Hooray for the Church!

Matthew 16:13-19

One balmy day in the South Pacific, a navy ship spied smoke coming from one of three huts on an uncharted island. Upon arriving on shore they were met by a shipwreck survivor. He said, “I’m so glad you’re here! I’ve been alone on this island for more than five years!”
The captain replied, “If you’re all alone on the island why do I see THREE huts.”
The survivor said, “Oh. Well, I live in one, and go to church in another.”
“What about the THIRD hut?” asked the captain.
“That’s where I USED to go to church.”

Today, I am here as your cheerleader as I want to celebrate the church of Jesus by reminding all of us of some basic truths about this institution that we are all associated with. And by reminding us that Jesus is inviting us to participate with Him to build what is, in my mind, the most important institution on the face of the planet.

I celebrate the church of Jesus because it is a great place for people to find community, healing, and love.

Our society has been undergoing tremendous cultural changes for the last 50 years and the really frightening thing is to realize that these kind of cataclysmic changes are going to continue at an ever faster pace.

One of those changes has to do with the nuclear family, where Leave it to Beaver, Family Ties, and Family Matters, has evolved into Modern Family. ‘Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go’ to enjoy a home-cooked meal has become down the freeway, through the toll booth, off the ramp, down the boulevard, into the guarded gate community, where grandma pops something in the microwave.

One of the results of the decline of the nuclear family is that more people are living alone than at any other point in human history.

Here is where the church excels; being a place where people can find community, healing, and love. In other words, family.

In this congregation, when we dedicate an infant, the parents are stepping forward to declare their desire to see the child raised in the church. And notice that as part of each dedication the church asks you, the congregation, to be surrogate aunts and uncles.

“Brethren of the household of faith, I commend to your love and care this child,
whom this day recognize as part of the family.

Surrogate aunts and uncles; that’s what we are. + Read More

Outrageous Grace

Luke 23:33-43
Romans 3:20-25a

There was once a handyman who had a dog named Mace. Mace was a great dog except he had one weird habit: he liked to eat grass; not just a little bit, but in quantities that would make a lawnmower blush. And nothing, it seemed, could cure him of it. One day, when the handyman was working on a tractor he lost his wrench in the tall grass. He looked and looked, but it was nowhere to be found. At dark, he gave up for the night and decided to look the next morning. When he awoke, he went outside to see that Mace had eaten the grass and his wrench now lay in plain sight, glinting in the sun. Going out to get his wrench, he called the dog over to him and sang, “A-grazing Mace, how sweet the hound, that saved a wrench for me.”

Today, I don’t want to talk about Grazing Mace, or even Amazing Grace; I want to talk about the ‘outrageous’ Grace on display in the scene that Luke paints.

Think about it; a convicted felon hanging on a cross next to the Lord’s. The hinge on death’s door is squeaking and just before the door slams shut, a prayer of desperation, “Jesus . . . remember . . . me when you come into your Kingdom?” The only thing more outlandish than the request . . . was that it was granted! “Today, you shall be with Me in paradise.”

“Any chance you could put in a good word for me, Jesus?”
“Consider it done.”

And he who in all probability never even said grace, much less did anything to deserve it, received outrageous grace.

I say outrageous because there are many, perhaps some of us, who wish this scene would disappear. For many, the promise of paradise for a common criminal is more than our religious sensibilities will allow. It doesn’t make sense, it’s not right, it’s just not fair! If this guy chose to live life as a thief, then he deserves to pay for it. After all, he never extended grace to others, so why should he receive it now; especially at the end of his life?

For this kind of outrageous grace to begin to make sense, we must come to grips with the biblical fact that God’s grace cannot be earned by human achievement. + Read More

Lord, Come and Change Our Lives

John 15:1-11
Ephesians 4:21-5:2

There was a guy who bought a parrot that reportedly talked a lot. He got the parrot home and found that the parrot not only talked a lot, but his speech was peppered with profuse profanity. Being a Christian man, he tried to get the parrot to change his ways by teaching him new words, but try as he might, the parrot kept cussing up a storm. Finally, out of frustration, he threatened his pet parrot, “You say one more cuss word and I’m going to put you in the freezer.” However; it wasn’t long before the parrot blurted out another profanity, so the man grabbed the bird, opened the freezer put him in, and closed the door. After about five minutes, he heard the parrot cry out, “OK, OK! I give up! Let me out! I promise I won’t cuss anymore.” So the man removed the desperate bird from the freezer. Greatly relieved, the parrot said as he shivered, “I just have one question: ‘What the heck did the chicken do?’”

Like the guy who tried to force his pet parrot to change, many times we try to force people to change. Sometimes preachers engage in such a fruitless effort. I say fruitless because the truth is, effective and meaningful change usually only occurs when someone like you or I choose to change. And that doesn’t happen very often.

Change? People say, “Leave me alone; why should I change? I like myself the way I am, change is hard, change takes work. I don’t have the desire to self-evaluate. I don’t have the time or the energy to change.

If any of this so far rings true for anyone here, I have good news for you today; especially if you are a believer and follower of Christ Jesus, the Lord.

For the Bible truth is that not long after we become Christians; positive changes begin to occur in our lives despite ourselves because they are motivated by God’s Spirit given to the new believer.

Sometimes these changes are immediate and enormous and are indicative of the probability that we have been a rather dastardly person. I remember after I came to Christ I was enabled by God’s grace and the work of His Spirit to quit swearing immediately. (And no one had to put me in a freezer to make it happen).

Most often; however, the changes occur more slowly and are more subtle. The good news is, if that’s the way change has happened and is happening to you it is likely that you were not a despicable person to begin with.

But to be sure, after we have accepted Christ, and we begin to draw near to Him, we begin to become more like Him. We begin to think and then behave in ways that Jesus did, even if we don’t notice the changes in growth. + Read More

Seeking Solitude

Psalm 46:1-11
Mark 6:30-46

A man seeking solitude moved to an isolated mountaintop. One day he heard a knock and there sat a snail and it said, “It is quite cold out here can I come in?” The man shouted, “No, I came here to be alone!” and he flicked the snail down the mountainside. One year later there was a knock at the door and there sat that snail and it said, “What did you do that for?”

I’m not recommending relocation to a lonely mountaintop, but I am strongly endorsing planned solitude as an important aspect of Christian living.

To be sure, there is a difference in being alone and solitude. Being alone is by definition, being alone; that is, by yourself. Many of not most people would say that they do not relish being alone. Solitude, on the other hand, is a preferred state of being in which we seek God’s own heart to keep company with Him.

The author of Celebration of Disciplines, Richard Foster, writes, “Loneliness is inner emptiness; solitude is inner fulfillment.” 1

Famed theologian Paul Tillich wrote: “Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone.” 2

The irony is that the pain of loneliness often deters people from seeking the glory of solitude.

If Jesus is our model for Christian living, then we need to follow Him as He seeks solitude on a regular basis. Anyone who reads the gospels quickly picks up that Jesus is a very busy guy as He ministers to droves of people seeking something from Him. But it is only the careful reader who discovers that Jesus was very proactive about getting away to spend time alone with His Heavenly Father.

Seeking solitude was how He made important decisions; it’s how He dealt with troubling emotions; it’s how He handled the constant demands of His ministry; and it’s how He prepared for his death on the cross.

Today’s text from Mark aptly illustrates both the busyness of the ministry of Jesus as He feeds the 5,000 as well as His purposeful sending away of His disciples so that He can seek a few precious moments of solitude with His Heavenly Father.

Jesus invites us to join Him in solitude for at least four very good reasons. + Read More

Drawing Near

Psalm 27:1-6
Mark 12:28-31
Hebrews 10:19-22

I was reading about a father who was also a pastor and who asked the third-grade class to draw a picture of God. His daughter, who was in that class, showed her dad her picture: “I don’t know what God looks like,” she said, “so I just drew you, daddy, instead.”

It has been said that “a child is not likely to find a father in God unless he finds something of God in his father.” And so I thought it would be good to spend some time today talking about drawing near to God, our Heavenly Father, through the Lord Jesus. For I can say with certainty that the closer any father gets to God our Father, the better father he will be.

Seems to me the first step in drawing near to God is having the desire to do so.

It’s one thing to talk about wanting to know God better, but how desperately do we want it?

Let’s do a heart check. On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you desire to draw near to God?

Is this as much a priority for us as it was for the writer of the 27th Psalm?

One thing I ask of the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.” (27:4)

In those pregnant verses I read from Hebrews, there is only one main, frank command, “Let us draw near!” 7 times in this letter the writer uses this verb “draw near.” We’ll take a gander at just three of those

4:16 “Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.

7:25 “He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him

11:6 “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who draws near to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

It may well have been that this writer had Jeremiah 29:13 in mind: “You will seek Me and find Me when you seek me with all your heart.” Or perhaps, he had read a copy of James. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (4:8).

But regardless the overwhelming passion of this writer is that we “draw near to God” that we have fellowship with Him; that we not settle for a Christian life at a distance from God, that we experience what the old Puritans called communion with God.

This is the very heart of the entire New Testament gospel, isn’t it? That Jesus came into the world to make a way for us to come to His and our Father in heaven.

But how in the world can we draw near to someone we can’t see, hear, or touch? It’s not like we can meet God at Starbucks for coffee and greet Him with a hug. So how do we “draw near;” what is that supposed to look like?

Once we have the desire, we can take the next step toward drawing near: “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength.” + Read More

Judge Not

Matthew 7:1-5
John 8:1-11

In this passage from John’s gospel, Jesus was practicing what He preached in Matthew’s gospel. “Do not judge others, or you will be judged.”

I shudder when I read that because it is so easy to do exactly what Jesus said we should not do.

Let’s face it, judging others is a natural human trait. At one time, making quick judgments made the difference between life and death. Today our social media craze exacerbates the problem as we are encouraged to add our comments, our judgments to every story that appears. Our society is becoming a society of judges.

I try my hardest not to make assumptions about others, I really do, but sometimes despite my best efforts, I will find myself exploring feelings of negativity towards someone else. Is there anyone here who has not been guilty of making some gross misjudgment toward another person? Is there anyone here who has not suffered from someone else’s misjudgment?

There are several reasons we should not judge others; that is: make fun of others, criticize others, talk about them behind their backs, turn our backs on them, or in any other way think we are superior to them.

First, although first impressions are sometimes true, things are not always as they at first appear.

Researchers out of Princeton University have found that people make judgments about such things as trustworthiness, competence, and likeability within a fraction of a second after seeing someone’s face. The researchers caution, “The link between facial features and character may be tenuous at best, but that doesn’t stop our minds from sizing other people up at a glance.”

It is true sometimes we are accurate at making a judgment about other people based upon first impressions. However; this limited ability becomes a problem when we begin to believe our first impressions are always right.

Not long ago, an elderly woman in California went to a grocery store. When she returned to her car, she noticed four men getting into it. The woman let go of her shopping cart, reached into her purse and pulled out a small handgun she keeps for just such occasions. She walked to the front of her car, aimed the pistol and started screaming at the top of her lungs for those guys to get out of her car. They didn’t hesitate, they threw the doors open scrambled out as fast as they could and took off running across the parking lot. She put her gun back in her purse, put her groceries in the back seat and got into the driver’s seat intending to drive to the police station. There was only one problem; her key wouldn’t fit in the ignition. A quick glance around the interior confirmed she was in the wrong car. Her car was parked three spaces down in the same row. So she loaded her groceries into her car and drove to the police station to report what she had done. When she told the sergeant what she had done, he couldn’t contain his laughter as he pointed to the other end of the counter where four very shaken preachers who had just finished having lunch together were reporting a car-jacking by a mad elderly woman. The woman apologized profusely and the clergymen declined to press charges.

Have you ever jumped to conclusions about someone and then judged them in some way only to discover later that you were badly mistaken? Like the woman in that parking lot, do any of us have a tendency to jump to conclusions and assume the worst about other people?

Jesus taught that if we avoid judging others by not jumping to conclusions we won’t have to worry about being embarrassed or having to apologize later. Which leads to the next point.

We never know all the facts about either a situation or the person. + Read More

Surely the Presence

Matthew 18:20
I Corinthians 10:16-17

I had been teaching my three-year-old daughter, Caitlin, the Lord’s Prayer for several evenings at bedtime. She would repeat after me the lines from the prayer. Finally, she decided to go solo. I listened with pride as she carefully enunciated each word, right up to the end of the prayer: “Lead us not into temptation,” she prayed, “but deliver us from E-mail.”

Seriously though, as helpful as e-mail can be, it one medium that is to blame (if I can use that word) for the increasing isolation psychologists are seeing across the board. Yes, many experts are noting in various studies the trend of people moving away from face to face communication with even our friends preferring more and more instead to relate to them electronically. And this trend is rapidly growing through the ever increasing use of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and texting.

Similarly, psychologists say that as the number of people who participate in worldwide online, virtual reality video games, there is mounting concern that many are squandering their real lives by obsessing over their imaginary ones. According to a survey of 30,000 gamers conducted by Stanford University nearly 40% of men and 53 % of women who play online games rated their virtual friends as better than their real-life friends. 1

A study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center revealed that Americans have fewer people they confide in than past generations. In 1985, the average American had three people in whom to confide matters that were important to them. In 2004, that number dropped to two. Perhaps even more striking, the number of Americans with no close friends rose from 10 percent in 1985 to 24.6 percent in 2004. 2

It all adds up to people spending less and less time in the company of fellow human beings.

Psychologists have even come up with an acronym for the phenomenon; PSI is Perceived Social Isolation. From an online article I read this morning about the relationship of PSI to health:

There are clear linkages between PSI and the cardiovascular system, neuroendocrine system, and cognitive functioning. PSI also leads to depression, cognitive decline, and sleep problems. 3

It’s even happening in the church where more and more Christians are preferring to remain isolated by watching church on television or online.

From my perspective, that’s tragic and that’s an opportunity for the church. + Read More

Forgive and Forget?

Matthew 18:21-35

Mother Teresa once said, “If we really want to love, we must learn how to forgive.”

Bill Moyers said, “In marriage every day you love and every day you forgive. It’s an ongoing sacrament, love and forgiveness.”

Oscar Wilde said, “Always forgive your enemies, nothing annoys them so much.”

Nelson Mandela said, “Resentment is like drinking poison hoping it will kill your enemies.”

Comedian Buddy Hackett said it best: “I’ve had a few arguments with people, but I never carry a grudge. You know why? Because while you’re carrying a grudge, they’re out dancing.”

Life is way too short to be stuck in un-forgiveness. That’s why we can’t listen to enough messages about forgiveness. And more important than listening to messages about forgiveness is actually forgiving the person or persons who have wronged us. I remind you James 1:22 says, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.”

As we take a look in the rearview mirror of this series we see that forgiveness:

  • Is hard; remember C. S. Lewis said, “Forgiveness is a beautiful word until you have someone to forgive.” It’s not natural for us to forgive because our sinful nature gets in the way. Our pride would have us retaliate or at minimum hold on to the desire to pay back the person who did us wrong. Our sinful nature longs for the day we see the other person suffer and even anticipates saying, “Now you’re getting what you deserve.”
  • Is unconditional; that is, it is not Biblical to withhold forgiveness until and unless the person who wronged us shows remorse and asks to be forgiven. We are to forgive regardless of how the other person feels or what they do.
  • Is sometimes confused with two myths that tend to keep us from forgiving. First, the misconception that forgiveness calls for rebuilding a relationship with the person forgiven. And secondly, the incorrect notion that Forgiveness requires us to do what we can to relieve the person we have forgiven from suffering negative consequences from their actions.
  • Is releasing the person who wronged us from the obligation to repay us what we think they owe us. In today’s parable, the King had a legal right to be repaid, the slave had an obligation to pay the debt. However, the King voluntarily released the slave from the obligation.
    That story illustrates the essence of forgiveness: We acknowledge a wrong has occurred we are not going to be able to overlook. The wrong has created an obligation for repayment. So we choose to release our offender from having to repay the wrong.

Today, I want us to consider the relationship between forgiving and forgetting.

Marlena Dietrich said, “Once a woman has forgiven her man, she must not reheat his sins for breakfast.” + Read More

Dispelling Forgiveness Myths

Matthew 18:21-22
Romans 12:9-21

Although we have taken a couple of breaks, for the past 6 weeks, we have been considering the grace of forgiveness. I believe that forgiveness is the most important subject in the Bible. To be sure, God’s forgiveness of us is the big picture of the entire Bible. And once we are forgiven we know that we are to extend the grace of forgiveness to those who have wronged us. The two sides of the coin of forgiveness are declared by Paul to the Ephesians, “Be ye kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another just as God in Christ has forgiven you” (4:32).

Dr. E. Stanley Jones, wrote: “A rattlesnake, if cornered, will sometimes become so angry it will bite itself. That is exactly what the harboring of hate and resentment against others is: a biting of oneself.” 1

And so, we have seen in this series that forgiveness is in our self-interest, that forgiveness sets us free from the bitterness that we harbor in our hearts.

And yet we have also noted that forgiving someone who has wronged us can be very difficult.

Today, I hope to make it easier by doing a little myth-busting. I want to expose two myths that have the power to keep us from forgiving others and therefore they have the power of keeping us in chains.

Sven and Hilda, a Scandinavian Christian couple, sang in the choir, attended Sunday School every Sunday, prayed at every meal, attended every church function. But alas, they could just not get along. At home, it was terrible: bickering, complaining, fussing and fighting. After both of them had devotions one morning, separately, of course, Hilda said to Sven, “You know, Sven, I have been tinking. I got de answer to dis hopeless problem we’re livin wit. I tink ve should pray for de good Lord to take vun of us home to be wit Him. And then, Sven, I will go live wit my sister.”

Marla had a falling out with her father because he did not approve of the man she began to date. Each time they tried to talk about it, they ended up in a screaming match until finally, they stopped talking altogether. When Marla married Steve, things between her and her father only became worse. They wouldn’t even get together to celebrate holidays.

After her father unexpectedly died of a heart attack, Marla learned that in his will he had left all of his money and the house to her brother. When she approached her brother to ask if she could at least have the bedroom furniture that had been hers, he refused to even let her in the house. At first, Marla was hurt, but it wasn’t long until the hurt turned to anger. How could her brother be so cruel when he knew how painful this whole experience had been for her? She thought about confronting her brother and giving him a piece of her mind but decided she didn’t want to risk being ostracized further.

Marla was a Christian. She knew that Jesus commanded her to forgive her brother but there was a stumbling block in her way: she had bought into the myth that forgiving her brother also implied that she also needed to rebuild her relationship with him. And since she wasn’t ready for that, she felt she couldn’t forgive him.

It is very possible that you and I have bought into that same myth. + Read More

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