Thursday, December 14, 2006

Advent Series: “Hope For Ordinary People” - Talk: “Strange Messengers”


Do you remember the stress you felt in elementary school when they had to pick teams for any sport? There were two things you wanted:

1. You wanted to be picked on the good team 2. You didn’t want to get picked last!

I have a vague faint memory of when I was in elementary school and they were picking teams for kick ball. I remember watching other kids getting picked and starting to get that sick realization that there were less and less people standing next to me.

You stand there watching who’s getting picked and you think “Man! They just picked Tim! He’s lame at kick ball. They must think I really suck!” I remember being the last one chosen and thinking, “Man! I didn’t get picked – they got STUCK with me!?!”

Not getting picked isn’t cool. But let’s be real for a second…

When you want to win at anything what type of person do you pick? (Give your real answers) Skilled or unskilled? Strong or weak? Fast or slow?

When you want to influence someone or a group who do you pick? (Real answers!)
Popular or not? Extroverted or Introverted? Powerful or not?

Who you choose for your team reveals:

1. What you’re trying to accomplish
2. Who you’re trying to reach
3. Who you think is important.

Who you choose says a lot more about YOU and your goals than it does about the person you’re choosing!

We just started this Advent series last week and began looking at the Biblical Christmas story - the first coming of Jesus. I’m calling this series “Hope For Ordinary People”. There’s something strangely hopeful in the people God choose to use for one of his greatest miracles everGod entering his creation.

The Christmas story is God’s answer to everyone throughout history who has ever said, “If God’s real then why doesn’t he show himself!” He finally did!

But the problem is that the way God came to us and the people he chose to use are so opposite of the way we’d do it that most of the world missed it!

The Apostle John says it like this in John 1:10

10 But although the world was made through him, the world didn't recognize him when he came.

I spoke in a chapel service at my son Jack’s school this week in front of preschool thru 8th graders. It’s a hard group to speak to, cause you have such little kids mixed in with 8th graders, but it’s fun.

When I was there I asked them... “If you were trying to spread the real Christmas story to the most people- people of all different ages, races, rich & poor – how would you do it?”

Guess what their answers were? They said answers like: put an ad in a newspaper, make a tv commercial, publish a book, etc. I didn’t asked them what people they would chose to spread the story, but I bet they would’ve chose rich, famous and influential people.

The amazing thing is God DIDN’T use the methods or the people we would’ve. That’s what gives us hope as ordinary people! I told them something I want you to think about today…

You can tell a lot about God not just by who he chose to use, but also by who he didn’t choose!

Last week my father-in-law talked about Mary and Joseph. They were this young, poor couple that God decided to use to bring Jesus into the world through. They weren’t rich. They weren’t powerful. They weren’t even well-known.

They were just regular, everyday people and God chose them for his team!

Today, I want to look at who God chose to be first people to hear the good news that Jesus had been born. These are the people he chose to first spread the news to other people.

If you think about it, this choice of who to tell first was a really important choice for God to make!

Every marketer nowadays is talking about word-of-mouth marketing and viral marketing. They all want to pick the right people to tell the right message, so it will spread to the right people they want to reach.

I’ve told you about Seth Godin before. He’s best-selling author/marketer. He wrote a book back in 2000 called, “Unleashing The Ideavirus”. This book is all about how to choose the right people to get your message to the right people.

In Unleashing The Ideavirus Seth says this…

“… the future belongs to marketers who establish a foundation and process where interested people can market to each other. Ignite consumer networks and then get out of the way and let them talk.”

Later he talks about his ideavirus concept and he says…

“What’s critical in the analysis is understanding that some folks are dead ends, while others will enable and amplify your ideavirus.” He later talks about people he calls “Sneezers”. He says, “Sneezers are the ones who when they tell ten or twenty or 100 people—people believe them.”

What I want you to understand is that the people God chooses to “show” and “tell” about Jesus’ birth seem like an awkward choice. They almost seem to be a mistake! They’re the opposite of who anybody in that day expected God to choose. Let’s look at the story in Luke 2:8-20

8That night some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord's glory surrounded them.

Think about this…

God is so excited to tell the good news – that the savior has been born. This is what Israel has been waiting for centuries. He’s so excited! He wants everyone to know and so he thinks about who to break the news to first and who does he pick? Shepherds!

God wanted to create some word-of-mouth and instead of starting with influential people at the top, or religious leaders, he picks shepherds out in the field!?! But remember… WHO you choose reveals a lot about YOU and your goals! What does this choice reveal about God?

Choosing them would mean that the word would spread among the bottom portion of their society first. God chose the shepherds because he wanted the message of hope to start with the everyday people! When I get some good news I want to tell everyone, but I always tell people who are important to me first!

Side thought:
God most have a strange soft spot in his heart for shepherds. David was one. Jesus later used shepherds as a way to describe his relationship to us (us=sheep/him= great shepherd).

Let me make sure you understand something before I keep going…

God ISN’T against the powerful, the rich, the famous. He doesn’t love powerless, poor, unknown people MORE! He loves ALL people the SAME.

God wants everyone to know about him, but his choice exposes something cool about God: God was elevating the normal, the common.

It was the same back then as it is today. People back them were made to think that “normal” and “common” were bad things. Nobody wanted to be called these things! If you were just a normal, everyday person, back then, then you were considered less than in that society. People thought you weren’t as blessed by God.

That’s how they thought! And then God does something crazy!

He picks shepherds! They’re homeless guys who live in tents and have to stay up all night guarding their sheep so wolves or people don’t take them. And God tells THEM this good news first!

By doing that God is saying that the normal and common matter to him! He cares about them! He loves them as much as the remarkable people who get picked all time for everything!

God steps onto the playground of life and picks the misfits, the leftover people FIRST! By doing this he isn’t rejecting the rich, powerful, and famous!

When he chooses the “normal” it gives hope to all people, because we all know if THEY are important than we all have hope!

So God picks them, but what’s their response to the angel? Look at V. 9-10 They’re scared!! They were terribly frightened, 10but the angel reassured them. "Don't be afraid!" he said. "I bring you good news of great joy for everyone!

Can you imagine being out in the fields at night and suddenly having a shining creature appear in front of you? You’d be freaked out! They think they’re about to be judged or killed!

The angel knows they think he’s there for a bad reason and that they’re scared, so he says right away in verse 10, “Don’t be afraid! I’m here with good news of great joy (that’s some pretty good news)!”

11The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12And this is how you will recognize him: You will find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth!"

This is amazing news for them to hear! It starts out good news and keeps going until its incredible, unheard of news!

The angels tells them 3 amazing things

1. The baby is the Saviour! (Adam Clarke) The word properly denotes such a Saviour as perfectly frees us from all evil and danger, and is the author of perpetual salvation." Some people need a good leader. Some people a good teacher, but we ALL need a savior – someone to save us from the evil in the world and from our own sins!

2.The angel says the baby is the Christ! He’s the anointed one! The chosen one Israel’s been waiting for! The world needs a hero and Jesus is it! But wait there’s more!

3. The angel says one more thing about this baby – the most amazing thing – that he’s the Lord! The shepherds knew what that word meant! It means “the supreme, eternal Being, the ruler of the heavens and the earth.” It meant he was GOD!

Can you imagine what those words sound like to these shepherds?

Israel was under Roman rule and everyone was wanting, waiting for someone to set them free. They were waiting for the Messiah!

The angel tells them that he was just born! And he says the baby is GOD!

The angel tells them a clue - a way to figure out where and who he is. He tells them… You’ll find a baby lying in a manger (first clue), wrapped snugly in strips of cloth (second clue)!

As those words are echoing in their heads, and they’re trying to grasp their meaning, all of a sudden a whole bunch of other angels appear!

13Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God: 14 "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to all whom God favors. F6 "

The angels are so excited about the news the shepherds just heard that they bust into praising God over the whole thing. And in their praising reveals more amazing news!

They’re saying, God is amazing! He’s unbelievable! He’s showing up today and guess what? He’s bringing peace and favor!”

Through Jesus, the messiah, God’s making a way to have peace with him. He’s giving people the ability to be at peace with each other. He’s bringing favor. He’s showing his grace through Jesus. People were expecting war and judgment and God brought peace and favor (grace)!

Let’s keep reading…

15When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, "Come on, let's go to Bethlehem! Let's see this wonderful thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

POOF! The angels are gone and the shepherds are standing their still in shock. And what’s the first thing they say and decide to do?

This is how I picture it...

They look at each other and say to each other (and I can imagine them saying this with smiles on their faces) they say, “Come on! Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this wonderful thing that’s happened, which the Lord told US about!”

(I hear them emphasize US like “US! I can’t believe it but he told Us! They’re probably think “Nothing’s exciting has ever happened to us, but he comes and tell US!” He picked us!”)

16They ran to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17Then the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18All who heard the shepherds' story were astonished, 19but Mary quietly treasured these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20The shepherds went back to their fields and flocks, glorifying and praising God for what the angels had told them, and because they had seen the child, just as the angel had said.

They went and found Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus just like the way the angel said! These guys were the first, besides Mary and Joseph, to see Jesus! God in the flesh!

So what’d they do? Exactly what God wanted them to do

They went and told everyone! These guys were what the commentator Adam Clarke calls the “first preachers of the gospel”! Everybody who heard the story was amazed (God told a group of shepherds that the messiah was here and that he was born last night – in a stable!?!)

In “Buzz Marketing” Mark Hughes talks about things create buzz. He says...

“We talk about things that make us gasp, things that make us laugh, things that make us wonder, things that make us marvel. We talk about things that shock us, and things that thrill us.”

Think about this story…

Shepherds tell them an angel appeared told them the Messiah was born, then a choir of angels showed up praising God and they went into town and found a baby wrapped in cloth in a manger just like the angel said!

It must’ve made people do all these things when people heard it!! Now that story’s gonna buzz!

v. 20 They went back to their fields and flocks glorifying and praising God for what the angels had told them. They saw baby Jesus with their own eyes – just like the angel said! If they had any doubts about seeing the angel and all that that happened out in the field they now had all the proof they needed! They might have went back to their flocks, but I can guarantee that they were never the same again!

They never thought of themselves the same again. They never thought about their world or situation the same. God had shown them favor and brought them peace by showing him the messiah had come!

Can you imagine how it changed their self-image to be picked by God to be the first to hear the good news and the first to see – the messiah? I guarantee you they were never the same again!

God choose everyday people instead of the powerful people because He does something amazing through their lives – everyone knows it has to be God and not them!

God is still looking for everyday people like us to use to spread the story of hope that he’s come into the world. He’s still looking for everyday people to pick for his team.

When we feel like no one else cares God does. He wants to choose you and use you to do amazing things through.

Why? When he does HE gets the glory! He loves to show his power, love and grace through everyday people because He shines through them brighter!

He wants to use you! He wants to use you as a messenger/as an object lesson to the people around you of who he his and what matters to him!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

“The Unexpected Power Of Giving Thanks”

(This is from my unedited notes from last Sunday)


Before I start today I thought it’d go over some facts about the real History Of Thanksgiving…

The first American Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621, to commemorate the harvest reaped by the Plymouth Colony after a harsh winter. In that year Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving. The colonists celebrated it as a traditional English harvest feast and invited the local Wampanoag Indians.

FACT: The first feast wasn't repeated, so it wasn't the beginning of a tradition. In fact, the colonists didn't even call the day Thanksgiving. To them, a thanksgiving was a religious holiday in which they would go to church and thank God for a specific event, like the winning of a battle.

Days of thanksgiving were celebrated throughout the colonies after fall harvests. But, all thirteen colonies didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving at the same time until October 1777. George Washington was the first president to declare the holiday, in 1789.

A New National Holiday
By the mid–1800s, many states observed a Thanksgiving holiday. But a poet and editor named Sarah J. Hale started lobbying for a national Thanksgiving holiday.

During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, looking for ways to unite the nation, talked about the idea with Sarah Hale. In 1863, he gave his Thanksgiving Proclamation, declaring the last Thursday in November a day of thanksgiving.

In 1939, 1940, and 1941 Franklin D. Roosevelt, wanted to lengthen the Christmas shopping season, so he proclaimed Thanksgiving the third Thursday in November. There was a big controversy over that, and Congress passed a joint resolution in 1941 decreeing that Thanksgiving should fall on the fourth Thursday of November, where it is nowadays.

But, you know what?

I think thankfulness is actually too powerful of a thing to only focus on it for one day a year. What if you lived everyday like it was thanksgiving? How would that change you?

Today I want to talk to you today about “The Unexpected Power Of Giving Thanks”. Being thankful and giving thanks when things are going good is hard enough for most us. It’s so easy for us to forget to be thankful or take time to be thankful.

What if I told you that if we can learn to give thanks not only when things are good, but also when they’re bad that it would open us up to God doing powerful things in our lives?

I want to look at a story that many of you have probably heard from John 6. It’s the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. There’s something strange that Jesus DOES that I want us to see today.

John 6
Jesus crossed over the Sea of Galilee, also known as the Sea of Tiberias. 2 And a huge crowd kept following him wherever he went, because they saw his miracles as he healed the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up into the hills and sat down with his disciples around him. 4 (It was nearly time for the annual Passover celebration.) 5 Jesus soon saw a great crowd of people climbing the hill, looking for him. Turning to Philip, he asked, "Philip, where can we buy bread to feed all these people?" 6 He was testing Philip, for he already knew what he was going to do.

Jesus is testing Philip and the others. Have they learned from all the miracles that they’ve seen him do at this point? Will they have faith or fear?

This is an important lesson for them to learn, because they’re going to face impossible situations and their going to need to learn to trust and rely on God in those situations!

Jesus is using this situation to test them! How will they respond?

Let me ask us this question...

  • How many miracles do you have to see God do in your life before you believe God can take care of your current problem?
  • How many do you have to see before you respond in faith instead of fear?

When we get into a problem we always have the choice between faith and fear. But have you ever thought about this?

You can’t lose by having faith. But, you can’t win by having fear! What do I mean?

If you respond in doubt and fear to your problem what will happen? The best case situation: probably nothing. You’ll find out your fear was for nothing! Worse case situation: you’ll be in exactly the place you were afraid you’d be! The fear didn’t change ANYTHING!

If you respond in faith what will happen? The best case scenario: you give God a chance to move and do something and he will do something BEYOND what you expected! The worst case situation: you’ll be in the place you were afraid of, BUT you’ll know you’ve been trusting God so he’s in control and he has a plan!

Do you see why you can’t lose by having faith?

It’s because you won’t end up in a worse situation having faith, than if you doubted and feared, but by having faith you COULD end up in a situation you BETTER than you would’ve NEVER experienced without God! Let’s go back to the story…

7 Philip replied, "It would take a small fortune F26 to feed them!"

Ah man! Philip didn’t pass this test! Why? He only looked at the hugeness of the situation and he was focused on what they didn’t have! Not only that, he focused on what THEY would need to do to try and feed them.

But wait a second there’s still hope! Andrew’s about to say something…

8 Then Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, spoke up. 9 "There's a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?"

Ding-Ding! You’re getting warmer with that answer, Andrew! Do you see how Andrew’s focus is different than Philip’s? He sees the hugeness of the situation, but he doesn’t look at what they don’t have. He looks to what they DO have!! That must’ve been as good of an answer as Jesus thought he was going to get, cause look what he says…

10 "Tell everyone to sit down," Jesus ordered. So all of them – the men alone numbered five thousand – sat down on the grassy slopes.

Now I want to give you a chance to notice the crazy thing Jesus is about to do, before I tell you what it is. Ok? Now remember there’s 5,000 people, not counting the women and children! Watch and listen see if you catch something strange Jesus does. Ready?

11 Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and passed them out to the people. Afterward he did the same with the fish.

Did you catch it? Let me read it again… Anyone want to take a guess about what the strange thing Jesus does?

Here’s your hint: it has to do with our topic today - thankfulness.

The strange thing Jesus does is he THANKS God!!! He thanks God for ONLY having 5 loaves and 2 fish when they have to feed probably at least 10,000 people!!! Jesus thanks God for what they have!

If WE were there we’d probably start they prayer, “God, we have a BIG problem here and I don’t know how, or if you can, or want to help us. We only have 5 loaves and 2 fish God and we have to feed ALL these people! HELP!!!”

Notice there was no “thanksgiving” in that prayer we’d do! Remember, Jesus is trying to teach them something here!

He’s trying to teach them that when you’re in a situation over your heads to start by looking at what you have and being thankful for what it! Thank God that you have something to start with!

This reminds of what I heard about the famous author Dietrich Bonhoeffer

For his part in an attempt to overthrow Adolf Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran minister, was hanged on April 9, 1945, after 2 years imprisonment in a concentration camp. He wrote:

“We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things?”

Jesus prayed and said, “Thanks God for these 5 loaves to feed these people.” Then it says he prayed the same thing, “Thanks God for these 2 fish to feed these people.”

Scottish minister Alexander Whyte was known for his uplifting prayers in the pulpit and he always found something for which to be grateful. One Sunday morning the weather was so gloomy that one church member thought to himself, "Certainly the preacher won't think of anything for which to thank the Lord on a wretched day like this." Much to his surprise, however, Whyte began by praying, "We thank Thee, O God, that it is not always like this."

Learning to thank God for what you have, instead of what you don’t is all about being optimistic.

This is about seeing the glass half full instead of half empty and about being grateful for that half of glass! But optimism isn’t just about looking at what you do have instead of what you don’t have, it’s also about looking at what is, instead of what could be worse

George Mikes, in the book “How to be Decadent” tells this story…

*In Budapest, a man goes to the rabbi and complains, "Life is unbearable. There are nine of us living in one room. What can I do?"

The rabbi answers, "Take your goat into the room with you." The man in incredulous, but the rabbi insists. "Do as I say and come back in a week."

A week later the man comes back looking more distraught than before. "We cannot stand it," he tells the rabbi. "The goat is filthy."

The rabbi then tells him, "Go home and let the goat out. And come back in a week."

A radiant man returns to the rabbi a week later, exclaiming, "Life is beautiful. We enjoy every minute of it now that there's no goat -- only the nine of us."

The man’s view changed because he realized what he had could be a lot worse!

We naturally look at what we don’t have and compare ourselves to a better situation someone else has, but we SHOULD compare ourselves to a worse situation someone else has.

Optimism is all about not losing hope. Hope has to do with expectation! Paul says this about hope in Romans 8:24-25

24 Now that we are saved, we eagerly look forward to this freedom. For if you already have something, you don't need to hope for it. 25 But if we look forward to something we don't have yet, we must wait patiently and confidently.

Hope is a form of faith. It’s expecting God to use what is to make what isn’t!

Watch what amazing thing happens…

And they all ate until they were full. 12 "Now gather the leftovers," Jesus told his disciples, "so that nothing is wasted." 13 There were only five barley loaves to start with, but twelve baskets were filled with the pieces of bread the people did not eat!

10,000 or more ending up FULL from 5 loaves and 2 fish would be a big enough miracle, but it gets even BIGGER and BETTER! There were leftovers!!!

They ended up with MORE than they started with!?! How cool is God!?!

He can do such a big miracle in your life that you end up with more than you started with!!!

When I first came across this passage , realized how strange it was to give thanks when you didn’t have enough me and Sue decided to try it. This was when I was at 3 Cities Assembly in Burlingame.

It was during a time when we didn’t have very much money. We were really struggling. But, instead of complaining about how short we were on money we decided to start thanking God for what we had!

We started experimenting with trying this and something cool happened…

We were at Costco buying some groceries which we hardly ever did, but I had gotten a Costco card from the church to use for buying using supplies or whatever and we went there to get food, some other things and diapers.

We got there, got what we needed and then got in line. When we got in line we saw a guy we knew from the church named Dan. He was right behind us in line. We started talking and they started scanning our things.

As I’m talking to Dan he doesn’t something strange that I don’t notice. He runs his card through the credit/debit machine. It doesn’t click to me what’s happening at first, cause the machines were farther back, kind of behind where you stand and talk to the cashier.

All of a sudden I realize something weird is going on and I say, “Hey, Dan! What are you doing?” He says, “I’m paying for your things!” I was like, “Wait, you don’t have to do that!” He says, “I know, but I want to!” I’m still shocked and a little embarrassed and I say something like, “Thanks! But…” Then we thanked some more times.

We really didn’t have enough money to live and God totally provided for us through Dan! It was such a cool miracle for us to see after we had started thanking God for what we had instead of what we didn’t!

Thankfulness is not a magic trick. It doesn’t always get you you’re way. But, it always puts us in the right attitudeno matter WHAT happens!

I wonder if ingratitude is one of our greatest sins?

The 5 loaves and the 2 fish weren’t much, but they were better than nothing! At least it was some food that could feed someone! Even if there wasn’t a miracle God should still be thanked for what he had given them!



Even though I clutch my blanket and growl
when the alarm rings, thank you, Lord, that I can
hear. There are many who are deaf.

Even though I keep my eyes closed against
the morning light as long as possible, thank you,
Lord, that I can see. Many are blind.

Even though I huddle in my bed and put off
rising, thank you Lord, that I have the strength to
rise. There are many who are bedridden.

Even though the first hour of my day is
hectic, when socks are lost, toast is burned and
tempers are short, my children are so loud
thank you, Lord, for my family.
There are many who are lonely.

Even though our breakfast table never looks
like the pictures in magazines and the menu is at
times unbalanced, thank you, Lord, for the food
we have. There are many who are hungry.

Even though the routine of my job is often
monotonous, thank you, Lord, for the opportunity
to work. There are many who have no job.

Even though I grumble and bemoan my fate
from day to day and wish my circumstances were
not so modest, thank you, Lord, for life.


I want to encourage all of us to try something different. Go against your natural reaction. The next time your about to complain to God about a problem you have, stop yourself and thank him for what good is happening. Thank him for what you have. Then, pray and give him your problem and see what happens!

I want to end today with communion and remember what God’s done for us through Jesus and thank him for it all.