Get Dressed with Christ to Seize the Day! (Romans 13:8-14)

Sermon from October 11th, 2015

Text: Romans 13:8-14

Theme: Get Dressed with Christ to Seize the Day!

                Yolo – Who knows what that means?

Yolo is one of those popular hashtags that was everywhere for a while but seems to have lost a little steam. Yolo = an abbreviation for “you only live once.”

Now, maybe some of you consider yourself too sophisticated, too grown up for hashtags, twitter, and Facebook. Perhaps you are more familiar with the phrase Carpe Diem. Carpe Diem = Latin for “seize the day,” first coined by the Latin poet Horace who lived and wrote around the time of Jesus.

#Yolo, carpe diem, whichever you prefer, we all get the idea.

You only have one life to live. You have a finite amount of days to be alive on this earth to pursue happiness, excitement, exhilaration, pleasure – whatever it is you are seeking – and none of us know how many of those days we have. So we talk about seizing the day and reminding ourselves that we only live once.

We all know people who exemplify this kind of living – people who woke up one day, decided they wanted to study abroad – so they did; people who woke up one day and wanted to learn how to surf in Hawaii – so they bought a plane ticket an went.

We all know people like that, but (at least in my experience) people who truly seize the day are few and far between. Most of us are a little too logic driven, a little too careful and cautious to just throw our inhibitions to the wind and do whatever we want, when we want, not caring about the possible consequences. We realize that today could be our last day, but if we are thinking logically and statistically, there is a pretty good chance that it won’t be our last day, and so we need to be ready for tomorrow. We need to be responsible, get jobs, pay the bills… all that slightly boring stuff.

And yet not matter how much our logical, cautious brains may be telling us how foolish carefree living can be, I think that all of us, even if it just a little bit, are jealous of those who truly seize the day. We wouldn’t mind cutting loose a little bit and just living in the moment instead of constantly looking at what might happen tomorrow.

Well, how about this? Would it help any of you to put to bed these logical fears that keep you from being spontaneous if I told you that in Romans Paul encourages just this kind of attitude – one that seizes the day? Because that’s exactly what Paul is encouraging today when he instructs us to “understand the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from you slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” Continue reading

Remember Your Training: Be Still! (Mark 4:35-41)

Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost (6/28/15)

Theme: Remember Your Training: Be Still!

Text: Mark 4:35-41 

          A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to be taught about leadership from a man who knows what he is talking about. Col. Johnny Davis, current commander of the 3rd US Infantry Regiment, the Old Guard, the unit responsible for guarding Arlington National Cemetery (and many other placed just down the road), came and spoke to a group of pastors about leading people in challenging circumstances. He shared some fascinating stories about his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and leading young men in combat.

One of the points he made jumped into my head as I looked at the reading from Mark I just read. Col. Davis made a point most of us have probably heard before, but he’s seen it first hand: you don’t know what a man is made of until the bullets start flying. He told a couple stories about combat and looking at this 18-year-old kid next to him, and the guy was just frozen, his eyes fixin’ to pop out his skull… just standing there with bullets flying and RPG’s exploding. At times like that he said he would take them by the shoulders, look them in the eye, and say, “Remember your training.” They had been trained for this, now they needed to make the jump to applying their training to a real life situation. It was hard to do, but they had been trained to do it.

That’s essentially what’s happening in Mark 4.

For days Jesus had been training his disciples. He had been standing on the shores of the Sea of Galilee teaching people about God, about the kingdom of God, how to live in this world, how the word of God worked, how to get to heaven. Jesus had been backing up his teaching with amazing miracles, healing anyone and everyone who came into contact with him.

For days Jesus had been teaching his disciples, but now it was time to start making that connection between training and real life situations. So Jesus told the disciples he wanted to go across the sea to the other side… they had no idea what was coming. Continue reading

“Then You Will Know that I Am the LORD” (Ezekiel 37:1-14)

Sermon for the Festival of Pentecost (5/24/2015)

Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14

Theme: “Then You Will Know that I Am the LORD”

The foot bone connects to the shin bone

The shin bone connects to the knee bone

The knee bone connects to the thigh bone

The thigh bone connects to the hip bone

The hip bone connects to the back bone…

I’m sure many of you are familiar with that children’s song. Be honest though, how many of you know this children’s song is actually an African Spiritual based on our lesson from Ezekiel 37?

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones,

Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones,

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones,

O, hear the Word of the Lord.

It’s a truly fascinating story, isn’t it? In my opinion, Ezekiel 37 is one of the most fascinating stories in the Old Testament. I mean, the imagination just runs wild with this one. Continue reading

Rejoice! The Son of Man Was Lifted Up (John 3:14-21)

Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Lent (3/15/15)

Traditionally the 4th Sunday in Lent has been called “Rejoice Sunday.” In the middle of the season of Lent we take this Sunday to remember that even as we sorrow over our sin, we can rejoice because Jesus came!

Text: John 3:14-21

Theme: Rejoice! The Son of Man Was Lifted Up

When is the last time you thanked God for being a Christian in America?

The headlines we’ve see over the last few months about what’s happening in Iraq and Syria give us a good opportunity to thank God that none of us have to worry about literally losing our heads for showing up here today. We American Christians have a lot to be thankful for in our lack of physical persecution.

Christians have been persecuted since Christianity began. Jesus promised that if they persecuted him, they would persecute his followers. According to church tradition, all of Jesus’ original disciples but one were killed for their faith. But in the history of the persecution of the Christian Church, there is one ten year period that earned the inauspicious title, “The Great Persecution”.

It began on February 23, 303 AD. Faced with mounting pressure from without and within to return Rome to its traditional values and religion the Roman emperor Diocletian set the bull’s-eye on the Christians.

Churches were burned to the ground. All Christian services were banned. All across the Roman Empire those who professed to be Christians were told to show up and hand over their Bible’s to the Romans so that every Bible in Rome could be burned. Christians in high places lost their jobs. Christians with homes found themselves homeless. The clergy were thrown into jail.

One year later, in 304, the persecution escalated. Rome decided that every Christian had to make a public sacrifice to the Roman gods – and if you didn’t you would be killed.

And so Christians died. Countless Christians refused to turn their backs on Jesus and died because of it. Whole communities of Christians were wiped from the face of the earth in what has become known as “the era of the martyrs.”

And then in February of 313 a Roman named Constantine took control of Rome. Supposedly, he had a dream in which his destiny was tied to Christianity, so he signed into law the Edict of Milan which formally ended “The Great Persecution.” And just ten years later, Constantine would make Christianity the official religion of Rome.

And then an interesting thing happened. Closet Christians began to come out of the woodworks. Christians who had hidden their faith for a decade, suddenly started professing Christ again. Christians who had caved to the pressure and pretended to worship Roman gods, started worshiping the true God again. And from this sprang one of the first post-persecution problems in the church.

You see, those who had stuck with Christ (displaying strong faith) – those who had lost fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters because they refused to turn their backs on Christ – they didn’t look too kindly on those weak Christians who had turned their backs on Christ to save their own skin. They didn’t want to have anything to do with them.

So some teaching, some healing had to happen.

Those Christians who had faced persecution and demonstrated incredibly strong faith needed to be reminded of an incredibly important truth. It is not the strength of our faith that saves us. It is the object of our faith that saves us – a lesson Jesus teaches very powerfully and clearly in John chapter 3. Continue reading

Consumed with Zeal for God (John 2:13-22)

Sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Lent (3/8/15)

Text: John 2:13-22

Theme: Consumed with Zeal for God

A little word association: What picture flashes through your mind when I say… Jesus?

Maybe it is that picture you saw hanging in a church basement somewhere – that picture of Jesus sitting on top of a hill with little kids all around and one lucky kid on his lap. Maybe the image you see is the kind, welcoming, calming Jesus carrying a lamb on his shoulder. Maybe you picture the cross and your Savior on that cross. Or maybe you picture an empty tomb.

Whatever image you thought of when I first said the name Jesus, I’m willing to bet none of you pictured the Jesus we read about in John 2:13-22…

Imagine, if you can, the rage, the wrath, and the violence it would take for one man to drive away a small herd of animals and dozens of people who didn’t want to be moved. Jesus didn’t walk into the temple and say, “Please guys, can you get out of here?” He made a whip and started screaming, and yelling, and beating.

It’s not a side of Jesus we are used to seeing. Today we see Jesus red-faced in wrath, spittle flying from his mouth as he screams on the top of his lungs, a whip cracking in his hand over the heads of, and on the backs of men and beast as he drives them from the Temple courts. Today we see a Jesus consumed with zeal for his Father.

And it’s not a side of Jesus we are used to seeing… but can you blame him? Continue reading

It Is Good That One Man Died For the People (John 18:12-16)

Sermon for Midweek Lent 2 (3/4/15)

Text: John 18:12-16

Theme: It Is Good That One Man Died for the People

            How many of you are familiar with the movie Red Dawn? I’m talking about the 1984 classic in which Patrick Swayze leads a group of teenagers in guerrilla warfare against the Russians who have invaded the United States. It’s an entertaining and suspenseful movie as Patrick and his gang of teenagers band together in the Rocky Mountains and fight the evil Russians.

That movie is the closest I have ever come to experiencing what it must have been like to be an everyday Jew at the time of Jesus – at least as far as experiencing what Roman rule must have been like.

As long as any of us have been alive (and long before that), America has been free. American’s haven’t experienced enemy occupation since we did it to ourselves in the Civil War. So it is hard for us to imagine all of the emotions and feelings everyday Jews would have had toward the Romans. It’s hard for us to imagine what it would have been like to live in a politically charged atmosphere like Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ arrest.

The Roman Empire was in the midst of the Pax Romana, a 200 year period of relative peace and stability in the Roman world. This was an unprecedented span in the history of the world. 200 years without a major war breaking out. 200 years of peace that the 20/20 hindsight of history reveals as God orchestrated, so that his fledgling New Testament Church could grow.

But just because there was peace doesn’t mean that things were always peaceful. You see, there’s just this thing about conquests that has been proven true over the history of the world – people, nations don’t like being conquered. They don’t like being occupied. No matter how far the conquering nation goes to keep peace, that doesn’t mean it’s always peaceful. Continue reading

Jesus – The Buyer of Souls (Mark 8:31-38)

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Lent (3/1/15)

Text: Mark 8:31-38

Theme: Jesus – the Buyer of Souls

The Devil went down to Georgia, he was lookin’ for a soul to steal. He was in a bind ‘cause he was way behind, he was willin’ to make a deal. He came across this young man sawin’ on a fiddle and playin’ it hot. And the Devil jumped up on a hickory stump and said, “Boy, let me tell you what. “I guess you didn’t know it, but I’m a fiddle player too. And if you’d care to take a dare I’ll make a bet with you. Now you play a pretty good fiddle, boy, but give the Devil his due. I’ll bet a fiddle of gold against your soul ‘cause I think I’m better than you.”

– Charlie Daniels Band

Making a deal with the devil for your soul – it’s a popular cultural image. The characters, situations, and outcomes differ, but the general story is the same, you get some earthly gift or treasure, the Devil gets your soul. It makes for good stories, good movies, good fiddle proficiency proving songs. And it would just be good entertainment if it weren’t so stinkin’ true.

This world is full of people making very real deals with the Devil for their souls. Exchanging temporary earthly gifts or treasures for their eternal souls. Unfortunately, all too often (unlike the stories) they are not even aware that it is happening.

In our Gospel for today from Mark 8 we see another one of those moments that seemed to happened so often in the life of Peter, a moment when he takes his foot out of his mouth just long enough to stick the other one in. Pet has the nerve to take Jesus aside and rebuke Jesus. Think about that! Think about the nerve it would take to say, “No, no, Jesus. You have it all wrong. Let me tell you how it really should be.”

Jesus makes clear in his response to Peter that what we see Peter doing here is more than just a gaff, more than just a slip-up. Peter was trying to make a very real and very dangerous deal with the Devil. Continue reading

Splurging in Acts of Love (John 12:1-11)

Sermon from a Midweek Lent service (2/25/15)

Text: John 12:1-11

Theme: Splurging in Acts of Love

            How much do you spend on an engagement ring?

It’s a 1st world problem. It’s not something being discussed in Syria or Iraq right now, but it is a question Americans spend time and energy answering.

How much do you spend on an engagement ring?

The general consensus (as far as I can tell) is somewhere between one and three months wages. Whatever you make in three months, that should be the ceiling on how much you spend on an engagement ring.

Well, back when I went shopping with my mom and sister for the ring Laura has on her hand now, that didn’t add up to all that much money. I was a fulltime student at the seminary, only part-time employed. Even adding up three months of part-time pay washing windows for Squeegee Squad didn’t amount to all that much…

So I broke the rule. I decided to splurge on the engagement ring – still something not unreasonably expensive, but more than three months wages because I was in love and I wanted to show that love in a tangible way, and I knew I wasn’t going to be working part-time washing windows forever. I was going to ask Laura to marry me and I wanted to splurge on this once in a lifetime opportunity to show Laura what she means to me.

That’s what you do when you are in love, right? You splurge in acts of love for the object of that love. You go over and above what is normal for you. And splurging doesn’t always just have to mean “spending more money.” You can splurge on something or someone by spending an unusual amount of time with them. You can splurge by paying particularly close attention. You can splurge just be being nicer, friendlier, more welcoming. Splurging is anything that you do that is over and above the normal for something or someone that you love.

Splurging, it’s what we see Mary doing in the Passion history I just read from John 12. Mary takes a jar of perfume worth an entire year’s wages and she pours it on Jesus’ feet and then uses her own hair to wipe Jesus’ feet clean.

Talk about splurging!

What do you make in a year? I don’t actually want you to tell me, but think about that number. Now, picture sitting down, writing a check for that much and dropping it in the offering plate when it comes around in a little bit – talk about splurging!

What Mary does here is even a step beyond that, isn’t it? Mary takes this extremely expensive jar of perfume and she doesn’t just give it to Jesus so he can use it later – she dumps the whole thing on his feet. To really do what Mary does here you would have to go to the bank, get your salary in cash, and then lighting it on fire and watch it burn here in front of the altar. It’s gone! A whole year’s wages, just gone – talk about splurging!

It’s an amazing, almost uncomfortable thing to see, isn’t it? To be allowed access to this supper where we see this shameless act of splurging, intense love for Jesus by Mary – it’s amazing. I mean, it doesn’t get much more real than this, does it? What we see here is someone desperately in love with Jesus and willing to do anything to show that love – it’s almost uncomfortable to see this extremely personal act of love.

It’s also a humbling thing, isn’t it? It’s a humbling thing to be a fly on the wall for this supper (one of the last ones Jesus would have on this earth) and to watch Mary splurge in an act of love for Jesus.

It’s humbling because all too often my love looks pitiful in comparison to this reckless love of Mary…

What or who do you splurge on in an act of love?

There are a couple slightly simplistic ways to find the answer to that question.

First, look at your budget. It’s tax season, that time when we look back over 2014, the money we made, the money we spent. What did you splurge on financially last year? What are the things you went over and above to spend money on because you love them? How much did you financially splurge on Jesus?

You should know the answer to that question. Jesus tells us to sit down and consciously plan out how much we are going to spend on him, so you should know how much you did or didn’t give to Jesus.

What are you splurging on with your money?

Second, take a look at your average weekly schedule. Where do you spend your time? What are the “must do” things on your weekly to-do list? How much do you splurge on Jesus with your schedule? You have 24 hours in your day. How many of those hours do you give to Jesus? How long do you spend in prayer? How much time do you spend reading his word on a typical day?

What are you splurging on with your time?

Third, take a look at your heart? What’s the most important thing in your life right now? We just celebrated Valentine ’s Day, right? Whether you celebrate Valentine’s Day or not, how much energy do you invest into showing the love of your life he or she matters? The things we love with all our heart are the things we do random acts of kindness for. They are the things that light up our faces when we see or think about them. They are the things that obsess us, the things we can’t get enough of.

And how does Jesus fit into that picture? Does your face light up when you think about coming to church to sit at Jesus’ feet? Do you obsess about Jesus? Do you splurge on Jesus with random, over the top acts of love?

What are you splurging on with your love and attention?

Now I realize this is a slightly simplistic way to go about it. It’s not a simple math equation: if you give x amount of dollars you really love Jesus… if you spend x amount of hours in devotion in a week, you must really love Jesus… but man, I look at this three step approach to answering the question “what do I splurge on,” and let me be the first to say… I’m sorry. Let me be the first to confess before you and before God that I have not loved Jesus with my whole heart, soul, and mind. Let me be the first to identify that Judas in my own heart that pushes me to love other things above my love for Jesus…

What’s my point in all this? Do I just want to browbeat you into giving more money (I sure hope you know that’s not my point)?

This is the season of Lent. We are walking with Jesus to his cross – to the place he was brutally murdered. This is a time for us to examine our hearts and see just what it was that drove him to that cross: my sin… your sin… all of those times you and I broke the first commandment and loved something or someone more than we loved Jesus. And what we see Mary doing at this dinner; it drives us to ask the tough question: what are we splurging on?

We see in Mary a reckless act of love that ought to make us sorry – sorry for all of the times we fail to love Jesus as we should.

But Mary isn’t the only act of reckless love we see at this dinner in John 12…

Mary poured out a jar of expensive perfume to show how much she loved Jesus. Jesus was about to pour out his life to show how much he loved Mary… and me… and you…

Jesus says of Mary’s splurging, “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.” Jesus isn’t dead yet, he won’t be for another five days. But already Jesus is talking about his death as a forgone conclusion – He was as good as dead now, because he knew where he was going. He knew what was waiting for him when he got to Jerusalem.

Realize tonight that this is what drove Jesus to that cross – his reckless desire for us not to have to pay for all of our sins against the 1st and every other commandment.  What we see tonight from Jesus, what we see in Lent, is Jesus splurging in an breathtaking act of love for us!

This is how much he loves you! He would willingly pour out his own life on a brutal death on a cross to prove to you just how deeply and desperately he loves you.

It’s amazing and almost uncomfortable to see, isn’t it? To be allowed access to this last week of Jesus’ life, to see this shameless act of splurging, intense love for us – it’s amazing! It doesn’t get any more real than this! What we see here from Jesus is someone desperately in love with us, and willing to do anything to show that love – and if it weren’t so personal and perfect it would almost be uncomfortable to see Jesus loving us so deeply like this.

It’s also and inspiring thing, isn’t it? It’s something that fills our hearts so full of love that we too want to love Jesus back.

That doesn’t mean that I expect each of you to write a check for one year’s salary and put it in the offering plate – it is not now, nor will it ever by my job to dictate to you how you have to show your love for Jesus. But it is my privilege to remind you of the love that I know is in your heart – you do love Jesus! And it is my privilege to remind you to show that love!

Every day, we get to wake up and realize that we are soaking wet in the love that Jesus has poured out on us. And we get to be overwhelmed by Jesus’ love. We get to respond in love to that love! We get to turn each day into moments when we go over and above to say thank you to the one who poured out his life for us.

Every day we get to wake up and know that Jesus loves us. Every day we get to wake up and live a life splurging in our acts of thank-filled love for Jesus.

Amen.

How to Beat the Devil: Try… Trust… Know! (Romans 8:31-39)

Sermon for the 1st Sunday of Lent (2/22/15)

Text: Romans 8:31-39

Theme: How to Beat the Devil:

Try… Trust… Know!

I don’t know if I could do it… I don’t know if I have it in me…

You see, my wife says I get “hangry.” If you feed me, I’ll work like the Energizer bunny, all day, every day. If you don’t feed me and expect me to work, I sometimes stop being the person I should be. Sometimes hunger leads to anger = hanger. I don’t always deal well with hunger, so 40 days (like Jesus in the desert) with nothing to eat at all, and the devil tempting me on top of that… if my track record gives any indication, after those 40 days the devil would say “jump,” and I’d say “how high?”

I don’t know if I could do it… I don’t know if I have it in me…

You see, one of the things I thank God for most is being a dad. I’ve always wanted to have kids of my own, and now that I have them it is even better than I could have possible imagined.

What I still can’t quite imagine is what it must have felt like to walk up that mountain. I can’t quite imagine what it must have felt like to have my curious son ask the obvious question, “The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”  I can’t quite imagine what Abraham must have been thinking and feeling as he tied his son up, put him on the altar, and looked down at the knife in his hand, knowing what he had to do next.

I don’t know how I would react, but I have to be honest… if my previous success rate with trials and temptations is any indicator, my chances of passing that test are not all that promising…

I don’t know if I could do it… I don’t know if I have it in me…

We are at war, friends. The Bible makes clear that public enemy #1 is the devil. The spoils of this war/what’s at stake is your heart. Ever since Genesis chapter 3, that slimy serpent has been there tempting and testing God’s people every step along the way. And God allows this because he didn’t create us to be robots. He created us to love and serve him of our own accord, and part of loving and serving him means hating what he hates and fighting what he fights– the devil. God allows us to be tempted and tested to give us opportunities to serve him, to show him how much we love him.

We are at war. Every day God calls us to get up and do battle against the devil – to try with everything we are and everything we have to beat the devil.

And I have to confess to you: I’m not doing very well… Continue reading

I Have Sinned Against the LORD! (2 Samuel 12:1-13)

Sermon for Ash Wednesday (2/18/15)

Text: 2 Samuel 12:1-13

Theme: I Have Sinned Against the LORD!

            It’s a feeling you never forget. It’s a feeling you never get used to.

David sat in his throne room, righteously wrathful over the story Nathaniel had just shared with him, only to have Nathaniel look him in the eye and chill him to the bone with the words, “You are the man!”

It’s a feeling you never forget. It’s a feeling you never get used to.

Ananias lays his offering at the apostles’ feet. He feels a little flutter of pride as he looks around the room and sees everyone else watching him make this “great sacrifice,” only to have Peter see right through him – to that heart so full of the devil’s pride and lies. “You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

It’s a feeling you never forget. It’s a feeling you never get used to.

I sat in my dad’s office at church. I heard him speaking quietly with my teacher just outside the door. I didn’t care to hear what they were saying – I knew what they were talking about. I had seen a movie at a friend’s house that I wouldn’t have been allowed to watch at home. I had proudly repeated a rather vulgar line from that movie to my other friends at school. The teacher found out – and now the pastor, my Dad, was finding out too.

It’s a feeling you never forget. It’s a feeling you never get used to – at least you shouldn’t.

It’s the feeling of guilt – that uniquely, universally, horrible, rock-in-the-gut feeling that comes when you know you’ve done something wrong and that you are about to pay for it. Continue reading