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

September 11, 2019

Sermon Text: John 1:35-51

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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 »

“Choosing the ‘better portion'”: meditation on Luke 10:41-42

August 26, 2019

Luke 10:41-42: But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Are you a Mary or a Martha?

Contrary to popular preaching, I don’t believe Mary and Martha represent two different personality types: Martha, the driven, results-oriented extrovert—a Type A; Mary, the quiet, contemplative introvert—a Type B. “Marys” are idealistic, if naive. “Marthas” are practical, if brusque. Both are good and necessary for a church.

No, I believe they represent two different kinds of disciples: those who are faithful to Jesus and those who aren’t.

So I’m mostly a “Martha.” How about you?

But notice Jesus’ words in v. 42: Mary’s choice to sit at Jesus’ feet listening to his word represents the “one thing necessary,” the “better portion” (a footnote in the CSB: “the right meal”). These words remind me of Jesus’ telling his startled disciples in John 4 that he has “food to eat that you do not know about”—because his “food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:32, 34).

Give me this food, Lord Jesus! Or enable me to acquire the taste for the food you’re already giving me (Psalm 34:8). If only you’ll satisfy my heart’s deepest longings (Psalm 37:4), I can live on peanut butter sandwiches. #ESVJournalingBible #BibleJournaling

“God would be unjust to revoke my forgiveness”: meditation on Psalm 94:1-2

August 19, 2019

Psalm 94:1-2: “O Lord, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, shine forth! Rise up, O judge of the earth; repay to the proud what they deserve!”

When I read this stern appeal to God’s justice I’m tempted to feel one of two things: fear or doubt. First, I’m tempted to feel afraid: O Lord, if you’re avenging, judging, and “repaying the proud,” who am I that you would make an exception in my case? After all, is anyone as proud as I am? But if I’m not afraid, should I then doubt God’s Word? After all, the Bible seems to teach that God’s commitment to justice is absolute—that it’s part of his nature, that for God to deny justice is to deny himself.

So… can the Bible be trusted?

But here’s where the cross of Christ comes in: It reveals both God’s perfect love (Romans 5:8) and his perfect justice (Romans 3:26). In other words, on the cross, God did not choose love over justice; rather, the cross vindicates justice. The penalty for all my sins—past, present, and future—was paid (Colossians 2:13-14). My sins are “forgiven and forgotten” (Psalm 103:12; Isaiah 43:25; Hebrews 8:12).

So this startling good news follows: God is just when he forgives me! Indeed, it would now be unjust for God to revoke his forgiveness and find me guilty—or else he would punish my sins twice.

Why have I never considered this before? Am I only just now understanding the objective substitutionary atonement that I’ve professed to believe for years? 🤷‍♂️

Better late than never! #ESVJournalingBible #BibleJournaling

“When our feelings betray us”: meditation on Genesis 32:9, 12

August 14, 2019

Genesis 32:9, 12: And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good’… But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.'”

Jacob is preparing to meet his brother, Esau, twenty years after Jacob robbed him of both his birthright and his father’s blessing. Esau vowed to murder him back then. Will he still be angry? Jacob assumes the worst. Most of Genesis 32 recounts Jacob’s plan to appease his brother with generous gifts of livestock. “After that,” he thinks, “I can face him, and perhaps he will forgive me” (v. 20).

In the midst of his fear, Jacob prays a prayer in which he reminds God of his promises to protect him, prosper him, and do right by him.

Of course, if God’s promises are true, why is Jacob afraid? Doesn’t he know that he will be invincible—literally un-killable—until God brings him safely home? Even if Esau were still angry (which he isn’t), he would be unable to harm his brother.

But I know why Jacob is afraid in spite of God’s promises—because I know my own heart. In his moment of greatest fear, Jacob’s feelings have betrayed him, as feelings often do. Jacob’s only defense against his feelings—and our only defense—is the word of God: “The Lord who said to me…” “You have said…”

My point is, contrary to that great REO Speedwagon power ballad, we can fight our feelings—at least our feelings of fear, doubt, and despair—with the objective truth of God’s Word.

So let’s start fighting!

“The power is in Jesus’ word, not my faith in that word”: meditation on Luke 5:4-5

August 12, 2019

Luke 5:4-5: And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”

Everything in Peter’s experience, including fruitless hours of fishing the night before, told him that Jesus’ word would fail. If the fish weren’t biting at night, they wouldn’t be biting in the daylight. Besides, Jesus is no fisherman: he had made his living as a carpenter. “Stay in your lane, Jesus!”

But notice: Peter’s lack of faith doesn’t prevent Jesus from working the miracle.

What a relief—the power is in Jesus’ word, not my faith in that word! In other words, my faith is in Jesus; my faith is not in my faith in Jesus.

Here’s how this helps me: To say the least, I often don’t feel as if I’m a highly favored “son” of God in whom my Father is well pleased; I often don’t feel as if all my sins are forgiven; I often don’t feel as if the Father could love me as much as he loves his only begotten Son Jesus. My experience often tells me that God’s promises can’t be true.

But in what or whom will I trust? My feelings, my experience, my intuitions? Or Jesus?

Given my bent toward self-deception, who’s more likely to be telling the truth—Jesus or me? I choose to believe Jesus.

#ESVJournalingBible #BibleJournaling