Month: October 2011

It’s Not Me.

I haven't done this yet, but it is a constant fear.

Last week, a couple of people called me out. I was taking something personally that I shouldn’t take personally. And it’s true: Especially when I’m meeting someone for the first time, when they reject my invitation to come to church, it’s not me they’re rejecting. They’re rejecting Christ. (Assuming that their reason for rejecting isn’t that they have found and regularly worship at a different church home.)

Why should I be offended? Even if they hurl invective at me (which has happened rarely, thankfully), it’s not as if I’m the one who they’re hurting.

Jesus spoke pretty plainly in the Gospel lesson this past Sunday: “All men will hate you on account of me.” (Sermon to be posted soon!) Why should I expect any different? When Christ speaks through me, people will hate me. Not merely dislike or avoid; this is hate. And they will be hating me —

— but they’ll be doing it because of Christ. And, really, let’s look at Jesus’ life. He never did anything wrong. He reached out in love. He wanted to save a dying race. And what was the response? They murdered the Lord of Life.

Why should I expect any different? (more…)

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Which one are you?

Matthew 21:28-32

 

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

29 “ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

 

Which one are you?

  1. The first son or the second son?
  2. The Pharisee or the prostitute?

(more…)

“I’ll be there.”

Yes or no -- and keep your word!

I’m used to excuses. I mean, really. I’m a pastor. People are compelled to give me excuses for not being in church, whether or not my reason for visiting has anything directly to do with worship attendance. It’s the way of things. Besides, I happen to be human, too. Humans are experts when it comes to giving excuses, and I’m no exception.

I’m also used to “probablies.” I’m very accustomed to hearing things along the lines of: “I’ll probably be in church.” “I’ll try to get there.” “I plan on showing up.” I know to not expect people who say such things; they hedge so they have a way out. The sinful nature of such people is wiggling and squirming to get away from God’s Word. I expect this.

What I’m still not used to is people actually saying, “See you on Sunday, Pastor!” and never showing up. This happens far too often. I suspect such people really do plan, at that moment, to attend worship on Sunday. Ah, but then life gets in the way. Or, rather, the birds come and eat the seed on the path, stealing it from their hearts.

But more and more I’m coming to understand that there’s something else going on. These people have learned that giving a positive affirmatino of worship attendance is what the pastor’s after, so they give it to get rid of him. Once pastor’s left the house, they can go back to their daily life without worrying about him coming in and messing things up. After all, that’s what pastors do. They bring in God’s Word and point out this or that and suddenly life is changed and we don’t like change.

Frankly, it ticks me off. I’d rather have a “probably” than a flat out deception.

Do I call them on it when they don’t come to worship? At what point do I bring the third commandment to bear — at what point do I say that by their actions they are despising God’s Word?

Sigh. So much to learn yet.

The Lord is Judy’s Shepherd

Funeral sermon given Oct. 20, 2011.

Psalm 23

1      The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

2        He makes me lie down in green pastures,

he leads me beside quiet waters,

3        he restores my soul.

He guides me in paths of righteousness

for his name’s sake.

4     Even though I walk

through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

5     You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

6     Surely goodness and love will follow me

all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

forever.

The LORD is Judy’s shepherd.

  1. He guided in paths of righteousness
  2. So Judy is dwelling in the house of the LORD forever. (more…)

The Joy of Death

 

Tomorrow I will officiate at my first funeral. Practically speaking, it’s a perfect situation for a first funeral. The woman is an old member of the church that transferred down to Florida a number of years ago because of her health. She often gave witness to her faith in both words and actions, both here before she moved and down in Florida. She wanted to be buried “back home,” though, so when she was called home to heaven, the family moved to obey her wishes.

That means that my first funeral:
1) is for a believer. There’s no doubt where she is: in heaven!
2) is for a church member in good standing. There’s no question that I can in good conscience and good order preside at the funeral.
3) is someone I’ve never met, meaning I won’t be distracted with strong direct emotions.

That’s not to say I don’t care; this woman is the mother of a congregation member I’m close with. There will be tears, I expect, and I expect that they will be contagious. However, because I didn’t know this person directly, I can concentrate on speaking words of comfort to others without having to comfort myself. I can concentrate on bringing the Gospel to those who desperately need it.

And it means I can concentrate on where she is. I, personally, don’t have the sense of loss that those who persoanlly knew her currently have. I’m not passing through the grieving process here. My heart is with those who grieve, but as one who is not caught in the bonds of missing her, I can point as much as possible at the comfort that only Christians have: She is home. She has been taken home, out of this world and to a mansion prepared by Jesus.

As I serve as a pastor, I know I can expect to officiate at the funerals of those who are close to my heart. I know that while I grieve I will be speaking words of comfort. These times are coming (and possibly soon). I pray I’ll be able to effectively speak the comfort of the Gospel then, too.

But for right now, I’m glad that in my inexpeerience I get a “practice round” of speaking that comfort. It is a real funeral and the people here need to be reminded of what the pastor down in Florida has also told them: their loved one is safe in Jesus’ arms. And I get to concentrate on giving that comfort.

What a blessing!

Forgiveness Changes Us

Ephesians 4:29-5:2

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. 5    Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

God’s forgiveness changes us.

In the first couple hundred years after Jesus lived, Christians suffered terrible persecutions. Churches had to meet secretly. If the Roman government caught them, they could be tortured. Children would be taken away and given to other families. And those who refused to give up their faith would be killed. In fact, the Roman government paid a rather nice reward for anyone who reported Christians.

Imagine we are living then. Someone visits our congregation. He attends for a few weeks. He hears about Jesus. He hears about how much of a sinner he is, and how Jesus loved him anyway and gave himself up to take away those sins. And then this visitor reports our congregation to the Roman government. Over the next few days, many of your closest friends are arrested and taken away. You, somehow escape. He never reported you. Soon you gather together with the other survivors. Your pastor is gone. Some of your closest brothers and sisters have been carried away.

And to this meeting… comes the traitor. He weeps. He says that he is sorry. He confesses his sins. He begs forgiveness. Yes, he came to the congregation the first time so that he could get the reward the Roman government offered. But while he was there… the Holy Spirit created faith. And ever since he handed everyone over, he has been wracked with guilt. He begs your forgiveness. (more…)

Yep. Still Laughing.

When I received my call and discovered there had been little to no directed evangelism conducted by my congregation for roughly a year, I did not plan to remedy the situation immediately. I planned to get to know the congregation, develop a prospect list, and start visiting those who did not yet know their Savior. I did not plan to pursue any kind of membership course until after Christmas, which would give me time to learn the community and, even more important, my congregation.

Yeah. God must be laughing pretty hard.

Two women approached me in the last month, asking to take membership courses. Who am I to say no? So I cast about, seeing if there was anyone else ready to pursue some more biblical learning. For the most part I applied a light touch; this would not be the last membership class I planned on teaching. If someone said no now, I could always return next time.

Last Monday, five members and five people who are not members came to attend the first session of HiStory Matters. I am actually expecting more people to come tomorrow. (more…)

When I Rejected the Gospel

This is the manuscript of the sermon I actually preached. It’s a good deal shorter and, in my opinion, much clearer on the matter. What do you think?

Galatians 2:11-21

 

11 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12 Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

15 “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ 16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

17 “If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. 19 For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

 

When I rejected the Gospel

 

Before certain men came from James, [Peter] used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. (Galatians 2:12)

I am Peter.

It’s just tradition. It’s the way it’s always been. So what’s the big deal? Just go with it. As far back as anyone can remember, Jews and Gentiles don’t mix. We just don’t eat together. We’re not saying they’re worse than us, it’s just, you know, we don’t eat together. So it’s not that big a deal if I go back to the traditions. I mean, I showed that Gentiles aren’t that bad by eating with them before. And here’s a group of Jews that love their traditions. So I’ll go back and keep the traditions. It’s just easier this way.

Besides, if I don’t keep the traditions, if I don’t go back and do things the old way, they’ll cause all sorts of trouble here. They’ll accuse me of not being a Christian. They’ll say that Christians are supposed to act a certain way. That we’re supposed to keep all those old traditions. And it’s better that I don’t make waves. It’s better that I keep the peace. And it’s just tradition. What does it matter? (more…)

When St. Peter Rejected the Gospel

This is the first version of the sermon – after a third revision. I was displeased with it. I’ll post the final, totally reworked version in a day or two.

 

Galatians 2:11-21

 

11 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12 Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

15 “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ 16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

17 “If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. 19 For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

 

When St. Peter rejected the Gospel

  1. Why would he?
  2. Who would dare correct him?

(more…)

Sermons that Live

Not for eating, kids. Play-Doh is serious stuff. Only use it to illustrate Scriptural truths.

Sometimes my sermons get… creative.

Last week the sermon was on a section from Galatians that said we can’t add anything to Jesus. He did it all, we did nothing. To expect otherwise would be to expect Play-Doh to help in sculpting itself.

So, the entire sermon I had Play-Doh up there with me, using it to demonstrate and illustrate. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from it.

And then I looked at the text for this week: Galatians! And the main point seemed to be pretty close to what I’d preached on the Sunday previous!  Ack! What to do?! (more…)