Monday Morning Preacher: Be Faithful

 

If there are two words that stuck with me as I wrote this week’s sermon, it’s “Be faithful.” When we read our passage from yesterday, David was anointed as God’s choice of king over Israel.  Some argued that he was somewhere between 10 and 15 years old when this happened.  However, did you know how long it took before he became king?  Twenty-two years.  In fact, the rest of our study through the book of 1 Samuel will be chronicling most of these years

This wouldn’t be the first time that people in the Bible would need to wait to fulfill the purpose of their lives.  Joseph was sold into slavery and reveal himself to his brothers for 24 years.  When Moses killed the Egyptian hurting a fellow Israelite, he fled for 40 years before being sent to rescue Israel for their captivity.

In many cases, there is always a hardship before the blessing.  Many people like to think that coming to God, believing in Him, and trusting in Him will cause all obstacles and all problems to be removed.  If this was the case, when God anointed David, David would have assumed the throne immediately.  All the people would rally around him and dispose of Saul, whom the Lord rejected.  But that’s not how it works.

Instead, there are times when the going is going to be rough.  And why is that?  So we learn a valuable lesson:  That God is faithful.  That when we are struggling with something that is so far beyond us and our abilities, God will be there and God will come through.  God made David a promise to become king, and it would take him through battles between him and Saul, with other nations, and even after Saul’s death, another claiming his throne, but in all cases, he would do one thing:  he would wait for God to remove the king and place him on the throne.

So as a church, we have had time when so many families have been struggling with one issue or another.  And right now, we may feel like we’re in the middle of a desert, all alone.  But there are two things that will help us get where we need to go: our love for each other and our love for God.

And all we need to do is to be faithful.  Be faithful to God. Be faithful to our church.  Be faithful to our mission.  If we continue to do what God has placed us here to do, if we continue to be faithful in the little things He is giving us right now, He will give us the opportunity to do greater things for Him and in His name, so this whole area can know that Jesus is Lord.

Monday Morning Preacher: Christmas

 

Today is Christmas, the day we celebrate Jesus coming into the world. It’s important for us to stop and reflect on the meaning of the season.  Between the parties, the ugly sweaters, and the gift-giving, the meaning of the season can be lost between everything else that is taking our attention.

But instead of just going through the Christmas story, I want to focus on the importance of this day outside of the typical manger scene.  Jesus came into this world in the midst of darkness – a darkness that we have caused to fall on this earth.  The world God created was perfect, but because of sin caused by Adam and Eve, our perfect world is now broken.

The crazy part is that God had a plan to restore us before He even created us.  Think about that for a moment. We sinned against God, and He knew it was going to happen, and He created us anyway.  He knew that He wouldn’t be able to exist or have a relationship with broken people, but yet, He found another way and that way was His own Son.

The only way to break the bondage of sin was through death – a sacrifice.  Something pure that all the sin could be passed to and then executed so that the person offering the sacrifice could walk away pure.  But not matter how many times an animal was placed on that altar, there would always be a need for another, and another, because we just can’t stop ourselves from failing God and breaking the commands He gave us.

And so God thought of this plan.  A plan to send His Son to be the last sacrifice to end the need of sacrifices.  By having no sin of His own, He would be able to take the sins, all sins of past, present, and future, upon Himself and redeem the world forever.  But only if we make the choice to have a relationship with Him.

So all this happened because God placed it into motion before the world even began.  And all I can say is how much more love does God need to show us?  What more could He do?  We sinned.  We failed. We walk away.  And God reached out and said, “It’s okay.  I have a better way.  I know what to do.  I’m going to fix this.”

And so as we reflect on Christmas, we need to remember one thing:  None of this would have happened if Jesus wasn’t born.  There would be no salvation if there wasn’t first a birth.  There would be no salvation if there wasn’t first a manger.  There would be no salvation if God didn’t love us in such a deep, remarkable way.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:6-8

So the question remains: what is your response to this gift?  Will you accept it or reject it?  And if you have accepted it, will you share it with those you love and care about today?

Monday Morning Preacher: Receive

 

The gift that Jesus has given us can only be accepted when we realize three things.

First, it’s a gift we didn’t pay for.  A gift is exactly that: a gift.  We don’t pay for gifts and when someone gives a gift they are not looking for something in return.  And so when Jesus died on the cross for our sins and called it a gift, saying we have the gift of eternal life, there was no expectation for us to pay for it.  No expectation for us to even ourselves with God because it wasn’t a loan.  It was simply a gift we do not pay for.  All we can do is accept it with gratitude.

Second, it’s a gift we cannot afford.  Even if we had the misguided thought of “Well, I know it’s a gift, but I want to pay Jesus back anyway,” it would be a waste of time.  There is nothing we can do, nothing we can offer, nothing we can give that would equal what God has done for us.  In fact, the debt caused from our sins is so great that it’s infinite.  As far as we go to repay it, it will only increase.  If it was possible to earn salvation, then Jesus wouldn’t need to die.  So instead, we must understand and accept our failings, and accept His gift with humility.

Third, it’s a gift we don’t deserve.  The Bible tells us, “The wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23). The only thing we deserve from our sin is judgment.  We deserve to be separated from God forever because of our actions in this world.  Fortunately, God loves us more.  He made a plan to bring us back, sending His Son to die on the cross that our fractured relationship with Him could be restored.  And because of this, we accept this gift with joy.

How we accept this gift is a cornerstone to our faith.  It’s something we cannot pay for, cannot earn, cannot afford, and do not deserve.  But all we need to do is rest, knowing that if we receive Christ, receive Him to become a part of who we are and influence every aspect of our lives; if we receive Him through belief, repentance, confession, and baptism, even though this gift overwhelms us, it is ours for the taking.

Monday Morning Preacher: Gift Return

Have you ever been given a gift for Christmas, or really for any occasion, that you couldn’t wait to bring back to the store and return?  Whatever it was, it was something you didn’t want, didn’t need, or didn’t have any use for?

This past Sunday, we talked about the gift of Jesus, and how there are many people out there who want to return Jesus back to God and not accept the gift He has come to give us.  And part of this is because Christians (collectively) have allowed poor theology to be accepted in the attempt to market Jesus to the world.

Some people come to Jesus with bad information about Jesus, and once making the decision to following Him, reading the Bible, and learning the truth about why He came, it feels like this bait and switch.  And honestly, I think we have all fallen into one of these traps at one point in our faith, or has taught something that is less than truthful.

One of these bad theologies is prosperity theology.  “Come to Jesus and if you have enough faith, He will give you everything you want,” I remember watching a show of a pastor saying to a student, “You don’t need to study for your final anymore, you just need more faith.  If you believe you can pass it, through God, He will help you.”  But throughout my life as a Christian, I have never gotten all my wants, regardless of how much faith I had in the moment.  All God promises is to supply your needs, but what we and God define as needs may not be the same thing.

Another bad theology: “Come to Jesus and life will be perfect.”  Is sin going to completely disappear from our lives?  How about the consequences of sin?  Will there be no more pain, sickness, or death?  That’s true of heaven, but it’s not true of earth.  As long as people live, we will all die at one time or another, which will cause pain to our friends and family.  So while Jesus promises to be with us through the pain and the suffering, He never said He would remove it completely.

How about: Just make the decision about Jesus and that’s it.”  Jesus is not a one-time decision that you make, jump in water, and have it not affect the rest of your life.  To come to Jesus is to change to be more like Him.  When you meet Jesus, you leave changed.  You cannot go back to the same lifestyle and the same way of living.  Sin needs to be dealt with, repented, and removed. Behaviors will need to change.  It’s not a one and done decision but a decision we make every day of our lives.

Why do we market Jesus by sharing the best part or the bare minimum?  Why not share all of who Christ is because He is all we need.  As Ephesians 4:20-21: That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.  We speak the truth about Jesus in everything. But doing this, we present a holistic picture of Jesus and what Jesus has to offer is so much greater than any way we can spin it.  The truth of Him is better than what we think people want to hear.

If we speak the truth about Jesus, I believe there will be no gift exchanges or returns.  People will be met by the One True God and their experience with Him will make them different.  It’s only when we get in the way of the truth with our schemes that they fall apart and want to trade Him in for something else.

Monday Morning Preacher: Unexpected

 

Even though it shouldn’t be, one of the big parts of the Christmas season is gift giving.  Whether we’re getting gifts or receiving them, it’s all a part of this time of year.  Some will place a great emphasis on the getting – getting something they have been hoping for many months.  For others, it will be the giving and watching the faces of those they love tear up the wrapping paper to get to the gift inside.

The problem is, when it came to Jesus, we got the gift we needed, not the gift we wanted.  So many people wanted to get a Messiah who would come down with power and authority from heaven and tear the Romans to pieces, but instead they got a baby in a manger of a noisy barn where animals were annoyed that there was someone laying on their food.

But this story is a story about two qualities about Jesus: His humility and His love for us.

Jesus could have come with a royal announcement.  He could have come with all the pomp of a coming king.  But instead, He came to the littlest town in Judah.  He came as a baby, the smallest human form we can be.  And when He came, it wasn’t announced to the chief priests and teachers of the law, but to shepherds.

And then there is His love.  John 1:1-2 tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” Jesus was there before the world was made. Jesus was there when the decision was made to create us.  Jesus was there when God realized by creating us, we would fail Him, and cause sin to enter the world and destroy His perfect creation. And yet, God chose to create us anyway, meaning that Jesus would need to sacrifice His life for us so we can have a restored relationship with God.

And so for all those people out there that say that God created us and stopped caring: They’re wrong because God never stopped caring. Before the world was created He found a way to bring us back to Him.  And so this Christmas season, come and see the one who has done so much for each and every one of us.  While we may think He’s far off, He has never been closer.  He has never stopped loving you.  And He was willing to lay it all down to come in a humble way so that our sins could be forgiven!

Monday Morning Preacher: Disciple

 

For today, I want to talk about the power of disciples.  Check out Ephesians 6:21-22.  It says:

“Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you.”

Many times, when we get down to these last few verses in a book of the Bible, I know I can skip over it thinking it’s just some personal message to someone at the church and it’s no big deal.  Nothing really to learn here.  But looking at this specific passage, it has a very important message for us that we can learn about being a disciple.

Paul writes this letter to the Ephesians, but because of his current predicament, being in jail and all, he was not able to bring it to them himself.  And so Tychicus was sent in his place.  Tychicus was a person whom Paul trusted.  Why else would he had given him such an important letter to deliver to the Ephesians?

But sending tychicus with the letter would have given the Ephesians more insight into what Paul was saying. As we read the Bible, what do we do?  We try to understand Paul’s intent in writing what he wrote.  Why did he right it this way?  Why did he say it like that? etc. With sending Tychicus, a person Paul trusted, Paul probably either wrote the letter with him present, or after writing it, sat down and explained why he wrote what he wrote.  Paul would explain the letter to Tychicus in such a way that it would be like Paul was there with them to answer the questions the people may have about the letter.

And how was this possible?  Tychicus was Paul’s disciple.  He lived with him, served him, worked with him, traveled as he preached, and got to do ministry with this man who wrote most of our New Testament.  Being a disciple in many ways is to have another following after you who would teach, preach, and share Christ in the same manner, pointing everyone they talk to back to Jesus.

And this is the power of a disciple.  It’s to continue on the understanding of what it means to follow Christ.  The question we need to ask ourselves is this:  What would happen if we were all out disciples?  What would happen if we all followed Jesus in such a way that there will be a larger next generation to reach the masses?  What would happen if everyone who professes faith is actively seeking to make one more disciple?  This world would know Jesus more.  Christians would be a force to be reckoned with because we would all be moving towards the same goal of being more and more like Jesus.

My hope and prayer is that we are all disciples, being disciples by those who are further along than us, and challenging others who are ready to begin their faith journeys.

Monday Morning Preacher: Lead by Serving

 

This whole section we have been going over the last two week have been under the umbrella of the opening verse to the passage:

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” – Ephesians 5:21

So as we talk about the relationships between husbands and wives, children and parents, or slaves and their masters (which would be employee and employer in our context), we must always look back to this verse as our guide to understanding what Paul is saying.

Yes, it’s hard to say “Wives, submit to your husbands.”  But it is not said in a way where a husband dominates a wife, or makes her into a servant that does everything for Him.  In fact, Paul challenges the husband to essentially submit to his wife.  To put her needs above his own.  To love her as he would love himself.  To lay down his life for her, if necessary, out of his love.  And in both cases, it is the choice both the husband and wife makes because of their love.  They can choose not to, but their relationship will lack the joy they were so desperately wanting when they said “I do.”

It’s hard to say to kids sometimes to “Obey your parents.”  But for the children, doing what your parents want will get them the freedom they so desire.  And for parents, you must love them as children as Christ loves us as children.  There are times when we need to show grace.  There are times when we need to be strict, but we must make sure that in all things, we speak the truth about Jesus in love to them, so they grow up knowing and loving the Lord.

It’s hard to say to an employee “Obey your boss.”  But even if they pile on the work, and give you some of their responsibilities when they shouldn’t, unless they ask you to do something against God’s law, do it with a joyful heart.  Work hard as if you’re working for Jesus.  And for the bosses out there, don’t threaten them to work harder.  The best bosses are the ones who love and encourage.  Don’t rule the company out of fear, but out of respect. How God treats us is how we should treat each other.

And so this is really a call for servant leadership.  Obey who you need to obey and submit to those you should submit to.  But if you are “over’ someone, show them the same love that Christ showed you.  And what was that?

Philippians 2:5-8: In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Jesus understood this completely.  He has authority over us but was under authority of His Father.  He was willing to do what His Father asked, while showing us love, compassion, and mercy, all things we didn’t deserve.  And so, we should do the same for others.  Show them love, compassion, and mercy.  Place them above ourselves.  Submit to one another just as Christ submitted himself for us, and gave His life so that we can have a relationship with God again.

Monday Morning Preacher: Sumbit

There are very few passages people in the world who do not believe in Christ know.  One of the classics is Matthew 7:1: “Judge not lest ye be judged.”  And I think the other one is Ephesians 5:22: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.”  Why is this one so well known?  Because it’s so chauvinistic and wrong.  It’s so backwards thinking.  It doesn’t line up with today’s culture that everyone is equal, whether you are male or female.

In fact, as a pastor, it’s probably wrong that I even preach on a topic like this.  These verses should be ignored or taken out of the Bible, even though this isn’t the only place it’s found:

“Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.”  – Colossians 3:18

“Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives,” – 1 Peter 3:1

Here’s the problem.  Culture is always going to change.  What’s right today may be wrong tomorrow.  Things that were wrong in the past may be right tomorrow.  But God’s Word doesn’t change.  And because it’s in there, we must dissect it and talk about it, even if it makes us uncomfortable or we think it’s wrong.  Maybe, we just don’t have a proper understanding of what it’s really saying.

So this passage tells wives to submit to their husbands.  And the way it’s written, it sounds like a command.  Wives must submit, never question, never argue, and have no say in any decision.  Husbands can boss their wives around like this and it is perfectly acceptable:

But that’s not what it says.  Submission is not about ordering someone around or facing them to be your servant.  It’s about trusting God that He knows what He is doing.  It’s about wives trusting their husbands to live up to the men God has called them to be.  And what type of men were they called to be?  We find out in Ephesians 5:25:

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

Here’s the problem.  When the people out there read the Bible.  They read Ephesians 5:22, a verse they don’t like, and stop there.  While we cannot read 5:22 without continuing to 5:25.  Husbands, love your wives and place her needs above your own.  You give up everything, including your life itself, if necessary, for her, just as Christ gave up His life for His bride, the church.  The Bible is all about servant leadership.  While husbands are called to be the leaders, they lead by loving their wives and placing her first.  Taking her thoughts and emotions into consideration with every decision made.

And in both cases, for husbands and wives, it’s not commanded, but a choice.  The reason we choose to do it is because this is God’s way for how relationships should work and will bring the most joy and happiness.  We trust that God, since He is our Creator, knows exactly how we should interact with one another as husband and wife.

But in the end, it comes down to us.  Are we willing to do what God has asked us?  Wives, are you willing to submit knowing your husband loves you and wants the best for you?  And husbands, are you willing to lay it all down for your wife in love?  Both are challenges.  Both are hard.  And both will experience failure in making this a reality.  But if we’re willing to do it, we can have long-lasting, powerful relationships that will be an example to this world of just how much Christ loved us.

Monday Morning Preacher: Aroma

 

Aromas.  There is just something about smells that can just brighten up your day.  It’s why when you go to an open house, a realtor would have just baked some cookies to give the house a homely smell to it.  It’s why one of the best things to wake up to, at least for me, is the smell of bacon cooking in the kitchen.  And smelling a freshly cut lawn brings me back to my days in high school and playing football on cold November nights.

But just as there are good smells, there are also bad ones as well.  I think of coming home after a run and taking off my sneakers and getting a whiff of those smelly socks.  I remember picking up my kids when they were still in diapers and sighing every time I would notice the stench coming from it.  Or walking out in the yard and realizing the smell from my shoe because I just stepped in something my dog left behind.

In our passage from Sunday, Paul talked about how Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sins was a fragrant aroma to God.  In the Old Testament, when the Israelites sinned, they would bring an animal to the temple, and burn it on the altar to God.  The smoke from the fire would be a fragrant aroma to the Lord, and they could walk away knowing that their sins were atoned for through the death of this animal.

Now, one thing about the animals brought before the Lord is that they had to be without blemish.  No spots, no defects, no problems.  Likewise, Jesus had to be blameless and pure as well, and He was without sin. And as we are told in this passage to follow Jesus’ example, we must also live lives that are pure.

And so we are told to not even have a hint of sin.  The ones mentioned in the passage are very common ones we fall into: sexual immorality, greed, obscenities, foolish talk (aka gossip), and coarse joking (which includes being sarcastic or tearing someone else down).  But one thing we tend to do is elevate these sins, while minimizing the severity of others.  But in this list, it does also say, “or any kind of impurity.” Sin is sin.  There is no level that makes one sin greater than another in the eyes of God.  We break one law, we break all of God’s law.

And so when it speaks about not having a hint of sin in our lives, Paul is speaking about those areas of our lives we have not given to God.  When we come to Christ, He makes us into a new creation, but sometimes, we’re okay with Him speaking into some areas of our lives, but not all areas.  And so we hold back.  We allow Jesus to build new buildings in some places, but just try to barely add Him into others.

And what Paul says here is that this hint of sin we’re unwilling to let go, it corrupts the pleasing aroma of Jesus’ sacrifice.  Just like putting something plastic into a nice wood campfire would cause a foul smelling thick black smoke, so does this sin that remains would cause God to turn away.

So the question we must ask is this:  Is there an area of our lives that we didn’t give to God?  Is there some area we’re not giving Jesus access to?  And if that’s the case, are we really living for Him?  One of the great things of this book of Ephesians is the fact that we are showered with love and grace.  That no matter how much we fail, God’s grace for us is always greater.  But to get that grace, we must be willing to repent and turn from that sin.

And that’s the amazing thing about a church, is that it is made up of people who need the same grace and love.  We are all sinners, and it is a place where we should never find guilt and shame for what we have done, but love and forgiveness.  So what sin needs to be placed on the altar?  What area of your life does Jesus need access to?  How can we make sure there is not a hint of anything impure within us?

Monday Morning Preacher: Christians Are What?

 

I was reading a Barna poll that should be very shocking, but it doesn’t surprise me at all.  It’s actually old news since it’s from March 2015, but it talked about the reasons why Millennials don’t go to church. And if I was being completely honest, the reasons why broke my heart:

  • Christians are too judgmental: 87%
  • Christians are hypocritical: 85%
  • Christians are insensitive to others: 70%

I want to take a moment to break down these three areas.

First, being too judgmental.  Yes, I think we have fallen into this category.  What is a church supposed to be?  A place where everyone can come and find healing.  We are all sinners saved by God’s grace, in desperate need of God’s grace.  But once we experience it, we like to pretend that we are now perfect.  Why is that?  While yes, the goal is to become more and more like Christ as we draw closer and closer to Him, I know I still struggle at times to keep it all together.  I have failed.  I have made mistakes.  But the issue is our fear and guilt has caused us to bottle it up inside, put on a smile, and tell everyone we’re “fine” while we are truly dying inside.

Church is not a place for people who are “fine.”  Church is a place for people who need healing, restoration, redemption, and love.  While a person may not be walking the right path, their need for Jesus is still real and they need to be shown grace than distain, love than being looked on with disapproval.  The question we must ask ourselves is this: How do we react when someone confesses their sin?  Do we show love, grace, and encouragement, giving them help through Jesus to overcome it, or do we push them away, think less of them, and shame them for even being in the situation they’re in?  How we answer this determines if what the world speaks of this is right.

Second, being hypocritical.  I have been coming to a point where I have turned a page on this one.  As a leader in the church, I believed I needed to be perfect.  No sins.  No errors.  No faults.  Don’t tell anyone anything because you don’t want them to think less of you.  But it’s a standard that’s impossible to reach because I am just like everyone else, a sinner saved by God’s grace and in need of that grace every single day.

I can see why people on the outside will view us as hypocrites.  We preach do’s and don’ts and when we fail in these areas, we are not practicing what we’re preaching.  That’s being a hypocrite.  But as I just mentioned, the main point is our response to failure.  When someone makes a mistake, are they shown grace or judgment?  Do we love them, let them know they are forgiven through the blood of Jesus, or shame them and put them down because they should know better?

Finally, being insensitive to others.  This is a tough one because it is probably based on the teachings of Jesus.  We must teach what the Bible says.  We cannot change it because it’s not culturally acceptable. But what we can do is change our attitude towards those who are following the ways of this world.   It seems like as a collective church, we rank sins from good to bad, greater offenses to lesser ones.

But think about…what is God’s standard?  Sin is sin.  It doesn’t matter if it is a white lie or murder, it will still cause us all to need the grace of Jesus. So why is it that we place a greater emphasis on removing some sins from our lives but not others, when it should be as we grow in the faith and knowledge and love of Christ, He will continue to work through us to make us more like Him?

So while this may be what the world thinks of us as Christians, there is something we can do.  Even though this may be how some churches act, and give others bad reputation, we can be different.  We can be what a church is meant to be: a place for broken sinners who need grace.  Instead of bringing people down in sin and shame, we raise them up when they ask forgiveness and encourage them to continue to grow.  Because the Christian life is that: continuing to grow in our knowledge and understanding of Christ so we become more like Him.  And as He works through us, the sin will be called out, confessed, and forgiven.  And as a church, let’s be the ones who restore relationships with Christ and not drive others away.