In Chapter 18 of the book of Luke Jesus gives us a phrase that we would do well to remember in the coming year. As always now that Christmas Day is over we start thinking about the next year. Some of you will make resolutions to do things differently than you have in the past. Some of us will face the ebb and flow of life that may include burdens as well as blessings.

I want us to read this phrase together and then we are going to look at the stories that surround this phrase.

What is impossible for people is possible with God.

Now here is the context the actual verse from Luke 18:27

He replied, ‘What is impossible for people is possible with God.’”  Luke 18:27

What is impossible for people is possible with God. We are surrounded by uncertainty. I was sitting at my in-laws on the day after Christmas and someone had a typical news network morning show on. They played a video piece on our economy that was the most depressing and discouraging thing I have watched in a while. They graphically showed the despair of investors around the world. I few weeks ago I was sent more than one email on two respected women bible teachers who have their name attached to a teaching predicting a coming famine. Of course when you search the teaching for authenticity you find out that no prediction was made at all but rather a plea was made for repentance on behalf of the sins of our nation.  On Saturday morning

We are facing uncertain times.  This produces a deep stress in all of us who pay attention to what is going on around us. We do know that the Bible talks about tough times in the days before the return of Christ.

I have spent a great deal of time pondering all of this. I made the comment to a couple of staff members recently that if you would go back and read the sermons that have been preached in our church over the last two or three years you would find the same consistent call. It is not a call to freak out. It is not a call to build bomb shelters and stock pile food and ammunition! It has been a clear and consistent call to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. It has been a call to love your neighbor as yourself.

It has been a call to live and love Jesus in a way that produces holiness in your life instead of helplessness. I do not buy into the doctrine that leaves you a poor miserable struggling sinner all the days of your life. If the power of God and the grace of God are not big enough or powerful enough to truly change lives then I want to do something else with my time and energy. Let me be really honest with you for a few moments. I am really struggling with people “coming to Christ’ but not changing their lifestyles or values or disciplines or actions or reactions.

When you know God’s standard for Christ-like living and you try to teach it with so little results I must confess it is more than a little discouraging.

As I look at the coming years in the life of this church we are going to have one focus and that is making Christ-like disciples.  Frankly, I don’t care if another new person walks through the door until we learn to help the people we have become like Christ.

Well that was a little sermon before the sermon but it ties in with what I am about to say. There are six teachings here in Luke 18 that were given by Jesus. Every one of them seems very important given the circumstances we are facing in the coming year.

Out of the six stories in this chapter and we are going to look at three today and three more next Sunday.

Six Things you ought to remember in the coming year:

Before we look at the first three can we say together our promise phrase from this chapter? 

What is impossible for people is possible with God.

Now here is the first story:

1. It is possible for God to answer a persistent prayer

 1 One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. 2 “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. 3 A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ 4 The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, 5 but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’” 

 6 Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. 7 Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”

I don’t profess to know what will drive you to your knees in the coming year but you need to remember these words of our Lord. He told this story for the purpose of illustrating a point and making sure His disciples knew the value of never giving up on prayer. 

Bill Hybels tells about an interesting experience after a baptism service in their church. He writes: “I bumped into a woman in the stairwell who was crying. I thought this was a little odd, since the service was so joyful. I asked her if she was all right. She said, ‘No, I’m struggling.’ She said, ‘My mom was baptized today. I prayed for her every day for almost 20 years. The reason I’m crying is because I came this close to giving up on her. At the 5-year mark I said, “Who needs this? God isn’t listening.” At the 10-year mark I said, “Why am I wasting my breath?” At the 15-year mark I said, “This is absurd.” At the 19-year mark I said, “I’m just a fool.” But I just kept trying, kept praying. Even with weak faith I kept praying. Then she gave her life to Christ, and she was baptized today. I will never doubt the power of prayer again.” 

Sometimes when we pray and pray we feel like we are experiencing the law of diminished returns — so we stop praying. We correspondingly diminish our desires and dreams. We stop believing that God cares and that he will act — that he is indeed a God who wants us to ask. I hope that you will trust God’s love and concern for you, and his ability as well. I hope that you will continue to be persistent in prayer, no matter how discouraging the circumstances seem.

When Jesus was done giving this story he makes a statement followed by a question. 

“I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”

In Matthew 17:20 Jesus taught it this way: “You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”

In the book of James 5:16c – 18: “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. 17 Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! 18 Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.”

Never ever give up on prayer. Even if you don’t get the answer you want or desire you need to stay connected to God who will support and sustain you through the most difficult time. 

What is impossible for people is possible with God.

2. It is possible for God to save all people

 9 Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: 10 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer[b]: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ 

 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Humility is an important part of walking with Christ.

Morris, the loudmouth mechanic, was removing the cylinder heads from the motor of a car when he spotted a famous heart surgeon who was standing off to the side, waiting for the service manager to come take a look at his Mercedes. Morris shouted across the garage, "Hey Doc! Is that you? Come on over here a minute." The famous surgeon, a bit surprised, walked over to where Morris the mechanic was working on the car. Morris straightened up, wiped his hands on a rag, and asked argumentatively, "So, Mr. Fancy Doctor, look at this here work. I ALSO open hearts, take valves out, grind them, put in new parts, and when I finish, this baby will purr like a kitten. So how come you get the big bucks, when you and me are doing basically the same work?" The surgeon leaned over and whispered to Morris, "Try doing it with the engine running."

Sometimes people who have been around church for a long time can forget how much God can do to transform a person. There are a lot of churches who find it much easier to be keepers of the aquarium than fishers of men.

Over this coming year I hope that we can work together to find a way to see some genuine conversions and transformations. Our greatest mission is still to make disciples and it is still our hardest one. It is hard to do it with people who know everything about church and it is hard to do it with folks who know very little about God and the church.

This is probably the main consuming issue in my life at this point. Are we truly seeing lives transformed? I can think of some and those are the ones that keep me going. I can think of others who made great professions of faith and nothing changed.

We desperately need to see the power of God working in the salvation of people around us.

If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent an educator. If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist. If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist. But since our greatest need was forgiveness, God sent us a Savior. -- Max Lucado

Oswald Chambers once said, “We trample the blood of the Son of God if we think we are forgiven because we are sorry for our sins. The only explanation for the forgiveness of God and for the unfathomable depth of His forgetting is the death of Jesus Christ. Our repentance is merely the outcome of our personal realization of the atonement which He has worked out for us. It does not matter who or what we are; there is absolute reinstatement into God by the death of Jesus Christ and by no other way, not because Jesus Christ pleads, but because he died. It is not earned, but accepted. Our Lord does not pretend we are all right when we are all wrong. The atonement is a propitiation whereby God, through the death of Jesus, makes an unholy man holy.”

The African Bishop, Desmond Tutu, was once asked why he became an Anglican rather than joining some other denomination. He replied that in the days of apartheid, when a black person and a white person met while walking on a footpath, the black person was expected to step into the gutter to allow the white person to pass and nod their head as a gesture of respect. "One day" Tutu says, "when I was just a little boy, my mother and I were walking down the street when a tall white man, dressed in a black suit, came toward us. Before my mother and I could step off the sidewalk, as was expected of us, this man stepped off the sidewalk and, as my mother and I passed, tipped his hat in a gesture of respect to her! I was more than surprised at what had happened and I asked my mother, ‘Why did that white man do that?’ My mother explained, ‘He’s an Anglican priest. He’s a man of God, that’s why he did it.’ When she told me that he was an Anglican priest I decided there and then that I wanted to be an Anglican priest too. And what is more, I wanted to be a man of God."

May our highest goal be to see people transformed by the power of God and testimony of our lives lived in the light and love of Jesus.

I need to point out one other part of this scripture:

15 One day some parents brought their little children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But when the disciples saw this, they scolded the parents for bothering him. 

 16 Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. 17 I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”

We believe that kids matter and that they can come to know Christ even at a very young age. We pray as a staff that you come to understand as a church the concept of intergenerational living and worshipping. We should find every way we can to include our children in the telling of the story. 

Remember there is no one that God can’t and won’t save. 

What is impossible for people is possible with God.

3. It is possible for God to deliver us from our possessions

 18 Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”
 19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “Only God is truly good. 20 But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.’[c]”
 21 The man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”
 22 When Jesus heard his answer, he said, “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
 23 But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich.
 24 When Jesus saw this, he said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God! 25 In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”
 26 Those who heard this said, “Then who in the world can be saved?” 

In this year of uncertainty and economic upheaval we need to hold loosely to our possessions. We need to make sure that we hold them and not let them hold us. Do you ever get tired of having stuff? I am amazed at the success of storage bins for rent. Now I know there are different reasons for renting a storage space so I am not saying it is wrong but really do we have that much stuff that we can’t store it at home?

A friend of mine lived in California for a while and when they would be threatened by wild fires they were told to pack a shoe box full of things they couldn’t live without. Have you ever thought about that? I guess it is the amount of funerals I do on a regular basis that causes me to think about this so much any more. So you spend years of time collecting something and in the end you can’t take it with you so what do you do? You sell it but you can’t take the money with you.

Maybe it is my age but for the last year I have been trying to process the fact that most of the junk I hold onto is really not worth it. It may have value but I am getting tired of being the curator. I am ready to let someone else worry about the value and preservation of it.

What Jesus is teaching here applies to every one of us in this room. I know that we have a wide range and spectrum of people in this church. We have folks who the government says are in poverty and we have people who having jobs that pay them very well. I know you don’t want to hear this and we get tired of it but if you are an American you are wealthy compared to the standards of the rest of the world.

William Boice once wrote: "-- Dear Lord, I have been re-reading the record of the rich young ruler and his obviously wrong choice. But it has set me thinking. No matter how much wealth he had, he could not - ride in a car, have any surgery, turn on a light, buy penicillin, hear a pipe organ, watch TV, wash dishes in running water, type a letter, mow a lawn, fly in an airplane, sleep on an innerspring mattress, or talk on the phone. if he was rich, then what am I?

When Jesus says it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God, He is referring to something they would have understood in the context of Jerusalem. The Needles Eye was a very small gate or archway into the city. It was a difficult thing for the tall and laden camel to go through this archway, but it was not impossible.

It is not a sin to be rich, again I use the term to describe all of us, but it is wrong to look on our possessions as our own. To renounce them is to take our hands off and allow them to be used for God’s Kingdom and glory.

The question is what are we doing with our stuff? What is our priority? What things do we value the most?

 Giving with a glad and generous heart has a way of routing out the tough old miser within us. Even the poor need to know that they can give. Just the very act of letting go of money or some other treasure does something within us. That something is it destroys the demon, greed." SOURCE: Richard Foster

I once heard the story about a wealthy man who had no need for pocket change, yet he still took the time to bend over and pick up lost pennies and other coins. Whenever the man found a coin he would stop look at it in his hand, then after standing quietly for a moment, he would then put the coin in his pocket and continue walking. He was once asked about his unusual habit. “Why does a man who has no need for money stand still as though he had just found a gold coin?” The man replied, “When I find a coin I look at the words, ‘In God We Trust,’ and I can hear God asking me, ‘Do you still trust me?’ Once I’m certain that I still trust God more than money I can continue with my day.” Perhaps we should take the time to hear God ask us the same question, “Do you still trust Me; am I still first in your life?”

A little girl said she liked Santa Claus better than Jesus because "you have to be good for Santa only at Christmas but for Jesus you have to be good all the time." Much of the Christmas observance at church is not far removed from that attitude. SOURCE: Vance Harrier in The Vance Havner Quotebook. Christianity Today, Vol. 38, no. 14.

As we enter into and live in this new year let us remember our phrase from Luke 18:

What is impossible for people is possible with God.

Let us look to the Lord in prayer believing that all things are possible with God.

Lord, honor our prayer of openness
In seeking we are expectant
In knocking we are hopeful
In asking we are readied
By Your Spirit,
For the leading, In Your name, Amen

Next weeks lessons:
4. It is possible for God to compensate us for our pursuit of Him.
5. It is possible for God to fulfill every promise
6. It is possible for God to heal us physically