Sermons

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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Come and See

John 4:1-42

Something extraordinary happened at Jacob’s well.

Something more extraordinary than a rabbi simply speaking to a woman; more extraordinary than the King of the Jews talking with a hated Samaritan. More extraordinary than the Creator and Lord of the universe holding a class on Biblical theology with an outwardly sinful woman.

The extraordinary thing that happened that day at Jacob’s well is that as a result of that encounter with Jesus her life was changed forever. And because of her testimony so were the lives of many others!

The text does not explicitly say so, but it is a given that this woman drank the ‘living water’ Jesus offered her and became a believer. Otherwise, John would not have included it as he declares at the end of his gospel, “these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the God; and in believing you may have life in His name” (20:31)

This woman who came to draw water from Jacob’s well not only became a ‘believer’ she also became an ‘evangelist’ who was responsible for bringing many others who also lived in Sychar to faith in Jesus.

Notice that she takes a risk in returning to her town and inviting them to follow her, a known sinner, to meet Jesus. They don’t like her; she probably doesn’t care for them. She has heard their catty gossiping, she has seen their stares of disdain. But she can’t help herself. She rushes back to tell them anyway! “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.”

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God Disappointed?

Psalm 103:1-12
Luke 22:14-20

Last fall I preached a sermon series on what to do when, for whatever reason, we are Disappointed with God. Today I would like to turn that around and consider why and what to do when we think God is disappointed in us.

Have you ever disappointed someone? When that happens, how do we react?

We can become embarrassed, ashamed, guilty, humiliated, and/or ill at ease. In other words, uncomfortable in the presence of the one we’ve let down. And we often begin to create scenarios about how we think that person feels about us. They are disappointed in me, upset, maybe angry, they don’t want me around. And so we avoid them if possible. And when it’s not, it’s hard to look them in the eye, let alone carry on a meaningful conversation.

How many of you would be willing to admit that you have let God down? And that He is; therefore, disappointed in us.

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The War Within

Galatians 5:16-25

As kids, we almost all inevitably faced the temptation at one point or another to slip our favorite candy bar into our pocket at a store without paying for it. So easy, and harmless, right?

That’s what a 38-year-old New Jersey man seemed to be thinking when he robbed the exact same 7-Eleven store at knifepoint four different times in four days—just to satisfy his craving for candy. His escapade began on a Monday and came to an end on Thursday as he was caught red-handed with a dozen Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups stuffed down his pants and later pled guilty to first degree armed robbery. He said to the Judge, “I know I shouldn’t have done it, I know it was wrong, but I couldn’t help it. I would do anything to get my hands on Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.” 1

That story illustrates exactly what Paul is discussing with us in Galatians 5:16:25:

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses. When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.

There is a tug of war that goes on in our hearts; in yours and in mine; where on the one hand we desire to serve and follow Jesus and on the other, we desire to serve and follow self. I call it the war within; what do you think?

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The Sirens Call

Proverbs 7:1-23
I Thessalonians 4:1-8

In Homer’s Odyssey, the Sirens were gorgeous, but dangerous creatures, who lived on rocky islands in the Aegean Sea. From the waist down fish, from the waist up strikingly beautiful women, the Sirens sang spellbindingly beautiful songs that would lure passing sailors to their deaths. As they sang, sailors couldn’t resist the temptation and flung themselves over the sides of the ship to swim toward the enchanting voices, only to be dashed to death upon the jagged rocks that surrounded islands.

A couple hundred years before Homer composed the Odyssey, a man named Solomon penned the Proverbs. In chapter 7, he blares out a warning to resist the temptation of the sirens:

Follow my advice, my son; always treasure my commands. Obey my commands and live! Guard my instructions as you guard your own eyes. Tie them on your fingers as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart. Love wisdom like a sister; make insight a beloved member of your family. Let them protect you from an affair with an immoral woman, from listening to the flattery of a promiscuous woman.

While I was at the window of my house, looking through the curtain, I saw some naive young men, and one in particular who lacked common sense. He was crossing the street near the house of an immoral woman, strolling down the path by her house. It was at twilight, in the evening, as deep darkness fell. The woman approached him, seductively dressed and sly of heart. She was the brash, rebellious type, never content to stay at home. She is often in the streets and markets, soliciting at every corner. She threw her arms around him and kissed him, and with a brazen look she said, “I’ve just made my peace offerings and fulfilled my vows. You’re the one I was looking for! I came out to find you, and here you are! My bed is spread with beautiful blankets, with colored sheets of Egyptian linen. I’ve perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let’s drink our fill of love until morning. Let’s enjoy each other’s caresses, for my husband is not home. He’s away on a long trip. He has taken a wallet full of money with him and won’t return until later this month. “So she seduced him with her pretty speech and enticed him with her flattery. He followed her at once, like an ox going to the slaughter. He was like a stag caught in a trap, awaiting the arrow that would pierce its heart. He was like a bird flying into a snare, little knowing it would cost him his life. (Proverbs 7:1-23).

Now having heard Solomon’s warning, would like to venture a guess as to what commands he was referring to? “Thou shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14)
And “Thou shall not covet. Thou shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.” (Exodus 20:17).

Homer, Solomon; does the great Apostle Paul have anything he’d like to add?

Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that pleases God, as we have taught you. You live this way already, and we encourage you to do so even more. For you remember what we taught you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor; not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways. Never harm or cheat a fellow believer in this matter by violating his wife, for the Lord avenges all such sins, as we have solemnly warned you before. God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (I Thessalonians 4:1-8).

Next month we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong saying, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Most people aren’t aware that as he was climbing back in the lunar lander, Neal quipped to himself, “Good luck, Mr. Gorsky.” Many at NASA thought it was a remark concerning some rival Soviet Cosmonaut. However, upon checking, there was no Gorsky in the Russian space program. Over the years many people questioned Armstrong, but he would just smile. Until 1995, while answering questions in Tampa, he finally talked about it. In 1938 he was a kid playing baseball in his backyard in Wapakoneta, Ohio. He chased a ball which landed near an open window of the Gorsky’s. As he leaned down to pick up the ball, 8-year-old Armstrong heard his neighbor, Mrs. Gorsky, shouting at Mr. Gorsky: “Sex? You’ll get sex when the kid next door walks on the moon!” 1

The almost 3,000-year-old image of the seductive sirens luring their victims to their deaths upon the rocks is as illustrative today as it was in Homer’s time.

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Hold Fast and Draw Near

Hebrews 4:14-16

Last week, I was straight up with you about how enticing temptation can be, about how once we give into it how intoxicating sin can be; about how destructive patterns of sin always lead to negative consequences. And although we ended by focusing on getting help from Jesus, I just had a feeling as you walked out that some, perhaps many of you, were feeling discouraged, perhaps doubting your faith, and wondering if you are really a Christian at all. In that case, you have something in common with the people to whom the letter titled Hebrews was written.

And so, I decided to turn to Hebrews chapter 4 to form the basis of a message of God’s mercy and grace, so that we can draw near to the Communion table in confidence we are accepted and thereby offer God the worship He deserves.

So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for He faced all of the same temptations we do, yet He did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were being tempted.

They were not just being tempted to sin in the ways that are familiar with us; breaking one of the 10 commandments, refusing to forgive another, outbursts of jealousy or anger, envy or lust; though they may have been guilty of any or all of these. No, the sin they were being tempted to commit was far more dangerous to their souls than any of those. Because they were being tempted to give up on faith in Christ altogether. They were no longer sure they wanted to sing.

‘Why would they do that,’ you ask? And the answer is they were experiencing some sort of persecution for their faith.

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Think Again and Pray

II Samuel 11:1-5
I Corinthians 10:1-12

In an article in Today’s Christian Woman, a Sarah Ames writes that her 7 year-old daughter, Jessica, is a deep thinker when it comes to theological questions. They had recently discussed the why bad things happen sometimes, re-reading the story of Adam and Eve and how sin came into the world. Later that week, Jessica was ill and had to stay home from school. Feeling miserable, she told her mother: “If only Adam and Even hadn’t eaten the fruit, I wouldn’t be sick.”
Before her mother could respond, Jessica added: “Of course, if they didn’t eat it, we’d be sitting here naked.” 1

I think her mom was right . . . Jessica sounds like a ‘deep thinker.’

As we begin to talk about how to overcome temptation, Paul is encouraging you to emulate Jessica and be deep thinkers.

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall” (I Corinthians 10:12 NLT).

Therefore let the one who thinks he stands firm [immune to temptation, being overconfident and self-righteous], take care that he does not fall [into sin and condemnation]” (I Corinthians 10:12 Amplified Bible).

To the person who thinks they are immune to temptation or the person who think they can handle temptation when it comes along, Paul gives a warning: “Think again.” Why?

Because temptation can be very enticing and if given into often leads to disaster.

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Why God Allows Testing

Mark 14:32-42
James 1:12-15

Last Tuesday afternoon, I put myself in a position to be tempted. I broke one of the commandments; the one that states: “Thou shall not go to the grocery store hungry.” My granddaughter Kate was with me and I told her we were breaking that rule and that it was probably going to be difficult getting out of there without buying some kind of bad for me snack food to satisfy my hunger itch. And I kept telling her all I needed was oatmeal and blueberries for my breakfast. As Kate and I passed by the potato chip aisle, my feet made an inexplicable right turn. And there they were, my current favorite brand of chips, Cape Cod Chips, and lo and behold, they were on sale, two bags for $5. As I reached my hand for a bag of chips, Kate simultaneously grabbed my arm and said, “Don’t do it, grandpa.” She swung me around 180 degrees, and there I was, face to face with a bright yellow bag of Peanut M & M’s in the candy aisle. As I lunged for the M & M’s, Kate insisted, “No grandpa, I’m getting you out of here now.” And she took me by the hand and led me to the self-check, whereas I paid for my blueberries and oatmeal those Cape Cod chips were, like the Sirens who called to Odysseus, “Come back, come back.”

You know what I’m talking about. You struggle too. I don’t need to remind you that every day, maybe every hour of every day, most of us struggle with temptation.

And if all we had to tussle with was candy and potato chips, we would count ourselves blessed. Because the truth is we brawl with much more insidious temptations.

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