Archive for September, 2019

“Desiring God more than what he gives us”: meditation on Genesis 40:21

September 19, 2019

Genesis 40:14, 21: But when all goes well for you, remember that I was with you. Please show kindness to me by mentioning me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this prison… Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.

When the chief cupbearer, for whom Joseph successfully interpreted a dream, is restored to his royal position, he “did not remember Joseph.” This is precisely the same as saying, “He did not remember God,” since Joseph told him in v. 8 that “interpretations belong to”—therefore originate from—God. Why doesn’t the cupbearer, upon seeing how God blessed him fall on his knees in praise and thanksgiving? Why had he forgotten the One from whom this particular blessing had flowed?

The same reason we often do.

In fact, the cupbearer’s example goes to show the grave spiritual danger that prosperity poses for us. At the first sign of success, we forget God. We forget our dependence upon God. In so many words, our prayers amount to asking God to enable our idolatry: “God, I need you to solve this problem more than I need you. My idol, which is currently being threatened by this problem, is more important to me than you are.”

Dear Lord, give us the grace to desire you more than anything you can give us. Amen. #BibleJournaling #HeReadsTruthBible #ChristianStandardBible #CSB

“The good I do is God doing through me”: meditation on Genesis 39:3-4a

September 16, 2019

 

Genesis 39:3-4a: When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made everything he did successful, Joseph found favor with his master and became his personal attendant.

The psalmist in 104:21 writes, “The young lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God.” Allow me to be indignant on behalf of “young lions” everywhere. After all, God isn’t exactly placing the antelope in the lion’s mouth! The lion has to find its prey, chase it down, and catch it. At the same time, the psalm insists, God is feeding the lion.

Say what you will about lions; they don’t need Xanax. Come to think of it, my majestic house cat, Peanut, isn’t exactly sweating his next meal, either. He seeks his food from God—by way of my family and Purina.

Nevertheless, if it’s true for lions and house cats, it’s true for us who are God’s children through faith in Christ. Joseph, as today’s scripture makes clear, prospered because of God. And so do we. While we often fail to perceive God’s hand, it is on everything that we do. So much so that when we succeed, we can say, “God has done this. God has given me this”—however much it wounds my pride to say it. I’d much rather say, “Look what I’ve accomplished.”

“For who makes you so superior? What do you have that you didn’t receive? If, in fact, you did receive it, why do you boast as if you hadn’t received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)

Here’s a seemingly paradoxical biblical truth, which, if I could only apply it to my life, would save me a lot of anxiety: All the good I do is God doing through me. Thank you, Jesus! #BibleJournaling #ChristianStandardBible #HeReadsTruthBible

“I’m a beloved and highly favored son of my Father”: meditation on Genesis 37:35

September 11, 2019

Genesis 37:35: All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.

Jacob believes that his son Joseph is dead. He’s inconsolable. But when he says, “I shall go down to Sheol to my son,” I’m reminded that, in a sense, this is what God does for us, his children. God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, descends not merely “to realm of the dead,” but to hell itself (on the cross, at least, in the cry of dereliction from Psalm 22:1: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

Why does God do this? For the same reason that Jacob is inconsolable: out of a Father’s love for his highly favored “sons” (and daughters).

One prominent Christian musician made headlines recently, announcing that he had left the Christian faith. He cited as reasons his questions related to suffering, science, and the reliability of scripture. “No one in the church is talking about it,” he said. While that hasn’t been my experience—many Christian apologists have tackled these questions—I’d be happy to talk with him. Besides—and not to make light of his struggle—aren’t those questions relatively easy?

Here’s the hard one for me: Do I believe that my Father loves me the way Jacob loves Joseph—only perfectly? Do I believe that my Father wants to be with me, even me, as much as Jacob wants to be with Joseph—only infinitely more so? This is by far the hardest doctrine in Christianity.

At the risk of great hypocrisy, I believe it. But, dear Lord, let it change my life the way it should!

Sermon 09-08-19: “What Are You Seeking?”

September 11, 2019

Sermon Text: John 1:35-51

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

Beware of the “Barefoot Beer Bandit.” That was the urgent message that police in Florence, Kentucky, sent out to the public in July. An unidentified man, who was barefoot and wearing a Cincinnati Bengals jersey with the number 32 on it, was captured on video walking into a convenience store and stealing a case of beer. This prompted rookie Bengals running back Trayveon Williams who currently wears number 32, to tweet a link to the story with a facepalm emoji and the words, “Come on, man!”

Understandably, Williams was embarrassed to have this particular fan representing him by wearing his jersey. 

I point this out because, as you’ve probably heard before, the word “Christian” itself means “little Christ”—as if the rest of the world is supposed to learn something about Jesus by watching us. The apostle Paul tells us that we are to be “ambassadors for Christ”[1]; that is, we are quite literally supposed to represent Jesus in the world and to the world. When I was a kid in church, someone performed a contemporary Christian song that urged us to remember, “You’re the only Jesus some will ever see.” And that message probably made many of us think, “Uh oh.”  Read the rest of this entry »

“God satisfies you with good”: meditation on Psalm 103:1-5

September 6, 2019

Psalm 103:5: [God] satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

In the Bob Dylan song “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” the singer has fallen in love and is therefore acting in ways that don’t make sense to himself. He sings—of himself—”You’re gonna make me give myself a good talking to.”

Similarly, in Psalm 103, David is giving himself—his soul—a “good talking to”: “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” Then, in verses 2 through 5, he reminds his soul of the many reasons that he has to bless the Lord: The Lord “forgives all your iniquity,” “heals all your diseases,” “redeems your life from the pit,” “crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,” and “satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

Why does David need to give his soul a good talking to? Why do I?

This morning, as with most mornings, I woke up thinking something like this: “I will be happy today if… I will not have to worry today if… I will feel good about myself today if…” In other words, the extent to which I will be happy in life depends on people and circumstances over which I have little, if any, control. My soul seeks refuge in contingencies rather than in the rock, the fortress, and the stronghold that is my God.

Perhaps David’s soul does, too.

So in this psalm he reminds it of a different kind of happiness—one that doesn’t depend on circumstances. It will always be the case, for example, that God “satisfies [us] with good”: “The Lord is my shepherd,” after all. “I shall not want.” “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). “[M]y God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

God’s ability and willingness to satisfy me will be true no matter what—even in the worst case scenario, when I die—because then I’ll have Christ in all his fullness (Philippians 1:21).

Not that I remember this most of the time. So I remind my soul, fickle child that it is, “Here are the reasons, Brent, for you to be truly happy.”

Sermon 08-11-19: “Gone Fishing… with Jesus”

September 4, 2019

Sermon Text: Luke 5:1-11

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

A couple of months ago, before I met most of y’all, I met with our Staff-Parish Relations Committee. They wanted to find out what kind of pastor they were stuck with. And someone asked me to share “my vision for this church.” 

That would seem like a hard question to answer, since I didn’t know anything about Toccoa First at the time—or even the city of Toccoa. I didn’t know, for instance, about “Red Rage,” and how this community gets so excited about the upcoming high school football season that they’re willing to fill up a stadium on a Friday night just to watch a pep rally and a team scrimmage. Lisa and I were there, and we were planning to sit with Josh, Jenna, Jay, Jaden, and Avery. But there was no room! The stadium was packed with people. 

So now I know that Toccoa is like that town in Friday Night Lights!

But when I talked to the SPR committee, I didn’t need to know anything in particular about Toccoa to explain my vision for the church. Because it’s going to be the same vision no matter where I am. And as I explained to SPR, my vision is shaped by the apostle Paul’s words in Acts chapter 20, verses 26 and 27. Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 08-18-19: “Esther and Mordecai”

September 4, 2019

Sermon Text: Esther 4:10-17

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

A pastor friend and I were talking about today’s scripture. He said, “You might not want to say this in your sermon, but…” Now whenever someone says, “You might not want to say this in your sermon, but,” I take that as a cue that I ought to say it. So here goes: He said that I could compare the story of Esther to that “reality show” The Bachelor. Because, after all, in chapter 2 of this book, the hero of the story, Esther, is chosen to be the wife of the recently divorced Persian king—Ahasuerus—by a process that’s a little bit like the one by which the bachelor chooses his future wife on the hit TV show.

So, in a competition with many other beautiful young women, Esther keeps getting handed the proverbial “rose” until finally she becomes wife and queen. To do so, however, she keeps her Jewish identity a secret from her new husband.

Meanwhile, the king’s prime minister—a man named Haman—belongs to a people who have an ancient hatred of Jews. He manipulates the king into signing a decree to have all Jews living in Persia annihilated several months in the future. Esther’s adoptive father, Mordecai, finds out about the plan and warns Esther to use her power as queen to change the king’s mind and overrule the decree that Haman put into effect.

Mordecai and Esther can’t speak to one another directly. They’re speaking through one of the king’s eunuchs, whose name is Hathach. And that’s where we pick up in today’s scripture. If you have your Bible—and you should—turn with me to Esther 4:9-17, which I’ll read now. Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 08-25-19: “Mary and Martha”

September 4, 2019

Sermon Text: Luke 10:38-42

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

Many of you, I hope, will come to the parsonage tonight for our August birthday social, the first of many that we’ll be having. If you have a birthday in August, you and your family are invited to join us at 6:30. Refreshments will be served. 

I would be lying, however, if I said that Lisa and I were not slightly apprehensive about having company at our house. We have recently moved, obviously. We’ve had many boxes to unpack—and while we’re going to try to fake you out and make you think that we’ve finished unpacking boxes, we haven’t, really. Lisa and I both have full-time jobs, and and heaven knows yours truly has not been incredibly helpful to that process. And we have a new puppy—and heaven knows he has not been helpful to the process!

My point is, it’s stressful to have company at your house—under the best of circumstances it’s stressful.

And wouldn’t it be awkward for our guests tonight if Lisa and I let the stress of trying to make everything seem perfect boil over for all our guests to see? Not that that’s going to happen tonight! It’s going to be fun, I promise… but what if…? Haven’t you been in that situation before? You’re at a party—and the husband and wife or family starts arguing in front of you… Or maybe you’re the hosts of the party, and you start arguing? Or an argument is just below the surface—and there’s so much tension! It’s awkward.

Now suppose that this very awkward moment were included in what is by far the best-selling book of all-time, for all the world to read about—so that literally billions of people can judge you? Because that’s exactly what has happened to poor Martha over the past two-thousand years! Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 09-01-19: “Q&A: Why Were You Looking for Me?”

September 4, 2019

Sermon Text: Luke 2:41-52

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

Like most pastors, by noon on Sundays I am not at my most clear-headed. Because I’m emotionally spent after I preach. I have a hard time focusing. The greeting line after the service, for example, is the worst time to talk to me about some urgent church matter or to remind me of some upcoming event that you want me to remember. I say this, not so you’ll feel sorry for me, but as a way of apologizing for or justifying or at least explaining the following incident that happened several years ago. 

You see, nearly every Sunday for fifteen years of pastoral ministry my family and I have gone out to eat at a Mexican restaurant after church. And on this particular Sunday, my family was going to get a head start, and I was going to meet them there. At least that’s what I thought. When I showed up at the restaurant, Lisa, Elisa, and Townshend greeted me and asked, “Where’s Ian?” Because it turns out that Ian was supposed to be coming to the restaurant with me… Lisa told me after church to wait for him. But, believe it or not, I don’t always pay strict attention to what my wife says, especially after church on Sunday. So Ian, who was young at the time, was ten minutes away from us—ten anxious minutes—because I left him at church.

Well, in a way this gives you at least a small inkling of what happened to Mary and Joseph in today’s scripture. It’s hard for us modern people—in this age of smartphones—to imagine losing track of our 12-year-old boy for ten minutes, much less ten hours or however much time had passed before Joseph and Mary realized that Jesus was not with them. But things were different back then.  Read the rest of this entry »