Feeding goats and killing sheep


At a recent meeting of Ministers the leader talked about feeding the sheep. I do not recall who he quoted by saying “Don’t set out to kill goats in the congregation. If you do, when the smoke clears you will have a bunch of dead sheep and the goats will still be standing there being goats.”

I am no expert in the area of goats and sheep although in my younger day our family had both for a time. One thing I know for sure is goats can cause a lot of frustration and sheep will follow both their masters voice and other sheep. That includes following sheep that are curious about what the goats are doing.

It’s been harder than ever these last few months to not take shots at the goats in my life. Most people have become firmly entrenched in their political and social views to the point of being downright nasty to others. This doesn’t surprise me much about those who claim no affiliation to Christianity but seriously there are a lot of folks sitting in our churches need to open their Bibles more and their mouths less.

Still, I understand the analogy Jesus was using when he told Peter “if you love me feed my sheep”. If only it were humanly possible to teach others how to love and respect all humans a preachers job would be easy. One reason God gave us His word is because left to ourselves all us sheep would perish.

A vivid memory I have of raising real sheep has taught me a valuable lesson in life. One day I got home from school and discovered one of our ewes had gotten stuck in a mud hole up to her belly. That sheep weighed about as much as me at the time but it would be a couple of hours before dad got home. So it was up to me to rescue the trapped sheep. After quite a struggle I managed to get that animal out of the mud. It lay there on the ground too exhausted to move. Being honest at that point it wouldn’t have bothered me if the dumb thing died right then. I was covered in mud and lost a boot as well.

Sometime after hosing myself off and changing clothes and taking care of my other chores, that sheep got her front legs stuck in the same muddy area. I put the ewe in a pen for the night and the next day built a fence around the muddy patch.

Over the years I have witnessed many times people acting like that dumb animal did. People will get themselves stuck in the mire and God will send them someone to help. Sometimes people will walk right back into the same muck they were just rescued from. I think that must be why God puts certain fences up in our lives, because we need protection from our own stubborn choices.

 

Rev. Burt Schwab

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They demanded a king


There is little doubt that as a culture America has rejected God. Many have fully embraced a god of convenience. The worship of such a god is seen in the sacrificing of the unborn, the demand for more “free stuff” from the government, and the flagrant rejection of natural sexuality to name a few things. All sense of identity as a unique and valuable creation is lost when the creator God is rejected. As a result those who reject God become enslaved to any entity or vise that enters their life.

Once God is rejected by a culture the people will look to another human as their source of comfort and security. This is evidenced by the great division we currently have over the elected President. Really our choices in the last election were two greedy individuals. Both desire power, wealth, and fame. The difference is in how they choose to seek these things. If you think a President is a personal savior for this country you have rejected the one true God!

There was a time when judges that would seek after God’s will were appointed to guide the people of Israel. One day the people of Israel rejected God’s leading for a human to lead them. 1 Samuel 8:1-22 As Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons to be judges over Israel. Joel and Abijah, his oldest sons, held court in Beersheba. But they were not like their father, for they were greedy for money. They accepted bribes and perverted justice.

Finally, all the elders of Israel met at Ramah to discuss the matter with Samuel. “Look,” they told him, “you are now old, and your sons are not like you. Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.”

Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance. “Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.”

10 So Samuel passed on the Lord’s warning to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 “This is how a king will reign over you,” Samuel said. “The king will draft your sons and assign them to his chariots and his charioteers, making them run before his chariots. 12 Some will be generals and captains in his army, some will be forced to plow in his fields and harvest his crops, and some will make his weapons and chariot equipment. 13 The king will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him. 14 He will take away the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his own officials. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and your grape harvest and distribute it among his officers and attendants. 16 He will take your male and female slaves and demand the finest of your cattle and donkeys for his own use. 17 He will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you will be his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will beg for relief from this king you are demanding, but then the Lord will not help you.”

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel’s warning. “Even so, we still want a king,” they said. 20 “We want to be like the nations around us. Our king will judge us and lead us into battle.”

21 So Samuel repeated to the Lord what the people had said, 22 and the Lord replied, “Do as they say, and give them a king.” Then Samuel agreed and sent the people home.

So began the long history of various kings bringing a wide range of problems on God’s people. Some kings were evil and some followed God. None of the kings brought true peace to the people.

Many today are looking for a world leader to both embrace selfish desires and bring peace to their lives. The fact is you cannot have peace and selfish living simultaneously. As a result great numbers of people are displaying hate and fear as they struggle to hold onto idols of selfish living.

Jesus came as the one true King to bring us both salvation and peace. He is the only true hope we have. The question is will you reject him in order to worship man or some other god? The choice is yours. Only Jesus Christ can provide true peace.

Rev. Burt Schwab

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Giving what you have to help


One day last week I had a work assignment in Chicago. Nothing unusual about that. The timing meant going into Chicago during the so-called morning rush hour. Driving in downtown Chicago is like running barefoot in a briar patch, painful and regrettable. It would be reasonable to assume that eventually a person would become either tough skinned or numb to the pain of city driving, not for me. I would rather slam the car door on my hand then have to face downtown traffic. Buses will change lanes and run over your vehicle after their signal has flashed once. Taxis do not signal or obey much else about traffic rules. I am convinced that Uber drivers are not even qualified to be Taxi drivers. The right of way is often determined by the driver with the most bravado. To top it off there is always large crowds of people crossing the streets with or without a crosswalk. Oblivious pedestrians will walk into traffic without so much as acknowledging their life was spared by chance or skill of a driver. And who had the brainy idea of constructing a hundred story building and giving it two parking spots?!

Sorry, I had to rant for a moment. On this particular day my travel route had me exit 90/94 E at Lake St. Not a fun exit anytime of day, especially when driving a truck. Lake street runs under the elevated train in Chicago. The road and tracks were built long before modern automobile traffic. It is quite narrow for oversize vehicles. I will often avoid that exit completely. This time it appeared that drivers were being polite. It is a two way stop but several cars would go through the intersection while others waited patiently. It was both amusing and confusing. As I approached the intersection it became apparent that a homeless man had taken it upon himself to direct traffic. That man had no authority over traffic and he did not try to disguise himself. Unbelievably most of the drivers were following his signals. Some were pausing long enough to give him money. Admittedly I was more than happy to take advantage of the situation and get through the intersection as quickly as possible. The stranger that decided to help traffic flow changed my mood for the rest of the day.

I would not suggest anyone takes on the responsibility of directing traffic without being properly trained and given the authority. I wonder what made that homeless man decide to direct traffic. Maybe he had watched the traffic issues at that intersection for years and knew he could ease the problem. Whatever the reason, that day someone did something to help complete strangers with a problem.

You may be familiar with the beggar at the gate in Acts 3. Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service. As they approached the Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in. Each day he was put beside the Temple gate, the one called the Beautiful Gate, so he could beg from the people going into the Temple. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for some money. Peter and John looked at him intently, and Peter said, “Look at us!” The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting some money. But Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene,  get up and walk!” Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened. He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them. All the people saw him walking and heard him praising God. 10 When they realized he was the lame beggar they had seen so often at the Beautiful Gate, they were absolutely astounded! 11 They all rushed out in amazement to Solomon’s Colonnade, where the man was holding tightly to Peter and John.

Have you noticed this beggar was placed there daily? Chances are Peter and John walked by this man several times before. It is even possible that Jesus had walked by this man on the way into the Temple. On this particular day Peter took notice of a problem and knew exactly what to do. With authority given him by Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit the lame man was healed.

Is there a situation you have seen for years that you can help with? An elderly neighbor in need of assistance or just conversation. A troubled youth in need of direction. A struggling ministry at church. Maybe you know someone that needs help learning some basic life skills such as doing laundry or balancing a check book. We all have something to offer, just ask God to show you what He wants you to help with.

Rev. Burt Schwab

 

 

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I triple dog dare you…


It was zero degrees Fahrenheit this morning where I live. The high of the day is not expected to be over twenty degrees. For some reason a scene from ‘A Christmas Story’ entered my head when I saw the temperature.

Before class, Flick and Schwartz argue over what would happen should someone stick their tongue to a frozen flag pole, engaging in a delicate nuance of phrase during which Schwartz dares Flick to stick his tongue to the pole. But as Flick sticks his tongue out to the pole, complication ensues for the poor boy.flick-and-the-flagpole

That is something you should not try at home. However I do have a list of “triple dog dares” for you.

I TRIPLE DOG DARE YOU TO; 

FIND A REASON TO PRAISE GOD TODAY. Psalm 150  Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heaven! Praise him for his mighty works; praise his unequaled greatness! Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn; praise him with the lyre and harp! Praise him with the tambourine and dancing; praise him with strings and flutes! Praise him with a clash of cymbals; praise him with loud clanging cymbals. Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord!

VIEW THE BIBLE AS FOOD FOR THE SOUL.  The Devil tempted Jesus to turn rocks into bread. Matthew 4:4 But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

To eat food the body takes in either healthy or unhealthy substance. The result is either sickness or health. That is the only two choices. The same applies to our spiritual health.

REPENT AND PRAY FOR OTHER BELIEVERS TODAY. James 5:16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

STOP WORSHIPPING TECHNOLOGY AS A FALSE GOD. Exodus 20:4-6 “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands. Chances are you go nowhere without your phone but don’t remember the last time you checked the Scriptures for instruction.

INVITE A NEIGHBOR OVER FOR A MEAL. Mark 2:15 Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.)  Jesus enjoyed having meals with all kinds of people. There may be a hidden blessing by following his example.

THANK GOD FOR HIS BLESSINGS AT THE START AND END OF THE DAY. 1 Chronicles 23:30 And each morning and evening they stood before the Lord to sing songs of thanks and praise to him. 

 

Rev. Burt Schwab

 

 

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A need for social justice


As a matter of habit I frequently listen to the Bible on my way to work. This may be just a religious habit at times but it’s important to me. Yesterday I was listening to Judges and when it came to chapter 19, the story of a Levite and his concubine, absolute disgust rose up inside me. In this chapter is detailed how a Levite took a journey to bring his concubine back home that had left him. On the way back they stopped in Gibeah for the night. A stranger took them in to protect them from the towns people. Several men from the town came and demanded to have sex with the Levite. The concubine was thrown out the door and the men raped and beat her all night and at daybreak she crawled back to the house and died at the door. We read in Judges 20 the resulting war and large scale deaths as a result of the woman being killed.

My mind cannot fathom the depths of depravity that these people sank to. First demanding, as if it were some privilege, to have sex with the man that is passing through town and then to rape a woman to death as if such an act is common entertainment. The gory details are documented for all of history in the Bible.

As much as this story does not sit well in my mind a news story I heard later in the day was even more repulsive. Four people, two male and two female, kidnapped and tortured a retarded man for hours and used Facebook live to document it. This happened in Chicago not some distant land with strange laws. To be sure their will be trials and more news coverage but will there be justice? The grandmother of one of the girls was quoted as saying “she’s a good girl with her ups and downs”. How can anyone try to justify such sick behavior and identify such people as good? It is quite clear we have become so far removed from God that the depravity is beyond reasonable comprehension. Worse than that it is quickly becoming socially acceptable! Personally I think we would be better off bringing back public flogging. If you think that sounds harsh consider the fact that a man was publicly tortured just for laughs.

I have said it, you have heard it, the Christians of this country must repent and turn back to God. If you believe that somehow you are insulated from the disgusting behavior of the morally bankrupt you are wrong. The deviant social behavior of our society will have a far reaching impact on the entire nation.

Rev. Burt Schwab

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Getting my attention


So I discovered a prayer journal on my shelf that has never been read. It is a daily devotional titled ‘The Best of Andrew Murray on Prayer’. It seemed like a worthwhile task to start reading it January 1 and today is day 3 and I haven’t missed a reading yet. Not bad for a person with the attention span of caffeinated squirrel.

Anyways today’s verse was John 15:9 I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. Maybe you just read that verse the same way I did this morning, that is without any enthusiasm for the message. Let me give you this excerpt;

  People believe that at conversion their sins are forgiven, that God accepts them so that they may go to heaven, and they should try to do God’s will. But they do not realize that, even as a father and his child on earth enjoy being together, so they have this intimate fellowship with God each day.

God is getting my attention! I write about God. Preach and teach about His mercy and goodness. But truth is I really do not spend much energy seeking the Holy Spirit on a daily basis to lead me into the deep love of Christ. I don’t have it all figured out but somehow my relationship with Christ is becoming more real and urgent. There’s plenty of Jesus for the all of us. Want to join in on seeking a deeper relationship?

Rev. Burt Schwab

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Is it worth it?


As a general rule I believe life should be viewed from a lighter side. Don’t take yourself too serious because nobody else does. It is my observation that too many people make drama a part of their daily routine. Obviously there are many situations that are not laughable but most things just aren’t that serious.

One grand drama that played out in 2016 was the Presidential election. The media lost it’s collective mind when Trump was elected President and has been steadily shouting “the sky is falling” ever since. In the days surrounding the election the stock market did what it so frequently does and that is unpredictable swings. First it went up and the news media claimed it was in response to Clinton being the predicted winner. Then it went down and the claim was because Trump was winning. After the election the market steadily went up and the new Prez is the only one trying to claim it was because he won. My guess is there are people way smarter than me that found a way to make a lot of money at a critical time. Let’s face it folks most of us wish in retrospect that we had investment money right after a market swing.

To really show what a bunch of sniveling pansies the American public has become there were protests about the election outcome. Even now the people that oppose not getting their own way are trying to blame anything but reality on the election. Even the Russians are being blamed for the election outcome. Honestly I quit worrying about the Russians destroying America just a few years after learning the truth of Santa Claus. Actually I’m still holding out hope for Santa being real…

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To be sure this is nothing new about humans. If you took the time to read the story of Moses leading the exodus from Egypt you would see drama played out by the woe-is-me folks of the time. Even after being rescued from the oppression of a truly wicked Pharaoh the people frequently cried out “we’re going to die, we’re going to die” every time things didn’t go their way.

Here’s where I am going with all this. The only hope we will ever have of being truly free does not lie in a political entity. The only hope for freedom is found in an absolute truth that many people have abandoned. Is it worth it? Is it worth giving up your so-called personal rights and surrender your life to an almighty God? Is it worth it to live by a standard of morality not accepted in modern culture? The answer is an absolute yes! But it isn’t easy and it is not popular.

I will no longer be writing this blog from a teacher perspective. The time has come for me to state my views about the world we live in with hard hitting truth. I am no longer concerned about being offensive to the over sensitive population that has to find someone to blame whenever reality sets in. You are welcome to comment in opposition to my views I just ask that you leave the drama out.

Rev. Burt Schwab

 

 

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IS MY WORSHIP WORTHY TO GOD?


It can be said that I am a inspirational singer. That is when I sing in church others are inspired to sing louder. It is not likely that my next career move will be as a worship leader. Fortunately worship is not only about singing or other musical abilities.

Christian worship is referring to the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for God. Worship is supposed to be a celebration of being in covenant fellowship with the living God. It is a time for us as believers to demonstrate faith with praise and thanksgiving. When we sing and raise our hands it is giving back a token to God. Corporate worship is a time to join others to rejoice and celebrate the blessings we have received. Our talents should be showcased, not to bring glory to ourselves but to honor our heavenly Father. Worship is not exclusive to singing or using our talents but also includes giving back to God as He has provided for us.

Worship is an act of faith and obedience. To use your talents to worship costs time and energy and is proper obedience to God. To give back from the first fruit of your labor is an act of faith in knowing that the ultimate provider will continue to provide when we are faithful. If it truly cost nothing, it would not be true worship!

Prior to Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on the cross, worship included times of sacrificing animals. A few times a year entire families would bring an offering to be burned on the altar. These were natural times of celebration such as after a harvest. Anyone who has farmed knows the hard work involved in harvesting a crop. When a crop is bountiful it is certainly a time to rejoice.

The burnt offerings were to be one year old, first born males, without blemish or defect. The acceptable burnt offering animals were a bull, a lamb or goat, or for the poor two pigeons or turtle doves.

  • A bull (ox) was the most valuable animal person could own. With it fields could be plowed and carts could be pulled. In fact to own an ox provided the means for greater gain.
  • Sheep and goats were of great significance to Old Testament families. These animals provided clothing, milk, and meat.
  • Although doves provided no value to the owner they are symbolic of peace, honesty, and love. (A couple of interesting facts about turtle doves is they mate for life. The mated birds build nests together as well as raise their young together.)

It does not matter what your financial status in life is, God has provided a way for all to worship Him.

God doesn’t ask for everything, just the first and best we have to offer. It does not matter if your best is the equivalent of a prize winning Bull or two turtle doves, it is an offense to God to offer less than our best to Him.

Malachi 1:6-14 The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says to the priests: “A son honors his father, and a servant respects his master. If I am your father and master, where are the honor and respect I deserve? You have shown contempt for my name!

“But you ask, ‘How have we ever shown contempt for your name?’

“You have shown contempt by offering defiled sacrifices on my altar.

“Then you ask, ‘How have we defiled the sacrifices?

“You defile them by saying the altar of the Lord deserves no respect. When you give blind animals as sacrifices, isn’t that wrong? And isn’t it wrong to offer animals that are crippled and diseased? Try giving gifts like that to your governor, and see how pleased he is!” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

“Go ahead, beg God to be merciful to you! But when you bring that kind of offering, why should he show you any favor at all?” asks the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

10 “How I wish one of you would shut the Temple doors so that these worthless sacrifices could not be offered! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “and I will not accept your offerings. 11 But my name is honored by people of other nations from morning till night. All around the world they offer sweet incense and pure offerings in honor of my name. For my name is great among the nations,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

12 “But you dishonor my name with your actions. By bringing contemptible food, you are saying it’s all right to defile the Lord’s table. 13 You say, ‘It’s too hard to serve the Lord,’ and you turn up your noses at my commands,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “Think of it! Animals that are stolen and crippled and sick are being presented as offerings! Should I accept from you such offerings as these?” asks the Lord.

14 “Cursed is the cheat who promises to give a fine ram from his flock but then sacrifices a defective one to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “and my name is feared among the nations!

Man that’s a tough message! Someone might think this a real downer after a time of holiday celebration. Yet this last message given to Israel 400 years before Christ was born has lasting value for us today.

This was a tough message the prophet Malachi had to deliver to the Israelite Priests. As both children and servants of the Lord it should have been natural for them to show respect to Him. For whatever reason their responsibilities became so mundane to them that they had allowed proper worship of God to deteriorate into a way for people to dispose of their unwanted animals.

It is easy to conjure up reasons this happened. Maybe the Priests were afraid if they didn’t accept whatever was being offered the people would stop offering anything. Perhaps over the course of time worshippers became careless and reasoned that whatever was offered was just burned up so why offer anything good.

There was a time some people were trying to help a family that had literally no furnishings in their apartment. I volunteered to bring donations to the family. One donation item was a chair that was in such bad shape I was afraid to strap it to my trailer for fear it would fall to pieces. It was an embarrassment to take that thing to the family in need. The donator really believed he was doing something good to help a family in need. I tell you it’s a shame that I actually delivered that thing! It should have been left on the curb for the garbage truck.

Think about the sacrifices the people were bringing to the altar as being like that chair. The animals being offered had no value in the market or for food. Most likely they would have died on their own shortly.

How is your worship time with God? Besides the joyful noise time at church, do you show honor and respect to God the way He intended?

I’m serious about these questions. This isn’t a beat down sermon aimed at pointing out church problems.

It is a rebellious attitude to God to offer blind, sick, lame, or torn offerings.

  • If we worship God ignorantly and without understanding we bring the blind for sacrifices.
  • If we worship carelessly, and without consideration being cold, and dull, and dead in it, we bring the sick.
  • If we place our trust in the outward display and not make it a heartfelt expression we bring the lame.
  • When we allow empty thinking and distractions to become our focus, we bring the torn.
  • If we offer what cost us nothing in terms of time, talent, or money we offer the stolen.

God has made it clear to us through His word and even within our own nature that it is not acceptable to worship with less than our best.

Rev. Burt Schwab

 

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HOPE, JOY, AND PEACE WHEN GOOD NEWS IS DELAYED


These are the notes I used to preach at Hilltop Chapel in What Cheer, Ia. on December 25, 2016. Feel free to use them anyway that seems fitting. 

Introduction

This is the last Sunday in 2016 and I can’t think of a better place to be than church.

What a year this has been…

  • Strange political climate.
  • A roller coaster of a year in news events.
  • The Cubs won the World Series. (That ruined some of my favorite sports jokes)

And today is Christmas! In our house Christmas time is a BIG deal. Every horizontal surface is adorned with festive décor. If you sit still during decorating time there is a good chance you will become a part of the holiday scenery. With much anticipation we excitedly look forward to days of celebrating with family and friends. For our household Christmas is a season of celebration that lasts for weeks.

This is a season of hope, joy, and peace.

  • Hope is the fruit of faith.
  • We can have joy despite our circumstances.
  • Peace is the calm in your heart knowing God is in control.

This is the time we set aside to celebrate the birth of Jesus who is the only hope for a lost world, the Prince of peace, and the provider of joy.

What about the times when we struggle to keep hope alive and our joy is not complete? Let’s take a look at a couple we don’t normally think about at Christmas. Their story begins in Luke 1:5-25

Pray

Luke 1:5-ff (NKJV) There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.

8 So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense.

(Teachers hat time)

Before the universal acceptance of calendar years, time was recorded by events. In the Bible there are events that are recorded to specific dates such as in Ezra 6:15 Now the temple was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius. However, in this passage we only have a general time period recorded as the days of Herod, the king of Judea. In modern context it is comparing a specific date such as July 4, 1776 with a general time frame such as during the Reagan Administration.

History records that this king Herod had three of his own sons and one of his ten wives killed out of jealousy. This is the same Herod that ordered all baby boys near Bethlehem to be killed when he heard of the birth of Christ. There was a saying about this king that it was better to be a pig in his stall than to be a son of Herod. In other words you had a better chance of living to an old age as a pig in the king’s barn than you did if you were his son. This was the political climate in the days this passage was written.

 Setting of the story; 

There were 24 divisions of Priests and each division served in the temple twice a year. Two times a day a priest would offer up incense at the hour of prayer. Only one priest would enter in while the others stood outside and prayed. Lots were cast to determine who the Lord chose to enter the Holy place. There were hundreds of Priests in each division so the chances of being chosen to offer incense was low. Most Priests would spend their entire life without being chosen.

This would have been a great day at work for Zacharias. The kind of day you can’t wait to tell the wife about. He got to offer the incense that represented all the prayers of the people. That would have been quite an honor.

Sometimes the Lord orchestrates our day. Have you ever been at the right place at the right time to be used by God?

The day was already going great but then look what happened next.

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.

13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.

15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

It seems this day couldn’t get any better. Zacharias had just been told his prayer had been heard. It is easy to assume this was referencing the often repeated prayer for a child. Most likely he had quit praying for a child years earlier. It could be that he even rationalized his situation.

But then 18 Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”

  1. Delayed answers to prayers can cause personal hope to diminish.

In all fairness he was looking at the reality of his situation. Old age had set in and made it physically impossible to have a child. Young people have children, not old people.

Studying this passage caused me to think Zacharias’ response seems kind of a strange. As a priest he certainly knew the scriptures. He would have known of Abraham at age 100 and Sarah at age 90 having a baby. He would have known of the great miracles God performed in times past. He would have known the prophecies of “one calling in the wilderness”.

In addition to that, there had not been a direct message from God in 400 years. Not a single prophet had been raised up in four centuries and now he was receiving a direct message from the Lord. It seems to me his response should have been like somebody just winning the lottery. I would have expected him to be dancing and rejoicing.

 

People have said to me many times that they thought God would help them more if they had more knowledge, or knew how to pray better, or helped the church more.

God doesn’t show favor because of knowledge or how much you serve at church. It is through faith that our prayers are answered. Zacharias had all the head knowledge a priest was expected to have. He was considered righteous before the Lord. He was even faithful in his responsibilities at the Temple.

 

Hope is not dependent on what we know or how religious a person may be. Even when we have been in the presence of God and our prayers have been proper and often, God does not always answer when and how we might want.

  • A mature believer accepts no as a reasonable answer from God.
  • Doubt is a result of losing hope in a given situation.
  • Facing the demands of reality is not the same as doubting.

      2.   Lost hope prevents us from expressing joy to the Lord.

19 And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. 20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.” 21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. 22 But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless.

Instead of asking for clarification Zacharias stated the message was impossible. In other words he doubted God’s ability to do the impossible. Somewhere along the way Zacharias lost hope in ever having a son. When a person has lost hope they lose the ability to have the joy of knowing God can do the impossible.

Doubt is caused by lost hope. Here are three indisputable symptoms of doubt in your life.

  1. If you can’t express the joy you have for what God has done, there is doubt in your life.
  2. If you did not share the Gospel with anyone this year the root cause is doubt.
  3. If others cannot hear from your words the great things Christ has brought into your life doubt is the cause.

 

There are times we all struggle with doubt. The proper response is to ask how this can happen, or help me with my doubt. The wrong attitude is to make the statement that God cannot do something especially after He said he will!

Zacharias was disciplined for a season because of how he expressed his doubt. Discipline in this life is intended to bring about positive change to our lives. We read later in Luke 1 that when Zacharias’ son was born and he named him John that he regained his voice and praised God. He must have praised Him loudly because two thousand years later we are still talking about it! Our lives speak loudly of what we believe.

Losing hope does not cancel God’s plan.

 

       3.  Answered prayers bring us peace.

23 So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. 24 Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

Some of us know the pain and disappointment of not being able to have children. To be sure it is a difficult path to walk. However, in the times the Bible was written, people often thought it was a curse from God to not have children. Sometimes it was a curse from God. Even when it wasn’t a punishment, to be childless was the cause of much bitterness and sorrow. At the point in time this story took place they were “well advanced in years” meaning they were beyond child bearing age.

Zacharias and Elizabeth were faithful believers and yet they had no children because Elizabeth was barren. Elizabeth struggled finding peace of mind and heart because she was childless. To receive the good news that she would have a baby in her old age caused Elizabeth to rejoice. Finally, after all those years she could have peace of mind knowing God did not forget about her.

Sometimes we spend years praying for something or someone without a definitive answer. When we are given an answer to prayers there is a peace that settles in our mind. Even when we are in a season of waiting we can have peace knowing God is listening to our prayers.

 

Conclusion

Let me share some good news with you today;

  • Your prayers have been heard.
  • God has a plan for your life.
  • Because a child was born unto us to take away our sins we can have hope, joy, and peace. It begins with faith in believing in Jesus as your Lord and savior.

Hope is the fruit of faith. Are you struggling with doubt? Have you been praying for years and it seems God isn’t answering?

We can have joy despite our circumstances. Don’t allow Satan the opportunity to steal your joy by making you think things will never change. God can do the impossible! Put your faith in Him and believe he will! He will help you overcome the doubt and restore your joy and bring you peace I’m talking about Godly peace. Peace that passes all understanding…the kind of peace that brings a calm to your heart, knowing God is in control even when…

  • Ungodly people are in control of the political world.
  • Your best efforts don’t yield the results you want.
  • The plan for your life is not yet been revealed.
  • It seems too much time has passed.

 

CLOSING

This morning the God of hope, joy and peace is here. If you do not know him, don’t walk with him, or don’t trust him in the way we’ve talked about this morning, all of that can change today. Please bow your heads and I want to ask you to consider a few questions. Look within yourself, examine your own heart, to determine where you stand. With all eyes closed and no one looking around, I’m going to ask you to raise your hand in response to each of these questions if you know you need change in your life. Be honest before God and be honest to yourself. Raise your hand in faith – God is here and wants to help bring about change in your heart and life. I won’t embarrass you or ask you to do anything more than privately raise your hand in a quiet moment before God, as a sign that you are serious about needing His help and need more of him in your life. Here we go.

 

Have you lost hope waiting for an answer to a prayer? If you have grown weary in praying because God doesn’t seem to be answering your prayers and doubt has creeped in, or if you have stopped praying because it seems like God isn’t listening, raise your hand. Be honest with him – have you lost hope while waiting for your prayer to be answered? Raise your hand.

Are you struggling to express joy for the promises of the Lord? If it is difficult for you to be joyful and recognize the daily blessings in your life, or if you feel like God has walked away from his promises, I want you to raise your hand.

What about peace? Do you need peace about a decision or situation in your life? If you are facing a proverbial “giant” in your life and need direction, or if you are unsettled and anxious, lift your hand.

Still with eyes closed, if you have raised your hand in response to any of these, I’m going to ask you to lift them again, as I pray. Your arms don’t have to be lifted high, but I encourage you to open your hands as a symbol to God that you are letting go of the doubt, the pain, the discouragement, or anything that has become a barrier, and putting your trust in Him to bring new faith, hope, joy and peace in your life today. Show him you are serious with this physical sign of lifting your arms and opening your hands. (PRAY)

 

As you go today grab hold of faith and don’t let go! That faith will produce hope that will lead to joy and peace!

Rev. Burt Schwab

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Focusing on worship


Too often we approach worship without anymore thought than is necessary. Sometimes I attend church with a “gotta be here” attitude. Looking around the sanctuary it is easy to see others with the same attitude. It’s like being on a train heading for a destination. The passengers neither drive or navigate so they find things to do to occupy time. Some are looking at their phones or reading while others simply stare out the window or nap. At the end of the trip everyone gets off the train and go about their lives. If it was a safe trip, nothing about the travel changes the passengers life. The same happens after Sunday service.

I encountered this passage while skimming through the Bible and it caused me to stop and take notice. These words written by Solomon could easily apply to many of us today.

Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 As you enter the house of God, keep your ears open and your mouth shut. It is evil to make mindless offerings to God. Don’t make rash promises, and don’t be hasty in bringing matters before God. After all, God is in heaven, and you are here on earth. So let your words be few.

Too much activity gives you restless dreams; too many words make you a fool.

When you make a promise to God, don’t delay in following through, for God takes no pleasure in fools. Keep all the promises you make to him. It is better to say nothing than to make a promise and not keep it. Don’t let your mouth make you sin. And don’t defend yourself by telling the Temple messenger that the promise you made was a mistake. That would make God angry, and he might wipe out everything you have achieved.

Talk is cheap, like daydreams and other useless activities. Fear God instead.

The straight talk is to approach God with reverence. Entering into the house of God is to enter His presence. This should be done with great respect. It is easy to make church service about something to check off a to do list. What would church look like if we entered expecting to encounter God?

Verse 2 reminds us that God is in heaven and we are on earth. It is exciting to realize that by approaching God in a proper way we have the opportunity to see things from His perspective. Think about that! By entering God’s presence we can see our “giant” problems as the insignificant issues they really are. In addition to that we have the ability to view others from a place of love. From such a profound vantage point our lives would have to change!

It is a common human issue to fill our lives with business. All our daily fret and worry only interrupts our sleep at night and causes dreams that rob us of rest. That could be the reason some can’t stay awake through a sermon.

Have you ever made a promise to God without following through? Many have promised to go to church or start tithing or read their Bible if God would only help them. It is much better to not make a promise to God than to break a promise made. Verse 7 states plainly ‘Talk is cheap, like daydreams and other useless activities. Fear God instead.’ Fearing God is not about hiding and cowering from Him rather it is about having extreme respect and reverence for the Lord.

A practical tip is to pray before you head to church and prepare your mind for worship. By doing that we are not prone to make rash requests or emotionally based promises to our Lord. Best of all we can truly enter the presence of God.

Rev. Burt Schwab

 

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