Sermon 11-14-21: “Whoever Would Be Great Among You”

November 22, 2021

Scripture: Mark 10:32-45

I’ve been to Israel on two “Holy Land” tours over the years. One item on the itinerary each time, which isn’t, strictly speaking, related to the Bible, was a tour of the ruins of Masada. Masada was a mountain fortress on the southern coast of the Dead Sea, which Herod the Great built about 30 years before Jesus was born. After Rome invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple in the year 70, Jewish rebels fled to Masada… where they fought the Romans off—bravely, valiantly—from atop that mountain perch, for many months. 

But they couldn’t hold them off forever. And the Romans slowly but surely advanced up the mountain. Until literally, the night before the Romans reached them, nearly all one-thousand men, women, children committed suicide… Almost like Jonestown, if you remember that from the ’70s!

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Sermon 10-31-2021: “That the Son May Be Glorified”

November 17, 2021

Scripture: John 11:1-6, 17-44

Today’s scripture includes the shortest verse in all of the Bible. Verse 35: “Jesus wept.” I first learned that this was the shortest verse many years ago, when I was eleven or twelve. I learned this because my friends down the street, Wes and Tim Drake, invited me to attend their church’s Vacation Bible School. I did not know Jesus as my Savior and Lord at the time, and as I now see, inviting me to their VBS was their well-intentioned effort to get me saved! So they really wanted me to go to VBS. And they were describing how much fun I would have… how much I would like it… if only I would go.

It was going to be fun, but they did warn me that there was just a tiny bit of Bible stuff… just a short Bible story, it won’t take long… And then they also warned me that their church makes kids memorize a Bible verse every day, but even that isn’t so bad. Tim said, “You can just memorize John 11:35, ‘Jesus wept.’ Just two words. And they’ll give you credit. That’s nothing!”

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Sermon 10-24-2021: “Is Jesus Enough for Us?”

October 29, 2021

Scripture: Mark 10:17-31

If you recall last week’s sermon, I concluded it by talking about Mark 10, verses 13 to 16, and the way that young children receive Christmas presents. And how they do so with empty hands… Little children, I said, can’t do anything to earn or deserve or pay back the gift-giver for the gift that they receive. They literally can’t… They don’t have any money… or anything of value to give. “If you want to enter God’s kingdom,” Jesus says, “be like them.” But he says it even more emphatically: “Be like them… or else,” Jesus says. “Or else you won’t enter God’s kingdom, you won’t receive eternal life, you won’t be saved.” There’s no other way!

Come to me empty-handed, or you can’t come at all!

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Sermon 10-17-2021: “The Discipleship of Christian Marriage”

October 28, 2021

Scripture: Mark 10:1-16

Last week, before Josh preached his powerful sermon on confirmation Sunday, he asked me about whether or not he should say this, or that or the other thing… He was trying to be very careful. He wanted us in the congregation to feel challenged by Jesus’ words, but, he said, “he didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes.” I said, “Don’t worry about it! People like being challenged in sermons. People ought to be challenged in sermons.”

I worry that I spoke too soon.

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U-NITE Sermon 10-10-2021: “A Stubborn Donkey or a God-Ordained Purpose?”

October 19, 2021

Scripture: Numbers 22:1-41

[Read vv. 1-6.]

Did you hear about the ESPN scandal that happened recently?

On the last Sunday night in August, at the beginning of the new football season, ESPN decided to broadcast football games between top high school teams in the country—so that a football-starved national audience would get to watch future college and NFL stars when they were still in high school. It’s not my thing, but some people care about that, right? So on this Sunday night, in their prime-time slot, ESPN broadcast a game between IMG Academy—which is basically a boarding school in Florida for top high school athletes—and Bishop Sycamore High School, an allegedly elite football powerhouse from Columbus, Ohio… only

Bishop Sycamore was… terrible. I mean, unbelievably bad. In 2020, they had an 0-6 record. They only had 30 to 35 players on their roster. They didn’t apparently have enough helmets for every member on the team, so players were seen sharing one another’s helmets during the game! 

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Sermon 10-03-2021: “Four Principles of Powerful Prayer”

October 19, 2021

Scripture: James 4:13-17; 5:13-18

I’ve told you before that two of the greatest experiences in my life happened back in 2012 and 2013—when I went, on two occasions, to teach theology, doctrine, and church history to a group of indigenous United Methodist pastors in Kenya. These pastors usually don’t have access to a Western-style seminary education, so they’re stuck learning from people like me!

Taking part in worship was a highlight of my two trips. Each worship service featured a time for testimonies, during which people in the congregation could stand up and talk about something powerful that God was doing in their lives. So a student in my class—a Kenyan pastor—talked about an incident that happened in his life that had happened just a few days earlier: His wife, he said, had cooked a batch of mandazi, which is a pastry that Kenyans often serve with tea… it’s fried bread. And it’s delicious! 

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Sermon 09-26-2021: “The Wisdom from Above and the Devil’s Three Biggest Lies”

September 30, 2021

Scripture: James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

Some of you will be surprised to learn that I do have a second dog. Her name is Neko—a black terrier mix. We rescued her eleven years ago. Some of you have seen me walking her. If you drive by our backyard she’s usually in it. Unlike our spaniel, she is not especially affectionate. Let’s say she’s sitting on one of the cushions of the loveseat. And I sit down on the other cushion. She will literally jump down off the loveseat and then jump up on the sofa—on the other side of the living room! To avoid being too close to me. I try not to take it personally.

But it’s a good thing she doesn’t want or need much affection from us humans, because when we show her any—just patting her on the head—and her brother Ringo sees us doing it… Uh-oh… he’ll come running over and chase his sister away or sort of force himself between Neko and us… As if to say, “Don’t give her something that you’re not also going to give me! That’s not fair!”

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Sermon 09-19-21: “Words Are Your Most Important ‘Work'”

September 23, 2021

Scripture: James 3:1-12

Back in 2009, I had the pleasure of chaperoning a youth mission trip to the Navajo Reservation in the Four Corners area of New Mexico. This is near the spot where the “four corners” of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah meet. One day, when we weren’t working, some Navajo guides led our group by horseback down the side of a steep, rocky mountain into a beautiful canyon down below. And I don’t know how else to describe the terrain—as someone who is unfamiliar with desert places out west… But it looked to me… like the real-life version of the old Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoons. 

Remember when Wile E. Coyote would run off a mountain cliff, and then be suspended in air for a few seconds before going splat at the bottom of the canyon? Those were the kinds of mountains, cliffs, and canyons I’m talking about!

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Sermon 09-12-21: “Faith Without Works Is Dead”

September 15, 2021

Scripture: James 2:14-26

Last week in my sermon I talked briefly about investor Warren Buffett, the third wealthiest man in the world, and his pledge, several years ago, to give away tens of billions of dollars to charity. At the time he said, “There is more than one way to get to heaven, but this is a great way.”

As I’ve said before, there are only two problems with this statement: First, there’s only one way to get to heaven, and second, no amount of money—even the tens of billions of dollars that Buffett pledged to give away—can begin to purchase salvation. The debt that we owe to God on account of our sin is infinitely more than that!

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Sermon 09-05-21: “How to Fulfill the ‘Royal Law'”

September 15, 2021

Scripture: James 2:1-13

Malcolm Gladwell is a bestselling author, and some of you have probably read his book Outliers. At least one of my kids had to read it for school. Outliers is the book that says you have to practice at something for 10 thousand hours before you become really, really good at it… before you master it. So, for example, the Beatles became the great band that everyone knows them to be today because they spent 10 thousand hours playing live music in the clubs of Hamburg, West Germany, in the early ’60s… long before invading America.

But here’s some bad news… for me, at least: By my rough calculation, yours truly has only spent about 700 hours of my life preaching sermons… so… that explains a lot, doesn’t it?

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