The Personal Pulpit

Who we are is often defined by where we live, who we hang around, what church we go to, where we live.  But those things change, and if those things change does it change who we are? If we define ourselves by those things, if we allow those things to shape who we are then yes then we would change.  Is that would what God would want for us?  No I don’t think that it is.  He created us.  God shaped us into who we are and who we are going to be.

 Isaiah 64:8 is probably a familiar verse, does any know it?

” But now, O Lord, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter, And all of us are the work of Your Hand.”

 Does God use the things around us, the people around us, the places around us to shape us into who we are going to be? Yes I think that is one of the ways that he does mold us as the clay.  Yet here is the rub.  When we take him out of that mixture, when we define who we are by choosing things that he wouldn’t was being involved in, wouldn’t want us doing then we become the potter and the mold gets broken.

 I said that we were going to look at John the Baptist tonight and see his example.  Because here was a man that wasn’t a part of any mold.  He broke the mold.  There was only one John the Baptist, and there was really no one like him before or after.  John the Baptist was shaped by God from the time he was still in his mother’s womb until his death thirty odd years later. 

 So what do we know about John the Baptist? Who was he?

 Stop and think about this man and think about his name.  Have you ever noticed in the Bible have everyone has their first name, then another name. It is usually where they are from or who their father is.  Look at the disciples James the son of Zebedee, Joseph of Armithea, Jesus of Nazareth.  But not John.  We don’t refer to him as John the son of Zechariah, no he is always John the Baptist.  His name was not where he was from, and that at time there was no baptist denomination, he was referred to by what he did. He baptized people to repent of their sins and that is what they called him. His is remember by what he did.  And do you think that John is in heaven now, proud of his name John the Baptist. Smiling every time someone reads his name as John the Baptist?  Yes I think that he is, and the reason that would make him happy is our first thought tonight of looking at tonight.  Identifying who we are by God’s definiton and no other.

 Luke records the story of John’s birth.  Even before he was conceived we have recorded in the first chapter of Luke the proclamation of what he will become.  The angel Gabriel appears to John’s father and proclaims to him that ‘ he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the obedient to the understanding of the righteous, to make ready for the Lord a prepared people.’  And even as the angel Gabriel tells John’s father this is how it is going to be Zechariah, John’s father, doubts that this would happen. And is struck with silence until after John is born.  Then later on after John is born they ask his father what his name will be and he writes down that it will be John. And immediately after he wrote it down he was able to speak again. And in verse 66 of the first chapter of Luke there is an awesome statement about John.  The people who were there at his birth and saw the miracle of Zechariah speaking again were frightened and said ‘ What then will the child become? For indeed the Lord’s Hand was with him.’

 From the beginning of his life God had a plan for him.  John as we know was the one that was sent to prepare the way for Jesus. He was to make straight the paths and prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah.   And I think that John grew up knowing this. Luke records that he spent his life in the wilderness until his public ministry began as adult, some thirty odd years later.  And this whole time his parents probably told him the miracle of his birth, the appearing of the Angel Gabriel to his father and proclaiming what John would do, and don’t forget that John’s father was a priest. And he would have known the scriptures and would have taught them to John.  Now I can’t say for sure that if my child was to be the herald of the Messiah I would make sure that he knew all the scriptures so that he would know the Messiah when he saw them.

 Now the rest of us can not say that before we born the archangel Gabriel appeared to our parents and shared with them what we would do when we grew up.  I think that would be a fair statement.  It would also be safe to say that we didn’t have our calling in life outlined for us from the time that we were a small child.  So it might be a little harder for us to find out what we were suppose to do, or not.  Let’s look at how John found out and maybe we can look at some points for us as well.

 Read John 3:22-30

 There is a funny thing about how God created these feeble pots of clay.  He has given us this wonderful thing called free will.  We have the opportunity to choose.  We have the opportunity to choose.  John the Baptist had the chance to choose and he chose to follow the path set out for him by God. And you have the chance to choose. 

 You have the choice between the things you think define you and the things that God has laid out to define you. 

 The things that we think define us are the things of the world around us.  Where you go to school, the things that you like to do, the things that you choose to be, the clothes that you wear, the music that you listen to, the television that you watch, the movies that you see. These things are pushing on the clay to mold it to create something, to get you to think a certain way, to have you think that something is important.  It happens all around us these are things that are exterior these are things that are pushing on us from the outside. Sometimes we don’t even realize that we are being molded by them. 

 You don’t think so?  The beginning of the year no one was sitting in the very back row, only a couple of people sat in the final few rows. But slowly one or two people each week started to move back.  Then one more, maybe two of their friends would move back.  Now  the back couple of rows are pretty much filled.  You sit next to your friends and they sit next to their friends.  One person went and then another, and slowly the migration moved to the back.

 Every day you have someone telling you what the latest style is. What is cool, what is the latest thing, what is the latest toy that you have to buy, what it is that you need to focus on so that you will be accepted. 

 John the Baptist had the same thing asked of him. The passage we read was started because a Jew came up to John’s disciples and asked him which baptism was better. The one that John was leading or the one that Jesus was doing not very afar away.  John’s disciples were getting mad that someone would challenge John’s baptism as not being important.  They were upset that this Jesus that John had pointed to had set up shop and was competing with them for disciples.  Their popularity and value as they defined it was being threatened was going away and it made them mad.  They were being told that their fifteen minutes of fame were up and now they were the second act.

 And this wasn’t the first time that something along this line had happened to John. Plenty of times he had been asked who he was. Was he the messiah? Was he Elijah come back?  He had the choice to make.  And he chose to stand on the scripture that was written.  Proclaiming that he was the one that would come ahead of the messiah. And that is exactly what he does here in this scripture.  Once again confronted by those around regarding the same dilemma.  He points back to what he already said.

 If I can get a little personal. If you are sitting here and you are saying that you are a Christian. Someone who points to the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Someone who says you are a disciple.  Someone who is clay the potter’s hand? Are you being shaped by the potter or by the world around you?

 When confronted with things about the world how do you make the decisions that you do? By what is easy? By what is popular? What is the least embarrassing? Or do you make those difficult decisions by the words of the Bible?

 Don’t answer. You don’t have to answer me.  I don’t want you to answer me.  I want you to answer yourself.  That answer is between you and God. And you need to be honest, because it is really hard to lie to Him.

Have you ever seen the movie ’27 Dresses’?  Okay I confess that I have seen the movie, and thought it was pretty funny.  For those of you who haven’t seen it is the story of this girl who has been a bridesmaid 27 different times for 27 different friends but never the bride.  She is always the one supporting that friend on her special day.  On the happiest day of someone else’s life this girl, Katherine Heigl, is the friend that is standing behind them cheering for them.  Just so happy that they are happy.   Ten at the end of the movie through a series of comical errors and embarassments she finds her mister right and falls in love and finally gets married.  She has her special day and she final gets to be the bride.  It is that old saying, always a brides maid never a bride. Ever heard that before?

 If who you are is defined by God then the next stage is that you will know that there is a plan for you.  In that movie the woman had a role in those 27 different weddings. She was the one that would run around and plan all the little details doing everything for the bride. But she knew at the end of the day that the bride was going home with the bridegroom.   Which is what John says in verse 29.

 Acknowledging that someone has a plan for you is tuff. It takes a large leap of faith.  It takes a surrender to God.  Big church words I know but think about it.  I allow God to define me a herald as he did for John the baptist, a teacher, a friend, an encourager, there are things that he is going to do. He is going to allow you to be there for awhile and be in control of the situation but the end result is his plan not yours and that is hard to do.  When the clay is molded into a bowl,  the bowl doesn’t know what will be put into it, just something.  But not knowing what will be put into the bowl still remains a bowl.

 Verse 29 tells about the bride groom gets the bride.  Simple logic.  The bride is not there to marry the best man.  She is the bride of the groom. And  the groomsmen, or for you ladies bridesmaids, are the ones that stand next to the groom or the bride.  They have a role to play in the wedding. They are not there to get married, they are there to support the groom, or the bride, depending on which side of the aisle they are standing on.  The day is not theirs. 

 When I was in college my cousin, best friend , and blood brother got married and I was his best man.  Helped him with all the best man stuff. Making sure that he didn’t stumble, have his fly open , or have his tuxedo on backwards or something. That was my job it was his day.  Then one day a few years later it was my turn and I got married, and low and behold he was my best man.  He did those things for me.  Including finding me a chair to sit in back stage at the church so I didn’t pass out right before the wedding started.  Each time we had our roles.  We were happy to support one another in the roles that we played.

 John was not angry that a lot of people were going to Jesus instead of him.  He wasn’t in it for how many baptisms he could do before his time was up. He wasn’t in it for how big his following was.  He was in it for God’s plan. He was in it to prepare the way for the Messiah. And when that happened he rejoiced.

 If you have been shaped by God you have a role to play. You have a purpose. You might not know what that purpose is at the moment. You might not be the main focus of the attention. You might only be the herald of what is to come next. You might be the one that plans the seed but doesn’t get to lead someone you know to salvation.  There is a plan for you.  And the hardest part is believing that in the difficult times.

 How did John the Baptist die?

 Do you know that before he was beheaded he spent an entire year in prison. And I am not talking about these compartively luxiourous prisons that we have today.  John the Baptist spent a year in a very dark place.  Herod had John locked up because John said that he shouldn’t have married his brother’s wife after his brother had died.  Herod didn’t like being told that he was wrong so he had John locked into a prison.  Herod had this palace that was built on top of a very high mountain. Probably one of the highest in the area, we know that it was higher than Jerusalem.  But the prison was built deep down into the center of the mountain, well underground.  Deep enough that no natural light ever reached the prisoners.  Imagine the smell of the air that was down there with these prisoners dying, stinking, in the dark.  Bugs and rodents probably crawling all over you. 

 It was during this time that he is in this dungeon that he hears all the things that Jesus has started doing.  We don’t know if his disciples were able to report to him, or what type of communication he had, but we know that the word had gotten to him.  Because in the eleventh chapter of Matthew he sends some of his disciples to go and ask Jesus if he is the expected one.  Is this the same man that I heard baptized at the Jordan.  And Jesus tell John’s disciples to go back and tell him that the blind see, the deaf hear, the lepers are clean, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.  Which is what is prophesied would happen in Isaiah.  So Jesus is saying go back to John, who knows the scriptures and tell him that the prophesy has been fulfilled.  In other words, yes.

 There are going to be times in your life that you are going to feel like you are locked up in one of these dungeons and there is absolutely no light.  But there is always hope. Because no matter what might happen in life Jesus can never be taken away from us.  But remember that you have can’t look up at God and wonder where his plan is at, or why things might be going wrong if you refuse to be shaped by Him.  It is like driving down the road and ignoring the map, then getting mad that you are lost.

So if you have allowed God to shape you into who He created you to be and your plans are his plans then you will achieve the final stage, God Focused.  You have allowed God to shape you, you have acknowledged God has a good plan for you, and now you have to accept that it is not about you.

 Verse 30 John the Baptist says, ” He must increase, but I must decrease.” There is only so much room at the center  of the stage.  It is you or God. The captain’s chair is only big enough for one person.  You have to accept that the world does not revolve around you or me.  That is really hard to accept. What do you mean it is not all about me? 

 Have you ever noticed how the great Christians in our history always wind up getting killed in very painful ways.  John the Baptist beheaded after being in a deep dark prison.  Of course Jesus was crucified. Paul was beheaded. Peter was crucified upside down.  Bartholomew was skinned alive, then beheaded for good measure.  Thomas was speared to death.  Simon the Zealot was hacked to death in Persia.  Not very good ways to go. And there are thousands who could go along with them. 

 Last week we watched the video about the Christians in China and what they are facing through fear, prison, torture and possibly death. 

 The one thing that they all have in common. It wasn’t about them. It was about the plan that God.  It was about His plan to bring salvation to lost and dying souls.  And if this Christians can endure that much.  What could I die to?

 Think about that question because I think we here it in church a great deal and perhaps we gloss over it as a churchy word and don’t stop to think about it.  Could I focus on God a little more with my time?  Maybe a little less time on Facebook and more time in prayer, or Bible Reading.  Maybe a little less time playing video games and a little more time in prayer?  Maybe stop watching movies that are exactly God shaped?  Maybe to stop focusing on my popularity at school and stop sacrificing what is right.  Instead sacrifing a little popularity or coolness to allow Christ to increase.   

John wasn’t a well dressed man.  He wasn’t rich.  He wore camel hair skins, ate locust and honey.  But when Jesus speaks of John the Baptist. He refers to him as more than a prophet. He says that among those that are born of women, basically everybody, there was not one that was greater than him.

 Lets look at the three things in reverse.  Accepting that the focus of your life is not on you but should be on God comes from acknowledging that God is in control and has a plan for you life after you have allowed God to  shape you.

 And there is my question to you tonight. Are you allowing God to shape you? Or are you allowing the world around you to shape you.  The world around you being your friends, your classmates, the people sitting next to you, the people you hang out with.  That is your world.  Those are the ones that you will shape you.  Or are you allowing God and His word to shape you?  We have been given free will the chose is yours.

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