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Showing posts from July, 2011

Preconceptions Mislead

18-19When Jesus saw that a curious crowd was growing by the minute, he told his disciples to get him out of there to the other side of the lake. As they left, a religion scholar asked if he could go along. "I'll go with you, wherever," he said.  20Jesus was curt: "Are you ready to rough it? We're not staying in the best inns, you know."21Another follower said, "Master, excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have my father's funeral to take care of."  22Jesus refused. "First things first. Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life." (Matthew 8:18-22)
Jesus has just finished a night's work at the house of Peter - one of his disciples.  He has healed a leper and a Roman Centurion's servant on the way to Peter's house; cured Peter's mother of a fever that has left her ill and unable to do her work around the house; and then spent the night healing all kinds of people afflicted with physical disease and torm…

If you wanna!

1-2 Jesus came down the mountain with the cheers of the crowd still ringing in his ears. Then a leper appeared and went to his knees before Jesus, praying, "Master, if you want to, you can heal my body." (Matthew 8:1-2)
How many of us approach God in prayer much in the same manner this leper did that day?  We might fall on our knees, or assume some other position of petition, and then lay it out as, "Ummmm.....God, if you might wanna, maybe, could ya...."  I am not immune to the, "God, do ya think ya might...", kind of prayers.  I sometimes find myself asking God in a "round-about" manner for exactly what it is that I want.
Somehow, we have learned that we cannot be forthright with God about our needs, fears, hopes, etc.  We have developed a skill of "sugar-coating" them, or not even presenting them to him at all.  Either way, we are denying God exactly what he wants to do!  God is all about taking care of us - not meeting every one of ou…

A Blossom for a Day

Don't be in any rush to become ateacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work.Teachers are held to the strictest standards. And none of us is perfectly qualified. We get it wrong nearly every time we open our mouths. If you could find someone whose speech was perfectly true, you'd have a perfect person, in perfect control of life. (James 3:1-3)
I am blessed to have two beautiful hibiscus bushes in my front yard.  I worried that they were blighted by the frosts of this past winter and the dryness of this summer.  Yet, as I drive up almost every evening, there are the bright pink blossoms on full display!   The leaves are a rich green and the blossoms are full. Yet, as I consider these magnificent plants, I am caught by the majesty of their blossoming.  The work so hard to prepare that blossom, but it lasts only one day.
As  came through Bible College, I had a very wise professor who spoke words into my life that I will never forget.  I was struggling with the balance be…

Sermon Lessons: Construction

24-25"These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.  26-27"But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don't work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards." (Matthew 7:24-27)
Our entire neighborhood is "under construction" at this time - streets are almost impassable due to the roads and sidewalks being torn up to retrofit them to meet standards for the disabled, deal with cracked walkways, and to even out the very uneven patches of walkway we have been dealing with for years.  At 5:00…

Sermon Lessons: Charisma

15-20"Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don't be impressed with charisma; look for character. Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned." (Matthew 7:15-20)
We have all met or heard of individuals with such dynamic charisma that people just flock to them and seemingly "give all they have" to see that person's vision be furthered.  In some cases, the efforts of that individual have been very pure and the rewards have been genuine.  In others, the motivations were very much indeed personal gain and personal grandeur.  Jesus tells us to watch out for the "practiced sincerity" of some, but to look at character rather than charisma.
There are lots of people in this world, in the church and …

Sermon Lessons: Cost

13-14"Don't look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don't fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention." (Matthew 7:13-14)
The cost associated with acquiring something is sometimes not important to some people - they seemingly don't really think the associated cost is a big deal.  Then there are others of us who are a little more frugal (not stingy) in our spending, so we pay attention to the cost associated with both acquiring and maintaining whatever it is that we are getting.  We look at the length of the warranty and read up on the reviews registered by others who have acquired the product.  We'd say that we were wise "consumers".
The fact that God looks for us to be wise in our approach to him is clear evidence that he appreciates a wise "consumer" who counts …

Sermon Lessons: Contact

7-11"Don't bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This isn't a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we're in. If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn't think of such a thing. You're at least decent to your own children. So don't you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?" (Matthew 7:7-11)
The very fact that we can make frequent and open contact with a holy God is always a thing of amazement to me.  I cannot fathom that degree of love and grace that welcomes sinners into the presence of the holy!  Jesus is very forthright in his reminders about prayer - first in his instruction to the disciples about "how to" pray (we call that the Lord's Prayer), and now in his reminders that God is not to be "bargained with" in prayer.  It is not a "you do this for me" and "I will…

Sermon Lessons: Comparison

1-5 "Don't pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It's easy to see a smudge on your neighbor's face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, 'Let me wash your face for you,' when your own face is distorted by contempt? It's this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor." (Matthew 7:1-5)

I am probably not the only one that felt a little "picked on" in elementary school.  In fact, there are actual laws on the books today to deal with what you and I just simply had to muddle through - they are called "anti-bullying laws".  The instruction we received from our parents and school counselors was that the tenden…

Sermon Lessons: Coping

34"Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes." (Matthew 6:34)
There are many life events that we just barely eke by with any semblance of being "all together" at the culmination.  There are others that we seem to simply "sail" through.  Which do you prefer?  I think we'd all say that we want the ones that we can "sail" through opposed to those that give us cause to reconsider!  I once read that we should not borrow from tomorrow what rightfully belongs in tomorrow.  That is the definition of worry in a nutshell - bringing imaginations about the "what if" of tomorrow into the "known" of today.  
The very definition of "coping" is to struggle or deal.  I imagine that we all have days where we are simply "dealing" with stuff - not really rising a…

Sermon Lessons: Carefree

30-33"If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with gettingso you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met." (Matthew 6:30-33)
I had never really considered the fact that most of the wildflowers in the world go completely unnoticed by human eye.  They spring forth from the hard soil of the earth, struggle against the elements, bloom in all their majesty, and no one ever sets an eye on them!  Then there are the potted flowers I buy from the nursery with high hopes they will adorn my flowerbeds long …

Sermon Lessons: Clarity

22-23"Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!" (Matthew 6:22-23)
As a nurse, one of the first things I notice in my assessment of a patient is the clarity of their eyes.  The eyes really tell a lot about what is going on with a person.  Whenever one of the boys gets sick, I look to the eyes, often seeing reddened "rings" around their eye, making the eyes themselves look a little "hallow" and "sad".  They may not open their eyes as wide, and the "crystal-clear" appearance of the eye may look a little "foggy" or "dry".  See, the eye really can "alert" us to much that is going on inside a man!
I may not know all the specifics of what is making the child "ill" at that moment, but t…

Sermon Lessons: Concentration

16-18"When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don't make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won't make you a saint. If you 'go into training' inwardly, act normal outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. God doesn't require attention-getting devices. He won't overlook what you are doing; he'll reward you well." (Matthew 6:16-18)
When I was growing up, homework required peace and quiet.  I was not allowed to have the radio on (yep, that means I did not have a stereo!).  I could not have TV going (as a matter of fact, it could not be on till chores were done and homework was finished!).  I did not get to chat on the phone with a friend while we worked on the homework together (maybe because we didn't put phones in kids rooms at that time!).  Mom and Dad were really trying to give me an environment in which I could "concentrate&qu…

Sermon Lessons: Connection

14-15"In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can't get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God's part." (Matthew 6:14-15)
These verses come immediately after Jesus instructed the disciples how to pray. We think of that instruction on prayer as the "Lord's Prayer" - but Jesus was outlining some things to remember in prayer and what prayer does for us.  To that instruction, he adds the idea that we often miss - that prayer is a connecting point between us and God.
It is in the times of prayer - short or long, heavy or lighthearted - that we "connect" with God.  Jesus takes that one step further - he reminds us that it is where we connect with "what God does" and "what we do".  So, it is a time of bringing to God what we are incapable of doing and for us to admit what it is that we are doing with what he has…

Sermon Lessons: Courage

48"In a word, what I'm saying is, Grow up. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you." (Matthew 5:48)
13Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here's what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It's the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. (James 3:13)
I think it takes great courage to live out the Christian life.  When you really begin to examine what Jesus outlines in this Sermon on the Mount, he is focusing on his disciples living by a standard that is just a little higher than the rest of what other "religions" require.  For example, he says to live as "kingdom subjects" - living out our God-created identity.  Before we can do that, we have to discover what that identity entails.  We have spent a couple weeks now outlining the "criteria" of our identity in Christ.  So, in cap…

Sermon Lessons: Consistency

33-37"And don't say anything you don't mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, 'I'll pray for you,' and never doing it, or saying, 'God be with you,' and not meaning it. You don't make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say 'yes' and 'no.' When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong." (Matthew 5:33-37)
26-27Anyone who sets himself up as "religious" by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world. (James 1:26-27)
I remember watching James Bond movies as a kid.  Secret Agent 007 would cleverly avo…

Sermon Lessons: Confession

23-24"This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.   25-26"Or say you're out on the street and an old enemy accosts you. Don't lose a minute. Make the first move; make things right with him. After all, if you leave the first move to him, knowing his track record, you're likely to end up in court, maybe even jail. If that happens, you won't get out without a stiff fine. (Matthew 5:23-26)
Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with. (James 5:16-17)
There is much to be said for being able to own up to your mistake…