Archive for March, 2014

Lent — A Helpful Tradition in Christian Living

March 27, 2014

Title: Lent – A Helpful Tradition in Christian Living
Text: 2 Corinthians 13:5, Psalm 139:23-24, Psalm 51
Time: March 8th, 2014

Just last week we passed Ash Wednesday. Now most of us in the evangelical tradition don’t make much of the season of Lent, and most churches don’t participate in Ash Wednesday services. We usually leave that to the more traditional, liturgical churches to observe. But starting about twenty years ago, I’ve made it a habit, or you might say, tradition, to visit a nearby church and participate in the Ash Wednesday church service. I slip in the back door and sit in the back pew and just take it in because I enjoy doing what has been done for centuries, even though it’s not mentioned in the Bible and we are not commanded to do it by the Lord. I think the idea of reflecting on brevity of life and examining our soul’s condition before God is a good and healthy activity, so I support any church that does it. Now in the Baptist tradition, we might call such a time revival preparation, because that’s almost the same thing as the season of Lent. For those of you who don’t know, Lent is a season observed by traditional or liturgical churches for examining one’s heart for unconfessed or unrepented sins, and then making an effort to forsake these sins as preparation for the celebration of Easter. Lent also is, traditionally, a season of reflecting on our mortal life, or in other words, the brevity of life, and the fact that we are going to die, and how our faith relates to that fact. It’s all good and healthy. Well, I snuck into a local, nearby church; I walked a few blocks from my home in Jamestown and visited a liturgical church that was observing Ash Wednesday. The Pastor explained the meaning of the season of Lent as it was practiced in the early days of the church as a time of preparation for new members joining the church on Easter. This new member training time eventually developed into a preparation by the whole church, not just the new members, as a form of renewal or revival leading up to Easter Sunday. Lent calls us to reflect on and examine our lives for any sins or bad attitudes or bad behaviors that are hurting our relationship with God and others. It challenges us to do something that doesn’t come natural – that is, to be self-critical. We all by nature are good at pointing out the faults in others, but when it comes to our own faults, well, we tend to ignore these or let them slide. The season of Lent reminds us to dare to put a magnifying glass on ourselves and get right with God relationally. So because of the season of Lent, and because of how extremely helpful it is, I’d like to spend a few minutes this morning going through a number of important Bible verses that deal with spiritual self-examination. Where do we even start in approaching the whole topic of examining ourselves for areas that aren’t yet fully surrendered to God? Well, one of the best approaches is to go to the Bible and begin to learn what God says in His Word concerning the task of self-examination. I hope the passages we cover this morning will inspire you to continue the work of spiritual self-evaluation during the season of Lent. Anything that helps us draw closer to God is a good thing, so let’s take a look at what God says about examining our spiritual condition. Hopefully, it will be an exercise that leads to spiritual revival and renewal in your life. Let’s look at three main Bible passages. (more…)

Advertisements

What the Kingdom of Heaven is Like

March 27, 2014

Title: What the Kingdom of Heaven is Like
Text: Matthew 13:31-32
Time: February 22nd, 2014

 

This past week I was reading a book that quoted a famous atheist of the last century, Bertrand Russell, who once was asked, “When you die if you find yourself standing in front of God Almighty, and he asks you why you didn’t believe, what would you say?” He replied, “Not enough evidence!” I immediately chuckled to myself and thought, “What would be enough evidence for him to believe in God?” How much evidence is enough? How much more evidence does he need? For myself, I see an abundance of evidence all around of God’s existence. But then I started wondering how one man or woman can claim there isn’t enough evidence to believe in God, yet other men and women have no problem seeing enough evidence and believing in God. After having thought about that question for a while, I concluded that it’s all in how a person follows up on the evidence they are given by God. In my Christian life I find that the more evidence I see, the more I’m given by God to see – and so on and so on. But for an unbeliever or atheist or skeptic they probably don’t recognize the evidence for God that they are presented, and then in turn, they fail to see any more evidence because they’ve closed themselves off to the initial evidence before them. And so it starts a vicious cycle of blindness on their part to the presence of God in the world. I then thought of the parable of the mustard seed told by Jesus and recorded in Matthew 13:31-32, “He (Jesus) told them another parable: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come a perch in its branches.’” And that’s just the way faith is, like a mustard seed planted inside someone’s heart – it starts out small and grows to become the biggest thing in a person’s life. For example, today after many, many years of believing and living the Christian faith, God is the biggest thing in my life. But for an atheist, an unbeliever, a skeptic, God is nothing to them, or very insignificant in their life. They live a life totally apart from God in their thinking, feeling, and living. Does it come down to evidence, like the world famous atheist said? No, because he sees the same thing as Christian believers see. But it comes down to how he follows up or processes the evidence. It comes down to what he does with the evidence, his reaction to it, his openness to it, whether he pursues it or dismisses it. A believer looks at the world, looks at his own life and pursues God with whatever evidence he sees, while the unbeliever rejects whatever evidence he finds, or he doesn’t follow it any further. In other words, you might say, if we look close enough we’ll find traces of God everywhere, but if we try hard enough, on the other hand, we can dismiss any traces of God that are available. I’d like to use the parable of the mustard seed this morning to bring out this point further, because it explains how the Kingdom of God can be big in one person’s life, and virtually non-existent in another person’s life. It all comes down to faith, and how we follow up on what God gives us to work with. I hope this message will encourage you to pursue God whole-heartedly with your life. (more…)

All Who Are Weary, Come To Jesus

March 27, 2014

Title: All Who Are Weary, Come To Jesus
Text: Matthew 11:28-30
Time: February 8th, 2014

 

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” I like this verse because it’s so realistic. It doesn’t paint too rosy a picture of the Christian life. If you listened to some evangelists talk you’d think that when you come to Jesus life suddenly changes and you no longer have problems, no longer feel pain, no longer experience difficulties. Life just sails by, like a ping pong ball over Niagara Falls. But we all know that’s wrong. Living for Jesus doesn’t guarantee an easy life. In fact, sometimes when you draw closer to Jesus your life actually becomes more difficult, because now you face opposition from the world, the flesh and the Devil, all trying to trip you up. Whereas before, when you weren’t living for God, you might have just coasted along with the crowd, flowing downstream along with everyone else. As a Christian you may face persecution for your faith. People you thought were friends might leave you. People will misunderstand you or reject you now that you follow Jesus. But what I like about this verse is that it explains the Christian life honestly but encourages us to keep following Jesus. Some of you might recognize that this Bible passage is sung in the famous Handle’s Messiah. I mention that because we just finished up the Christmas season, so it might be fresh in your mind. If you’ve never heard Handle’s Messiah you should check it out, and look specifically for this biblical passage, it’s a beautiful melody along with the words of the verse. But I love this passage because it encourages me to hang in their with the Christian life even when the going gets tough – and the going will get tough from time to time in the Christian life, so you’d better be prepared for it. Modern Christianity today tends to oversell happiness and well-being and success and prosperity and all the positive things we hope and pray for. There are many blessings from God, yes, but the Christian life isn’t all fun. But if you listen to some preachers you’d get that impression. They always smile, they’re always upbeat, and they come across as if they’ve not a care in the world. But that’s a misrepresentation of the gospel. It doesn’t fit historic Christianity – remember that the early Christians were sometimes fed to the lions in the Roman Arena. And it doesn’t line up with what the Bible teaches us. But what we can put our hope in is that Jesus will be with us and see us through anything and everything we have to go through. Sometimes he delivers us from trials and tribulations, but other times he helps us through the process. This verse gives us the proper perspective when face the difficulties of the Christian life. So let me talk about this one important verse and point out three truths contained in it. (more…)

You Give Them Something To Eat

March 27, 2014

Title: You Give Them Something to Eat!
Text: Matthew 14:13-21
Time: January 12, 2014

 

I recently got for Christmas from my parents a little electronic box called a Roku Media Streamer. They’re sold in Wal-Mart, Kmart, Radio Shack and other electronic stores for the purpose of receiving cable and Internet TV programs without being hooked up to cable or satellite. It works by using your Internet signal and plays Internet videos on your TV. So for the past week or so I’ve been playing around with it in order to see what kind of TV programs I could find on it. I found it had Discovery Channel programs on it, so I started watching a series on climbing Mount Everest, you know, the world’s tallest mountain. I started watching the 1st Season and got hooked, so I watched the 2nd Season and finally the 3rd Season. It was really interesting because it showed all the different climbers trying to reach the summit of the mountain and all the trials and tribulations they went through in their attempts. One of the things I noticed was that climbers either fell into one of two categories – they were either too confident or they lacked enough confidence in challenging the mountain. But both attitudes, either too much or not enough confidence, were harmful. Only those who had just the right balance of confidence and humility were able to scale the mountain. So the tour guide director usually had to work on each person individually in order to get them to the right place in their attitude towards climbing. Some climbers he had to put them in their place in order to humble them so that they respected the mountain enough to pay attention to the dangers of climbing. Some climbers had to be encouraged and given confidence that they could conquer the mountain if they followed directions and gave it their best effort. When I watched this TV series on Mount Everest I thought of how Jesus had to work with the disciples in much the same way. Sometimes they got a little too confident, but other times Jesus had to encourage them that with God’s help they could do a lot more than they imagined. In Matthew 14:13-21 we read about a situation in the life of the disciples where Jesus reminded them that they could indeed help a crowd full of people when that looked impossible for them, naturally speaking. Let me read the passage (read). Like the disciples, we too limit ourselves in what we can do based on a natural evaluation of things. We need to, like the disciples, consider the power of God in the equation, and attempt great things for God. That not only applies to each of us individually, but also to churches too. This church might be small, low on resources, limited in ability, but with God it can make a big difference in the community here if it looks to God for power and strength. Jesus taught his disciples that they shouldn’t be discouraged because of the natural circumstances, but instead look to God for the power to get the job done. That’s a lesson for us all to hear today. Let’s look at the passage a little closer. (more…)