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.

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?

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

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.

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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Balcony People

I Thessalonians 5:1-11

Speaking of encouragement who is more in need of it in this story; the wife or the husband or the marriage counselor they made an appointment with because they felt their marriage needed a shot in the arm? The wife was hurt and upset and as she began to recount her loveless life, tears filled her eyes and her lips started quivering. It wasn’t long before the wise counselor realized what the problem was, so without saying a word he took her by the hands, looked in her eyes for a long time, smiled, and then gave her a big hug. A change immediately came over her face; she softened and her eyes lit up. Stepping back, the counselor said to her husband, “See, that’s all she needs.”
The husband pulls out his Daytimer and says, “Great, I’ll bring her back to see you every Tuesday and Thursday.”

Regardless if we are husbands or wives, parents or children, brothers or sisters, friends or colleagues; to experience all the joy that relationships have to offer requires copious amounts of . . . ENCOURAGEMENT!

The practice of encouraging others is a key ingredient in experiencing harmony in any relationship. And giving encouragement can do more than yield harmony; encouragement can go a long way toward bringing about a positive transformation in another person’s life.

That’s why a change immediately came over the face of the wife in that story, that’s why her eyes lit up. Because encouragement can lead to a changed for the better life, for both the person giving and receiving it.

That’s why Paul encourages the Thessalonians to encourage one another. The word translated here in I Thessalonians as ‘encouragement’ occurs 106 times in the New Testament. 1 It literally means ‘to call to one’s side;’ 2 almost always with the intention of telling someone something positive. The word is more often translated ‘comfort’ than ‘encourage’ though you will agree that comforting words are encouraging words, and vise versa.

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Let Go and Let God

Romans 12:1-2

An intoxicated guy staggers into a Catholic Church, enters a confessional booth, slowly sits down, but doesn’t say, “Father forgive me for I have sinned” or anything. The Priest, on the other side, conspicuously coughs a few times to get his attention, but the inebriated sot continues to sit in silence. The Priest says, “I’m listening, my son,” but still no response. Finally, the Priest pounds three times on the wall. The drunk mumbles, “Ain’t no use knockin’! There’s no paper on this side either!”

There is a stigma associated with “Recovery Groups” because many of us wrongly assume that recovery groups are for people like that guy; for alcoholics and drug addicts. Well, I’ve got an eye-opener for you today!

According to Gerald May in his landmark book, Addiction and Grace, we are all addicted to something; it’s just a matter of what or whom.

I am not being flippant when I say that all of us suffer from addiction. Nor am I reducing the meaning of addiction. I mean in all truth the psychological, neurological and spiritual dynamics of full-fledged addiction are actively at work in every human being. The same processes that are responsible for addiction to alcohol and narcotics are also responsible for addiction to ideas, work, relationships, power, moods, fantasies, and an endless variety of other things. 1

What kind of other things? I’m glad you asked: controlling other people, hoarding, the internet, gambling, lighting fires, sex, smoking, spending money, stealing, thrill-seeking, seeking approval.

An on-line Reader’s Digest article, Surprising Addictions: says that people can become addicted to:

Visine, tattoos, tanning, on-line dating, pulling your hair, diet soda, shoes, television, taking selfies, extreme sports, apologizing, negative self-talk, romantic love, video games, chewing ice.” 2

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Blessing From Brokenness

Psalm 51:1-17
Matthew 5:4

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Bible scholars agree that although the word translated ‘mourn’ could be a word used for the ‘mourning of the dead,’ that to understand this beatitude as such limits what Jesus had in mind.

For example, John Stott writes:

It is plain from the context that those Jesus promised comfort are not primarily those who mourn the loss of a loved one, but those who mourn the loss of their innocence, their righteousness, their self-respect. It is not the sorrow of bereavement to which Christ refers, but the sorrow of repentance. 1

In his commentary on this verse, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, after noting that this beatitude deals with spiritual mourning, has:

As we confront God and His holiness, and contemplate the life we are meant to live, we mourn our utter helplessness and hopelessness.” 2

And the other great British scholar, William Barclay, translates, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted as follows:

Oh the bliss of the man whose heart is broken for out of his sorrow he will find the joy of God.” 3

In other words, blessed are those who first recognize their brokenness and then cast themselves on the mercy of Christ, for they shall find comfort.

From my study of this saying, I conclude that Jesus is promising blessing for people who are broken in one of three ways:

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Eyes of Compassion

Matthew 9:35-38
II Corinthians 5:14b-21

After I became a Christian, I began to faithfully attend church.

And although I continued to work on the railroad with the same group of guys that I had known for 10 years, I found that I now had more in common with my new friends in the church than I did with friends at work. I began to pull away from the guys. Going to picnics in the local park with my B&O family was replaced with pot-lucks at the church. Over time, I even began to feel a little superior than the guys on the railroad; after all, I was a goody-two-shoes Christian and they; well, they were not.

There was Mike Collins. Mike was as straight-laced a conductor as they come. No one wanted to be on his crew, he was such a stickler for the rules; no sleeping in his caboose!
Because I had the least seniority I was assigned to be Mike’s flagman. Truth is we got along fine, not because I was a stickler for the rules, but because I was one of the most conscientious flagmen on the B & O.

One day we were called for the wreck train; so-called because the wreck train hauled a huge steam-operated crane with which to clean up after a derailment. Instead of a caboose, Mike and I got to ride the diner with the wreck crew.

I can still recall as if it was yesterday sitting at the counter drinking a cup of joe and the WreckMaster said to me, “Where’s Mike?” I got up and started walking down the narrow galley to the back of the car looking for him, and there he was lying on the floor, dead from a massive heart attack.

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