Friday, June 26, 2015

1 Corinthians 15:1-8 – The Bones of Jesus (a sermon)

"Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, IF you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me."

February 26th, 2007, CBS News reported, “The bones of Jesus have been found.” “Titanic director James Cameron and Canadian filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici say they aren’t trying to undermine Christianity with their new documentary that claims the remains of Jesus, his wife Mary Magdalene, and their child – have been found. The two men unveiled two limestone boxes they believe once contained the remains of Jesus and His family during a news conference held at the New York Public Library.

Cameron, best known for producing the blockbuster movie “Titanic” said the $4 million dollar documentary doesn’t set out to undermine Christianity. “No…it’s very far from the case,” said Cameron. “What this DOES is celebrate the “real life existence of this man, who, 2,000 years ago had a vision and communicated it to people.”

The report went on to say, “The claim that the bones of Jesus have been found could challenge the Christian belief that Jesus died and was resurrected three days later.”

Now, I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but to say that this documentary “isn’t an attempt to undermine Christianity” – isn’t just disingenuous - it is a bald faced lie. Folks, without the resurrection, there IS no Christianity.

But beyond that - I don’t understand the big mystery here? The Bible has always plainly stated WHERE the bones of Jesus are. The writer of Hebrews tells us those bones are “seated at the right hand of God” … on His throne!

Every so often someone propagates a story aimed at debunking the claims of Christianity. Remember the DaVinci Code? Now it’s the bones of Jesus. Next year it will be something else. Why? Because man knows that the resurrection of Jesus is what sets the claims of Christ and Christianity apart from all other religions. Without the resurrection, the Bible is a farce and we are still dead in our trespasses and sins. So every year or two we will hear a story attacking THIS MOST ESSENTIAL... FUNDAMENTAL doctrine of the church.

The resurrection of Jesus is the Cornerstone of the Church. Well over 300 verses of the Bible support it. We are told that it is a ‘SIGN for unbelievers’ in Matt. 12:38-40. It is the ANSWER for our doubts – Luke 24:38-43. It is the GUARANTEE that the teachings of Jesus are true (Acts 2:22-24) and is the very center of the gospel message itself – Romans 4:24 and 25.

The resurrection provides us with the impetus for evangelism – Matthew 28:18-20, it is the key to the believer’s power to live the Christian life – Romans 6. It is the reason Christians don’t fear death – John 11:25. It is how we know with certainty that Jesus is coming again, Acts 1:11.

And - according to THIS chapter - it is the one doctrine that proves Christians will ALSO be resurrected from the dead.

No chapter of the Bible speaks to the importance of the resurrection like THIS chapter. It is NOT because Paul is trying to convince the Corinthians to believe in the resurrection. They have already accepted it. Instead, Paul emphasizes it because he knows no other doctrine would be MORE excoriated than THIS ONE.

Knowing that our faith would be challenged repeatedly, Paul offers 3 powerful evidences of the resurrection that enable us to successfully defend this doctrine.

We can KNOW that the resurrection is a fact of history by considering the testimony of these three witnesses:

1. First, there is the testimony of the Saints in vv. 1 and 2.

Whenever a case is presented in a court of law, witnesses are called to the stand to either substantiate or undermine the credibility of the person on trial. Since the claims of Christ are on trial, the first witnesses called to the stand are THE VERY ONES who have (a) benefitted FROM the resurrection, and (b) are under attack for believing in it. Paul brings two important points to light:

First is the transforming reality of the resurrection. One way to know that the resurrection is real, is to consider the incredible change that comes over those who believe in it. There was once a time when the Corinthians practiced all sorts of sexual sin, violence, drunkenness and partying… they were sensual – a people polluted by sin – and for that - DESTINED for hell without hope of eternal life.

But all that changed when they placed their faith in Jesus. His resurrection power totally transformed them, as Paul told in chapter 6 verse 11, “and such WERE some of you; but you are washed, but you are sanctified; but you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God!”

One of the greatest proofs that can be offered in defense of the resurrection is all of the lives that have been changed by it!

As I reflect over my OWN faith journey – I remember an 18 year old boy in my High School who was known throughout our little community as a rebel. ALWAYS in trouble. His reputation for violence, drugs and loose living, preceded himself. He came from a troubled home and seemed DESTINED to continue the cycle of rebellion begun by his father a generation before.

But one day I heard a rumor that the young man had given his heart to Jesus. A few weeks went by, and people were talking about the radical transformation that had come over him. Months went by and I heard he was preaching! The next time I saw him, he didn’t even LOOK like the same young man. WHY?? Because the Gospel changes people!

I wonder, folks, has the Gospel changed YOU??

I don’t care how many commentaries you've read or how many verses you've memorized, or how well you articulate the gospel to your friends – your witness means NOTHING if your life hasn’t fundamentally changed!

Don’t you understand??? Your lost friends measure the truth claims of the Bible based on the difference it is making in YOU. When YOU are no different than THEM - when you are just as sensual and profane as THEY ARE - they won’t hear anything you've got to say about Jesus!

But not only do we see the transforming reality of the resurrection, Paul also shows us a TROUBLING reality of the resurrection. Truth is, there are a lot of folks in the church who are “Christian” in name only. They are Professors - NOT possessors. Paul calls it “vain belief” in verse 2. It is troubling to think that there may be people in church who possess “vain (empty… worthless) faith.” Maybe they think going to church, getting baptised, singing the songs and dropping a few dollars in the offering plate is all takes to go to heaven. But unless you have been transformed, all your religiosity is MEANINGLESS.

How about you? It has been said, that "the only Bible some will ever read … the only Jesus some people will ever SEE," is through you? If that is true, what kind of story are they reading? Is it a transforming story or a troubling story?

The first witness called to the stand to validate the resurrection is the Testimony of the Saints.

2. THEN Paul turns to the testimony of the Scriptures in vv. 3 and 4, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”

He is referring to the Old Testament. The prophets of the Old Testament clearly predicted the suffering, death, and subsequent resurrection of Jesus. So, all those skeptics out there who suggest that the resurrection is somehow a new concept or a perversion of the scriptures, only speak from ignorance – the OT predicted the death and resurrection of Christ hundreds of years BEFORE HE WAS EVEN BORN!

You may recall how, after His death and resurrection, there were two unnamed disciples traveling on the Emmaus Road, discussing the terrible tragedy of our Lord’s death on the cross. They were confused and broken hearted. The events of that weekend had taken the faith right out of those men. But Jesus appeared to them and said, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the scriptures.”

During His ministry, Jesus confronted unbelieving Jews who asked for a sign of His Messiahship. He said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and yet NO sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

On the day of Pentecost, Peter, in his sermon where 3,000 men gave their hearts to Christ, quoted Psalm 16, and said that David, the writer of the Psalm, was looking ahead to the resurrection of Christ.

Paul, while standing before King Agrippa, was asked to give a defense of himself, and answered, “And so, having obtained help from God, I stand this day testifying to both small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses SAID would take place; that Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead, He should be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people AND to the Gentiles.”

You see - This teaching was NOT new. For Peter, Paul, and even Jesus Himself quoted prophecies recorded in the OT hundreds of years BEFORE Jesus was even born, substantiating the teaching of the death and resurrection of the Lord.

So TWO witnesses have been called: the Saints and the Scriptures, attesting to the truth of the resurrection. AH but there is one more witness…

3. Paul calls the Skeptics to the stand. It is ONE thing to hear the testimony of those who WANT to believe the message of the resurrection – but that doesn’t make for very compelling evidence. If you are unconvinced, then listen to those who had every reason to OPPOSE the teaching, who had every reason NOT to believe…let’s hear from the SKEPTICS. Notice vv. 5-8, “and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”

The first skeptic called to the stand was Peter – though a disciple and outspoken supporter of the Lord, you will recall how he ran in fear for his life on the night of our Lord’s betrayal – how he denied - not once, but three times, even KNOWING the Lord. A man who would have quit and gone back to fishing were it not for a personal encounter with the resurrected Jesus.

How else would you explain the kind of change that would come over a man who, when asked by a servant girl whether he knew the Lord, cursed and swore he didn’t, but later became such a vehement proclaimer of the resurrection that he would volunteer to be crucified upside down in order to remain loyal to the Lord. How would YOU explain that kind of change? Would a man endure torture and death for what he knew to be a lie???

Or consider James. He too makes the list of witnesses who saw Jesus alive. James was the half-brother of Jesus. During our Lord’s ministry, James thought Jesus had lost his mind and even came to one of His meetings seeking to take Him home. James was embarrassed - a skeptic - but sometime after the resurrection, he became a mighty leader of the church and a man who would write one of the books of the NT. Why else would a man SO radically change his mind, except actually seeing with his OWN eyes his resurrected brother?

Or what about Paul? An ambitious young man – a Jewish zealot who believed he was serving God by stamping out Christianity. He hated Jesus. He hated Christians. He had Stephen, one of the first deacons, stoned to death for preaching the gospel. In fact, he was on his way to Damascus to imprison many more Christians when he met our resurrected LORD, was changed and charged with the responsibility of preaching this message he had his whole life opposed.

Would an enemy of the Gospel willingly perpetuate a lie and say that Jesus, a man he hated, was raised from the dead???

But there were many MORE eyewitnesses. More than 500 people saw Him at one time. And yet ALL of these witnesses, every one of them, proclaimed the exact same message: “He is RISEN!” And for 2,000 years, that message has been changing the hearts and lives of men, women, boys, and girls – for it is indeed, the only message that CAN!

Hollywood can launch its pseudo-intellectual attacks all it wants – but I choose to believe more reliable witnesses …the Saints, the Scriptures, and the Skeptics.

Who will YOU believe?

Maybe you are here today and you have never placed your faith in this resurrected Lord. Maybe you have been trusting in your goodness, your religion, or the fact that you go to church - to get you to heaven. You can’t honestly say that you have completely, ONLY trusted Christ to save you. And today, you have been presented with powerful evidence. What will you do?

No matter what you hear, no matter how persuasive the presentation… NO ONE has found the bones of Jesus...for they - aren’t - here! As the Angel of heaven asked His disciples, “Why do you seek the living among the dead???”

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Father's Day sermon

Psalm 127 – Raising Godly Children in Ungodly Times

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

This is a difficult subject for a preacher to preach – at least THIS preacher – because I live in a glass house and you can see with your own eyes my many faults and shortcomings.

I will be the first to say - I am an imperfect man. I have made many mistakes. Even though I preach God’s truth, I in no wise think I have arrived.

Fact is, I struggle with the very things YOU struggle with. I stand in need of teaching and correction - just as much – if not MORE so - than you. So understand - there is not one - HINT of judgement or condemnation in what I have to say today.

We hold in our hands a marvelously relevant book. God, in His wisdom provides timeless instruction to help imperfect people build happy, healthy, and holy lives.

I BELIEVE in this book.

It HAS changed me. It shows me things about myself – how I often fall short and NEED God’s grace to become what He would have me to be.

I am SO thankful for a wife who has worked with me 29 years to raise a family on the principles and precepts of God’s Word. We have not done it perfectly. We have failed in many ways. But it has been the norm of our lives to obediently follow the instruction of this Book.

Raising Godly children in ungodly times is hard. I once naively thought all you had to do was follow a few basic steps, and VIOLA! your kids turned out perfectly. The problem is, my children are being raised by imperfect parents and live in an imperfect world. And no matter how hard THEY try, they are human and will make mistakes. They will disappoint themselves, me, and yes, even the Lord.

I know what it is to question yourself as a parent... to feel DEEPLY that you have FAILED. You are concerned for your children. You want to be the parent God would have you to be – but often you find yourself at a loss - not knowing WHAT to do.

Tony Campolo, in his book Growing up in America, said, “Today’s parents are bewildered and not quite sure how to do the job. Confused about their role, they look to experts hoping to find clear instruction – but no such luck... the ‘experts’ are just as confused as parents. Sociologists offer conflicting opinions for parents to follow. Opinions about even the most basic aspects of parenting change dramatically from one year to the next.”

Don’t be surprised by the fact that this world has no idea how to raise godly children.

But God does... and His Word has NOT changed. The Bible is our one constant – in a world of confusion and sin. God STILL speaks to the contemporary family with timeless wisdom that will help us be the parents we need to be.

Scholars believe this psalm was written by Solomon, but was not added to the Jewish hymnbook until years later when King Hezekiah, so deeply moved by its words, added it to the Hebrew Psalter. In it, the Lord offers two principles for those who would lead their family in a way that honors God:

1. First we see the Vanity of Building your Home WITHOUT the Lord in vv. 1 and 2: “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved - sleep.”

Solomon knew the PRESSURE of leadership. When he was young, he didn’t have a CLUE as to the cause of his father’s gray hair. He didn’t know the burdens that come with sitting on the throne. He may have day-dreamed, “Someday, I will be king!” But NOW he knows the stress of it all. It’s not all glory and fanfare - but CRUSHING responsibility. If it wasn’t for his relationship with the Lord surely his family would suffer adverse effect. “Without the Lord,” Solomon says, “all our effort is VAIN.”

All your Working is vain without the Lord. Doubtlessly Solomon reflected on all of the construction that took place under his reign. As the House of God rose up out of the ground – the massive stones moved into place – Hiram and his craftsmen working around the clock… how over and over again the builder would consult his blueprints, painstakingly following the guidelines of God.

Never was there a richer temple – made of fragrant wood overlaid with gold, silver, and precious stones.

But Solomon had enough wisdom to see that “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”

It’s STILL true, you know? You can be the benefactor of the greatest education money can buy, you can devote yourself to success and the acquisition of wealth, you can enjoy the very best this world has to offer – but without the Lord – all your working is vain. Without GOD in His proper place in your home - without HIM ordering your priorities and determining your schedule - all your hours spent chasing "the American dream" are meaningless!

Most parents are driven by a desire to provide for their children all the things they had to do without when they were kids. We feel like BAD PARENTS if we can’t buy them all the latest gadgets and cute clothes their friends have. The DESIRE to ACQUIRE drives so many of us. But when your kids leave home and forsake the Lord, you will regret the day you built without the Lord at the center of your home.

Without the Lord, all your WATCHING is vain, as Solomon says, “Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” Maybe THIS is why this psalm meant so much to Hezekiah – for it was one of the basic responsibilities of the King to defend his people against enemy attack.

You may recall that under HIS reign Jerusalem was attacked by the notoriously ruthless people of Assyria – people who would take enemy hostages and impale them on wooden poles around the city as trophies of their military conquests. On the walls around their capital they hung the carcasses of slain generals and kings to act as a deterrent to anyone who dare attack them. It was nothing for the Assyrians to behead enemy soldiers and catapult their heads over the walls of besieged cities to destroy the WILL of their foes.

Sennacherib had stationed his host of battle-tested warriors around the city of Jerusalem - 180,000 strong - and promised a merciless thrashing of the Jews if they did not become his slaves.

Hezekiah’s watchman spent many sleepless nights with their eyes fixed on the enemy, reporting their every move to their king. But in the end, the watchmen could do nothing. Jerusalem would fall WITHOUT the help of God.

What does that have to do with us?

There are enemies that would destroy your family too. As a loving and careful parent you watch over your children. You do everything you can to protect them. You want to know their friends. You want to know where they go. You may EVEN keep track of their social media. But all that watching is vain without the Lord.

Do you hear me? There is only SO MUCH YOU can do. You can’t hold their hands 24/7 - you can’t know everything about the people with whom they associate. Solomon’s point - You can’t do this without God. Which is why you need to train them to take ownership of their faith – why you must bathe them in prayer. Without the Lord, your WATCHING is vain.

Without the Lord, not only is your WORK and WATCH in vain, so is your Worry. We worry about a lot of things, but it accomplishes nothing. Worry is like a rocking chair – it will give you something to do, but it won’t take you anywhere. Worry is a sign that we lack confidence in God.

Some of us spend a great deal of time worrying about our children. But Solomon says, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for He gives to His beloved sleep.” Worry is a tyrant – once it gets the advantage it will rule your thoughts and rob your peace.

His point? You can do everything you can do and it will NEVER be enough – that’s why you need the Lord.

I wonder, friend, are you building your life ON Him? Is He the priority – the reason behind the things you do? Solomon tells us - it is vain to build your home without Him.

2. After showing us the Vanity of building your home WITHOUT the Lord, Solomon describes the Victory of Building your Home ON Him. Notice v. 3: “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”

It’s sad, some of the views people have about family and children. Too many people view kids as a burden… as hindrances to the fulfillment of their personal desires and ambitions.

But according to God, children aren’t BURDENS but BLESSINGS. Three blessings are mentioned here:

First, he refers to children as our Heritage in v. 3. When the Lord builds the home, children are our Heritage. The idea behind the word “heritage” is “heirloom.” An heirloom is something priceless to a family. It says something about WHO they ARE and WHAT they value – something precious handed down from generation to generation.

What better way to view children? Our legacy is not all the possessions we acquire - or the pleasures we enjoy – NO - our children are OUR Heritage.

THEN he refers to children as our Helpers in verse 4, “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth.” I am glad we have a well-trained, well-armed military. I am thankful for laser guided missiles and computer operated drones that can be directed from hundreds of miles away and hit their intended target with lethal precision.

I’m glad we have such sophisticated weaponry… because we have enemies who are ruthless - who want nothing more than to wipe us off the earth.

Solomon knew nothing of that kind of weaponry. But that doesn't mean they didn’t have their own own precision. They had men who could throw a rock with a sling as accurately and deadly as we can shoot a rifle with a scope. They had archers who could split arrows on a target. Lethal technicians... with all the training and discipline they needed to defend their nation against the enemy.

And what is true of arrows is also true of children. They are our weapons against the enemy. Children do not turn out well without training and discipline. Though all kids make mistakes, they are an extension of US just as the arrow is an extension of the archer. It is up to US to aim them right. It is up to us to shape them in such a way as to serve the Lord. It isn't likely that your child will follow Jesus and do His will if YOU aren’t living the life and providing the direction they need.

But not only does he refer to children as our helpers and our heritage, third he describes them as our happiness when he said in verse 5, “Blessed (happy) is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.” There is NOTHING more gratifying than to see your kids loving and serving Jesus! Nothing.

THEN there’s grandchildren.

Someone wisely observed that “grandchildren are God’s rewards for not killing our kids!”

Do you know what a blessing it is to see your children raising THEIR children to serve the Lord??? To hear them teaching their kids the same truths you taught THEM? There's nothing better!

When I look back over the Dankson legacy, there’s not much there. Not many in my extended family are saved. Not many go to church or serve the Lord. It breaks my heart to see my brothers more concerned with making a living than making a life.

That’s the Dankson legacy – til today.  I am determined to do it differently. I am determined to raise a family that loves and serves Jesus even when times are hard. I want a home where the name of God is respected, not reviled. I want my home to be a place of love and acceptance rather than fear and regret. More than anything, I want my kids to go to heaven. I want my grandchildren learning Bible stories and singing about Jesus. I want them serving the Lord. BUT IT WILL NOT HAPPEN if I build my life without Him. Oh but the victory of building WITH Him.

Some of you might be thinking, “But it’s too late for me… my kids are grown… they have their own lives… I can’t do anything about it now.” And that’s where you are wrong. As long as you have breath it’s never too late.

Why don’t you pray, right now, “Dear Lord, help me, in spite of my weaknesses and the failures of the past to be the parent and grandparent you want me to be TODAY. Forgive me for getting caught up in the rat race, for wasting opportunities to do the things that matter... using work or fatigue as my GO TO excuses for neglecting my responsibilities.

Lord, you can “restore the years that the locusts have eaten” – help me to be the man - the woman - my family needs.” Is that YOUR prayer?

Friday, June 12, 2015

What's wrong with my church?? (a sermon from 1 Corinthians 14)

14:1-3 “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.”

Everyone's a critic of the church these days. Everywhere you turn it seems en vogue to put the church down. Even “Christian” TV leads us to believe that there is something lacking in our churches.

Are they right??? Have all the critics hit on something – OR are we simply battling a PERCEPTION problem?

In an article written by Robert Smith, entitled ‘What’s Wrong with this Worship Service?’ we find a possible answer.  He wrote:

“A few years ago, on a business trip, I visited a church near my hotel. Arriving a bit early, I was greeted warmly by the pastor.
Unfortunately, the service was DIFFERENT than what I was used to. The music was not to my taste, the order of service was unfamiliar. “Why would people have a service like THIS?” I wondered. “It really doesn’t help me worship AT ALL.”

I really felt drawn to the pastor though, which made me even more interested in ‘helping him’ with his services. As I met him at the door, he gave me my chance…
“Bob! It was GREAT having you in worship today!” he said. “I hope you liked being with US as much as we liked HAVING you.”
“Your sermon was excellent, pastor,” I replied. (My voice dropped a bit as I said,) “But I HAVE to say, I feel a little different about the REST of the service.”
“Oh?!?! What did you think...” At LAST! This was my opening to share what I had been thinking through the service. BUT as he finished, I realized he added, “What did you think… the LORD didn’t like?” My heart jumped into my throat. He wanted to know what I thought the LORD didn’t like?!?! I was totally unprepared for THAT question.
I cleared my throat and mumbled, “Well, I don’t suppose there was anything the LORD didn’t like. I was talking about ME! But I guess it really isn’t about me, is it???” 
I offered my hand. He smiled, looking into my eyes as if he could read my mind, he said, “Yes, there WAS something in there the Lord didn’t like.” I smiled back, relieved. “And what was THAT?” I asked, expecting him to agree with some of my observations. But he said, “It will come to you.” And with THAT he turned back to those waiting to shake his hand. 
I spent the whole day thinking through every detail I could remember. But I couldn’t find a SINGLE THING the Lord would’ve been upset about. The PEOPLE seemed sincere. The CRYING BABY wouldn’t have bothered the Lord – He LOVES children. Not EVEN the music… I didn’t like it, but the Lord… well… He MAY have. Anyway, I doubt the pastor meant the music, because he probably PICKED IT OUT!

I went to the evening service… not because I expected to hear better, but to ask the pastor again what he meant. I told him how bad it was bothering me and asked him to tell me. With a twinkle in his eye he said, “The Lord will show it to you – just pray about it.” 
I DID pray about it – that night and several times the next day. All at once it hit me. The only thing God didn’t like in that service was... 
MY ATTITUDE - My critical spirit, thinking worship should please ME instead of HIM.
Back in my room, I bowed in shame before the Lord, thanking Him for the pastor’s insight and patience. Most importantly, I promised Him that I would quit being so nit-picky, that I would NOT make church about ME – and that whenever I had the opportunity to worship with others, I would celebrate from my heart instead of being so critical.  
Coincidentally, or maybe NOT, a new love developed in my heart for God’s church.”

Everyone's a critic. Everyone has an opinion about how church should be done – and most often – they are wrong.

The Corinthians had their opinions too. As you read chapter 14 it becomes clear that their worship did not honor the Lord. Though they were faithful to gather - they were missing the point. Church had become a place to be seen. A place of entertainment. Of selfishness and show.

Which begs the question – why do WE come to church? Is it so that we can check-off church attendance from our spiritual ‘to-do’ list? Is it so that we can “get God on our side” because we have some big decision to make or need Him to meet some financial need? Do we come to be entertained or to be made to feel good about ourselves?

Why DO we come to church?  There are several reasons I go to church:

First, I go to church because it is a matter of Obedience! God tells me in His Word that I am to attend church faithfully – and IF I DON’T, I am living in disobedience to Him. Don’t believe for one moment that person who says, “I love the Lord,” or “I believe in Jesus” but refuses to go to church. No sir. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments!” And in Hebrews 10:25, one of those commandments is clear – GO TO CHURCH!

Most of the time, I go to church because I really WANT to. It has nothing to do with obedience – but more out of my desire to meet with the Lord and the Lord’s people. But there ARE TIMES, and I’m just being honest, when I don’t really feel like it – I’m tired. Maybe I’ve been so busy my mind isn’t right. Maybe I have had a tense moment with my family that day. Maybe there is something I would RATHER be doing!

BUT I STILL GO because the Lord told me to. He didn’t say, “When you don’t have anything else going on… or when you FEEL like it…” did He?

Not only is it a matter of obedience, secondly, I go to church because I love the family of God and I need their fellowship as a Christian! I don’t go simply for the preacher – although I really enjoy his preaching :) - I don’t go for the music. No, I go because I love you and regard you as my family. Experience has taught me that I cannot thrive in the Christian life by going it alone. I need the encouragement, support, correction and accountability found in the family of God! I need to receive ministry from you and you need to receive ministry from me. We can pool our resources together and do great things for the Lord that I can’t do on my own!

Third, I attend church because I need Corporate Worship… 6 days a week I can worship the Lord alone - and I should. But on Sunday I have the privilege of meeting with my brothers and sisters and with ONE VOICE we can praise the Lord Who has saved us and made us members of His family. I come here to Worship.

I also come for discipleship – part of following the Lord, an important part, is gathering with other believers to study the Word of God. I need that! YOU need that! We need accountability – we need mentoring. We are surrounded by error on every side. We need a place devoted to teaching the truth.

But not only do I go to church because it is commanded, because I desire to worship and fellowship and grow as a disciple… I want to be a part of the local church because God has chosen to use and bless the church as His organization for getting the Gospel out and reaching the lost. I realize that the church has come under attack. I know we have problems and difficulties to overcome. But I would remind you that the Church is STILL the Bride of Christ – and that Jesus loved it and gave Himself FOR it and He has determined to work through it to accomplish His purposes. I want to be involved in the things God loves and blesses. THAT’S why I go to church!

But the Corinthians didn’t HAVE that attitude. People were secondary to political agendas. Worship took a back seat to showmanship. Love of others was supplanted by love for SELF. So, after showing them in chapter 13 that LOVE is the BASIS, the foundation of ALL that we do in ministry, he shows them how putting that teaching into practice would help them overcome a problem they were having in their church. THAT problem, is addressed in verse 1. There was a controversy about spiritual gifts… namely, speaking in tongues.

Two things need to be pointed out – first, the command to “Pursue love,” means to make the pursuit of love, your highest goal. No matter WHAT we may do – love must drive it. THEN he says, “desire spiritual gifts.” The word “desire” means ‘to have zeal about’ spiritual gifts.

But that zeal is misplaced IF we are only pursuing gifts for the spotlight.

God wants us to be zealous about serving others. To be passionate about ministry. Our labor is worthless without love. Without love, little problems faced in ministry that could easily be overcome, become SO LARGE that they hurt our ability to fellowship, worship, and grow. Without love in our ministry, pettiness and criticism become commonplace – our reputation in the community suffers - the Spirit of God is quenched and grieved! Nearly every problem we face in church is a love problem.

Think about the problems that cripple most churches. From money to some argument about someone hurting our feelings… from modesty issues to music… “So-in-so said such-in-such about me.” “The pastor DIDN’T do THIS or THAT.” “I can’t believe the decision they made!!!”

What IS that??? A love problem. This is what I know – if it is a moral issue, a doctrinal issue, a failure issue, a money issue, whatever it is – if we have love, we can overcome it. But without love, even LITTLE things get blown out of proportion and become a reason to part ways.

The Corinthians had become so interested in the spotlight being on them, that spiritual needs were going unmet. Lost people would come to their church and not understand a thing going on AND would leave their services still LOST. Because of their SHOWMANSHIP, people weren’t getting saved. Spiritual needs in the family of God were being neglected - Man had become the FOCUS of worship – and people were missing out on the purpose of church.

I’m glad I feel things when I worship – but understand something – worship is not about me OR my emotions. It’s not about entertainment or making ME happy. It’s about the Lord - and glorifying Him.

What should I hope to receive when I go to church? Paul answers that at the end of verse 3, “upbuilding - encouragement - and consolation.” As a Christian, I should receive those three things when I attend church.

“Upbuilding” means that when you go to church, you should feel that your spiritual batteries have been recharged for the week. That you are receiving instruction that will help you in your walk with the Lord… nourishment that will enable growth… strength that will help you resist temptation and discouragement. When you go to church, you are being equipped to handle the trials of life.

THEN you should receive, “encouragement.” In other words, you will be encouraged to live right when you go to church. When I hear a message or a lesson from the Bible, there will be times it makes me feel good! BUT, there will ALSO be times when it rebukes me and brings me under conviction. If a preacher doesn’t occasionally step on my toes, then he isn’t doing his job – because the BIBLE isn’t just a cup of cool water to parched lips, sometimes it is a hammer and chisel in the hand of God - cutting away all those areas of my life that are wrong and do not conform to His plan for me. I need to be encouraged to live DIFFERENTLY.

And third, when a Christian comes to church, he ought to receive “consolation.” I’m glad to know that I have a place to come when I am hurting. Maybe it is the grief of death. Maybe disappointment or depression. Church reminds me that I am NOT alone. I belong to a family that envelops me with comfort when I am hurting. I can share my struggles, and you will offer compassion - not judgment. I can share my burdens and know that you will be praying for me.

I can go to my mail box and right when I need it most, will be a card of encouragement from a Christian friend that blesses my heart. A text from my church family when I am down... a casserole when I am sick. And should death invade my family, I know you will be there… why??? Because church is a place to receive comfort.

Will there be times when we miss the boat??? Absolutely. I know there have been times when I was so caught up in my own things and that I wasn’t thoughtful of others. We ALL fail at times. But it ought to be the norm for us to comfort one another through life’s heartaches.

We should never forget WHY we are here, folks. Our church exists to Exalt Christ, to Encourage Christians, and to Evangelize the Community. It’s not about everything going to suit me. It’s not about how I can take my shots at folks who fail me. Or so I can showcase all my talents and impress you or boost my ego saying “Look at what I did!”

I come to have an encounter with God and God’s people, and, in the end, it changes my life.

So let me ask you, do you need ‘life change?’ Maybe you have never accepted Christ as your Savior and Lord. Maybe you have been searching for meaning and purpose and you have not been able to find it out in this world. You’ve come to the right place, my friend – today, you can give your heart to Christ and He will meet your greatest need.

Or maybe you have been a Christian for YEARS, but your attitude hasn’t been right. You’ve been critical, demanding, and selfish. God is speaking to your heart… and you realize you have been focused on the wrong things, and now you need God to change your attitude. Will you bring your needs to Him right now?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

3 Tips for Preachers

Weekly we are inundated with sales brochures, materials, and conferences promoting some new strategy for pastoral success.  While many of these things are helpful, sometimes the message is lost in all their words.  If I could encourage you to make 3 small changes to your preaching, I would challenge you to:

1.  Preach Passionately - You must feel your sermons before you can expect others to be moved by them.  No, I am not encouraging you to turn on the tears like one might flip a light-switch, but I am encouraging you to ask God to ignite a zeal in your heart for the messages you bring.  Feel it.  Let it effect you emotionally.  Lord, deliver us from dry preaching.

2.  Preach Pointedly - Stay on point.  When your people leave they need to have a good grasp of the 'Big Idea' of the sermon.  What is the one thing you want them to remember?  Could they explain in one sentence what the message was about?  What action or step can they take to apply the message? Without a point, the best contextual analysis is lifeless and uninspiring.

3.  Preach Purposefully - Develop a preaching plan... a calendar.  Prayerfully outline ministry objectives and preaching schedules well in advance.  If you cannot produce an annual calendar, in the very least stay 3 months ahead of yourself.  This will give you time to think through your topics/texts strategically. This will help you avoid 'hobby-horse' preaching where we only hit the topics we are particularly interested in.

These three "tweaks" will dramatically improve your preaching.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Our greatest need... a sermon from 1 Corinthians 13:7

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Every day for 20 years, Antonio wrote a love poem to his wife. He had written literally thousands of poems in which he professed his love for her.

But before you think him sweet… at their divorce hearing, he revealed that he didn’t compose these verses to celebrate the joys of marriage, but more to pacify a domineering wife.

The judge granted the divorce, declaring that their marriage had nothing more than the ‘appearance of love.’

Sadly, what that judge said about Antonio’s marriage could also be said of many Churches. Christians have to FIGHT against falling into the selfish patterns of our world. Our calling is to love – with all our being – the God who first loved us – and OTHERS - as we love ourselves. This is KEY to experiencing the joy of our salvation, the peace and blessings of God. Nothing else will do.

Jesus said this world would know we are His disciples by the love we show one another. He also said, “A new commandment give I unto you that you love one another even as I have loved you.” Love for our Christian brothers and sisters is not optional. It is how we PROVE our love for God.

In the interest of obeying Christ, we should ask “What does real love look like?” And for the answer, we turn to the love chapter AND our text, which explains, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” In that one sentence Paul offers four outstanding qualities of love.

1. And we learn FIRST that real love protects. Paul says love, “Love bears all things.” He is painting a picture with his words. The word “bears” comes from a Greek word that literally means “roof.” He is showing us how True love shelters or protects – just like a roof protects a family from storms – love protects us against the storms of life.

It would be easy to love others so long as conditions remain ideal… so long as the the sun is always shining. BUT, the moment life gets hard, all bets are off. To US, love is something we show when conditions are favorable. But according to Paul, love shelters REGARDLESS the weather.

A roof would be of little value if all it did was provide shade in the sunshine but the moment it rained it started leaking. We wouldn’t be satisfied with that kind of a roof. Why then would we settle for a LOVE that is so conditional?

Real love bears up under the storms of disappointment, through the rains of trial, against the winds of discouragement. Real love provides a covering that shields from all extremes – it offers shelter in the worst circumstances imaginable.

We long for this, don’t we? It is one of life’s BASIC needs. We ALL need a place where people will care for us and minister to us and help us cope with the harsh realities of living in a broken world. CHURCH should be a place where people can heal.

While we cannot protect people from the consequences of wrong choices, we CAN offer refuge to them. They need to find in us a people who genuinely care for their well-being and refuse to run away when life gets messy. Love offers even the worst of sinners a place to shelter repentant hearts.

Is our church like that? Do those who turn to us feel compassion or condemnation?

This is what the Christian HOME should be like. The call to “bear all things,” is a call to never stop forgiving. True love keeps seeking the welfare of others even when it is painful to do so.

So I want you to think about your relationships for a moment. Think about the many times you have done loving things for others only to feel used and frustrated when they didn’t respond in the way you THOUGHT they SHOULD. Think about that spouse who neglects - the child who rebels – or that Christian who seems bent on destroying himself.

Does your love “bear all things?”

2. But not only should love Protect, it should also be Positive, as Paul explains, “Love believes all things.” There are at least two possible meanings to that statement:

First, real love is not cynical or suspicious. It takes the high road – it anticipates the best possible outcome when it suffers wrong. Love moves us to look for the best in people.

Here’s what I mean – whenever we feel hurt or see someone do something we don’t understand, we often jump to conclusions about them – we get angry and find fault with them, and assume the worst about them. We are suspicious of their motives and take things in the worst possible way.

THEN we get OTHERS involved and say, “Let me tell you what so-in-so did…” like the situation EVER has a chance of improving with us gossiping about it – and what makes matters even WORSE – we force others to choose sides.

You will be much happier in life and much more pleasant to be around if you will make the effort to be less cynical. You say “But, it’s my personality and others just need to get over it.” No – its sin. God would have us believe the best about people.

But even more than that, Paul may be giving us insight into WHERE the ability to love comes from – it comes from our faith in God – His work in our lives. Our ability to love others comes from HIM filling our hearts and helping us love with his love.

Without faith in God, love quits and dies. Our love will not survive the disappointments or injuries of life unless we allow God to love people through us. HE is the source – therefore, the inability to love like we ought is a clear reflection of our spiritual condition before Him!

Paul said in Romans 5, “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” Only through the help of the Lord can we love like we ought.

What will keep us serving the Lord when things get hard or discouraging? Our love for God and each other.

What will help you forgive someone who hurts you, whether intentional or unintentional? Your love.

What will keep you pushing along when you feel unappreciated and overworked? As Paul said, “The love of Christ constrains us.” No other motivation is necessary!

In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers said, “If we are devoted to the cause of serving others, we shall soon be crushed and brokenhearted… but if our motive is ... no ingratitude can hinder us from serving...”

So, ask yourself, is your love positive? Do you assume the worst or the best about people? Do you find yourself pushing through or quitting when life gets difficult?

3. Third, not only does love protect and is positive, it is also Prayerful, indicated by the words “hopes all things.” Even when belief in a loved one’s goodness is shattered, love still hopes. As long as God continues to touch hearts, I must believe that human failure is never final… that people CAN change.

The parents of a backslidden child know what I am talking about.

That wife with an unbelieving husband, knows what I’m talking about.

The church with members who have gone astray understands what I am talking about.

Love refuses to take failure as final. As long as there is life – there is hope. Real love hopes because we, of all people, understand what God can do in a person’s heart.

Hope moves us to pray and NOT give up. We've seen God move too many times. We’ve seen Him answer too many prayers for us to lose hope. As the psalmist cried out to God in psalm 39, “My hope is in you, Lord.” Paul also wrote, “Hope does not disappoint.” Peter said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has begotten us again unto a living hope!”

Hope is God’s gift to those who trust Him. As long as I am breathing, there is hope for my relationships no matter how frustrated, disappointed, or hurt I may be – because God still hears, still saves, and still restores. Rather than take matters into my OWN hands, I must keep trusting He will work things out for His glory and my good. THAT – is love.

4. And then finally, real love perseveres. Paul said, love “endures all things.” He uses a military term for troops holding their position. When in the heat of the battle, a good soldier endures – he holds his position regardless the hardship because of his loyalty, his concern for his fellow soldiers.

I must hold FAST too – because you are counting on me and I care about you.

It is a term that means “to remain under the load.” Love doesn’t collapse under the weight of obligation. It was LOVE that kept Jesus on the Cross when men hurled insults and shouted for Him to “come down from that cross if He really was the Son of God” – it was his love for us that made Him “remain under the load.”

It’s the kind of love that kept Paul shepherding the Corinthians though they resisted his leadership and attacked his character.

It is the kind of love you demonstrate to a spouse who doesn’t meet your needs.

It is a love that refuses to look for a way out…that refuses to quit or give up… that perseveres in ‘all things.’

A love that can’t be tested is a love that can’t be trusted. A love that runs away when circumstances aren’t ideal isn’t REAL love. Stop telling yourself that you deserve better treatment – keep persevering.

YES there are risks to this kind of love. You will most certainly be taken for granted. But real love protects, stays positive, prays, and perseveres.

Yes, you will be hurt. This kind of love led Christ to a cross even when all his followers fled in the night. He kept on loving until his last breath. And remember what He told US? “Love one another as I have loved you!”

If the question of your heart is “Where can I find such love?” I've got good news for you. Jesus loved you before you were born. He loved you while you were away from Him living in sin, living for yourself. He loved you enough to die for you even though HE KNEW you would fail. And even now, He wants to come into your heart, forgive you of your sin, and make you new.

Will you trust Him? Will you give Him your hurts and your heart and let Him forgive you and live IN you? We are going to give you that opportunity in just a moment.

OR maybe you are struggling to love others with the kind of love you see in this passage. You recognize that you haven’t been the mate, the parent, the church member or friend that God has called you to be. Recognizing it is a good place to START. But NOW you need to DO SOMETHING about it. Will you ask God to help you love the way you should?