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He chose us

1. He chose us

How did we become adopted as children?

John 1:12

To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become  children of God,

In Galatians 4:7 We’re told:

You are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Now… just like a human adoption, our Heavenly adoption also has another similarity. The parents chose the children to love in a human adoption, but most of the time the child has to also choose to return that love, and to submit to the new parents.

In other words, in order for us to become true Children of God, we must ACCEPT God’s choice. He chose us, but we submit to that choice don’t we? I remember years ago it was customary to say, “I found God” which we later learned was poor theology. God found us, he chose us and we… we receive the gift of grace, we receive the gift of adoption.

Listen to how John begins his account of the gospel.

John 1:12-13

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood (that means we’re adopted) nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And true, John doesn’t use the word “adoption” here, but the idea is still there. We “become” Children of God. But in truth our adoption is part of the grand story of the Bible and we see from the scriptures that…

2. He predestined us….

The Bible is full of Heroes and Heroines who were adopted.

Look at Moses, he wasn’t raised in his parents home. He was adopted and lived in the house of Pharaoh. One of Pharaoh’s own daughters adopted Moses when he was a baby.

The prophet Samuel was given to the temple when he was born. His mother was barren and prayed to God for a child, and so when he was born, Samuel’s mother took him back to the temple where she prayed and her baby was raised by Eli the priest.

An entire book of the Bible is named after Esther, she was adopted by her uncle Mordecai

And as we pointed out earlier, all of this paved the way for Jesus was also adopted by Mary and Joseph. And you know what, there are quite a few losers and bad examples in the scriptures, we don’t look to everyone in the Bible as being a role model do we? But you know what? Every person who was adopted – in the scriptures – turned out all right.  We NEVER hear of any man or woman in the Bible who was “adopted” and then who grew up to be a loser.

That’s because God never looks on adoption as a curse… it’s always an opportunity.

Paul reminds us that adoption means that we are wanted – we’ve been chosen and predestined. And why? Because there is a PURPOSE for our lives

Romans 8:29-30

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

3. He adopted us

1 John 3:1

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.

The gift of Christmas is that because of the saving grace of Christ, we’re all adopted.

In God’s family we are all adopted. We are adopted into love. We are adopted into grace.

The mother in the video reads the verse from Isaiah that she found in the Advent calendar and it says

Isaiah 61:1

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…

This verse was Jesus’ mission statement. It was the first verse of scripture he read in the temple.

This verse says Jesus came for me. He came to heal me, to free me, to mend my heart.

Luke 13:34 Jesus says,

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”

Jesus speaks as a Mother who wants to protect and love her children. This is who we are! We’re God’s family. He came for us! Christmas is the gift of grace, the gift of adoption. We’re no longer outsiders looking in, trying to fit in and squeeze by with sacrifices and law, now the Christmas gift of Jesus is here and the curtain is torn.

No more barriers, no more walls, no more waiting with tiny noses pressed against the glass hoping that this time will be the time when my parents come to take me home.

At Christmas time – Jesus shows up!

And where there is Jesus – there is God

And where there is God – there is family.

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We are adopted

Right now there are over 120,000 orphans in America, while another 400,000 children live without permanent families. That’s 500 thousand children in America with no parents to call their own.

Listen to how one writer puts it…

“A couple of weeks ago, something about broke my heart, it was when I learned that a friend of mine, her adopted child, grew up with feelings of being unwanted.  My friend told me that years ago, she discovered a saved letter written to Santa from her daughter when she was about eight. The letter asked Santa for parents for Christmas.

I thought it was sweet, but my friend corrected me – It was sad. While other children all over the world were asking Santa Claus for toys, year after year her daughter asked for parents, but she was never chosen.

It was then that it hit me, I cannot imagine how it feels to grow up with nobody ever wanting you … not your foster parents, not the prospective adoptive parents who look at the foster children through the fence as they are playing, and not even your own birth parents. My heart ached to hear the story because the feelings expressed by this  young girl mirrors the feelings of thousands of very real children all over the world, from children living in foster homes to orphanages to residential treatment centers.

And the saddest part is that this deep-seated feeling of not being wanted stays with the child even when the child finally does have someone to love them. My friend and her husband truly love their daughter and they are knocking themselves out to parent her as best they can. Nevertheless, their efforts can not undo 16 years of feeling unloved and unwanted.”

I read somewhere that therapists deal with adult adoptees, who were adopted as newborns but who still grow up with feelings of being unwanted, even when they were adopted into loving homes. Can you imagine? Even though they were adopted as Babies too young to remember being abandoned. But, the reason is that, before they were chosen by their adoptive parents, they were also “un-chosen” by their birth parents.

And even though adult adoptees might be able to understand on an intellectual level why the birth parents had to “un-chose” them, the little boy or girl inside of them still feels unwanted on some level.

And while this dynamic certainly doesn’t apply to everyone, it certainly applies to many. Adoption grief is very real, especially for any child who has to wait for a home.

All of this reminds me of something the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:3-5, listen to how Paul starts this letter..

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…

Paul uses that same word, doesn’t he? He says that you and I …are adopted. But notice that Paul goes out of his way to show us one other thing… God thinks we have value. Look again at verses four and five again.

even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…

Look at that very specific language.

He chose us.

He predestined us.

He adopted us.

Paul uses the Greek word “huiothesia” and each time Paul uses the word he uses it to denote that we are children of God, but not in the same way that Jesus is the “son of God.” And he also uses to describe the “change” that takes place when we as people transition into believers. There is an adoption “process.”

The first time we see Paul use this term is in his letter to the church in Rome.

Romans 8:14-17

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons… The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…

Biblical scholars write at length about how this term and concept of adoption that Paul writes about is based on a legal term rather than a religious term. It likely was derived from Roman law. In Roman law the one being adopted was removed from their previous family state and placed in a brand new relationship as a son or daughter, so now they have a new father and thus, a new family.

If the  child had any debts from the previous family, those debts were cancelled and a brand new life with a clean slate was part of the benefits of being adopted. So this adopted child was now under the control of their new father and responsible only to him. It was normal for this newly adopted child not only to formally be recognized as a new child in the family, but also to become a rightful heir to the father’s estate just as if they were a blood relative.

And I don’t know if Paul had ever seen an Orphanage, or knew how they worked, but he certainly uses that symbol of how we as people become the recipients of grace. Last week we said that GRACE is one of the gifts we get at Christians. It’s the moment when we stood in that orphanage, with no hope, no salvation and no forgiveness and then…

The King walks in, and he doesn’t just take one or two kids, he takes the whole orphanage, he tells the employees they won’t be needed anymore, and he takes each child home, and not as a servant or a slave, but as his own children, as a prince and princess.

The Christmas story begins with the adoption of Jesus.

But isn’t it wonderful to know that you’ve been adopted to?

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Jesus was adopted

There was a moment in that video that almost brought you to tears – and if it didn’t you have a heart of stone. The Mother in the video was talking about the feelings of being defeated, of failure, of feeling like a loser and she gives you a moment of resignation and she says  “We decided that’s the way it was going to be.”

Then we see her smile and she says, “…until it wasn’t.”

We humans are too quick to throw in the towel. We look at the world sometimes and think, “well that’s it. It was a good run, but now it’s over. I guess this is the way things are now.”

But then, I think if we listen, or rather if we know HOW to listen and we stop and sit still long enough, we’ll hear God says….

“Oh no it’s not.”

And perhaps if you’re here this morning, but you’re not a Christian. Maybe you’ve felt that you’re life has been one bad thing after another. That perhaps the goody-goody club is never going to give you a membership card because no amount of prayer and soap can clean off the life that you have lived and you’ve resigned yourself to think that joining God’s family is reserved for the perfect …or the near-perfect?

Then lean in a little closer and listen to these words. “Oh no it’s not.”

I know we Christians paint a good picture at Christmas. The nativity is beautiful, Mary and Joseph are smiling, the shepherds are there, the wisemen have gifts… the cattle are lowing… whatever that means, but all was not well in Bethlehem in those days. In fact when Jesus came on the scene at this time in history, God’s people were living in darkness. They were living in fear and resignation.

Remember, this is all during the Roman occupation, and sure roads and aqueducts were nice commodities, but for the Hebrews it was still one giant, long, drawn out, yucky time. Or at least it SHOULD have been… “but it wasn’t.”

Because somewhere, amidst all the false gods, suppression, the taxes, and forced labor was a young teenage girl who carried the hope of the world.

And I don’t know that we always remember this, but the Christmas story is a story about adoption.

Jesus was adopted.

I mean, sure, not in the conventional way, in a very un-conventional way.

But I think we notice it more, if we read the Christmas story found in Matthew.

And I don’t think we read the Matthew account as much during the Holidays because it’s more of a story about Joseph than anything else.

In Mathew chapter 1, our author begins with Jesus’ family tree and look at his notation at verse 16. “….

Notice that Joseph is described as the “husband of Mary” but not the Father of Jesus. So now Matthew is going to write an account of how this happened…

Matthew 1:18-24

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

So just to put this into perspective. A typical Jewish wedding had three stages, first the two families either arranged the union or they blessed the decision. Next the couple was engaged, this was announced with a pledge from both parties and the marriage was now legal. Yes, even before a ceremony or any… thing else. The relationship was binding and could only be broken by death or divorce.

v19 says that Joseph was a “just man” that means he was righteous and that he followed the law, so when he learns that… Mary is pregnant and he is NOT the Father, Joseph opts for his legal rights to divorce.

v 20 says, But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

Now, the immaculate conception and the nature of Jesus is a hard thing to grasp, God knew that even Joseph would have trouble with it, so He sent angels to try and explain it, but no matter how you slice it, it’s repeated for us again that Jesus is not Joseph’s son. The angel says,

v21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

So this might sound like a weird concept to you, but Jesus was adopted. Right? The angel tells Joseph that the baby was conceived by the Spirit, so if Jesus isn’t his legal son, but yet he is supposed to treat Jesus as his own, then… Joseph has to adopt him.

But God isn’t asking Joseph to adopt just ANY kid, Jesus isn’t just ANY baby. The angel says one other thing, “Oh by the way, this baby isn’t getting a family name, because he’s not from your family. If you were planning on naming him after YOUR Dad, forget it. You have to name him “Jesus” because… he’s going to save the people from their sins.”

That was the purpose of Jesus, that is why he came into the world. Jesus was adopted for a purpose…and what I want to tell you this morning is that – so were you.

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Yours to Give

D.L. Moody once said: “God is so anxious to save sinners He will take everyone who comes. He will take those who are so full of sin that they are despised by all who know them; who have been rejected by their fathers and mothers, who have been cast off by their wives and their husbands. He will take whose who have sunk so low that upon them no eye of pity is cast.”

You and I have been given an everlasting gift; and for that reason, we are to celebrate the present.

God isn’t looking for proud, loud, and arrogant disciples. In fact, when God comes across those people He wants to get into their proud hearts, break them, and fill them back up with His grace.

Look at how James says it James 4:6

He (meaning God) gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

These are words worth remembering not only this Christmas, but also throughout the year. James is quoting a principle from an Old Testament proverb that had been around for centuries.

Proverbs 3:34

Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor

C. S. Lewis wrote in his book “Mere Christianity” that pride was a spiritual cancer that eats up the very possibility of love and contentment, and even common sense.

Pride is one of the seven deadly sins. Pride is a spiritual cancer that damages our souls, harms everyone in its path and breaks the heart of God.

But true greatness in God’s eyes (according to Proverbs 3) comes not in exalting ourselves over others. True greatness comes in humbling ourselves as the servants of others.  In fact Jesus, who had every right to come as a boastful, powerful King, the Bible says He came in humility Jesus said in

Matthew 20:28

Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

WHAT BINDS YOU UP?

Louis comically winds up in a body cast. Restricted. Bound up. He is the very embodiment of what religion can sometimes do to us. He was bound up mentally, emotionally, spiritually and because he let that get the better of him, he winds up being bound physically.

There are people who are bound up, tied up, knotted up and clothed with religion and rules for much of their life. But, there is more to life than being “right.”

Life, as God intended, is about being right with our Creator God as well as being right with our neighbors. At Walden church we say it like this: the purpose of every Christian is love God and to love others.

And Grace is what enables those right relationships to occur. God gives us grace, and that gets us so jazzed and so pumped up that we respond by giving grace to others.

Nobody wants to end up in a body cast at Christmas. But just like the millions of Americans who have issues with Christmas, we can find ourselves feeling restricted and hemmed in. You know just as a reminder,

You only have a few weeks to send a Christmas card to everyone on your list.

You only have 24 shopping days to get all of your gifts purchased.

And you have to clean you house from top to bottom, decorate it, and make a ton of food.

Are you ready?

Christmas can feel like a body-cast…can’t it? We can’t blame some people for feeling a little like Scrooge… a little bah-hum-buggish

Well let me offer that you have something more important to give than cards, gifts and the very best Christmas party.

Grace is yours to give as well. I bet you, between now and Christmas, someone is going to steal your parking space, and it’s going to happen right after you’ve circles the lot for the third time.

If you’re invited over to someone else’ home, do they get grace if their turkey is way too pink on the inside or their stuffing is entirely too mushy?

I want to leave you with words from the prophet Isaiah

Isaiah  58: 6-12

What I want … is this: to liberate those tied down and held back by injustice, to lighten the load of those heavily burdened, to free the oppressed and shatter every type of oppression. A fast for Me involves sharing your food with people who have none, giving those who are homeless a space in your home, Giving clothes to those who need them, and not neglecting your own family.

Then, oh then, your light will break out like the warm, golden rays of a rising sun; in an instant, you will be healed. Your rightness will precede and protect you; the glory of the Eternal will follow and defend you. Then when you do call out, “My God, Where are You?” The Eternal One will answer, “I am here, I am here.

If you remove the yoke of oppression from the downtrodden among you, stop accusing others, and do away with mean and inflammatory speech,  If you make sure that the hungry and oppressed have all that they need, then your light will shine in the darkness, And even your bleakest moments will be bright as a clear day. The Eternal One will never leave you; He will lead you in the way that you should go. When you feel dried up and worthless, God will nourish you and give you strength.

And you will grow like a garden lovingly tended; you will be like a spring whose water never runs out. You will discover there are people among your own who can rebuild this broken-down city out of the ancient ruins. You will firm up its ancient foundations. And all around, others will call you the “Repairer of Broken Down Walls” and the “Rebuilder of Livable Streets.”

Ebenezer Scrooge lived as though he deserved all he had, and like a miser he held tightly to life and love. But his spectral visitors showed him that all of life is a gift, and our short time should be spent …. giving the gift of grace.

Dickens ends his story with these words about the transformation that took place in Scrooge’s heart,  ”…it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!

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Grace is like Christmas

Last week we mentioned the shepherds who came to the birth of Jesus.

Shepherd is not a profession that people looked on with great esteem. No little boy in Jesus’ day had high aspirations to be a shepherd. But in the presence of the King of Kings, there was no judgment, no condemnation, nobody was excluded.

What did we learn last week? ADVENT means arrival. Advent is the expectancy of looking forward to Jesus. And so as we consider the arrival of the Christmas season we need to remember that this is all about love.

Because if we love God ..but miss loving our neighbor, then we’ve missed the way God wants us to experience a Merry Christmas in the first place.

The gift of grace allows us to love our neighbors whether they greet us with “Merry

Christmas”, “Happy Holidays” or if they just shove us out of the way to get the last Lego set. Grace makes room for people and gives them space to come near and experience love, even if they have a different perspective then we do. From the day Jesus was born, there was room for all kinds of people to come near to God

WHAT makes you say, “Bah humbug?”

Louis was full of pride, full of anger, full of judgment, full of exasperation, and full of himself. And those people are so much fun to be around, right?  However, when you are in the presence of a person who is full of grace, the whole temperature of the room changes. Because a person full of grace has not only has received a gift, but also becomes a gift to all who they come in contact with.

And this is why I wanted to start here and this is why it’s a good first week for advent – Grace is like Christmas because a person does not earn grace.

Grace is a gift that can only be received.

The Apostle Paul talks about this important gift of grace that has been given to us by God in the letter to the church at Ephesus.

In Ephesians 2:8-9 Paul writes

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

In other words, the only way to “get saved” is by receiving a gift straight from the hand

of God. This great gift is called grace. And I think somewhere along in Louis’ past he likely received the gift of God’s grace into his life. But somehow the grace he received in the past got mixed up with religion and the need to be right. As Louis said, “All this time I’ve been bound up by religion. I don’t want to be bound up anymore.”

Religious resolve and the need to be right all the time becomes tedious. It causes a person to get bitter, angry and full of pride. That is part of what Paul is talking about in Ephesians.

A person cannot “earn” the saving grace of God by being good enough or by working hard enough. Because if someone could earn their salvation in such a way then that person would be tempted to boast and be arrogant in what they did.

Frederick the second was an 18th century king of Prussia, one day when he was visiting a prison in Berlin, the inmates tried to prove to him how they had been unjustly imprisoned. That is, all except one. One lone prisoner sat quietly in a corner, while all the others protested their innocence. Seeing him sitting there oblivious to the commotion, the king asked him what he was in prison for. “Armed robbery, Your Honor.

The king asked, “Were you guilty?”

“Yes Sir, “ he answered. “I entirely deserve my punishment.”

Then king then gave an order to the guard: “Release this guilty man.”

You see, just like this prisoner, you and I were in prison. We were in bondage to sin. We were slaves and spiritually dead. And also like this prisoner, we were pardoned. Did this man do anything to deserve it? No! Likewise, what God offers you is by his own initiation. As we read in verse 8: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, You cannot earn your salvation.

Paul makes it clear that is from God, and from God alone.

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