Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Focus your praise on God

In the Christmas story we see an amazing pattern of praise from two amazing women. It's not a praise for the gifts they received or what was under the tree. It's a lifestyle of praise for the great things God has done.

I'm convinced that many of us have missed the point of Christmas. When you read the Gospel of Luke it ignites your heart to the things of God:
And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name. (Luke 1:46-49)
This portion of Scripture has often been called the Magnificat. It’s from the Latin for “magnificent” and is based on the first word of Mary’s song of praise. When we think about what God is doing it really is magnificent.

The first part of Mary’s song of praise focuses on the role she will play in the birth of Christ. Mary never complains that she doesn’t get what she expected. She doesn’t whine about missing out on typical teenage things. She isn't mad she won't go to prom or that the other kids at Nazareth High will talk behind her back.

She knows that God has been mindful of her, based on her humble state. It’s a fascinating piece of literature from a teenage girl. Mary had a deep sense of understanding the power of God and His love for His people. Mary is an emotionally healthy young lady who placed her entire trust in God.

Listen to this: "Mary praised God for what he was about to do and for the part she was privileged to play in his plan." -Robert H. Stein

I want to point out that we can learn from anyone in our lives. Right now we are learning how to praise God from a teenage girl! I know another teenage girl who taught me a lesson. Her name is Kailee Johnson and she was a student leader when I was a High School Pastor. We were planning a big “Invite Night” to help our students reach their friends with the love of Jesus.

Our student leaders showed up early to decorate the room and prepare for the evening. I stopped in to see how things were going and asked Kailee if she needed any help. She looked at me, from the top of a ladder, and said, “Neal, I need you to go write your sermon. I’ve invited some friends and your message better not suck!” It was a perfect response and freed me up to do my role that night. I learned an unforgettable lesson from Kailee that afternoon. What else have you learned from someone you didn’t expect to learn from?

In verse 50, we read a shift in the focus of Mary’s praise:
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”
Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home. (Luke 1:50-56)

Mary moves from taking personally about her soul glorifying the Lord to emphasizing the greatness of the Lord. So let’s talk about the mercy of the Lord. Mercy means compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm. God could have punished or harmed us for our sins, but instead He chose to send Jesus instead to show us love. We don’t normally expect mercy; we expect to get what we deserve. But God gave us mercy!

Mary mentions the mighty deeds of the Lord and the power of His arm. I wonder if she thought about the Israelites crossing the Red Sea after God parted it. I wonder if she thought about God providing manna for Israel so they wouldn’t starve in the desert. What do you think about with God’s mighty arm? Can you think about a time where God intervened to help you in life? Today are you longing for that to take place?

God wants to move on your behalf.

See Mary talks about the greatness of God. She focuses her praise on the Lord. If you are struggling today, make this your song. Sing it, shout it, memorize it, whisper it, and let it roll off your tongue. God helps His servants. God moves on behalf of His people. He hasn’t forgotten any one of us. Many of us have a song in our mind, but is that song honoring God? I can think of many different tunes I know, but I want my praise to be focused on the Lord.

Live a minute of praise 

One of the last parts we read is that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then went home. We don’t read that the truant officer came looking for her or that her parents were scared. But when we reflect on this passage, it’s easy to think about how we are doing at praising God. I wanted to talk about living a life of praise and how we can plan out the next five, ten, or fifty years of our lives,  but that isn’t really practical. It’s much more practical to focus on worshipping God in the next minute of this day. What if you just asked yourself, “How can I praise God in this next minute of my life?” What would change?

We are really good at praising people. Some of us have the gift of encouragement and we love to tell people what a great job they are doing. Others of us have the gift of discouragement, and we love to point out the problems we see in others. First let me suggest that we focus on praising the creator. Mary was really good at directing her praise to God as the creator. She understood the goodness and compassion of God. She didn’t praise Elizabeth for being so wise and the baby John the Baptist. Mary didn’t praise her parents for being such good parents or her relatives for opening their door for her to stay there with them. Mary had her praise focused on God.

For us to have God as the center of our praise means we need to address what our eyes are truly longing for. As a parent, it is easy to praise our kids. It is easy to praise a spouse. It is easy to praise a lifelong friend who has helped us navigate a tough time in life. I’m not saying to withhold encouragement from these people, I’m asking for you to evaluate who you are praising and make sure you make it a priority to praise the creator this Christmas season.

Secondly, I’ve found that during Christmas it is easy to focus on material possessions. Have you noticed that half of the commercials on TV right now are telling you to buy a new car!? It’s crazy. It seems like every day my kids are telling me another gift they want under the tree. I can tell you this, I am not getting them a hamster no matter how much they beg for one. Christmas is not about the price tags possessions. Christmas is not about the gifts we receive, it’s about praising the giver of life. I know there are some presents you are longing to get, but don’t forget to give your praise to God this year.

Finally, praise God for His goodness in your life. It can be easy to think that we are super smart, have all the answers, and know what we’re talking about. But let’s redirect personal praise to praise for God. When Elizabeth praised God for what He was doing in Mary’s life, Mary went straight to praising God for His goodness. Mary pushed that praise right to God. God has done amazing things in your life. God has brought each of us through tough times. Praise God for the good things He’s done in your life. Praise Him and don’t curse Him this Christmas.

I know that we are all in different places in our spiritual lives. Not everyone is a believer in Jesus. That is what the church is all about, helping people find and follow Jesus. That means we all can grow in our walks with Jesus. Some of us are great at worshipping football more than Jesus while some of us worship Jesus more than anything else. I also know that familiarity breeds complacency. If this is your first time hearing this story, it’s all new information to you. But if you’ve been around church for a while, it might be repetitive.

Pastor Daniel Schreiner once said, “For many of us, the familiarity of this Christmas story has deadened the impact it should have on our lives. We have lost the wonder.” When we keep our praise on God, it keeps the wonder in Christmas.

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Circle Maker- Book Review

Book Title- The Circle Maker

Author- Mark Batterson

Publisher- Zondervan

Pages- 226

Quotable- "Yet many of us prayer as if our problems are bigger than God." (page 73)

Over the summer I preached a sermon series on prayer at Coastline. We called it "Conversations with God" because I think we've complicated prayer too much. For the sermon series I grabbed about 4-6 books and dove into the subject of prayer.

I looked at the prayer lives of others, the habits of others, the struggles, and more. I read about churches who started a prayer movement. I looked the Scripture to see what God said about prayer. It was a great time of personal study. The hardest part was figuring out what to share and what would stay in my heart.

Circle Marker is one of the books that grabbed my attention and heart. Mark Batterson captivated me with his historical and practical understanding of prayer. Mark shares stories of history from people who prayed and God answered. Some of the stories are straight from the Bible, while others are written in history. Mark talks about his own prayer journey which resonated deeply with my soul.

Mark shares about the prayers prayed for him and the prayers he has made. The idea of being a circle maker is taken straight from a man named Honi. You have to read the book to learn about Honi because it's a fantastic story. But the idea of being a circle maker has changed my prayer life. I'm intentionally leaving this paragraph ambiguous to encourage you to read the book. I honestly believe we need more circle makers in the world.

My prayer life has shifted from long prayers to focused prayers. I've begun going on prayer walks more frequently. I've thought about my posture in prayer. I've tried to kick myself out of cruise control on prayer and focus on what I'm asking the God of Heaven. I've prayed circles around my kids, marriage, and church. I just prayed a circle around the 39th year of my life because of this book!

Mark breaks the book into four sections:
  1. The First Circle- Dream Big
  2. The Second Circle- Prayer Hard
  3. The Third Circle- Think Long
  4. Keep Circling 
I would defiantly recommend this book to any believer at any stage of life. I'm grateful for the concept of praying circles and the stories Mark shares about God answering his prayers. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

A time to celebrate

We’re in a time of year where kids are writing their list, heading to the mall, visiting Santa and looking for the gift that will give them happiness. At the same time, teenagers are trying to finish up classes so they can have a break in school. Parents are staying up late shopping on Amazon and wrapping presents. Grandparents are planning to visit family or receive family who is coming home to visit them. Each of us are preparing for Christmas and the end of 2018 in a different way.

In my opinion, this really needs to be a time of gratitude. This needs to be a time of celebration, pause, reflection, and joy.

It’s a time to celebrate what God has brought us through this year.
It’s a time to pause and spend time with God.
It’s a time to reflection on how we’ve lived in light of the gospel.
It’s a time to have joy for health, family, and love.
This is a time to celebrate.