Anxiety or Identity?

Posted by on December 31, 2006 under Sermons

Read 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26.

  1. Transition and new growth can bring about change.

  2. Change can make us grow anxious

  3. Read Luke 2:41-52.

  4. Mary is anxiously searching for Jesus.
    • The term used for anxiety has to do with real pain
    • Mary takes it personally – “Why are you doing this to us?”
    • Contrast Mary’s statement – “We have been anxiously searching!” She feels pain. “Why have you done this to us?” But for Jesus there is no cause for alarm. He responds with a wisdom that is the same sort of wisdom that amazes the rabbis.
  5. Jesus’ reply: Why have you been searching for me (at all)?
    • Why have you been searching for me? Where else would he be? What else would he be doing?
    • Don’t you know that I had to be …
      • NIV says “In my father’s house”
      • KJV says “About my father’s business”
      • It is really both of these and much more – – It is about identity and reason for being
      • “The things of my father”
    • Jesus is defined by the things of his father – his very reason for being and identity is shaped by doing the things of his father. [Note the intensive impact of this phrase.]
    • Jesus is dedicated because he knows who he is. He knows whose he is.

We get anxious and we suffer a lot of pain because we try to hold on to projects and identities of our own.

We have a choice: we can grow anxious or we can grow into our identity.

Read Colossians 3:12-17.

What gives us our identity? Are we defined by the things of Christ just as he is defined by the things of his Father?

O Come All Ye Faithful

Posted by on December 24, 2006 under Sermons

Micah 5 2“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,Though you are little among the thousands of Judah,Yet out of you shall come forth to MeThe One to be Ruler in Israel,Whose goings forth are from of old,From everlasting.”3Therefore He shall give them up,Until the time that she who is in labor has given birth;Then the remnant of His brethrenShall return to the children of Israel.4And He shall stand and feed His flockIn the strength of the Lord,In the majesty of the name of the Lord His God;And they shall abide,For now He shall be greatTo the ends of the earth;5And this One shall be peace. …

There’s no historical or biblical evidence that supports December 25 as the date of Jesus’ birth. Nevertheless, is there any significance to the story of Jesus’ birth? Matthew and Luke thought so. However, the significance is much greater than a birthday commemoration.

In the gospels, the birth of Jesus is an important event in human history. The implications of this event involve not only the entire world, but people in every age of human history.

I offer two words that may help us understand the significance and implication of our Lord’s birth as it is set out through the gospels of Luke and Matthew.

The Greek word euangelion is the word behind our English word “gospel.” Generically it means “joyful tidings,” or “good news.”

It is used in the Old Testament background in Isaiah as a verb, “to bring good news,” and it is used of the declaration of Jerusalem’s deliverance from bondage (Isaiah 4:9; 52:7). Later it is also used for a wider announcement of liberation for the oppressed (Isaiah 61:1, 2).

The birth of Jesus is an event that calls for joyful tidings and good news because something good and something new has happened. God has come near and our lives will never be the same again. The deity made flesh and born that day is news – nothing like this has ever happened before. It means that a new age has dawned that signals the end of sin and death.

It is news and it is good news. Which calls up the second word: Immanuel. This is the name that Jesus was given at his birth. It is Hebrew for “God is with us.” In this name is wrapped up the whole significance of God made flesh and born into our world and history. Think of the implications of “God is with us.” He is not far away. He is not remote. He is with us. He knows our struggles. He has cast his lot with us. His death is for us. God is not against us, God is with us.

And the name sticks; for even after his death, Jesus is with us. He is raised from the dead. And yet he is still with us. And when we gather around the Lord’s Supper we believe that we not only commune with one another, but we also commune with God. “I am with you always,” said the risen Lord, “even to the end of the age.”

It matters very little what particular day Christ was born. What matters is that he was born. What matters is that he proclaimed the good tidings of the kingdom of God. What matters is that he died for our sins, he was buried, and he rose again on the third day. What matters is that he is with us always and he is coming again to rule once and for all. This is what we proclaim and commemorate every Lord’s Day. It is the truth we live by every day of the year.

Read Luke 1:26-56.

When the angel Gabriel visited Mary she might have been thinking “why me?” Surely she was too young. She wasn’t married, so how was it possible that she should be the mother of the Messiah. She was from Nazareth in Galilee – not considered an important place and certainly not worthy of being the hometown of the savior. As Luke often notes, Mary certainly must have pondered all of this.

But then Mary makes the trip to Elizabeth’s house. They are kinfolk, but they have more than blood in common. Elizabeth is also expecting a child under unusual circumstance. Many would think Elizabeth too old. She’s barren, which many would regard as God’s judgment against her. Elizabeth bears shame since she cannot provide a child for her husband. But now the Lord has been gracious to her, even in her old age. Her shame is taken away.

The meeting of Mary and Elizabeth is a dramatic moment; perhaps Mary no longer felt alone and outcast. Here was an older woman who could understand that God is up to something special in history. But certainly when Mary sees Elizabeth and notices that Elizabeth is the recipient of God’s gracious favor all of her pondering must have given way to a flash of inspiration.

Mary must have realized that she and Elizabeth were in good company. They weren’t the first women who played an important role in God’s history.

  • There’s Sarah, who also became a mother in her twilight years. Her laughter of doubt became laughter of joy when she realized that God was favoring her and Abraham through the birth of Isaac.
  • Then there’s Hannah. She bore shame for years because she could not provide her husband with a son. But then she rose up and went to God and her needs and God’s purposes combined. She dedicated herself and her unborn child to God and he blessed her through the birth of Samuel. He grew up to become a leader of God’s people.
  • And there’s Ruth – she was an outsider, a foreigner from Moab. A childless widow in her youth who became poor and dependent on the goodness and charity of good people. But God blessed her with a husband, Boaz, and the birth of a child who was the grandfather of mighty King David and an ancestor of Joseph who was betrothed to Mary.

Luke has recorded this story about Mary. He may have even interviewed Mary, who pondered these things in her heart. But Luke isn’t just interested in telling us about Mary. He let’s Mary tell us something about God.

Mary sings a song that commemorates what God has always done, what God is doing, and what God will always do:

  • He has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
  • He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
  • He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
  • He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
  • He has helped his servant, remembering to be merciful.

Mary sings a song of those who are not powerful. Her song is a song from below, not from on high. Her praise is for the God who rearranges the order of things and who looks after the oppressed and the forgotten.

Mary, like Elizabeth, like Sarah, like Hannah, like Ruth, is content to be the servant of God. She humbles herself and lets God lift her up. She is faithful. In the story of Christ’s birth in both Gospels (Matt and Luke) the faithful are distinguished from the unfaithful. The faithful understand that God is working in history to exalt the humble and obedient and to bring down the arrogant and rebellious. And God is doing this by entering into our world. The unfaithful are threatened by this work of God, but the faithful have been waiting for it and welcome it.

It is the faithful who rejoice at the news of the birth of Jesus. It is the faithful who understand what the baptism of Jesus means. It is the faithful who follow the teachings of Jesus. It is the faithful, like Mary, who do not leave Jesus even when he is shamed and humiliated on the cross. When Mary sees her son crucified on the cross she remains true to her song that she sang out over 30 years before. She declared what God has done, what he is doing, and what he will always do. I imagine that she is singing to herself and thinking of Jesus knowing that what she sang about God is still true; namely that …

  • He will be mindful of the humble state of his servant.
  • He will perform mighty deeds with his arm; he will scatter those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
  • He will bring down rulers from their thrones but lift up the humble.
  • He will help his servant, remembering to be merciful.

Mary is right. Her song sung before Jesus’ birth is still true even at the cross. God does not abandon Jesus to the tomb, but he raises him in glory. Mary’s song is still true today.

Jesus, like Mary, humbled himself. Mary said in response to God’s work: “May it be to me as you have said.” Jesus said: “Not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 1:38; Luke 22:42.)

The invitation to the Lord is for all the faithful to come. Come and humble yourself in the sight of the Lord – and He will lift you up.

Hope in Despair

Posted by on December 21, 2006 under Bulletin Articles

Now for many is the time for renewed hope. We are accustomed to life in a world of failed expectation. We need “someone” who “can do something about it.” No matter what the age we examine, war continues; poverty is a part of existence; injustice flourishes; sickness rages; and death is inescapable.

We have grown so accustomed to these realities that we no longer expect an end to war, poverty, injustice, sickness, or death. When a war ends, we “know” another will arise (does anyone remember WWI?). When one case of poverty ends, several more replace it (around 600 people came Saturday to the Hope Chest). When one form of injustice ends, others appear (the “cigar-filled room” that often controlled a political process is replaced with technological injustices). When a sickness is “conquered,” others arise (remember a world without AIDS?). Physical death is the ultimate reality for all physically born (contrast a 1996 church directory with the 2006 church directory). If hope is based on any of these ceasing in physical existence, all that occurs is disappointment.

Hope always comes at a price. The hope we place in the infant Jesus ended in physical death in a Roman execution. Hope did not die. Jesus died. Hope continued in his resurrection. The baby became a man who physically died. That was hope’s price.

Do not expect a physical existence of no war, no poverty, no injustice, no sickness, or no death. The hope of his birth was the hope of his cross. The hope of his cross was the hope of his resurrection. The hope of his resurrection was our hope of life in God’s presence. In that “place” there is no war, no poverty, no injustice, no sickness, and no death.

God’s hope is not the hope of wishing. It is the hope of expectation. Anticipation must be a factor in Christian hope! Because we are “good”? NO! Because the good God gave us hope in all He did in Jesus’ death and resurrection!

Often this week I heard Joyce say: “Why should I want to live my life over? I am closer to heaven now than I was in my past. Why should I want to go back?”

Because of Jesus, you can live with God. You cannot go back. Do what is possible!

O, You’d Better Watch Out!

Posted by on December 17, 2006 under Sermons

Read Zephaniah 3:14-19 and Luke 3:7-12.

Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, with the kids jingle-belling and everyone telling you “be of good cheer.” It is supposed to be, but it isn’t always that wonderful, is it? This week on a local radio show there was discussion of the “dark side” of the holidays. The guest on the show was a director of a substance abuse problem. She and the host acknowledged that during the holidays there is a marked increase in incidents of substance abuse brought about by increased depression.

Why? Why is there a dark side to what should be the hap-happiest time of the year? Perhaps it is because the holidays remind us of our highest expectations – how we think it ought to be – and that makes our world and our lives as they really are stand out in contrast. Against the backdrop of the glowing and shining holiday cheer, the truth about current reality and our relationships stands out. It’s not that anything is really different it’s just that we notice it. And whether we accept it or not, this makes us feel judged.

Maybe a different holiday song explains how we often feel: “O you had better watch out, you had better not cry, you had better not pout, and I am telling you why: Santa Claus is coming to town.” Andy Williams is unrealistically cheerful, but Gene Autry gets it: We had better shape up or Santa is going to dish out punishment. Seriously, much of our anxiety comes from the fact that our reality doesn’t match up with our expectations. And the judgmental tone of “You had better watch out” convicts us of our shortcomings and failings.

Failed expectations (in self, in family, in church, in others, in the world in general) lead to judgment. Judgment itself is not the problem, but the aim of the judgment is. The aim or outcome of judgment often depends on who is doing the judging.

I have said this before, but it bears repeating, we are not good judges. We are either too lenient and justify the worst of sins, or we are too harsh and we hold ourselves and others to ridiculous standards. When we judge ourselves or others the outcome of judgment is rarely useful, the judgment doesn’t lend itself to change. We are poor judges because our judgment is too often delivered with criticism, fear, worry, and hatred on one extreme; or sentimentalism, self-righteousness, inconsistency, and denial on the other extreme.

Even the best judge on earth is inadequate because no one is outside the judgment of God. Our judgment is limited, but the judgment of God goes beyond merely naming the sin and works to restore righteousness. The prophets from Elijah to John the Baptist have preached “You had better watch out.” Not because they came to judge, but because they spoke the truth that God will judge. God will not ignore the evil in the world that destroys and pollutes his creation. A Day of God’s Judgment is coming that is more than just a personal evaluation; it is the day that God acts to set things right – and he will deliver his judgment with both justice and mercy.

Our reading in worship was from the prophet Zephaniah. We don’t hear often from Zephaniah. He seems to be even more judgmental than “You had better watch out.” It is tough stuff. And if we are going to hear from the prophets during the most wonderful time of the year, we want to hear from Isaiah’s greatest hits – refrains like “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” We want to rush to the Nativity story – but we cannot really understand what that story is all about if we don’t first pay attention to Zephaniah.

Zephaniah speaks for the Lord. He reveals the dark side, the ugly truth that lies hidden beneath the bright shiny decorations and wrapping we use to cover our shortcomings. He knows what is wrong with the world, including God’s people. He declares the judgment of God against human society that has fallen because it has become commercial rather than compassionate, a people who subjugate the weak rather than submit to the Almighty, a people who excel in complacency rather than concern, a people who are privately religious rather than publicly repentant.

Zephaniah (1:2-7) is plain about it: God judges. “I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth,” declares the LORD. “The wicked will have only heaps of rubble when I cut off humanity from the face of the earth,” declares the LORD. “I will cut off from this place every remnant of Baal, the names of the pagan and the idolatrous priests – those who bow down on the roofs to worship the starry host, those who bow down and swear by the LORD but who also swear by Molech, those who turn back from following the LORD and neither seek the LORD nor inquire of Him.” Be silent before the Sovereign LORD, for the day of the LORD is near.

But God’s judgment is different from our poor judgment. God’s judgment is also God’s grace. His correction leads to change. When God judges he always creates a new alternative. There’s a flood to judge, but a rainbow to promise new covenant. There is a cross that judges, but an empty tomb to promise new hope, new life. Zephaniah (3:14-17) proclaims this, too:
“Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! (Why?) God will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

At last your troubles will be over, and you will never again fear disaster. On that day the announcement to Jerusalem will be, “Cheer up, Zion! Don’t be afraid! (Why?) For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. For the Lord will remove his hand of judgment and will disperse the armies of your enemy. And the Lord himself, the King of Israel, will live among you!

God is with us. His name is Immanuel. The light has broken into the dark side of this world under judgment. Fear is giving way to hope because the Lord really is with us. [Now do you see how the story of his birth is important?] Christ’s first coming into this world was good news, but as John the Baptist warned it was also judgment: “I’m baptizing you here in the river. But the one who comes after me will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house-make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.” (Luke 3)

Watch out! Watch out for the fear, anxiety, hatred, and denial that leads to the hopeless judgment of our age. Watch out! Submit yourself to the Lord’s judgment. He will purify your speech. He will cleanse your life with the Holy Spirit’s fire. The Lord’s judgment is the truth that maybe for the first time allows you to be the person who always thought you might be.

Some of our friends from far away recently reminded my family of the sinfulness and sorrow that persists even in the most wonderful time of the year. We heard from the mother and father of a young man, he is a young adult himself, who stood before a judge in a court of law. He is a young man who has committed crimes to support his drug addiction. The District Attorney was willing to make him an offer. If he would enter a drug treatment program, then he could avoid prison and his sentence for his crimes would be delayed until after his treatment. His sentence following treatment would be very lenient. But this young man refused that offer; instead he accepted a two year prison sentence and chose to live with a felony charge on his record forever. Why? He decided to be his own judge. Even though his judgment is harsher than the court, it is a judgment that doesn’t demand any real change on his part. No repentance. No new life. We are poor judges. Watch out for it.

Who judges you today? Are you living out the sentence of others who’ve judged you? Are you living out your own self-imposed sentence? Do you really know what God’s judgment is?

Admiring Jesus

Posted by on December 14, 2006 under Bulletin Articles

“Can you believe he/she did that? If anyone deserved the struggles he/she endures daily, he/she is that person! Whatever he/she endures, he/she brought it on himself/herself!”

After the mockery of the trials, after a sham “conviction” that sought perjured testimony, after the beating, after the crown of thorns, after the ridicule, after the humiliation of attempting to carry the cross, after the pain of being nailed to the cross, after the agony of being suspended by means of the cross, after experiencing the screaming pain of execution, Jesus made this statement (recorded in Luke 23:34):

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

I wonder how many times when I do something really stupid and thoughtless, that Jesus as my mediator before God, makes the same request for me. I wonder how often when in “good intentioned” ignorance, I am an obstacle rather than a help to God’s purposes, and Jesus asks for my forgiveness.

It has been said that the purpose of a good education is to reveal to us the realities of our ignorance. May I suggest that one of life’s purposes is to reveal to us our incredible ignorance? It is only when we see our ignorance that we know we need a Savior.

Wisdom is not the result of how much we know, but the result of being honest with self and others about how much we do not know. No one is as much the victim of ignorance as the person who is convinced he/she knows everything about anything.

The objective of Christianity is NOT to make us dogmatic, but compassionate. No one was ever in a situation to justly allow people to bear the consequences of their own ignorance as was Jesus in his crucifixion. Yet, in full knowledge of what God was doing, Jesus asked for forgiveness of those who rejected him in the bravado of their genuine ignorance.

Thank you, Jesus, for coming to this earth. Thank you for showing us compassion when we deserved (and continue to deserve) justice. Though we continue causing you pain, you show us love. May you never stop being our example of compassion’s meaning!

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Posted by on December 10, 2006 under Sermons

Read Luke 3:1-20.

Despite the fact that we are a nation and state that believes that the people rule, we still depend on the “people at the top” to secure our hope and fortunes. We look to our elected officials to reconcile our problems. We want them to fix our problems. Even our celebrities are called upon to use their charisma and charm to fix problems. Many of them lead our causes and crusades. If nothing else they aim to make us feel better.

There is a certain security we gain from “knowing someone in power.” The old expression about “having the ear” of a powerful official means that the official will listen to you. So one way to think about power has to do with what influential and prominent person listens to us and hears what we say.

I encounter this when I am regarded as the “pastor” of a large religious institution. I have invited people to see this congregation as their church home, a place where they might be welcomed. And sometimes they express their reluctance. For some obvious reason they think they won’t be accepted. And what they often need is a Word of acceptance from someone they perceive as “in charge” of the church: the minister! And not knowing that I am the minister (I guess I don’t look the part) they tend to ask “what will your preacher think?” My reply is usually, “Well, I don’t know. He’s not too bright, but I will talk to him – he listens to me.”

If you wanted to have the ear of someone important in the first century, Luke gives you a directory in the first verse. They are the dignitaries and celebrities of early first century Judea. They are the cream of the Roman Empire and Jerusalem’s power structure. Based on our typical assumptions about power and prestige, a single word from any of these men could bring us ruin or hope.

But Luke the historian is doing more than simply giving us a chronicle of the political and religious powers of the day. He is doing more that locating these events chronologically. He is making a statement in the first verse. He is telling us the truth: the truth about power, hope, judgment and repentance. He is saying that the word of the Lord doesn’t trickle down from the upper class of the dignitaries and celebrities in the city. It doesn’t even bubble up from the grassroots. Rather, the word of the Lord comes from outside the city. It comes from the remote and barren wilderness.

And the one who proclaims the Word of the Lord is a lonely voice. John the Baptist is a prophet. He is a preacher-prophet cut from the cloth of the Old Testament. He is wearing Elijah’s hand-me-downs and his sermon for the day is taken from Isaiah. Luke is telling us the truth: We will not find hope and help by “having the ear” of a listening powerful official. We will find hope and help by having an ear that listens to the voice from the wilderness; the voice that is outside our typical structures of power and might.

Listen to the voice of the one calling in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord. Make straight paths for him. Making a smooth path for the Lord’s arrival is no small task. The low places have got to be filled in. The high places brought down. Everything is going to be leveled out.

Growing up out on a rural road we had to maintain our own road. About once or twice a year we hitched the grader up to the tractor and scraped it down the road. The wide blade would shave down every bump and mound and it would pull in clay and dirt to fill in the potholes. It was a lot of work to smooth out that road. It got in the way of what little traffic we had and it required our attention for a whole weekend.
As kids we would walk on the smooth new road behind the grader, we would pick up the big rocks the grader uncovered and toss them in the ditches. And then we would ride our bikes over the new road that somehow magically came from the old rocky road.

It may seem inconvenient to prepare the way for the Lord. The dignitaries and those invested in the power structure as it is certainly don’t want to bother with the Lord’s way. They like their mountains and valleys. But the coming of the Lord demands that we open a new way for his arrival. And we’ll appreciate it when our work is through and we walk the smooth path of the Lord’s way. Listen to the one calling in the wilderness.

Listen to the voice calling in the wilderness: Do you hear what I hear? It is a call to repent and live a life that shows that repentance. Repentance means turning from the way of sin and walking the Lord’s way.

Denial of sin has not liberated or enhanced human life. Denial of the gravity of sin leaves people disabled in the face of the world’s evil and their own shortcomings. Denial of sin has left Christians and non-Christians alike unable to understand their predicament save in terms of the misdoings of others or the randomness of existence. The denial of sin has unleashed despair, confusion, and anger.

Learning that you are a sinner, admitting that you are a sinner can be a part of the good news. When we live entrenched in the city of the celebrities and powerful rulers, confession is not a good thing. We mistakenly think that confession and admission of sin leads to scandal and humiliation. When we live in the structures of the city with the powers at the top, we mistakenly think that confession and repentance in church and religion is all about the judgment of others.

But it is different in the wilderness. In the wilderness we can hear the voice of the prophet telling us the truth. Confession may mean admitting our shortcomings and it may mean learning how we have offended God, but it also means that we know that we can be reconciled to God. The voice in the wilderness preaches the good news of restoration. Naming our sins means that can also name the forgiveness of God. Do you hear what I hear? Repentance is hope, not hopelessness. Listen to the one calling in the desert.

Listen to the voice of the one calling in the wilderness. He’s not the Christ. He is not the Savior. But the Christ and Savior is coming. He came following John the Baptist the first time. He will come after us the second time.
If we will prepare the way of the Lord and live out repentance; if we can be as bold in our prophetic proclamation as John the Baptist was (and those invested in the power structures as they are may not appreciate that), then we may share in the hope that all people will see the salvation sent from God.

‘Now’ Is Today – Which May Be All There Is!

Posted by on December 7, 2006 under Bulletin Articles

This morning was interesting. It began by my reading an obituary of a friend, a doctor, killed in a car accident at 53 years of age. I knew him first as a single student in some of my Bible classes at a student center. The young lady who became his wife was in those classes. It is very difficult to believe that a friend 13 years younger than me is no longer a part of earthly life. To me, that is quite sobering!

Shortly after that, I read Joe Pistole’s message about the death of Andrew Brady. He was a young, unmarried coach in a Christian school with deep roots in this Christian community. An aneurysm unexpectedly took his life and devastated his parents!

My point is to challenge us to be sober and appreciative. I do not seek to be morbid!

Among those who believe Jesus Christ is God’s son who provides the world with salvation, this time of the year is hope-filled. God’s promise to do something unique provided past hope. The Son’s coming made that hope a reality. His hope of resurrection makes life meaningful now. That hope gives the future its greatest meaning.

Prior to Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, and resurrection, life and the world were pretty hopeless. Without the resurrected Jesus, they still are. No matter what we accumulate, what we have, or what we are worth, it is all temporary. As the present quickly becomes the past, the haunting question is, “Why? Why does it matter?”

May I paraphrase a statement in a lesson Jesus gave? In the context of those who chased security through theological correctness (Matthew 5:21-6:18), those who chased security through possessions (Matthew 6:19-24), and those who worried because of what they did not have (Matthew 6:25-33), Jesus challenged people to look at “today” differently.

All we can do with the past is learn from it. All we can do with the future is worry about what it will bring. If we spend today fretting about the past or being anxious about the future, all we achieve is a wasting of “now.” Be alive “now.” Do good “now.” Never neglect the problems and challenges of “now.”

The truth is this: All we have is “now.” “Now” learns from the past, refuses to waste itself worrying about the future, and takes care of “now’s” needs.

Do not waste today thinking about what you should have done. Do not waste it fretting about the future. Use “now” well because it is all you have.

Accept these facts. Security is not found in theological positions. Security is not found in possessions. Security is not found in anxiety. Security is found in the resurrection by those who are wise enough to use “now” as an investment in God.

Never stop being grateful for what you have. Never look at the temporary as permanent.

Land of Bondage or Opportunity?

Posted by on December 5, 2006 under Sermons

What makes physical life a land of bondage to some and a land of opportunity to others?

For some life is always a land of bondage. In all circumstances, all they ever see is trouble. Nothing ever works for their advantage. All blessings turn to bitterness. Even with good health, a good family, trustworthy friends, a secure job, and a good home, life is still bleak and oppressive.

Yet, others find life to be ceaseless opportunity. The greater their adversities are, the greater their opportunities are. Poor health liberates their personality. Hardships are stepping stones to a fuller life. Trials are a ladder to a higher plain of living. Every adversity that comes their way results in a blessing to them.

You know what I am saying is true. You have observed it too often. If a person for whom life is bondage and a person for whom life is opportunity are placed in the same circumstances, the first would still be in bondage and the second would still see opportunity. If the circumstances were excellent, it would be the same. If the circumstances were horrible, it would be the same.

Why? Why is that true? It is not merely external conditions that produce our outlook on life. Internal outlooks are just as important. Quite often, what we are within ourselves chain us to bondage or liberate us to see opportunity. That is why the Christian’s greatest concern in life must not be focused on changing external conditions. It must be focused on developing the inner person into a genuine person of God.

Examine the life of a person who was physically sold into slavery but never lived in bondage. His name is Joseph, and I challenge you to think about him in a manner that maybe you never thought about him before.

  1. Consider how Joseph turned his land of bondage into his land of opportunity.
    1. Begin with a look at his early life.
      1. His father was Jacob and his mother Rachel.
        1. Joseph was the oldest son born to Rachel, and one of only two sons Rachel gave birth to.
        2. Rachel was Jacob’s favorite wife, in fact she was likely the only wife he wanted.
        3. As a result of Rachel being Jacob’s favorite wife, Joseph was his favorite child among all his thirteen children.
      2. Jacob showed favoritism to Joseph in striking ways.
        1. Joseph did not work in the fields with the flocks as did his brothers.
        2. His father also gave him a special garment to wear to symbolize his special love for Joseph.
      3. Joseph also had two dreams that implied his family members would some day bow before him.
      4. I think we are justified in drawing some conclusions about Joseph’s life at this point.
        1. As a teenager, he seems to have been spoiled by the special treatment his father showed him.
        2. That special treatment from the father resulted in his brothers resenting him as they harbored feelings of jealousy.
        3. Joseph’s dreams and his handling of those dreams did nothing to improve his relationship with his brothers.
      5. It comes as no surprise when his brothers vent their resentment and jealousy.
        1. Jacob sent Joseph to check on his brothers as they tended the flocks.
        2. Joseph had difficulty locating his brothers.
        3. When, finally, the bothers saw him coming, they plotted his death.
          1. They said, "Here comes the dreamer! Let’s kill him, thrown him into a pit, say a wild animal ate him, and see what becomes of his dreams!"
          2. Only Reuben prevented the others from killing Joseph by convincing them to put him alive into a pit.
          3. Reuben intended to later release him and return him to Jacob.
        4. Soon, when Reuben was gone, the brothers saw a caravan of traders [Ishmaelites] on the way to Egypt.
          1. Greed became stronger than hate.
          2. Judah suggested there was not profit in killing Joseph–they should sell him as a slave.
          3. The others agreed [in Reuben’s absence], drew Joseph out of the pit, and sold him into slavery.
        5. When Reuben returned, he was overcome with remorse!
          1. To hide their act, they took Joseph’s special garment, soaked it in goat blood, and returned it to their father with the report that Joseph was killed by a wild animal.
          2. Like most of us, the sons never considered the effect of their act on their father.
          3. His sorrow created an impression they vividly remembered years later.
    2. From the incident at the pit, Joseph’s life encountered one hardship after another.
      1. Consider his life under Potiphar.
        1. When Joseph arrived in Egypt, he was sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard.
          1. Joseph had grown up as a rich man’s son.
          2. He had grown up as the favored son of the rich man.
          3. He knew what to do and how to act as a slave in a prosperous household.
          4. Yet, can you imagine the adjustment involved in falling from the status of a rich man’s son to the status of a slave?
        2. To Potiphar Joseph proved himself to be responsible, resourceful, and trustworthy.
          1. Joseph prospered in all he did.
          2. He prospered to the extent that Potiphar put Joseph in charge of everything.
          3. Potiphar did not even know what he owned!
        3. Just as the situation looked hopeful, Potiphar’s wife was attracted to Joseph and began an continual effort to seduce him.
          1. Joseph resisted her advances for two reasons.
            a) He could not abuse Potiphar in that manner.
            b) He could not sin against God.
        4. She persisted until one day she found him alone in the house.
          1. When he resisted her advances, she took hold of his robe in an attempt to force him.
          2. He left the robe in her hand and fled.
          3. Angered by his rejection, she screamed and told the other servants Joseph attempted to rape her.
          4. She reported the same story to her husband that evening.
          5. In anger, Potiphar had Joseph placed in the royal prison.
        5. Can you imagine Joseph’s sense of hurt and disappointment for being punished for something he refused to do?
      2. Consider Joseph’s life in prison.
        1. There he demonstrated the same resourcefulness and trustworthiness.
          1. All he did went well.
          2. Soon he was in charge of all the prisoners.
        2. Later Pharaoh became upset with his baker and butler and had them placed in the royal prison.
          1. They came under Joseph’s care.
          2. One day he noted both looked especially sad.
          3. Joseph discovered they were troubled by dreams they could not interpret.
          4. Joseph interpreted their dreams with only the request that he be remembered.
        3. When the butler was restored to his position, he forgot about Joseph.
    3. Here we need to make two observations.
      1. We do Joseph a real injustice if we do not appreciate the spiritual values and principles instilled in his life as a child.
        1. He may have been spoiled.
        2. However, his understanding of God was not neglected.
      2. It amazes me given his early background that Joseph could and did react to adversity the way he did.
        1. His understanding of God preserved him.
    4. Think about some alternate reactions to his adversities Joseph could have had.
      1. When he woke up in Egypt as a slave, he could have said:
        1. "Life had dealt me a horrible injustice!"
        2. "I had it all–a future, power, certain prosperity, and happiness!"
        3. "Now I have nothing–and there is no chance my father will find me or that I will escape."
        4. "There is little benefit I can derive from this awful situation–I will still be a slave no matter what happens."
        5. "I will just get by–Potiphar may own me, but he will soon learn he did not get much for his money!"
      2. When Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him, he could have thought:
        1. "My parents did not know how wrong they were–thoughts about God are pure nonsense!"
        2. "My problems are only going to increase!"
        3. "The odds of my marrying as a slave are not good."
        4. "Since I am a slave, I better grab what pleasure I can get when I can get it."
        5. "It is time for me to find some pleasure."
        6. "Sure, I trusted God–but where did that get me?"
        7. "Sure, my parents taught me the ways of God–but now I am in the real world and must be realistic."
        8. "Potiphar will never know the difference!"
      3. When he was in prison he could have reasoned:
        1. "The dignity of man, the rewards of integrity, the principles of honor–what a laugh!"
        2. "Where was dignity when my brothers sold me?"
        3. "Where was integrity when I did ‘the right thing’ in refusing the advances of Potiphar’s wife?"
        4. "Where was honor after I interpreted the dreams?"
        5. "People use people–kindness given is kindness forgotten!"
        6. "The only real philosophy is ‘look out for yourself.’"
      4. If at any time Joseph embraced these views, he would have been a man of bondage in a land of bondage.
    5. The inner man, the real person Joseph was, used his trials as steps on the ladder of triumph.
      1. Because he refused to "get by," because he was a man of honor who accepted personal responsibility, because he refused to forget God, because he maintained concern for people, Egypt became his land of opportunity.
      2. When Pharaoh had a dream that defied interpretation, the butler remembered Joseph.
      3. Because Joseph was sustained by his faith and godly character, things happened in Egypt that would never have happened in Palestine.
        1. He ascended to the position of the second most powerful man in the world.
        2. He delivered that world’s greatest nation from famine and ruin.
        3. He delivered his own family from starvation.
        4. He united his family in peace.
  2. Very few of you will live a life that does not have tragic moments.
    1. If you knew what would take place in your life before you died, you likely would waste today by worrying about the future.
      1. A lot of people you care about will die before you do.
      2. Your marriage will know downs as well as ups.
      3. There will be times when your children will break your heart.
      4. You will move to places you do not wish to live.
      5. Your life will be an economic roller coaster.
      6. You will live with the consequences of some bad decisions.
      7. And all of that will occur if you are blessed to live in a time of peace.
    2. Each of us must know the true issue confronting us.
      1. The true issue confronting us is not who we are when everything is going well.
      2. The true issue confronting us is who are we when nothing is going well.

Every day of life, there is a lot you can do to help yourself, and a lot you can do to hinder yourself. For Joseph, Egypt was never a land of bondage. It was always his land of opportunity. His faith in God and strength of godly character sustained him. May our faith in God and strength of godly character sustain us in a world hostile to God. May faith in God and godly character determine who we are rather than adversity determining who we are.

May every stage of our lives be our land of opportunity. May we understand that Christian faith, Christian living, and godly principles are never nonsense even in times of adversity.

We Aim To Please

Posted by on December 3, 2006 under Sermons

Sports Hog talk show – the greatest change in college athletics is the focus on what pleases the student athlete.


  1. An Encouraging Letter from His Mentor (Background to 2 Timothy)
    1. Timothy was Paul’s troubleshooter and representative (1 Corinthians 4:17; 16:10-11; Philippians 2:19-23; 1 Thessalonians 3:2)
    2. At work in Ephesus
    3. Paul is in prison, facing death.
    4. Members of the church are opposing him, he is disrespected.
    5. Rival teachers, who are teaching garbage, are having more success
    6. Timothy is strongly considering a career change
      1. Thus, Paul’s letter
  2. The Essence of the Message: “This is no time for Wimps!” (1:7)
    1. Paul = Don’t give up.
      Being mediocre, neutral is being a wimp/timid
    2. Paul Gives Examples Timothy would know:
      1. Phugelus and Hermogenes (1:15) – deserters
      2. Humenaeus and Philetus (2:17-18) – false teachers (for selfish reasons no doubt)
      3. Demas (4:10) – deserter, “he loved the world”
  3. Paul charges Timothy to:
    1. Continue in what he knows is true (3:14)
    2. Who do you aim to please?
        [Sports Hog Talk Show – The biggest change in college sports. The goal is now to please the student athlete.]
    3. He gives three examples:
      1. Soldier (Courage). Fear says “Be safe and neutral”
      2. Athlete (Endurance). Comfort = “Risk-free Christianity”
      3. Farmer (Patience). Self-Gratification says “what do I get from putting up with these people?”
    4. But the common element of all three is duty and dedication
      1. Rewards are only experienced by the dedicated
      2. Rewards are only enjoyed by heroes
  4. 2 Timothy 2:11-13
      If we died with Him, we will also live with Him (baptism)
      If we endure, we will also reign with Him (dedication)
      If we disown Him, He will also disown us (so don’t)
      If we are faithless, He will remain faithful … (grace and repentance)

    [Give invitation, then Pause and have them stand and pay attention …]

  5. Charge in Paul’s Words: “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus … Fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you … for God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”

The Foolishness and Weakness of God

Posted by on under Sermons

Read I Corinthians 1:18-25.

  1. Abraham and Sarah – Would we choose them to build a nation? Aren’t these two too old and unqualified?

  2. Moses – Would he be our spokesman and representative for God? He is a reluctant man who stutters and has a criminal record in Egypt.

  3. David – Who would bet on David in the battle against Goliath?

  4. Esther – There is a threat of genocide. Is our only plan a young woman who is part of the King’s harem? Is there a backup?

  5. Christ – Expectations of Messiah/Salvation/ Submission to Death

These all seem foolish to us and they do not fit our standard categories of wise, powerful, and strong, but the foolishness of God is wiser that our wisdom and the weakness of God is greater than our strength.

Are we really comfortable with the foolishness and weakness of God?

  • Or do we insist on signs and wisdom?
  • We are always tempted to make our faith sensible and credible. And that sort of pressure might make it seem to conform to the wisdom of the age or appeal to our desire for power and control.
  • 22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

Every leader in this congregation is able to lead and serve only as God empowers us.

This church cannot be involved in the mission of God to make disciples if we are focused on our own ability to succeed. For that always tempts us to hide our weaknesses and to cover up the truth. …

26Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are, 29so that no one may boast before him. 30It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God-that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

We are always tempted to work by our own strength and our own know-how.

  • This is the challenge for me and for you
  • God doesn’t need our strength and our resources
  • We don’t give God our success, he gives us grace
  • God can use our weaknesses and our limitations. He can redeem them and demonstrate his grace.
  • Don’t just surrender your strength and wisdom to God – give him your weakness & foolishness . . .
  • And then we will experience the sustaining power of God’s grace.

Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.
31Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”