Sermons

Taming Troubles

Habakkuk 3:17-19
James 1:2-4

Let’s play a little Trivial Pursuit:
1. Who is known as the Bard of Avon?
William Shakespeare.
2. Which Shakespearean play is most associated with All Hallow’s Eve?
Macbeth.
3. What is the common name of the poem recited/sung by the three witches?
Double, Double, Toil and Trouble.
4. When it comes to troubles, the one-hit-wonder group, the Fortunes had a 1965 hit song that all of us can say amen to: You’ve Got Your Troubles, I’ve Got Mine.
5. One last trivia question: what Old Testament and what New Testament authors equate trouble with joy?
And the answer is: Habakkuk and James.

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights. (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (James 1:2-4).

Notice James doesn’t say “If” trouble comes, but rather, “When.”

Troubles are as old as Adam and Eve, who I guess we can blame for all of ours.

Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Many, if not all of us, are experiencing some sort of trouble right now.

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Objections to Grace

Matthew 20:1-16
Luke 15:25-32

Speaking of sibling rivalries, a twin brother says, “I finally realized my father favored my brother over me. It hit me when they asked me to blow up balloons for his surprise birthday party!”

If this parable were a play and we were sitting in the audience watching it for a second time, knowing the older brother is really upset because his father not only welcomed his younger brother home but threw him a party as well, how would we respond when the older brother appears in this final scene? How many of us might have been tempted to boo the older brother’s boorish behavior as he makes his way to center stage? On the other hand, how many of us would tend to sympathize with him?

Could it be that there’s a little of the older brother in all of us?

My premise for today is that, for the same reasons the older brother did, we have this inbred tendency to struggle with the concept of grace. And if we are not careful, that struggle can keep us from living in freedom.

First, we struggle with grace because we can’t quite accept the idea that something as good as grace is free.

Hearing that younger brother had been welcomed home by their father with a party, older brother responds with, “All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to” (Luke 15:29a).

Like the older brother, many people today labor under the illusion that we must work to earn God’s blessings. Ask the average joe on the street, “How do you get into heaven?” and he will quickly answer, “Be good.”

A Sunday school teacher had been teaching his 7th graders for several weeks about receiving the free gift of God’s grace. “If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into Heaven?”
“NO!” the children all answered.
“Okay, if I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would that get me into Heaven?”
Again, the answer was a resounding, “NO!”
“Well, then, if I was kind to animals and gave candy to all the children, and loved my wife, would that get me into Heaven?”
Again, they all answered, “NO!”
“Well, then he continued, “Then how can I get into Heaven?”
And little Larry shouted out, “YOU GOTTA BE DEAD!”

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The Father’s Extravagant Love

Philippians 2:6-11
Luke 15:11-24

Because it is often easy to get lost in the forest for the trees, I’d like for us to take a step back and take a gander at the big picture.

In Luke 15, Jesus weaves together these three splendid stories so that His listeners will be enabled to comprehend something about who His Father is and what He is like. In contrast to the thinking of the day held by the religious teachers, that certain people (the poor, lepers, women, tax collectors, gentiles, sinners) did not matter to God; and therefore, were to be shunned; Jesus paints a picture, especially in the story of the prodigal son, of a God that is always seeking, constantly searching for ALL lost souls and is filled with great joy when those lost souls allow themselves to be found.

Last week, the focus was on the prodigal son; especially as it concerned him coming to his senses and then making a decision to return to his father’s home. And I posed the thought-provoking question, Is it possible that some of us might be living between coming to our senses and coming home? And I encouraged all of us to consider making a decision to come home.

Today, I want to explore the actions of the father of the prodigal.

But before I read the story of the prodigal son, I would like to do some Bible Study with you aided by Professor of Theology, Kenneth Bailey, who for over 20 years of lived and taught throughout the middle-east. Bailey penned four books on Luke 15, including this one, Jacob and the Prodigal.

Bailey notes that we often think of this parable solely in terms of featuring three people; the father, the son and the older brother who appears at the end of the scene. However, reading between the lines affirms what Bible scholars know, that the stories Jesus tells are about people living in community.

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Decisions, Decisions

Luke 15:11-20a

One day, after a man had his annual physical, the doctor came out and said, “You had a great checkup; is there anything that you’d like to discuss?”
“Well,” he said, “I’m trying to decide whether or not to have a vasectomy.”
“That’s a pretty big decision; have you talked it over with your family?”
“Yeah . . . and they’re in favor 15 to 2.”

How many of you would be willing to admit that you do not like to make decisions? That having to make decisions is stressful? That you are sometimes afraid to make decisions because you think you will make the wrong decision? That you sometimes procrastinate when it comes to making decisions? That you OFTEN procrastinate when it comes to making decisions?!

In his book, The Traveler’s Gift, author/motivational speaker Andy Andrews writes: “When faced with the opportunity to make a decision, I will make one. I understand that God did not put in me the ability to always make right decisions. He did, however, put in me the ability to make a decision and then make it right.” 1

I bring this up because I want us to think for a few moments about the decision that the prodigal son made to return to his father after he came to his senses.

After he came to his senses, the decision he made was not an easy decision to make.

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Outhouse Rescue!

Psalm 40:1-5
Luke 15:11-24
Romans 3:20-25a

October 1993, Gatlinburg, Tennessee; three construction workers and their boss are in a bar after work discussing bad odors. You know the ones: rotten eggs, skunk scent, what’s your favorite? And the boss says, “The worse odor has got to be an outhouse.”

He was so convinced he was right that offered $1,000 to anyone who would spend an entire night in an outhouse. How many of you would have done it? By the way, did I mention that in order to collect the money you would have to spend the entire night lowered into the pit of the outhouse? Now how many of you would have done it?

One of those construction workers said that he would gladly dive head-first into that stuff for the $1,000. But the boss said that wouldn’t be necessary. And so it was that at sundown October 16, 1993, his two co-workers and his boss lowered their adventurous friend into the slimy, smelly, stench of a well-used outhouse. After about two hours, in which he said he was tempted to toss his cookies many times, the guy said, “The smell sort of grew on him.”

Sunrise the next morning, the same three who took turns staying awake all night to ensure that the prisoner remained such, threw their perfumed buddy a rope and hauled him out. As the boss handed over a check, he noted his employee just couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.

What’s a story like that got to do with anything? Hang on; you’re about to find out.

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You Matter to God

Luke 7:36-50
Luke 15:1-3, 8

Do you remember the Beatles?

Most of us thought John Lennon had it all; fame, money, girls! We thought he lived a charmed life; a kid from the hicks, Liverpool, nothing good ever came out of Liverpool, makes it big. He lives a glamorous life; instantly recognized all over the world.

And yet despite his fortune and fame, he could describe himself as a Nowhere Man. He had been under pressure to write another hit song. Spent 5 hours late one night trying to come up with something but nothing came. And he began to think, I’m a nobody, a nowhere man, my whole life has been tied up with music but now I can’t think of a thing to write about. “I thought of myself sitting there, doing nothing and getting nowhere.” 1

Lennon’s explanation places the song in a category of his other self-deprecating songs: I’m Down, I’m a Loser, I’m Only Sleeping, I’m So Tired, I’ll Cry Instead.

It’s surprising to many that when John Lennon thought about himself, he often concluded that he didn’t matter. Why? Because he didn’t matter to his father who left him when John was 8 years old. He didn’t matter to his mother Julia, who didn’t want to be a mother and so handed John over to her sister Mimi to raise.

The resultant pain was expressed in Lennon’s song, Mother, which contains the words, Mama you had me, but I didn’t have you, Father you left me, but I didn’t leave you; and a five-time repeated phrase at the end of the song that grows in painful intensity: mama don’t go, daddy come home. 2

He’s a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land, making all his nowhere plans for nobody. Doesn’t have a point of view, knows not where he’s going to, isn’t he a bit like you and me? 3

Isn’t he a bit like you and me?

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Heartsick Father

Luke 15:1-32

The following “Dear God” letters indicate kids have the funniest ideas of who God is and what He is like:

Dear God,
Thanks for the baby brother, but what I prayed for was a puppy.
Joyce

Dear God,
My mommy told me what You do. Who does it while you’re on vacation? Jenny

Dear God,
Instead of letting people die and having to make new ones, why don’t You just keep the ones You got now?
Jane

Dear God,
Are You really invisible or is that just a trick?
Lucy

Dear God,
I bet it is hard for You to love all of everybody in the whole world, there are only four people in our family and I can never do it.
Nan

I have a hunch that there are some big kids here who believe just about the same thing as that last one; those who wonder how God can love everyone, those who wonder how God can love people who with intentionally do wrong, those who wonder how God can love them.

Who is God and what is He like? It may be true that for some of us God is distant and a stern-looking god who prefers to intimidate rather than love. Many others picture God with a white beard and robe to match and if you don’t follow the rules, watch out for thunder and lightning! Maybe God is a teacher handing out grades based upon our performance: Said a word I shouldn’t have: C-. God couldn’t love me. Watched an “R” rated movie D+. God couldn’t love me. Took home paper towels from work: F. Surely God couldn’t love me.

On the other hand, some of us are like the Pharisees Jesus was addressing, thinking I deserve an A. After all, here I am in church, again, so I’m pretty sure God loves me, but for the guy out there right now mowing his lawn; he can forget it. God certainly doesn’t love him.

So who is God, and what is He like?

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Now Concerning the Collection

Matthew 6:19-24
I Corinthians 15:50-16:4

“Now concerning the collection?”

“Now concerning the collection?” What kind of mumbo jumbo is this; moving from discussing the most astounding news the world has ever heard, the historical resurrection of Jesus and the future resurrection of His children to this mundane matter of collecting money?

“Now concerning the collection.” There must be some mistake here. Surely the Apostle Paul would never presume to talk about salvation and money in the same breath!

“Now concerning the collection.” The nerve of the guy. Hasn’t anyone ever told you Paul, there are three things we don’t talk about in this family: religion, politics, and money!

In fact, a recent survey asking people what they don’t talk about in families indicated that money beat out politics and religion; 44% admitting they don’t talk about money, 35% politics, and 32% religion. The topic of money even beat out talking about death which came in second at 38%. 1

But no, Paul places the matter “concerning the collection” right in the heart of the Gospel message because that is precisely where it belongs! Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians and to us ‘to give’ is not an afterthought, is not a separate part of the letter that was added after he was finished with the heart of the matter because this invitation to give to the Lord’s work IS THE HEART OF THE MATTER!

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Encouragement to Serve

Matthew 25:14-30
I Corinthians 15:51-58

Talk about someone needing a little encouragement! A pastor whose sermons were very long and boring, announced one Sunday that he had been called to another church and that it was Jesus’ will that he leave that week. Whereupon the song leader got everybody up to sing, “What a Friend we have in Jesus.”

Last week, we began a brief series on the topic of ‘encouragement,’ using as our text Paul’s words to the Thessalonians, “Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up” (I 5:11).

We noted that although there is a real need for any kind of encouragement, Biblical encouragement isn’t focused on complementing someone’s pedicure or telling them how good their homemade salsa tastes. Indeed Paul’s counsel to ‘encourage one another’ follows a discussion about the hope we should have in Christ for life beyond the grave.

With that in mind, Biblical encouragement is always shared in the hopes it will, in some way, accomplish one of four objectives:

  1. Encourage people to embrace faith in Jesus as Savior,
  2. encourage people to become more like Christ in behavior,
  3. encourage people to trust that God always has their back
    as Paul encouraged the Thessalonians,
  4. encourage people to know that God is using them in some way for the purposes of helping Him build His Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.

It is concerning this last objective that I would like to offer some Biblical encouragement to you today and next Sunday as well. That is, I want to encourage you to know that God is using you in some way for the purpose of helping Him build His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Specifically, as we serve Him.

I want to encourage you to know that God is using you in some way for the purpose of helping Him build His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

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