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Great Expectations

The people were waiting expectantly… -Luke 3:15  

“Great Expectations”

I read about a man who left a relative $1 million.  In return, the relative thoroughly cursed the man.  The reason—the man was Andrew Carnegie and he left $365 million to public charities.
This was a problem of expectations—he expected more.

One day a father told his son,
“Don’t swim in that canal.”
“O.K. Dad”
That evening he came home caring a wet bathing suit.
“Where have you been?” demanded the father.
“Swimming in the canal,” answered the boy.
“Didn’t I tell you not to swim there?” asked the father.
“Yes, sir.”
“Why did you?”
“Well, Dad,” he explained, “I had my bathing suit with me and I couldn’t resist the temptation.”
“Why did you take your bathing suit with you?”  he asked.
“So I’d be prepared to swim, in case I was tempted,”…

          To a great extent, our actions are determined by expectations.
So, our expectations affect our satisfaction with life and with people and how we act. Therefore it should not surprise us that expectations play a large role in our lives—spiritually. Notice the words of our text, “As the people were in expectation.”

It is no accident that promises play such a large role in God’s dealings with people and his  plan.  Every major event in the history of God’s redemptive action is preceded by a promise.  People were told over and over to expect certain actions on God’s part—at times against overwhelming odds.

God is THE God of Promise,
His People, THE people of Expectancy

The expectation often had bearing on the event.  Expectation has a close relationship to desire and is an element of faith.  How much do we want God?  What do we expect from him are important factors in our spiritual health.
It is of course  true that what happened was different from the details of what was expected—God’s surprises—but it was believing God would, as we say, “do God’s thing.”

As we have already seen, there are good and bad expectations—we might say holy and unholy ones.  The unholy ones when frustrated can cause bitterness, disappointment, frustration, and anger. Perhaps the most common form of unholy expectation is worry. Robert Frost once said, “The reason why worry kills more people than work is that more people worry than work.”

But there are the holy ones—the real “Great Expectations” and they make   a profound difference in our lives. Here are some of the most basic for the believer:

EXPECT TO BE RID OF YOUR SINS. That is God’s ultimate goal for you. The angel said to Joseph, “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
EXPECT RESISTANCE/OPPOSITION (In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”-John 16:33)
EXPECT TO GROW (Romans 5:3-5) God will take you to another stage in your journey.
EXPECT TO SEE GOD WORK. He promises daily renewal and final victory.

So in 2019, worship God with heart and mind, and spirit. Tell Him you love him. Praise His glory, His goodness.  Keep on singing, praying and listening. Do all of this with Great Expectations.

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Don’t Forget. He Died for You

“They crucified him….Jesus said, “It is finished.” –John 19:18, 30

Strangely enough, many Christians will arrive next Sunday at Easter having missed any real talk about the cross/Jesus’ death. Yesterday was Palm Sunday and in many churches that was the focus of the service. Unless, a special service on Thursday or Friday is attended (which for a majority of Christians is unlikely) little mention of the cross will be made. That is a major distortion of the Gospel message.

The New Testament is clear we are saved by Jesus’ death. Consider just a few examples:
— Jesus’ own words on the cross- “It is finished.”
— We are “reconciled by his death.”
— We are “baptized into his death.”
— In communion- “we proclaim the Lord’s death.”
— He “suffered for our sins.”

Easter may be more exciting and more appealing but the message is “he died for me and for you.” (Romans 5:8)

Of course, Easter, the resurrection, needs to be proclaimed and celebrated. In no way should it be minimized or diminished. However, without the cross, an essential element is missing. The early Christians did not disconnect the resurrection from the crucifixion. Without a real understanding of Jesus’ death Easter loses its meaning.

 

More Than I Ask For

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think. -Ephesians 3:20

As I was thinking about Thanksgiving, I came across the following story:

“In A Second Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul, Rev. John R. Ramsey tells how in one church a certain person provided him with a rose boutonniere for the lapel of his suit every Sunday. At first he really appreciated it but then it sort of became routine. Then one Sunday it became very special.  As he was leaving the Sunday Service a young boy walked up to him and said, “Sir, what are you going to do with your flower?”  At first the preacher didn’t know what the boy was talking about. When it sank in, he pointed to the rose on his lapel and asked the boy, “Do you mean this?”

The boy said, “Yes, sir. If you’re just going to throw it away, I would like it.”

The preacher smiled and told him he could have the flower and then casually asked what he was going to do with it. The boy, who was probably no more than 10 years old, looked up at the preacher and said, “Sir, I’m going to give it to my granny. My mother and father divorced last year. I was living with my mother, but she married again, and wanted me to live with my father.  I lived with him for a while, but he said I couldn’t stay, so he sent me to live with my grandmother. She is so good to me. She cooks for me and takes care of me. She has been so good to me that I wanted to give her that pretty flower for loving me.”

When the little boy finished, the preacher could hardly speak. His eyes filled with tears and he knew he had been touched by God. He reached up and unpinned the rose. With the flower in his hand, he looked at the boy and said, “Son, that is the nicest thing that I’ve ever heard but you can’t have this flower because it’s not enough. If you’ll look in front of the pulpit, you’ll see a big bouquet of flowers. Different families buy them for the Church each week. Please take those flowers to your granny because she deserves the very best.”

Then the boy made one last statement which Rev. Ramsey said he will always treasure. The boy said, “What a wonderful day! I asked for one flower but got a beautiful bouquet.”*

Isn’t it amazing that God gives us a bouquet when we ask for one flower, that is, more than we ask for? He not only gives us more than we ask for but more than we can even think about or imagine. Our ability to ask or imagine does not limit what God has in mind for us.

As we gather with family or friends and express gratitude for specific blessings, remember this. No matter how much we identify things for which we are grateful, they only scratch the surface of what God offers.


*John R. Ramsey, Second Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul. 
Adapted by Billy D. Strayhorn, Sermon: "The Gratitude Attitude"

Just Like Us

He…[was] fully human in every way. –Hebrews 2:17

Several weeks ago, while visiting a church out of state, I heard a sermon that has had me thinking ever since (watch it here). Now being a preacher for more than 40 years, that’s a high compliment for a sermon.

Specifically, it highlighted Jesus as a human being—nothing unusual there. Orthodox Christians have always maintained that Jesus is both God and human. But in my experience, as a practical matter, the emphasis rests on Jesus as God (“who being in very nature God”-Phil. 2:6). We believe that is crucial to our hope.

The sermon was “When Uncertainty Comes.” And it specifically related it to Jesus. What that sermon did was remind me that to forget Jesus is “fully human in every way” (Hebrews 2:17) misses an important part of the good news about him. So as we journey through the season of Lent, I’ve been trying to grasp some of what that might mean.

I’m acquainted with human struggles as are all of you, some of us more than others. I have observed suffering but thankfully not experienced very much. My wife, Alana, knows pain as a constant companion and has for a good part of her life. Others experience hunger, fear, persecution and every imaginable human misery.

What we need to know and what the Bible tells us is that Jesus knew it all personally. Everything it meant to be human he experienced, with one exception—sin. And “because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested” (Hebrews 2:18). I don’t know your personal struggle—uncertainty, physical pain, emotional turmoil, betrayal or questions about life, about God, or anything else. Even death, he knows. And because he knows, he can help. And because he loves, he will help. Maybe he will deliver you from the struggle but maybe deliver you in the struggle.

Just call for help.

Thanks Giving-Why?

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth… Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. -Psalms 100:1a, 4 (NIV)

A few years ago, I wrote a post (Thanks Giving Is What We Do) that was a reminder of the main reason we are to give thanks. It is the most basic Christian action.  Failure to give thanks is the basic charge against the “ungodly” and “wicked in the Bible.

But there is another reason for giving thanks. Giving thanks changes us.

It brings us joy. Grateful people get more out of life.  In a best selling book, “Thanks! How The New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier,” author and researcher Dr. Robert Emmons argues that what gives life meaning is gratitude.

Emmons, a University of California, Davis professor, backs up his claim with eight years of intensive research on gratitude…. [He] found that people who view life as a gift and consciously acquire an “attitude of gratitude” will experience multiple advantages. Gratitude improves emotional and physical health, and it can strengthen relationships and communities. “Without gratitude, life can be lonely, depressing and impoverished,” said Emmons. “Gratitude enriches human life. It elevates, energizes, inspires and transforms. People are moved, opened and humbled through expressions of gratitude.” (www.gratitudepower.net/science)

In the Biblical record thanks giving is joy. Grace, gratitude, and joy come from the same basic Greek word. Someone has said, “Joy is what you feel when you’re grateful….[It] is the subjective experience of gratitude.” Many lack joy because they are not grateful.

As I emphasized in that earlier post that it is not just about feeling grateful but actively “giving,” expressing thanks, verbally or by deeds motivated by gratitude. In fact expressing thanks makes us grateful. Actions often precede attitudes and feelings.

Of course for those who follow Jesus, the recipient of thanks is God. Words closely connected to it are praise and magnify. Some time ago I read this:

If you were to look at the words on this page through a magnifying glass, it would not change their size, shape, or meaning in any way. All that would change would be your perception, and the words would appear larger and clearer.  So it is when you praise or magnify God. He isn’t changed, but your perception of Him is – you see Him in a new light, from a new perspective, and more clearly.1

So don’t just feel it. Say it, express it. Thank you God!

1CrossWalk.com

Always Encouraging

Encourage one another daily. (Hebrews 3:13)

Since I attended the University of Iowa and spent more than thirty years of my life in Iowa, I was especially interested when Iowa played Duke in the NCAA basketball tournament some years ago. You see I have been a Duke fan for all my life. When Duke won the game I’ll never forget the reaction of some of the Iowa players. The thing that impressed them about the Duke team was “They’re always encouraging each other.” Not they’re great shooters or rebounders or ball handlers but they encouraged each other.

Encouragement is a powerful element for success in any facet of life. And nowhere is that more true than in the life of living for Jesus, being Christian. As you read about the early Christians in the book of Acts you get this refrain “they encouraged” one another.
Just one of many examples: “Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said good-by.”

Sisters/Bothers, God has made provision for Monday morning, for the discouragement that lurks around the corner, for the draining effect of the battle. It is encouragement. That is the primary ministry that we are to have to one another—“always encouraging.”