Stop (12/3/17)

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We are creatures of habit. Sometimes our habits cause us to do strange things.

I drive a lot. Even when my wife, Stephanie, and I travel, I do most of the driving. Like most of you, I’m used to doing the same thing when I get in and out of a vehicle. I can get in, start the vehicle and fasten my seatbelt without having to think about what I’m doing. Once I’ve arrived at my destination, I can shut off the motor, unhook my seatbelt, take the key out of the ignition switch and exit the vehicle without thinking about it.

Occasionally, I have to take my pick-up truck to a garage for repairs. I try to schedule repairs on Stephanie’s day off from work so she can help me get back and forth from the garage. Once, the parts supply store sent the wrong part to my mechanic. They couldn’t get the right one there until the next day.

These things happen in life. No big deal. Since Stephanie had to work the next day, I called a gentleman from our congregation, Gary, and asked him if he would take me to get my truck the next day. He said he would be happy to do it.

He arrived at my house the next day once my truck was fixed. I sat down in the passenger seat of his vehicle and hooked my seatbelt. We pulled out of the driveway and headed towards the shop. We had a good conversation during the ride.

Fifteen minutes later, we pulled in. Gary shut of his engine and got out. My mind was still on our conversation but that didn’t matter. I could exit the vehicle without thinking about it. I reached down to the right and tried to unfasten my seatbelt like I always do. But there was a problem. I couldn’t find the button to unlatch it. I looked down and couldn’t see the latch. By this time, Gary had gotten out of the vehicle, walked around to the passenger door and opened it.

I looked up and asked, “How do you unhook this seatbelt?” He responded, “It’s on the other side.”

I have to say I felt like a fool. My mind had been distracted. I didn’t focus on the fact I was in the passenger seat instead of the being in the driver’s seat. The seatbelt latch was on the opposite side. After I paid the bill for the truck repairs, I drove off thinking to myself, “I bet he wonders what kind of pastor they hired if he can’t even unhook his seatbelt.”

Most of us have things like this happen to us from time to time. Our minds become focused on one thing and, for some reason, we can’t see the obvious when it’s right in front of us. But how do we respond when we’re doing what we think is obvious and God says, “Stop what you’re doing. I have something better for you?”

Luke 1:5-25 says,In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.”

Let’s stop here a moment and look at what’s happening. Zechariah, the priest, and his wife, Elizabeth are both old. They hadn’t been able to conceive a child. People at that time didn’t understand medical issues like we do today. In their culture, being barren was embarrassing. Perhaps God was punishing them for something by closing Elizabeth’s womb.

Yet they continued to faithfully serve the Lord. They kept his commands and Zechariah carried out his priestly duties. Currently, his division was staying in Jerusalem so they could serve in the temple. Once their time of service was over, they would leave and another group of priests would come and serve. Only the chief priests lived in Jerusalem.

This day, Zechariah was given a great honor. He was chosen to go into the temple and burn incense on the altar in front of the Most Holy Place.

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

The angel says Zechariah’s prayer to have a son has been heard and is now being answered. Elizabeth is going to have a son. Evidently, this prayer is one Zechariah prayed in the past but had given up on ever being answered. We know this because when he heard the news about having a son, he questioned the angel about how it could happen since both he and his wife were now old. According to human standards, their child-bearing years were long past.

19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

Gabriel responded with “Okee Dokee. You want proof. Here it is. From this moment until your son is born, you won’t be able to speak.”

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

Zechariah finished his time of service in the temple and went home. Then everything happened just as Gabriel had told him it would. One thing we need to realize here is Zechariah was doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing. He was being faithful and carrying out his priestly duties in the temple just as the Old Testament said he should.

But now God was going to do something that was new and much better than the Old Testament law and regulations. He was ready to fulfill the promise he made to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 and Abraham in Genesis 11. Zechariah was going to be part of his plan.

The problem was Zechariah couldn’t comprehend what God was planning. Why was God even doing something new? Why would God use him? How in the world could God use an old couple well past child bearing years to have a son who would be a prophet? These questions allowed doubt and, most likely, fear to rise up in him.

There are times in our lives when God wants to do something new but we can’t see it. Sometimes it’s because our minds are so focused on something else that we’re oblivious to what’s right in front of us. Other times it’s because we’re actually doing what we’re supposed to be doing and we can’t comprehend that something else would be better.

Even though the United States of America is a great country, some things we’re doing need to be replaced with something better. And it’s happening.

Women who have been sexually harassed or abused in the workplace are finding the courage to speak up. They’re saying, “Stop. We’re not taking this anymore.” We’re seeing American icons being brought down and even fired for their inexcusable behavior.

Although their actions are controversial, some black athletes are trying to remind our nation that racism is still alive and well in our great nation. They’re saying, “Stop. We want to be treated as equals.”

One problem is that no matter how many women speak out or how many blacks protest, some Americans will resist change because they don’t see a need for it.

On a personal level, how do we respond to God when he tells us, “Stop and listen. I want to do something new in your life that’s better than what you’re doing right now?”

For example, do you love your family members? I believe it’s safe to assume most of you said “yes.” Now let me ask you another question. Is your relationship with your family members perfect in every area? It’s probably safe to assume most of you said “no” to this one.

In the areas where things aren’t going as well as you’d like, can you say you’re doing everything right and all of the problems are the other person’s fault? Are you surrendering to God’s will and allowing him to work or have you dug in so you can stand on your pride and your principles? You’ll change if, and only if, the other person changes.

If this is you, stop doing those things. Humble yourself, submit to God’s will for you and allow God to work.

We can apply this principle to every area of our lives. The problem is our thinking can get stuck on automatic pilot. We can’t see what God is doing right in front of us. We also get comfortable with the way we’re doing things now. We don’t see why God needs to do anything different or we don’t have enough faith that God can use us.

We serve a God who can do miracles. If we’re willing to listen to God and be faithful to what he tells us to do, he can strengthen our relationships, guide us through our difficulties and make us more like Jesus.

Before Jesus can to do something new in our lives, we might have to stop some things we’re doing now.

Let’s look at a couple of questions we can apply to our present circumstances:

In what areas of my life could things be better?

What do I need to stop doing so God can show me better things to do?

I realize there are some areas where we don’t know what we need to change. In those areas, pray and ask God to show you what to do. Right now, let’s concentrate on the areas where you know what you need to change.

Once Zechariah comprehended his new instructions, he did what God told him to do. Because of his faithfulness, his son became a great prophet who prepared the way for the long-awaited Messiah. This teaches us that simply talking about doing God’s will doesn’t bring better things. Being obedient to God’s will brings better things.

Unfaithfulness to God limits what he can do in our lives. Faithfulness opens the door for him to bless us. Let’s not become so distracted that we can’t see what God wants to do or be so stubborn that he can’t bring us new and better things.