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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Making the Right Choice in a Crisis

Pastor Shim's sermon from December 12:
(Matthew 1:18-25 & 2:13-23)
“Crises refine life. In them you discover who you are.” - Allan K. Chalmere
When Wilfred Grenfell was a medical student in London, Dwight L. Moody led him to Christ. After completing his education, he found his field of service on the bleak coasts of Labrador, where he became famous for his work. Fourteen years later, he called on Moody in Boston. Dr. Grenfell said: "I want to thank you for leading me to know Christ."
"That was fourteen years ago," Moody responded. "What have you been doing since?"
"I have been living and working that others may know Christ."
"Do you regret it?" asked Moody.
“No. The only regret is for the person who has once met Christ and then must hang his head when asked the question, 'What have you been doing since?”
Last week we talked about how Mary decided to submit to God's will after she received a message from the angel Gabriel about being pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. Her initial reaction was that of confusion, asking for clarification, acceptance of the explanation, and then submitting to God's will (see Luke 1:26-38). She is a wonderful example for all of us to follow in surrendering to do whatever God is asking us. Today we will look at Mary’s fiancĂ© Joseph’s reaction to the news of her pregnancy.
Joseph's reaction is contained in one verse, "Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly" (Matthew 1:19). This shows how remarkable and good a man Joseph was. He is my hero. Let me clarify about the Jewish and Middle East marriage process.
1. A family or a matchmaker would arrange an engagement, usually while the boy and girl were still children.
2. Before the marriage would take place, there would be a formal engagement, and it was as binding as being married.
3. The actual marriage would take place. This explains Matthew 1:18-19.
You can imagine Joseph’s crisis. While Joseph was planning to break his engagement with Mary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20). The angel confirmed what Mary told Joseph. The Lord was helping Joseph to fix his broken heart and broken relationship with Mary.
Broken relationships are like marred pictures or broken glass. They require an expert to fix them. Who is more qualified than God to fix the marred world, the marred lives? Sin is the reason for so much pain in the world. That's why God intervened between Joseph and Mary to fix their relationship. Joseph assumed Mary was unfaithful and was taking the steps to discard her. Joseph would have been justified by the law. But he read the law differently, because in it he saw God’s love and mercy.
For example, God clothed Adam and Eve when they were embarrassed about being naked. God didn’t look the other way when Satan was planning to spoil His plan. God needed Mary and Joseph as partners to heal the marred world from sin by bringing His Son through them. God told both Mary and Joseph the mission of His Son in this world when he told them to name him Jesus, which means “Savior.” He said, “You are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins".
Sin separates us from God. Like an expert who fixes a marred picture, Jesus came to fix the sin-marred image of God in us. God saw the restored image in advance and decided to take on the job when He appeared in the human flesh in Bethlehem. Isn't that speechlessly wonderful?
As we approach Christmas, it's good to remember why Jesus was born. The Son of God didn’t come to establish a nostalgic, family-oriented, commercially successful holiday. Christmas began with a present from God to His sin-damaged world. "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). God’s gift, like any other gift, has to be received for the new life to begin. The masterpiece of God's human creation, marred by turning away from Him, can be restored when we give our hearts to Christ.” - David McCasland
Now let us consider why God chose Joseph, entrusting him with His Son's upbringing, His protection, and His guidance in life. The answer is found in Matthew 1:18-25, 2:13-15, and 2:19-23. Joseph faced a crisis in his life and chose to obey God. Joseph’s act of kindness toward Mary shows his character. Joseph was a good man and didn’t want to disgrace her publically, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. Joseph didn’t expose dirty laundry to the public, as so many former lovers, former spouses, former business partners, and even some church members do! Joseph was a good man inside and out, not just when he was performing a good act toward Mary. He acted kindly toward Mary because he was a kind-hearted man. He could have talked about Mary’s bad behavior and how she betrayed his trust, and he could have found justification in the law. The law condemned adulterous women to be stoned to death. But Joseph refused to follow the way of death; he instead chose the way of love. God’s intentions in giving the law were not to destroy but to save lives. God approves mercy and love over justice. And God called Joseph a righteous man for doing the right thing and for standing with Him. That’s a kind of testimony I want to have! "A kind heart is a fountain of gladness, making everything in its vicinity freshen into a smile." - Washington Irving.
Sometimes you see people doing kind acts without a smile or word of affirmation. Doing kindness without love toward those we help is a form of unkindness, because it elevates us and it puts them down. True kindness is treating those we help with dignity as Jesus told us to do. "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12).
A good example of kindness expressed in love is when King David showed kindness to his friend Jonathan's son Mephibosheth. Jonathan was killed in battle when Mephibosheth was five years old.
Fearing that the enemies that killed his father might come and take away the boy, his nurse picked him up and ran to safety, but in her haste she dropped him and he was crippled in both feet (2 Samuel 4:4). When King David found out he ordered the boy to be brought to his home and to eat at his table. David honored the memory of his beloved friend Jonathan by showing kindness and love to Jonathan’s crippled son for the rest of his life. This exemplifies God’s unconditional love for us, He receives us in our sin and crippled state and heals us by Jesus’ wounds.
Joseph in crisis chose to obey God’s instructions. Once he found out the truth about Mary's pregnancy from the angel in his dream, Joseph did the right thing. God sometimes gives us dreams to fulfill them, not just for a story times. "When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife." His love was agape love, self-sacrificing love, like Jesus, for the sake of another. Men, we need to pay attention to God's command about loving our wives. "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." (Ephesians 5:25). It takes faith to obey God; let us be like Joseph in loving and obeying God’s directives.
Joseph chose to act by Faith to do the right thing. The book of Hebrews 11:6 lists the heroes of faith
and how they pleased God with their faith. "Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone
who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6).
It takes faith to take a pregnant woman as a wife. It takes faith to adopt a son that is not your own, and it
takes faith to take your family to Egypt to protect them because God told you to in a dream. That's what Joseph did when God spoke to him. "Take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt for safety" (Matt 2:13-15) and again when God told him to take them back, God said, "It's safe now, go back to Israel." Matt 2:19-23. Why did God allow his son to go through troubles like us common people? Why didn’t God just kill those who wanted His son and the children who were killed in search of Jesus? It’s amazing that God wanted His Son to experience what we experience in order to identify with us. We can love the one who chose to suffer for us and with us.
Joseph was obedient and faithful to do what God asked him to do for Mary and Jesus. He was a good example to his family. He provided for them by working hard and he lead them to seek God as their first priority by attending all the feasts God instructed the children of Israel to observe. Jesus learned by observing his parents - unlike the following story illustrates.
Commitment to Jesus Christ is more caught than taught by a lecture. That’s why God sent His Son to be both our teacher by an example and savior by dying for us and by rising from death. As a Man He lived a
perfect life despite all the trials and the suffering He faced – we look to Him as our perfect example and Savior. His mission: “He will save his people from their sins.” Jesus’ other name is Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” I can’t imagine a better gift for Christmas than God’s daily presence.
Choose daily to be mindful of God and experience his abiding and healing presence!
Pastor Shim Habte, Willows United Methodist Church. 544 N. Shasta St., Willows, CA 95988