God Chooses the Humble

Today is the first Sunday of Advent — the beginning of the Christian calendar. The coming of Jesus 2,000 years ago literally divided time and has impacted the world like nothing else. And for the next four weeks, we’re going to be focusing on the Christmas story. My prayer is that we read the story with new eyes, and that we hear it with new ears — so that the Christmas story will have its greatest impact on our lives yet!

The Christmas Story …
The Christmas story is an incredible story – God coming to earth in the form of one of us. God’s Son left heaven and came to earth to save us from our sins!

Luke 1.46–55

It’s not about me!
Amazingly, Mary never mentions in this prayer/song, that she is going to give birth to the Messiah. And we never have record anywhere in Scripture of Mary asking for anything – except in John 2, but even then, she’s not asking for herself. She’s asking that Jesus help out at a wedding.

Mary knows that it’s not about her! That’s humility. God uses humble people, and that’s what we want to talk about today.

Turtle atop a fence post …
Alex Haley (author of “Roots”) has a picture in his office, showing a turtle sitting atop a fence. The picture is there to remind him of a lesson he learned long ago: “If you see a turtle on a fence post, you know he had some help. Any time I start thinking, ‘WOW, isn’t this marvelous what I’ve done! I look at that picture and remember how this turtle—me—got up on that post.’”

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” (Rick Warren)

Humble people are …
People who are consumed with worshiping God
“With all my heart I praise the Lord.”

Worshiping God is priority number one! We worship God by doing everything for God’s glory – as if we’re doing it for God, and with God!

Worship is not a chore, but a privilege (“have to” vs. “get to”)

BIG GOD / small me

“Humility is not trying to be humble, it’s not trying to be little; humility is just seeing God as he is. Pride is seeing ourselves as we’re not.” (Louie Giglio)

Paul’s downward growth …

  • I am the least of the apostles. (1 Corinthians 15.9) (AD 59)
  • I am the very least of all the saints. (Ephesians 3.8) (AD 63)
  • I am the foremost of sinners. (1 Timothy 1.15) (AD 64)

As the years pass he goes lower; he grows downward!

People who discover their joy in God
“I am glad because of God my Savior.”

Where does your joy come from? What brings you joy?

Joy vs. happiness (emotion)

“… the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8.10)

People who know their life is blessed
“He cares for me, his humble servant. From now on, all people will say God has blessed me. God All-Powerful has done great things for me, and his name is holy. He always shows mercy to everyone who worships him.”

  • “God has blessed me” is the testimony of all who walk with God!
  • “His name is holy” – God can be trusted!

People who understand the danger of pride
“The Lord has used his powerful arm to scatter those who are proud. He drags strong rulers from their thrones and puts humble people in places of power. God gives the hungry good things to eat, and sends the rich away with nothing.”

“Pride is the only disease that makes everyone sick but the one who has it.” (Anonymous)

“It is pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.” (C.S. Lewis)

Proverbs …

  • God hates “pride, arrogance, corruption, and perverted speech.” (Proverbs 8.13b)
  • Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. (Proverbs 11.2)
  • Pride leads to arguments. (Proverbs 13.10a)
  • The LORD despises pride; be assured that the proud will be punished. (Proverbs 16.5)
  • Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall. (Proverbs 16.18)
  • Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor. (Proverbs 29.23)

“Pride is the dandelion of the soul. Its root goes deep; only a little left behind sprouts again. Its seeds lodge in the tiniest encouraging cracks. And it flourishes in good soil: The danger of pride is that it feeds on goodness.” (David Rhodes)

People who know God is sovereign
He helps his servant Israel and is always merciful to his people. The Lord made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his family forever!

God is in complete control! There will be intense battles long the way, but we know the final result! We know that victory belongs to the people who follow Christ!

People who are willing to go wherever God sends/leads
“I am the Lord’s servant! Let it happen as you have said.” (Luke 1.38)

I think it’s interesting that Mary says, “The Lord made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham …” Abraham was a man who was willing to go wherever God sent him!

It all starts with focusing on God. When we focus on God, instead of our problems, instead of anything in this life/world, when we focus on God, everything else gets smaller; everything else pales in comparison! The key is to focus on God – read Scripture; get to know God, intimately. Worship God – the more you worship God, the smaller everything else gets!

Extra-Ordinary

The Magnificat
Luke 1.46-55

Choosing Teams
As kids, to play softball or kickball or whatever team sport, we would choose captains and those captains would then alternate back and forth, taking turns, choosing team members. “Pick me, pick me.” Back and forth, choosing the best, the strongest, the most talented, the fastest, the most popular. No one wanted to be last.

And some of you know what it felt like to be chosen last: you were the smallest, weakest, uncoordinated, you couldn’t hit the ball, or the ball hit you once and you now you didn’t want anything to do with that ball.

The story of the birth of Christ is also includes the story of mother Mary, a young woman maybe 13 years of age, who was engaged to be married, and is chosen to be the mother of the Messiah.

This is the story of God choosing the lowly, the poor, the humble; of God choosing the ordinary and doing the extraordinary. Of God choosing the least suspecting, the least deserving. Of God choosing the person we would choose last, if we were captain and choosing a winning team.

The Apostle Paul describes who we were when God chose us.
1 Corinthians 1.26-29

God takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary.

Root: ordinary
Prefix: extra
God is the extra in this equation. It is his choosing, his power that makes the ordinary extraordinary.

"Humility is not trying to be humble; it’s not trying to be little; humility is just seeing God as he is; pride is seeing ourselves as we are not." -Louie Giglio

As we grow in our understanding of the greatness of God and the vastness of his power, we see ourselves for who we really are.

The Apostle Paul’s downward spiral:
1 Corinthians 15.9 (written in AD 59)
I am the least of the apostles
Ephesians 3.8 (written in AD 63)
I am the very least of all the saints
1 Timothy 1.15 (written in AD 64)
I am the foremost of sinners

Paul was a gifted preacher and missionary, and he was full of energy and determination, but as the years pass, Paul thinks of himself less and less, so his praise and adoration for the God who wonderfully saved him rises.

"Humility is not thinking less of yourself; but thinking of yourself less." -Rick Warren

Worship is thinking about God, concentrating on God, who he is and what he has done.

Matthew 19.16-30 The Rich Young Ruler
After Jesus’ encounter with the rich, young ruler:
27Peter answered him, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?"
30But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

Matthew 20.20-28
The mother of James and John asks Jesus, "Can my sons sit one at your right, one at your left?"
Jesus repsonds to them, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

According to tradition ten of the twelve disciple died a martyr’s death; and John was persecuted  severely.

1 Samuel 16.1-13
After Saul’s death, the prophet-priest Samuel goes to Jesse’s house to anoint a new king. When Samuel sees Eliab he knows for sure this must be God’s chosen one. He looks like a king!
7 But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

With God, it’s not deserving to be chosen, it’s about being willing to serve; it’s not about getting a reward, it’s about giving. It’s not about what we see with our human eyes; it’s about what God sees,  it’s all about the heart.

Looking at Mary once again,
Earlier in Luke 1 when the angel Gabriel appears and tells her she is going to bear the Christ child, her only response is:
"I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said."

Her response is a humble act of submission.
Whatever you want God, here I am. Do with me as you please. I am at your service.

We too, do not earn the right to be chosen. But God says, "I choose you."
May we, as ordinary people, offer our whole selves, to the God who can do extraordinary things through us.

Good Stewards are Grateful

Today, we are finally going to get to talk about the word that’s been on my heart for nearly a year – the word is grateful. Good stewards are grateful! I truly believe that gratitude is one of the most important things anyone can ever learn. You show me a person who has learned to be grateful (truly grateful to God), and I’ll show you a person who is growing more wise/mature.

What are you thankful for?
This Thursday, we celebrate Thanksgiving …

Story: We’re getting a divorce …

An elderly man in Phoenix calls his son in NY and says, “I hate to ruin your day, but I have to tell you that your mother and I are divorcing; 45 years of misery is enough!”

“Pop, what are you talking about?”

“We can’t stand the sight of each other any longer. We’re sick of each other, and I’m sick of talking about this, so you call your sister in Chicago and tell her.” Then he hangs up.

Frantically, the son calls his sister, who explodes on the phone. “Like heck they’re getting divorced. I’ll take care of this.”

She calls Phoenix immediately, and screams at the old man, “You are NOT getting divorced. Don’t do a single thing until I get there. I’m calling my brother back, and we’ll both be there tomorrow. Until then, don’t do a thing, do you hear me?”

The old man hangs up his phone and turns to his wife. “Okay, they’re coming home for Thanksgiving and paying their own fares!”

Luke 17.11–16

Gratitude is a response to God’s gifts

Perhaps that’s why we hear people thanking God during music award ceremonies or during sporting events – people are grateful for the gifts that God has given them.

“Thank God for his gift that is too wonderful for words!” (2 Corinthians 9.15)

Gratitude starts in the heart

How can you know if you are grateful? [Words/Actions]

“The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”
You may recall in the story how the Grinch enters all the homes by way of their chimneys disguised as Santa Clause. He takes all the presents and ornaments, decorations and stockings, and even all their food. He drags his loot up to his mountain and then looks down upon Whoville, waiting to hear their cries and wailings as they wake up on Christmas morning. What he hears surprises him. Up from the town of the Whos comes a joyful Christmas carol. They’re sgining! “Why?” the Grinch asks. It’s because, he learns, that Christmas resides not in things but in the heart which is thankful. He could take their stuff, but he couldn’t steal their gratitude!

“Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ. This is what God wants you to do.” (1 Thessalonians 5.18)

Everyone can be grateful
Gratitude is an attitude, and our attitude is a choice! There’s a scientist who has made the news in the past because of his belief that certain people are inclined to be certain ways. For example, a while back, he said there was a “gay gene” – certain people are inclined to be gay, and they can’t help it. Recently, he has claimed that there is a “god gene” – some people are more inclined to be religious than others. Well, I don’t believe that either of those genes exists, and I also do not believe that there is a “gratitude gene,” that would cause some people to be grateful and others to be ungrateful. It just doesn’t exist!

Philippians 4.10–13

Now, that doesn’t mean that developing gratitude is easy work – many times it’s not! It doesn’t come naturally.

We must guard against ungratefulness!
Andrew Carnegie, the multimillionaire, left $1 million for one of his relatives, who in return cursed Carnegie thoroughly because he had left $365 million to public charities and had cut him off with just one measly million.

“The careless soul receives the Father’s gifts as if it were a way things had of dropping into his hand…yet he is ever complaining, as if someone were accountable for the problems which meet him at every turn. For the good that comes to him, he gives no thanks—who is there to thank? At the disappointments that befall him he grumbles—there must be someone to blame!” (George MacDonald)

Real gratitude is a habit

The rest of the story …

Luke 17.17–19

Too often Christians do not develop this habit. Rather they become ungrateful! They begin to think in terms of ownership and rights, that they somehow deserve God’s gifts as payment for their good lives! Sometimes the “insiders” don’t get it.

But sometimes, the “outsiders” do, as in the case of this Samaritan leper. The other nine (presumably all Israelites) didn’t return to thank Jesus for healing; perhaps they believed that because they were Jews, God’s chosen people, that they somehow deserved it or earned it (we don’t know). But whatever they thought, it wasn’t gratitude!

But the Samaritan, the “outsider” got it. His heart was filled with gratitude, and he returned to give thanks to God!

Daniel …
“Daniel heard about the law, but when he returned home, he went upstairs and prayed in front of the window that faced Jerusalem. In the same way that he had always done, he knelt down in prayer three times a day, giving thanks to God.” (Daniel 6.10)

“And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3.17)

Gratitude is a response to God’s gifts. People who are grateful know they have been given so much more than they deserve! Their hearts are filled with gratitude, and thankfulness flows out of their hearts. They realize it’s a choice they have to constantly make, because the natural thing is to be ungrateful! And as a result of their daily decisions to be grateful, they develop the habit of gratitude!

“[A]lways give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!” (Ephesians 5.20)

Good Stewards are Generous

What’s the difference between people who are generous and people who are not (givers and misers)?

  • Generous people give of their time, talents, and treasures, regardless of how much they have.
  • Generous people overcome fear
  • Generous people know, “It’s not about me!” They value other people.

“No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.” (Calvin Coolidge)

Jesus once told a story in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?”

Luke 10.30–35

Be grateful for what you have! You’ll be more likely to be generous.

Charles Feeney’s Generosity …
In January of 1997 a mystery was solved that had baffled people for nearly a decade. Someone was giving away millions of dollars! The recipients didn’t know why the gifts came or how to ask for more. But still the money drizzled in, to universities, hospitals and service groups around the globe, paid in cashier’s checks and accompanied by word that the giver wished to remain anonymous.

The giver, it turns out, was Charles Feeney, a 66 year-old businessman from New Jersey. Forbes magazine had listed Feeney, the owner of a duty-free shop conglomerate, as one of the 400 richest Americans. But then it was discovered that Feeney’s wealth was only 1% of what Forbes thought it was. How could they be so far off in their projections? For years, Feeney had quietly been giving it away. Over $4 billion in all. Feeney is known as a “shabby:” dresser who flies coach, wears a $5 watch and doesn’t even own a house or a car.

The richest 1% of Americans give only 2% of their annual gross income to charity. And yet Charles Feeney managed to give away 99% of all he had without anyone knowing. (All above info on Charles Feeney from www.time.com)

Value other people! Help others.

“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” (John Bunyan)

“One person is generous and yet grows more wealthy, but another withholds more than he ought and comes to poverty. A generous person will be enriched, and the one who provides water for others will himself be satisfied.” (Proverbs 11.24-25)

“Every Sunday each of you make an offering and put it in safekeeping. Be as generous as you can.” (1 Corinthians 16.2)

Where’s your heart?

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6.24).

“If you want to be in charge of your heart, don’t allow possessions to take charge of you.” (John Maxwell)

“Money is a wonderful servant but a terrible master. If it gets on top and you get under it, you will become its slave. (E. Stanley Jones)

Develop the habit of giving and become a giver!

John D. Rockefeller is an example of the benefits of giving. He achieved what our culture calls success. Rockefeller had amassed more wealth than he could ever spend.

By the time Rockefeller was 53 his life was a wreck. Throughout his business career he said, “I never placed my head upon the pillow at night without reminding myself that my success might only be temporary.” He was the richest man in the world and yet he was miserable in every sense of the word. He was sick physically, mentally, and emotionally. There was no humor, balance, or joy in his life.

“I have made millions, but they have not brought me happiness.” (John D. Rockefeller)

Then a transformation occurred. He determined to become a giver rather than an accumulator. He began to give his millions away. He founded the Rockefeller Foundation, dedicated to fighting disease and ignorance around the world. He lived to be 98 years old and was a happy man in those years because of his new and revitalized definition of success.

“Just the very act of letting go of money, or some other treasure, does something within us. It destroys the demon greed.” (Richard Foster)

It’s not the amount; it’s the heart!

Luke 21.1–4

“Giving is the highest level of living.” (John Maxwell)

“You can’t out-give God!”
Disciples do what their leaders do. We are disciples of Jesus, so as disciples, we strive to do what Jesus does; to live as Jesus lives. I believe that means our lives should be marked by obedience and imitation – we obey the words of Jesus and we imitate his life!

And when you look at the way Jesus gave, you know there’s no limits to what he gave – he gave everything!

And it wasn’t just his death on the cross, it started long before that. It started when he left heaven and become one of us. The Scriptures say that Jesus “emptied himself.” He gave everything away so that he could give us eternal life! And later, the Scriptures say that Jesus endured the suffering of the cross, because he knew it would be worth it.

Our motives must be the same – we want to be generous so that others may come to know Christ and do life with us, now and for eternity!

2 Corinthians 9.6–11

Three kinds of Givers …

  • Some one has said, there are three kinds of givers — the flint, the sponge and the honeycomb.
  • To get anything out of a flint you must hammer it. And then you get only chips and sparks.
  • To get water out of a sponge you must squeeze it, and the more you use pressure, the more you will get.
  • But the honeycomb just overflows with its own sweetness.

Which kind of giver are you?

Good Stewards are Godly

What is stewardship?
The Bible calls us “stewards” (trustees), which means that we have been entrusted with God’s gifts; we are expected to be responsible and take good care of God’s gifts. This includes: time, talents, and treasures!

Get Your Priorities Right – Put God First
Having right priorities is about wanting what God wants. The good news is that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and the Good Shepherd provides for the needs of his flock.

“While I may not get the fleeting things I want, I am getting everything God wants for me.” (Ben Lerner)

Click here to read Matthew 6.19–34

Check Your Motives – Worship God
“Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. (Proverbs 3.9–10)

2 Corinthians 9.6–14

Giving is Worship …

Romans 12.1–2
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask? 2Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is.

That’s worship!

It seems to me that a lot of people see giving as a way of supporting the church — like country club dues. My theology of giving (i.e. tithes and offerings, “stewardship”) is that it is not primarily about supporting the church — it’s about worship.

OT Sacrificial System
While some of the OT sacrifices supported the priesthood, the best part was supposed to be burned. Not used, not “spent wisely” — it was an act of worship before God. The essence of worship is surrendering ownership and authority entirely to God over something that means something to you.

Mark 14.1–9

Accept Responsibility – Be a Giver
“Success on any major scale requires you to accept responsibility …. In the final analysis, the one quality that all successful people have is the ability to take on responsibility.” (Michael Korda)

But we have a problem with responsibility …
An inmate at Butte County Jail in CA explained his absence from jail to sheriff’s deputies this way: “I was playing pole vault and I got too close to the wall and I fell over the wall. When I regained my senses, I ran around to try to find a way back in, but being unfamiliar with the area, got lost. Next thing I knew I was in Chico.”

Rights vs. Responsibility
We don’t like to talk much about responsibility. We’d rather talk about rights. Perhaps this is due to our American upbringing. The “Declaration of Independence” states …

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We stop there, and we talk about our rights. But Jefferson didn’t stop there; he went on to talk about the responsibility of government and the responsibility of the people.

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

IOW, government is responsible to the people.

Problem with thinking we have rights is that we think the world owes us something. When we carry that into the church, we think God owes us something. I can’t think of anything that God owes us! Forgiveness? Salvation? God doesn’t owe us forgiveness and salvation! They are gifts! And with gifts, come great responsibility!

One day, Jesus was teaching and told a story. Peter asked, “Lord, is this story just for us or for everyone?”

Luke 12.42–48

What is our responsibility?

In the UM Baptismal Covenant, we ask …
“As members of this congregation, will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service?”

Recently, Bishop Jane Allan Middleton’s address at her installation …

Vital ministry will be characterized by:

  • Welcoming and open churches committed to spreading their message of invitation and this should include making a financial commitment to growing. Adam Hamilton at the Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City – a church that had no members, that did not exist in 1990 and now 14 years later has 10,000 members – committed 10 percent of its annual budget to evangelism for the first 10 years of their ministry. What percentage of your budget goes to evangelism?
  • A high bar for membership and leadership, which requires weekly attendance, spiritual growth through Disciple and other scripture study, mission engagement and tithing. Come, worship with us. Be a part of our church, participate. But when you decide to join the church and if you are a leader, these are the requirements.
  • Sacrificial commitment individually and corporately to mission, locally and globally. The churches which are truly reaching out in mission are the churches which are alive.