Do you need faith for something, but have doubts instead? You’re in good company. Some of the main characters of the Christmas story had their share of doubts, too. In this message, you can find out what happened to change their doubt to faith, and how you can do the same. (Recorded December 13, 1998)
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Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
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 upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.
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. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 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 give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 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 from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous– to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
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 answered, “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. 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 proper time.”
Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 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.
When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “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.”
In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her. At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”
And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me– holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.”
Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.
When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.
On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”
They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”
Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God. The neighbors were all filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.
1) You’re not alone
2) Faith is a Choice
3) Step out in Faith
Hi, this is Eric Elder, broadcasting live from The Ranch. It is December 13, Sunday night and it is Christmas time here. We are really excited about the things that God is doing and I want to talk a little about Christmas and a little about the coming of the Lord and Savior who has come to save us from our sins.
But I want to put it in context of your life. If you are having trouble believing God for something; if you are having trouble believing that God is going to come through for you – I want to let you know that you are in good company. In fact, most of the characters, the major characters in the Christmas story, had trouble believing God when He told them what was going to happen.
I want you to read a passage that I have put on the Message Notes portion of your screen. I just want you to read with a new eye towards watching how these characters, these central characters in the bible story, move from doubt and doubting God, to faith and putting their faith in God and actually believing Him.
God has called me to encourage you in your faith. Whether you believe in God or whether you don’t believe in God. God has told me to encourage people in their faith. Jesus will come back one day and the Bible says he is going to ask, “Whether there is any faith on earth at all?” I want there to be faith on earth. God wants there to be faith. It is going to have to take faith to get through what God is bringing about in these end days. So, I just want to encourage you in your faith and I want you to step out in faith.
So, if you will take a look at the story on your Message Notes. If you don’t have that in front of you, you can also look in your Bible, Luke 1:1-66. I am going to give you plenty of time right now to read that story, to read it with a fresh eye. Look especially at the characters of Zechariah and Mary and how Zechariah and Mary both doubt God and then at one point they each believe God. They trust that God is going to do what He says He is going to do. The entire world was changed through the birth of their two children, Jesus and John the Baptist. Believing in God can make a big difference in your life too. So enjoy reading the Christmas story one more time.
Happy Hanukkah, if you are celebrating the menorah starting tomorrow. I pray that it would be a blessed time for you as well. Just as we celebrate all the things that God has done in our lives, I pray that this message would speak to you tonight.
At the end of the night I have a special story that I think you will find touching. So I hope that you will stay around for the whole half-hour, so you can see how God can work in your life. Enjoy reading Luke 1:1-66.
You are Not Alone
Let me tell you, if you have doubts about God and what He is going to do, three things tonight: One, you are not alone. Many people have had doubts that come right after believing what God has said. When God speaks to you, all of a sudden doubt follows right on its heels. Doubt comes right into your head. It has happened for these characters that you just read about, it happened for Moses, for Abraham, for Sarah, Peter, and Thomas (of course). There is a choice that we have to make. Everyone is going to have to make the choice whether they are going to believe in God or they are going to continue in doubt.
So tonight I want to talk about the fact that you are not alone. I want to talk about he choice we have to make and also I want to encourage you to step out in your faith.
Let us take a look at those characters first. I am reading from the Amplified Bible, which is a little bit different from what is on your screen, but it gives you a fuller sense of what was going through their minds. Look at Mary, I have left the verses there on the screen if you want to look back with me. After, in Luke 1:28, the angel comes and says,
“Blessed – favored of God – are you before all other women!”
And in verse 29, here is the doubt that she goes through, listen to these words,
“But when she saw him, she was greatly troubled and disturbed and confused at what he said, and kept revolving in her mind what such a greeting might mean.”
Here she was, she was greatly troubled, she was disturbed and she was confused. All feelings that you think you wouldn’t get when you hear clearly from God, when you see an angel from God. It says that these thoughts kept revolving in her mind about what such a greeting might mean. It is like her head was spinning around. You have probably had that happen, I know I have, where you just feel like your head is spinning with thoughts and you can’t seem to stop them. You are confused and disturbed.
Then the angel said, “Do not be afraid, for you have found grace and favor . . . with God.”
The angel goes on to describe what will happen (you can pray for me as well that I would have faith to overcome a cold that I’ve been fighting. But God has said for me to focus on giving you this message tonight. I know there are some of you out there this week that really need to hear this. So I am going to continue to give it out.)
Zachariah – here is where he expresses his doubt in Luke 1:18 (if you will back up a little bit) after the angel tells Zachariah what will happen.
And Zachariah said to the angel, “By what shall I know and be sure of this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” And the angel replied to him, “I am Gabriel; I stand in the very presence of God, and I was sent to talk to you, and to bring you this good news. And lo, you will be and will continue to be silent, and not able to speak till the day when these things take place, because you have not believed what I told you; but my words are of a kind which will be fulfilled in the appointed and proper time.”
So here is where he has the doubts and even the angel recognizes it and says even though you don’t believe I am going to continue to fulfill my word. Which God is sometimes going to do it whether you believe it or not. He will show you when the time comes to believe. But here he says, “because you have not believed it, I am going to do something. I will keep you from being able to speak until the time comes when the birth has taken place. Then your tongue will be free to speak again.”
This is common. This was common with me as well. Just doubts have flooded my mind, as I have had to make decisions about God. Eleven years ago when I made my initial decision to trust Christ, just prior to that the doubts just continued to go through my mind, until that moment when I made a choice to believe. On various other things in the past eleven years when God has spoken something to me and that doubt immediately comes in my mind. It is just good to know that you are not alone. None of us are alone; we are in good company.
Faith is a Choice
God does not leave it there. He does not want us to continue in doubt or persist in doubt. He wants us to step out in faith. As Paul says,
“Fight the good fight of faith.”
Jesus said to his disciples many times, he rebuked them for their lack of faith, he said,
“You of little faith! Why did you doubt and not believe?”
It was as if they had a choice that they could have chosen to believe or to doubt. At times they chose to doubt. God wants us to believe. I am going to pray with you later tonight that you will be able to make that choice.
Look at where these people did make their choice and just what an effect it had. Mary made her choice somewhere between when the angel spoke to her and when she went to visit Elizabeth. In Luke 1:45, here is Elizabeth speaking to Mary and Elizabeth says,
“And blessed is she (Mary) who believed that there would be a fulfillment of the things that were spoken to her from the Lord.”
Elizabeth recognized at that moment that Mary had believed and Elizabeth says, “Blessed are you who believed that there will be this fulfillment.” Mary was just full of faith at that time said,
“My soul magnifies and extols the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my Savior; for He has looked upon the low stations and humiliation of His handmaiden. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed and declare me happy and to be envied.”
So here Mary finally gets that faith. She says, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” She just can’t contain herself as that faith wells up inside of her.
Look at Zachariah. This is even more compelling to me and more interesting in the way that he is able to express his faith. In Luke 1:59, this is many months later when that baby has been born and it is on the eighth day and they are going to name the child. Zachariah still can not speak at this time. Verse 59 says,
“And it occurred that on the eight day when they came to circumcise the child, they were intending to call him Zachariah after his father.”
Now these are all of his relatives that are gathered around and others and they are going to name the baby Zachariah after his father.
“But his mother answered, “Not so, but he shall be called John.”
It is a shock to everyone in the room. They say,
“None of your relatives is called by that name.”
How can you call him John, we don’t have anyone in your family line called John. Amidst this it says,
“they inquired with signs of his father what he wanted to have him called.”
Here is a point where Zachariah had to make a choice. Either he was going to just let this go and ignore what the angel said or what I believe happened is he finally had the faith. Throughout this process after the angel spoke to him and said he was going to have a son and his name was to be John. He told him what the son was going to do, all of a sudden Zachariah (well not all of a sudden, but over time) his faith built up. He saw his wife gets pregnant, and this is the days before ultrasounds so they didn’t know what sex the baby was going to be. Low and behold the baby is born and IT IS a boy, just like the angel predicted. That sure had to increase his faith, if it was a daughter I don’t know what he would have done. But he had the son, just like the angel said he would. The angel said the next thing that would be is that they would name him John.
So here is where Zachariah had to step out in faith and make a choice. It is very hard, I believe for Zachariah who has all these relatives around, people were saying, “No, his name is going to be something else, it is going to be Zachariah. There is nobody named John in your family. Why would you name him John?” But Zachariah makes that choice. And it says, in verse 63,
“And Zachariah asked for a writing tablet and wrote, His name is John.”
I believe when he wrote those words, “His name is John” that he was expressing his faith, he was making a statement of faith. Look what happens,
“They all were astonished. And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed and he began to speak, blessing and praising and thanking God. And awe and reverential fear came on all their neighbors.”
It goes on to talk about how Zachariah could not contain himself and that faith came out and he prophesied what John was going to be, what kind of child this was going to be. All the people were filled with awe and fear just by seeing that the angel really did speak to Zachariah.
I know I had a choice eleven years ago where I had to say, “God, I think I know enough about Jesus, but I am not sure I can make that decision to really follow him or not.” Then I heard that Jesus was going to come back one day and when He came back it would be too late, He would shut the door and He wouldn’t let anyone in who hadn’t believed up to that point. They would be knocking on the door and following after him and saying, “Please let me in!” And he would say, “I never knew you.”
I didn’t want to be one of those people. So in my faith, in my spirit when I went home that night I just got on my bed and I said, “Lord, I do believe in You. I do believe in You.” It just welled up within me that I just had to pour it out to God. I just had to say, “Praise be to God! You are going to do incredible things!” God filled me with that faith that has persisted eleven years later, everyday for eleven years straight. God has given me that faith and that confident assurance, just like Mary got, just like Zachariah got, just like Moses got, the same faith that many believers have gotten as they have stepped out in faith. They have made that choice and from then on they are without a doubt of what God has done.
We have talked with a woman this week that just last week had an incredible spiritual experience and every time we spoke to her we would say, “Wow, do you realize that God was talking to you!” She said, “I KNOW GOD was talking to me!” We would say, “Do you realize what God is doing?” She said, “I KNOW GOD was working!” She was very convinced and very clear that God was working and there was no convincing that we could do otherwise. She was totally certain because she had been given that faith right down in her heart. That is what I want to encourage you in as well tonight.
Step out in Faith
What I am here to do is to feed your faith so that your doubts will starve. That is a famous statement that someone made, and it is very true. As you feed your faith and your faith increases your doubt will starve and go down. So if you feed your doubts your faith is going to go down in direct proportion to how much you feed your doubts.
So my encouragement to you is to feed your faith. The best way I know how to do that is to read your Bible. Look in here; read the stories of how God has worked in other people’s lives. It will give you faith that He is going to work in your life too. It will give you faith that He will be there for you. It will give you faith to know how He is going to answer your requests because He has answered many other people’s requests just like yours for the last 6,000 years. So I want to encourage you to look in your Bible. I want to encourage you to feed your faith by reading some of the stories at The Ranch. Read some of the testimonies of how God has worked in people’s lives. Even one woman this week she said she came to The Ranch, I don’t know this woman (she left her name here, but I will leave it off for the sake of anonymity). She said,
“I just wanted to write you and let you know how much I have enjoyed the trails at The Ranch. I knew of Jesus ten years ago, but I have struggled all ten years because of the way I grew up. Much abuse in every way. I don’t know why I have never fully trusted Christ before, but the other night I was searching around and came to The Trails. I first wanted to write you and your wife for help or to explain what a failure of a Christian I was. God stopped me and said, “Talk to ME.” I did. I poured out my heart to Him instead of another human person who could only point me to Him. I have been set free from fear and much more. Thank you for The Trails. I know God has used it to do what has occurred. Thank you, Free in Him. And she signed her name.
Here she says, “I don’t know why I never fully trusted God before but as I came and as I read these things it just encouraged me to talk to God.” She did and she got things right with God. God spoke to her, healed her and freed her from things that had been plaguing her she said for ten years. She had never fully trusted God like that before.
I say this because God is working in people’s lives without even our intervention, without someone else’s intervention; it is the Holy Spirit Himself who is just coming down and touching people and instilling faith in them. So I want to pray that the same faith builds in you tonight.
I want to sing a song as well. As I was preparing this message and working on it this week, I was just worshipping God and playing the piano – really just ministering to God. It was just a sweet time with me, the Lord and playing and just saying Lord, “I just pray that these sounds would be pleasing to You.” I just played, I am not even sure what I was playing, but I continued to play before God.
As I did God just started pouring out things into me about this Christmas story. One of my questions has been – “Are we really that special? Is every person made special? Does every person have a special purpose? Or are we all just called to do the same thing? We are all called to be good people. We are called to follow Jesus. We are called to proclaim His name, wherever we are in the work place.” God really showed me that God does create each one us special. That He has given each one of us the special and unique role in what He’s going to do.
Here is how He touched me. He showed me Mary, who was a humble handmaiden, and God chose her and said, “You are the favored one. Your role Mary is to carry My Son into the world. Out of all the people that are alive in this generation I have chosen you to carry My Son. Out of all the people that have ever lived, I have chosen you to carry My Son.” I realized that He did the same thing for other people.
He chose Moses to lead the people out of Egypt. He chose Paul to take the message to all the non-Jewish people, all the people who had never heard about God before. He told Paul to do that. He told John what was going to happen at the end of the world. John wrote that down in Revelation. We have that now for all time until the end comes. God has a unique role for each one of us. It is encouraging to me that He has one for me and I want to pray with you when I come back from the song that He has one for you as well. You will be able to know what it is and to walk in that calling that God has given you.
Here’s the song and it was about Mary. Some people raise Mary to a different status than I would raise her to but there is no doubt from reading this story that Mary was blessed of God. That she would be called blessed among all women. As I read this I just thought about God and how He came upon Mary and how the Holy Spirit conceived a child within her. I just realize how special and precious she was to God, just like each one of us is special and precious as well. So I just want to sing this song, then we will come back and pray. I just want to give you one touching Christmas story (get your Kleenex if you don’t have them handy). Enjoy this song and let God speak to you about how special you are as well.
God really loves you. He really does have a purpose for your life. You are not alone when you have doubts. You can make a choice. I pray right now that the choice would be faith.
Lord, I pray for these people listening that You would give them the faith to make the decisions they need to make. I pray that they would be filled with faith. Just as you filled me with faith. Just as you filled Lana with faith. Lord, as you filled Mary and Zachariah, Paul, John, Moses, Abraham, Sarah, and Peter. Lord, you filled each one of them with faith for the particular calling you had on their life. I pray that You would fill these people with faith right now. In Jesus Name. AMEN.
Now you are not going to have faith to walk in any of this until you believe in Christ. I know some of you may be watching and you have never fully trusted God before either, just like the woman that wrote to me this week. Said she became a Christian maybe ten years ago, but she never fully trusted Christ. I just want to pray that you would trust God tonight.
Really it is a simple thing although it sometimes seems like the hardest thing in the world. There is a way that you can just say, “God, I am sorry for my sins. I am sorry for what I’ve done. I believe Jesus died for my sins so I could be with you in heaven forever. Please forgive me. I invite Jesus into my heart to take over my life. To be the Lord and Ruler over everything that I do, say and think.” That is it. Just REPENT, BELIEVE, and RECEIVE what God has done for you through Jesus Christ.
Let me read you this story that came to me this week on the Internet. It happened back in 1994, it is a true story from two Americans who were invited to by the Russian Department of Education to come over to Russia. They were to teach morals and ethics (based upon Biblical principals) in the public schools. They also spoke at prisons and businesses and one place they spoke was an orphanage where there were about 100 boys and girls who had been abandoned and abused and left in the care of the government run program. This is the story that they related in their own words.
It was nearing the holiday season, 1994, time for our orphans to hear, for the first time, the traditional story of Christmas. We told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem. Finding no room in the inn, the couple
went to a stable, where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger.
Throughout the story, the children and orphanage staff sat in amazement as they listened. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word. Completing the story, we gave the children three small pieces of
cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins I had brought with me. No colored paper was available in the city.
Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel, cut from a worn-out nightgown an American lady was throwing away as she left Russia, were
used for the baby’s blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt we had brought from the United States.
The orphans were busy assembling their manger as I walked among them to see if they needed any help. All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat. He looked to be about 6 years old and had finished his project.
As I looked at the little boy’s manger, was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger. Quickly, I called for the translator to ask the lad why there were two babies in the manger. Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at this completed manger scene, the child began to repeat the story very seriously.
For such a young boy, who had only heard the Christmas story once, he related the happening accurately-until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger. Then Misha started to ad-lib. He made up his own
ending to the story as he said, “And when Maria laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay.
I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn’t, because I didn’t have a gift to give him like everybody else did. But I
wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought that maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift.
So I asked Jesus, “If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?” And Jesus told me, “If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me.” “So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him—for always.”
As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed. The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him,
someone who would stay with him-FOR ALWAYS. I’ve learned that it’s not what you have in your life, but who you have in your life that counts.
Thanks for listening to my story. Thanks for coming to The Ranch. You know it is not about what we have in life, it is about WHO WE HAVE IN LIFE. We can have the most precious thing in life. The most precious person in life that has ever lived and that is Jesus Christ. All you have to do is invite Him into your heart. You can lay your head down with Him every night. You don’t have to be alone.
I want to talk at some point about the power of two, which is prayer squared; which means you and Jesus praying together, you and others praying together. We don’t have to walk through life alone. We have Jesus with us anytime we want. He can be there for us anytime we need. I encourage you tonight to say a prayer to Him tonight. Just recommit your life to Him. Recommit your ways to Him, your plans and your actions. Say, “God, just anything You want to do with me I give it all to You! I give it all to You! Take me wherever You want to go. Do whatever You want to do with me. Let Your purposes me fulfilled in me.”
Have a great week. I hope to see you next week at The Ranch. If you would like to stay and talk some more or share with others how you have overcome your doubts or if you have a particular prayer request – would you come and join us right now at The Ranch Chat Room. It is on the page called Talk to someone. It says Chat Room at The Ranch. This is open after the Live broadcasts here on Sunday nights.
Those addresses are on your screen. Also, you can find me on ICQ and we can chat during the day if you would like to talk about something particular that you would rather have a private conversation. We would love to do that too.
For my wife and I here in central Illinois on a cool night in the winter coming up on Christmas – we just say good night from The Ranch.