November 26, 2012

Sermons on the Lord's Prayer

We just finished a five-part study of Jesus' model (or Lord's) prayer.  Listen in, be encouraged ... and pray!

Matthew 6.9  - "Our Father who is in heaven"
Matthew 6.10 - "On earth as it is in heaven"
Matthew 6.11 - "Give us this day our daily bread"
Matthew 6.12 - "Forgive us our debts"
Matthew 6.13 - "Do not lead us into temptation"*

*Note that, over the course of this sermon, both the NASB version of Matthew 6.13 (quoted above) and the King James Version ("lead us not into temptation") are used.  Otherwise, scripture quotations are taken from the NASB®.

November 24, 2012

Make me a Servant

“Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.” So says Jesus in Mark 10. “With humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” That’s according to the apostle Paul in Philippians 2. There are a thousand ways this attitude of putting others first ought to show itself in our daily lives. Let me remind you of a few ways we can make it so when we gather as a church families on Sundays and Wednesdays. How can you put the rest of your church family ahead of yourself each week?

 Be on time

 Leave the front parking spaces open for the disabled and for guests

 When you see a problem (e.g. a spill on the floor or trash in the yard), take care of it yourself if possible

 Clean up behind yourself (in the auditorium, at lunch, in the bathroom)

 Refuse to listen to gossip

 Phone a member who has been sick or absent to check on them

 Send a note of encouragement or thanks to a fellow church member

 Instead of just promising to pray for someone who mentions a prayer request to you, stop and pray right then and there

 Use the church directory as a prayer list

 Don’t be first in line at the fellowship meals

 Be on the look-out for guests; introduce yourself to them; learn their names; invite them to sit with you

 Obtain a guests’ contact information, and invite them over for dinner or dessert

 Tithe

 Volunteer your time with the children’s ministries

 Perform your servant ministry role faithfully and gladly

 Send a letter of encouragement to one of your missionaries

 Support your missionaries financially

Of course, servanthood doesn’t begin or end with lists, does it? Servanthood is an attitude of the heart. It is an overflow of God’s grace which has been poured out on us in Jesus, the Beloved. Servanthood is empowered and motivated by that grace. So … if Jesus has so loved and served us, should we not love and serve one another?

November 13, 2012

Could my Tears Forever Flow

I had a unique opportunity to share the good news yesterday. As I was visiting in the hospital, I passed by a kindly looking older woman in a waiting area, and she smiled broadly as I went on my way. On the way back out, there she still sat, continually smiling broadly at passers-by. I smiled back, and then felt the Spirit nudging me to turn around and talk to her. So I went back and began the conversation by simply saying, ‘Ma’am, I’ve seen your big smile twice now, and I just want to thank you. It encouraged me.’

We began to talk about why she was in the waiting room, the fact that she’d just been discharged, and so on. Eventually she said that she felt God had healed her and was sending her home because He still had something more for her to do. She said it with such a confidence and a joy that I thought, ‘Well, she must be a Christian, with an attitude like that!’ So I asked if I could read her the passage of Scripture I’d just finished reading to my friend upstairs. She agreed, and we read Romans 8.32 – about God not sparing Jesus, but delivering Him over for us all; and promising, along with this greatest of gifts, to give us everything else we need. I wasn’t sure, at first, if she’d ever heard the verse before. Then, as we talked about it a little further, it became clear that the good news itself was something foreign to her.

She spoke of how God deals differently with ‘good souls’ versus ‘wicked souls,’ and how we all need to strive to be among the good, not the bad. When I explained that “there is none good,” and that this is why we needed a Savior to die in our place, she seemed perplexed. She agreed, as we talked, that we all ‘make mistakes,’ but questioned the necessity of the cross by saying, ‘Don’t you think that if we’re really sorry, and if we try to do better, God will just accept that?’ In other words, she was saying: ‘Do we really need a death to take place? Can’t God just forgive us without such a penalty … simply because we sincerely ask Him?’

I explained that she was right to be sorry for sins, and to ask God’s forgiveness; that this is absolutely necessary. But I went on to explain how serious sin is, and that its consequences cannot simply be wiped away without someone paying for the crime. Repentance, by itself, does not cover sin. We need an atonement; a Savior to come and pay our debts for us. And God loved us enough to send Jesus to do it!

‘This is the really good news,’ I said to her. ‘Not that God welcomes ‘good souls’ into heaven, but even bad ones like you and me! And that, in order to do so, He was even willing to send His Son to die the death that we deserve!’ I’m not sure she was convinced. So, with an encouragement to read the gospel of Mark (Jesus’ biography) and Romans 3 (which powerfully proclaims the truths I was urging upon her), we parted ways. I pray she will read those passages, and that her smile will become even broader when she realizes how wonderful the news of Jesus really is.

After I left her, it occurred to me that there were two important lessons, in my hospital encounter, to learn about sharing the good news.

First is simply that we can’t presume people are Christians just because they speak happily, and even somewhat accurately, about God. This woman, wonderfully, had a sense of the goodness and sovereignty of God in her life. But, as we talked, it became clear that she did not adequately understand His holiness, or (consequently) her sin and need of a Savior. There are people like that around us every day. They know God, but they don’t really know Him. So don’t assume people are Christians, even if they may sound like it at first. Probe them (kindly!) and see.

Second, remember that the good news is about what Jesus has done, not what we can do. This dear woman was right. We must be truly sorry for our sins, and ask God’s forgiveness, and strive to leave them behind. That’s what the Bible calls repentance. But repentance, by itself, does not save. The message of the gospel is: “Repentance toward God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” (emphasis mine). My new friend had an inkling of the first part, but no idea of the second. But repentance without faith in the finished work of Jesus is no good news. It’s bad news, because we could never repent enough!

But again, in my presumption, I might have almost overlooked this necessary piece of information. Had this nice lady’s comments about being sorry for our ‘mistakes’ not come as a kind of rebuttal to my explanation of Christ’s death; had she just said, at the beginning, ‘O, if we are truly sorry for our wrongs, and ask God to forgive us, and try do better, He is wonderful to forgive’ … I might have left it at that. I might have assumed: ‘Well, she seems to understand “repentance toward God”, so she must surely understand “faith in Jesus Christ”.’ But she didn’t. Jesus and the cross were foreign to her.

So what am I saying? What is the second lesson I learned? That we must, must, must explain Jesus Christ! No one is saved without Him, no matter how sincere their apologies to God may be. As Augustus Toplady put it, in his hymn to the Lord Jesus:

Could be zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone.
Thou must save, and thou alone!

November 5, 2012

Gospel Letters

When I first set out in Christian ministry, I never intended to be a writer. I find it far too easy to run my mouth to have ever dreamed of making much use of my pen! So I never thought I’d maintain a blog. Never imagined I’d ever write a sermon out in full manuscript form. Certainly never believed I’d publish a book or even a tract. In fact, I can remember driving down the highway, during our engagement, telling Tobey to stop me cold if I ever got the hair-brained idea to write a Christian book! She obviously did not obey! And, over time, I have found that the pen (or keyboard) can be a mighty tool in God’s hand.

Specifically, this week, I am reminded of what a blessing hand-written letters can be. 

Very few of us receive them anymore, do we? Almost everything is in typeface these days, even when it does come via snail mail. So, when someone has taken the time to write something by hand, it comes into our mailbox as a kind of quaint surprise … and we tend to be much more eager to read such surprises! And that gets me thinking about our friends, and family, and co-workers who need to hear the gospel. Hopefully we look for opportunities to give verbal witness. Surely it is also imperative that our behavior shines forth a living testimony, too. But I wonder if you’ve ever thought to take up your pen and share the news about Jesus in the form of a letter. I think it can be one of our greatest gospel outlets – the old-fashioned, hand-written letter!

For one thing, conveying the gospel by means of letters is thoroughly biblical (see Romans-Jude in the New Testament!). Further, as I already mentioned, your friend or co-worker will be much more likely to take the time to read your letter if you have taken the time to write it out in long-hand. Moreover, some of us tend to be able to put our thoughts together a little more clearly (and perhaps calmly) on paper … making for a more coherent witness. Also, letters can be read and re-read … so that the gospel has opportunity to sink in over and over again. And finally, a hand-written letter communicates seriousness, care, and even love. Isn’t that so? I dare say that words written out with pen and ink (and on a nice sheet of paper!) carry twice as much weight as the very same words printed on copy paper in Times New Roman font. The effect is probably quadrupled in comparison to electronic communication! There is just something about your own unique hand-writing (poor as your penmanship may be!) that says to the recipient of your letter: ‘I really care about you.’

So try it out, this letter-writing thing. Is there someone with whom you’ve been wanting to share Jesus, but have been unable? Perhaps a thoughtful, peaceful letter (with an invitation to speak further) is the solution. Or maybe there is a list of people who are already expecting to receive some sort of hand-written communication from you this Christmas. Why not replace that Christmas card with a little longer letter, explaining why you so love the baby in the manger? Think also about prisoners, folks in the retirement home, soldiers on deployment, and students away at school – all of whom would love a thoughtful letter from someone who obviously cares. How open they might be if such a kind, personal communication brought with it a reminder of Jesus and His love?

Let us continue to speak the gospel, to be sure. And let us never fail to adorn the gospel with our lives. But let us also ask the Lord if He might help us, like Paul, to write the gospel, too.

November 2, 2012

"Oh, Hold them Back!" - Thoughts on Abortion and our Elected Officials

I am well aware that, in this election season, the last thing many of us want to see is another campaign sign. In fact, I am greatly looking forward to seeing the green grass again, untrammeled by all the aluminum and plastic (and the October snow!). So you’ll be glad to know that this is not another political advertisement. I have no interest in telling you who deserves your vote next week. There are many other races besides the presidential and senate ones. And, even in the biggie, there are more than two candidates. But there is one issue that, as Christians (and frankly, just as human beings), deserves our utmost attention.

The facts are quite simple. The United States government allows – and in many cases, supports – the killing of unborn children in every state in our union. Many politicians, our current president among them, believe that such abortions should be allowable for any reason (even for something as superficial as gender selection). Many politicians (again, our president included) also support the idea that the government should subsidize some such abortions with taxpayer dollars … and require companies, religious schools, and religious hospitals to provide employee insurance plans that cover abortive drugs and procedures (violating many of those organizations’ religious and moral convictions in the process). To put it simply, our government system currently allows – and in some cases, promotes and sponsors – the killing of a million of her own citizens every year.

These babies, under every other circumstance besides abortion, are protected by all the laws of our land. If a man attacks a pregnant woman with a knife, causing the death of her unborn child, he can be charged with murder or manslaughter. But if a different man, wearing a white coat and working in a clinic, kills the same baby with a drug or a pair of scissors … he is not only no criminal, but in some cases is reimbursed by the government for doing the dirty deed! This is absolute insanity … and wickedness! Surely these issues ought to be on the forefront of our minds as we go to the polls on Tuesday.

Yes, I know – there are other political issues besides this one. Good Christian people amicably disagree over many of them. But does any other issue really matter when certain candidates want to sponsor more and more killing? I also know that the next president (or congressman, or senator), by himself, is not able to change the laws of the land regarding abortion. But the changes must come, even if it is only one elected official at a time. I realize, further, that there are many other ways to defend unborn human lives than just via our elected officials. But if we don’t expect our leaders to uphold basic human (and constitutional) rights, the killing will go on in many, many places … in spite of our best efforts otherwise.

Finally, I realize (as I have preached recently) that it is the gospel, and not the government, that will change our country. I believe that fact on election day just as firmly as the rest of the year! But, though the government cannot change the human heart, they can (and should!) legislate in such a way as to protect the human heartbeat. They can (and must!) put an end to the killing! And we must give them every incentive and opportunity to do so! This is a life and death issue – not a political preference. So I plead with you not to be complicit in any more of the killing – not with your vote, and not in any other way. Yes, pray for our leaders, just as the Bible commands. Don’t bad-mouth them, because the Bible forbids it. Honor and submit to them in every way that it is possible for a Christian to do. But when you have a chance to influence them, or to honorably stand against their evils, do that as well. Every election season affords that opportunity.

As you mull over what you must do, consider Proverbs 24.11-12:

Deliver those who are being taken away to death, and those who are staggering to slaughter, Oh hold them back. If you say, ‘See, we did not know this,’ does He not consider it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work?

Don’t put your head in the sand when human beings, made in God’s image, are being slaughtered! Don’t pretend that you don’t know what our government is doing. God, who keeps your soul, is watching. So I plead with you, “Oh hold them back” – yes, in all those other ways that life must be protected and promoted; but also with your vote. “Oh hold them back!”