Sermons

Bear Fruit

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THE WAY THAT LEADS TO LIFE - PART 3

Bear Fruit
Sunday, March 24, 2019
Luke 9:35, 13:1-9

What about those eighteen people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them? Do you think that they were more guilty of wrongdoing than everyone else who lives in Jerusalem? No, I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did.”

Luke 13:4-5

How easy it is to fall into the religion of “niceness” or simply “being good.” Like many in our own day, the people of Luke’s time generally believed that those who suffered did so as a punishment for sin and those who found themselves blessed deserved such blessings because of their own good behavior. Jesus describes both a political massacre of people who were killed by Pilate’s order as well as an event we might consider a natural disaster, the collapse of a tower which also killed many people. The point is that regardless of the cause of these tragedies, whether the result of someones sinful violence or an accident beyond anyone’s control, their deaths were undeserved. Victims of such tragedies are not held up as examples of divine justice or punishment.

Sadly, we still have preachers today proclaiming God’s wrath every time tragedy strikes. It does seem ironic, however, that when hundreds or even thousands of innocent people are killed by a hurricane, it is interpreted as God’s wrath on the entire city or nation (like New Orleans or Haiti) but when children are shot in a school, no one bears responsibility except that one unsuspected madman who somehow got his hands on a gun he shouldn’t have had.

Jesus warns us not to make such judgments about the wrath of God and reminds us that we might just as easily become innocent victims tragedy. Guilty or not guilty makes no difference when it comes to the timing or circumstances of our death.

But there also seems to be a bigger issue at play when Jesus tells the parable of this innocent fig tree. The tree is still alive, and because it has survived, the assumption is that it has not been subject to God’s judgment. This is like the person whose house is the only one left standing in the neighborhood after a tornado saying, “I guess God was looking out for me.” Was God not looking out for all the other people who were harmed around you? Were you really the only innocent person in the neighborhood worthy to be spared? And then things get even more complicated when we find out that that one person who was spared happens to be the most greedy, mean-spirited neighbor on the block while all the nice people lost everything.

The fig tree may be spared for another year, just like that person whose house was not destroyed by the storm. But we must be careful.

First, we must not assume that our salvation implies judgment or condemnation on those who have suffered or on the trees that have already died. Secondly, we must not assume that just because we were spared that everything is OK and that we are blessed. That’s not how this works.

God may show us mercy for a time so that he can care for us more closely, offering more fertilizer or pruning, but in the end we cannot go on as we have been and expect to just exist forever without bearing fruit. This is true of our individual lives and certainly true of our churches. We must bear fruit or we will die. Let us stop looking at everybody around us thinking we have it so much better and therefore we are “off the hook”. We must focus more on our own growth. We must become trees that bear good fruit, or nothing will save us in the end.

Don’t let God’s mercy be an excuse to stay the way you are. Become the person or the church that God wants you to be, bearing good fruit, for we never know when our last day might come.

Don’t let it escape your notice, dear friends, that with the Lord a single day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a single day. The Lord isn’t slow to keep his promise, as some think of slowness, but he is patient toward you, not wanting anyone to perish but all to change their hearts and lives.

2 Peter 3:8-9

Get Real

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THE WAY THAT LEADS TO LIFE - PART 2

Get Real
Sunday, March 17, 2019
Luke 9:35, 11:33-36

Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is full of darkness. Therefore, see to it that the light in you isn’t darkness.

Luke 11:34-35

It seems the better we get as a society of “keeping up appearances,” the more spotlights and zoom lenses are set up to expose the cracks in our makeup. Once we only had to keep up our front yards because nobody would ever look over the fence to see the mess out back. But our front yard has entered the digital age and can be seen from countless perspectives all across the world wide web. Even within the safety and comfort of our own homes, we must now maintain our public persona in a 24/7 world. We spend more time trying to figure out what to post on today’s social media “highlight reel” than we do enjoying all of the other ordinary moments of our lives.

The only thing we seem to love more than looking like we have it altogether, whether in person or through the screen, is trying to prove that someone else really does not have it altogether. There’s nothing like another person’s sin to make us feel less guilty and there’s nothing like another person’s scandalous shame to keep prying eyes from peering too closely into our own skeleton filled closets.

In a world ruled by the court of public opinion, we often settle for being just a little better than the next person. As the joke goes, you don’t have to outrun the bear. You just have to be faster than the slowest person in your group being chased by the bear. We have applied this principle to our moral universe as well. Morality and righteousness is relative, and so long as there is somebody in your circle who will draw more negative attention than you, all is well.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day lived in much the same way. Now don’t get me wrong, they truly did live righteous and morally upstanding lives, obeying every law to the nth degree. There was only one problem. Jesus didn’t evaluate them based on their ability to check all the right boxes on their “How well did I obey the law today” survey. Nor does Jesus evaluate us on our social media feeds or our public persona. (Although, if we are putting others down in the public square and acting like jerks on social media, we best not try to fool ourselves into thinking that our hearts are in the right place.)

Perhaps the cracks in our outward appearance have exposed some deeper concerns in our hearts and souls. The real question is whether or not we are willing to dig up the foundation to get to the root of the problem or if we will just keep plastering over the surface pretending that all is OK inside.

It’s amazing the flaws a few lighting effects can hide on camera, but when all the lights are turned off and nobody else is watching, what does Jesus see inside?

Listen

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THE WAY THAT LEADS TO LIFE - PART 1

Listen
Sunday, March 10, 2019
Luke 9:35, 10:19-24

Then a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, my chosen one. Listen to him!”

Luke 9:35

What brings Jesus joy?

Often we talk about how Jesus came to give us a joyful and abundant life, but I wonder if we have ever stopped to think about what might bring joy to Jesus.

In Luke 10:21, we find Jesus not merely happy, but overflowing with joy from the Holy Spirit and bursting forth in praise to the Father. What’s more, in Jesus’ prayer of exultation, he tells us exactly why he is so filled with joy.

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you’ve hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and shown them to babies.”

Not just Peter, James and John… not even just the 12… but no less than 72 disciples had just returned from the mission Jesus gave to them, celebrating and praising God that even the demons submitted to them in the powerful name of the Lord. These were not well educated religious leaders or teachers. By earthly standards, they were not even close to being qualified for such incredible spiritual work. Yet it was not by the wisdom of the world that they accomplished this great mission, but by listening to and obeying the Word of Jesus and depending wholly on the power of His great name.

What pastor wouldn’t be overjoyed if 72 people showed up to church on Sunday morning talking over with such enthusiasm, not about the basketball or football game or about some recent political debate or news report that got them riled, but instead about the people whose lives were entirely transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit as a result of their faithfulness to the mission of Christ? Whether you worship with 15 or 1500 on Sunday mornings, how might your time together look different if every single person there had even just one story of a genuine “Holy Spirit” encounter during the week?

If this became our weekly routine, I confess I would likely be out of a job. Who needs preaching from one seminary-educated pastor when everyone is proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel revealed to them directly from the wisdom of the Father through their ongoing relationship with Christ and regular revelations from the Holy spirit?

This is admittedly challenging for me because I deeply value my education and am even pursuing further education in the Fall in the Doctor of Ministry Program at Duke. But as some of my seminary professors used to say, “we are the kind of doctors who can’t help you much.” In other words, we can offer plenty of research and valuable information, but our degrees don’t actually “heal” people the way we would expect from a doctor.

Yet perhaps that is the most amazing thing about this week’s text. The people didn’t have to wait for a doctor, or even be able to afford a doctor in order to be healed. Jesus was only one person. He couldn’t physically touch everyone like the blind man or the lepers or even the woman with the issue of blood who crawled through the crowds just to touch the hem of his robe. God has now transferred the full wisdom, power and authority of heaven to these 72 ordinary people whose lives intersect with and touch more needs than Jesus could have ever known in the flesh.

And here’s the best news. It didn’t end with those 72. God is still revealing the wisdom of the Kingdom to foolish little children and spreading the authority of the name of Jesus throughout the world. Will we come to him like that little child, filled with awe and wonder and faith, ready just to listen, to trust, and to obey.

King

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GOD – Part 8

GOD as Sovereign King
Sunday, March 3, 2019
1 Timothy 1:17, 6:11-16

Now to the king of the ages, to the immortal, invisible, and only God, may honor and glory be given to him forever and always! Amen.

1 Timothy 1:17

My daughter loves Disney Princesses. Truth be told, it could be a lot worse. They do teach some great values in life, but one thing I have noticed about so many of the “princess” stories is how foolish the king looks.

Now don’t get me wrong. I do like all of the shows and movies I’m about to describe, but consider just a few examples of how kings are portrayed:

  1. Sofia the First (Disney Junior):

    Sofia is only a child, but somehow she is the only one who can save the day. Not even her older brother and sister are as wise as she. And certainly not her dad. King Roland might as well be the court jester. He is quick to react, to judge, and often to jump to false conclusions. He is always the last one to know what’s going on and by the time he gets involved, the kids have generally already taken care of the situation.

  2. Moana:

    The chief (or king, if you will), rules primarily out of fear and self-preservation. He is unwilling to take risks or think outside the box. The harder things get for his people, the more he digs his heals in to doing things the way they’ve always been done and preserving what little they have. These are hardly marks of bold, strong leadership. But then again, if he was a strong leader, why would we need to send a teenage girl half way across the ocean to save her people?

  3. The Little Mermaid:

    King Triton is portrayed as an unfair and mean-spirited father for trying to protect his 16 year old daughter. Sixteen?! His image only changed when he sympathizes and lets her have her way in the end. Now I ask you, what good and descent father would let his 16 year old daughter run off to another country to get married. Is he really the bad guy here?

It’s hard enough to get past our political idealization of democracy to recognize the authority of a King in our lives. Kings in our world are often viewed as either corrupt or simply the stuff of fairy-tales. And so many of those fairy-tale kings are portrayed as weak, clumsy, clueless, and insecure. Hardly qualities worthy of all honor, glory and praise.

Clearly the images of King we find in our world are significantly lacking. We have forgotten what it means to live in absolute obedience to our ruler. We have forgotten how to honor and revere our leaders, or even what it might look like for a leader to be worthy of our honor or reverence. This cultural amnesia often leads us to reject the sovereignty and authority of God. At the very least, God’s Kingship or Royal status is viewed more like the British Monarchy. Heaven’s throne-room offers a glorious setting for a ceremonial religious figurehead, but little more.

Perhaps we struggle to see God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, not so much because it is not present, but rather because we do not recognize the everyday authority of our Almighty Sovereign King.

  • What images come to mind when you think of a King? In what ways is God’s Kingship different than the images of kings we see on earth?

  • How does your image of serving a King affect the way you relate to God?

  • What would it look like for you to truly honor and revere God as King this week?

“Sing praises to God! Sing praises!
    Sing praises to our king! Sing praises
because God is king of the whole world!
    Sing praises with a song of instruction!

God is king over the nations.
    God sits on his holy throne.
The leaders of all people are gathered
    with the people of Abraham’s God
    because the earth’s guardians belong to God;
        God is exalted beyond all.” (Psalm 47:6-9)

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Judge

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GOD – Part 7

GOD as Righteous Judge
Sunday, February 24, 2019
John 8:1-11, 12:44-50, 1 Corinthians 4:3-5

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Is there no one to condemn you?” She said, “No one, sir.” Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, don’t sin anymore.”

John 8:10-11

We’ve heard a million sermons on how it is not our place to judge. We know what Jesus says about the log in our own eye preventing us from clearly seeing the speck in the eye of a brother or sister (Matthew 7:1-6).

On the other hand, we know that God does judge our actions. This truth is uncomfortable for several reasons.

  1. The idea of judging someone has such a negative connotation that we don’t want to think of God as being “judgmental.”

  2. We know we are saved by grace, not by works, so why would our works be judged?

  3. Jesus says explicitly that he did not come to judge or condemn, but to save (John 3:17, 12:47).

And we’ve only scratched the surface.

In the infamous story of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus demonstrates that he is the only one righteous enough to enact true justice, and in the case of this woman, he declared her “forgiven” (John 8:1-11).

We must be careful not to mistake judgementalism with justice, righteousness and consequences.

God’s judgment is just and true, not judgmental. Where judgmentalism is often subjective, opinionated, condescending and condemning, God’s judgement stands as an objective, factual standard of what is right and good.

Dr. Robert Mulholland described God’s justice like gravity. If we choose to step off the roof of a building, we will fall. We will be hurt. We may even die. This truth does not imply that gravity had anything against us. The laws of nature were not punishing us. Rather, the fall is the natural consequence of our choice to act in a way that is contrary to the laws of nature.

In the same way, when we act against the moral laws rooted in the righteousness and love of God, we are bound to fall. This is why Paul writes that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). God is not out to condemn us, destroy us, or to harm us in any way. God desires that all might come to salvation.

And yet God’s perfect nature stands as a moral standard by which our lives are judged and by which natural consequences result. All sin leads us down a path of death and destruction, whether physical or perhaps emotional, mental, relational or spiritual.

As righteous judge, God forgives our sin, but the consequences of sin are ours to bear.

  • What emotions do you feel when you think of God as judge?

  • How do you see God as a judge in your life? Where do you feel convicted and where do you feel forgiven?

  • In what ways do you try to step into God’s role as a judge over others? How does your judgment of others differ from God’s pure and perfect judgement?

“Judgment will again be founded on righteousness, and all the upright in heart will follow it.” (Psalm 94:15)

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Priest

GOD – Part 6

GOD as Pure Priest
Sunday, February 17, 2019
Hebrews 4:14-16, 9:1-28

Finally, let’s draw near to the throne of favor with confidence so that we can receive mercy and find grace when we need help.

Hebrews 4:16

Priest is not a term we consider very often unless we worship in a more Catholic or Orthodox tradition. For protestants, this title has been all but banned from our language. We see ourselves as people with a direct line to God. The Holy Spirit not only gave us God’s e-mail address, but also inside access to God’s cell number, Facebook account, Instagram, Snapchat, and whatever other social medium God might use to keep up with his beloved children.

Yet the writers of Scripture are clear that we are still in desperate need of a priest. That is why Paul writes to Timothy,

There is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the human Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a payment to set all people free.

1 Timothy 2:5-6a

Father

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GOD – Part 4

GOD as Loving Father
Sunday, January 27, 2019
John 11:18, 5:16-42, 14:1-14

No one has ever seen God. God the only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made God known.

John 1:18

We begin our prayers as Jesus taught us, by saying, “Our Father, who art in heaven…” but if we’re honest, sometimes the Father image of God is one of the most difficult roles to accept.

For so many who grew up with absent or even abusive father figures, it is no wonder they might not be interested in some all-powerful father in the sky. The image of father often brings pain and even trauma in a society where fatherhood is broken in so many ways.

Instead of allowing a broken father experience on Earth to cause rejection of the possibility of experiencing a good Father in Heaven, why don’t we allow for the possibility of a good Father in heaven to heal our memory of a broken Father on Earth?

J.D. Walt, Seedbed Daily Text

Even for those who have good relationships with their fathers, it may be difficult to see the need for another one. My father died when I was 20 and everyone said, “Don’t worry, God will be your father.” The last thing I wanted was an “invisible father replacement.” I wanted my real father back.

We don’t hear God the Father speaking very much in scripture, at least not directly. God typically speaks through prophets and mostly through the Son. We can see the face of Jesus but the face of the Father seems obscured by the light of glory. Even if we wanted to, how can we know this “Divine Father figure” who exists so far beyond our comprehension?

We are not alone in our confusion, our uncertainty, or even our fear around the idea of Father God. Even Jesus’ own disciples didn’t quite get it.

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father; that will be enough for us.”

Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you all this time?

Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I have spoken to you I don’t speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me does his works. Trust me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on account of the works themselves.

John 14:8-11 (CEB)

Regardless of how close or distant your Heavenly Father may seem, I invite you to check out the full sermon below as we wrestle more with what it means to be “fathered by God.”

  • What emotions do you feel when you think of God as father? Joy, pain, sadness, love, hope, comfort, anger, fear, insecurity… etc.

  • How does your relationship with your earthly father affect or inform your relationship with God?

  • In prayer, come as a child to God your Father. What do you want to say to your Heavenly Daddy? What does he say to you? How does it feel to be wrapped up in his embrace?

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,  is God in his holy dwelling” (Psalm 68:5)

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Shepherd

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GOD – Part 3

GOD as Good Shepherd
Sunday, January 20, 2019
John 10:1-16, Ezekiel 34:11-16

[The shepherd] calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. Whenever he has gathered all of his sheep, he goes before them and they follow him, because they know his voice.

John 10:3b-4

Every one of us has most likely experienced a time or even a season in life where we felt hopelessly and utterly lost. I don’t mean that our GPS stopped working and we took a wrong turn. Rather, we have probably had that moment, likely more than once, when we paused just long enough to look at our life and wonder, “How did I get here?” or “Where am I going?” We might have even asked ourselves, “Where is here?” or “Where am I?”

These are existential questions about the meaning and purpose of life, about our journey and the path it has taken us on. Robert Frost wrote that we should consider taking the road less traveled rather than following the crowd, but there are times when we stop and say, “I took the road less traveled and now I don’t know where I am!”

If we’re not careful we find ourselves walking with Jesus and one day we look out from the mountaintop like Peter and John and say, “This is a nice place, let’s just pitch our tent and stay here.” Then Jesus wants to go back down to the valley and we think he’s crazy. Why would we want to go back down there.

It’s safe up here on the mountain. I have a comfortable pew. The light shines so beautifully through the stained glass. All my friends are here. And oh, by the way, did I mention it was safe?

The problem is that Jesus didn’t call us to “stay with him”. He said, “Come, follow me.” As our shepherd, he leads us beside still waters but he also leads us through the valley of the shadow of death. He cares for us in the safety of the sheep-pen but he also leads us out to pastures where we might just run into a few wolves.

Nobody ever said following the shepherd would be easy or safe. As C.S. Lewis puts it, “Of course he isn’t safe, but he’s good.”

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In what ways are you feeling a bit lost or disoriented in your life right now?

  • Where do you sense the shepherd leading you this week?

  • What practical steps would you need to take in order to follow?

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. (Psalm 23:1)

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Redeemer

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GOD – Part 2

GOD as Powerful Redeemer
Sunday, January 13, 2019
John 8:31-36, Romans 6:12-23, Isaiah 43:1-3a

Jesus answered, “I assure you that everyone who sins is a slave to sin. A slave isn’t a permanent member of the household, but a son is. Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you really will be free. 

John 8:34-36

Our baptismal vows or membership vows as a professing Christian in the church are more than a simple statement that we believe in Jesus.

The second vow in the United Methodist Hymnal reads as follows:

Do you accept the freedom and power God give you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

Baptismal Covenant I – United Methodist Hymnal

Likewise, in our confession and pardon we pray:

Forgive us, we pray. Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Confession & Pardon, Service of Word and Table I & II – United Methodist Hymnal

Perhaps it would be more prudent to notice what is not said. We do not simply accept freedom from death and hell. Rather we accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil and injustice of every kind in this life. We do not merely accept a free ticket to heaven when we die. Instead, we pray that God might free us for a life of joyful obedience.

This is not to question or deny the reality of eternal life in Glory of God through the grace of Christ. It does, however, significantly expand our understanding of redemption. Christ did not live among us and die as one of us just to redeem us in death. Jesus himself said that he came to set us free and that he came that we might have life, here and now, and life more abundantly (John 8:36, 10:10).

In Romans 6, Paul declares that we are dead to sin and therefore redeemed from the power sin once held over us. When Jesus says, “Go and sin no more,” he is not giving a command he knows we cannot keep (John 8:11). Rather, as Paul writes:

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13 (NASB)

This verse is not, as many have claimed, a statement that God will not give us more than we can handle. In fact, it is just the opposite. We will face trials and temptations in life far beyond what we are able to handle on our own… but with those temptations, the Holy Spirit will provide a way so that we might endure in the power and all-sufficient grace of our Lord.

  • What does redemption mean to you personally?

  • How have you called upon the power of the Lord to set you free from sin this week?

  • What might be different about the week to come if you began each day by praying, “Lord, set me free for joyful obedience.”?

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so! (Psalm 107:2)

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