One of my challenges in ministry is to stay focused on the greatest commands--to love God and to love my neighbors. Ministry is demanding and can easily provide contexts for busyness to take over. Sermons, lessons and people become more about means to end, or tasks, than opportunities to provide grace.
I've been reading an excellent book by Alan Fadling called An Unhurried Life. In it, he urges us to slow down, to practice spiritual disciplines and stop hurrying. Here is one quote I found particularly useful:
- "I too often find that my over-the-top focus on efficiency tends to keep me from obeying the great command to love God fully and to love my neighbor freely." (p. 87)
In my quest to be efficient and make good use of my time, I find that I can overlook both things and people.
Reflection on this book has led me to a couple of questions.
The idea behind the questions is to look at priorities--am I more focused on gathering groups to boost my own ego, or am I walking with people, helping them to grow? Perhaps you will find these helpful as well.
- Is my ministry more about gathering crowds than cultivating a core of committed people and following Jesus together with them?
- Do I talk more about numbers or do I share stories about people (by name) who are responding to Jesus?
Use this simple format to begin praying.
“In prayer, we receive power from God to live our lives fully.”
Consider making a commitment to God to pray for fifteen minutes each day for at least seven days. If you make this commitment, your life will be changed: you will be more focused, patient, and loving. You will be filled with God's power and purpose. Your agenda will become God's agenda, and as a result, your life will be fuller and you will be more satisfied.
Follow this format for prayer:1.
Begin by listening to God in scripture. Pick a psalm to read. Start at the beginning of Psalms and read one each day or read your favorite psalm every day for the week.
- Which emotions are brought out in this psalm?
- How do you identify with these emotions?
2. Next, read one chapter of Philippians (or another book of the Bible).
- What are the main ideas of this chapter?
- How can you incorporate these ideas into your prayer?
- What is God saying to you through scripture?
3. Now, talk to God in prayer.
- Focus on gratitude and thanksgiving.
- Praise God for what he has done for you.
4. Finally, record your thoughts on paper or in a journal.
- Doing this will remind you over time of all you have to be thankful for.
- Your journal will also keep a record of how God has led you through scripture.
If you keep this commitment for seven days, your life with God through Christ will be strengthened and you will have a greater purpose in God and a more fulfilled life.
Scriptures: Lamentations 3:22-26, 31-32; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7.
When a person dies, the family that remains often goes to one of two ways of processing this--some will internalize the grief, almost blaming themselves for what happened, and will experience deep struggle; while others will not even think about it, walking blindly through the experience and hoping to find solid footing on the other side. Scripture provides us with a middle way of responding to and expressing grief that strikes a balance between these two poles.
We find in Lamentations a poem of lament. Lament is good. Lament comes from a place of deep trust, where in that trust we are able to dig down into the depths of ourselves and express ourselves with openness, transparency, and honesty, the grief, sorrow, and pain that we feel. We tell it to God. We cry out to God. Laments, of which there are many in scripture, are the prayers of the powerless, the tears of the grieving, and the cries of the broken.
We lament this morning. In loss, we grieve. When a life is struck down suddenly, we wonder. We question. We express. We cry out. And we do all this in the context of the loving embrace of God, our Father, who hears our prayers, our cries, and our questions and who hurts with us, alongside us. He brings comfort and peace to the broken and hurting.
Thus, the poem of lament in Lamentations begins in grief and sorrow. People have lost what they once had. They have had what was close and dear to them taken away. Things are bleak and dismal. There is despair. Yet, despite this reality of sorrow and destruction, loss and grief, this poem moves to speak about God’s love, faithfulness, and great mercies.
The poem does not move too quickly past grief and sorrow, however. There is time to linger. There is time to express. There is time to feel. Through these honest expressions of grief, emerging out of this darkness, is a cry of hope and trust in God's mercy, love, and faithfulness. The poem finishes by turning back to God in trust and hope, the God who has heard us the whole time, who has walked alongside us, and who now gathers us together as his family.
In our lament over loss today, how do we act upon this? How do we remember? How do we process grief and sorrow? How do we celebrate the gift of God in the midst of sorrow? By remembering what was once given, by remembering the gift and the graces that came from the gift. In this case, the gift of our loved one, and when his life is celebrated, the gift of God is celebrated as well.
This is why the writer of Lamentations has a different take--one that reminds us that we are not alone, and in our grief, God remembers us, and gives mercy. But how is this mercy seen? How do we find God’s mercy? We find it in God, who is a God of comfort, as Paul referenced in our reading from 2 Corinthians, where he wrote that God comforts us in ALL of our troubles so that we can share comfort with others. When we grieve or suffer, we share in the sufferings of Christ, especially in sorrow, but we can comfort those who suffer with the comfort we receive from God. If we suffer, we will receive comfort. And comfort also comes from each other, as we remember, and as we love.
The apostle Paul himself experienced much suffering: arrests, beatings, being brought to the point of death, abandonment by friends. Yet his advice to people who are suffering, even grieving, is to come together. Your sharing together in suffering brings comfort to each other, and that comfort continues to enable you to comfort each other. Remember and honor our loved one by staying close to each other, strong and united as a family. Friends, come alongside this grieving family and comfort them. Share in their sorrows by listening and encouraging. Don't share "answers" that fail to give comfort about why this happened or what could have been done differently. Instead, honor one another. Love each other.
In this life, we go through seasons of suffering. We know something greater is out there. But in suffering, we comfort each other as best we can, finding strength to go on in the promises of God and in the love of family that we experience in our close relationships, a love that can be further strengthened by the comfort God the Father can give.
These are my sermon notes from my sermon on 1 Kings 5:1-5 and 1 Kings 8:1-13, about Solomon's Temple.
[Status Quo] We have a rugged self-sufficiency that masks a lack of confidence and trust in God. We have a vision of scarcity that says we never have enough, contributing to our "doing for self" because of our lack of certainty and assurance.
- Culturally, we see this expressed by the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality, and the criticism of those who rely on help from others.
- Spiritually, we express this in a number of ways.
- We pray, but we do not really believe, so we hold back in prayer, hedging our prayers with the request that it be done in "God's will," so that if what we prayed does not come to be, we can rest assured we are still within God's will; or we do not even ask for what we desire, what our hearts yearn for, because we do not believe God will give to us...reconciled relationships; healed family members; growing and vibrant churches.
- We "worship," but we go through the motions and "acts" rather than give ourselves to God...because if we did, we might not like where God takes us, how God shapes up, how he transforms us.
- We proclaim "faith," but we go it by works...measuring spiritual growth and vitality, individually and congregationally, by effort given by others, and not by the invisible, transformative work of God.
- In all these things we set ourselves for failure, to do it ourselves, because our trust and confidence in God is lacking. Because we don't have confidence and trust in God, we go it alone...with all the religious entrapments but none of the religious fervor or zeal. But spiritual life, as found in God, is not about us...and it is not about what we do for God...it is about what God does for us!
[Turn] Israel survived, and thrived, when they learned this lesson. They thrived not by their own effort but through God's faithfulness to his own promise, as he carried this promise through Abraham, to David, and ultimately to Solomon. This promise was completely fulfilled when God dwelt among them in the temple that Solomon built. But it was the promise and presence of God in the place of the temple that mattered...what God did for his own people.
Likewise, in the church, we survive and thrive only when we rely on God's promise to us, that we are reconciled to him through his Son, by his death and resurrection and ascension. When we seek to go it alone, to do it our way, we fail, but when we trust God and his promise, the gospel, we find our way forward.
[Bible] We see this idea of promise and fulfillment play out in several ways in our scripture for this morning. It is through this theme of promise and fulfillment that we gain the confidence to trust completely in God.
-  Solomon built the temple for God. Of course, this is how it appeared to others. But this was really the long story of God's fulfillment of his promise, given to Abraham, carried through the wilderness on the back of Moses' leadership, into the land with Joshua, anticipated with David, and finally fulfilled with Solomon, as God came to dwell among his people as they were finally at rest from their enemies.
-  The promise took time to be fulfilled, but in its fulfillment we see parallels of continuity that show God's working to bring about fulfillment: Just as Moses began the march towards the promised land, so David initiated the building of a temple for the Lord. Yet, just as Moses was not himself able to enter the land, so neither was David able to be the one to build the temple. As Joshua succeeded Moses, so Solomon succeeded David, and as Joshua was told to be strong and courageous as he marched into the land, so Solomon was told to be strong and courageous as he led the people forward. The promise of land was fulfilled with Joshua, and the promise of presence and place (blessing) was fulfilled with Solomon.
-  In his dwelling in the Temple, God showed by his own presence that his promise was fulfilled--they were free, all enemies were set to rest, and God dwelt among his people.
-  And so we see this promise carry through to the new covenant--God's promise of presence and place. But where is it that God resides?
- In John 2:19-21, Jesus describes his own body as the new temple;
- In Acts 2:38-39, Peter reveals the Spirit as the promise that believers were awaiting, and that Spirit comes to them in the gospel, through Jesus Christ.
- And through that Spirit, the church, the body of Christ, is held together and built together...and the Spirit serves as the guarantee of God's promise that we will be redeemed!
[Application] God's promise is that he will be with his people; that he dwell among them; that we are his possession; that he loves us so much that he sent his Son to die for us. The long story of his promise fulfilled gives us confidence, in him and in Christ, to live the life of faith he calls us to live. It is not about what we do for God, but what God does for us. Let us live into this life, growing in confidence and trust, letting God shape and transform us as we live for him, becoming ever-increasing sacrifices through our daily offering of ourselves in service to him.
I've been reading through the Psalms monthly for 5 months and have been rewarded with a deeper sense of trust and hope in God. Yet, the Psalms continue to speak beyond a simple reading. Repeated Bible reading is always rewarded.In today's psalms (11-16), faith, trust, hope, perseverance, and expectancy are themes that the psalmists develop:
- no matter what goes on around you, the Lord is in his holy temple, still ruling from heaven (11)
- in the face of violence to the oppressed, God promises help and hope (12)
- when your well of faith is dry, you can expect to find the goodness of God (13)
- when evil seems to overrun you, that way is shown to be futile (14), while the way of blamelessness before God is shown to bring godly reward (15)
- when we feel weak, God keeps us safe, both now and forever (16)
Lesson 1 -- Put the Gospel FirstLesson 2 -- Let the Gospel Shape Your Life Lesson 3 -- Look at How the Gospel Has Shaped the Lives of Christian Leaders(Note: Subject headings are taken from D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers. This is an excellent commentary on Philippians that looks at all significant textual matters but keeps the focus on practical, theological application of this letter.)
In imitating other Christians, it is not a question whether
we will learn, but what
will we learn, and from whom
Imitate those who are interested in the well-being of others, not their own (2:19-21)
- this continues the theme of self-denial Paul has been teaching throughout this letter (esp v. 21)
- Timothy is a servant (22)
- are you the kind of Christian who serves when you will be noticed? Or are you content to quietly go about your business, loving, serving, and teaching others?
- Epaphroditus is a servant; he cared for Paul's needs (25); he risked his life in serving the Lord and is an example of setting the needs of others in Christian service ahead of your own (26-30)
- People like these are to be honored and imitated because of their faith that has been grown through hardship
Imitate those who have confidence in Jesus Christ and the gospel, not themselves (3:1-9)
- reminders of faith are good
- even though Paul had reasons to be confident in himself, he found his confidence only in the gospel
- Knowledge of Christ, gaining Christ; these things are where Paul finds worth; righteousness from faith
Imitate those who are growing spiritually, not those who are stagnating (3:10-16)
- maturity recognizes that the goal of Christian life is constant forward movement into Christ-likeness (imitating Christ; awaiting resurrection) while remaining grounded in our faith
Imitate those who await Jesus' return, not those who dwell on earthly things (3:17-21)
- transformation and heavenly things; not earthly things
- the kind of mature Christianity we ought to desire and live out is focused on imitating Jesus and awaiting his return; we are focused on heavenly things
Perhaps, by growing in faith, we can become those whose lives will be imitated by others...
Lesson 1 -- 1:1-26 -- Put the Gospel FirstPhilippians 1:27-2:18 -- Let the Gospel Shape Your Life
We interpret letters contextually, by looking at them paragraph-by-paragraph. Usually, as we are used to, a paragraph begins with a leading thought and then the rest of the paragraph expands on that thought. Each paragraph typically builds on what comes before. In this lesson, we'll see a lot of overlap with the rest of chapter 1.We are called not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him (1:27-30)
We are called to not only experience the gospel but also to live it out (2:1-11)
- Christian conduct is a natural outflow of putting the gospel first because that outlook overcomes whatever obstacles may be in front of us ("whatever happens")
- This is an encouragement to live up to the calling we are called to in the gospel (the exhortations to put the gospel first in chapter 1)
- The goal is to stand firm in the Spirit and strive together for the gospel without being afraid of the opposition (cf. 1:14; continue living this way!)
- The opposition will be real, and they will have to suffer, like Christ (cf. 2:5-8), while being obedient and advancing the gospel
- Notice that the call to suffer has been "granted" to the believers! Suffering for Christ is a honorable thing
- Salvation has been gained by Jesus' suffering on our behalf; our discipleship is demonstrated by our suffering on his behalf (Carson)
We are called to not only begin the life of faith but also to finish it (2:12-18)
- If you have experienced these things in the gospel, then you must live out the implications of this experience; if we have experienced these things from others, we must share them with others in turn (not takers only, but also givers)
- This also includes what it means to live in a manner worthy of the gospel
- This includes more practical implications for how to live a self-denying life for others (2:3-4; cf. 1:18b-26)
- We are called to have the attitude of Christ in our relationships with others (2:5ff; cf. 2:3-4)
- Christ's self-denial, humility, and obedience are the examples for us, leading up to the exaltation, which is the goal for us--the promise of eternal life that makes sense of suffering for Christ
- Christianity is not something that happens one time (baptism) and then we sit back and wait for the reward (cf. connection between 2:9-11 and the obedience mandated)
- Obedience is expected, but our obedience combines with God's work within us to accomplish his purpose (2:12-13)
- Keep that purpose firmly in view, so that how you live, and your steadfastness to the end, will mean something and might even be convicting (2:14-16)
- Living in this way is another way that we live a life worthy of the gospel (cf. 2:16); the perseverance of obedience is characterized by contentment (14-15); by the validation of the work of mature Christian leaders (16); and by the recognition of that work of discipleship that mature Christian leaders have poured into you, and that you begin to pour into others (17-18; Paul's sacrifice is his work among them, and as they grow spiritually they reflect the character of his work among them)
Sermon notes that will help you think about worship ahead of Sunday.
Amos 8 and Romans 12:1-2
Our culture teaches us to be consumers, to ask "What's in it for me?" If something doesn't suit us, we move on.
- brand loyalty is gone
- sound bytes rule the day, trying to catch us with a pithy saying rather than substance (politics)
- even in the workplace, workers are encouraged to view themselves as "free agents" who go to the next best thing
This WIIFM mentality creeps even into the church, creating a breed of spiritual consumers who go "church shopping."
- brand loyalty has disappeared when it comes to churches
- churches are often in a situation where they must compete with bigger, more attractive churches or get used to becoming smaller and smaller
- spirituality and growth and maturity are not seen as signs of health, but bigger buildings, larger attendance, newer ministries and growing budgets are seen as the signs of success
Meanwhile, the result is that no roots are put down by people, no consistency is established, and much time and money is spent in the Kingdom of God not growing or advancing the kingdom, but competing within the kingdom for attendance and budgets.
The greater loss is in the life of the people who claim to follow God but are really using God to benefit themselves. Rather than serving God and others with the giftedness God has given them, they selfishly use other people and other churches for their own use and then discard them when they are done.
Although this spiritual consumerism approach is a major problem for us today, it is not unique to us. If we look all the way back in the Old Testament, in Amos, we see that many operated the same way.
- During Amos' time, the nation of Israel was strong and prosperous. They had every reason to believe they would be successful and that their success was because God was blessing them. This led them to pride...and to sin, because the blessings continued even as small sins crept in, which gave way to more sin, until outright disdain for God became the norm.
- Let us not forget that the path to impurity begins small...then grows, until we are so far gone we don't realize it. And though many of us would say that honoring and worshiping God is important to us, how many of us would find ourselves asking the same questions as the Israelites?
- When will the New Moon be over so we may sell grain?
- When will the Sabbath be done so we can market wheat?
- When will Bible study be over so I can return this phone call?
- When will church be over so I can get to lunch?
- When will this sermon be done so I can get to the football game?
- In Israel's case, the people were like ripe fruit, they were ready to be judged (1-2).
- Amos identifies the reason as this: they abused and neglected the poor and needy (4).
- Even worse, they did this for their own benefit, and at God's expense (5-6)--they skimped on the measure, they boosted the price by cheating with dishonest scales, taking advantage of the poor and breaking the law (selling the sweepings; no gleaning possible) to do so.
- As a result, there would be punishment. God promised to bring a famine, but not a famine of food or water. Instead, he would bring a famine of his word. God would be absent to them; there would be no guidance, no leading word from him.
This passage is a passage that demands we ask of ourselves what true and pure worship is. How do we see ourselves in this?
- Do we view worship in a technical and transactional way? 5 acts; focus on attendance; etc., as though when we do these things, God is happy, regardless of how we live our lives, so that we believe our grudges, prejudices, and sinful behaviors and attitudes towards people are okay because we have pleased God?
- Or we view worship more in a way in line with Paul's teaching in Romans 12 about a transformed life, offering ourselves as living sacrifices to God?
- How we treat people matters. How we worship God matters.
- Let us take the "sweepings of our lives," not selling them to the highest bidder to enhance our own lives, but to give back to God, to leave them for others, to offer ourselves to God in our very lives, to make ourselves sacrifices for the sake of others.
- Let us hear the word of judgment this morning and repent, and allow it to become a word of hope. Not hope for ourselves, but hope for others, as we end the God-famine they are experiencing by graciously sharing from God's abundance with them.
These are some sermon notes that will help you begin thinking ahead to Sunday's sermon.
Genesis 27:1-4, 15-23 and 28:10-17 God's Purpose in All Things
God's ways are not our ways, so one solution to "figuring out" God is to give up and not even try to understand him. This leads to some severe misunderstandings.
- Some look at God's will and ask questions about how we can ever understand or know it.
- many look at God's will improperly, either as a "health and wealth" scenario, in which nothing bad will happen to those who claim to follow God (whether their lives actually line up with biblical principles or not); or as a very narrow path that is difficult to find and even trickier to stay on.
- Others assume that God rewards exceptional Christians, and the rest of us who are not able to live up to the images of those "exceptional" Christians we see at church are just on our own.
But God's will is seen in how he guides history and his people to fulfill his promises. God uses imperfect people to accomplish his will of blessing all nations.
- Jacob's story
- Not the heir, but through trickery and deception becomes the heir (27:1-4, 15-23)
- Is sent away for his own safety (27:41-44)
- The dream (28:10-17)
- As a result, Jacob learns God (28:16-17)
- In this dream, we see both God's intent to keep the promise made to Abraham and God's personal commitment to Jacob
- the promise comes (past)
- to an imperfect person (present)
- and the promise will be fulfilled (future)
- this is how God works!
In the gospel, the same promise and commitment is made to us!
- In our story this morning, the stairway represents access to God. Angels ascended and descended from the earth to heaven, mediating the presence of God to Jacob. In John 1:50-51, Jesus picks up on this idea but describes *himself* as the stairway! HE is the one providing access to God! God is known through him! He is the Savior of the world!
- In the gospel, the promise is fulfilled--redemption is offered, and God's people will be enabled to be a blessing to all nations through and as the body of Christ.
- Christ's death provides us access to God and his resurrection vindicates him and defeats all enemies, all sin, all barriers existing between us and God...we have pure access to God.
- In Christ, we have access to the Spirit of God...which is his pledge, his commitment to us made manifest by his own Spirit. We come to know God through Christ.
Know God, be encouraged by God's plan and his faithfulness to both his plan and to his people, and stand firm!
Sacrifice is a theme that is common in our culture:
- joining the military is seen as a noble pursuit in which one sacrifices for the greater good; and wartime sacrifice is seen as one of the highest forms of sacrifice that can be given
- others use the idea of sacrifice to describe how they climbed the career ladder...sometimes leaving a trail of broken relationships, and broken families, behind
- in sports, the idea of sacrifice is used to describe someone who makes a heroic play, or who "sacrifices their body" to stop a play
But in our religious lives, sacrifice is more often given lip service than done.
- we know that our faith is founded on a sacrifice--Jesus
- we know that Jesus called for sacrifice among his followers--deny self, pick up a cross, follow him
- we know that the early church sacrificed by giving financially (Acts 4-5; 2 Cor 8-9) or by giving of their very lives in martyrdom (apostles, early Christians)
When we look around at contemporary Christianity, we seem to have taken a view that says, "All that was necessary to get things started, to provide the offer of salvation, but we've evolved from that," as if sacrifice and testing is something God used to demand but no longer does. We look for a Christianity of comfort.
- we have our meetings, our potlucks, our church activities...and then we go home
- we count attendance and contributions
- we say about mission work that it is for other people whom God calls...and we just happen to not be among the called
- we consider sacrifices to be made by those who give time to come back for Sunday evening and Wednesday meetings
But in the Bible, sacrifice is always presented as the "norm" for believers in Jesus. Testing is an active part of faith. If God's own Son had the singular purpose of being a sacrifice for our sin, and he calls his followers to follow in his very steps, can we really expect anything less than to be called to sacrifice in our own lives? The things we claim as sacrifices today--giving of a little time; attending an extra meeting--that actually sacrifice nothing are mockeries of the gospel. We are called to more: to give of our very selves, to give up
ourselves to be shaped by Jesus. To be tested in our faith, to sacrifice something, to leave our idols behind, is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, and to find our hope realized fully in him.
Sacrifice as a reality for followers of God goes back even before Jesus. In fact, it goes back to the beginning of the Israelites, to Abraham, who had to sacrifice his ties to his own family, to leave behind his household gods and his family, and head out towards an unknown destination at the call of a God he hardly knew, on the basis of a promise he would never see fulfilled.
- God promised to make Abraham a great nation through whom all nations in the world would be blessed (Gen 12:1-3)
- This promise began to be fulfilled when Isaac was born (Gen 21:1-3)
- But soon, God would put Abraham to the test...and demand a sacrifice to determine whether Abraham's faith was in God to fulfill his own promise, or in himself to protect the promise and his lineage (22:1-19)
Notice the qualities of this test, of this sacrifice demanded by God:
- it included the sacrifice of the very promise God made to Abraham itself--if Isaac died, how would the promise be fulfilled?
- it included the son Abraham loved--note the progression: your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac (2)
- but Abraham unquestionably met this test head on--he obeyed; he was willing to let go of the idolatry of his love for his son, of his notions that he knew best how to bring God's promise and plan to fulfillment, of his need to control the relationship with God
- he obeyed
It is in Abraham's obedience and sacrifice that he passes the test before him. God still demanded sacrifice, but in providing the ram, God proves himself to be the provider...and he blessed Abraham because of his sacrifice made. Abraham was blessed as the result of the test.
We see this theme--blessing from testing--carried forward in the Bible.
- the people of God, tested in the wilderness, led to the blessing of the promised land
- King David, tempted through a sinful adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, blessed after repentance
- the people of God, tested through exile, sacrificing to learn a new way of life with God apart from the promise of land and temple, blessed with restoration and hope through the words of the prophets and a return to the land
- in the gospel itself, with Jesus -- as Paul says in Philippians 2, he had to undergo humiliation first, and after the humiliation of the cross came his exaltation
- in Jesus' words to his followers in Mark 8 that whoever wants to save their life will lose it but whoever loses their life for his sake and for the gospel will save it
- in the promise of eternal life given to believers, as Paul writes to Timothy that everyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted...but that life will be rewarded with the joy and the glory of life eternal
God brings blessing from testing.
- What test are you undergoing right now?
- What sacrifice is God demanding of you?
- What blessing will he give you at the end of this journey?
So let testing come. Let sacrifice be demanded. Let us not shy away from sacrifice, but let us instead challenge ourselves: When God demands a sacrifice, when that test comes, will you obey?