12/16/2019 3:41:08 PM
Gifted to Make a PROMISE
(https://www.youtube.com/becauseisaidiwould) Shortly after he lost his father, Alex Sheen began sending promise cards to anyone who requested them at no cost. It was Alex’s way of remembering his dad, whose greatest characteristic, Alex says, was always, always keeping his promise. Since his father’s death in September of 2012, Alex’s organization has sent over 11.3 million Promise Cards to more than 150 countries. What started out simply as honoring his father has turned into helping millions of people across the world keep their promises. The whole idea is that whether my promise is big or small, if I say it out loud, if I write it down, if I am accountable to someone else, I am far more likely to do it, to keep it. Alex says at this point because I said I would is bigger than remembering and honoring his dad. He says the world is a better place when people keep their promises.
Today we consider a promise that was kept. See, the Magi from the east presented the Christ-child with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Yet these treasures were only a part of the unique gift they gave to Jesus – it was the expression of their greater gift: 2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” 7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” 9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
There are so many questions surrounding these Magi. Where exactly in the east did they come from? How did they know about the king of the Jews, and how did they know that he had been born? How did they know that the star they saw when it rose was his star? How far was their journey and what was it like? What was their reaction when they finally arrived in Jerusalem and nobody seemed to know what they were talking about? Or even, how many Magi were there and what were their names?
We know very little of the Magi from the east, but we know this: They made a promise – a promise to worship the newborn king who they were convinced was the Savior the world. That is the unique gift the Magi offered the Christ-child .
Here in Matthew chapter two, we see the action end of their promise. We see the arrival to Jerusalem, after what must have been at least a 500-mile journey by foot and camelback. We see the inquiry and search for the newborn king. – What has always struck me about the Magi’s time in Jerusalem is how much more Herod and the scholars know about “the one born king of the Jews.” They know he’s the promised Messiah. They know he would be born just 5 miles away in Bethlehem. They know he would be a king who would shepherd God’s people. And yet its gentile foreigners who promise to worship him – We see the joy when the star the Magi saw in the east reappears. Matthew practically trips over himself in his attempt to share it: In the original language very literally it says “They rejoiced greatly with great joy.” We see them coming to the house, falling to their knees, and worshiping. Jesus is a helpless baby – maybe six months, possibly a year – yet they worship him as a mighty king. And finally we see their treasures – rare and expensive gifts from their home country, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Thoughtful and generous offerings were part of their worship.
Matthew shares the outcome and follow-through. You might say it’s the fun part – the promise they made to worship now bears fruit in some wonderful and obvious ways. They see Jesus! They bow down before him! They give him gifts! We get to read that. God shares it with us. We don’t get to see or hear the Magi make their promise. God doesn’t include us in on their prayerful planning. Yet it must have been absolutely extensive and a far greater financial commitment than just the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And though we don’t get to see their planning or the details of their trip budget – it was all part of the promise they made to worship the king of the Jews.
And it’s part of ours. There are 66 books of the Bible. And that’s all there ever will be. God isn’t going to add any more. But if the story of this congregation was ever written down or had been included in the Bible like the Magi’s story, there are certain recent events and dates that we can be sure would be in there: Palm Sunday of 2010(the first worship service ever in this building); September 9, 2018(groundbreaking for the facility expansion); September 8 of this year (the dedication of the facility expansion); Or perhaps a certain Easter or Christmas Eve worship service. Those are celebration-worthy days! Days we “rejoiced greatly with great joy.” They’re right up there with the Magi finding Jesus and worshiping him! But, today likely won’t be remembered in Immanuel’s history, nor will this entire month as we introduce our next two-year ministry plan. Encouraging and filling out two-year commitment cards might not be as flashy as groundbreaking or dedication day, yet it’s just as much worship and just as much promise.
Last week we laid out some of the opportunities, and even needs, in front of us. We talked about better serving the many individual needs in our large congregation. We talked about our growing and hurting community. We talked about our need for more ministry staff. And in my inbox, just as I asked, a few more needs were specifically highlighted. More intentional teen ministry and men’s ministry were two that were mentioned. And I personally couldn’t agree more. So all of those opportunities and all of those needs along with thinking of the planning that must have gone into the magi’s journey to worship the newborn king caused me to do two things this week: The first was to look at and then play with some numbers. The second was to pray. And pray a lot. 1) Pray that God would work in the hearts of his people in powerful ways. 2) Pray for boldness and confidence and a whole lot of clarity as I considered how I might share these numbers with you.
In 2017, the commitments to the “HERE” ministry plan totaled $3.3 million – 3.3 million, that’s a lot. But that’s not the number that jumped out at me and encouraged me for the next two years. The number that encouraged me was 313. That’s the total number of commitments to “HERE” two years ago. Yet, there were then and there are about now 1,300 giving units here at Immanuel. That comes to about 25%, a little less. Here’s why that’s encouraging. Yes, we are praying for 100% participation, but what if 25% just became 30% or 40%. 40% participation at the same rate would be $5.5 million. And 50% would be $6.85 million. Then I continued to play with the numbers and kept praying. What if we didn’t only encourage those who didn’t participate two years ago, but also challenged the 313 who did? If the 313 also increased their commitment from 2 years ago just by 5%, $6.85 million jumps to over $7 million. And that is an average increase of only $4.79 each week for each giving unit. What if just under $5 more each week became $10, or $15? Excuse the double negative, but $7.2 million for ministry over the next two years isn’t unrealistic.
Why share all those numbers? I promise that it’s not to guilt you into putting more into the offering plate. It’s not. I chose to share those numbers simply to show that all of the needs and opportunities in front of this congregation are attainable – every last one. They’re all within arm’s reach. Think of the impact this ministry could have on both the 2,600 souls already entrusted to this congregation’s care and the entire Greenville community with $7.2 million for ministry over the next two years. It’s amazing and really fun to think about.
So how do we do it? Like Alex Sheen’s because I said I would campaign, write it down, say it out loud, share it with a trusted friend, an accountability partner. Those are all helpful promise-keeping tips. Yet, when it comes to giving the gift of promise to the Christ-child, there’s a better way – a more powerful way.
Consider again the Magi and the promise they made to worship the king of the Jews, no matter the distance and no matter the cost. Where was their focus? It wasn’t on their own promise. It wasn’t on their planning or their commitment. Their focus wasn’t inward at all. Because if it was, they never would have made it to Bethlehem, Jerusalem, or even out of their own country. It was all far too daunting. The Magi’s focus wasn’t on themselves or their promise but on God and his far greater promise.
God promised in Genesis chapter three, just 9 short verses after Adam and Eve pulled the whole world into sin, to send a Savior – a Savior who would take upon himself the guilt and punishment for every sin. Then God repeated that great promise again and again and again and again. And he planned – he planned how that promise of a Savior from the land of Judah would reach the ears of the gentile Magi. But not only their ears, but also their hearts so that they would be convinced that this promise of a king and Savior was for them. And when that happened – when they saw God’s promise to them, they couldn’t help but promise and plan and go to worship the Christ-child.
God’s promise to the Magi is his promise to us. The Savior and king the Magi found in Bethlehem is our Savior and our king. See, no matter what promise or commitment we may make or give to God, his promise and commitment to us is always greater. Amen.