Faith and Finance

INTRODUCTION

Our finances reflect our faith. Our faith is expressed in our finances. Our finances are an opportunity for faith. One way or another our faith and our finances are connected.

Jesus realized this and therefore spoke about money more than any other subject. That’s probably part of the reason he was criticized so much. Because few of us like to connect our faith and our finances. We prefer to think of our faith being in one compartment and our finances being in another compartment and try to keep them separated, usually only opening one at a time.

This disconnect between faith and finance might make us materially richer but it also makes us spiritually poorer. The closer we can connect them, the spiritually richer we will be. How can we connect faith and finance to make us spiritually richer?

I ask this question because our church family is embarking on a massive fundraising campaign. We are hoping to raise $5.8 million of an $8 million budget so that we can begin building our new ministry center.

When we think of what we can give to this project, we tend to think about how little we can afford to give or how much pain and loss is involved in the giving. At least, that’s how I often think, if I’m honest. When I look at the massive amount needed and how little I can give, I think, “It’s hardly worth trying.” Then, when I think about what we would have to give up from our limited family budget, I see a vacation evaporate, I see a new boat sail away over the horizon, I see fishing trips reduced, I see dental work delayed, and so on. It’s painful. It’s hard. Is it worth so much pain for such a little dent on this $5.8 million budget?

I need help to connect my faith and my finances and I believe God gives me that help in 1 Chronicles 29.

BACKGROUND

David wanted to build God a beautiful house for him to be worshipped in. Because David had been involved in so much military bloodshed, God told David that he could only gather the materials for a temple, but that his son Solomon would build it. In 1 Chronicles 29, David threw himself into this fundraising campaign. In doing so, he shows us how God connects faith and finances.

The heart of this chapter is the people’s joyful freewill giving to the Temple project (5, 6, 9, 14, 17). We’ll come back to that at the end, but I want us to focus mainly on the three truths that God connected with this giving.

How does God connect faith and finance?

1. IT’S GOD’S HOUSE (1-5)

David’s opening words are highly significant. Four times he emphasizes that this is about building a house for God. It’s not primarily for him or even for the people of Israel, but for God.

  • The palace will not be for man but for the Lord God (1)
  • So I have provided for the house of my God, so far as I was able (2)
  • Because of my devotion to the house of my God I give it to the house of my God (3)

David was reminding his hearers that although they would get benefit and blessing there, he doesn’t make it all about that. Rather, his appeal was based first and foremost on it being a place for God’s special presence, a place where God would make himself known, a place where God would draw near, a place God would be lifted up, a place that would be all about God. It would be a physical witness to all who passed by that God is, that God lives, that God is important, that God is worth it, that God is God.

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

We already have a beautiful and substantial sanctuary where God lives in a special way and is worshipped. God makes himself known in a unique way here, he draws especially near in the public worship of God’s people, he is lifted up as he is praised, prayed to, and proclaimed. Why shouldn’t we be satisfied with that? Why do we need a family ministry center?

The Temple had different areas for different purposes. There was the Holy of Holies (limited to the High Priest), and then there was the Holy Place (limited to the priests, there was the inner court (limited to the Jews), and there was an outer court (open to the Gentiles). Each of these areas had different purposes but they were all part of God’s building, God’s courts. The outer court was a place that outsiders could begin to know God and be introduced to the faith of the Bible. The inner court was a place for fellowship and service for God’s people. So, although the different areas had different purposes, they were all parts of God’s house and all were about making God known.

So although this project is not raising funds for a worship sanctuary, it is raising funds for God’s house. Although we trust that many in our church family and many outside the church will get blessing and benefit there, it’s first and foremost about being a place for God to work in his people and in those who are not yet his people.

So as we begin 2023, let’s connect our faith and our finances by reminding ourselves that it’s God’s house we’re giving to. It’s to make God known better in our church and community. It’s a place where we will proclaim him, praise him, pray to him, experience his nearness, and get training and education to serve him better everywhere. At a time when churches are shrinking and even closing, it’s an opportunity for us to build something that will be a physical witness to all who pass by: God is, God lives, God is important, God is worth it, God is God.

AS OUR HOUSE MAKES A STATEMENT ABOUT US
SO GOD’S HOUSE MAKES A STATEMENT ABOUT GOD

That’s one connection between faith and finance. Any others?

2. IT’S GOD’S MONEY (6-19)

Nine times David emphasized that all money and property is God’s. We are not owners and we’re not even co-owners. God alone is the owner of everything and we are simply stewards or managers of what he gives us for a time.

  • For all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord (11).
  • Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all (12).
  • For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you (14).
  • O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own (16).

Although David highlights the people’s giving, he ultimately traces it to God’s giving. They couldn’t give anything unless God had first given to them. They wouldn’t give anything unless they recognized that God had first given to them.

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

We should teach this vital truth to our children from their youngest years and constantly repeat it to them and to ourselves. There is nothing so hard to remember than that God is the owner of all my money, all my property, all my investment, and I am just a temporary manager who will one day have to give an account to the Owner.

When our bank statement or IRA statement or investment statement arrives, and we see our name on it, maybe we should simply score that out and replace it with “God.”

It doesn’t start being God’s money when we start earning a certain amount. It doesn’t stop being God’s money once we earn a certain amount. It’s God’s money from the first cent to the last million.

When we look at our houses, our properties, our cottages, our trailers, our boats, our toys, we should never look at them and say, “Look at all I have,” but rather, “Look at all God gave me.”

Or when we look at what we don’t have, our limited finances, the little savings and the tiny givings, we don’t say, “Look at how little I have,” but rather, “Look at what God has decided is best for me at this time in my life. I must be content and live within that constraint.”

This changes what we give and how we give. We no longer think, “What can I give to God?” but “What has God given me and how can I manage that best for him?”

SOME ARE SAVERS,
SOME ARE SPENDERS,
ALL ARE STEWARDS

That’s another connection between faith and finance. Any others?

3. IT’S GOD’S SALVATION (20-22) 

The people gave willingly, freely, cheerfully, not reluctantly, resentfully, or slowly. They began by offering themselves to the Lord and then their stuff.

  • Who then will offer willingly, consecrating himself today to the Lord?” Then the leaders of fathers’ houses made their freewill offerings (5-6).
  • Then the people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the Lord (9).
  • “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? (14)
  • In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you.

How was this possible? How did the channel between their faith and their finances connect so openly and powerfully. The channel of “It’s God’s house” opened the pipeline about 25%. The channel of “It’s God’s money” opened the sluice gate about another 25%. But the chapter climaxes by reminding us that “It’s God’s salvation” that burst the pipeline and overflowed in a gushing giving.

They ended with a massive tribute to the God who saved through the sacrifice of another to bring them into joyful eating and drinking fellowship with himself.

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

We give when we remember it’s God’s house. We give more when we remember it’s God’s money. We give most when we remember it’s God’s salvation.

Israel saw God’s salvation through the sacrifice of another in their place, but they only saw it in shadow form. The sacrifices were pictures of what they needed and God would provide to forgive them and bring them into his friendship and fellowship. But it was like watching a theater show without lights or microphones.

In the New Testament, God turned on the lights and gave his Son a microphone to proclaim his provision of salvation as clearly and loudly as possible.

When we get that salvation, we get giving willingly, freely, joyfully, whole-heartedly, and sincerely.

OUR FREEWILL GIVING IS FROM
GOD’S FREEWILL GIVING

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THE NEXT CHAPTTER

Giving is an opportunity to increase our spiritual riches. As we give, we learn more about God’s house, God’s money, and God’s salvation, and therefore also get more of God’s joy. As we experience cheerful giving, we experience what God’s heart is like in all its cheerful generosity, especially in giving us his Son and in his Son’s giving of himself.

Giving is an opportunity to increase others’ spiritual riches. As we give, we may have to deny ourselves certain expenditures and have opportunity to explain why to our children. We have an opportunity to proclaim the rich and enriching “Why?” to our community too. “It’s God’s house, it’s God’s money, and it’s God’s salvation.”

Prayer: Rich and enriching God, enrich my faith by helping me to give for the right reasons (for the truth) in the right way (with joy). Amen

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. What do your finances say about your faith?

2. What examples are there of Jesus speaking about money?

3. What hinders you from giving and how can you help yourself to give?

4. Which of the three truths will help you change the way you give and what you give?

5. How can we help our children learn these truths and give from an early age?

6. How much joy do you get in giving and how can you increase that joy?

PDF OF SERMON NOTES


Christmas Counseling: The Birth of Joy

INTRODUCTION

In my early twenties, I was involved (in a small way) in the launch of an innovative investment product. The financial services company I worked for in Scotland entered the Capital Investment Bond market rather late and realized that they needed extraordinary marketing if we were to get any slice of that business. The marketing geniuses devised a strategy that resulted in an incredibly successful CIB launch with record amounts invested. Their strategy centered on five factors:

  • Timing: They kept all the details back until launch day but dropped lots of hints and teasers in the pre-launch advertising with three colored boxes appearing everywhere (blue, green, pink)
  • Location: They chose Gleneagles Hotel for the launch, the most prestigious hotel in Scotland
  • Influencers: Every Financial Consultant was allowed to bring their three most profitable agents so that they would generate credibility and spread the word.
  • Branding: We entered an incredibly complex world of investment bonds with what was then a uniquely simple brand with three color coded funds: Safety (blue), Growth (green), Opportunity (pink).
  • Slogan: I can’t actually remember the slogan we used but I do remember the discussions centered around maximizing the promise without over-promising.

As I said at the beginning, it was one of the most successful launches ever with the marketing people winning several industry awards and accolades.

Which raises a question: Why did God choose the worst ever marketing for the best ever message? You might ask, “How can I say that? In Luke 2:8-20, we see how the worst marketing campaign was the best salvation campaign.

BACKGROUND

Our series on Christmas counseling has explained how the Christmas story can change our emotional story. The Christmas story of hope, peace, and love can give us hope instead of despair peace instead of anxiety, and love instead of lovelessness and loneliness. Today we’ll see how the Christmas story counsels us towards joy instead of sadness and depression.

What was so bad about the Gospel’s marketing?

1. THIS IS THE WORST MARKETING CAMPAIGN

The worst timing. Timing is everything in marketing. For example, you’re not going to sell many bathing suits in December no matter how good they are. It would be the wrong time. Yet God chose one of the worst times in Israel’s history to launch Jesus into the world. It was a humiliating time as the nation was under Roman subjugation and the people had given up hope of deliverance. It was an unexpected time, because although God had dropped many hints of a coming Savior in the Old Testament, he had been silent for 400 years and few had any expectancy of a Savior. There were no hints that this was night was going to be anything different when the angels suddenly appeared above the shepherds.

The worst location. Bethlehem was one of the most despised places in the nation. Five miles from prestigious Jerusalem, it lived in its shadow. In Micah 5:2, we’re told it was such a small and insignificant village that it didn’t even have enough people to make a clan or make the normal lists of Israel’s cities.

The worst influencers. If we were choosing influencers to get our message out, we would have chosen the Roman military first, the royal family second, and the Jewish religious establishment third. The last people we would have chosen would have been shepherds. They had no influence, they were not movers and shakers, they were not up and coming. They were uneducated, unskilled, underpaid, unwelcome, unclean, untrustworthy, and outside. Yet God chose the lowest of the low with the greatest announcement.

The worst brand. “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” That’s your brand? A poor baby in poor cloth in a poor stable in a poor trough? Really? No crown, no robes, no gold-plated crib. That’s your “sign”? Your logo? That’s how you want to be thought of?

The worst slogan. With all that’s gone before, we’re expecting a downbeat understated slogan. Yet what we get is such a contrast with all that’s happened so far. “Good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Talk about over-promising! It’s like selling a donkey by calling it “The Fastest Way to Travel.” It’s like putting a picture of snow-bombed West Michigan under the line “Sun and Fun.” Great news of Great Joy for Great Numbers” looks like the least credible slogan anyone could think of. It looks nothing like great news, great joy, or great numbers.

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

God’s thoughts are not our thoughts (Isa. 55:8-9). God doesn’t do things the way we would do them. He doesn’t think in the same way we think. He doesn’t judge the way we judge or work the way we work (Luke 16:15; 1 Cor. 1:26-29).

God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isa. 55:8-9). God’s anti-marketing because he’s pro-faith. He doesn’t want us won by worldly methods and manipulation but by faith in his Word and ways. He chose this approach to ensure than our faith stands in the power of God not the power of man (1 Cor. 2:5), so that no human being get’s any credit but only him (1 Cor. 1:29), and to change the way the world thinks.

GOD IS A SAVIOR NOT A SALESMAN,
JESUS IS THE MESSIAH NOT A MARKETER

How is this the best salvation campaign?

2. THE BEST SALVATION CAMPAIGN

How is the greatest salvation communicated in such a way that it promotes great joy to great numbers?

The joy of waiting ended. God had delivered his people many times in the past: from sinful enemies, sinful situations, and even some of sin’s consequences, but not from sin itself. But the long-awaited day of salvation had now arrived: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior.” What joy!

The joy of the Word confirmed. God had frequently promised a Savior and salvation in the Old Testament. The wait for that oft-promised salvation had been long (4000 years long) and spiritually testing. “Did God lie? Did God mean what he said? Has God forgotten? Can we trust God’s Word?” All these questions were answered with this Word confirming Promise-fulfilling announcement. What joy!

The joy of world blessing. Although this was announced to Jewish shepherds in a Jewish town with Jewish vocabulary. Yet, God also made crystal clear that salvation was now moving beyond the boundaries of his chosen people to all people. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” What joy!

The joy of wrath satisfied. God’s wrath was revealed frequently throughout the Old Testament. His anger was much more prominent than his mercy. If there was one thing the Old Testament accomplished, it was that people knew they were under God’s angry judgment and would face even worse when they died. But here God announces a special Savior who would save by taking and exhausting God’s anger until none was left for his people to suffer. What joy!

The joy of washing provided. As we saw a couple of weeks ago when looking at the meaning of ‘Jesus,’ ‘Savior’ did not only mean to be saved from sin’s punishment but from sin itself. God’s people would have the happiness of sins washed out of their heart and the happiness of holiness in its place. What joy!

The joy of the weak invited. Just in case the lowly shepherds thought they were not included in this announcement, or that they were only the messengers of it to others more deserving, the angel said, “For unto YOU is born this day!” You! Yes, you! Yes, you too! What joy!

The joy of worry over. For centuries people had worried about how much longer they had to wait, why the promises went unfulfilled, why God’s curse on the world was ongoing, how they could ever escape God’s wrath and their own sinful habits. Now, all these worries were over. “Fear not!” What joy!

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

God wants you to have joy through salvation. God gives great joy to great numbers and gets great joy when anyone has great joy in his great gifts and especially his greatest gift of salvation. God is not a kill-joy but a creator of joy.

The joy of salvation endures when every other evaporates. We can lose our health, friends, loved ones, money, mobility, jobs, freedom, everything, but still find joy in salvation, a joy which can increase as we age, and which will enter a whole new dimension when we die.

SALVATION IS CELEBRATION
JESUS IS JOY

 SUMMARY

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CHRISTMAS COUNSELING

Enjoy the deepest joy this Christmas. Take time to remember the joy of the Word kept, waiting over, world blessing, wrath satisfied, washing provided, the weak invited, and worry over. Whatever other joys you have, get these joys. Whatever joys you lack, get these joys.

Enjoy God’s “anti-marketing”. God chose anti-marketing because he was pro-sinner. He chose the best method and the best messengers for the best message.

Enjoy being a joy-giver. Just as God enjoyed announcing the joy of Jesus to the world, get joy by proclaiming the joy of Jesus this Christmas season.

Prayer. Jesus, you are our greatest joy, our deepest joy, our longest joy, our best joy, our forever joy. Give me your joy and more joy so that I can give your joy to others.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. How would you market salvation if you were an advertising executive?

2. In what other ways did God choose “anti-marketing” to get his message out?

3. Why did God choose anti-marketing and how does it help us?

4. Which of the joys under “The Best Salvation Campaign” is your greatest joy

5. What other joys do you find in salvation?

6. Who needs this joy in your life and how will you get it to them?

PDF OF SERMON NOTES


Christmas Counseling: The Birth of Love

INTRODUCTION

God made us for love and to love. God made us for his love and to love him. He made us to be loved by others and to love others. In the creation, he designed love, defined love, declared love, displayed love, demonstrated love, and donated love.

But when Adam and Eve sinned, love became rare, difficult, temporary, distorted, and unreliable. As history and the Old Testament records, many decades, centuries, and millennia passed with few experiencing true love as God intended it. Few experienced love by God or for God. Few experienced love by others or for others. There were bright though brief pockets of love here and there, but on the whole, the world was loveless, and even hate-full. But then, about 2000 years ago:

Love came down at Christmas,
love all lovely, Love divine;
Love was born at Christmas;
star and angels gave the sign.

Christmas is a time to rediscover the love of God and love for God. In an often loveless and even hate-full world we can re-experience the love of God and love for God. How can we experience love in the birth of Christ?

BACKGROUND

Our text is a simple historical description of the birth of Christ. It’s probably the greatest understatement in the whole world. It wouldn’t capture much attention in our headline-driven, click-bait, sensation-seeking world. It wouldn’t get many likes, loves, hearts, or shares. And yet it’s God saying, “I like you, I love you, I heart you, I want to share my life with you.” So let’s look behind the simple historical narrative. Let’s pick up the baby Jesus in our arms and unwrap him, and as we do, we will hold and unwrap love, we will discover and experience love in the birth of Christ.

How can we experience love in the birth of Christ?

1.WE LOVE HIS ALL-LOVELY EYES

As we pick up this all-lovely love, before we even begin to unwrap him, we see his all-lovely eyes and all-loving eyes. His eyes are ordinary human eyes, but they are also extraordinary divine eyes. Through them God is looking at the world with love, and we are looking at God and his love.

These eyes would see scenes of utter cruelty, yet stay-all lovely and all-loving. These eyes would weep tears from pain, tears of loss, tears of disappointment, tears of loneliness, yet stay all-lovely and all-loving. These eyes would weep over the death of his friend Lazarus, and over the unbelief of his enemies in Jerusalem. These eyes would widen with welcome when they saw sinners come to him, with joy when he saw his disciples follow him, with gratitude when he saw people believe in him, with delight when he saw others serve him.

These eyes would see his closest disciples betray him, deny him, and abandon him, yet they stayed all-lovely and all-loving. These eyes would look to heaven in his darkest moment and see nothing of his Father’s love, yet they stayed all-lovely and all-loving. These eyes would close in death, stay closed for three days and nights, yet stayed all-lovely and all-loving. These eyes would open again in the grave, adjust to the darkness, then walk out into the light of Easter Sunday morning squinting then opening wide as he saw a new world, a new people, and a new experience for himself. These eyes were born all-lovely and stayed-all-lovely for 33 years.

He still has these all-lovely eyes in heaven right now. Can you imagine what they look like. One day, you don’t have to imagine. You will see him face to face. Our loved ones who are with him in glory saw these all-lovely eyes when they died and can see them every day forever.

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

Do you love his all-lovely eyes? As they look at you with love this morning, do you look back at them with love?

Will you love with his all-lovely eyes? As they look at you and as you look at them, your eyes cannot but change so that they become increasingly lovely and loving to others.

HIS EYES CHANGE OUR EYES

What else do we see as we unwrap this baby?

2. WE LOVE HIS ALL-LOVELY MOUTH

We pull back the swaddling clothes to see his all-lovely mouth. Just as with our own mouths, his mouth had four functions: facial expressions (body language), speech (verbal language), eating/drinking, and kissing.

Facial expressions. Human facial expressions are one of the most important non-verbal ways we communicate. With 43 different muscles, our faces are capable of making more than 10,000 expressions. The mouth is one of the primary communicators of body language. The tiniest little twitches can communicate massive internal changes of opinion or mood. That all-lovely baby-mouth would become an all-lovely child’s mouth, teen’s mouth, and adult mouth. It would communicate his all-lovely love perfectly throughout his life. Wouldn’t you love to have seen his smile?

Speech. No mouth ever spoke such words of love. It wasn’t the quantity of his words but the quality of them. He only ever spoke truth. He knew when was the time to speak and when was the time to be silent. His words were not always gentle and mild. Sometimes they were direct and convicting. Sometimes he had to speak to the Pharisees and sometimes to the devil. But even these words are all-lovely to us and an expression of his love to us.

Eating/Drinking. Even his eating and drinking are all lovely and all loving to us. Although it was intended as an insult or accusation, we hear the Pharisees say, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:1), we hear this and see his all-lovely and all-loving mouth. We see him instituting the Lord’s Supper and eating and drinking the bread and the wine with his disciples. As he ate the bread and drank the wine, he knew what that meant for him in a very few hours. No one understood the Lord’s Supper like the Lord of the Supper. We see his mouth being tortured with vinegar wine in his thirstiest moment. We see him proving his resurrection to his doubting disciples by eating fish on the shore with them. How his disciples saw his all-lovely mouth in these moments.

Kissing. A kiss on the cheek was a normal greeting between friends in that culture. It was a way of expressing a special affection. His kisses must have been so full of love. Then we see him accepting even the kiss of Judas out of love.

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

Do you love his all-lovely mouth? By faith in the Gospel story we can see his mouth: its expressions, it’s words, it’s eating and drinking, and its kisses. We see them crying in a manger, crying on the cross, silent in the grave, saying “All hail” at his resurrection. Love his all-lovely mouth.

Will you love with an all-lovely mouth? As you pull back the swaddling and see his all-lovely mouth, your mouth will change in its expressions, its words, in who you invite to your table in hospitality, and in how you express your love through kisses.

HIS MOUTH CHANGES OUR MOUTHS

What do we see when we pull the clothes back further?

3. WE LOVE HIS ALL-LOVELY HANDS

We see beautiful little baby hands with their perfect little nails, their cute little wrinkles. Mary puts her finger in his palm, and she feels God grip her hand in love.

  • These hands would work hard around the house, helping his mother in his chores his dad in the workshop
  • These hands would work hard in the workshop of his carpenter dad as he learned his trade.
  • These hands would stretch out all day long to a disobedient people.
  • These hands would reach out and beckon, “Come to me all you who labor and I will give you rest.”
  • These hands would touch lepers and cleanse them.
  • These hands would touch the eyes of the blind and give them sight.
  • These hands would lift the corpse of a 12-year-old girl to life.
  • These hands would touch the heads of children with warmth and welcome them when no one else did.
  • These hands would patiently write in the sand while hypocritical Pharisees slinked away.
  • These hands would clasp and pray desperately to his heavenly Father in the Garden of Gethsemane.
  • These hands would hold and drag his cross until he could hold it no longer.
  • These hands would be pierced with nails and hung on the cross.
  • These hands would lie still in the tomb.
  • These hands would break bread with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, revealing who he really was.
  • These hands would raise in blessing his disciples as he ascended to heaven.
  • These hands welcome every saved sinner who enters heaven.

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

Do you love his all-lovely hands? Do you see them working for you, welcoming you, cleansing you, touching you, praying for you, carrying the cross for you, pierced for you, offering life to you, blessing you?

Will you love with all-lovely hands? Whether you have infant hands, child’s hands, teen hands, adult hands, old, wrinkly, and arthritic hands, you’ve been given them to love like Jesus loved.

HIS HANDS CHANGE OUR HANDS

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CHRISTMAS COUNSELING

We were made to love and be loved by God. If you don’t have love, find it and receive it through the all-lovely love of Jesus. As you get his all-lovely love you will increasingly have all-lovely love for him.

We were made to love and be loved by others. The Christmas season is an opportunity for the church and even world to reset and remember the all lovely love of Jesus. What a difference this makes in our love-less and hate-full world. As the last verse of the song says:

Love shall be our token;

love be yours and love be mine;
love to God and others,
love for plea and gift and sign.

Prayer: Altogether lovely one, love me so I can love you and others in a loveless love-desperate world.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. How has Christ’s love changed the way you love and experience love?

2. What do you most love about Christ’s humanity?

3. How did Christ love with his brain? his feet? his ears?

4. In what other ways did Christ love with his eyes/mouth/hands?

5. How does Christ’s humanity change your humanity?

6. Who will you love with your eyes/mouth/hands this week?

PDF OF SERMON NOTES


Christmas Counseling: The Birth of Hope

INTRODUCTION

Overall life expectancy in America has fallen each year for the past three years. The last time this happened was 1918. Over the past two decades, deaths of despair from suicide, drug overdose, and alcoholism have risen dramatically, and now claim hundreds of thousands of American lives each year—and they’re still rising.

Last year the CDC reported more than 100,000 drug overdose deaths during a 12-month period, a 28.5% increase over the prior year. Most of these deaths were attributed to the use of opioids by middle-aged white men. 911 calls for opioid-related use increased 250% between 2019 and early 2020. The key driver is economic misery combined with a sense that nobody in their community or in government cares for them. Other factors such as poverty, illness, chronic pain, inflation, healthcare costs, debt, all combine to produce a sense of hopelessness and helplessness in many. Little wonder that only 43% of US adult citizens believe that “The American Dream” still exists. A third say there is no such thing.

It’s not just middle-aged and old people. In an Atlantic article, Why American Teens Are So Sad, Derek Thompson reports that “The United States is experiencing an extreme teenage mental-health crisis. From 2009 to 2021, the share of American high-school students who say they feel “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” rose from 26 percent to 44 percent…This is the highest level of teenage sadness ever recorded.”

Where can we find hope in a hopeless world? The Christmas story of hope can change our story of despair.

BACKGROUND

Our text is found in the closing words of Zechariah’s song (Luke 1:67-79). Zechariah was married to Elizabeth. Although they had been childless into their old age, God promised Zechariah a son (John the Baptist) who would be great in the sight of God and prepare the way for God’s salvation. When Zechariah expressed skepticism about this, God disciplined him with the inability to speak (Luke 1:5-23). When John was born and Zechariah gave him the name God wanted, God restored his ability to speak (57-65). As people questioned what was so special about this child, Zechariah composed this divinely inspired song (66-79).

What’s happened to hope?

1. HOPE IS DYING

‘”…those living in darkness and in the shadow of death” (79)

Living in darkness

Zechariah lived in dark times. It was politically dark as the Romans had subjugated and occupied Israel. It was spiritually dark as there had been no new revelation of God for 400 years. It was personally dark as Zechariah had reached old age and still had no children, a painful stigma in that culture.

Dying in darkness

Zechariah was old and coming towards the end of his life. As a believer he had some hope of life after death, but that hope was based upon Old Testament shadow truths and therefore could only generate shadowy hope.

Although Zechariah had some glimmers of hope for himself, when he looked around he saw a people not just living in darkness but living in the shadow of death. Death cast a long shadow over their lives. Most had little or no hope of salvation in this life and little or no hope of life after death. However much light they may have enjoyed at times in their lives, they could not escape the brevity of life, the finality of death, and the uncertainty about what was next.

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

Is your life dark and hopeless? Do you wonder what’s the point in life? What is there to live for? Is life worth the bother? Maybe you had hope at one point in your life, but life events and experiences have drained that hope and filled you with despair. You see nothing ahead that looks bright, that looks as if things could change for you. Further, when you look beyond your own life, you see hopeless darkness in the nation, in the culture, in the economy. You are living in darkness.

Is your death dark and hopeless? You try to avoid thinking about death, but when you do, it’s like a dark hole. You try to avoid it, but sometimes its shadow falls across your life. You fear dying, death, and what’s after death. You’re not sure you’re going to heaven and are anxious that you could be going to hell. Or maybe, you despair that death is the end of your existence. But you just don’t know. The end and what may be after is just dark and unknowable. You are dying, or fear dying, in darkness.

The helpless are hopeless
the hopelesss are helpless

My hope is dying, or maybe even dead.
Is there anything that can resurrect hope?

2. HOPE IS BORN

“…because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death” (78).

The Son rises and shines on dark lives

Zechariah looked forward to the arrival of the Messiah as if looking for a sunrise after a dark night. As he looked to the horizon he saw the most beautiful rising sun he’s ever seen in his life. It’s a gift of heaven to earth, from God to humanity. Because of his tender mercy, God looked down and saw how many had dark lives and dark deaths and sent his Son as his sun to shine into that dark hopelessness.

The burst of heavenly sunlight that rose in the stable of Bethlehem gave hope to those in darkness. It gave hope that God keeps his promises, hope that God has a plan and is in control, hope that good will triumph over evil, hope that God loves us, cares for us, and wants us to know his tender mercy, hope that God will do whatever it takes to make life purposeful and meaningful.

The Son rises and shines on dark deaths

While this baby’s birth gave hope for those living in darkness, it also gave hope to those dying in darkness. His life and death purchased and provided salvation through the forgiveness of sins. His life, death and resurrection was like a flashlight that went before them in life and death. The shadow of death has been shrunk, lightened, and lessened. The baby born in Bethlehem shines his light on our path, giving us hope of a bright and eternal future.

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

We have bright hope about life. The Baby of Bethlehem assures us that God is in control, rules over our darkness, has a purpose in the darkness, and will eventually show us the bright light of his purpose. The Baby of Bethlehem may not change our circumstances but he does change the way we view them and live through them. The Baby of Bethlehem assures us that whether or not anyone else loves us, God does and does so with tender mercy,

We have bright hope about death. We need not live in fear of death, dying, or what’s after death. “The appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus…abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10). Christian hope is a realistic expectation of and joyful longing for future good and glory based on the reliable Word of God. That’s my hope, what’s your hope?

The hope of heaven
gives hope on earth

SUMMARY

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CHRISTMAS COUNSELING

When hope counsels us we have optimism instead of pessimism, energy instead of lethargy, joy instead of sadness, power instead of weakness, belonging instead of alienation, possibilities instead of problems, self-care instead of self-harm, praise instead of criticism, progress instead of backsliding, ripe fruit instead of bare branches, resilience instead of defeatism. silver linings not just dark clouds, expectation instead of regret, motivation instead of moping.

Hope actually increases our overall physical health too as scientists have found that positive emotions such as hope affect our cells, tissues, and organs and ultimately our health and mortality. Hope is infectious and encourages other sagging Christians as well as making non-Christians ask us for the reason of our hope.

Prayer: God of hope, shine the hope of Christ into our hopeless lives to increase our physical health, our emotional wealth, and our spiritual usefulness.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. Where do you land on the despair-hope scale (with 10 being maximum hope)?

2. What affects your levels of despair or hope?

3. How hopeful are you about your life? Your death?

4. How has Jesus increased your hope in life and in death?

5. How do you build and strengthen your hope?

6. Who do you know that you can counsel with the hope of this message?

PDF OF SERMON NOTES


Stop Trying and Start Trusting

INTRODUCTION

Do you remember the time you first realized you were saved by grace alone. Do you remember the joy, the laughter, the exhilaration of embracing salvation through faith in Christ? Do you remember the relief, the liberty, the freedom you experienced when you realized that God was offering you a salvation that had zero contribution from you? Do you ever wonder where that joy has gone? What happened to that exhilaration that spiritual high? Do you ever wish you could get it back again? Are you asking, How do I recover the joy of my salvation? Paul has a surprising answer for us in Romans 4:1-12.

BACKGROUND

In general terms we can summarize the first three chapters of Romans as follows:

  • Chapter 1. The Gentiles are guilty
  • Chapter 2. The Jews are guilty
  • Chapter 3:1-19. Everyone’s guilty
  • Chapter 3:20-31. Get from deadly guilt to healthy joy through faith in Jesus.

Paul got us from deadly guilt to healthy joy by introducing us to seven characters (see previous sermon). But how do I stay joyful? How do I restore my joy? How do I increase my joy? Paul answers by introducing us to two other characters, Mr Abraham and Mr David.

What can we learn from Mr Abraham?

1. FOLLOW THE EXAMPLE OF ABRAHAM

Paul attacked opponents of justification by faith with what they thought was their strongest argument: Abraham (1). Jewish teachers regarded Abraham as perfectly righteous by his own works. Paul conceded that if the Jews were correct, then Abraham had a reason to boast (and therefore all who follow his example do also). But Paul rejects that hypothetical (2), arguing his point by appealing to what the Old Testament said about Abraham.

Abraham believed God (3)

When it comes to salvation, everyone believes. We just vary in what we believe. Some believe in themselves: their riches, wisdom, goodness, or pedigree. Some believe in the church or religion. Some believe in science. Some believe in an idol. Some believe there’s nothing to believe in. Everyone believes; we just differ in what we believe in.

What about Abraham? He believed God (Gen. 15:6). It’s as simple and straightforward as that. He put no faith in anything or anyone other than God. God was the sole and only object of his faith. It wasn’t God +, or God *, or God-, or “God but…” It was God completely, totally, simply, and exclusively. It wasn’t just faith in God’s Word but faith in God personally and relationally. He didn’t just believe there was a God but believed in (into) God.

The literal translation of “believed” in Genesis 15:6 is “kept on Amen-ing.” Abraham kept on believing, kept on considering as reliable, kept on trusting the Trustworthy.” This was not a new faith but a new exercise of a faith begun in the past (Gen 12:1-4; Heb. 11:8).

God justified Abraham (3)

Just as Gen 15:6 was not the first time Abraham believed, it was not the first time Abraham was justified by faith. It was the first time Abraham’s faith in God’s promise of a Seed was revealed in the Bible (Gal. 3:16). It was the first time God openly attested his justification. Whenever that first moment of of “God-alone-faith” connected Abraham with God, something miraculous happened. The whole of God’s righteousness transferred irrevocably to Abraham’s account. God declared Abraham just, righteous, perfect, and accepted. That wasn’t a lie because God actually credited Abraham’s account with his righteousness. That’s the “it” in this verse. The “it” was not Abraham’s faith but what Abraham’s faith was in: God’s righteousness.

God justifies all believers (9-12)

We’ll come back to David’s experience in verses 6-8 in a moment, but let’s jump down to Paul’s application of the Abraham story in verses 9-12. Anticipating that some Gentiles might say, “Well this gracious salvation is only for the circumcised,” Paul reminded them that Abraham believed and was justified before he was circumcised and therefore a massive encouragement to the uncircumcised (9-11). But the Jews were also to learn from Abraham’s example not to put their faith in their circumcision but to follow the faith of Abraham in God alone (12).

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

There are only two ways to be saved (4-5). Working for God or not working for God. Wages or gift. God owes us a debt or God pays our debts. Deserved or undeserved. Works or faith. Justifying ourselves or justified by God. Rewarded or redeemed. Which is the happiest way? It also happens to be the only way.

Believers have the whole of God’s righteousness. As soon as you believe, the whole of God’s righteousness is transferred to your account and it’s an irrevocable transfer. When God counts you righteous, he’s not lying.

Any other Old Testament character to support this?

2. FEEL THE EXPERIENCE OF DAVID

Paul then turned to the experience of David not only to further assure the Romans of salvation apart from their works but to experience the blessed joys in this way of salvation

Just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin” (6-8).

Paul encourages his readers to enter into four blessed joys:

  • The blessed joy of Christ’s perfect character and conduct being counted as ours (6).
  • The blessed joy of not contributing one good work to our salvation (7)
  • The blessed joy of getting all our evil works forgiven and covered (7)
  • The blessed joy of God not counting our evil works against us (8)

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

Quadruple your joy at the beginning of each day. Before you start the day, follow Abraham’s example to feel David’s experience. Nothing you do or fail to do can increase or decrease your righteousness account.

Quadruple your joy at the end of each day. As you close your eyes, reflecting on the days successes and failures, let faith in Christ give you joy in Christ. Nothing you did or didn’t do, increased or reduced your account.

Quadruple your joy when you fall and fail. Don’t wait until you feel better or do better, but believe and be justified as soon as you sin. Let faith determine your feelings rather than feelings determine your faith.

Quadruple your joy when you remember past sin. For some of us, when we look back on our lives, we remember a particularly sinful time or moment and shame steals our joy. If anyone was vulnerable here, it was David, and yet he used four joys to overwrite the pain of that memory.

Quadruple your joy when you feel worthless. Maybe childhood or domestic abuse has made you feel you are worth nothing. Perhaps it’s bullying at school. Maybe it’s that you are not as clever or gifted or successful as others. Or could be you feel lonely and forgotten.

Quadruple your joy when you are dying. Whether thinking about our death or actually dying, death scares us. Sometimes it’s fear of the process, but sometimes it’s fear about whether we’ll go to heaven or hell when we do die. Every thought about whether we are good enough drains joy and fills with fear. Every thought about whether Christ is good enough fills with joy and drains fear.

YOU CAN TRUST TRYING
OR TRY TRUSTING

SUMMARY

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A NEW CHAPTER

Stop. Stop trying and start trusting. Trying harder is hard. Trusting harder is easy. Please don’t take another step of life until you stop trying (even 1%) and start trusting (100%).

Restore. Restore joy to your faith by restoring your faith in Jesus. The more you try to find joy in what you’ve done, the less you will find joy in what he’s done (and vice versa).

Practice. Practice joy-restoring faith this week. As soon as you sin, remind yourself, you have not lost one ounce of God’s righteousness in your account. You are as righteous after you sin as before you sinned. See how much joy that gives you.

Prayer. Joyful Savior, you save joyfully to give us a joyful salvation. Please restore the joy of my salvation by helping me to follow Abraham’s example of faith and David’s experience of joy.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. What was your greatest joy when you were first saved?

2. On a scale of 0-10, how would you rate your present level of joy in your salvation?

3. What has reduced your joy and what have you tried to restore it?

4. What is justification? See Heidelberg 60-64 and Shorter Catechism 33.

5. How much of God’s righteousness is yours right now?

6. Which of David’s four joys is your greatest joy?

PDF OF SERMON NOTES