putting skin on the sermon: walk in the light

 

Sunset-2013-11-11Yesterday morning’s sermon worked out of John 12.35-36. In that passage, Jesus paints a mental picture for the crowd:

“The light is with you for only a little while. Walk while you have the light so that darkness doesn’t overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness don’t know where they are going. As long as you have the light, believe in the light so that you might become people whose lives are determined by the light.”

The image is of someone walking with purpose, and perhaps with a bit of hustle, trying to get to their destination, before nightfall (“walk while you have the light so that darkness doesn’t overtake you”). Their way may not be familiar to them and could even hold any number of problems that could leave them vulnerable. Such a person has one objective in mind: to avoid the delay and the possible dangers that would come from getting lost (“those who walk in the darkness don’t know where they are going”). Consequently, every decision they make, every step they take along the way, they make on the amount of light they still have at the moment. They are “people whose lives are determined by the light.”

Jesus claimed to be the light in our life:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me won’t walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8.12)

There is no time for delay in choosing to believe him and walk with him, in his light. Time is not our friend and neither is darkness. He urges us to “… believe in the light so that” so that we will “become people whose lives are determined” by him. If we do so, he will bring us safely to where we belong: home with him.

So how can we walk daily, and all day long, with such clear purpose and determination? Here are three things that can assist you in your journey.

1. Start each day well in your heart. That is, start with Christ your Lord clearly in focus. Get your mind right and the rest will follow. One way to do this is to make a portion of Scripture a point of reflection and meditation as soon as you get up in the morning. Here’s an exercise to get you started with that habit: take a few minutes to watch the day dawn, moving from darkness to light, meditating on Ephesians 5.8-9 as you do so. Do this every day for a week. This passage reads:

“You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, so live your life as children of light. Light produces fruit that consists of every sort of goodness, justice, and truth.”

2. Take a few moments throughout the course of each day to deliberately recall the true Lord to whom you belong. Think of such as something like a soft reset or reboot of your operating system, your spirit.

“All of you are children of light and children of the day. We don’t belong to night or darkness.” (1 Thessalonians 5.5)

Remember some of the horizontal blessings you enjoy because of your walk with the Lord and thank him for such.

“… if we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other …” (1 John 1.7a)

Pray a brief prayer of thanksgiving as well for the ultimate vertical blessing we have because of our Savior:

“…  and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin.” (1 John 1.7b)

3. End the thoughts of each day well. Consider your last conscious thoughts of the day as your way of preparing and supplying your mind for it’s effort and rest while you sleep. You might do this by going for an evening walk with someone. Try deliberately walking toward the setting sun and discussing John 12.35 as you go. Remember it?

“Walk while you have the light so that darkness doesn’t overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness don’t know where they are going.”

golden nuggets from Sirach (8)

 

Here are five passages that especially caught my eye this go around in my reading of Sirach (aka: Ecclesiasticus).

Don’t come into the Lord’s presence empty-handed, since fulfilling the commandments means making offerings. … Every time you give, have a cheerful face, and dedicate your tithe gladly. Give to the Most High as he has given, and give with generosity from what you have, because the Lord is the one who repays, and he will repay you seven times over. (Sirach 35.6-7,11-13)

Whoever acquires a wife takes his first step toward success. She will be a fit helper for him and a pillar of rest. (Sirach 36.29)

At times a person’s intuition keeps them informed better than seven sentries sitting high up on a lookout. But above everything else, pray to the Most High, so that he may make your path straight in truth. (Sirach 37.14-15)

When the dead are at rest, put their memory to rest, and be comforted for them when their spirit has left. (Sirach 38.23)

The scribe’s wisdom depends on the opportunity for leisure, and whoever lacks busyness will become wise. … But those who devote themselves and think about the Law of the Most High are the exception (Sirach 38.24,34)

this went thru my mind

 

Consumerism: Committed to Unhappiness: Consumerism is the Enemy of the Church by Tony Campolo [required reading]

“The truth is that secular humanism is not the primary enemy of the Church.  Instead, the enemy of the Church is consumerism.  We have made an idol out of the things that are being sold.  We bow down and worship the commodities that are paraded before us on television.  We are enslaved to a mindset that tells us that we must possess more and more because we can never have enough.  These are the things that are dragging us away from Jesus. Our inability to enjoy life without a continual sense of craving consumer goods and being continuously satisfied with who we are and what we have is good news for economic growth and, after all, economic growth is what both political parties are preaching these days.”

Elections: * A Post-Election Reminder by Rubel Shelly [required reading]; * David Lipscomb on Voting by Richard Beck

* “If your candidate wins, can you assume that his every promise will be kept promptly and without fail? … If your candidate loses, will you be demoralized with the thought that all is lost? … You know better. The election of neither candidate will destroy the country, shatter the global economy, or make it impossible for godly people to seek the Kingdom of God. … A believer’s ultimate allegiance – and hope – is in the reign of God. Her hope is not in a human system, political party, or leader; it is in Jesus Christ.”

* “May the voice of David Lipscomb be recovered and increase in the Churches of Christ. Our churches need him.”

Hurricane Sandy relief efforts: New Jersey Congregation Brings Hope to Beach Town Hit Hard by Superstorm Sandy

“Among the New Jersey congregations heavily involved in the relief effort is the Gateway Church of Christ … Carl Williamson provides a first-person account of his family’s experience during the storm and shares details on the Gateway church’s relief work in hard-hit Union Beach, N.J.”

Jesus, our conception of & culture: Oh Constantine by Greg Boyd [required viewing; 5:45 min. clip]

“When you pick up the sword, you put down the cross.”

Marriage: Marriage With a Chronically Self-Centered Spouse by Brad Hambrick

“We are all married to a self-centered spouse. That is what it means for us to be fallen people who are bound to experience life from within our bodies. But there are cases where this ‘general self-centeredness’ becomes chronic — severe to a point that it either results in a marital environment of abuse or neglect.”

Meditation: What Did the Psalmist Mean by “Meditation”?

“… neither of the Hebrew words translated as ‘meditate’ or ‘meditation’ refers to silent activities. … we should probably imagine him singing or reciting the psalm from memory.”

Truth: Our Glaring Obsession With Truth by Terry Rush

“Jesus is the train wreck that must happen to any tribe.  He will not let us continue to do church our smug and small ways.  Yes, narrow is the way; but narrow isn’t that we don’t allow much.  Rather, narrow is defined by one singular Son of God named Jesus….as the author of salvation….and no one else.”

U.S. culture & religious diversity: Map of Religious Diversity in America

“This gets at how varied, or diverse, religious affiliation is in different regions of the country. As you can see, the areas with the most diversity also tend to have the lowest rates of adherence.”

this went thru my mind

 

Bible reading: Six Steps for Reading Your Bible

“So, how is it going with your Bible reading for 2012? I know many of you have made the commitment to read through God’s Word this year, and I am proud of you for accepting the challenge. … Here are a few tips for staying the course and completing the process of reading through God’s Word.”

Church contribution: Five Ways to Make Giving Easier to Your Church

“We have to make it easy for people to give!”

House church movement: The Struggle With House Churches

“Despite the assertion from the house church movement that the house church is the normative, biblical model it’s not. House churches are culturally formed models that meet cultural conditions. So far our experience is that the congregational model, a mid to large size community of God’s people, is still the most effective form or model for new churches in America.”

Life in Christ: Converting from Christianity to Christ

“When I was young, I decided to convert from my self-centered life to the religious life. Since then, I have been converting from the religious life to Christ’s way of life. There is a difference. A huge one.”

Meditation: Resist “Swish and Spit” Devotions

“What did you read yesterday? No, not what chapter, but what did you read? What from God’s Word got a hold of you to produce a response? Did anything evoke conviction or delight? Did something particular from your reading explode in your heart with thanksgiving?

“Hopefully the answer is yes. But too often the answer is, ‘Wait. Hold on. …I can’t remember.’

“This reminds me of childhood trips to the dentist. Do you recall after the dentist put that horrific fluoride treatment in your mouth? He then would spray in a bunch of water that you would lean over and (try to) spit in the small circular sink next to your head.

“Sadly too many of us have a ‘swish and spit’ devotional life. We grab a little Bible reading, swish it around in the morning, then spit it out on the way out the door. The treasures from the Word don’t get swallowed and digested but rather spit out quickly.

“How do you combat dental chair devotions? One word: meditation.”

Millennial generation: How to Lead Millenials

“A good friend asked me the other day my thoughts on how to lead the millennial generation, basically those born after 1980. We gather thousands of leaders who fit this category on an annual basis, and most of our Catalyst staff are under the age of 30.”

Nationalism: The Nazis and Christianity: Is History Repeating Itself?

“For now, I just want to point this out for two reasons. First, this is, in my judgment, the biggest problem facing Christianity in America. Secondly, I also want to stress the need for teaching the Bible, as well as Christian theology and church history among churches. We can learn from what happened in Germany that both nationalism as well as biblical, theological, and historical ignorance are cancers to the Christian faith as well as cancers to society.”

Possessions: Don’t Just Declutter, De-own

“… organizing our stuff (without removing it) has some other major shortcomings that are rarely considered …”

Reversal: Black Church Wins Klan Shop Ruling

“After a lengthy legal battle between a black South Carolina church and members of the Ku Klux Klan, a judge has ruled that the church owns a building where KKK robes and T-shirts are sold.”

Success: The Dangerous Side of Success

“An article out of the business section of this week’s Wall Street Journal, ‘Kodak Teeters on the Brink,’ tells the painful story of Kodak. After thirteen highly successful decades, the film and camera company is on the ropes. It is preparing to seek bankruptcy protection. … There’s much the church can learn from all of this, for church cultures are prone to the same thing—to achieve some success and then become satisfied, content, turning insular, rigid—oblivious to the warning Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, who once said: ‘When the rate of change inside an organization is slower than the rate of change outside of an organization, the end of the organization is in sight.’”

United States of America: America Shall Not Be Exceptional

“We had it right in 1998 when we published these words to the United Nations: “Torture is prohibited by law throughout the United States. It is categorically denounced as a matter of policy and as a tool of state authority. Every act constituting torture under the Convention constitutes a criminal offense under the law of the United States. No official of the Government, federal, state or local, civilian or military, is authorized to commit or to instruct anyone else to commit torture. Nor may any official condone or tolerate torture in any form. No exceptional circumstances may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

War in Iraq: The Forgotten Wages of War

“As is our habit, the discussion focused on the costs to America in blood and treasure, the false premises of the war and the continuing challenges of instability in the region. What happened to Iraqis was largely ignored. … We rarely question that wars cause extensive damage, but our view of America’s wars has been blind to one specific aspect of destruction: the human toll of those who live in war zones.”

Wonder: How to Stay Astonished in Five Simple Steps

“I know…we’re too busy to be astonished. … So here’s five simple things to turn up your astonishment on any given day.”

word for the weak

 

Consider this. If God’s word is our strength, how strong we are indeed when his word is in us. Consider further. If God’s word is our strength, then how truly weak we are without his word in our heart. We all would do well to do as the “truly happy person” does:

“The truly happy person … love[s] the LORD’s instruction, and they recite God’s instruction day and night!” (Psalm 1:1-2 CEB)

With that very thing in mind, won’t you consider adding a component to the upcoming Uncommon Truth for Common People (UTCP) reading project that begins one week from tomorrow (Mon., Jan. 2)? As you read each week’s Bible reading, try memorizing a brief portion of each week’s reading. Memorize it on the first day of the week’s reading and meditate on it a bit each day that week. Do this over the course of 2012 and by the end of the year you’ll have memorized fifty-two messages of strength composed by the the Spirit of God!

To make it easy for us all, I’ll select the Scriptures for you. They’ll all be no more than a single sentence in length. And they’ll all come from the Common English Bible which will make for accuracy and ease-of-reading.

As to how you can memorize these passages, experiment and find whatever works best for you, but let me recommend that you put them in a place where you’ll be frequently reminded of them. E-mail the week’s verse to yourself. Put it on your to-do list. Include it as a status update on your Facebook page. Write it on an index card and carry that card in your shirt pocket. Tweet it on Twitter. Write it on a post-it note and stick that note on your bathroom mirror. Text it to a different friend each day. Let’s get creative, but by all means let’s get these words of Scripture into our mind to mull over again and again, pondering them in our heart.

Let’s do this! Following are the five verses for memorization over the course of the first five weeks of the UTCP project.

Jan. 2-6 (week 1): “You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves.” (James 1:22 CEB)

Jan. 9-13 (week 2): “But Jesus would withdraw to deserted places for prayer.” (Luke 5:16 CEB)

Jan. 16-20 (week 3): “You are the body of Christ and parts of each other.” (1 Cor. 12:27 CEB)

Jan. 23-27 (week 4): “Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord!” (Romans 12:11 CEB)

Jan. 30-Feb. 3 (week 5): “Teach us to number our days so we can have a wise heart.” (Psalm 90:12 CEB)

May God grow us into “truly happy people” as we meditate on, memorize, and mimic God’s word.

Psalms: Prayers of the Heart (2)

 

Just as a highway has an on ramp, the book of Psalms, a book of prayer, has Psalm 1. We can no more enter well into prayer quickly than we can merge well onto the freeway without first paying attention to the traffic, calculating our timing, and going with the flow. Time and attention are required.

The first Psalm is the product of time and attention. It expects, and deserves, the same courtesy from us. It’s the product of someone who made the time to truly pay close attention to life.

The author of Psalm 1 noticed things. Things as mundane as dust and fruit, streams and trees, wind and leaves.

They pondered people; all kinds of people. Happy people and wicked people. Righteous people and disrespectful people. Loving people and sinning people.

They noticed what goes on with people, inside and out. What they hear and what they say. How they feel and how they love. What they intend and what they do.

They meditated on how life works out for people in all sorts of settings. On the farm. In the court. On the road. By the water. In an assembly.

They even paid attention to how people pay attention and how they spend their time. When they sat. When they stood. When they walked.

Time and attention. Two things we’re not, to our spirit’s poverty and our shame, quick to spend.

So quiet your spirit now and pay attention to this Psalm. Not in haste or superficially. Read it several times in succession, varying your speed and emphasis as you do so. If possible, read it aloud. Let the words of God’s Spirit spoken through the spirit of this psalm’s author carry your thoughts where they will.

The truly happy person
doesn’t follow wicked advice,
doesn’t stand on the road of sinners,
and doesn’t sit with the disrespectful.
Instead of doing those things,
these persons
love the LORD’s Instruction,
and they recite God’s Instruction
day and night!
They are like a tree
replanted by streams of water,
which bears fruit at just the right time
and whose leaves don’t fade.
Whatever they do succeeds.

That’s not true for the wicked!
They are like dust
that the wind blows away.
And that’s why the wicked
will have no standing
in the court of justice—
neither will sinners
in the assembly of the righteous.
The LORD is intimately acquainted
with the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked is destroyed. (Psalm 1 CEB)

Question: what does this Psalm seem to say if you view it as a preface to a book about how to pray?

Heavenly Father, I confess to you that I’m often “in a hurry to get things done” and “rushin’, rushin’ ’til life’s no fun.” Forgive me. Today, in midst of all that I’ve “gotta do,” may I give you my time and attention, to truly live and die for you. Amen.

sermon follow-up: welcome his word

“… with humility, set aside all moral filth and the growth of wickedness, and welcome the word planted deep inside you, the very word that is able to save you.” (James 1:21 CEB)

What are the true necessities of life?

  • Food?
  • Clothing?
  • Shelter?

No, not at all. You’d be better off homeless, naked, and starving than to try to live without what God has to say to you.

Some live naked all of their life. Many live homeless all of their days. Nearly everyone could go a day without eating. But you would be a fool to live a single day without God’s word as your guide.

You must have air to live. How many breaths do you take a day, not even choosing to take a single one? The wind blows how and where it wills and God’s Spirit moves the same, but do you choose to not breathe the breath of heaven?

Scripture conveys God’s speech to you and what is more important than hearing and obeying God? Your growth in the life of God will be proportionate to the time and effort you put into welcoming the word of God into your will and ways. Yes, it can be put that simple.

But there are Christians who don’t welcome God’s life into their will and their ways and rest assured they:

  • have become blind for they are unable to see their own deepest need,
  • have grown lazy, wanting the benefits of relationship but without effort,
  • are souls who have forgotten their Savior and Lord.

However, Christians who welcome God’s word understand:

  • there are no shortcuts in the walk with God,
  • God’s word leads a person to God himself,
  • there is no substitute for hearing God speak to you and seeing him lived out through you.

This door of welcome opens with an attitude and atmosphere of “humility.” Welcoming the word with humility involves constantly reminding yourself of your place in relation to his word: you stand under it, not over it or beside it. You are the host of God’s word, and how you perceive and relate to his word is how you relate to and serve him.

The room of your heart is readied as you sweep aside “all moral filth” and any “growth of wickedness” you see unfitting for this word’s presence. Your good intentions are not right welcome enough; your life must make adjustments. The only way to grasp the essence of Scripture is to live what you learn from it and live it so as to learn it.

“Whoever desires to understand and take delight in the words of Christ must strive to conform his whole life to Him.” (Thomas a Kempis)

Believers who welcome God’s word into their life seek to be comfortable with his word and for his word to be comfortable with them. They ready themselves for this word’s arrival and eagerly look forward to it and this is how they do it:

  • They throw open the doors of their heart and habits and so say, “Make yourself at home; my home is your home.”
  • They are attentive and observant of the word, ready to serve the word they’ve welcomed. They say, “Here, let me get that for you” as the word brings need to light.
  • They welcome the word because they long for presence with God and know that by listening to him and living for him they are saying to the God who speaks to them, “I’m so glad we can spend time together.”

So let me ask you plainly: how are you doing at actively welcoming God’s word into your life? Perhaps you need more time together. C.H. Spurgeon once said:

“There is dust enough on some of your Bibles to write ‘damnation’ with your fingers.”

Change that! And here are some ways to do that:

  • Get up a little earlier and start the day reading and praying over the word.
  • Daily memorize a sentence or phrase you can meditate on throughout the day.
  • Check out some of the many Bible reading schedules available online.
  • Try listening to Scripture during your commute, jog, walk with the dog, or exercise.
  • Download a Bible reading app (such as YouVersion or AcroBible) for your smartphone and use it when you’re in “downtime” (like standing in a checkout line at the store).
  • Share a verse each day with others via whatever social networking site you’re into (Facebook, Google+, etc.).
  • Make it a personal project to copy by hand (no typing allowed) a complete book of the Bible (such as James).
  • Over a period of time, commit to perfect memory a select segment or paragraph of the word (such as Philippians 4:8-9 or 2 Peter 1:3-11). Even if you eventually forget how to quote it perfectly, you’ll be astounded how much of it comes to mind and at important times.
  • Deliberately mention something you’ve encountered with the word that day with someone else that same day.
  • Saturate yourself so with his word that you sometimes catch yourself falling asleep in bed thinking about his word and praying to its Author.

Yes, “welcome the word planted deep inside you” for this is “the very word that is able to save you.”