God with Us
46 “My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me--
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.” (Luke 1:46-55)
That is how Mary responded a few days after she learned she would miraculously become pregnant and give birth to the Savior of the world.
But her impulse was to be troubled and perplexed by her encounter with an angel. In Luke 1:28 we read,
The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
How would you respond to an angelic visitation? Terrified? Bewildered? Break into a cold sweat? Faint? I think Mary being “troubled about the angel’s words and wondering about this divine greeting” is pretty rational and normal.
The angel clearly recognized this and quickly added,
“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.
The angel then proceeded to tell her the following…
Oh, and this will all happen by a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. And this baby you will carry for nine months and give birth to… he will be the Son of God.
Mary’s Immediate Reply
Well, we heard Mary’s response after a few days of reflection. But what was her immediate reply to this startling announcement? She said,
I am the Lord’s servant,” “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Humility. Submission. Faith. Obedience.
Out of the millennia of human history and all the billions of people who have ever lived, God chose this young girl to be the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. And even at her young age and compromised situation (she was an unmarried virgin after all), she was able to say,
I am the Lord’s servant,” “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
How About You?
Would you be able to answer in the same way? If an angel appeared to you and said you would be part of something that was, humanly speaking, impossible – and would likely cost you your reputation and possibly your life – would you be able to say,
I am the Lord’s servant,” “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Yet the truth is, Mary’s experience is not hers alone. One author put it this way,
For although her role is in one way unique, in that she alone physically nurtures and brings into the world the body and person of Jesus Christ, in another way Mary is the archetype of every Christian soul, and the whole church. (Malcolm Guite)
God desires each of us to answer his call in our lives with Mary’s words,
I am the Lord’s servant,” “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Now, we will not be called to bear the Lord Jesus, but each of us is called to “treasure his words and the gift of his Spirit in our hearts and… in our daily lives.” (Malcolm Guite)
In this way Mary is our example and encouragement, especially during this Advent season, when we prepare for the arrival of our Savior.
The secret to Mary’s success as well as ours, can be found in the words of the angel, for they are just as true for us as they were for Mary.
“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (v. 28)
Think about that… “The Lord is with you.”
Do you believe that? In the deepest places in your heart, mind, and soul, do you really believe that? What difference would it make in your life if you really, truly believed that God was with you? That, like Mary, you were highly favored?
I reflected on that question and brainstormed a few answers that blessed me. Knowing God is with me gives me…
What would you add to that list? Each of those words and ideas could be sermon unto itself, couldn’t it? What would you add?
When I visit a hospital or hospice room, one of the things I always pray for is for God to be present in that person’s life at that moment. In truth, I am really reminding them that God is already present – fully present – right there, right then, and he has promised to never leave them nor forsake them.
But that is not a comforting word for hospital and hospice rooms only. That is a truth which should impact every single day of each of our lives.
The angel tells Mary she is highly “favored.” The Greek word for “favored” is “charis,” from which we get our word “grace.” Mary was an ordinary girl, whom God favored in a unique and spectacular way.
God Is with You Too
Yet that same favor – that same grace – is offered to each of us. It is available for the taking. Beloved, the good news is that God would not have you walk through the journey of this life alone.
God is with you. During the most turbulent times of your life, God is with you. During the most mundane and boring times in your life, God is with you. When you feel you are at your lowest, God is with you. When you feel most in despair, God is with you. When you are sick and struggling physically, God is with you. When you have lost a loved one and do not know how to face the future, God is with you. When you are confused and do not know which way to turn, God is with you. You too are highly favored by God.
In Matthew 1:23 we read these words,
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s many promises made hundreds of years before his arrival. God is the God who makes and keeps all his promises. And one of those promises is Jesus – Immanuel – God with us.
The founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley, was on his deathbed being comforted by those who knew and loved him. And before he died, he “gathered his strength” one last time and “cried out, ‘The best of all, God is with us!’” He died soon after. (Kenneth Collins)
None of us need to wait until our deathbeds to be comforted or strengthened by the truth that God is with us. It can and should be a living reality for each us.
Yet for that good news to impact our lives we must believe it is true. We must place our trust in God and the good news of his Son. We must give our very lives to God and this precious gospel-truth.
A Year with Jesus
This coming new year, which cannot get here fast enough, I am going to provide a weekly biblical title or description of Jesus, accompanied by some Scripture and a question or two for reflection.
It is not homework. Instead, think of it as an opportunity for you to spend time with the God who is with you and to learn more about the Savior he sent into to the world for you.
The reality is, through God’s Holy Spirit, our Lord Jesus Christ is with us each and every day. And I think spending a year reflecting on the many facets of the person and work of Jesus will do us all much and lasting good.
Joy of Every Longing Heart
Charles Wesley wrote these beautiful words,
Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art;
Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.
“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (v. 28)
Thanks be to God.
Next Sunday morning, our new pastor, Phillip Short and his wife Giova, will be here. Pastor Phillip will be preaching. On our side of the equation, we’re all wondering things like…
I can tell you the answer to the last question: He’s an SEC man… he went to Auburn. So, some of you will like him right away, while others will have to warm up to him. But seriously, from our end of things, we’re wondering how will Southside change under new leadership.
However, can you imagine how he’s feeling? There’s only one of him, and lots of us. He must be wondering,
Well let me tell you what I know from having met with Pastor Phillip several times. We’re going to love him. He’s relational, friendly, and warm. His love for Jesus is clear. His love for the church is very evident. He knows we’ve been praying for him as a congregation for almost 40 days now.
He’s heard all about the great ministry to our church family and the blessing our church family has been to our community throughout outreach. And I’ll tell you what, he’s excited to be coming to Southside where he’ll not only be our shepherd, but also a partner with us.
In fact, that’s what ministry is: A partnership between us, our pastor, and most importantly, our Lord.
Paul and the Philippians
That’s how the Apostle Paul felt about the Philippians. Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians while he was a prisoner in Rome. His crime? Preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul had a deep love for the Philippian church, which is clear when you read the letter.
Let me give you a little background on this relationship. According to Acts 16:9, during Paul’s second missionary journey, he received a vision from “a man of Macedonia.” The verse goes on to say that the man in the vision begged the Apostle to “come to Macedonia and help us.”
Paul took that as a word from God, and so he and his team traveled to Philippi in Macedonia (which is present-day Greece) where they proclaimed the gospel to Lydia, the Philippian jailer, and others. And by God’s grace, many people came to faith in Christ and the Philippian church was born. Paul loved these folks very much.
The Letter to the Philippians was written about 10-12 years after that missionary journey in which Paul helped establish the church. He wrote to them because, as mentioned, he was now in prison. Therefore, he obviously couldn’t visit them. He couldn’t text them, or email them, or skype with them; but he did everything else possible. He wrote letters to them. He received reports about how they were doing. He received and sent messengers like Epaphroditus, whom we learn about in Philippians 2.
And most importantly, he prayed for them.
In chapter one, Paul shared the kinds of things he prayed for regarding the Philippians. His love and appreciation for them comes through loud and clear.
Let’s look at Philippians 1:3-6 again,
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Paul’s joy shines through his words, especially when we remember he was in prison as he wrote them. Paul’s circumstances were far from ideal, so why was he so joyful? Well, the context of his prayer gives us the key to understanding his joy. Paul tells them that when he prays for them, every time he prays for them, he thanks God for them. And his gratitude to God, and for them, fills him with joy.
And so, a natural follow-up question would be: why was he so grateful?
Partners in the Gospel
The first reason is because of the Philippians’ partnership in the ministry of the gospel – from the first day to Paul’s present day. Now, to be sure, that included their financial support of his ministry, but that’s not what he’s talking about here.
While Paul was literally in chains for the gospel, Philippians 1:14 tells us the Philippians were out proclaiming the gospel in his absence. They weren’t waiting for the pastor (in this case, the apostle) to get back so he could do it. Then, in verses 18-19, Paul says he’s able to rejoice because he knows they’re praying for him and that God would bless him because of that.
Can you imagine the blessing that knowledge would bring to the Apostle? That in his absence, they were praying for him. That in his absence, they were preaching and teaching and contending for the gospel.
Now fast-forward two thousand years. Can you just imagine how blessed Pastor Philip is to know that even before his new church family has met him, they’ve been interceding in prayer on his behalf? And let me tell you this, Pastor Phillip knows this church family is blessed with intercessors, and teachers, and disciple-makers, and servants, and those who reach out to those in need, and so much more.
He knows because I’ve told him. He knows because our Staff Parish has told him. He knows because Southside’s reputation for such things is known throughout the Florida Conference. True story.
Pastor Phillip is excited to become a partner with us in these gospel ministries – both inside and outside our church family.
Paul was blessed because he knew the Philippians and the kind of church they were. Pastor Phillip has heard all about Southside and is excited to partner with us.
God Finishes What He Starts
The second reason for Paul’s joyful prayers was his confidence that the Philippians would continue to grow in their faith. Let’s look at verse 6,
6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
The good work Paul has in mind here is their salvation and growth in grace. When the Bible talks about salvation, it’s not only talking about “getting saved” in the past tense. It’s also talking about what God is doing in and through us here and now, in addition to what God promises for the future.
But make no mistake, God is doing something special in the lives of his children in the present. He’s molding and shaping us into the very likeness of his Son, Jesus Christ. And Paul rejoiced that the good work God had begun in them when he saved them from their sin would continue as they partnered with him in the ministry of that very same gospel.
So too, in our own church family, God has reached down and rescued each of us who have called on the name of Christ. And he continues to mold and shape us into the likeness of Christ. Not only that, but God has graced us with many partners in Gospel ministry over the years. Most recently, we’ve been very blessed indeed to be in gospel-partnership with Pastor Bruce for 13 years.
A New Season, A New Partnership
And now, God’s bringing a new gospel-partner into our fellowship. And like Paul, we can rejoice that God, who began a good work in us 71 years ago when Southside began, will carry that good work on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
God will finish what he’s started in our church family. In his goodness and grace, God’s bringing us another faithful shepherd to lead us in that gospel-partnership.
Therefore, I can’t think of a better way to finish this message and prepare for Pastor Philip and his wife, Giova, than to come to the altar to pray for them, and us, and our new partnership in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Freedom in Christ
Galatians 5:1 - It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Memorial Day is a special day in the life of our country, a day in which we remember those who died while serving in our armed forces. We can’t imagine all we the freedoms we now enjoy because of the ultimate sacrifice so many made on our behalf.
The sacrament of Holy Communion celebrates freedom of a different kind, one more significant, for no sacrifice was as great and all-encompassing as Christ’s atoning death for us.
I love celebrating the sacrament of Holy Communion, because in it, we get a beautiful picture of the Gospel.
We enjoy precious freedoms as Americans because of the sacrifices of men and women through the centuries. And we have precious freedom as Christians because of the work of Christ. And in Galatians 5:1, Paul highlights that freedom.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Emphasis mine)
Freed to be Free
The freedom Paul’s talking about is our freedom from the burden or oppression of legalism, which Paul calls “slavery.” You see, it’s not the Law that Paul says is bad. When we understand God’s Law correctly, it’s good, even beautiful. That’s because God’s Law…
But the way it was being used by the Legalists in Paul’s day was enslaving the Christians in Galatia. It was like a giant weight lying on top of a person, crushing them bit by bit by bit. And because of this oppressive legalism, the Galatian Christians could not enjoy their freedom in Christ. They couldn’t enjoy being liberated from their sin because they couldn’t keep the Law well enough for the Legalists.
Instead of flourishing and appreciating their new life in Christ, they were suffocating under the weight of the Law, wrongly understood, and the condemnation of sin that came from that false teaching.
They were in a bad way.
And so, Paul wrote to them and declared from the rooftop: Enough! The Law of God should never be used as an enslaving and oppressive weapon!
Furthermore, in addition to the wonderful things the Law does for us, that I listed above, it does something more.
It leads us to Christ. Like a school teacher, the Law teaches us, it shows us our need, it leads us to Christ, and Christ leads us to freedom. That’s why Paul said “it’s for freedom that Christ set us free. That sounds like he’s being redundant, but he’s saying something very important here.
He’s saying, “Christ didn’t set you free so you could remain a slave to sin. He didn’t set you free so you could become a legalist.” Through his work on the Cross, he set you free to become all you were created and called to be in Christ. Therefore, Paul wrote, “Don’t go back to a life of slavery to sin or legalism.
It’s that wonderful, freeing work of Christ on the Cross that we celebrate in Holy Communion.
So, what does that freeing work look like? I want to point out how the Cross frees us in our past, present, and future.
Freed from Our Past
First of all, the Cross of Christ frees us from our past. Here’s what I mean: We no longer need to live under the penalty of sin. We’ve been liberated from the condemnation our sin deserves.
Romans 8:1 says,
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,
And that’s true because the work of Jesus paid for, atoned for, our sinful and fallen condition. God no longer counts our sin against us. We no longer have to walk through life like poor Pilgrim in Pilgrim’s Progress did, with a giant bag of guilt and condemnation and sin weighing him down.
And so, when we read the liturgy for Holy Communion, and then receive the Bread and Cup, we ought do so with hearts full of gratitude for Christ’s work on the Cross.
Freed for Our Present
Second, the Cross of Christ frees us for our present. Just as Jesus freed us from the penalty of sin, his Cross also frees from the power of sin in our present.
Now, this doesn’t mean sin no longer has any power over us at all. It still has the power to influence our lives. Unfortunately, we’re not free from temptation. That’s still alive and all-to-well. However, we’re now free from the dominion of sin. In other words, before we were in Christ, we couldn’t help but sin. We had no real power to resist it. But now, because of the work of Jesus, that dominion of sin in our lives has been defeated. We’ve been freed from it.
Not only that, but when we receive the Bread and Cup, we’re actually meeting with our Lord at his Table, in the present. Through his Holy Spirit we’re filled with his grace. That’s why John Wesley called Communion a “means of grace.” It’s a way in which we put ourselves in the way of God’s grace. You see, Holy Communion is a time when we’re strengthened by God’s Spirit and grace to live the life he’s called us to live.
Furthermore, Holy Communion reminds us we’re in this together. It’s not an expression of a Lone Ranger faith. Instead, we gather with all our brothers and sisters in our church family as well the Great Cloud of Witnesses of Hebrews 12.
Thus, in and through Holy Communion we remember the freedom we have from God to become all he created and called us to be, in the present, and in community.
Freed in the Future
Finally, the work of Jesus on the Cross, which includes his resurrection, reminds us that one day we’ll be free from the presence of sin in our lives. Holy Communion helps us to remember forward. It reminds us of a future where our Lord will dine with us at the Heavenly Banquet. The precious meal of the Bread and Cup is a foretaste of the Great Banquet that awaits us.
No longer will we be entangled with sin at all. It will be once and for all done away with. And as we move from this life to the life-to-come, we’ll live in the unveiled presence of our loving Savior. But we don’t have to wait for the coming of Christ’s Kingdom because we’re living in it right here and right now. That’s why Paul could write, “don’t let yourselves be burdened any longer by a yoke of slavery.
Therefore, because of the love and work of Jesus for you…
And the good news we declare during Holy Communion becomes good news for you when you trust in Christ alone for the forgiveness of your sins, when you repent of your sin and leave your sin at the altar, and when you go in his grace to live in joyful obedience for his glory.
The World Around You
A few years ago the men in our church’s men’s ministry studied the words of the Apostle Paul to his young son in the faith, Titus. In chapter three of the letter that bears his name, Titus was instructed to encourage the people entrusted to his care to not be like the world around them – foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, being hated and hating (Titus 3:3). He then reminded them of something very important with these words: At one time they too were… just like that.
Paul told Titus that because of God’s love, the redeeming work of Christ, and the renewing and washing work of the Holy Spirit, the Christians in Crete were no longer like the world around them.
Have You Changed?
That fact, very naturally, brought up a painful question in our group discussion: What if we still are like that? What if we’re still like the world around us? One possible answer to the question was even more painful: No change in your life may mean you aren’t in Christ, you haven’t been redeemed, washed, and renewed.
We’re all at different places in our relationship with Christ. And, of course, we all walk at different paces with him. Thus, we won’t all look alike. Yet, if we can’t look back at our lives a year ago, two years ago, or five years ago and see some sort of growth, some level of maturation in faith, love, godliness, and the rest of the fruit of the Spirit, then we may well need to ask the question: Am I truly in Christ? Of course, only God knows the heart and this isn’t about others judging you. But it is about each man doing an honest assessment of himself.
There’s no getting around the fact that true faith in Christ will result in a changed life. We can’t possibly remain the same.
Facing the Music
About eight months after I graduated from college I went back to visit a few friends who were still there. I also returned to share with them the news that God had called me into ordained ministry and I would be heading off to seminary soon. I was very excited. I was also a bit nervous. Why was I nervous? Well, I had not always lived a godly life while in college. I knew it and I knew my friends and fraternity brothers knew it.
What happened? Well, my closest friends thought my news was great and wished me well. Others laughed me out of the room. I absolutely deserved it.
Glory to God
I give glory to God, and God alone, that 28 years later I can point to real change in my life. And, as the old saying goes, while I’m not where I pray I will one day be in my faith, by God’s grace I’m not where I once was. I don’t know if I was the chief of sinners way back then, but I certainly was competing for the title. That fact makes the following words from Paul all the more precious to me.
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15b-16)
If God could work in Paul’s life, as well as my own, then he can work in any person’s life. I praise God for the truth and power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to change lives.
Where Are You?
So where are you now compared to where you once were? Do too many of the descriptions in the New Testament of the unbelieving world still describe you? Are you moving on to maturity with Christ, training yourself for godliness day by day? The progressive nature of growing in Christlikeness means it will never end on this side of heaven. But faithfulness to Christ does require we get started. We start with rebirth. We continue by growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ through the power of God’s grace and Spirit. Are you moving forward? Have you started yet?
Gracious God, you are the Lord of our lives. I confess that all too often I resist obeying and following you and resist the change you desire. I am grateful for your patience with me and for the wonderful news of your Gospel. Move me, by the power of your Spirit, to pursue you for all I am worth, for surely in that pursuit I will also find myself becoming more like you. Help me to find Christian brothers who also seek to walk with you and help us to build up and pray for one another. Enable me to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, encourage other men to do the same, and bring glory to your name. In Christ I pray. Amen.
This Week’s Prayer Guide
You can use this guide in your own personal prayer time. However, I encourage you to use it with a group of Christian men. Each week you should spend time praising God for who he is, confessing your sin to him (be specific) as well as expressing gratitude to him for his gracious forgiveness. Also, don’t forget to thank God for the many ways he has poured out his goodness in your life. The following areas of supplication will change from week to week.
Petitions – prayers for yourself
· Give me greater knowledge, depth of insight, and understanding of God’s Word.
· Remind me daily of who I am in Christ. Let me be defined by who God says I am, not the world around me.
· Guide me into greater understanding and faithfulness of God’s call in my life.
· This week’s events and interactions with others, planned and unplanned
· Other needs
Intercession – prayers for others
· My family
· My pastor(s), church staff, and missionaries
· Those struggling with anger, anxiety, or the overwhelming desire to please people at all costs
· Other needs
Click the images above to learn more about my books for men.