STANDING FAR OFF

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Covenant Sermon

STANDING FAR OFF

LUKE 18:9-14 ESV

“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.””

The line from our text this morning that I want us to focus on comes from v.13, “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'” It’s a powerful scene. People worshipping in the temple, praying and bringing their offerings. There’s two people in focus, a man who should have it all together spiritually and a man who shouldn’t.  

We’ll look at the first. The Pharisee possessed things within his spiritual life that should be noted. But they shouldn’t be noted by him. He’s a teacher of the law, which means he’s educated and trained, with the power to lead and guide throughout the community. He is there in the temple that day to worship and to pray; he admits that he fasts and that he tithes from his entire earnings. He has come close to God and believes his nearness to the Holy One has something to do with his spiritual accomplishments. He should have it all together. But of all the qualities he possesses, he does not possess humility.

The Pharisee’s self-recognition puts the praise and spotlight on his own life rather than on God. Even his prayer proves that he believes he is close to God through his own doing. To be made right with God, to be on good footing with the Lord, is the work of God, not us. We are not justified by our goodness. We are justified only by the God who is good. A lack of humility means a lack of gratitude. And gratitude is the response of one who has received.

Our good and godly deeds are a grateful response to the God who has chosen to love us and meet our needs, especially because we don’t deserve it. The Pharisee believed that his life brought him close to God. But the text says the man goes down to his house un-justified. He would have been better off to leave room for the Lord to come near to Him, than to presume that God would be pleased with his pride. And here lies the lesson behind the importance of standing far off.

The second person in the scene is a tax collector. Despised by the surrounding culture and known for having more than others, this is the one person in the scenario who should not have it all together. And yet, this man’s attitude is the reverse of a man who many think would be proud, if not right out arrogant.  

This man here is not one who revels in being a collector of money or having great means. This is not a proud man. He’s a broken man. And what he brings to the altar is not accomplishments for the Lord to receive. The currency of the tax collector’s tithe is brokenness.

This collector of taxes has nothing to offer the Lord but his sin and his admission of that sin. His words to the Lord are not boastful, but rather they are cries for mercy. His posture is not close, but far off. How can he come to the Lord? If there is to be mercy, the Lord must come to him. And the nearness of God is found through his recognition of his need for the Lord.

Even his prayer is off, being that Jews typically prayed with their head raised and their eyes lifted upward. The tax collector stands far off, gazing downward, and in that posture of brokenness the Lord comes near. We know this because Jesus tells the people that the tax collector is the one who goes home justified. The man is made right with God, not by doing many things for the Lord, but by recognizing he belongs no where near the Lord.

Scripture tells us in Psalms 34:18, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” The seemingly unrighteousness man is seen as righteous in God’s eyes due only to the mercy of the Lord, on account of the man’s brokenness. It has been said that the Lord is attracted to our weakness.  

The Lord said to Paul,”My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul knew that the power of the Lord would rest upon him when there was room for God to work. Paul made space for God to work by removing all pride and self-made strength. For what does today’s text end with, but v.14, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Our challenge today is this: to fight the temptation to come near to the Lord by our own strength and accomplishments. Let us drop to our knees, either in our hearts or in our church, and cry out for the Lord to be merciful. Let Jesus come near and make us righteous by His own power. May we know today that we are forgiven if we but cry out to him for mercy. Amen.

CONSTRUCTION ZONE: FRAMING

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We are in our third week of our CONSTRUCTION ZONE series. We started with God’s Blueprint, how God desires to build a holy community that is to bring salvation to people who are lost and live without purpose or meaning. We then moved from a blueprint to a foundation that our lives are built upon. That foundation is Jesus Christ, the One we stand firm upon.
Today we continue our construction theme with talking about FRAMING. Once the foundation is laid, it is time for the walls to go up, for the house to begin to take shape and form. That form will give strength and stability, giving the house the beginnings of its intended purpose. And here enters the great unifying theme of our series: it is God’s blueprint, God’s foundation, and God’s frame.
The walls that make up the structure of our lives, that frame and stabilize our lives, are God’s. It is His strength, His might, His shelter that He is building up. We’re learning throughout all this that WE aren’t building anything. Rather, God is building you and I up according to His purpose. We know that God’s desire is to bring salvation to the world, that He is doing that through Jesus Christ, and so we are the holy community that He is constructing, framing us up to be His mighty power of forgiveness and hope.

In our text this morning, we hear a most identifiable attitude in David’s prayer. It’s a relatable account of what our faith lives are like. Yes, God is the one who builds the house, bringing structure and strength, but we struggle, still, in our lack of faith and in our faltering. David is honest about his emotions. He says,…

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident. One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.  And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord. Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.””

+ PSALM 27:1-8

The house of holiness that God is building with His people is quite a labor of love. Sin has created a storm that seeks to wreak havoc on the plans and construction of God. In the midst of our faithfulness, sin will bring rain, snow, flood, and wind to deter us from trusting in God. We have but to cast our cares on Him, as Scripture says, “He cares for you. (1 Peter 5.7)
David’s prayer is proof of his struggle, of how life is difficult and filled with everything from ills to enemies. But listen to how he reminds himself of his faith through his admissions of where his faith should be. David claims God’s truths to himself in order to jolt his spirit back to right believing. He knows these things to be true and so he creates space for these things to prove themselves. God’s truths frame up the house of David’s faith.
It is important for us to remind ourselves of God’s truths, to study our Psalm for today and hear once again that God truly is mighty. It is important for us to be honest, too, like David and ask questions to reorient our trust. Is our trust in God? Is He my strength or am I trying to frame this house of faith that only God can properly build? I would ask that you bow your head and close your eyes, shutting out the storm of sin, and listening deeper to the Holy Spirit. I will read our text again, and then I will ask some reflection questions from the text. Give yourself to this moment. Let it shape you.
REFLECTION:
Is the Lord my light, my salvation, or am I trusting in something else?

Is the Lord my stronghold or am I trusting my fear?

Am I confident in my faith?

Am I dwelling in the house of the Lord, or a dwelling I’ve constructed in my own sinfulness?

Am I gazing upon the beauty of the Lord, asking of Him in His temple, His church?

Have I let the Lord hide me in the shelter of His love, the tent of His holiness?

Have I let the Lord set me high upon a rock, above the enemies of my faith and growth?

Am I bringing gifts, shouts, and songs of joy to God? Am I seeking the face of God, living my life in a way that desires to behold His goodness and grace?

Let these questions encourage your heart to let God frame your house of faith that He is building to lift both you and those around up in salvation. Let the Scriptures usher you into God’s blueprint and foundation. Let the Lord frame you.

CONSTRUCTION ZONE: FOUNDATION

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LUKE 6.46–49 ESV

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”

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We continue our series today called CONSTRUCTION ZONE.  Last week we learned about God’s Blueprint, how if we seek the Lord with our whole heart, we will find Him.  We were challenged to be a holy community that believed in a Blueprint that desires to rescue people from a life without purpose or meaning.  Today we move from a blueprint to a FOUNDATION that a life can be built upon.

Every good project has a foundation on which to build.  That foundation is a result of a well-laid plan, a blueprint that knows how to build from the ground up.  One of the things you may have heard me say is that church membership is important because it is the opportunity to solidify a base of operations from which God will launch your personal faith and ministry, either as an individual or as a family.

But what exactly is that foundation?  If we have God’s Blueprint for salvation and mission throughout the world, what is it all built upon?

All of it is built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ.  But a statement like that requires some unpacking.  Saying that Jesus is our foundation goes far beyond telling people that they need Jesus or that they need to believe in God.  What are we actually giving people when we say such simple things?  Not very much, especially if they have no context.

Jesus made His expectations quite clear when He turned His ministry over to the disciples.  He tells them in Matthew 28 to go into all the world, baptizing people and teaching them to obey everything He has commanded.  And there it is.  What we are to learn and then live is what Jesus has commanded.  And no, we aren’t allowed to boil it down to love God and love neighbor just because Jesus summarized it one time to a group that, actually, knew all the nitty gritty details wrapped up in that statement.

To teach the world to obey what Christ has commanded means that we first immerse ourselves in a life-style of learning and living, of practice and performance.  What we’re learning is the whole gospel, and not just a portion.  We understand that God’s Blueprint is to bring salvation to a lost and hurting world, then making them into a holy community.

Now, the foundation of such a plan is a promise, a covenant of saving relationship.  That relationship began with Adam, continued through Noah, and landed in the lap of Abraham.  God promised Abraham that through him and his descendants He would bless the world.  The entire Biblical story from Abraham onward leads up to the work of Jesus, who is God come to finish the preparatory work of the holy community He has been building.

Jesus is the perfect example of what executing the will of God looks like.  And so we take the whole of the Bible, the promise of saving relationship that begins in God’s holy community and then extends out into the world, and we make that our foundation.  Christ has commanded that we follow Him, all of Him, and join Him in this mission.

Our lives as Christians, as the Church, are founded upon such an understanding.  It may sound like a lot and for some like too much, but together we are the body of Christ, alive and at work in the world.  All that we are becoming and all that we will do for the glory of God starts with His promise to bless the world through His son and His holy community.

We are that community, each and every one of us.  The challenge for each of us today is found in our text.  Will we build our lives on what God has told us in Jesus Christ or will we build our lives on something else?  Any foundation other than the rock of Christ Jesus is shifting sand.  But we, the Church, God’s holy community, His redeemed people, we build our lives on His promise to both save us and be with us always.

What is your life built upon?  Is your heart, your marriage, your family, your friendships, your work, your investments, your hobbies built on the commands of Jesus?  Are your decisions, your morals, your ethics, your parenting a reflection of the holy character of a holy God?

Do you look to Jesus saying, “Lord, Lord,” but feel as if you get a funny look when He looks toward you?  The awkwardness that many feel in their relationship with Jesus stems from the fact that they are on different footing than He.  But if you will call to Him, come to Him, stand on His foundation, the sweetest of what it means to trust in Jesus will fill your heart and faith.

CONSTRUCTION ZONE: GOD’S BLUEPRINT

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Jeremiah 29.11–14 ESV

11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.

13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

14 I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

We start a new emphasis today, a series called CONSTRUCTION ZONE. Over the next couple of weeks, you’ll be hearing words like blueprint, foundation, framing, and finishings. Today we begin with BLUEPRINT.

Now, my guess is that many of you have heard the words, “God has a plan for your life,” at least a couple dozen times. And I know for me, those words lose a little of their meaning when I hear them out of the mouth of a prosperity preacher or read them in a pseudo-religious self-help book. The good news is that God DOES have a plan for our lives, though it may be quite different than the popular ideas that circulate.

You see, the divine blueprint is God’s plan to build a life-saving community. Community is important because it is the main vehicle for gathering people together in a common place. And why would God want to gather people together? Because God desires to bring people together who are living their lives lost in the woods of sin, as they try to construct a purpose and a plan all on their own without God.

But what would happen if God were to form a holy search party, a committed group of people that would take to the wilderness of the world and find the lost people, bringing them back to a community of purpose and meaning? This is actually exactly what God is doing through Jesus Christ. Let’s look at our text this morning, from Jeremiah 29.11–14…

In our text today, the people of Israel are the search party I referred to, only at this particular point in time they have lost their way and have been exiled from their promised land because of their disobedience to God and His blueprint. They fell back into the very lost-ness that they were saving people from. Because God’s plan is to build a holy community that brings salvation to a lost and hurting world, to move away from that plan is heart-breaking action toward God.

Think of it like this: you spend time, money, resources and emotions on saving someone’s life and then they trash it all over again. Or look at it from a parent’s perspective: you clean up the house only for the kids to tear it up again! God has gone to great lengths to welcome the world into His redeeming community. Therefore, His expectations is that through the relationship He is offering us, we would grow in maturity and ability and become something the world can look upon with a great desire to join and be saved.

So, God knows that if He can get the people back to business—back to the business of being a holy and redeeming community—then the world can once again benefit from their presence. God desires to get things back on track. And so this is where the text connects to us. God is telling us all that there is a plan, to prosper us and give us a future. And that prosperity and future is wrapped up in God’s covenant that began with Abraham and the promise to bless the whole world through God’s holy community. The people in the text and the Church today are all part of this covenant.

The conditions for this covenant, both receiving it and executing it in the world, are to cease seeking the good of the self only, of having an individual attitude and a focus on lost-and-worldly things, and to accept the invitation to seek a Godly community, a holy gathering, that can become a culture of salvation and of hope. This blueprint moves from paper to pavement when our hearts turn in response to God’s call. As the text says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with your whole heart.”

When we seek God and His plans, His purposes, this is when the Blueprint begins to make the most sense. We know what we’re looking at now, what is being built, and we become excited and driven by the divine plan. We understand that the plan will better us and better others. It’s a win-win-win: God is glorified, we are saved, and others are redeemed through Christ in us. Everyone benefits.

So, if you are the person of faith who is wayward, you can simply turn back and embrace the call to be an important part of what God is doing. For the lost and wandering, you who are seeking something more—a purpose and a plan—there is a place that you can call home. You have but to pray in earnest to the God who is waiting to hear that prayer, so that He may receive you.

It is up to you. God has laid out His blueprint, a plan for a future and a hope. Will we here today seek the Lord and find Him? I pray that you will, for God is waiting for you. Let us pray.

Cultivating Change

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Cultivating change has more to do with the work and activity of God than anything we can do.  Our role is simply to cultivate a life that is open and willing to the movement of the Holy Spirit.

Have a blessed week and we’ll see you soon!

CULTIVATING SERVICE

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PHILIPPIANS 2.3–5 NIV

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:”

We have been hearing about cultivating certain characteristics in our spiritual lives to help us grow our faith.  We’ve covered life, faith, and goals.  Today we look at service.  What does it means to cultivate Christian service?

The text this morning lets us in on what Paul was hoping for when he addressed the people in Philippi.  To gain context, the Roman mindset was driven by dominance.  The Empire thrived on competition and rivalry.  Philippi was a city with great honor and prestige, being situated in the gold-producing area of Macedonia.  There was a temptation to neglect the larger good and look only to oneself.  Paul’s words, if followed, would secure within the heart and life of the Philippian believers a faith that would glorify God and serve the world around them.

Paul is cultivating within these people a Christ-like attitude and viewpoint, that pushes the people to interact with the world just as Jesus would.  But in order to do this, the mind and mindset of Jesus is required.  And therein lies the challenge.  We are immediately faced with the contrast of how the world sees things and how God sees things.

The starting point for having the mind of Jesus and cultivating service is in understanding that the world is broken.  The world knows that it has needs and that it needs to be fixed in some way, but it fails to understand that it can’t fix itself.  And when posed with the reality that Jesus is the answer, it bemoans God’s solution because that would force the world to sacrifice aspects it deems important or necessary.

Jesus and His work on the cross invite change that rarely ever sits well with the world.  And that is the point.  The change that God seeks in the heart of the world is a conformity to the heart and mind of God, something that brings glory to God, rather than the world.  Change from a worldly mind to a Godly mind is painful because we have lived for far too long on an ungodly diet.  It is the difference between living off of fast food and fresh-from-the-garden meals.

The change that God is making in us can be seen in three things Paul mentions in today’s text.  We’ll simplify them like this: think outside of yourself, value others and their needs, and have a Jesus-mind.  Each of these are godly characteristics that cultivate true Christian service.

THINK OUTSIDE OF YOURSELF

First, to think outside of yourself is an internal challenge.  We prayerfully seek change from God in the way we see ourselves and the world around us.  This kind of change will mean that we see ourselves as part of something bigger and that we have a part to play within that bigger picture and plan.  When we do that, we develop a desire to know our strengths and gifts and then use them for the benefit of others.

VALUE OTHERS AND THEIR NEEDS

Second, how we see people is important.  But, just how do we see other people in our minds?  Do we see them through a worldly lens, with all the categories and stereotypes that are placed on them?  Or do we see them as God sees them—created in His image and in need of loving redemption through Jesus?  If we value others as God does, we will be easily moved to care for their needs and serve them with a loving heart.  Seeing the world as God does begins prayerfully, asking that the Holy Spirit would change our hearts to be more like His.

HAVE A JESUS-MIND

And third, to have the mindset of Jesus means to live with the first two points in unison.  If the Holy Spirit can bring about the necessary change of looking outside ourselves and valuing others to the point of meeting their needs, then we will have a Jesus-mind.  The mind of Jesus is a Holy Spirit-led way of living, being mission-focused in all places and at all times.  It means to live sacrificially, knowing that life is geared toward loving other people to the heart of God.  A Jesus-mind looks for ways to get involved and share its gifts.  A Jesus-mind desires to grow, cultivating new gifts and ministries as it expands.  God desires that we have this mind within us and Paul challenges us to cultivate such a mind by growing in our love for Jesus.

As your go throughout the week, my hope is that you’ll assess your spiritual service.  Are you thinking outside yourself?  Do you value others and their needs?  Do you have a Jesus-mind, a mindset led by the Holy Spirit that desires to bring the world Jesus and His love?  These are important questions to ask because the answers will tell you whether or not you are really serving as God would have us serve.  Do you need to cultivate service?  Let’s ask the Lord to do that work in our lives now.

CULTIVATING GOALS

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Luke 9.57–62 NIV

“As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.””

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We are three weeks into to our CULTIVATE series.  We began with Cultivating Life, last week Pastor Steve talked about Cultivating Faith, and today we’ll examine Cultivating Goals.

As followers of Christ, we care about what God cares about.  Therefore, the goals of God are also the goals of His people.  We should never wonder what it is that we should be doing because we should be engaged in the activities of God’s kingdom.

Our text this morning is found in Luke chapter 9.  This chapter is important to Luke’s Gospel because its a pivot point in the life and ministry of Jesus.  He is turning His face toward Jerusalem, the place where He will both meet death and defeat it.  This is Jesus’ goal, to redeem and save His people, all to the glory of God.

In chapter 9, the disciples are empowered by Jesus to do mighty things, giving the world a taste of what the Kingdom of God is really like.  The sick are healed, demons are cast out, and the Gospel is proclaimed everywhere they go.  Each step of faith they take is one step closer to accomplishing God’s goal of bringing salvation and wholeness to a broken world.

All the while, Jesus makes it even more clear as to why He’s come and what is expected of those who would believe and serve Him.  Today’s passage speaks of three opportunities to follow Jesus and be a part of His goals, and in each instance there are distinct characteristics that make following Jesus possible.

The first person says he wants to follow Jesus, but Jesus tells him that if you do, there is no real place to call home.  The second person is invited by Jesus to follow but the man says he wants to get some affairs in order (the burial of his father) before he comes and follows.  The third person says he wants to follow but asks for a chance to run home and say goodbye to everyone.

So let’s break these three encounters down with summary words.  The aim today is to cultivate perspective, priority, and focus.

The first man lacks perspective, which is why Jesus responds the way He does.  The man doesn’t understand that following Jesus goes way beyond a 9–5 job.  There is no coming home at the end of the day and picking back up tomorrow.  Following Jesus is a ’round-the-clock commitment.  Jesus’ home is where ever God is working.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working… Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (5:17, 19).

For us, home is a place to escape, a place to turn-things-off.  But for Jesus, home is wherever God is and whatever God is doing.  If you follow Jesus, you will find rest in God and you will find work and purpose in God.  This is a different perspective than the world.  The world compartmentalizes.  But for the follower of Jesus, God is in everything—our rest and our work.  Cultivating perspective means inviting God into all of life—into every person, place, and thing.

The second person is invited by Jesus to follow Him, but the man says that he needs to go and bury his father.  This man lacks priority.  Now I know this sounds harsh but here’s some context.  There are two possibilities here.  First, it was customary to exercise the option to re-bury the bones of the deceased into an ossuary.  This means that the man’s business would be tied up in making arrangements and returning to fulfill the requirement.  In Jesus’ day, the burial of one’s parents, especially for the eldest son, was the most noble way to honor them.

The second possibility is that he was asking for a delay because his father was not dead yet.  A man who had the time to follow a rabbi around and then be invited into a learning experience by him was not in a rush to fulfill the long process of Hebrew burial rights, meaning his father was dying instead of dead.  Either way, the man was asking for a delay.

What is at stake here is whether or not the man was willing to put all else aside in order to follow Jesus.  The proclamation of the kingdom of God is the goal and it must be a priority.  The meaning behind Jesus’ response is a pun of sorts.  He is saying, “Let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead.”  I love this commentary from the ESV Study Bible, and it will best make the point: “Jesus insists that following him must take precedence over every other relationship and obligation. This does not imply that Jesus’ followers can never care for their family obligations, but when they do, it must be out of obedience to Jesus, not instead of obedience to Jesus. In this man’s case, Jesus was clearly not his highest commitment.”  And there it is, “Jesus was…not his highest commitment.”  God is to be our highest priority and to cultivate that goal we must put God first, above all else.

And the third person lacked focus.  We’re tempted to think that looking back after having grabbed hold of a responsibility is merely a lack of commitment and fidelity.  That was surely the case in Genesis, when Lot’s wife looked back to the city of Sodom, after God said not to, and she turned into a pillar of salt.  But this is different.

The prophet Elijah in the Old Testament allowed his disciple, Elisha, the chance to go home and say goodbye, exercising the rights of leaving ones homestead (1 Kings 19).  In this example, someone who takes hold of a plough must look straight ahead.  But if you look back, you won’t be able to plough straight.  Looking away from the plough and their row is dangerous to the operator and devastating to ground and eventually the plants that will be cultivated.

We must have a singular focus on God.  If we do not, our distractions, whatever they are, will undo the work God has called us into.

Cultivating goals is huge.  I hope you can see how perspective, priority, and focus play a key road in achieving God’s goals for His kingdom.  Re-read this text today and throughout the week and pray to the Lord, asking Him for perspective, priority, and focus.

Message Audio from 1/8/17 thru 1/29/17

*Below you will find the audio from messages beginning January 8, 2017 to January 29, 2017.  A regular posting of individual messages each Sunday should resume this coming Sunday, February 5, 2017. Click the play button at the far left of the audio bar.  Each message/bulletin graphic is below its corresponding audio bar. BLESS YOU!!! —WRM

 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 

2016: All About The Little Things

And so the sun sets on another year.  What have I done?  What have I left undone?  These are important questions for reflection.  They cause us to think deeper.  But there’s a better question.  Where have I seen God this last year?  You’d be surprised at where God left footprints across the shore of your life.  If we’re honest with our life, we’ll see that so many blessings came from above, coming at just the right time.  And, really, its not even the big, big things that stand out for me this year.  Its really all the little ways God was with me, time and time again.  I think that is what I’m most thankful for as I look back over 2016, that God was with me; with me in the little things.

Where all did you see God in 2016?  Was it in a big thing?  A little thing?  How will you be more atune to His presence and activity in your life in 2017?  I’d love to hear your answers.  Leave a comment below, email me, or find me on facebook.  

Bless you in 2017.  May it be your BEST year yet!

The sunset on the hill above the farmhouse in South Carolina last night (December 30, 2016)

DO I KNOW YOU?

*Christmas Day Sunday sermon text

JOHN 1.9–14 NIV

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husbandʼs will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”


Have you ever been mistaken for somebody else? You’re in public somewhere and someone comes up to you and says, “Hey, how are you?!” And then they turn white as a ghost and tell you they’re sorry, they thought you were someone else. It’s a case of mistaken identity.  

Throughout my time as a youth pastor, I would take kids on retreats with other youth groups. The groups would mingle a bit and you’d get to know some new people. So many times people would tell me I looked like their band director or their football coach. When I started here at Smyrna I had people tell me I looked like a short, beardless Justin Arnold. That’s fine with me because Justin Arnold is good guy and I’ll claim Marla and Greg all day, as long as they’ll claim me.

But we all have experience thinking we know somebody and then come to find out they weren’t who we thought they were. Sometimes its good and then sometimes its not so good. I think this happens with Jesus a lot. There’s a lot of folks that run around criticizing Jesus and His word, creating an impression of Him that is more life-draining than life-giving. And then there’s others, still, who give off a seemingly pie-in-the-sky version of Jesus that couldn’t be more far off.  

This Christmas, I’m wondering how many people actually know Jesus. How many people know Him beyond the popular opinion, the cultural constructs, the social caricatures? How many people are more familiar with the manger scene and the star, than they are the child who is God-in-the-flesh, come to save us from our sin? Because if the world listened to faithful pastors and Bible study teachers, if they derived their understanding of Jesus based off the word of God, there would be a lot less confusion.

I don’t want for people to see the real Jesus and have no clue who He is. It would be better if they were at least able to meet Him along the streets of their heart and life and have the courage to say, “Do I know you?” At least then they would have a familiarity that can lead to faith. As the Church, the faithful followers of Christ, it is our responsibility to portray Jesus properly so that the world doesn’t have to guess who Jesus is or worse construct their own false Jesus based off sketchy hearsay.

But to do that, we the people of God, must know the real Jesus Christ. We must pray, worship, serve, know our Bibles, and live out a Jesus–shaped life everyday. For, the more we know Christ, the more we can live like Him. And the more we live like Him, the more the world will see Him just as He intended—alive in His people. Christ desires to be seen, but to be seen in deep, transforming ways. Not in showy or gaudy portrayals.

Our Scripture for today tells us that, “the world did not recognize him” (v10). Jesus’ entrance into the world didn’t come as expected. He didn’t cater to the preferences of the world. He didn’t bend to the opinions or expectations placed on Him. He was a prophet but was known as the son of a carpenter; He was a priest but was often worshipping with others; He was a king but introduced Himself as a child.

The humble entrance of the King of kings into the world was meant to stow Jesus away below the deck of society. He would blend in, become one of us, and then work from the inside out. The expectations that many have of Jesus need to be put away or gotten rid of. There is no room for a Jesus that contradicts the Scriptures and the Church.  

This Christmas Day, the challenge for you is to leave this place understanding that you have a relationship to tend to. There is Someone that you need to get reacquainted with and that someone is the real Jesus; the Jesus of the Scriptures; the Jesus that is the head of the Church, the Lord of creation. But to do that, you will have to engage a new and different life. You’ll have to pray, to weigh your priorities and examine the direction of your life. You’ll need to look at the goals of your family, your job, your place in the community, and then make decisions as to whether or not you are glorifying God in these things.

Today is the ultimate day to introduce Jesus into every area of your life. But do not be afraid that in doing this, God will take these things away. What if the Lord desires to use them to bless you more, to bless others more, to give you an even greater sense of mission and purpose? You will not know until you reach out in faith, addressing Jesus Christ in the streets of your life, saying, “Do I know you?” It’s time to talk with God. Let’s do that today. Amen.