The Struggle is Real
Today, I want to share with us, I think, an important topic because it’s relates to Christmas, to try to find … what’s good to this message, I want you to try to find something that just speaks to your heart that you can relate to this week thinking about the Christmas season.
Christmas for us, I’m talking about the Christmas message, there’s lots of great things that you can glean from it. We share this message today. I think there’s several things you could focus. Sometimes we focus on so many things we don’t practically apply anything.
I want to encourage you as we talk about today’s topic, if God lays something specific on your heart, just to use that this week to meditate on, seek the Lord’s face and worship him during. One of the things I want to talk about with you today is … really, the only thing I want to talk about today is the adversity of what the holiday season represents.
Christmas isn’t always easy and statistics tell us that people struggle more during the holiday season than any other time of year. Being people of God and pursuing the Lord in our life we’re not escaped from any sort of challenge that might enter our lives. Just because we follow Jesus doesn’t mean life is easy. In fact in some ways it can present extra challenges to your relationships in this world. People struggle during the holiday season. That could be just a gamut of an amen and a yes to that here today as we’re worshiping.
Sometimes you think about the holiday season, a loss of job could, a loss of a loved one, a painful divorce and you’re left with the question of what do you do especially during this time of year where it’s about hot chocolate, candy canes, warm hugs, and friends and enjoying that time. Now, there’s adversity towards what Christmas is supposed to be. With that, you have this ideal of what is or what should be and you are aware you are and they don’t match. They can cause us to feel depressed or just wrestle with anxiety and struggle of what the holiday season brings.
I’ve heard it said that someone mentioned that “hope delayed, makes the heart sick.” No doubt, hope is a powerful force but during the holiday season it can dissipate. When we talk about hope and this holiday season and how to approach it especially if you’re facing adversity … you know someone that is … I want to be clear in saying I’m not talking about this optimistic, just-pump-yourself-up about the future. For some of us, things aren’t okay right now. I believe just to be trite about our struggles is not healthy.
When I share about hope today, I’m not trying to sweep it under the rug and get us to pretend like it doesn’t exist. Some of us may struggle with even possibly seasonal depression or low-lying depression throughout our entire lives. There are forms of Christianity … maybe I shouldn’t call it Christianity, where people teach. If you had enough faith, those types of things would go away. I don’t think it’s biblical, I don’t think it’s good, I don’t think it’s healthy, I don’t think it should be a pursuit of our lives. I don’t want to be trite in talking about our struggles. I really want to just process through how we could deal with adversity especially during the holiday season.
One of the reasons I think it’s important to do that most particularly now is because when you look at Christmas, especially the first Christmas that was ever celebrated, it wasn’t easy. Circumstances were less than ideal. If you play some of the thoughts of the Christmas story in your mind it’s easy to recognize that. You think about Mary as a middle aged teenager engaged to a young man in a similar age demographic. They had little money resources. Joseph now trying to figure out how to explain to her parents she really is a virgin mom, how that’s going to come across. Mary, nine months pregnant, traveling on the back of a donkey. Wise men happen to come hundreds of miles on camel across desert to visit this Jesus. Mary gives birth in a manger among animals, she wraps Jesus in swaddling clothes.
Some historians believes that the swaddling clothes are actually utilized as burial clothe, meaning when people would go on journeys they will often travel in caravans and one of the things they would do is they would take strips of cloth then they would wrap it around their waist like it was a belt. If you ever went on a journey especially during this time it wasn’t uncommon for someone just to kill over and die and then you’re left with the question, “Okay, we left our family here and we’re meeting their family there, what are we going to do in the meantime?” They would take the swaddling cloth and wrap up the bodies to somewhat temporarily mummify it to get it to where it needs to go to be with loved ones to give it a proper burial.
When you’re looking at Jesus being wrapped, He’s literally wrapped in his grave clothes. Herod tries to kill Baby Jesus and winds up chasing the family away. Several kids under the age of two were slaughtered in Herod’s jealousy. Mary and Joseph are forced to flee to Egypt as refugees. On top of it all, they’re dealt the card of taking care of Baby God. I think of all the responsibilities in life on my hand, if there’s one I don’t want, God how about I’ll be uncle Joseph and he go to my brother or something like that.
In the story, you see Mary and Joseph, this young first child … You think about, my own kids I don’t feel like I’m always getting it right; I don’t want to mess up baby God. Mary and Joseph’s first kid, out on the gate, is Jesus. It kind of sets the unfair standard for the rest of the kids, oh, Jesus always gets a perfect day. How do you deal with that?
You think about their Christmas story. You think about what we talked about as a Christmas story today, and you try to look back at that century. The first one that ever happened is like how do we get here with these ideals when that is what it represented?
Bitter reality, and I don’t want to say other people’s pain makes me happy but I’m going to … no. When you find other people going through similar circumstances or just adversity, not only does your heart relate but it brings you a little bit of hope, like you’re not the first person that ever encountered what you’re going through and you’re not going to be the last. Sometimes when we go through the struggles of our own life, we sort of feel that way; don’t we sometimes? You get isolated, you get depressed, you can sulk, you feel like you’re on this island all to yourself. Then you look at the story of Mary and Joseph unfolding and you realize that adversity isn’t uncommon. In the midst of their struggle, they find hope.
Today, that’s exactly I want to talk about as it relates to this Christmas story in the life of Joseph and relate it to our own lives. I think a number of years here at ABC, we get to this Christmas season we oftentimes do a series related to Christmas, sometimes a little longer than just two weeks. We talk about every character, I think, as it relates to the Christmas story at one point or another but the one that we haven’t discussed is Joseph.
When you look at his life, Joseph was a carpenter. He was a blue collar guy. We don’t know a lot about him. Most scholars will say that the reason we don’t know a lot about him is because most likely Joseph died while Jesus was fairly young. When you read about the life of Jesus you see Mary popping in and out of the story and Jesus’s brothers and sisters popping in and out of the story but you don’t see or hear about Joseph. You get a story of Jesus a little later on getting caught back at the temple teaching people, and Mary and Joseph have to journey on. After His early years of life and into His teenage years you don’t hear anything, he disappears from the gospel record.
Here, in the midst of this Christmas story, in the beginning stages of Jesus’s life, Joseph is there as his earthly father, you start to see how God works in thy midst of this Christmas story to bring hope in adversity. I want to unfold the story of Joseph here to help us discover in our own lives how we can make that application and recognize in the midst of their difficulty; no to ignore it, not to pretend it doesn’t exist but to find hope.
By the way, if you want to read the Christmas story this week … it’s four chapters in the Bible, Matthew 1 and 2, Luke 1 and 2. You can take some time to go through the entirety of that story but I want to focus on Matthew 1 verse 18. I want to start there. I’m going to look at six or seven verses here. I just want to talk about it quickly, just make a point about each of these verses. I’m going to step back from that and make an overall statement as it relates to the context of the story in hope as Christmas unfolds.
Matthew 1:18, “Now the birth of Jesus was as follows; when his Mother Mary had be betrothed to Joseph before they came together, she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. ”
It already said what the story represents but Joseph here no doubt is in shock mode right? I don’t know how this interaction would have gone down, I don’t know how you can even broach this subject as a guy. The story … the way it unfolds, did Mary come tell Joseph before Joseph recognized or did Joseph recognize and have to try to bring up that awkward conversation like, “I do not want to be in his shoes.” When it comes to his wife, he’s like, “Ah, it looks like maybe …” If the answer is no, he’s going to get killed but, “If I’m not mistaken here you might be …” There is the word for you, Mary.
Notice he have the shock mode in his own life of trying to figure this out and then Mary responds, “Oh yeah, I’m a virgin.” Oh, okay. Yeah, sure Mary. Out of all circumstances in life, I’m just going to throw this out, 99.9% of the time, probably not a virgin birther. But in this one circumstance, now Joseph is all of a sudden supposed to believe, “Okay. Yeah, that makes sense.” Here it is in the beginning of the story and it’s sort of in this … okay, this is what you’ve got to deal with, Joseph. Then it goes on verse 19, “Joseph, her husband, being a righteous man not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.”
I love what it says in the midst of the struggle. You don’t really get it in verse 18. You don’t get the emotional side of this, you just get the statement, the fact; this is what happened. Behind the story there has got to be this tension building in this guy’s life. How do I do this, right? When you get to verse 19 you start to see that. He’s like, I want to walk with God and I know Mary ripped my heart out and I care about her so I could just stomp all over her publically … I could ever stoned, but I want to still honor her. That’s a hard thing to do. When someone wrongs you, to not just belittle another human being but still recognize they’re created in the image of God. How do you do that? How do you still value someone that you feel just broke your heart and it’s ripping at your life?
I think if Joseph were alive today, he would go to his bedroom in his house with his parents and he would play every Taylor Swift song and just cry it all the way. How do you do this here?
You see within the story, as the gospel story has told us of the first Christmas, Mary is described as a godly young woman. Joseph, you see, he’s described as a godly man but recognizing we get the back story of this. We know how this works out. Joseph is not there yet. He’s just saying in his life he wants to walk with the Lord, but then there’s this tension. He is just leaving that tension there to try to figure out how to work through it, what’s causing him the pain in his life. Then he gets to verse 20. It says “But when he had consider this, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream saying, Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife for the child whom has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”
In this verse it’s telling us how Joseph feels, right? It is saying “do not be afraid.” What would he be afraid of? Well one, he is seeing an angel, right? If that doesn’t cause you to pee your pants then maybe it’s just realizing how when you now interact in life socially there’s some ostracism that could take or they live in a conservative society. Joseph knows Mary had to convince him as it relates to the virgin birth. Mary has been trying to tell him this is God’s kid here, I’m telling you I am faithful. Now he’s thinking he got the rest of society, he got mom and dad to convince but this angel appears and he says, “Do not be afraid” and then he begins to give the explanation as to why and that God is working out his plan.
Can I tell you, when it comes to our journey with God we’re much like Joseph in this story in that we don’t always know how it’s going to work out. Can I also say anyone that’s ever done anything significant in this world for the Lord, it didn’t happen without a battle to vie or to fight adversity to overcome or a sacrifice to make. When you go back throughout Christian history and you read about anyone that makes a difference for the Lord, the thing that makes them stand out is the faithfulness they carry through in the midst of opposition.
One of the things that makes this Christmas story such a beautiful story is Joseph here is afraid. This next verse could tell us, “and Joseph decided, God you figure this out with somebody else. I’m out.” History writes him as a coward and someone else intervenes in Jesus’s life, but that’s not how the story goes. Joseph stands on the gap, he sees the adversity, he finds hope in the circumstance and he lose for a greater purpose then just the day-to-day trial that may come through this circumstance. Joseph was afraid, but the important thought is just to recognize when we do anything for the Lord in this world, if it’s going to make a difference, there’s likely going to be a sacrifice to make or a battle to fight.
In verse 21 it tell us why this is important. Joseph don’t be afraid. She’s going to have a child and it’s of God. Here’s what’s going to happen … this is why it’s such a big deal, “She will bear a son and you shall call his name Jesus for He will save His people from their sins.” You’re going to be a part of the greater story of redemption in history. Now, I’m not specific with baby Jesus here in his life but the same is true for you. You’re a part of God’s story of redemption in history. Though the story might be told just a little bit different, the overarching story still rests in your life. The significance of the story is now being told. You can be a part of this or not. The statement of the angel here is to bring Joseph into his calling to recognize how significant this moment is, that Jesus came to save.
Now the greater context of the Christmas story is this – salvation. Now it begs the question, from what? Why does Jesus wear that label, Savior? Can I tell you … I don’t think it was in our lives … in Christianity today, we just don’t place enough emphasis in exactly what that word means. It’s not this kind of salvation that he brings of which all religions in the world might possibly create that salvation. When it comes to Christianity, Christianity is the most inclusive and exclusive belief system, I think, in the world. It’s inclusive in the sense that God gives the invitation to you to embrace them. It’s exclusive in the sense that Jesus says “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father but by me. Narrow is the gate.”
Jesus is saying, if you want to expand your eternity with God, it’s Him. That’s it. If you want to experience an eternity with God, don’t embrace him and that’s it. That means this word of salvation is very drastic. When you think about the Christmas story as it has been told to us and maybe you’ll look at that story and think, why would God choose such humble circumstances? If I am taking care of baby Jesus and I’m Joseph I’ll be telling God, “God, I don’t have that kind of money.” I mean he needs gold floors and pearly walls, and that is not me. I am a carpenter with two box to my name because I’m just getting married for the first time.
This is not to impress. What Jesus is demonstrating in His life is the need for us to be served and he’s taking up the lowliest position, being born in the manger, for us to recognize just how drastic of a salvation he is bringing in to our lives. You will not grab a hold of Jesus without recognizing how much you are in need of Jesus. If you just become something in the melting pot of religion to you then there’s no value in him, and honestly there’s no point in Jesus. Why would Jesus come to Earth to die on the cross? Why would God do that? What does the word drastic mean?
We need rescue. We need salvation. We need forgiveness from God. I heard so many posts this past week and it’s one of the things I appreciate from Voddie Baucham. He was talking about a young man who was asking the question, “How do you deal with pain in this world? How can there be a good God when there’s so much suffering?” In fact on our website at church we have this place where you can go and ask questions. This week one of the questions sent me to was that question, how can there be a good God when there’s pain in this world? He just flipped the question. He simply said, “You need to ask the question differently and that is, if there is a good God, why does He allow you to live?” If God knows what you did yesterday, if God knows the anger that you’ve demonstrated in your life and the vengeance, the hatefulness, the way you’ve treated people if God can see all that and God as a holy and good God, why would that God allow you to live? If this heaven is perfect and you’re not, if He treats with love, if He want to experience joy and you in your life had spewed venom, why would He allow you to exist?
When we think about in terms like that, that word savior becomes much more magnifying because it demonstrates a God that knows we are sinful but still comes to save us and causes us to have the opportunity here to embrace him through this story, that God, in the midst of this mess, God still cares.
It says, “She will bear a son and you shall call his name Jesus for he will save his people from their sins.” Verse 22, “Now, all these took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord to the prophet” which is saying, this isn’t something that is just … God was like, “You know what, it might be a good idea. Maybe we should rescue them, I don’t know. They seem to be turning on themselves and killing each other.” That’s not how God came to this conclusion.
From the beginning God demonstrated his love. From Genesis 3, the first promise of the gospel. God creates in His image to connect to him. We reject God, God pursues us. The coming of Jesus has been so beautifully declared to us that you can see in scripture when Christ will come. We’re going to look at that in a couple of weeks. Daniel 9, how He will come, the places that he will live, the price that will paid, the way he will give his life, the fact that he’ll be resurrected. Prophetically all that laid out about Jesus so that when He comes we would recognize him. This isn’t some accident that God just drew up last minute. This is the way that God has determined it from the beginning with Adam and Eve.
He’s saying to Joseph, “Joseph, this isn’t an accident.” This Christmas story that’s being told, God’s sovereignty is over all of this. We look at the circumstance, we think how difficult. God is looking at the circumstance and he is seeing his Glory working through it.
In verse 22, all these took place to fulfill what the prophet … what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet. Then in verse 23 he tells us what this particular prophet he wants to identify says because it relates to Joseph very much, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child” oh, thank God, “and shall bear a son and they shall call his name Emanuel.” To translate, it means “God with us.” “Joseph awoke from hi sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary as his wife, but kept her virgin until she gave birth to his son and he call his name Jesus.”
He’s saying prophetically this is what was revealed, this is now what’s being fulfilled. Now, what are you going to do about it? Because Joseph could have gotten to that point reject her and I reject the angel and I’m living a life of my own. Johan did it. Instead, he walks by faith.
The stories that started to unfold between me and Mary, there’s tension on walking, trying to figure out how to honor her in this. I found out what she’s saying is true and yet there’s still tension. When you read this Christmas story just because you get to the end of Christmas story it doesn’t mean everything was butterflies and roses. They still have battles to fight and they still had adversity to overcome but Joseph, in the midst of this, chooses to walk with God. Then the question becomes, taking a step back from all of these, is to still ask how do we find hope and adversity?
Can I tell you the foundation of that, I think, begins with truth? That’s what the angel is doing for Joseph here. Joseph emotionally is all over the place. He’s trying to figure this out. He has got tension in his life and the angel sent by God to bring him down to this one place. Okay, let’s start with what’s true, and here’s what’s true. The angel gives him a quote from Isaiah 7:14. A quote 700 years old to prophetically identify how Jesus will arrive so they can walk in understanding of it. What you get is this apologetic. Not an apology, but this defense for the faith. That’s apologetic in the stand as to who Jesus is. The foundation for truth becomes important in this passage scripture. When you consider this verse, this verse is a representation of a gamut of apologetic or prophetic apologetic verses throughout the Bible.
First the first 1800 years of Christianity … well, not the first 1800. I should say, especially towards the 1700 or 1800s of Christianity, one of the arguments put against Christianity was that the Bible was written after Jesus came. When you look at all the prophetic statements that’s what they would say, 1700, 1800s. Well, the reason they got those so precise is because they wrote it after Jesus came and so it’s not really that profound until the 1940s and 50s. When they discovered the Dead Sea scrolls, giving us manuscripts 100 to 200 years older than Jesus so they didn’t have to deal with this apologetically. How could the Bible so precisely predict the coming of Christ unless by Divine hand.
I think even as an unbeliever, when you look at the Bible and you deal with it with intellectual honesty, you have to wrestle with this because what the Bible is doing is giving you a truth to stand on for your life. This isn’t something if you’re being intellectually honest, you cannot just sleep under the rug. This is just one of many statements, but when it comes to Jesus and the way He comes to this world and how it’s prophetically revealed in the scripture … and you have scripture 100 years older than Jesus describing the very way Christ would die before that mode of death even existed, that form of torture even exited. How do you deal with that?
I even think as a young man trying to wrestle with those thoughts, thinking about late teens or early 20’s couldn’t refute what I was discovering. When it comes to adversity, you have to find a truth to stand on. I don’t think this is unique or something that we do just exclusively meaning when it comes to apologetics, apologetics are great because it helps us intellectually wrestle, but they’re still hard as you’re going on.
When you look at the story of Joseph as it’s told here, he’s told intellectually by a messenger from God but it doesn’t necessitate that he’s going to walk them in that belief. Same is true for us, we can share all the apologetics to someone in the world about the truth of who God is but that still doesn’t address the heart. It may pave the way for the heart to see and understanding you’re not throwing your mind away by walking with Christ in this world. In fact, you might be walking in the most intellectual way, I believe, because God created your mind to begin with. God wants you to exercise that, but your heart still has to determine what’s going to lead your life.
When you look at the story, I’ve said to us before those that come to know Christ, 95% of those that come to know Christ do so because of a friend, a close friend sharing their story with them. When you see the story of Joseph unfolding, I think it’s worth just recognizing it because he dealt with this tension in the beginning of the story in verses 18 and 19, that he is not doing this on his own. An angel appears but at the same time he’s been leaving his life walking with Mary. We’ve seen the way Bibles described her. He knows she’s a lady of integrity and yet she’s trying to get him to convince that she’s a virgin. He knows that she honors God with her life.
Dealing with that struggle, trying to figure out still how to honor her because she’s lived with integrity, how does he do that? Now he has had the angel deliver that, he still gets to not walk with her in this tension that these circumstances created. Yes, it brings God into this world but it’s not to ignore the battle that they’re going to be facing together. I think the reality is we need the truth to stand and apologetics help with that, but we also need someone to stand with.
Here’s the story unfolds. It’s not one person isolated to himself but it’s Mary and Joseph on this journey together. What you see is God supernaturally intervenes to bring others around them; the wise men, the shepherds. When it comes to handling adversity in our lives and trying to find hope in the midst of struggle, it’s truth to stand on and someone to stand with.
Think about our own journey as a Christian, how those worlds collided. When I realize there was probably more to life than just myself, the way I enjoyed living for myself, interacting with a Christian and challenging them in their faith, one of the things that they introduced me to early on in my questions was a book written by a man named Josh McDowell. He wrote this book called Evidence that Demands a Verdict. One of the things that attracted me to that book was Josh’s story. He is still alive today. I would call him at least one of the modern day heroes in the Christian faith because of just how that book he wrote has made an impact around the world. It’s translated in over 40 plus languages. It’s written like an encyclopedia. All it does is go back in Christian history and it documents the validity of Christianity, outside of Christianity. Historical resources you can’t find in Christianity and outside of Christianity to validate the story of Jesus.
What’s unique about this book is that Josh McDowell was not raised in a Christian home. In fact, when he shares his story he says that he was raped as a young man from the ages of 6 to 13 by an older man. His dad was known as a town drunk in the city where they lived. When he got to college, he had a hard heart; in fact, probably anger towards God due to circumstances he went through. How can a good God exist with this pain? When he got to college, he started interacting with Christians. They were proposing things to him that he couldn’t wrestle or he couldn’t explain and so he went on to this investigation in his life and he ended up writing this book while he was in college called Evidence that Demands a Verdict.
You see the pain of someone else’s story and how Josh, in sharing that story … Josh McDowell in sharing that story how it can intersect with where we are in our lives. I don’t exactly share all the things that he has gone through in life, but my wife has not been in a cake walk. I choose to come to you as a pastor. It’s not like it’s been roses either and butterflies. There’s challenges too, but anything you do for the Lord will have a battle.
Can I tell you, when it comes to my battle one of the things that makes this so enjoyable, it’s you. I love our Church. This isn’t something I walk alone. This is something we get to live in victory together. We see the story of Joseph unfolding and he’s got godly influence around him. He loves the Lord. He finds the truth to stand on and people to stand with. It’s Biblical. Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.”
Let’s recognize the different places in your life. You’re going to have struggles that you go through but there’s a reason God created this church. There’s a reason God told us to commune together. There’s a reason why when you read the Bible there is dozens and dozens of one another in the way that we’re supposed to interact with one another. There’s a reason God says it’s not good to be alone. I’m going to say it’s probably because it’s not good to be alone, right? There’s a reason why we just continue to encourage community in our lives as a body of believers. There’s a reason I say to you, Sunday is good but it’s a Christian picture on steroids, man. No way you go home on Monday and you’re like, “Let me read God’s words. Let me expatiate a 45-minute sermon to myself in order to inspire myself to follow Jesus.” That doesn’t happen. It’s like one time a week that you do that.
How do you follow Jesus the rest of the week? Just looking at someone on a Sunday, just sharing a message … that is not it. That is not it. If we walk out of here, and this is all we do for Jesus, we are fooling ourselves in our pursuit of Jesus. God has given you gifts and talents and resources and ability in this world not to just play defense all the time or else we’re just talking about depression and finding hopes that might be more defensive, but man he has made you more than conquerors.
It’s not when you sit in chairs that you do that, but when you get in circles and you encourage one another and use your gifts and inspire one another. That brings me to the shameless plug of connection groups. It’s in your bulletin this week. If you want to be a part of what God is doing, you want to encourage people, do that. There’s places to sign up, which by the way I need to tell you that Bruce’s Connection Group are not in here is because they’re full. That’s it. It’s not because they’re not having it. If you’re in the Bruce’s Connection Group you’re still meeting, okay?
I want to tell you, sometimes you’re going to get in groups and you might be like, these people are too weird for me. Or they may be like, they’re too weird to us. If you feel that, if you get that vibe, don’t worry. You’re not tied down to any group. Just find a community. Hey look, if you’ve moved to Utah and this is a new place for you, it is not good to be alone. Bible tells us that. Community is important. You may have moved here and you have no family around you. I think what’s important for your success as a human being in this world is to create a tribe, create a family, find a place to connect with to encourage and inspire one another in God. You were made for that. Nowhere in the scriptures are talking about Christianity lived as an isolation to yourself, but to recognize God is doing something beautiful in you and to share that story. Even in the struggles … even in the struggles, God can do something in that. I would even say, maybe most especially in the struggles.
As a pastor, I’ve had opportunities, more this time of the year than any time of the year. It’s like I’ve been to the hospital a ridiculous amount. If you’re in the hospital, I’ll visit you. I’m just at this time of the year where I’m making all these hospital visits. I’m saying to myself, “God, can we do this in June or April?” I mean, this is the holiday season, give me a break. We need the holiday season. Bad stuff can happen at all the other times of the year. Can I tell you, the people that tend to do better in hardship and handle adversity are the ones that have taken the time to invest in relationships and have a support system around them?
I’m not telling you you’re going to make friends with everybody in the world. That is impossible. Impossible to do that. In fact, I don’t even think it’s healthy. Let’s be honest for a minute, how many Facebook friends you got and how many of which you really call your friend? I know Facebook uses the term friend, but you know you click through that list sometime and you’re like, “Who’s that? How do I know them? That’s not my friend.” It is not about making tons and tons of friends. All I’m saying is make some friends. We have two services. Who goes to the first service? “I don’t know, I’ve never been to first service.” In that it becomes impossible. Alpine Bible Church, it is impossible to know everybody, but you can know somebody and you can make a difference.
Proverbs. A man of too many friends comes to ruin, but there’s a friend who sticks closer than a brother or you’re lady and sister. You need those people. When you get in the Church and you have to fight a battle, who’s the first person you call? Are they going to let you sulk in the depression and leave you there or pull you to hope? How do you do it? I think you found the truth to stand on and you find someone to stand with.
If you haven’t caught it so far, what I’m saying is this – truth and love are two of the most important pillars of the human life. When we look at the story of Joseph, I think just his story and sharing it with us, it teaches us a little bit about adversity. Let me just go back to it for a moment. I think one of the things he teaches us in verse 18 and 19, be open with your struggles. He didn’t have to say this to Matthews or record it in his gospel. We didn’t have to know the detail of his life here. He’s just sharing the greater story of what God is doing because he knows it’s not really about him.
One of the beautiful things about Christianity, I just love about Christianity is we’re not about status. We’re not about who can get to the top. It’s not about making much of me, it’s about making much of Jesus. When it comes to me in comparison to Jesus I ain’t got nothing to impress you with … but God, God is worth it. We’re not about making much of ourselves, we’re about using what God has given us to serve this world, to better see the glory of who God is. Here in Joseph’s story, he’s open about his struggle. One of the best ways to find healing is be open.
Guys, I want to just share my baggage here. I was thinking about getting remarried. I know, shame on me, right? The truth is I was still trying to walk with God in this and there was some tension here. This is just my struggle and I needed some godly influence around me to come beside me and let me know. Maybe I’m alone on this, but have you ever been on a circumstance where you got that friend and you’re heading down this negative path. You share that with your friend and they give you all the affirmation to just continue on that path of destruction.
Then you got this godly friend and you know what they stand for. Then you start to say out loud all the great influence you got from your other friend. As you’re saying it out loud you’re like, “this sounds stupid.” You’re like, “This is not probably the best thing. I can’t quite figure out what the best solution is but I feel like I’m just saying dumb stuff and I can’t get my tongue to stop. How do I be different?” When you open your mouth around those friends that you know are godly influences sometimes it gets you to start thinking about the actual things you’re saying.
Did you ever get so driven by emotion you just start saying stuff? A little bit later you’ll back and you’re like, “What was I talking about? Was that even me?” It’s not until you’re in that circle to encourage you down the godly path that it becomes significant to make a difference in your life.
That’s what makes community so important. I’m telling you, by your own. When you get to a place of depression, the general consensus is, where you go with that is in further depression because all we tend to see is our self. We look deeper in our self and all we found there is darkness. I’m not just telling you make a friend, I’m telling you to make a good one. Make a godly one. Make one that cares enough about you to not just listen to you when you’re going through adversity but also kick you in the butt. There’s a balance there, isn’t it? Be honest with where you are and discover hope. This might be, whatever your experiencing in life, it may be the first time you’ve ever gone through that. You’re not going to be the most wise person in the world to handle it, but someone else does. Be open about your struggles. The second is this, find a greater solution than yourself.
I’m going to tell you this and I’m going to say it more to me but if it applies to you, then apply it to you. When it comes to depression, I think indulging is important, but the danger becomes we start to idolize ourselves. We start to allow ourselves to not only be dictated by the circumstance, but become the victim about the future because of our circumstance. It isolates us and doesn’t allow us to move forward meaning, when I get to a place in my life where I might struggle … I know my tendency sometimes; it’s to sulk and it’s to look deeper within me and think where was me and start to struggle within myself because I think I am the most important thing in the world and therefore everything should be about me. Because I am the only one interested in me because I’m on this island of depression about myself, I just go deeper in me. The reality is, though my pain may have been real, I start to even idolize me in my depression and make it all about me.
Now when you look at the gospel story here and the first Christmas unfolding, it’s not saying that Mary and Joseph had it easy and if they walk a little better in life everything would go well. I’m not saying just because we walk with God in our lives that we’re not going to continue to maybe battle low lying depression forever. All we’re talking about is setting up the right scenario for us to walk in a healthy way and for God to use that to encourage others in the circumstance. I think it’s important to look to a greater solution outside of yourself and just to ask yourself, just be honest, “Am I worst being me in this?”
One of the healthy things for me, even talking about struggles. When I start to read … when I complain about my life, always me … and I start to read about what Mary and Joseph did, I’m like “What am I doing?” What am I doing? Some of the stuff I’m going through may not be easy, but Mary and Joseph found a way to find hope and I say, “How can I look outside of myself in this circumstance?”
Be open with your struggle or find a solution outside of yourself. Next is this, recognize that adversity can hold a godly experience and reward. I said this to you all already, but anything worth doing for God, anything that’s going to make a lasting impact for the Lord it’s going to have a battle or it’s going to have a sacrifice. Recognize that adversity can hold a godly experience and reward.
Now, as Americans we tend to shy away from adversity because we like comfort, pleasure, and luxury. That is the American dream right? When you come to Christ you can sort of take this American ideal and put it into Christianity and sort of seek this form of Christianity out where it’s all about just taking the easy street. God doesn’t necessarily call us to the easy street. When we shy away from the adversity, we’re also moving away from the godly experience and reward that the Lord might want to bring into our lives through it. “God, I’m just going to sit on my hands and immobilize the rest of my life”, or “God, I’m going to discover you in these moments.”
The story of the apostle Paul in 2nd Corinthians 12:9, he says that “I pray to the Lord three times to take away the thorn in the flesh.” But God shows up and says, “No, my grace is sufficient for you. For his strength is made perfect in my weakness.” What God is saying there is, “Look, I’m not always going to give you … like today, I’m not going to give you the strength for tomorrow. I’m going to give you the strength for tomorrow, tomorrow.” In your weakness, my strength is made perfect.
Have you ever looked at someone in your life and you’re like “How could they do that? If that were me in that situation I feel like I would melt into a puddle of nothingness on the ground. How do they have strength?” I think a part of that is the grace of God. I think God meets us there. I think we’re afraid to necessarily move in it because we might lack the faith, but I think God meets us there. I’m not calling it easy, but I think he promised that. One of the ways I know it is because of what’s said at the very end of this passage. Verse 23, he says to you, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son and they shall call his name …” What? “Jesus”, or Emmanuel. He uses both in this passage.
Notice things are creating within our mind, salvation, God with you. You’re not alone. I could think if I were Joseph, life would maybe … maybe it would feel a little bit better like God is with him so he’s got to figure it out. God is with the apostle Paul, his grace is sufficient with. God is with Joseph. He is working a hard job in his life. He’s a carpenter in this time period where they have to use a lot of hand tools with no power tools, but when he gets to the knee and he is praying, he is like, “God is with me and so I know you’re going to take care of this because this baby ain’t going to starve so thank you Lord!” Trusting God in that.
What about you? You’re not raising baby Jesus. If you are, please come talk to me. I need to share some things with you. You shouldn’t be raising baby Jesus right? What about you? I think the promise is still true. When you open up the story in the book of Matthew 1, God is with you. When you get to the end of Matthew the last words Jesus says, “I am with you always.”
You can read the Christmas story and be like “I believe it”, right? You can go out here and live it like an atheist. That promise of God’s presence wasn’t specific to just Joseph and Mary. Jesus’ coming was for you. Jesus’ presence is for you. It’s all about His grace, lavishing His love when we were in sin for you. When we talk about finding godly experience and reward in the midst of adversity, how can I even claim such a promise? Emmanuel. God is with you.
One of my favorite figures in the history of Christianity is Charles Spurgeon so much so that I probably said his name so much that some of you roll your eyes as soon as I say it but, Charles Spurgeon, I’ll say it again. One of the things I love about Charles Spurgeon, he was a pastor in London but he ministered with transparency. He was authentic when he spoke. I don’t think it was about just impressing people. I think he was earnestly seeking God in everything that he stated … I shouldn’t say everything, but hopefully everything that he stated … because Charles Spurgeon battled with depression his whole life and he was open about it.
One of the interesting things about Spurgeon’s life is at that point in history Spurgeon was pastoring the largest church to ever exist by thousands. In fact when church would meet there on Sunday, whatever Spurgeon said that’s what the newspapers wrote on Monday to Saturday. He was under heavy scrutiny. No doubt it probably added to his depression. Spurgeon was candid. I also think that was probably the very reason for which the church was so large because if we pull back the curtains on our lives, a lot of us have struggles. Struggles that we haven’t even shared with other people. Battles that we’re facing alone.
One of the things I loved about Spurgeon and one of the reasons I think that made him so successful as well is Spurgeon said early on his life he tried to fight against the depression, as if it didn’t exist. He just wanted it to go away. Later on he learned to embrace it. Not because he was like “Oh yippee! You know what, depression.” It’s not what he was after. What he said was he recognize in his life, in the midst of that adversity, that is the very thing God used to sharpen him as a believer.
What Spurgeon was saying is when he pray, he felt like he prayed more deeply and earnestly because of the struggle he went through. That was what God used as a catalyst to thrive in him. When he taught, he taught more fervently because he clung to those promises in the midst of the struggle. The tool that he at first started to try to fight against and get it to go away became the very thing that he recognized God used him to make him so effective in communicating in this world the hope and the promises of God and seeking God’s faith in his own life.
Getting to the end of this and thinking through all of these, and we talked about hope in the midst of adversity, I’m not saying to us that all of it just goes away. I don’t think that the Christmas story, just because it’s in the Christmas story, everything was great. Mary gets told just a little bit later when he took Jesus to the temple that her heart is going to be ripped up by the death of Christ, but i think they had hope. I think they’ve found a healthy way to walk through it and something ultimately greater to live for it because they had the truth to stand on and found someone to stand with.
First Christmas was not easy. The circumstances were less than ideal, but they had reason to hope. They built community and love, they walked in the greater truth. They are open with their battle but they didn’t fixate on themselves. They’re honest with where they were and took steps towards a greater goal outside of themselves.
I think if we struggle, it’s important to just stop and say the Christmas story is your story. This is the big hope. This is why I make such a big deal about this time of year even if it’s hard because ultimately, through Mary, Joseph, Jesus the story just unfolds. It’s the story of redemption in history where God brings salvation specifically here, but he’s continuing to write that story in me of which I belong, and even in that struggle God still uses you.