Archive for May, 2019

Sermon 05-19-19: “Jesus the Good Samaritan”

May 22, 2019

The Parable of the Good Samaritan, found in Luke 10:25-37, isn’t primarily about what we need to do. If it were, given how far short of this standard of love that we usually fall, we would all be in trouble. No, more than anything the parable is about what Christ has done for us. He is our Good Samaritan, and he continues to be.

Sermon Text: Luke 10:25-37

When you get to know me, you’ll learn that my all-time favorite TV show is The Office. And one of my favorite episodes on this, my all-time favorite TV show, is episode 14 of season five, entitled “Stress Relief.” And it’s great in part because of the “CPR Training” scene. You can google it and watch it on YouTube. In this scene, an instructor from the Red Cross is teaching the office employees how to do CPR—using one of those CPR dummies to demonstrate techniques for chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. And Michael Scott, the boss of the office, is the first volunteer to practice CPR on the dummy. 

At first, he’s doing chest compressions too quickly. So the instructor tells him that one rule of thumb is to do the compressions to the beat of “Stayin’ Alive,” by the Bee Gees. So Michael is singing, “Ah-ah-ah-ah, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive” [mimic compressions]” And Andy, another office worker, starts singing the verse. And Kelly jumps up and starts dancing. Pretty soon, everyone in the conference room is singing and dancing… and then Michael stops doing compressions and joins them—oblivious to the fact that if this were an actual human being, he or she would now be dead.

It’s funny… And helpful! Because earlier this year, this episode literally saved someone’s life. 

It happened in Tuscon, Arizona. A young man named Cross Scott was working at a tire shop. He had replaced and balanced tires on a vehicle and was taking it out for a test drive. He noticed a sedan on the side of the road with its hazard lights on. He stopped to see if he could help. He came close and saw a woman slumped over in the front seat, unconscious. The doors were locked. So he broke open the window with a rock, checked for a pulse—no pulse. She wasn’t breathing. He called 9-1-1 and started administering CPR.

The only thing is… he’d never been trained to do CPR. But he did watch The Office. So he did chest compressions while singing “Stayin’ Alive”! About a minute into it, the woman came to! The paramedics arrived, took her to the hospital. And she’s fine! One paramedic interviewed for the story said that the man’s heroic intervention probably saved the woman’s life. 

We have a name for people like this who go out of their way to rescue or save someone else. We call them “good Samaritans,” and they are true heroes. But… I would argue that most people we call good Samaritans don’t come close to measuring up to the actual Good Samaritan that Jesus describes in today’s scripture. Read the rest of this entry »

“God wants me more than he wants anything I can do for him”: a meditation on Genesis 22:1

May 14, 2019

This morning, during my quiet time, I saw a connection between Genesis 22, the Sacrifice of Isaac, and God’s words to Israel in Psalm 50. Most of what follows comes from handwritten notes in my ESV Journaling Bible, Interleaved Edition.

22:1: “God tested Abraham”: After all that Abraham has been through, what more—one might wonder—does God need to learn? Hadn’t Abraham done everything he needed to do to ensure that God’s plan of salvation through Christ was set in motion? Hadn’t he accomplished his mission? One warning for me here is that God’s testing of us will not necessarily cease, even after we’ve reached what we believe is a sufficient level of Christian maturity. As if!

Besides, this test demonstrates that there’s something that God wants far more than any service we render to him: he wants us! He wants our love. He wants to possess us entirely. “I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills… If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine” (Psalm 50:9-10, 12).

In other words, if God can’t have our hearts—our wholehearted devotion, our love (as expressed in the psalm through the thanksgiving offering)—God doesn’t want anything else!

This test proves it. It’s as if God were saying, “I know you’ve served and sacrificed for 25-plus years to serve me, but I want your love more than I want your service! Because if I don’t have you, Abraham—if I don’t have your love, your whole heart—I don’t want anything that you can do for me. I want you more than I want my mission. In fact, I’m willing to set my mission aside—even at the risk of jettisoning it altogether—in order to have you.”

As in Psalm 50, if God can’t have Abraham’s heart, he doesn’t want anything Abraham can do for him.

As astonishing as it is to say, God values his relationship with Abraham more than he values the most important task that Abraham, or any person in history up to this point, has ever accomplished for him. Does Abraham value God in the same way? That’s what this test will determine.

But I know what you’re thinking: “Sure, God may value his relationship with Abraham like that, but who am I in relation to him? I’m a nobody compared to him!”

But that’s where you’re wrong! First, the gospel proves that your value isn’t determined by anything that you do. (Even Abraham, as Paul labors to point out in his two most theologically rich letters, was justified by faith, not by works.) And the doctrine of imputation says that you’re infinitely valuable to God! If you’re in Christ, you’re a beloved “son” of God;[1] you’re highly favored by God. You stand before God perfectly righteous—not through your own efforts, but through Christ’s; he has made you righteous with his righteousness.

When you read about saints in the Old Testament like Abraham, and the favor that God showed them, resist the temptation to think that they possess or enjoy something you don’t have! If anything, on this side of the cross and resurrection, you have infinitely more! Tell yourself something like this: “If this is true for Abraham, then it’s at least as true for me! Because I have Jesus!”

By all means, we must decrease in relation to Christ, and Christ must increase (John 3:30), but we never cease to loom large in God’s love, God’s esteem, God’s affection. Do I dare believe that God loves me this much?

If so, then the ways I poor-mouth myself, denigrate myself, put myself down are completely incompatible with God’s view of me!

Another implication for me (and us Christians): In my haste to “get things done,” I must never forget why I do them in the first place: to love God! Before I do anything else, I must foster my love for God.

Also, Brent, God wants you to love him more than he wants you to succeed as a pastor.

Let me repeat that: God wants you to love him more than he wants you to succeed as a pastor.

Do you believe that? Because nothing you accomplish for him is more important than that.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

1. I’m not being sexist. All Christian believers, male or female, are “sons” of God, because sonship in that first-century world (unlike “daughtership”) implies full inheritance from our heavenly Father. Being called a “son of God” should bother women as much as men are bothered to be counted among the “bride” of Christ!

Sermon 05-05-19: “The Most Important Healing”

May 8, 2019

I’m happy to report that I will once again be preaching regularly! For the next seven Sundays I’ll be preaching at the Lavonia United Methodist Church in Lavonia, Georgia. After that, in late June, I will be appointed senior pastor at Toccoa First UMC. I’ll be posting sermons here and on my podcast each week.

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Sermon Text: Luke 5:17-26

The following is a manuscript I prepared from my outline. It will differ slightly from the sermon I delivered, which you can listen to above.

Last week I listened to a podcast from the Gospel Coalition, an evangelical Christian ministry. It featured an interview with New York Times columnist and political writer David Brooks. Brooks was raised in a secular Jewish family. Throughout most of his adult life he would have identified as either an atheist or an agnostic at best. But recently something changed, and in this interview he described his conversion to Christianity.

He said he knew he had a profound spiritual problem 15 or 20 years ago… when his dreams came true; when he satisfied what he believed was his heart’s deepest desire; when he wrote his first New York Times-bestselling book. Isn’t this what all aspiring authors dream of? To land a book on top of the bestseller list! Brooks thought, “If only I could write and publish a #1 bestseller, my problems would be solved. My life would change dramatically! I could have lasting happiness and joy. If only...” Yet he said that when his publisher called to give him the good news that he had a bestseller, he felt “completely empty.” It didn’t make him happy. It didn’t change his life for the better. It didn’t fulfill him—even though it meant greater fame, more career opportunities—not to mention more money.

He needed something more… something else… Someone else to satisfy him.

And I believe the paralyzed man and his friends in today’s scripture aren’t so different from David Brooks. They undoubtedly had an “if only” condition as well. I’m sure that before he encountered Jesus, the paralytic thought something like this: “If only I could walk again, then I would be truly happy, then my life would be everything I want it to be, then my problems would be solved.” Read the rest of this entry »

“Behold, your servant has found favor”: a meditation on Genesis 19:18-22

May 2, 2019

I’ve appreciated the following words about prayer from pastor Tim Keller since I first heard them many years ago:

“God will only give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything he knows.”

Among other things, this idea helps explain “unanswered” prayer—or, more accurately, prayer that God answers by saying “no.” We simply can’t foresee the myriad consequences that would result from God’s giving us what we ask for. To say the least, each petition that God grants us would have a ripple effect through time and space that would affect many lives, including our own. We don’t know the extent to which these ripples would be helpful or harmful. God knows; we don’t. And God’s Word promises us that in all things, including our prayer life, God is working for our good (Romans 8:28).

Moreover, the Holy Spirit is praying through our prayers: “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). So even when God doesn’t give us what we pray for, he will—without fail—give us what his Holy Spirit prays for. In other words, God always answers his own prayers for us—and we can be confident that what he prays for us is always for our good.

Keller is helpful here, too: I’ve heard him also preach that God always answers the “prayer underneath the prayer.” I believe this idea does justice to what both Jesus and the rest of scripture teach.

All that to say, Keller’s maxim is true, as far as it goes. But for my own sake, if not yours, Dear Reader, I would add this corollary:

God will only give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything he knows—and you had bothered to ask.

In other words, in order for God to grant us the “prayer underneath the prayer,” there has to be a prayer to begin with!

I’ve heard otherwise faithful Christians justify what amounts to a lazy prayer life by appealing to the pious-sounding idea that we want God’s will, rather than our own will, to be done: “I don’t need God to do anything for me; he’s done so much for me already.” Perhaps they don’t ask for God to do anything because, too often, they don’t believe he will! (Believe me, I’m preaching to myself, too!) This hardly accords with Jesus’ own example and teaching about prayer (one passage of which, Luke 11:5-13, I’ll be preaching on on May 26).

Just yesterday, I was journaling my way through the story of Abraham’s nephew, Lot, in Genesis 19:15-22. In this passage, the two angels who have come to rescue Lot and his family from the imminent destruction of Sodom, urge him, “Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away” (v. 17).

And Lot said to them, “Oh, no, my lords. Behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life. But I cannot escape to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me and I die. Behold, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there—is it not a little one?—and my life will be saved!”

I was indignant when I read this: Lot’s request is bold to the point of brazenness! After all, I thought, when firefighters rescue you and your sleeping family from an inferno, you don’t also ask them to clean the soot off the carpet!

But not so fast, Brent…

Lot acknowledges that he has “found favor” in the sight of these angels (and the God on whose behalf they’re working); God and these angels have shown him “great kindness.” He isn’t exactly presuming upon God’s grace; he recognizes that the angels could tell him no.

Besides, if we follow the logic of my objection all the way through, on what basis could I ask God for anything? God has given me my life in the first place, and he sustains it at every moment. Even more, he has redeemed my life through the infinitely valuable blood of his Son Jesus. Isn’t it presumptuous of me to ask God to do anything else? Hasn’t he done enough? Am I not being ungrateful in asking?

No… As in the case of Lot and so many other Old Testament saints who are as badly flawed as I am (including David and the psalmists, who frequently ask God to show favor, to rescue, to vindicate, and to make prosperous), we Christians can rightly tell ourselves something like this: “If it’s true that someone like Lot has found favor in God’s sight, how much more true is it for me? After all, unlike Lot, through faith in Jesus and his atoning work on the cross, I am a beloved child of the Father with whom he is well pleased; I am the one ‘on whom God’s favor rests’ (Luke 2:14); I am a brother [or sister] of Jesus himself (Mark 3:34-35; John 20:17), loved by my Father exactly as much as he loves Jesus (John 17:23, 26), entitled to a full inheritance befitting a son of the Father (Luke 15:22-23; Romans 8:17; 1 Peter 1:4-5).

I have exchanged my unrighteousness for Christ’s righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9). The blood of Jesus cleanses me from all sin (1 John 1:7). Therefore I stand before God as holy and righteous, not because of who I am and what I’ve done, but who Christ is and what he’s done. On this basis alone, I approach the throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16) and ask my Father for what I want or need—believing that he will give me what I ask for (Mark 11:24).

(Or don’t I?)

Indeed, Jesus says that unless we become like little children, we will “never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). One characteristic of children is that they ask their parents for things—with boldness, with importunity, with no expectation of earning it or paying it back. The relationship of parent to young child is one of utter grace!

So be like Lot! Be as righteous and God-honoring as Lot is! Ask!