bits & pieces: part of my sermon this morning

 

7 reasons why we need to engage in steady prayer with God

1. so our awareness of our need of God does not diminish -
Luke 18.1 (“necessity … to pray always”)

2so we can face whatever we face in life well -
Romans 12.12 (“be patient in suffering”)

3so our perspective of God can grow -
Ephesians 3.20-21 (“more than all we can ask or imagine”)

4. so our world will enlarge, not shrink -
Ephesians 6.18 (“praying for all the Lord’s people”)

5so as to nurture a thankful spirit within ourselves -
Colossians 4.2; 1 Thessalonians 5.17-18 (“thanksgiving … give thanks”)

6so we’ll ever recall this life is not all about us -
James 4.2-3 (“wrong motives … to squander what you get on your pleasures”)

7to become more trusting of our Father, God -
1 John 5.14-15 (“bold confidence … before him”)

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.