed home complaining his back or his knee was hurting, or some other excuse but he was there when it was his time. In other words, he was faithful and God made the lot fall in his favor.

In a parable in Matthew 25:23 Jesus said, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’

Application: As you wait, are you faithful? I’m talking to those in full-time ministries and those not in full-time ministries. Are you waiting for God to drop the answer to your prayers in your lap while you are asleep? Are you waiting for God to open the door for you while you’re busy fooling around?

3. BE FAITH FILLED

You know how it happened – the Angel appeared to him; Zacharias was afraid; the Angel promised him that the answer to their prayer had come; Elizabeth would bear a child and they shall call his name John; he will be filled with the Holy Spirit; and prepare the hearts of the people for the coming of the Messiah.

What was Zechariah’s response? Verse 18 And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” Even though Zacharias was a man of integrity and a man of faithfulness, his faith was running low. Even though he was a godly man he was saying to the angel – “Come on let’s be realistic. Bible study, prayer time, good messages, serving the Lord, and all that is wonderful but we got a be realistic.”

Folks – what is realistic? What you know or what God says in his Word?

How did the Angel respond to this? Verse 19 And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. In other words, Gabriel is ticked. Hebrews 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

As an individual, as a family, as a church, if you want to please God, you have to believe God. The worst way to dishonor God is to doubt God and doubt his Word.

So what is the consequence? 20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”

Application: If there is one point I want to stress more than others, then it’s this one. Do you trust God? Are you trusting him right now in your life? Are we as a church Clearview trusting God for future? When there is no faith element, there is no place for God to step in. Are we trusting God for big things? Someone might say – “It’s hard to trust God at times, especially with money.” One time someone asked R.G. LeTourneau, “If you know a thing is the will of God and you do not feel you have the faith, what do you do?” He said, “I go ahead and act like I have the faith.”

4. BE HUMBLE
Luke 1:23
  So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house.

Background: What amazes me about the Bible, the Word of God, is not only what it says but also what it leaves unsaid! Imagine what happened when he got home. Elizabeth sees him walking towards the house and she walks out and greets him – “So honey how was Jerusalem? Lot of people at the Temple? How was your journey?” I can visualize Zachariah – “Elizabeth – pull up a chair. You won’t believe this.” Then he goes on to tell her everything. If I could I would love to get a picture of her face at that point. “Does that mean we have to…?” “I think so…the Angel didn’t say anything about a virgin birth.”

You get the point! They had to trust God’s word and now do something about, just like Abraham and Sarah, Elkanah and Hannah, Manoah and his wife, they had to do something by faith.

24 Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

Why did she hide herself? She understood that this was no ordinary child. He was the Herald, the messenger, the forerunner of the Messiah. She spent those five months preparing herself to be the mother God wanted her to be.

Application: When you wait upon God, he not only gives you the desires of your heart but he gives you so much more. Don’t rush out there and start bragging about it. Spend some time basking in his glory. Spend some time thanking him for his mercy. Spend some time asking him to prepare you to receive his blessing.

What have you been waiting for God to do in your life? Are you still looking to him in faith? Have you ever received God’s gift of Jesus Christ?

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