Give of Your Best to the Master

Luke 14:25-33
Colossians 3:16-25

Speaking of Giving Your Best to the Master, two men decided to go fishing on a Sunday and when they didn’t catch a thing thought maybe God was trying to tell them something.

One said to the other, “I’m starting to feel a bit guilty about not going to church.

The other replied lazily, “I couldn’t have gone to church anyway.”

“Why not?”

“My wife is sick in bed.”

A missionary society wrote to Dr. David Livingstone, who was in Africa and asked, “Is there a good road to your location? If so, we have some men who would like to come and join you in your mission.”

Livingstone wrote back, “If you have men who will come only if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them. I want men who will come if there is no road at all.”

Dr. Livingstone’s sentiments sound similar to today’s challenge from Jesus: “And if you do not carry your own cross and follow Me, you cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27).

This challenge to all would be disciples is representative of the latter half of Luke. In the first half, it was all fun and games for the disciples. But in this last half, the children are challenged to grow up . . . fast.

One word that encapsulates the latter half of Luke’s masterpiece is ‘priorities.’ Jesus continually asks His disciples to give Him first place in their lives. In his fine commentary on Luke, Darrel Bock writes:

Service for the Kingdom begins at the moment we receive Jesus and continues until the Father calls us home. What does this look like? In detail, it is different for each person. Some are called to serve where they grew up; others are called to journey thousands of miles away. Some live in hardship and lose their life for their faith, like Peter who died for the faith; while others live a long life, like John who died of old age. What is the same for all is that the call of discipleship should have priority over everything else. 1

In other words . . . Give of Your Best to the Master.

But I also said last week that following Christ is what makes life worth living. It is not only a challenge to be a disciple of Christ but it is also a privilege. And counting the cost, as Jesus advises us to do, should, in my mind involve considering the wonderful privilege of serving Christ.

It is a privilege to be a Christ follower because Christ calls us to give our best for when we give our best we as human beings are at our best. + Read More

Ham or Eggs or $3 Worth of God?

Luke 9:18-27, 57-62; 10:25-28

Have you ever heard the story of the hen and the hog? They were walking down the street and came to a church with a sign outside: “HELP THE NEEDY.” They started to talk about it.

Hen: “I know how we could help. We could give them ham and eggs for breakfast.”

The hog was horrified and said, “That’s fine for you only giving a partial contribution, but for me, it’s total commitment.”

What’s the takeaway from that fable? Perhaps to consider whether we are offering ham or eggs to Christ.

In 1675, a German pastor named Philipp Spener wrote a work called Pious Desires. With uncommon vigor, Spener insisted that too many ‘so-called Christians’ had only the outward form of religion without the power. His call to holiness and intentional Christian growth was so inspiring it launched a movement called Pietism, which heavily influenced John Wesley and many others and eventually led to the First Great Awakening. Tell me if you think what he wrote in 1675 still applies today:

…there are not a few who think that all that Christianity requires of them (and that having done this, they have done quite enough in their service of God) is that they be baptized, hear the preaching of God’s Word, confess and receive absolution, and observe the Lord’s Supper, no matter how their hearts are disposed at the time, or whether or not there are fruits which follow. 1

Sounds like what Wilbur Rees wrote 300 years later in his book, $3.00 Worth of God:

I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please. Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough of Him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please.” 2

Luke 9:51 invites you and me to consider whether we desire $3.00 worth of God, or if we desire more. + Read More

Adoption Blessings

Romans 8:15-16

Last Sunday we gleaned three truths from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians about the process of being adopted into God’s family.

  1. Our adoption was planned from the very beginning:
    Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 1:4-5)
    Creation, fall, redemption, adoption
  2. We were adopted despite the fact that from a human viewpoint we were unadoptable:
    Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature, we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
    We are all in a basket of deplorable’s.
  3. A very high price was paid so that we could be adopted:
    He is so rich in kindness and grace that He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son and forgave our sins. (Ephesians 1:7)

Today I am turning to Paul’s letter to the Romans (8:15-16) where he also uses the word ‘adoption’ to flesh out three blessings of adoption

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.

First point; our adoption is irrevocable.

I point this out because there are always Christians who are troubled by the thought that they have sinned away God’s grace. That is, we feel as if we have crossed the line with God one too many times. And that perhaps, as a result, He is through with us.

And so I say loud and clear, that once we are adopted into God’s family, we are part of the family forever; permanently. + Read More

On Being Adopted

Ephesians 1:1-8

A first grader brought in a family picture for show and tell. One of the more astute first graders noticed that one of the little boys in the picture had different color hair than the other family members. Another child suggested that he was probably adopted. A little girl said, “I know all about adoptions because I was adopted.”
“What does it mean to be adopted?” asked the teacher.

“It means,” said the little girl, “that you grew in your mommy’s heart instead of her tummy.”

The Apostle Paul used many different kinds of images and metaphors to express the blessings of knowing Christ. He searched both the Old Testament and 1st century culture to find words that would create a new theological grammar for the fledgling church. Some of the words he chose to describe what we refer to as ‘salvation’ are “atonement,” “justification,” “reconciliation,” “redemption.”

And as you have already guessed from today’s scripture reading and message title, one of them was “adoption.” The Greek word literally means, “to make [someone] a son”.  Paul used the word “adoption” five times in his letters: once in Galatians, (4:5); three times in Romans (8:14, 23; 9:4) and in today’s text in Ephesians (1:5).  In each case it refers to God’s adoption of us as His children.

Today, I want to cover 3 things Paul lets us know about the adoption process in his letter to the Ephesians. And next week, we’ll discuss the blessings of being adopted into God’s family.

First I note this process of adoption was planned long ago.

Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes” (Ephesians 1:4).

+ Read More

One Way?

John 14:1-6;
Colossians 1:15-2:23

Despite the best efforts of many people involved in both politics and academia to make this world as ‘politically correct’ as it possibly can be, it must be recognized that in religious circles it is still true that:
1. Muslims do not recognize Jews as God’s chosen people.
2. Jews do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah.
3. Protestants do not recognize the Pope as the leader of the Christian world.
4. Baptists still do not recognize each other at the Boot Scootin’ Saloon!

Theology professor and author of 40 books on worship, Robert Webber, was traveling on a plane from San Francisco to Los Angeles. He was sitting next to the window, reading a Christian book. The man next to him, obviously from the Eastern hemisphere, asked, “Are you a religious man?”

“Well, yes,” Webber replied, “I am.”

“So am I,” said the Indian and they began talking about religion.

In the middle of the conversation, Webber asked, “Can you give me a one-liner that captures the essence of your faith?”

“Yes,” he said, “We are all part of the problem, and we are all part of the solution.”

Webber asked a few clarifying questions and after thinking for a while, said, “Would you like a one-liner that captures the essence of the Christian faith?”

“Sure,” he responded.

“We are all part of the problem, but there is only one man who is the solution. His name is Jesus.”

In contrast to Webber’s declaration of faith, the percentage of Christians who say they believe that there are many ways to God has been increasing over the last 25 years as our nation has become more and more PC. In today’s cultural environment, the belief that Jesus is the only way, the truth, and the life because He is divine is judged by many as offensive and arrogant. Who wants to be seen by others as offensive and arrogant? So more and more Christians are reticent to speak about what they believe or maybe are even changing what they believe. Indeed, according to a survey of 35,000 Americans conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 83% of Protestants believe that many religions can lead to eternal life. 1

That would not sit well with the Apostle Paul who is not turning over in his grave; he’s probably spinning around! Paul does not pull any punches when it came to his belief about Christ: there is one way, baby; Jesus is as He claimed to be! He is the way and the truth and the life.

Believe it or not, the main reason Paul writes his letter to the Colossians is that a 1st-century version of PC is extending its tentacles into the church there. + Read More

Another Chance for Who?

2 Peter 3:3-17
Luke 13:1-9

A priest and pastor from the local parishes were standing by the side of the road holding up a sign that read, “The End is Near! Turn around now before it’s too late!”

“Leave us alone, you religious nuts!” yelled the first driver as he sped by.

From around the curve, they heard screeching tires and a big splash. The Priest sheepishly looked at the Pastor and asked, “Do you think our sign should have simply said, ‘Bridge Out’ instead?”

How many of you wondered with me last week whether or not the world was coming to an end? I mean, can you recall another time when so many natural disasters were occurring so close together? There were hundreds of people in Texas clinging to rooftops waiting to be rescued as the waters from Hurricane Harvey threaten to engulf them; wild-fires burning out of control in several western states prompting warnings to stay indoors to avoid breathing toxic air; an 8.1 earthquake in Mexico toppling buildings and spawning tsunamis and five unusually strong solar flares spewing a torrent of electromagnetic radiation toward our fragile planet. And then came Irma.

It is times like these that make us who believe in God to wonder, where is God in all of this? Does He not see what’s happening? Does He not care? Is He the one who we should hold responsible?

Not according to actress Jennifer Lawrence, who said last week that the two devastating hurricanes in Texas and Florida are expressions of Mother Nature’s wrath and anger over the election of Donald Trump. I didn’t know the Donald had that much power!

In today’s passage from Luke, Jesus perceives that His listeners are grappling with similar causality questions concerning a natural disaster.

Perhaps an earthquake, perhaps faulty engineering, perhaps a combination of both caused some sort of tower to collapse in the Village of Siloam killing 18 people and doubtless injuring others. The prevailing thinking of the day is that things of that nature were God’s justice meted out toward evil sinners. Jesus quickly nixes that theology: + Read More

The Lost Book

Psalm 119 (selected)
II Kings 22:1-11; 23:1-3

How about a little Bible Trivia?

At what time of day was Adam created?
A little before Eve.

How long did Cain hate his brother?
As long as he was Abel.

What excuse did Adam give to his children as to why he no longer lived in Eden?
Your mother ate us out of house and home.

Which servant of God was the biggest lawbreaker (sinner) in the Bible?
Moses; he broke all 10 commandments at once.

Who was the greatest comedian in the Bible?
Samson. He brought the house down.

Did you know why some believe that Jesus was an American Indian?
Acts 4: refers to Him as Chief Cornerstone.

What does the word ‘Bible’ mean?

How many books in the Bible?
66 – 39 in OT, 27 in NT

Which five books of the Bible are not divided into chapters?
Obadiah, Philemon, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude.

Does anyone know the longest chapter in the Bible?
Psalm 119 with 176 verses.

I took the time to count some of the nouns in the Psalm: ‘commandments’ 21 times, ‘commands’ – 22, ‘decrees’ – 22, ‘instructions’ – 25, ‘laws’ – 21, ‘regulations’ – 20 and ‘word’ appears 27 times.

All 158 of those nouns are references to God’s Word, and they are either preceded or followed by the verbs: ‘follow, guide, keep, listen, meditate, obey, reflect, rejoice, teach, and trust.’

I have chosen to read 19 of the 176 verses; trusting that these 19 provide a good representation of the entire Psalm.

1 ‘Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the LORD.’
11 ‘I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.’
18 ‘Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions.’
33 ‘Teach me your decrees, O LORD; I will keep them to the end.’
34 ‘Give me understanding and I will obey your instructions; I will put them into practice with all my heart.’
35 ‘Make me walk along the path of your commands, for that is where my happiness is found.’
35 ‘Give me an eagerness for your laws rather than a love for money!’
36 ‘Turn my eyes from worthless things, and give me life through your word.’
66 ‘I believe in your commands; now teach me good judgment and knowledge.’
67 ‘I used to wander off until you disciplined me; but now I closely follow your word.’
97 ‘Oh, how I love your instructions! I think about them all day long.’ 
98 ‘Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are my constant guide.’
99 ‘Yes, I have more insight than my teachers, for I am always thinking of your laws.’
100 ‘I am even wiser than my elders, for I have kept your commandments.’
101 ‘I have refused to walk on any evil path, so that I may remain obedient to your word.’
102 ‘I haven’t turned away from your regulations, for you have taught me well.’ 
103 ‘How sweet your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey.’
104 ‘Your commandments give me understanding; no wonder I hate every false way of life.’
105 ‘Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.’

Would you believe research indicates that 92% of all households in America have an average of three Bibles?

That works out to be about 306 million bibles in this country. Wow, that’s a whole lot of Bibles! However; would you also believe that 41% of those same households admit they rarely if ever open those Bibles; which means there are about 125 million Bibles gathering dust. Why? + Read More

The Back Nine

Psalm 90

A couple of weeks ago the PGA Facebook page invited golfers to submit their favorite golf jokes. Howard P. Curtis submitted the following:

Four old guys went into the pro shop after playing 18 holes of golf. The pro asks, “Did you guys have a good round today?”
The first old guy said, “Yes, but I only had three riders today.”
The second old guy said, “I had five.”
The third old guy said, “I had seven riders, the same as last time.”
The last old man said, “I set my all-time record; I had 12 riders today!”
After they went into the locker room, another golfer who had heard the old guys
talking about their game went to the pro and said, “I’ve been playing golf for a long time and thought I knew all the terminology of the game, but what’s a rider?”
The pro said, “A rider is when you hit the ball far enough to actually get in the golf cart and ride to it.” 1

According to the Psalmist, those four dudes are playing The Back Nine of their lives; where The Back Nine represents the latter years of our lives. “Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty!! (Psalm 90:10)

It may be true that some of us are playing The Back Nine. According to the average lifespan of a white American male, I’ve just hit my second shot on the 15th hole; undoubtedly in the weeds or water.

Maybe that’s what the author of Psalm 90 was referencing when he said, “Even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away.” You better believe it! They fly away indeed!

It seems just yesterday that I was young; out of high school, first real job, married, kids, hopes, dreams . . . an entire slow-moving lifetime ahead. I still recall listening to a Simon and Garfunkel song when I was a teenager:

I was 21 years when I wrote this song, I’m 22 now, but I won’t be for long. Time hurries on and the leaves that are green turn to brown.”

and thinking ‘time hurries on’? 21 or 22 seems a lifetime away!

But, here it is … the “back nine” of my life and it catches me by surprise . . . it takes my breath away. How did I get here so fast? Where did the years go?

Those of you still playing the front nine (anyone under 39), let me tell you from experience, the back nine will be here faster than you think. And the truth is none of us can really be sure if we’ll even reach the back nine at all! We have no promise that we will see all the seasons of life. Some of us may have to forfeit the chance to play a full 18 holes.

That’s why the overall message of Psalm 90 is so very important: “Teach us to realize the brevity of life so that we may grow in wisdom” (12). + Read More

Pray Without Ceasing

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Two weeks ago, I preached what may have been for some of you a controversial or puzzling message about what it means to be ‘led’ by the Spirit in which I conveyed that the Spirit’s main role is to lead people to saving faith in Christ (Justification) and to begin in us the life-long process of becoming more like Christ (Sanctification).

I also cautioned us to think it through before claiming the Holy Spirit told us or led us to do anything that is outside the realm of scripture. And I quoted among others, Billy Graham:

He (the Spirit) will never lead you contrary to the word of God. I hear people saying, “The Lord told me to do this . . . The Lord told me thus and so.” I am always a little suspicious unless what the Lord has said is in keeping with His Word. God never directs us to do anything contrary to His Word. 1

For example, if you came to me to tell me that Holy Spirit led you to forgive someone who has wronged you, or to increase your giving to the church, or to join a Bible Study, I have no problem because those things have to do with our sanctification and are clearly mandated in scripture.

However; if you tell me the Spirit of God led you to tell me that I should sell my Kia and buy a Honda forgive me for being a little skeptical as I have come to believe that God did not send the promised Holy Spirit for the purpose of telling us or leading us or guiding us into anything that is outside the realm of the scriptures.

Having said that, I hope no one took/takes me to mean that God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit cannot or will not work in our lives to bring us a sense of assurance or comfort or direction or peace as a result of praying.

In fact, in today’s pericope, Paul admonishes us to pray without ceasing: “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (I Thess. 5:16-18).

What does Paul mean by ‘Never stop praying’?

Paul does not have in mind praying 24/7. No human being, no matter how saintly, could possibly pray at all times. But I think we do have to admit that Paul must mean praying often.

In NKJ of Romans 1:9, Paul writes, “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers.” Surely Paul did not make mention of the Romans every second of every day. He prayed about lots of other things besides the Romans. But apparently there was a time when he mentioned them over and over. That’s what I believe he means by “without ceasing;” repeatedly and often.

Now to be sure praying ‘repeatedly and often’ is no small task. All of us are very busy people; most of us say we are busier now than at any point in our lives. How can we possibly pray without ceasing? + Read More

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