So, This is Christmas

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At my home church, I preach on the third Sunday night of every month, and every other Wednesday. And since my pastor isn’t really the sermon series kinda guy (which is perfectly fine for his style of preaching), I’ve decided that I’m going to use my preaching dates as opportunity to try my first shot at preaching an advent series.

In case you couldn’t already tell my inspiration for the title “So, This is Christmas” comes from the opening lines of John Lennon’s 1971 Christmas hit, “Happy Xmas (War is Over).”

When this song came out it was an anthem for peace in the UK and eventually the song got more popular over the years, and The Fray has even recorded a cover of it (which is fantastic by the way, check it out here).

What I really want to do in this series is give us a reminder that Jesus really is the reason for the season. In reality, that should be the goal of every advent series. As a matter of fact, the goal of your preaching (regardless of where you are in the Church calendar) should be to exalt Christ and present the Gospel. I think so often we’re trying to come up with original ideas for our preaching. “Maybe I can present this new idea or that new idea.” “Maybe, I can try a different approach.” While creativity in a sermon series isn’t a bad thing, it can become a bad thing when we make the focus all about how ‘original’ we are instead of how good God is. In reality there’s nothing new under the sun, and if we think it’s new then it’s probably just an old heresy revisited.

But, in case you’re interested, here’s the basic outline that I’m thinking of working with:

Sermon 1: The ‘Who’ of Christmas
Text: John 1:1-5

Sometimes we just need to return to the basics. In the hustle and bustle of the busy Christmas we try to find the right gifts for our friends and family we must remember that God has given us the ultimate gift of His son, Jesus Christ.

Sermon 2: The ‘What’ of Christmas
Text: Hebrews 2:10-18

In this message we’ll look specifically at what Jesus came to do. In this message, we’ll cover the Incarnation, a brief overview of the life of Christ, and his death and resurrection. 

Sermon 3: The ‘Why’ of Christmas
Text: 1 John 3:8

Carl F.H. Henry said, “The early church didn’t say, ‘Look what the world has become!’ They said, ‘Look what has come into the world!” 1 John 3:8 clearly says that Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. That’s the ‘why’ of Christmas. So, what does that look like for us? What are the works of the devil and what does it look like for them to be destroyed in our lives and in the world?

I realize that these are not the traditional texts that one may use for their Christmas readings, but I believe that this is the guideline that I’m supposed to use in this advent season. If you like it, feel free to use it.

Sanctification in Community: Reflections on Philippians 1:27-30

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Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For He has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for Him as well– since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.  – Philippians 1:27-30, NRSV

I’m currently preparing to preach over this passage at my church as we continue our series in the book of Philippians, and the key thing that I see in this passage is Paul’s desire for corporate sanctification in the midst of suffering and persecution. That’s really a major theme in the entire book.

Notice first, Paul says that he wants us to live a life in a manner worthy of the Gospel. That sounds like the “Christian thing” to do, right? But what does that really look like? The first answer that comes to my mind (and it may come to your mind as well) is sanctification. But what is sanctification? The biblical definition of sanctification is ‘setting apart.’ But I feel like we, in the Church, have a distorted  view of sanctification. We’ve got it all boiled down to an individual moralism where we have to make sure we do all the things we’re supposed to as Christians and then we get to stand back, look at our giant pile of good works that we’ve done for the day, and make sure that those good things outnumber the bad things that we do. But the problem is that our giant pile of good works is just that – A GIANT PILE (of what, I’m sure you can figure out).

In his sermon on Galatians 1:1-10, Daniel Emery Price talks about how we often look at the free gift of Gospel and we might think that it’s too good to be true, so what we do is think to ourselves, “there’s got to be more to the Gospel than this, there’s got to be some rules and regulations.” So, we know that Jewish dietary restrictions and other certain laws are done away with in Christ, but we end up creating our own rules and regulations. We’re perfectly allowed to eat bacon, but God forbid we light up a good ol’ Marlboro Menthol cigarette or even better, a nice Oliva V cigar.

So then, we turn sanctification into something that we offer to God through obedience to laws that we’ve made for ourselves and in the process we deceive ourselves and others by believing and proclaiming that we’re following the law of God.

What then does the Bible actually say about sanctification? The Apostle Peter gives us this insight:

Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. – 1 Peter 1:14-19, NRSV

The word, “holy” means “other, set apart.” What Peter is telling us is that just as God is “other” or distinct from His creation so we should be “other” or distinct from those who do not embrace the Gospel of Christ. There is then a responsibility to conduct ourselves different from the rest of the world. And we often refer to this new conduct as holiness. One might be inclined to ask the question, “how does that not result in moralism?”

Imagine if you’re a father or mother and you’re teaching a child to walk. You’re not looking for any skills in the child that would contribute to him learning to walk, you’re simply trying to guide the child until it can walk on it’s own so it is with God who sanctifies us. He’s drawing us close to Him, and guiding us with His Spirit so we can walk with Him. Will that result in behavior modification? Maybe, but behavior modification isn’t the point, the Gospel of God coming to us and letting Him work in our lives is the point. When we understand this, we can then see that sanctification is process that we join and participate in with God rather than something that we contribute to our salvation.

(For more information on this, I highly recommend Dallas Willard’s lecture on Spiritual Formation as Natural Part of Salvation.)

Now, when we get back to our passage in Philippians 1, we see that Paul wants that to happen in community. Notice verse 27, Paul fully expects them to be “standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.” When we consider this, we see that our sanctification isn’t a static, individual act, but it is an active community project that we assist one another in as God works in us to do so.

Sermon Notes: “Believing The Shepherd”

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(These are the notes from a sermon that I preached a while back. Feel free to use them for your own study. Note, this is not a manuscript so some of the thoughts may seem scattered.)

Text: John 10:22-30

Introduction
I like using the Lectionary when I’m trying to decide what passage I need to preach because it will force you deal with things in the passage you may not feel comfortable dealing with. In a way, I think we should all (preacher or layman) get on some kind of a reading plan that will force us to read the Bible as a whole because you will find yourself in parts of the Bible that you ordinarily wouldn’t read and you’ll end up learning some things you didn’t know before, and you end up in a situation where the Bible confronts you and begins to tear at the fabric of what you were always taught to believe, and when this happens we need to let the Bible drive any of our pre-conceived notions that do not line up with what we’re reading in Scripture.

“We must allow the Word of God to confront us, to disturb our security, to undermine our complacency and to overthrow our patterns of thought and behavior.” ― John R.W. Stott

So tonight, I’ll be using John 10:22-30 as my main passage, but I will be jumping around to different parts of Scripture so that I can show you what the Bible forces us to deal with as we read this passage and seek to understand it’s meaning.

At the beginning of this passage, there’s three things we need to notice about the setting. There’s an important place, an important person, and an important party.

Important Person – Jesus the Messiah, the Jewish leaders have been hounding Him to tell them plainly if He is, in fact, the Messiah. And if you are paying attention to the chronology of John, then you’ll notice that this actually one of the more humorous passages in the Gospels and you’ll see why in a little bit.

Important Place – The Temple, more specifically, Solomon’s porch. “This place is important; it was the porch or portico on the east side of the Temple and was called the “Porch of Judgment.” From this location, the King would make his judgments and exercise justice for those who were brought before him. And here is Jesus strolling through this historic location, physically embodying justice in this place of justice — something his life and teachings were all about.”

Important Party – The Feast of Dedication, sometimes called the Festival of Lights, and today this event is known as Hanukkah. The Jews celebrated (and still celebrate) Hanukkah to remember a time when God kept the lamps in the temple burning for eight days even though there was only enough oil to last one day due to an oil shortage because of war in the land at that time.

As we keep these things in mind, let’s also notice that Jesus has been in Jerusalem since the Feast of Tabernacles which you read about in John 7 and He has been periodically teaching in the temple and revealing Himself as the Messiah that was promised in the Old Testament.

Our 3 points will be the following:
The Reason for Unbelief (verses 24-26)
The Reason for Belief (verse 27)
The End Result (verses 28-29)

The Reason for Unbelief (verses 24-26)
Notice what verse 26 says, “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep.” It doesn’t say “you are not of my sheep because you do not believe.” See, we can’t simply look at the passage and say, “Well then, their problem is that they simply do not believe. They’re just blatantly ignoring the facts.” While there’s truth to that, the problem isn’t simply unbelief, unbelief is only a symptom of a greater disease. The greater disease is deadness in sin. Remember what Paul says in Ephesians 2, “You were dead in your sins.”

We often like to imagine Jesus as a lifeguard that throws us a life saver as we’re drowning in the sea of sin, but that analogy wrong, because Paul says the wages of sin is death. So, if you’re not saved, then you’re not sick in your sins, you’re not the brink of death in your sins, you’re dead in your sins.

So then, Jesus isn’t some lifeguard that throws you a life saver, He actually swims to the bottom of the ocean and carries your corpse up out of the sea, and breathes into you, the breath of life. So, then the problem people do not believe what Jesus is plainly telling them isn’t simply unbelief, it’s unbelief as a result of dead men walking in their sin.

In another place, Jesus makes a clear distinction between sheep and goats, so if Jesus is telling these Jews, “you do not believe because you are not my sheep” then it must follow that they are goats. And Jesus says, there will come a day when He separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on His right hand, and the goats on His left hand.
“Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matthew 25:41 NRSV]

Jesus is making the clear distinction, unless you believe what He says about Himself in the Scriptures and follow Him, then you are nothing more than unbelieving goat.
“How do I know if I’m a sheep or a goat?” It’s simple. Do you desire to follow Christ and believe what He says? Then you’re a sheep. If you’re confronted with Scripture, and it doesn’t phase you or change you, then you’re a goat. Sheep love and follow Jesus.

The Reason for Belief (verse 27)

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” – [John 10:27 NRSV]

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” – [John 10:1-5 NRSV]

What is He saying here? When the shepherd calls, the sheep follow.

Do you remember that old song, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”? In the old school, when someone would make a decision for Christ, we would strike up the band and sing “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.” That’s all well and good as long as we understand we don’t make the decision on our own apart from the inward drawing of the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

“No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.”
– [John 6:44-45 KJV]

Let’s look at verse 45 in the NRSV just to good grasp of the meaning…
“It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” – [John 6:45 NRSV]

Notice, Jesus says, “It is written in the prophets…” Anytime you see that phrase mentioned, you need to look in the Old Testament to the passage that is being quoted and read it in context.

“And they all shall be taught by God.” – Although this is not a direct, word for word quote, Jesus pulls this from two passages in the Old Testament that speak of the same event – the promise of the New Covenant.

“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
– [Jeremiah 31:33-34 NRSV]

“All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the prosperity of your children.” – [Isaiah 54:13 NRSV]

Here’s the big question: What does all this mean for us? It means that God, in love, has brought us into His covenant and placed us in fellowship with a covenant community of believers.

It means that our belief does not come from within us, it comes from God who loves us, draws us, saves us, sanctifies us, and will one day, glorify us. God is the cheif operator in our salvation, not us. John makes that clear at the beginning of His gospel account in John 1.

“He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
– [John 1:11-13 KJV]

Prior to being born again, we were enemies of God without hope in the world, but the will of God intervened for us, and drew us to a point in our lives where we knew we had to come to Jesus or be lost forever.

The End Result (verses 28-29)

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” – [John 10:27-29 KJV]

Let’s think about John 3:16 for a second. We know John 3:16, we love John 3:16, we can all quote John 3:16. We don’t dispute it. Yet, when it comes to verses like John 10:28-29, we want to say, “God gives them eternal life, but…” or “I know it says no one can pluck us out of God’s hand, but…” There are no ‘buts.’ There is nothing in the text that indicates that Jesus DOES NOT mean what He says.

There’s only one condition here. The sheep must follow, and He gives them eternal life.

Here’s how it works.

The Shepherd calls, the sheep follow, He gives them eternal life.

The Shepherd ALWAYS calls. The sheep ALWAYS follow. The Shepherd ALWAYS grants eternal life to the sheep. This is the beauty of Unconditional Election. Our election in Christ is sure. Our salvation is secure. There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING that can be done for our salvation to be lost.

I can hear someone asking now, “But what if the sheep ever stop following?” Then that’s not a sheep, that’s a goat. The sheep may stray, but shepherd always brings the sheep back.

“How do we know who is a sheep and who is a goat?” It’s none of our business, Jesus will separate them Himself.

Now, here’s the big question for you tonight? Are you a lost sheep? Do you need Jesus to find you? Do you need hope that only salvation can give? You may be here, and you may be saved, but you need the joy of your salvation restored. Jesus can grant you joy unspeakable and full of glory.

 

Homily: Ghosts in Church

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“And to the angel at the church in Sardis write: These are the words of Him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a theif, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. Yet you have still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before His angels. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” – Revelation 3:1-6, NRSV

Flannery O’Connor once said that while the south is hardly Christ-centered, it is most assuredly Christ-haunted. I thought that that was such a profound statement especially considering what part of the south I’m from. I live close to Russellville, Arkansas where there are roughly 120 churches. There is practically a church on every corner, and yet our town doesn’t seem very Christ-centered.

Of course, it’s easy for us to look outside the four walls of our church and see how morally bankrupt the rest of the world is, but what would we see if we looked in our own hearts? Will we find that are hearts are Christ-centered or Christ-haunted? Are we actively living our faith or are we simply ghosts, remnants of what used to be?

For the last couple of months, I’ve been doing a slow read through the book of Revelation and every once in a while it seems like the Holy Spirit will poke me on the shoulder and say, “Pay attention, I’m talking to you” and when He does I soak in the passage and I am drawn closer to Christ through an outcry for repentance. And that sounds all warm and fuzzy, but it’s not. It’s painful. I think sometimes I make it more painful than it has to be. I don’t know about you, but I find myself in a rush trying to be holy NOW, and then I end up messing up again. I want to hurry to do enough ‘holy’ things to make up for the sinful things I’ve done, but the reality of the situation is that my sin was already paid for by the blood of Jesus. So, what must I do? Listen.

Notice the last words of Jesus in this passage, “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.” So, what will I hear if I listen? His voice telling me to “remember what I’ve received and heard and to obey it.” So, did I receive and hear? The Gospel. The good news that Jesus came to save sinners like me. How do I obey it? By repentance and belief. I must repent of my sins and believe that God raised Jesus from the dead to declare victory over all sin.

If I listen closely to what the Spirit saying, I can also hear Him telling me to wake up. One of my favorite passages is found in the book of Ephesians, and it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Paul quotes from an old hymn of the first century Church that alludes to Isaiah 26:19 which is a promise of God to His people that their dead shall awake from their slumber, and one stanza of that particular verse says, “O dwellers of the dust, awake and sing for joy!” The Holy Spirit is telling us that the time for taking a spiritual dirt nap is over! We must come alive, see the glory of God, repent and be saved, be sanctified, and be filled with the Holy Spirit!

 

Our Story – Sermon Resources

After writing the blog post, “Our Story”, I put together a sermon outline and notes to go with it as well as some JPEG slides. So, here is the finished product free to use for any occasion whether it be a full-length sermon, a short devotional, or just a personal study.

Introduction:
In 1896, Henry Ernest Nichol penned these words:

“We’ve a story to tell to the nations,
That shall turn their hearts to the right,
A story of truth and mercy,
A story of peace and light,
A story of peace and light.”

While this hymn speaks to the ecclesiastical mandate for the Church to spread the gospel, on a much more personal level, you and I have a responsibility to tell others what God has done for us. Each one of us has a story. What God has done for us is important and it could very well help someone turn their test into a testimony.

Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul. – [Psalm 66:16 ESV]

Outline:
Two Reasons To Tell Our Story:
1. It Causes Us To Remember What God Has Done For Us (Joshua 4:4-7)
Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.” – [Joshua 4:4-7 ESV]

    1. Remembering What God Has Done
      A. Builds Faith For the Present (Hebrews 11:1-6)
      B. Gives Hope For the Future (Hebrews 11:8-10)

2. It Causes Others To Know What God Can Do For Them (Psalm 71:17-18)
“O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. 18So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.” – [Psalms 71:17-18 ESV]

  1. David’s motive for this prayer came from
    A. a desire to glorify God by telling his story
    B. a desire to tell of God’s might to the next generation

Challenge:
Make your story known to someone this week as a reminder to yourself of what God has done and as a help to someone else who may be struggling to find God in the midst of their circumstances.

Benediction:
“Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, “Amen!” Praise the LORD!” – [Psalms 106:48 ESV]

Our Story 1 Our Story 2 Our Story 3 Our Story 4 Our Story 5 Our Story 6 Our Story 7 Our Story 8 Our Story 9 Our Story 10 Our Story 11 Our Story 12 Our Story 13 Our Story 14