Good morning Hope City. I’m glad that you are here today for week 2 of our teaching series, Illuminate. We are taking a look at how the birth of Jesus has brought light to even the darkest places in our life and our world.
We are basing this series off of this incredible verse from John 1 that says,
“4In him (In Jesus) was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:4-5
I think we can all agree that our world can feel a little dark from time to time. And sometimes, it’s not even just a little dark. It feels like we need help, we need someone to show us the way!
Have you ever bought one of those gifts for Christmas that you have to put together before you are able to wrap it up? Maybe it’s a basketball hoop, or a Barbie car. Every now and then a gift comes along that says, “some assembly required”. Some of those gifts should come stamped saying, “Engineering Degree Preferred!”
Each one of those boxes typically have a spot on it that tells you what’s in the box, the parts, the tools they’ve included, and lastly, the instruction manual. It’s preparing you for the job that is coming.
This is why we got Noah hooked on Legos early on in his life. Just like this one… It was perfect… The present was literally the gift of putting it together! This box has 450 pieces, and it comes complete with pictures on the outside of the box of what it’s going to be like, it’s promised to have an instruction booklet that takes you step by step through the entire building process. In fact, Lego has gone one step further, and in the Lego stores, they have places where you can bring the Lego box over and it will show you a virtual model on a screen in front of you. As you turn the box, the model turns. You can see every aspect of the lego set that you are about to purchase and build.
Wouldn’t it be great if all of life came with a step by step instruction manual? The kind that outlined every step of the way, and what the outcome would be? I’ve yet to see that manual, have you? In fact, some of you have been trying to figure that out this past year!
Maybe there have been times this past year where you have felt like God is prompting you to do something… and you’re stuck looking for the picture or the step by step plan.
For example, some of you have had to figure out your relationships in this past year. Whether to start a new relationship, end an old relationship, or repair a hurt relationship. Those are tricky conversations to navigate. It would be way easier with a user guide!
Or maybe your heart is being pulled towards doing something about all of the children in the Foster Care System, or you’re becoming more passionate about the Homeless men and women who call our city home. How do you make a difference in such a big issue? Where do you begin?
There are times we feel a prompting from God, like we get the sense that God wants us to do something, and yet sometimes we do nothing about it. We want our lives to matter and make a difference and yet feel scared and paralyzed at the same time.
You aren’t the first person to feel this way. In fact, this is the beginning of the Christmas story. The world seemed lost, it seemed hopeless, and definitely helpless. The nation of Israel was under Roman occupation, and there was no hope on the horizon. God did an incredible thing through an ordinary group of people. Specifically one person. See, God loves to use ordinary people to do extraordinary things!
In Luke chapter 1 we are introduced to this young woman by the name of Mary. And as you probably know God says some incredible things to her. Turn with me to Luke 1: 31. If you don’t know where Luke is, don’t worry, it’s found on page 698 in the Bibles around you. That’s why we’ve got page numbers! In fact, we’ve put these Bibles out for you every single week. So, if you need a Bible, feel free to take this one! Page 698… This is the start of a letter written by Luke that tells us the story of Jesus.
We’re jumping in to the middle of a conversation between Mary and the Angel Gabriel. Gabriel says to Mary in verse 31
31You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. ” Luke 1:31-33
Mary has heard clearly and precisely what God was asking for her to do. She was to be the mother of the Son of God, the Messiah. WOW! I mean this is incredible! We get a glimpse into a story of God leading an individual to make a difference with their life. You may not have had an angelic messenger come and tell you what God wants you to do… But as we said before, you probably have a sense from time to time that God is leading you to live a life of significance. In fact, if you’ve got a pulse, you’ve got a purpose. What if we all lived out our God given purpose, imagine what our world could look like! There is so much to learn from Mary about how to follow God’s leading and illuminate the world around us.
Look at Mary’s response to what the Angel says:
34“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37For no word from God will ever fail.”
She starts with a very logical question…
How can this be? Mary may be a teenager, but she knows how babies are made. I’ve never been with a man, I’m a virgin. The angel says the Holy Spirit will overshadow you, and you will give birth to the Son of God. No word from God will ever fail! I love Mary’s response.
38“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. 39At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. Luke 1:38-40
Mary just says, yes. Let it be so, I am the Lord’s Servant! She isn’t worried about the details, she is concerned with her obedience to God’s plan. She gets up and heads to Elizabeth’s house… Mary hears God’s leading, and she accepts it, and starts following where He is guiding.
What I love about Mary and many of us, myself included, could learn from Mary is that we should Be Obedient Before Knowing The Outcome. If you want to follow God’s promptings in your life, if you want to see your life make a difference in this world for the Lord, you will have to choose to be obedient before you know the outcome.
It’s funny, as parents we understand this principle. We teach our kids to respond to our voice before they even know fully what we want. For example, I don’t even know how many times a week, I’ll call upstairs for one of my kids and I’ll just say their name, and I’ll hear back, “Yeah?” Then I’ll say “Come here please!” And probably ½ of the time, they will say back to me, “What is it?” “Just get down here.” But there is something inside of them that wants to know what it is that I need before they commit to coming down.
Funny thing is we adults do the same thing. We get the sense or the prompting that God is calling us to do something, and we say, Yeah? What is it? What do you need?
Mary’s response was, I am the Lord’s servant. Too often ours is, Lord how does this serve me? How does this affect my career, my bank roll, or my relationships? Once I figure that out, I’ll let you know if I’m willing to do it.
Be obedient even when you don’t know where obedience will lead you. Pastor Steven Furtick has said, “Great moves of God are usually preceded by simple acts of obedience.” Obedience to God’s will is an act of living out your faith. Mary says, “may your word to me be fulfilled.” This is simple obedience. She had no idea what the outcome was going to be! After all, she was engaged to be married to the carpenter Joseph… what would he think? What would Mary’s mom and Dad think when they saw her growing belly. What would the other people in Nazareth say? I mean, Nazareth wasn’t a big town… Events like this would be the talk of the town.
Too often we want to know the end result before we step out and start. I’ll be obedient if I know what will happen. I have friends who are contemplating having children, and they keep saying, well, we will try and have a baby after next year’s promotion. And then, that happens, and they say, well, we’ll try having a baby after we buy a house. There are so many questions, so many what if’s, so many stipulations that it just seems like the time will never be right to start a family. And to date, they haven’t.
We want to know what the Lego project is going to look like before we begin. We look at the outside of the box, we shake it, and we start to figure out if we’re capable of doing what we see on that box. Sometimes being obedient to God looks a little more like this. (Blank Cardboard box with legos inside) God is inviting you to a project even if you don’t know what it looks like.
When God calls you to do something, it may not be the right season, but it is always the right step. Too often I think that Christ followers look at obedience to God as a test, like a pass or fail equation… If I do this, then God will know I’m committed to Him. What if it’s not a test, but God’s way of showing us what is best for us? Be obedient to God, and leave the results to Him!
Mary knew something else about following God’s will for her life, look with me.
41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! … 45Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” Luke 1:41-45
Mary went to go and be with Elizabeth, not as a way to run away from the situation, but to be around people who understood the working of God. Look at verse 56,
56Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home. Luke 1:56
For 3 months Mary sat with Elizabeth, she went through three of the hardest months of pregnancy, with another woman who fully understood what it meant to see God do something incredible. Remember, Elizabeth was beyond childbearing years. She was unable to have a baby for years and years, and then God spoke to Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah and told him that she would conceive and have a baby boy named John. Don’t think for a second that Elizabeth forgot the miracle that God did for her. There would not have been a moment in her pregnancy where she felt like this was normal. This was supernatural, this was a miracle, and who better to cheer Mary on than someone who was 6 months ahead of her in pregnancy.
Obedience to God’s will may not always be easy, but it is always worth it. Frequently, we think of people who are obedient to God’s will as being superheroes, or Clark Kent types… These are the men and women who head off to the mission field in Africa and care for sick orphans and nurse people back to health, all while sharing the love of Jesus with them. This is my Great Aunt’s story. My Aunt Dorothy, my grandmothers sister, moved to Africa as a missionary. She’s an amazing woman who spent 20 years in Nigeria and Liberia Africa living on little to no money, all while caring for some of the world’s most overlooked people. She left this country, with her things packed in barrels in order to follow God and Love People in Jesus name. Incredible, right?
God may call you to move to Africa as a missionary, but I doubt He’ll call you to be a missionary around the world, if you aren’t willing to be a missionary to the people that live next door to you. Following God’s will does require courage, but that courage starts with the small things. Like, loving your neighbor as yourself.
Was Mary courageous? You better believe it… but you need to know that Mary knew something about being Courageous. Courageous People Connect With Others. There are no supermen in the church. No person stands on their own. Everyone needs a cheerleader. We need to be connected with one another.
This is why we have set our legacy project goal for this year to be #ForTheNextGeneration. Because we know that there are students in our church right now who are world changers. Students that God is already prompting to change the our community! Two weeks ago, we had two different students stop by my house to pick up invitation cards for the Christmas Movie Night so that they could go to school the next day and invite their entire class to their church. We have students inviting students to church, and We want to cheer them on! In fact, let me tell you two different stories of what God is doing in our student ministry here at Hope City.
A little over two months ago, I was picking my son Noah, and his friends up from Junior High Youth Group, and one of the boys in the car came to YG for the first time that night… Before he could get all the way into the car he was thanking me for bringing him home, and telling me what a great time He had there. In fact His words to me were, “I really liked how it wasn’t just fun and games. I liked how we discussed spiritual things.” I about drove off the road. I just acted like this was totally normal!
This past Friday night at the movie night, afterwards we were talking to a family on their way out, and the mom said, thanks for having us tonight, the kids would like to come check out church sometime. And one of the kids said, Yeah mom, I don’t know why we can’t just make this an every week thing.
Our student ministry is growing, and we are praying that God would bring a Youth Pastor to Hope City. Would you be praying with us for this person? We know that it is mission critical to pour into the next generation.
Everyone needs a cheerleader, Courageous people connect with others. Mary spent time with Elizabeth to sure her footing and be encouraged for what God was calling her to. Who are you connecting with? Who is encouraging you to follow the Lord and draw closer to him? This fall, I led two different men’s connect groups, and we read through a book that challenged us to be better men, better fathers, and better husbands. To honor God in each of the roles that we play. I love watching the relationships get built here at Hope City on the Dream Team. I love seeing you pray with one another, and care for one another. Courageous people, connect with others. They recognize that they can’t do it on their own. That we are intricately dependent on one another. This is why the Bible refers to the church as a body. Each person playing their part!
Mary’s obedience, was encouraged by others, and it led her to not only act, but also speak about what God was doing. Look back at what she said about what God was doing in her life.
46And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
Mary’s only response to what God was doing was to glorify God. These few verses are called Mary’s song, or Mary’s Magnificat. For someone who is known around the world, we read very few things that have come from the mouth of Mary. This is the greatest collection of Mary’s words, and it is so impressive to me that in the midst of following God, through difficult days, she starts by saying, My Soul Glorifies the Lord! Her spirit was not crushed by the things that God had in store for her, it wasn’t beaten down by the Lords will. She wasn’t burdened by God, it was quite the opposite! She was saying Look where God has me now! A Heart that follows God knows God.
Mary knew of her need for a savior. Said, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior”. She was an ordinary young woman, that God did extraordinary things through. Don’t miss this, don’t be so focused on where God has you going that you stop rejoicing where He has you now!
Mary wasn’t holding her baby yet. She hadn’t or heard the cooing of her savior yet, she hadn’t showed off her baby to the shepherds, or received gifts from the magi. She still was staring down the barrel of 6 more months of pregnancy, and natural labor. Why? Because Mary recognized that “God has done great things for me”.
Here in the United States we are so focused on the product that we forget about the process. Don’t forget about the process. God does some incredible work in the waiting. If you are waiting this morning for something that God has promised you, don’t give up. Don’t turn your head or your heart to the left or to the right. Stay focused on where God has you right now. Let your soul glorify God in the same way that Mary’s did. Because A Heart that Follows God points to God. Write it down, tell others about it, sing about it… I don’t know what expression you will take on, but don’t miss out on pointing toward all that God has done for you.
Mary shows us that Obedient Living is Life Changing. It changed Mary’s life and because of her obedience, the world will never be the same. Because 2000 years ago, in a stable, a pregnant teenager gave birth to the son of God. This boy would grow to become a man that would turn the world upside down so you and I could be meaningfully connected to God and others.
The Christmas story that you and I have known and loved is formed because of this young woman’s obedience in following God’s will for her life.
What is God calling you to? What whispers do you hear Him laying on your heart? What does he bring to your mind?
For some of you, today is a day when you will decide that you’re done waiting for the right time. The time is now for you to step into what God has been prompting you to do. It’s time to make a difference in your community. It’s time to reach out and be the neighbor that you know you ought to be, the neighbor that you wish you had!
And others of you may simply be wondering what does God want me to do with my life? There may have been a day when you knew what that was, and today either it has gone foggy, or you’ve lost the drive or the passion for it. Take a step towards it… Don’t sit on the sidelines.
If you’ve got a pulse, you’ve got a purpose. So what is your purpose?
Today, would you ask God to reveal to you what your purpose is and then obediently follow him!