December 27, 2015
"Serving Christ in 2016" Matthew 25:34-40
I think this is an appropriate passage of Scripture for us to look at as we come to the end of the year, and prepare for a New Year.
The reason I say this is that I believe that Jesus is calling us to dig a little deeper in our service to others. I know I get frustrated at trying to help people who won't help themselves, people who blame others for their problems It's always someone else's fault when the truth is if they would look in a mirror they would see where the fault lies.
But yet we just read in black and white that if we feed someone who is hungry then it's just like we fed Jesus. But there is another verse, 2 Thessalonians 3:10, that says: The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat. So what do we do?
Several years ago I asked my friend who works for the Salvation Army, You know you are getting taken advantage of by a lot of people Right? He said, I would rather get taken advantage of ten times then let one person fall through the cracks who really needs the help.
We are to invest in those persons who have nothing to eat or drink, those who are naked and sick, those who are strangers or imprisoned--those who probably will not increase the amount that we get in the offering plate."
"Those who won't help us repair the window, pay the light bill or get me a raise. But the payoff is worth so much more than all that" J
The payoff is that whatever we have done for our fellow human beings--we have done it for Christ!!!
And this is what I believe God is calling this Church to do What He is calling us each to do.
We are to feed the hungry in our neighborhood and community, we are to visit those who are sick and in prison, we are to clothe the naked, we are to give a drink to the thirsty.
We are called to rescue the perishing, care for the dying, snatch them in pity from sin and the grave; Weep o'er the erring one, lift up the fallen, tell them of Jesus the mighty to save.
I didn't go into the ministry to get rich I went into the ministry to try and make a positive difference in this world--in order for my life to count for something good.
To make a positive difference in this world we need to be faithful to Jesus Christ And being faithful to Jesus Christ means that we forsake the direction our lives were going for the sake of our love for God and our neighbors.
Remember when Jesus was asked what the most important commandment is?
His answer was "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind...and...You must love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands."
Isn't that what the verses we read together are all about?
It's about loving God and loving people And the two can't be separated.
Whatever we do for others, we do it for Jesus.
Whatever we don't do for others, we don't do for Jesus.
This is the prophetic message of the Church: When we read the prophets of the Old Testament, we are confronted with this same powerful message.
Amos, writing in the 9th century before Christ, railed against the abuses of the ruling class in light of the extreme poverty in Israel.
Jeremiah continually reminded the people that justice was measured by how they treated the widows, orphans, and the foreigners in their land.
Isaiah spoke about a messiah who would come and stand up for the poor and oppressed.
And of course Micah exhorted the people to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
Love in action is at the core of the prophetic message.
Amos even took on the religious festivals, the special offerings, and the religious services to God--because the love of the people had grown cold.
Speaking for God he declared in the 5th chapter of Amos I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. 23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. 24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
Jesus reminds us that we are to serve the least of these, and in doing so we are serving Christ.
James continues this prophetic message when he writes: Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.
It is not enough to "say" we are Christians and then to keep running after the world--running after fool's gold.
It is not enough to hear the words of Jesus or just carry a Bible around with us and not hear the cry of the needy.
It is not enough to say you believe in what the Bible says. Christian faith is a call to action.
Christian faith believes that God wants something better for God's creation.
Christian faith is a call to a radical new life.
Christian faith comes by faith in Jesus Christ alone Yet it is shown to by the way we live, as individuals and as a Church. Jesus said: If you love Me, keep My commandments.
Jesus was scorned for hanging out with the social outcasts, for healing on the Sabbath, for loving the "least of these."
The first step in serving the needs of others is that we need to develop an awareness of the needs of those around us.
It's not always easy for us to see the needs of people around us, though. If we really want to become the kind of people who minister to the needs of other people, we have to develop a consciousness or awareness of those around us who have needs.
And I'm not just talking about physical needs here. Those are often easy to spot. But people have emotional and spiritual needs, too. And those are usually much harder to discern.
The church has a history of followers who through the ages have sacrificed in the name of Christ for others, to make the world a better place--because they love God and try to love their neighbor as they love themselves.
Our challenge is to be the Church which lives according to Christ's teaching today--here in Mercer County.
God had compassion on us. He looked at our miserable state and made a conscious decision to help us up out of the muck and mire to save our souls.
That's what compassion is all about. It's seeing someone else with a need and then being willing to do whatever we can to help the person with his or her need “ not because the other person deserves it, but because God has put us in a position to help with those needs.
He has put us into the life of another and he has provided us with resources that we can use to meet those needs. True compassion is not just an emotional feeling; it's an act of the will. It's a decision on my part to serve the needs of another regardless of how I feel about that person.
What will that look like in 2016? I don't know you tell me Better yet Show me!
December 13, 2015
Christmas is Coming and so is Jesus! Revelation 22:7-13
Okay we are going to start with a little audience participation
On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the most and 1 being the least, how prepared are you for Christmas?
Christmas preparations can really wear us out So next question on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being totally exhausted, and 5 being fully energized, where's your energy level as you prepare for the Christmas holiday?
Final question “ If Santa were to rate you this Christmas as to whether you have been naughty or nice, with 5 being an angelic little darling and 1 being a rotten little devil, where would you rate yourself?
If you live in America today Just by looking around anyone with a pulse can tell you what time of year it is.
We hear the ads on the radio and TV, we see the lighted houses and buildings, and decorated yards in our neighborhoods, not to mention the displays inside every store remind us that Christmas is coming in case we've missed all the other signs.
All of this happens to tell us to get prepared for Christmas. Don't get caught without just the right gift “ the right decorations “ the right treats and goodies.
But what amazes me about all this fanfare leading up to Christmas is the contrast it is to the very first Christmas a little over 2000 years ago.
Who, do you think was fully prepared for the first Christmas? Were the stores that day full of last-minute shoppers in search of holiday gifts? Were the houses decked out with twinkling dÃ©cor? Did anxious children find it hard to sleep that night? My guess is the answer to all the above is No.
But the first Christmas was not without its own signals and signs dating back a few centuries. The prophets had predicted a coming Savior, the Messiah, who would be born of a virgin, from the ancestral line of David, born in Bethlehem “ all Jews, even the marginally religious “ had known such things from the time they were toddlers.
And yet on the eve of the very first Christmas life pretty much went along as usual. People came home from work and cleaned up for dinner. Children played in the dusty streets until time for bed. Ho-hum, life goes on.
Except, perhaps for those who still had to comply with that crazy census. The one Caesar had ordered. For those who still needed to register, their minds were occupied with getting to their home-town, if they didn't still live in it, filling out the necessary documents and going home. One young couple arrived in Bethlehem on just such a mission.
Jesus was born in a stable and placed in manger Who really knew? Some angels woke up some shepherds to tell them the news. Luke 2 mentions a couple of folks Anna and Simeon.
Some wise men were intrigued by a strange star and started following it.
But apart from these folks, no one else really seemed to notice the first Noel. Jesus came into the world, and though many had been waiting for him, few noticed his arrival.
The first Christmas might have been easy to miss. But the subsequent ones in our lifetimes are practically impossible to overlook.
Twice in the verses we read together Jesus said Look, I am coming soon! (Revelation 22: 7,12)
I wonder have we done more to prepare for the celebration of a past event than we have to prepare for His future coming?
In other words do our efforts to observe his birth surpass our attention to the details of being ready for Him to come again?
After all, Christmas preparations, if you boil them down, are pretty basic: decorate, purchase gifts, wrap the gifts, make plans with the family, attend a church service, cook, eat, and clean up.
I know there are a lot of other traditions that make Christmas far more elaborate and far more busy. But really, you and I would essentially be ready for Christmas if we just gave attention to those things. And even if we're not ready, Chris'as is still going to come.
I wonder if we can apply what we know about getting ready for Christmas to be ready for Jesus to return?
At Christmas we are alert and watch for sales. We receive wish lists and we watch the ads for good deals. There's still time to be prepared, because we know Christmas is coming soon.
Being alert and watchful helps us get ready to observe an event that has already taken place. But Jesus said, that to be ready for him to come again, this is also what we should do
Matthew 24:42 says: Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.
Christmas is December 25 every year easy to keep track of. What day will Jesus return? We don't know. The key is to be alert all the time. Constant attention needs to be given all the time, because it could be any moment.
Which leads us to the second item to keep in mind
At Christmas children are told they should be good. The prospect of Santa coming spurs them on toward good behavior.
The prospect of Jesus coming back should do the same for us. 2 Peter 3 says: You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.
So we ought to live holy and godly lives. Don't get too attached to this world. It's not home “ we're just a passin' through.
Next thought At this time of year we say, Merry Christmas a lot. We encourage each other to have a nice holiday celebration.
Christians can do the same as we prepare for Jesus' 2nd coming. Hebrews 10:25 says: But let us encourage one another “ and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Encourage each other. Remind each other “ Jesus is coming soon.
Lastly, if we're going to be ready for Jesus to return We should persevere.
There is a lot to get done for Christmas. Come home exhausted from shopping, fighting traffic, driving in this horrible weather “ but you get it done. You persevered. Now you're ready to celebrate.
Listen to what Paul tells Timothy about the Christian life.
Fight the good fight of the faith I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.1Timothy 6:12,14
Persevere. Don't give up.
You'll be tempted to think, it's not worth it.
You'll be tempted to think, Jesus isn't coming back.
You'll be tempted to turn away.
You'll be tempted to take your eyes off of Jesus while you wait.
You'll be tempted to make a compromise here or there because it's been a long time already, and Jesus hasn't come back yet.
But don't give in to those temptations. Persevere. What's the best strategy for life-long perseverance? Remember that He's coming soon!
Those are the basics “ to be prepared for the return of Jesus.
It's never too early to start getting ready. Because even if we're not fully prepared, Christmas is coming and so is Jesus!
November 29, 2015
Rescue The Perishing Luke 8:26-39
An experienced pastor was asked to speak at a large conference. He wanted to impress the crowd so he came up with an idea. He decided to have a young inexperienced preacher preach before him He reasoned that since the young man was not expecting to preach a sermon that he would do poorly and that would make his sermon seem that much better.
He spotted a young preacher sitting near the front. He called the young man forward and asked him to preach to the conference.
The young preacher was terrified and asked What should I say? The seasoned preacher calmly replied, Just tell them whatever the Lord lays on your heart.
With knees shaking and praying for a miracle the young preacher approached the pulpit and his eyes beheld a miracle. There on the pulpit was the outline of a sermon.
So he started to preach it. It was an excellent sermon. The crowd was amazed. But when the young man was finished preaching the older preacher was outraged Those were my sermon notes, he said. I have to preach to the conference in ten minutes. What am I going to say? The young preacher replied, Well sir, just tell them whatever the Lord lays on your heart.
This morning I want to share some things that are on my heart. On July 1st of 1990, I stepped behind this pulpit for the first time. 1,300 sermons later I am still committed to see this church grow both numerically, but more importantly, spiritually because a large church that is spiritually dead is worse than no church at all.
Our church is busy we are busy keeping the machinery running but are we busy winning new converts to Jesus Christ?
Some experts believe that the typical pastor spends 97 percent of his time in the nurture of members. They are laboring in pastoral care, administration, teaching, and preaching to those who are already members of the church.
Ernest Hemingway is reported to have said, " never confuse motion with action." Christians are good at making motion. What we desperately need is a little action.
And it's not just social action we need. Somehow we got the idea that our good deeds would automatically draw people to a commi'ent to Jesus Christ. Yet providing social service is not the same thing as offering the gift of salvation.
Now don't miss my point. I'm in favor of outreach ministries. We are commissioned to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, and generally help those who are less fortunate. That is our sacred responsibility.
The problem is not that we help the poor. The problem is that we don't help them enough. You see we think our responsibility ends when we give a person bread to eat. But the church is not only called to give bread to the hungry we are also called to give them Jesus who is the bread of life.
I know Mercer County is a tough mission field. Most people in Mercer County believe in God I mean they sing "Silent Night" at Chris'as time, and wear crosses around their necks, and have crosses tattooed on various body parts and click Like on FB when it says Like this post if you love God. ..But in Keithsburg and across our county on any given Sunday, the vast majority of people are not in church.
Our world is desperately hungry for the power of God's love. It was the same in Jesus' day. In the verses we read together Jesus has traveled outside his homeland. This story is about a foreigner and it's about a man who appears insane. His family can't keep clothes on him. He runs around naked with a wild look in his eye shouting, What have you to do with me Jesus?
Now, if you we're going to look for new converts for this church, you probably wouldn't start with this man. You would probably invite people to church who look like you. You would invite your neighbors or your friends from work. You would invite members of your family. You probably would not start your evangelistic efforts with a crazy foreigner.
But Jesus is in the human transformation business. He believes people can change. He wants to be a part of their new birth. With compassion and power, He set this man free from the demons that possessed him. He gave him the gift of new life.
That did not please everyone. The locals politely asked Jesus to leave. You see we are often more comfortable with our craziness than with new life in Jesus Christ. But the man who was cured didn't see it that way. He became an evangelist. He ran around telling everyone what Jesus had done for him.
Can you see that same thing happening here in Keithsburg? Are we open to that kind of transforming power? The answer lies in you.
The answer lies in individual church members allowing God's power to so fill them with God's presence that they have something in their heart that they have to share with other people.
You see We can't give away something we don't have. We have to be transformed spiritually, before we can offer others the gift of transforming love. To put it simply, what we need are more genuine encounters with the living Christ.
We need to be more concerned about loving, caring, and including people than we are about judging, rejecting, and excluding them. Jesus did not turn his back on a crazy, naked foreigner, and neither should we turn our backs on anyone.
Jesus was far more concerned about getting people into the church than in keeping people out. He welcomed everyone.
God is with us and God is still in the transformation business. God can still make us whole. And when we learn to love and care about all people the way Jesus cares about us, I believe God will fill the Church with new power and we will be amazed at what God can do with us and through us.
I know I've told you this story before but in 1993, following the flood, I announced that we were going to build a new church building and that we were going to do it with out borrowing any money. As we were leaving church that day an angry woman met me at the back door and said in a loud voice, You're crazy! Silly me I took it as a compliment.
I am reminded of a song written by Paul Simon called Still Crazy After All These Years Yup, I'm crazy enough to believe that the best days of the Keithsburg Christian Church are still a head.
I'm also reminded of another song written by Fanny Crosby called, Rescue The Perishing.
Rescue The Perishing, care for the dying, Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave. Weep o'er the erring one, lift up the fallen, tell them of Jesus the mighty to save. Rescue The Perishing, care for the dying, Jesus is merciful Jesus will save.
November 1, 2015
Follow God's Example Ephesians 4:29 - 5:1
Last night, children all over America went "Trick Or Treating" dressed up as somebody. Some of those kids dressed up in funny costumes, and others put on scary outfits. But a lot of kids dressed like somebody they admire or a character they'd like to be like.
There were a lot of Spidermen, Ninja Warriors, Transformers, and Paw Patrol seemed to be popular this year. Kids often choose those costumes because they'd like to be like that hero/heroine.
Now Paul tells us that the greatest hero we can have is God. Follow God's example Be imitators of God he says.
I recently read about a kid who told his mother he wanted to dress up like God for Halloween.
Like God? She said how would you dress to look like Him?
Oh he said I'd put on a white robe, and a beard and I'd wear flip flops.
So is that what Paul meant when he said we should Follow God's example? Should we all start wearing robes and flip flops? (pause) I don't think so. Follow God's example has less to do with our wardrobe and more to do with our hearts.
Besides, we already bear a resemblance to God. Back in Genesis 1:26 God said, ˜Let us make man in our image, in our likeness '" We bear a strong resemblance to our Heavenly Father but sin has marred that image.
Imitating God goes deeper than wearing a robe and flip flops.
The Greek Word for imitate is mimetes from which we get our English word mimic.
So Paul is telling us to mimic God - to imitate how God behaves, not how He dresses. How can we imitate God?
Well, first Paul tells us we need to imitate God's love.
Look again at Ephesians 5:1-2 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 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 has set us an example of how to love. In I John 4:10 John tells us This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
In the next verse of that chapter, John says since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. I John 4:11
In fact, 1 John 4:8 declares Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
That's what we ought to do as Christians! We ought to love one another. But, oddly enough, we can have a hard time loving others. In fact, it's such a difficult issue for us mortals that the Bible spends a great deal of time telling us to do it.
One poem described the problem this way:
To dwell above with saints we love,
That will be grace and glory.
But to live below with saints we know;
Well, that's a different story!
Paul writes Be imitators of God and live a life of love Why do we have such a hard time loving others?
Because we fail to imitate God's holiness.
In Leviticus 11:44 God declares "Be holy, because I am holy."
God calls for His people to live holy lives.
Back in 2006, Barna Researchers found that only 1 in 4 believers thought they were holy.
But no matter what they believe “ if they are truly Christians - they ARE holy. The Bible tells us that once we are baptized into Christ, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside us. That makes us holy.
To be holy simply means to be ˜set apart' (saint, and sanctified come from the same root word).
God has made us holy (set apart) now you and I need to reflect that set apartness in how we live. We need to live differently.
Which means we may have sinned in the past, but we accept that it was a bad idea. We make no excuses we ask forgiveness and move on because we've determined that we will try not to live in sin any longer.
Back in 1980 New York City Mayor Ed Koch appeared on a local news program in the middle of the city's financial crisis. Koch had spent over a quarter of a million dollars to put up bike lanes in Manhattan, and they turned out to be a disaster. Cars were driving in the bike lanes, pedestrians were walking in them, and bikers were getting crowded out. It was a mess and many people in New York were irate about it.
Koch was coming up for re-election, so a journalist cornered him on this show, planning to tear him to pieces for spending money foolishly when the city was nearly broke. The reporter said, "Mayor, in light of the financial difficulties New York City is facing, how could you possibly justify wasting $300,000 on bike lanes?"
The stage was set for a half-hour confrontation. Instead, Koch said, "It was a terrible idea. I thought it would work, but it didn't. It was one of the worst mistakes I ever made." Then he stopped. The reporter didn't know what to say or do. They were expecting him to squirm and make excuses, but he didn't even try.
Another reporter jumped in and said, "But Mayor Koch, how could you do this?" Koch said, "I already told you. It was a stupid idea. It didn't work."
There was still 26 minutes left to go on the news show, and the reporters had to find something else to talk about.
Because he was willing to accept that it was wrong he won both Democratic and Republican support and was easily re-elected.
When we acknowledge that certain things are wrong in our lives, and we determine not to live like that anymore then we get something far more important than the support of Democrats or Republicans. We get God's support. And we get that support because we've determined to live HOLY lives. Lives that have been set apart with no excuses.
It is written: "Be holy, because (God is) holy." 1 Peter 1:16
So, we're called to imitate God in His Love and His Holiness but there is one more thing we need to imitate, or we're fall into a trap.
We need to imitate God's thinking.
Because if we don't understand how God thinks - and begin thinking His way, we'll start faking our faith. When Christians fake their faith the world has a name for us they call us Hypocrites.
The word hypocrisy comes from the idea of putting on a mask. A false face.
It's like the child with a Halloween mask when a little child comes knocking at your door dressed like Darth Vader asking for candy you know that they're actually NOT Darth Vader. They might manage to sound like the person on their mask but the mask is a fake.
That's what makes Christians hypocrites.
They may sound like a child of God but everybody knows they're wearing a mask.
Why does this happen?
It happens because Christians can wear their faith as a badge. It's on the outside, but it never really reaches their hearts. They don't think like God thinks, and so the only thing left is for them to think like is to think like they did before they became Christians.
You and I have been saved so that we might imitate what God is really like to those around us.
We do it by how we love, how we live, and how we think. Our lives should be so dedicated to this imitation of Christ that people should be able to read God's beauty in our lives.
One man has wisely said: We may be the only Bible anyone ever reads.
But that will be true ONLY if we learn to imitate the God we say we love.