A Life That Counts (John 12:26b; 1 Corinthians 15:58; Hebrews 6:10)

Several years ago, a survey was conducted in which people 95 years old or older were asked the following question: “What would you change if you could live your life over?” Here are their top three responses: (3) I would reflect more (i.e., slow down and think more deeply about things); (2) I would take more risks, more chances (i.e., try to be more adventurous); and (1) I would try to do more things that would outlive myself (i.e., do something of lasting significance). So said the 95-year-olds.

It’s interesting how the reality of impending death has a way of getting people in touch with the deeper issues of life. And, really, we don’t have to be 95 for that to sink in. A 30-year-old man who was dying of leukemia once said in the midst of his own pain and suffering, “I really don’t think people are afraid of death. What they’re afraid of is the incompleteness of their life.” Indeed, too many people are plagued by that gnawing sense of not having accomplished what they thought they would accomplish before leaving the planet.

Among believers, this dynamic is often the case regarding church work, too. Let’s face it, serious Christian service and church ministry is often hard, time-consuming, thankless, subject to criticism, and—most of the time—pro bono. It’s volunteer work that often goes unrecognized and therefore (we think) unappreciated.

If you’ve ever had that sense of, “What have I really accomplished in my service to Christ and his church?,” you might receive a tremendous amount of encouragement from the three passages highlighted in this message:

  • Jesus said in John 12:26, “My Father will honor the one who serves me.”
  • Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
  • The author said in Hebrews 6:10, “God…will not forget your work.”

Pastors might forget your work. Church staff might forget your work. Ministry leaders might forget your work. You might even forget your work, but God will not forget your work! 

This message looks at two instructions Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 15:58 that help us live a life of significance as believers: (1) Make your life count by standing firm in Christ (15:58a); and (2) Make your life count by serving fully in Christ (15:58b). In other words, make your life count by trusting and serving Christ. Incredible gifts await those who trust and serve the Lord (cf. Revelation 2-3), so live a life of significance for him. Just don’t wait till you’re 95 to do it!

Sermon Resources:

Lord of the Rings Video Clip 1: “I Can Carry You”

Lord of the Rings Video Clip 2: “You Bow to No One”

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Widows, Orphans, and Immigrants (Exodus 22:21-24 and Selected Verses)

It is universally true, thankfully, that decent folks don’t like it when people take advantage of other people. Wherever we go in the world—from the most primitive cultures to the most civilized societies—people do not appreciate the intentional oppression of other people, especially disadvantaged people. More importantly, God doesn’t like it when people take advantage of other people. They are, after all, made in his image.

Unlike other law codes from the ancient Near East, God’s laws show a remarkable concern for widows, orphans, and immigrants. Indeed, the penalty for mistreating such vulnerable people is high. This message looks at various aspects of these laws, all of which tell us something about the nature and ways of the God who gave them. Clearly, God is the champion of the poor, the outsider, the unfortunate, the defenseless, the powerless, and the desperate. As such, he wants his people to protect them, be kind to them, and provide for their needs. 

The God who gave these laws has a big heart, and it especially goes out to those whom Jesus called “the least of these.” God is angered by such things as racism, prejudice, bigotry, discrimination, neglect, and harsh or condescending treatment of those of another race. Making life more difficult for those for whom it is already hard is infuriating to him. Therefore, God wants his people to try to put themselves in other people’s shoes, and to treat them as they would want to be treated if they were in a similar situation.

When Jesus was on earth, he embodied these laws perfectly. He cared for the widows, treasured the orphans, and welcomed the immigrants. To be Christlike, then, means to share God’s concern for widows, orphans, and immigrants. For God’s people, this concern must translate into action. The sermon concludes with a word of hope for those who may have broken these laws, and encouragement for how they might go about being better aligned with God’s heart moving forward.

Sermon Resources:

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Peter’s Restoration (Mark 14:27-31; John 21:15-17)

One of the factors that makes the Bible ring true is that it tells the worst about its best people. There’s never any attempt to hide or gloss over the moral failings of its heroes. There’s never any attempt to dress people up with slick packaging. Very often we see the ugly truth about God’s people, and, frankly, it can be upsetting. 

Noah, Abraham, Samson, Jonah, and King David are but a few who come under significant censure by the biblical writers. So does Peter—the man to whom Jesus gave the “keys to the kingdom” (Matthew 16:19). That is surprising because Peter blew it so often as a follower of Christ. 

Still, we like this rough-around-the-edges fisherman with a big mouth, don’t we? Perhaps we think to ourselves, “If Peter can blow it so badly and so often and still make it into stained-glass windows, then maybe there’s hope for me, too.” But we never take refuge in the fact that Peter stumbled badly on more than one occasion. We take comfort in the fact that Jesus dealt patiently with Peter. He dealt graciously—and at the deepest heart level—with Peter to help him become a useful disciple.

How did Jesus do it? It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t pretty. It certainly wasn’t overnight, either, but it was real. In fact, the Peter we meet later in the book of Acts, and then also in the epistles, is almost a completely different person from the one we see in the Gospels. What happened? Why the transformation? Jesus labored to show Peter his desperate need for grace. And after Peter saw that need, he was finally ready to lead.

Specifically, after Peter denied three times knowing Jesus, the Lord came into his shattered world and gave him a new beginning, a new hope, and a new opportunity to set the record straight. Three times he asked Peter to re-affirm his love for him—one for each denial. Peter did exactly that, and Jesus gave him his job back right there on the spot. “Feed my lambs,” he said. In other words, “Teach my Word to others.” 

Spiritually, it can be devastating to learn we can’t earn God’s favor, that his love is not for sale. It can’t even be purchased with the currency of good behavior. No, divine love is a gift. This “gospel” is good news for the broken, for those who think they’ve completely ruined their lives. Indeed, the restoration of Peter shows us that Jesus restores his people by re-storying them in grace. He takes back the pen we stole and writes a better ending than we ever could have imagined.

We cannot go back and change our past, but by the grace of God, we can start right where we are and make sure there’s a different tomorrow. “A bruised reed he will not break,” said Isaiah. “A burning wick he will not snuff out” (Isaiah 42:3). That’s the Jesus Peter knew. Harsh and condemnatory religionists would have taken back his keys. Jesus never did.

Sermon Resources:

[ Please note that there is no sermon outline or PowerPoint file available for this message. ]

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Concerning This Salvation (1 Peter 1:10-12)

Even the apostles came across passages of Scripture once in a while that confounded them. Peter wrote of Paul’s writings, “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). That’s a comfort to those of us who have ever been perplexed by something we’ve read in the Bible!

Peter also wrote, “The prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Peter 1:10-11). In other words, the Old Testament prophets also had difficulty understanding some aspects of Scripture—including their own prophecies! The good news is, they kept pursuing greater understanding despite their own confusion. They faithfully wrote down what God had led them to write, even when they couldn’t piece it all together.

To take a case in point, the prophets spoke of a glorious messiah to come. They also spoke of a suffering messiah to come. Consequently, they had trouble reconciling these two concepts, which seemed to stand in an irresolvable tension. “What kind of messiah will he be,” they wondered, “a glorious messiah or a suffering messiah? Or will he somehow be both?”

Looking at all the biblical evidence, some rabbis said there was not one messiah coming but two! They even gave them names. The first was called, “Messiah, son of David,” the one who would rule and reign in righteousness in the spirit of King David, the one who brought Israel to its zenith of power and glory in his day. The second was called, “Messiah, son of [Old Testament] Joseph,” the one who would be mistreated by his own people and suffer greatly at their hands, just like Joseph, the patriarch, who was betrayed by his brothers.

The two-messiah theory was a good theory. It sought to be comprehensive and make sense of the sum total of biblical data. It tried to leave no stone unturned and be faithful to what God had revealed in his Word. The only problem with the theory is that it was wrong! There were not two messiahs coming, but one messiah in two appearances. The first time he would come as “Messiah son of Joseph,” the suffering servant who would die for the sins of the world. The second time he would appear as “Messiah son of David,” the everlasting king whose throne would never end.

The lesson for us today is both practical and helpful: When Scripture is hard to understand, keep studying it as best you can, letting God unravel the mysteries in his own time. And, in the end, know that Jesus is the center of all of it. As the prophets learned, God’s unfolding plan requires patience and faith. Paul himself wrote, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We ought to be very careful, then, about how tightly we hold onto our pet theories—even when we can attach a bunch of Bible verses to them.

Sermon Resources:

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Strength in Weakness (2 Corinthians 12:1-12)

There are many paradoxes in the Christian life—truths that seem to oppose one another, and yet they somehow work together. We might call such realities “truth in stereo.” For example, God is sovereign over history, yet human beings can make real and meaningful choices. The Scriptures are authored by God, and yet they come to us through hands of human beings. Jesus Christ is fully human, and yet he is also fully divine. The first shall be last, and the last shall be first. The list of examples is long.

The paradox in Paul’s famous “thorn in the flesh” testimony in 2 Corinthians 12 is likewise stark: “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10b). But how could he say such a thing? Is he making a self-contradictory, self-refuting statement? No, Paul learned firsthand that the thing he most wanted removed from his life was the very thing God was using for the apostle’s good and heaven’s glory. That is why, paradoxical though it may seem, believers can learn to glory in their weaknesses. As Hershael York has said, “It is in our weaknesses—more so than in our strengths—that Christ is most clearly revealed.” 

In sharing his testimony, Paul gives us three good reasons to glory in our weaknesses: First, glory in your weakness to direct people’s focus away from yourself. Paul’s goal in life was not to get people to think that he was wonderful. His goal in life was to get people to think that Christ is wonderful. As John the baptist said of Jesus, “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Second, glory in your weakness to distance yourself from your own strengths. Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5a). Believers should take him seriously on that reminder! Besides, we tend to learn a lot more about God in the thorns of life than we do in our “third heaven” experiences, which Paul also describes in this passage.

Third, glory in your weakness to display the greatness of Jesus Christ. Somewhere in his agonizing “wrestling match” with God, Paul’s attitude toward his thorn changed. The very thing that troubled him the most was the thing that moved him into deeper intimacy with the Lord. It’s a good reminder that if we have a thorn in our life (and who doesn’t?), we can face it, and let God grace it. Just like Paul did.

Charles Spurgeon has said, “A primary qualification for serving God with any amount of success…is a sense of our own weakness…. Dear reader, are you mourning over your own weakness? Take courage, for there must be a consciousness of weakness before the Lord will give you victory. Your emptiness is but the preparation for your being filled.” Spurgeon was right. Our weakness is the vessel of God’s strength. If such a paradox is truth is stereo, then let the weak turn up the volume on this one and dance.

Sermon Resources:

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Squeezed, Part 2: You Want Me to Do What? (Philemon 1:10-21)

In Part 2 of our series, we put ourselves in the sandals of Philemon, the slave owner. As Paul’s letter unfolds, Philemon begins to get the point: “Your slave, Onesimus, who stole from you and ran away, is coming back. In fact, he’s standing outside the door right now.” And it’s obvious you’re being asked by the Apostle Paul to love him, forgive him, and reconcile with him—something totally unheard of in the first century. It’s Philemon’s turn now to be squeezed.

Philemon’s initial reaction would surely have been something like, “Paul, you want me to do what? If I go soft on Onesimus, my other slaves will be more inclined to run off now, too. I can’t allow that! And what about all the other slaves in Colossae? If I receive Onesimus back without any punishment, word will spread that Christianity turns you into a doormat that people can walk all over. The other Christian masters will despise me!”

“And what about gospel outreach? It’s tough enough trying to witness to Christ in this empire. After all, Romans despise love. To them it’s not a virtue; they mock it and sneer at it all the time.” Philemon has a lot to think about when he gets Paul’s letter. He knows firsthand that when Christians loved each other, the Romans thought they were crazy. We have ancient correspondence that says, “These Christians are so crazy, they love each other even before they’ve met.”

Into that atmosphere, you’re going to talk about a gospel of love and forgiveness? Even for slaves? That’s insanity! To the pagan world, slaves were just “living tools” or “breathing machines.” You don’t forgive your household tools; you simply use them and get rid of them whenever they stop working. So, it’s going to be tough for Philemon to try to explain to the other slave owners in Colossae why Onesimus isn’t getting branded, flogged, or punished in some other way.

The book of Philemon is for believers today, too. Indeed, the grace of God in Christ takes believers off one hook (i.e., the hook of eternal judgment) and places us on another hook (i.e., the hook of forgiving others as we ourselves have been forgiven). It was Jesus himself who taught his people to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” In other words, to have been forgiven makes you a forgiverThat’s the consistent message throughout the New Testament. 

But how do we forgive others who’ve hurt us, wounded us, betrayed us, or offended us in some significant way? And how do we go beyond mere forgiveness into the realm of genuine reconciliation? It takes a miracle. It takes Jesus—the one who is infinite love himself and has shed abroad his love in our hearts (Romans 5:5).

Sermon Resources:

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Squeezed, Part 1: Get Me Out of Here (Philemon 1:1-16)

Ever since humanity “fell” in the garden back in Genesis 3, relationships have been difficult. Interactions with others can often be strained, awkward, and painful—sometimes even vicious or violent. But ever since Jesus died and rose again from the dead, relationships have been given new hope and a real potential for peace, sincerity, depth, and authenticity. It’s a long road back to the serenity of Eden, but it’s a road paved with the blood of Jesus Christ, so it’s a road worth traveling.

The Book of Philemon answers the broad question, “What does Christianity look like when it’s put into practice, especially as it pertains to relationships? What does our faith look like when it’s set in motion—not only in the Roman Empire of the first century, but also today—in the twenty-first century? Philemon gives us a partial answer, and it involves the spiritual practice of forgiveness. C. S. Lewis once said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.” He was right, and that’s why we sometimes feel squeezed in the Christian life. As recipients of forgiveness, we’re called to be distributors of it as well.

Paul’s letter to Philemon is only 355 words in the original Greek, but it carries a weight far beyond its length. Everyone here is being “squeezed.” Onesimus, the runaway slave is being squeezed. Philemon, the slave owner, is being squeezed. Even Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, is being squeezed. Our focus in Part 1 is Onesimus, who shows us that the more we try to run from God and his ways, the more he puts the squeeze on us, pulling us back to himself. Moreover, Onesimus shows us that so often we run from one set of circumstances to another—trying to find true freedom and personhood—only to get imprisoned in our own escape routes.

The good news is that God does his squeezing with the gentle hands of love so his people will be conformed to the image of his Son. But the shaping can make us uncomfortable. We come to see that a change in circumstance doesn’t change who we are on the inside. Indeed, we discover that we can run from one set of circumstances to another—trying to find true freedom and personhood—only to get imprisoned in our own escape routes. Thankfully, the gospel of Jesus Christ re-humanizes us so we can flourish in this life, regardless of our circumstances. That’s because freedom is a mentality more than a locality. 

The book of Philemon shows us that sometimes God doesn’t want our situation to change; he wants us to change in the situation. Such change is possible with the help of Jesus Christ, the one who died by crucifixion—a slave’s death—though he himself was completely innocent of all wrongdoing. Running to him is the only way to find a true and lasting freedom.

Sermon Resources:

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Our Father, Who Art Incredible (Genesis 28:16-17 and Selected Verses)

Who is God? What is he like? How do we conceive him to be? Years ago, a man was trapped in a railroad car all night. It was a refrigeration car, and he was horrified. He was desperate to get out, but he couldn’t. With a sharp object he found in the car, he scratched out a message on the wooden floor: “If I don’t get out of here, I’ll freeze to death.” The next morning, he was found dead. That was doubly tragic because the refrigeration unit wasn’t on that night. It never went below 55 degrees on the thermometer the whole time he was trapped inside.

Mental constructs are vitally important, and what we believe about certain things is no small issue. So, consider the question once again, “Who is God?” Christians are well trained to respond by saying, “He’s the God of the Bible!” But which God of the Bible? Not that there’s more than one presented in Scripture, but there are certainly many portrayals of him. The biblical God has many attributes and many ways of engaging with people as he travels from page to page, scene to scene.

The book of Genesis, for example, shows us a God who appears in many different disguises, playing many different roles, and wearing many different “hats.” He’s highly interactive with his creation—changing faces and changing forms without notice. What’s that all about? It means, in part, that Genesis is a “photo album of the traveling God.” It’s a collage of “God sightings,” and we need to read it with our eye on him. What do we learn about God and his ways from watching him in action?

If God is truly infinite, then all our ideas and understandings about him will be incomplete. Not necessarily wrong but incomplete. That’s why Peter instructs believers to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18). Likewise, Paul writes, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection” (Phil 3:10). Paul already knew Christ, but he wanted to know him more. He needed to know him more.

One of the greatest enemies to truth is thinking we have it all. That mindset causes us to stop looking, stop seeking, stop listening, and ultimately stop thinking. Religious people with deep convictions often fall into this trap. Indeed, it was a highly religious crowd that killed Jesus—the “God-with-us” Emmanuel. Their concept of God—which they thought was biblical—was radically wrong. It was also wrong-headed. But no one could tell them that. Not even Jesus.

If we’re not dynamically growing in our understanding of God—going deeper into the Infinite whose surface we have barely scratched—we might wind up crucifying the truth, too. It’s not enough for believers to be doctrinally right about God, we have to be dynamically relating to God on the journey of life lest we get spiritually stale and obnoxiously blind. So, join us for this flyover of Genesis. You might discover a bigger, more adventuresome God than you’ve ever known. You might even start praying to “our Father, who art incredible.”

Sermon Resources:

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God of the Impossible (1 Kings 17:17-24)

A Few Good Men is ranked as one of top 100 movies of all time. It’s a military courtroom drama starring Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, and Kevin Bacon. One of the memorable lines of the movie comes from Lieutenant Kaffee, played by Tom Cruise. He’s the lead defense attorney, and his case against the colonel isn’t going well. After a series of deep frustrations with his co-counsel, Lieutenant Galloway, played by Demi Moore, Kaffee blurts out, “And the hits just keep on coming!” It’s an expression that basically means, “Here we go again!” or “If it’s not one thing, it’s another!”

By the time we meet up with Elijah in 1 Kings 17:17-24, it’s hard not to think of this line, “And the hist just keep on coming!” He’s already had a hard and adventuresome life as a prophet, but we’re just getting started. After several miracles and death-defying adventures, the son of the widow he just rescued becomes deathly ill. Elijah watches his little friend go through the dying process. A few months ago, he saw the brook dry up, and now he sees a young boy’s life dry up, too. Now what? Surprisingly, the widow blames the prophet for her son’s death. For Elijah, the hits just keep on coming.

How do we respond when we get a tongue lashing we don’t deserve? Step into lawyer mode? Defense mode? Return the verbal garbage with garbage of our own? Hurt people tend to hurt people, and Elijah gets wounded here. But he doesn’t seek to wound back. He offers no argument, no rebuke, and no explanation. He does speak, but not to the woman’s tortured logic and agonized questions. Rather, he offers her gentle service and simple burden sharing. Then he gets alone with God and cries out to him for help (1 Kings 17:20), offering up an impossible prayer: “O Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!” (1 Kings 17:21b).

It’s one thing to pray for the weather, as Elijah has recently done. It’s another thing to pray for the restoration of life to a dead body. That’s something new. But not only does Elijah pray the impossible prayer, he’s willing to be ceremonially “unclean” in the process by stretching himself out on the boy three times (1 Kings 17:21a). It was a form of sacrificial intercession in the face of a desperate situation. Happily, the Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him (1 Kings 17:22). It’s the first resurrection of Scripture. Thankfully, it’s not the last.

How do we face an impossible situation today? Like Elijah, we can get alone with God. We can pour out our problems to the Lord. We can strive for patient endurance and calm assurance amid the hits. And we can wait for God to act, receiving his deliverance in due course. Like Elijah, we can be fully persuaded that hope never dies because the God of the impossible lives. Patient endurance, then, is well founded. Teresa of Avila was a Carmelite nun who lived in the 1500s. She wrote a verse that John Michael Talbot made into a song in our day:

Let nothing trouble you.
Let nothing frighten you.
For everything passes but God will never change.
Patient endurance will obtain everything
Whoever has God, wants for nothing at all.
God alone is enough. God alone is enough.
Whoever has God, wants for nothing at all.

One day the hits will stop coming. Jesus made sure of that. On the cross, he was willing to become truly “unclean” for us, dying for our sin. But on the third day, he rose again from the dead, having told his followers, “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19). Today he puts his infinite resources at the disposal of those who, like Elijah, pray in righteousness and faith. That’s how we hit back at the hits.

Sermon Resources:

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Digesting Life (Psalm 57:1-11)

Have you ever had a cow on your plate? Probably, but it was broken down into a hamburger first, which you then had to chew. Your body broke it down even further through digestion into proteins, amino acids, and other nutrients that could be absorbed into your bloodstream and used as fuel for life. Inside that cow, then, was energy for life—but it had to be broken down again and again to be of any value to you.

How do we handle the pressures of life in a fallen world—especially if we believe that God is for us not against us (Rom 8:31)? How do we reconcile the goodness of God and the aches and pains of this world he calls us to endure? David’s relationship with God as revealed in Psalm 57 gives us a clue. 

One day King Saul tried to shish kabob David to the wall with a spear while he was playing his harp. When that failed, Saul dispatched his soldiers to capture him, but that didn’t work, either. In fact, every attempt by Saul to lay a hand on him was frustrated. Eventually, David escaped to the cave of Adullam as a fugitive. According to Psalm 57:6, David’s spirit during those days was “bowed down in distress.”

Despite the pressure he was feeling, 1 Samuel 22:1 tells us that when David’s family found out where he was hiding, they met up with him there, including “all those who were in distress…and he became their leader.” That’s a noteworthy rendezvous. Four hundred people who are stressed out seek after David, who himself is stressed out. They want to be with him. They recognize that God is still with him in a unique way. Moreover, they want him to be their leader even though he’s on the run.

How many people do we know whom we can honestly say we want to be around when they’re stressed out? Most of us aren’t so sure we like being around ourselves when we’re stressed out! But David handled the pressures of life in such a way that people wanted to be around him even when he himself was under pressure. Why? David tells us he ultimately took refuge in God (Ps 57:1), not the cave. Indeed, he recognized that despite his many challenges in life, God was still fulfilling his purpose for him (Ps 57:2).

This sermon looks at the great “why” behind our distress, a word, incidentally, that means “to pull you apart slowly; to stretch you or draw you tight.” It’s an image that comes from the ancient rack torture. In other words, distress is when life is ripping you apart, tearing at your soul, and causing you grief or pain. The good news is that God’s people don’t go through distress only to come out the other side with nothing but a scar. No, for the child of God, every trial we face is Father-filtered. There’s a “divine why” behind it and a supreme good coming out of it, even if we don’t know at the time what that may be. 

We do know that the testing of our faith leads to spiritual growth (Jas 1:2-4; 1 Pet 1:6-7), and growth requires eating. Not only eating but digesting what we’ve eaten. Digestion, of course, is a process of breaking down the food we eat into a form our bodies can use. It’s a process that’ essential to life itself. Now, we can read a book about digestion, and even become a gastrointestinal doctor, but unless we actually eat, we will starve to death. 

Likewise, believers can read our Bibles until we’ve memorized them, but unless we “digest” life as it unfolds, activating our faith in the process, we will spiritually starve. David’s trust in God while under pressure is a reminder for all of us to digest life with faith in order to truly live. Anything less would be IN-digestion. So, by all means, have a cow. But eat it in faith. Energy for life awaits you.

Sermon Resources:

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As Secure as You Can Make It (Matthew 27:62-28:15)

Matthew’s account of Jesus’s resurrection is filled with sarcasm, culminating in the order Pontius Pilate gave: “Take a guard. Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how” (Matt 27:65). How did that work out for you, governor? Jesus rose from the dead, and the guards had no power to stop it.

But Pilate’s order represents what most people are trying to accomplish these days—making things as secure as they can. We lock our doors, buckle our seatbelts, password-protect our computers, wear helmets while biking, go through TSA stations at the airport, and purchase all kinds of warranties and insurance policies. But the resurrection account reminds us that real security is found in the risen Savior.

That’s the point of Matthew’s sarcasm. Sarcasm in this context means a holy defiance against the lies and pretense of this world, and humanity’s vain attempts to destroy the work of God. It’s a sacred sneering at all the obstacles and injustice in our society that keep people from flourishing as God wants them to flourish. It’s an attitude that faces the difficulties and challenges of life and says, “Bring it on.”

Why? Because the empty tomb means believers can’t lose in the end. Indeed, our own impending resurrection gives us a holy defiance against our fears and final enemy, death itself. Therefore, we can have a healthy suspicion of all our own attempts to keep ourselves secure, and a bold embrace of God’s incredible adventure for our lives—whatever that may entail. Make the tomb as secure as you can? You might as well try to kill an elephant with spitballs. Jesus Christ—risen from the dead—is Lord of all.

Sermon Resources:

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The Weeping King (Luke 19:28-44)

Leaders try hard not to cry in public. Instead, they seek to project a measure of strength and courage in difficult situations. They usually want to send a message that everything is under control. Crying just unnerves the people who have to watch it. Therefore, politicians and public figures try to stuff their tears and stifle their emotions. If, for some reason, they do ever cry in public, they strive to “leak a little,” not gush. 

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, he cried openly in front of the masses. Luke 19:41 says he wept over the city, and the word for “wept” in the original means to sob or to wail. It was a great lament, not a little sniffle. But why was Jesus so upset? His answer was both bold and blunt: “because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (Luke 19:44). God came to his people in the person of Christ, but they did not recognize him and submit to his authority. Rather, they tried to leverage that authority for their own ends.

Luke’s account of Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem is a spiritually challenging passage—one that ultimately reminds us that to receive Jesus is to receive God, and to reject Jesus is to reject God. Knowing that some people would reject him at great cost to their own eternal well-being, Jesus wept for their souls. Indeed, his tears were an ominous sign that the week ahead would be a long and difficult one for him.

Sermon Resources:

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The Gospel Unchained, Part 12: Hope in the Midst of Hardship (2 Timothy 4:9-22)

What would you like your final words to be? When it comes time for you to leave this life and enter the next, what would you wish to say to those who remain behind? The Apostle Paul’s last words to the church can be found in 2 Timothy 4:9-22. 

In this passage he chronicles the kinds of earthly hardships he endured throughout his ministry (i.e., the pain of seclusion, desertion, deprivation, opposition, and isolation). But he also sets forth the kind of support he received—and believers can expect—from God, even as they follow in his footsteps. To paraphrase, Paul reminds the church, “God will supply you, God will strengthen you, and God will save you.” 

In short, Paul instructs the church to overcome earthly hardship with heavenly hope. He reminds his readers that the earth cannot take them when God is keeping them, and the earth cannot keep them when God is taking them. He is sovereign over the lives of his people and the unfolding history of the world.

Paul then bids farewell with a blessing: “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you” (2 Timothy 4:22). After this, we hear nothing else he says. After this, we read nothing else he writes. After this, we learn nothing else he thinks. His martyrdom is imminent, so these are the final words of Paul to the church. What does he want believers to remember as he signs off? What does he want ringing in their ears until Jesus comes back? 

Paul wants the church to remember the presence of God (“The Lord be with your spirit”) and the powerof God (“Grace be with you”). Grace, of course, is the unmerited favor of God that can captivate a terrorist like Paul. It’s also the unlimited power of God that can convert a terrorist like Paul and use him to change the world in Jesus’s name. What could the grace of God do through you?

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

The Gospel Unchained, Part 11: Fight to the Finish (2 Timothy 4:1-8)

The Battle of Gettysburg was the bloodiest conflict of the Civil War. Nearly 7,800 people were killed, 27,000 were wounded, and 11,000 were captured or went missing. The North defeated the South in that 3-day battle. Had they not done so, it’s likely that today the United States would not be united. In fact, most historians regard Gettysburg as the turning point of the war. 

One of the heroes to come out of that battle was Joshua Chamberlain, a professor of theology and rhetoric at Bowdoin College in Maine. On July 2, 1863, the second day of battle Col. Chamberlain defended the left flank of the Union on a hill called Little Round Top. Had he failed to hold that position, the Union line would have collapsed, the battle would have been lost, and the Confederates would have marched on Washington and overtaken the White House. 

But Chamberlain and his men from the 20th Maine held firm. With great courage and tenacity, they repelled wave after wave of attack late into the afternoon. Even after his men ran out of ammunition, Chamberlain refused to retreat. Instead, he ordered that famous bayonet charge down the hill, which put the Confederates to flight and ended their plans to penetrate the Union line.

What’s not so famous, however, is a crisis that Chamberlain faced just two days before the Little Round Top incident. Chamberlain inherited 120 insurgents from the 2nd Maine. That regiment had folded because there were so many casualties in it. Naturally, the survivors assumed that when their unit ended, their term of service had ended, too. But not so, according to the military brass. They had to be re-assigned. Understandably, the men of the 2nd Maine were furious, so they dropped their muskets, and they refused to fight. 

They had seen enough war. They had seen enough death. And some of them were wounded themselves. They were emotionally drained; and they just wanted to go home. But they were rounded up like cattle and marched at gunpoint over to the 20th Maine. Now, put yourself in Col. Chamberlain’s boots for a moment. You’re preparing for your next campaign just north of where you are now, when suddenly, 120 grumpy, burned-out insurrectionists are dropped into your lap. What are you going to do with them? How are you going to get them on board? 

How do you motivate a group of wounded and weary soldiers to keep fighting the good fight? Chamberlain gets them on board with a speech—a stirring exhortation that is almost as powerful as the Gettysburg Address itself. After promising not to shoot the insurgents—which he had every right to do—Chamberlain talks to them with respect. In short, He reminded them that their purpose far outweighed their pain, and their prize far outweighed their price.

When it comes to Christian service, that’s a message believers need to be reminded of on a regular basis because ministry can be hard. Kingdom work is exhausting. Volunteer ministry can sometimes be discouraging, dispiriting, or disillusioning. Certainly, there are moments of great joy and celebration, but Christian service has a way of wringing us out like a wet dish rag. Paul’s burden in 2 Timothy is to light a fire under his young protégé to fight like a good soldier and keep fighting, even when the battle gets fierce. To that end, Paul tells Timothy—and he tells believers today—to press on in view of both the pain and the payoff. In short, he says fight to the finish, and receive your crown from Christ.

Paul, the old war horse, now in chains, sitting in the shadow of execution, just weeks away from martyrdom—what’s he concerned about? What’s foremost on his mind? The continued sharing of the gospel after he’s gone. It’s no time to go AWOL on the gospel, says Paul. He tells God’s people to fight well as a service to Christ (4:1-5), and finish well as a sacrifice to Christ (4:6-8). Just as he did.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

The Gospel Unchained, Part 10: Navigate the Last Days (2 Timothy 3:10-17)

Here’s a black and white photo that doesn’t look like much, but it tells an amazing story:

It’s an SAR—a Synthetic Aperture Radar— image of Hurricane Ike as it approached the coast of Texas in September 2008. Ike was the seventh costliest Atlantic storm in history, leaving about $38 billion worth of damage in its wake.

If we look at the picture carefully, we can see within the well-defined eye, near the right side toward the bottom, a tiny white dot. That dot is the 584-foot Cyprus bulk freighter Antalina, which got caught in the storm when its engines failed. 

There were 22 souls aboard the vessel when the storm hit. The wind was so severe, the Coast Guard had to call off its rescue attempt. The ship and the crew were forced to ride it out—inside the fury of the storm—hoping against hope that they wouldn’t be swamped or capsize. The satellite image shows the ship still safely afloat as the eye passes over them, giving them a brief respite until the southeastern wall pummeled them again.

Happily, the Antalina made it safely through the storm, and a tugboat pulled it safely to port after it was all over. All 22 crewmen survived, and the ship was undamaged. Quite significantly, the crew always knew where they were. Even though their engines had failed, they had a map and a compass to navigate the adventure. Better yet, the Coast Guard never lost sight of them. They were always on the radar, and officials always knew exactly where they were. It’s disorienting to be in a storm, but the tools of navigation have a way of keeping crew members tethered to reality—even when they’re getting pummeled by a hurricane. 

Can you imagine what kind of storms will visit us in the last days? Can you imagine how disorienting it will be when all hell breaks loose and unleashes its fury one last time prior to the return of Christ? We have hints and glimpses in Scripture of what those days will be like, but the intense depravity and deception will swirl around God’s people like never before. Jesus said it would be so bad, he put the question like this: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). In other words, the hurricane of depravity and deception will be severe. 

On another occasion, Jesus described these days like this: At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:10-13).

But how do we stand firm to the end? How can we be saved in the storm? Paul tells us in this passage to navigate the last days by the map of God’s word, the compass of God’s workers, and the North Star of Jesus Christ. It’s not a specific battle plan, but a general one, and believers do well to implement it now. We can do so by emulating God’s faithful workers (vv. 10-14) and examining God’s faultless word (vv. 15-17).

Indeed, the launching point for believers is always the inspired, God-breathed Scriptures because: (1) they are the sacred writings; (2) they are the source of saving truth; and (3) they are the spoken word of God. Thankfully, God has not left his people without a map and compass to navigate the storms of life. As Vance Havner once said, “A Bible that’s falling apart is usually owned by somebody who isn’t.” Best of all, God never loses sight of his people. They’re always on his radar.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.