11-29-15 “Turning Hearts Back”

Luke 1:11-17; “Turning Hearts Back” 11/29/15- First Sunday in Advent

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One of the first messages of Christmas is that God wants us back.  He doesn’t want just a portion of us back- He wants all of us back.  Years ago I worked in a plant where we made golf balls and golf clubs.  There was a deep 12 foot vat with a lid over it.  At the bottom of the vat were huge grinders that very loudly ground up huge sheets and balls of plastic.  It was like a huge electric pencil sharpener. One day one of the mechanics were working on this, and he fell in.  The grinders immediately stopped because of a safety mechanism.  We didn’t know if he was safe or not.  It was dark down there, and a deep drop, and he didn’t answer because he had been knocked unconscious.  The good news is when we finally pulled him out by his harness- he was okay except for a broken leg.  We wanted him back- all of him- not just a portion of him- but all of him.  God wants us to come out of the holes we get in- the grinds of life.  He wants all of us back- not just a portion of us- not just half or 80% but all of us.  Not just our bodies in church- but our hearts as well.  Not just our hearts but our bodies as well.      God wants to rescue us from the ways of death- from the ways of destruction.  He wants to rescue us form selfishness.  He wants to save us from the consequences of poor choices. He wants to bring us back and heal us.  But He wants all of us.  He doesn’t just want our head but not our body.  He doesn’t want our body but not our heart.  Frankly, it is good for us to not stay halfway in God’s kingdom and half out.  I.  WE WANDER OFF- A. Sometimes by accident- Some times we just slowly get out of the habit of worshiping God.  By God’s grace and patience, we don’t die when we stay home, and it feels good to sleep in- so we just keep doing it.  God and faith become irrelevant because we have wandered off.  Like a sheep who eats one foot further, one foot further, one foot further from the herd suddenly finds they are far away- so some stray like lost sheep.  Isaiah says, “All we like sheep have gone astray- we have turned each of us to our own way- yet the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”   B. Sometimes on purpose- Sometimes we purposefully get mad at God and the church.  These are the people who bolt out.  I have seen sheep break out of a stall- make a hole.  Some sheep still stay in, but some purposefully get out in order to get to the greener pasture.  But what they don’t realize is when the shepherd is not around the wolves are.    When we wander off- we will eventually miss home until our hearts are hard and we are used to living in the woods by ourselves.  When we wander away from God, we miss our purpose, our ability to stand up- to be motivated and care in life, and the peace of our Shepherd.   Zechariah wandered off- not in body- He was in God’s house physically- but his ability to believe in God’s power had dwindled. Zechariah wandered off- as a skeptical believer- which is an oxymoron.  God doesn’t need skeptical believers.  He needs believing believers, who believe in the power of God to bring them back.  Peter denied Jesus- but he came back.  There are many who have wandered off for various reasons- the good news is no matter how far we wander- God longs for us to come back.  II. GOD SEEKS TO BRING US BACK- (16) If there is a God, and He wants us to come back to Him when we wander off, what would he do to bring us back? 1) Call us Back- Send Messengers to call us back; Prophets and angels call us back- but we didn’t fully come.  The angel had a special call for Zechariah- he didn’t believe-would you?    I can remember once, losing my son in Walmart- we actually lost him there a couple of times.  We would split up, go up and down the aisle calling for him.  Then there would be the ultimate call- WOULD MR. AND MRS. SLOAN PLEASE REPORTON THE CUSTOMER COUNTER TO MEET YOUR SON.  Our calls to the lost are weak.  But God calls with a voice that is hard to ignore- but it is still possible to ignore it.  Zechariah- tried to ignore the angel’s voice- he became mute.  2) Cautions Us From Wandering Off- Have you ever listened to some of these drug advertisements?  One of them was for pain in your leg.  It shows an image of pain in your leg, and someone rubbing their leg.  Then the guy comes on for 30 seconds speaking at 80 words a second saying that this drug may cause hives, heart attack, blood pressure problems, depression tendencies, or even death.  I want to say, what kind of advertising is this?  Do I want to risk death for pain in my leg?  Maybe its because my leg isn’t hurting so much.   There are bad guys out there.  Look there are drugs, there is alcohol abuse, there is sexual immorality.  We see this every day in the paper- signs of caution.  Do not leave the protection of your Maker.  Do not forsake the God who helped your ancestors.  Many of us read the warning labels but think it is not for us, or think it doesn’t apply.   There are, after all, supposedly smart people who are also wandering off.  The government says it makes no difference to them if you wander off.  They used to say it does make a difference- but now they say it doesn’t as long as you don’t hurt anyone else.  3) Come down for us- What He did in Jesus.  Whenever God comes- and that is what we think about in advent- His coming is wonderful and His coming is horrible.  We like to just think about the wonderful coming.  The people who do not know God or claim God will tell you that if God comes it is horrible for them.  When there is a revival- when there is what is called “a visitation” from God the Spirit, families start loving each other, people want to sacrifice to do what is right, and not live merely for their feelings.       One of my daughters was in Paris when I saw the movie “Taken” about a student who was kidnapped in Paris and taken into some of the most horrific circumstances of human trafficking.  But Liam Neeson, the father, flew to Paris and just whipped about fifty people to get his daughter back.  The movie was so successful that it had two sequels.  But the theme is great- it is what our heavenly Father does for us.  He comes down to bring us back- rescue us from the dregs of life. III. WE WAIT ON THIS HOPE AGAIN. Advent is about waiting on God to bring us hope again.  I am waiting on God to come and turn us back to Him.  How immoral will we have to get before we get bored with our immorality much like the people of the 1920s ended up bored with the Gatsby lifestyle.  Read an article by a former Imam who was with ISIS.  He talked about how to defeat ISIS ideologically.  People in the West do not understand the power of religious motivation- they think they can buy it off.  So one government spokesperson says if we just provided more jobs and economic choices then there would not be ISIS.  But this is a pipedream according to the IMAM.  He says before someone buys into the ideology this might work.  But the idea that money can buy someone’s religion not only doesn’t work, it is repulsive.  When a Muslim looks at the tremendous waste of money, time, and lives we have in the West they are repulsed.  Materialism turns hearts away from the spiritual.  What fights ISIS is when it becomes irrelevant.  When the West turns back to God- and we quit sacrificing our children to our pride of work- and start loving them; when young people see the alternative to sexual promiscuity and drugs is not a radical Islam but a heartburning Christianity.  When we can learn to love each other and not let money or the lack of it get in the way; when our hearts are devoted to God- ISIS becomes irrelevant.   Until we do this ISIS becomes a symbol of God’s punishment on a people who have turned away- much as Islam started out in an area where people were Christian in name only but not in their heart. God’s desire is to turn us back to Him.  He spoke that through his angel to Zechariah- He speaks it still today.