on giving thanks; a very brief sermon

 

Give thanks.

This is good. Very good. May we only grow in the practice of it.

But, let us always remember that giving thanks is not an end in itself.

Our giving thanks to God is meant to move us toward giving grace to others.

For while God does not need our thanks (he is not “in need” of anything), he does desire his creation to be good to the rest of creation.

To live in harmony, peace, and blessing.

To love as he loves.

And so today, if you are thankful you have …

* food … then pray for the hungry and seek to feed others;

* clothing … then petition God for those who are without and clothe others;

* a place out of the elements … intercede for those who are homeless and support low-cost housing;

* a legal and ethical means of making a living … pray for the unemployed and the wrongly employed, work hard at your job, and assist others as you can;

* family and friends … talk with God for the lonely and abandoned, caring for them with your time and attention.

* freedom to worship without persecution … plead with God for the persecuted and love your enemies.

Give thanks. This is good. May such grow daily all the more in us.

In terms of expression, and not only emotion. In ways of action, and not merely intention. In means of care, not just concern.

For our God is good.

And so, let us be good to all.

All the time.

sermon summation: the ‘don’t judge me’ verse

 

Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. (Matthew 7.1)

Eight words. They seem clear enough. How could they possibly be misunderstood or misused?

Two ways. Quoting them the way the world does (i.e. – “never try to change me”). Or by getting tripped up by their apparent tension with other words from Christ (“judge with right judgment” – John 7.24). Which is it, Jesus? Judge or don’t?

Understand: the world misunderstands. When Jesus said “don’t judge” he was calling for people to change. Specifically, to stop living a life of condemnation. Sometimes we need to be challenged and to reform our ways.

Understand as well: sometimes the church doesn’t get it either. By thinking our Lord was somehow backtracking, contradicting, or qualifying himself. Christians need to exercise discernment and self-evaluation, and certainly so before they try to help others change.

And that’s the thing. Disciples of Christ must be discerning (“judge with right judgment”), but not damning (“don’t judge”). Or in Christ’s words, we’re to “be wise as snakes and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10.16)

There’s a world of difference. Discernment is a scalpel wielded by a surgeon for the good of the patient. Judgment is a lever in the hand of the executioner. The former is about saving life; the latter is about taking it. We must see the difference between being all we can be as humans walking with God and usurping God’s unique place over the lives of us all.

But blindness is common. And that’s the context in which Jesus’ words “don’t judge” originally appear.

You’ll receive the same judgment you give. Whatever you deal out will be dealt out to you. Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye? You deceive yourself! First take the log out of your eye, and then you’ll see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye. (Matthew 7.2-5)

Such blindness within us typically comes about in one of two ways, and they are not mutually exclusive, rather, they often go hand-in-hand. As in the passage just noted, our hypocrisy – that is, our play-acting – can come from, and bring about, blindness. When we condemn others for doing things that we are habitually about ourselves – perhaps even in far greater measure, but secretly! – we have become blind hypocrites and are in no position to lead the blind. In those cases, the log needs to be removed.

But such blindness can also come about by self-righteousness, simply forgetting that God is at the center of all things and has the final say, not us. We then need to recall the words of our Lord’s half-brother, James:

There is only one lawgiver and judge, and he is able to save and to destroy. But you who judge your neighbor, who are you? (James 4.12)

Who are you? Who are we? Indeed!

No one wakes up and says: “Today, I want to become a self-righteous hypocrite doling out condemnation.” No. Hear this! The slow descent to the hell that is hypocrisy is made by small, steady steps of being critical. Hypocrisy is simply the next step in the evolutionary ladder for someone consumed with casting criticism. To be hypercritical is to be hypocritical.

Now what I say next grieves me to no end, but I believe I would fail you if I didn’t remind myself, and all of us, of it. I do so with one end in mind: that we might be humbled, and ever remain so. Here it is: the heritage of faith of which I am a part has a long and strong reputation in the religious world for being just this: hypercritical. This is our history. And it is this sad truth that plays no small part in the reason why many will never seek out our counsel as to how to no longer be blind or will even remotely be open to our call for them to come see God.

We know from hard experience that being hypercritical comes at a very, very high price.

But, to this someone might say, “But truth is truth, God is truth, and doing it all right is what we must be about!” To which our Lord Jesus himself would respond: “Go and learn what this means: I want mercy and not sacrifice.” (Matthew 9.13)

Yes. Mercy. Let us learn what this means. Again and again. Afresh and daily. Not to judge.

sermon – a people of God; a people of the Book

He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ. As a result, we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ, who is the head. The whole body grows from him, as it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments. The body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does their part. (Ephesians 4.11-16 CEB)

And so we say without apology, with firm conviction, but with deep humility: we seek to be a “people of the Book.”

By that we mean two things.

First, the Bible is revelation from, and about, God.

Without this Book, we’d be in the dark about God. Oh, we would know something of God from creation. But, without this Book, that would be all we know of Him. This Book lights up our walk through this dark world. This Book gives us truth, and takes us into understandings of truth, that we would not have without it.

And so, we’re determined to continually open our eyes to the light this Book shines on us. We do this even though the bright light it shines on us can sometimes be glaring or painful. We are not “holy.” But we believe this Book leads us to Him who alone is Holy.

Second, this Book teaches us how to live our life with God.

This book tells us of Him who is Life. Our Life. This Book is not “our life” or our “God.” We do not worship it. But, we do worship the One who gives us life and who speaks to us through this Book. And so, we seek to belong to Him, and to Him alone. Both as individuals and as a community. This is our task in every possible way for all of our days.

In sum: He who reveals Himself to us through this Book is our Life and Light.

In a world full of uncertainties, this Book gives us certainties. Certain truth that comes from Him who alone is True.

He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And we are His people. This is our past, present, and future. Walking because of, with, and toward God.

In this walk, He encourages us by telling us He is with us and equips us to do His will. Our Life is beside us and inside us. Our Light, gives us ways and means to use His light.

What a tremendous blessing it is to see His Life and Light in each other! A people of God; a people of the Book!

Thanks and glory be to God!

And so we will serve Him forever!

Let the whole church say … “Amen!

sermon summation: pondering prayer (2)

 

These words ran like a recurring refrain through her e-mail to me:

“Don’t you believe if I’m sincere enough in my heart when I pray then God will give me what I pray for?”

He was pouring his heart out to me about his frustration with some things at church and he said:

“What we need to do is to pray harder!”

Skimming through a magazine my eyes fell on a page that contained these words:

“If you can’t get worked up in your prayers, then don’t expect God to work with them.”

Now in her golden years she had approached me privately to talk about how she had some troubles with her faith. She began by hanging her head and saying in a very quiet voice:

“I just don’t feel my prayers like I used to.”

As I was surfing through some channels on television I happened to hear a preacher emphatically say:

“Passionate prayers are the prayers that claim God’s promises for prayer!”

Question: What do those five statements have in common, aside from the fact they all deal with prayer?

Answer: They wrongly make our emotions the heart and soul of, and the determining factor in, prayer.

Now it’s true that prayer that’s real will often engage, and make mention of, our emotions. Read the Psalms and you’ll find those prayers are packed with every conceivable kind of emotion. After all, how can a person get real in talking with God and not do so with some feeling?

But when our emotions become the sun, and not merely a planet in the solar system of our prayers, we shouldn’t be at all surprised if our faith becomes a black hole.

While we are emotional beings, it’s our actions, not our feelings, that must take the wheel in our journey of faith.

Take Jesus for example. He prayed often to his Father and he prayed with intense emotion. But it wasn’t because he “prayed hard” that he got heard by God. No, there was something else at the center. Something else was the the fulcrum of his faith.

“During his days on earth, Christ offered prayers and requests with loud cries and tears as his sacrifices to the one who was able to save him from death. He was heard because of his godly devotion.” (Hebrews 5.7)

Did you notice where the emphasis was put? Jesus’ prayers were heard by the Father not because he expressed great feeling to God, but because he lived out great following after God. “He was heard because of his godly devotion.”

The Bible is absolutely full of this teaching and the Psalms are saturated with it. Take Psalm 4.3 as one small example:

“Know this: the Lord takes personal care of the faithful. The Lord will hear me when I cry out to him.”

The matter is so clear you’d have to work to miss the point: the psalmist is confident the Lord will hear his prayers because he’s confident that he has been “faithful” to God.

Need more examples? Read the following in the Psalms for a sampling of the many that are there: Psalm 17.1-3; 66.18-20; 141.1-5. And it’s the same when we turn to the New Testament.

“The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve.” (James 5.16b)

It does not say “the passionate person.” It does not say that “emotionally intense” person. It does not say “the person who gets worked up into a frenzy of feelings.”

What it does say is “the righteous person” is the person who finds their prayers are promised to be powerful and effective. That is, prayer that is heard by God comes from the person who has been made right by God and who has built their life around living out what they’ve heard from God.

We won’t find a more precise example of this teaching of Scripture than what we find in 1 Peter 3.7:

“Husbands, likewise, submit by living with your wife in ways that honor her … Honor her all the more, as she is also a coheir of the gracious care of life. Do this so that your prayers won’t be hindered.”

As back up for what he says here, Peter then goes on to quote (in verse 12) the words of Psalm 34.15-16:

“The Lord’s eyes are on the righteous and his ears are open to their prayers. But the Lord cannot tolerate those who do evil.”

Husbands, do you want your prayers to ring through heaven? Then treat your wife right here on earth for it’s your ways that give weight to your words in the hands of God.

Emotions are elusive creatures; feelings are funny animals. God knows they’re not an accurate gauge of our faith by and they never were intended to be the engine for our prayers. And God knows whether we’re walking after him with the light he has revealed to us already. What he’s after is not the energy of our emotions so much as the efforts we’re making to be his in every way. Keep that in mind the next time to ask him for more light in your life as you pray.

sermon summation: pondering prayer (1)

 

If you’re a Christian and have been for any appreciable length of time, you’ve surely been the recipient of a comment such as one of the following:

  • “We need more folks pounding on the doors of heaven!”
  • “To be effective, we need as many people praying about this as we can get.”
  • “If God listens to the one, just think how he listens to the many.”
  • “Our goal is to have X number of people praying that such and such happens.”
  • “Please forward this prayer request to everyone in your address book.”

When I hear or see those sort of statements I cringe. I always come away thinking: “Are you thinking at all about what you’re saying?”

And why is that? Because when someone says something like that, knowingly or unwittingly, they’re implying that numbers mean a great deal to God. They’re acting as if God’s character and mind is very different from what is consistently portrayed in Scripture. And they’re conveying the belief that human desire and will has a far higher value in the ultimate scheme of things than it actually does.

  • As if God himself is a “democracy” and the “casting of our votes” ultimately determines his mind.
  • As if we can divine “the magic tipping point number” so as to get what we want to see to happen and thereby change the mind of the Divine.
  • As if God is some sort of pollster or politician who is swayed to do on the basis of how many people are screaming in his ear.

Nonsense.

Yes, it’s for sure that the number of people praying about something can have a tremendous effect between humans (in terms of their enthusiasm, determination, etc.), but that’s an altogether different matter. What I’m saying here is that the power that is found in prayer in terms of its effect with God has nothing whatsoever to do with the number of people praying.

Now what would lead me to believe so?

In a single word: Scripture.

“The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve. Elijah was a person just like us. When he earnestly prayed that it wouldn’t rain, no rain fell for three and a half years. He prayed again, God sent rain, and the earth produced its fruit.” (James 5.16b-18)

And though the number of Scriptures could be multiplied to prove the point, here it is: one person is plenty.

And all the more importantly is the fact that all prayer offered today, be it from the one or the many, funnels through the One who intercedes for us all: Jesus Christ.

“… he holds the office of priest permanently because he continues to serve forever. This is why he can completely save those who are approaching God through him, because he always lives to speak with God for them. It’s appropriate for us to have this kind of high priest: holy, innocent, incorrupt, separate from sinners, and raised high above the heavens.” (Hebrews 7.24-26)

The fact that a million sinners are all praying the same thing (and we all are “sinners”) doesn’t make prayer powerful to God. What does gives power to our prayers is not a what, but a who, namely the One who is “holy, innocent, incorrupt, separate from sinners” who “always lives to speak with God for” us. It’s not about the number of us here below, but about the name of him on high.

Have we forgotten that we commonly pray our prayers “in Jesus’ name,” often even saying so (though not necessarily) aloud. And what do we mean by saying such? When we pray “in Jesus’ name,” we’re affirming that it’s this One, Jesus, who makes the difference in all we’ve prayed. Only through him are our prayers conveyed and only by him can what we say come near the One who lives in unapproachable light.

Prayer. It’s about the One, not the many.

a pointed post-election sermon

 

Let me, my brothers and sisters, frankly speak the truth in love. I’m trying to imagine what this world would be like if the uninhibited and relentless passion and zeal I’ve seen expressed by so many Christians the past several months over politicians – people they don’t know – was expressed instead for the Christ they claim to know. I say this to our shame, my brothers and sisters.

And so, in light of politics, the past several months, and last night’s election, let me share several portions of Scripture with you today that have been running through my head many, many times of late.

Our Lord himself said to his disciples: “… I have chosen you out of the world, and you don’t belong to the world …” (John 15.19) Ponder this statement.

Similarly, it is our Lord Jesus’ half-brother who reminds us: “God stands against the proud, but favors the humble.” (James 4.6) If you give any care for human politics, then you know this statement works both sides of the street. The Holy Spirit is speaking to us all.

In light of that truth, the apostle Paul, a man hounded by every human government he ever encountered once he came to faith in Christ, spoke plainly to the church, reminding all Christians: “Our citizenship is in heaven. We look forward to a savior that comes from there—the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3.20) Understand, when he said “we look forward to a savior” from “heaven,” he meant he did not look for, expect to see, work toward having, try to find or even yearn to raise up a savior from the earth.

He said this in light of what he had said earlier, namely: “Do everything without grumbling and arguing so that you may be blameless and pure, innocent children of God surrounded by people who are crooked and corrupt. Among these people you shine like stars in the world …” (Philippians 2.15) It grieves me to say I have seen and heard far more grumbling and arguing, cursing and cussing, among Christians this recent political season than I have from those yet to believe. How my heart bleeds over this sad fact.

Instead of vile thoughts, hate-filled words, a spirit of seething loathing – all over the politics of this world and plastered on our Facebook pages at that! – “Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry. … The tongue is a small flame of fire, a world of evil at work in us. It contaminates our entire lives. Because of it, the circle of life is set on fire. The tongue itself is set on fire by the flames of hell.” (James 1.19; 3.6)

Again our Lord Jesus speaks directly to us and says: “The eye is the lamp of the body. Therefore, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how terrible that darkness will be!” (Matthew 6.22-23) Consider what this means.

Well then, post-election, what is a Christian in the U.S. to do today? The same thing we are called to do daily: “First of all, then, I ask that requests, prayers, petitions, and thanksgiving be made for all people. Pray for kings and everyone who is in authority so that we can live a quiet and peaceful life in complete godliness and dignity. This is right and it pleases God our savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2.1-4) Let us do just that. For the sake of Christ, the world, and ourselves. In that order.

Therefore, let us “Pray continually.” (1 Thessalonians 5.17). Let us begin with ourselves, freely and frequently confessing that we daily miss the mark awfully and often, that we are sinners saved only by God’s great mercy, and that we are truly dependent on his goodness and grace for anything good in our life or any good toward us. For only then will we see others, rightly, and be moved to extend similar grace and good.

And as we pray and allow him to work his holiness through us, let us remind ourselves often that our hope is not in any human, be they perceived as powerful or not, and the one we long to see appear in power comes from no party or place on this earth, for as Christians “… we wait for the blessed hope and the glorious appearance of our great God and savior Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2.13) And so, let us have the mind of Christ, speak the words Christ would have us speak, and do as Christ would have us to do, not simply carried along with the outgoing tide of this world and its ways.

Blessed be the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Through you and me. Amen.

a sermon to my granddaughter

 

I’m a father of two and a grandfather of four. The most recent birth of a grandchild was this past Wed., June 6 when Kinley Lynn Wheeler was born to my daughter and son-in-law, Brant & Amber Wheeler (that was the reason for the tremor in the earth you felt). No, my feet still haven’t touched the ground yet.

Now upon the birth of each child and grandchild, it’s been my privilege and habit to preach the following Sunday morning sermon from some Scripture that came to mind during the preceding week’s glorious gifting from God. Consequently, at MoSt Church this past Sunday morning (June 10, 2012), I preached a sermon entitled A Sermon to my Granddaughter. I very rarely manuscript sermons, but I did write out in advance the majority of the heart of this one, choosing my wording with a bit of extra special care. The words of that manuscript, the words of the lion’s share of this past Sunday morning’s sermon, appear below.

Before we get to the sermon text, let me help set it up with three notes. First, no small percentage of MoSt Church‘s attendees on any given Sunday morning are grandparents or great-grandparents. We have no shortage of gray hair. Not surprisingly, a common question I’ve fielded through the years goes something like this: “How can I, as a grandparent, maximize my influence for Christ in the life of my grandchildren?” This sermon was, by example, a portion of my typical answer: “Start telling them and backing it up with your life as soon as they enter this world!”

Second, I preached this sermon with all of the children and grandchildren present very much in mind. I wanted them to overhear some of the things a Christ-following grandparent would say to them by enabling them to overhear what I want all of my grandchildren hearing and seeing as they grow up.

And third, I nickname the females in our family, but not the males. The nickname I’ve landed on for my granddaughter is “Starshine.” Understand that little Kinley has a head full of dark hair and it was my wife’s long and lovely brunette hair that I noticed first when I first saw my future wife and “Starshine” was my wife’s CB handle back in the day.

Now, the sermon …

… we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. … He received honor and glory from God the Father when a voice came to him from the magnificent glory, saying, “This is my dearly loved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” … we have a most reliable prophetic word, and you would do well to pay attention to it, just as you would to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1.16-19)

I, Jesus … [am] the root and descendant of David, the bright morning star. The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who is thirsty come! Let the one who wishes receive life-giving water as a gift. (Revelation 22.16-17)

My Little Starshine,

There’s so much I want to tell you. I can’t tell you all of it now, but I can start. And I want to begin telling it to you this way, in a sermon, because I want you to spend your whole life deeply listening to and engaging sermons with all of your heart and ways. And as you hear what I say, understand it’s all coming from someone who is still has so very, very much to learn.

You have exactly one life in which to do everything you’ll ever do, so live accordingly.

That doesn’t mean live life for yourself. Quite the opposite. It doesn’t mean indulge yourself in whatever you please or whatever feels good to you in the moment. No, not at all.

It means to live your life deliberately and to live it for the one who gave it to you.

It means to:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22.37-39)

Worship God. Develop an unquenchable thirst and unceasing hunger for God. Crave knowing him. Revel in rejoicing in him, praising him, and thanking him.

Stand in awe of God. Neither assume nor presume too much of him. He is wholly other. Ever remember your place before him, small like a grain of sand before a mountain, and ever personal, present and perfect. He is love. Live your life caught up higher and higher into the clouds of the wonder of him.

And so, see your whole life as worship of him. You were given life to serve God, and serving him is your life. This is worship. This is life. Let no one lead you to think otherwise.

Memorize and meditate on what God has revealed to us. Take the book of God, the Bible, and eat it. Make it your daily food.

Count success in your life not by your number of accomplishments, but by your accommodating yourself to the will of God.

Pray. Talk to God and never stop. Listen. Listen to God and follow up with your life.

Plant yourself in the community of faith, Christ’s church, and stay there, bearing shade and fruit as God enables you. Life among God’s people, his church, is your laboratory for living out eternal life. Among his people is where he put you, and so, is where you belong. In his church is where you’ll be equipped and sharpened for use by God to be fully his.

Walk with God. Pray for and summon up the courage to actually live out whatever you understand of God. Whether anyone else does or not.

Make faith, not fear, your foundation in life. And as you walk thru your life, walk by faith in God and not by sight. Never stop moving, and inch ever closer to making your good intentions reality.

Keep walking with God, come what may. Troubles will come your way. Some will go and some may stay. No matter the size of the trouble, keep walking with God. He’s the one who will see you through it.

Let Jesus be your hero and model your life after him. Make your life about living well, not about living well off. That is, live your life holy and pure, wholly pleasing to God.

Soak your attitude and spirit in the holiness of God’s Spirit, for this is the soil out of which all of your actions grow. Guard your heart and your mind so that nothing or no one can trick you or deceive you into behavior that isn’t pure.

Never stop seeking and accepting God’s forgiveness. Don’t dwell on your mistakes, failures, and sins, but run with them to God for your forgiveness.

See every person you encounter as one made in God’s image. Treat them as you would treat Jesus Christ or as Christ would deal with them.

Come to know the power of your words to others, and so, choose them wisely and spend them economically.

Become a very good listener with true care for others, for the world is very short of, and in great need of, such people.

Establish and devote yourself to healthy habits that will keep you healthy in body and spirit. Those habits will shield you from many a distraction and temptation, wrong turn and sin. And so, die daily to yourself that you may live daily to Him.

Or to put it all of this in just as few a words as possible, I cannot improve upon the words of the Spirit-filled and Spirit-inspired apostle Paul …

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5.6b)

I love you. Far beyond words. But not nearly so much as our Lord does. And so, love him so.

Your Da-Do