Posts Tagged ‘Jimmy Stewart’

Sermon 11-05-17: “To Live Is Christ”

November 10, 2017


Just in time for Thanksgiving, today begins a 4-part sermon series on Paul’s letter to the Philippians—a letter bursting with joy and gratitude. Paul’s tone should surprise us: After all, he’s writing this letter from prison, facing trial and execution for his faith. Moreover, his missionary work—his vocation to reach the Gentiles with the gospel—appears to be seriously hampered. How is Paul able to be so happy?

Sermon Text: Philippians 1:12-26

My sermons are now being podcast! My podcast is available in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

It’s November, which means—as far as I’m concerned—it’s almost Christmas. I love this time of year. This year, during the Thanksgiving/Advent/Christmas season I’m planning on re-watching one of the greatest movies ever made: I’m referring, of course, to It’s a Wonderful Life. Most of you have seen this holiday classic. It is so good; it’s so deep; it’s so rich.

You remember the basics of the story: George Bailey is an ambitious young man who has dreams of leaving Bedford Falls, the small town he grew up in; seeing the world; going to college; being a world-renown architect or engineer; building things. Accomplishing things. Being successful; being rich. Living the American dream. But through a series of unfortunate events and circumstances beyond his control, he ends up stuck in Bedford Falls, running his late father’s Building and Loan, watching his friends and even his little brother achieve the kind of success that he himself always wanted to achieve—as if being married to Donna Reed wasn’t enough for him! What was his problem?

Regardless, toward the end of the movie, his incompetent uncle loses $8,000 of the Building and Loan’s money, and the police suspect that George stole it, and pretty soon he’s going to be arrested. His life is in ruins, or so he thinks. So he contemplates suicide until an angel intervenes to save his life. The angel shows George one example after another of how much better his fellow townspeople’s lives are as a result of George’s life. George sees that every unlucky break, every setback, every disappointment, every perceived failure in his life played a role in blessing the lives of others. It was almost like someone was behind the scenes of George’s life, pulling strings, coordinating events, making things work out in a particular way. And although the movie doesn’t come right out and say it, we Christians can watch this movie and know that Someone was doing these things. While things weren’t going according to George’s plans, they were going  exactly according to Someone else’s plan. This is how God works in our world, for those of us who believe in his Son Jesus.

More than anything, this is what today’s scripture is all about.

I’ve called this new, four-part sermon series on Paul’s letter to the Philippians, “Reasons to Be Thankful.” Philippians is all about gratitude and joy. Why am I offering this series? Because I want to prepare us for Thanksgiving, for one thing. I also want to prepare us for making a financial commitment on Stewardship Sunday, which Luther will tell you more about next week. More than anything, I want you and me to be as happy in the Lord as Paul himself is. And you may say, “I’m not Paul!” And that’s right. You’re not. His life was much more difficult, filled with much more suffering, much more pain, much more loss, than our lives are! And yet his life, as is clear from this letter, is characterized by great joy. That’s what I want in my life. Don’t you? Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 11-27-16: “Mary, Servant of the Lord”

December 9, 2016


There’s a popular expression in Alcoholics Anonymous, “Expectation is a planned resentment.” Has you seen how this is true in your own experience? What God asks of Mary is beyond any expectations that she had. Yet she’s able to say “yes” to God, not because unafraid or unsure, but because she trusts that God is ultimately in control.

Please note: No video this week.

Sermon Text: Luke 1:26-38

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3.]

Last September, there was a marathon near Philadelphia. This marathon is an important qualifying race for the Boston Marathon, so many of the runners who ran it were attempting to do just that—and this race was their last chance. A part of the race course crossed railroad tracks, and wouldn’t you know it? Despite assurances from Norfolk Southern that no train would interfere with the race, about a hundred runners got stopped by a very slow-moving train. For ten minutes. One runner quoted in the article I read missed qualifying for the Boston Marathon by eight minutes—so he would have made it if not for the train!

Can you imagine: Standing there, waiting for a slow train to pass, knowing that every passing second puts you further and further from your goal?

Heartbreaking! I mean, it’s one thing to pull a hamstring, or tear an MCL, or sprain an ankle, or—as I know from experience—suffer plantar fasciitis. These are all runners’ injuries—and runners accept these risks when they run. But to miss out on your dream of running in the Boston Marathon on account of a train, of all things? Who expects that to happen?

No one expects that!

Just like Mary would never have expected this angel to come to her and tell her about the role that she would play in bringing salvation to the world—this awesome privilege and responsibility that she would have have in giving birth to God’s Son Jesus and raising him as her son. Mary has often been called the “first Christian,” and when we consider her faithful response to God, we probably imagine that she’s a much better Christian than we are. She’s up on this pedestal and we’re way down here. We have trouble identifying with her. But in this sermon I want us to see how much we have in common with her. Read the rest of this entry »

“Good News of Great Joy,” Day 21: Praying Boldly

December 20, 2015

booklet_coverI recently created a 26-day Advent devotional booklet for my church called “Good News of Great Joy.” I will be posting a devotional from it each day between now and Christmas day. Enjoy!

Scripture: Luke 18:9-14

On Christmas Eve, after his absent-minded Uncle Billy misplaces a deposit that today would amount to over $80,000, George Bailey faces possible prison  time, because the police will think George embezzled the money. After George considers the value of his life insurance policy, he decides that he’s worth more dead than alive.

In a rage, he leaves his family on Christmas Eve night and goes to a bar and prays a desperate prayer that God would rescue him. He later contemplates ending his life by jumping off a bridge into an icy river.

Now consider the parable that Jesus tells in today’s scripture.

George tells God, “I’m not a praying man.” Like the tax collector in Jesus’ parable, he knows he isn’t worthy of God doing anything for him, but he’s desperate.

How are we like George? Don’t we often do our best praying when we’re desperate? I love that George calls God “Father,” the way Jesus taught us. Parents, especially parents at Christmastime, know all too well that their children have no trouble asking for exactly what they want—and asking repeatedly. They have no shame. If only we acted more like God’s children and boldly asked God our Father, directly and simply and repeatedly, for what we wanted! Well, George does that, and God answers his prayer.

📲 Watch a video clip of George Bailey’s prayer:

Sermon 10-11-15: “Search Me, O Lord”

October 19, 2015

Fight Songs

One important message of this psalm is that God knows us infinitely better than we know ourselves: every aspect of our past, present, and future; all our secret thoughts and hidden motives. Whether this idea is deeply comforting or deeply frightening to you will determine how we respond this psalm. God’s intimate knowledge of us, after all, is a potential problem: God knows the sin and evil that lives within us. A God who is committed to justice can’t ignore that. When David says, “Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God,” where does that leave us? Listen to this sermon and find out.

Sermon Text: Psalm 139:1-24

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

In the whole history of bad ideas, I just read last week about one of the worst: It’s an app for our phones that is a little like Yelp. Yelp lets you review restaurants and other businesses. So before you try a new restaurant, let’s see what Yelp says about it. And that’s wonderful—the more information the better. But this new app, called “Peeple” will let you review—gulp—your fellow human beings. You get to assign other people a rating from one star to five stars and anyone in the world can read it. And anyone in the world can rate you—as a person. I know!


No good is going to come from this Peeple app—despite what the two women who created it are saying. As someone tweeted: “so #peeple is what happens when two popular mean girls from your high school grow up & decide to make a slam book for the entire world?”

Do any of us want to be scrutinized like that—to be judged like that? We work so hard on social media, after all—to put our best foot forward, to avoid being negatively judged. We’re very selective about the parts of ourselves that we show online. If you don’t believe me, have you ever watched a teenager take a selfie? Or have you ever taken a selfie with a teenager. It takes forever! Because they’re constantly taking and deleting. “No, that’s not good enough.” Taking and deleting, taking and deleting. “Finally, this one is perfect. This is the one I’ll post on Instagram!”

So we live in this age of the selfie. We live in an age that’s obsessed with taking pictures of ourselves—obsessed with superficial images. More than ever, we want people to see us, to notice us, to value us; we want people to like us on Facebook; to swipe right instead of swiping left on Tinder; to tap-tap on our pictures on Instagram.

We desperately want people to know us—or at least to know this very carefully curated image we put forward—we want them to know us without really knowing us. Because we’re desperately afraid that if people knew the real us—the real person underneath the image, the real person underneath the carefully selected selfie, the real person underneath yet another “humble-bragging” post about how wonderful our life is, our spouse is, our family is, our job is—well… if they knew that real person, we’re afraid they wouldn’t love us! Read the rest of this entry »

The Lord’s love is your only true home

October 8, 2015

George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) is elated to find himself home again.

A few years ago, months after my mom’s death, we sold my mom’s home. It was the house I grew up in. My parents bought it two years before I was born. Just before we closed on it, my friend Andy—my oldest friend who spent many days and nights there with me over the course of our childhood—said that we should go back and spend one more night there. We could bring sleeping bags and set up a TV in the basement rec room along with my old Intellivision video game system (which I still possess). We could pop popcorn, listen to CBS Radio Mystery Theater on a boom box, and play video games all night.

We didn’t do that, of course. We both had too many adult responsibilities to pull it off. But his suggestion filled us both with longing. If only we could go back home.

Timothy Keller understands this longing. In his sermon on Psalm 103, the psalm that I preached this past Sunday, he uses an illustration from It’s a Wonderful Life to make a point about verses 15-16: “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.”

There is nothing worse—no worse nightmare—than that place in It’s a Wonderful Life, the Frank Capra film, when Jimmy Stewart—remember George Bailey—he’s sent back to Bedford Falls, New York, right? And his place remembers him no more. He’s sent back, and it’s as if he’d never been born. He goes to see his mother. His mother has no idea—“Who are you? Get out before I call the police.” He goes to see his brother. Well, his brother is dead because—remember that? He’s in the cemetery because George wasn’t around to save him. He goes to see his wife—his wife, Mary. Doesn’t know who he is! Goes to his house—his house! His home.

Now what is home? Every other place you fit in. But home is the place that fits you. Home is the place where the chair’s where you want it. A real home is the place where the colors, the architecture, the furniture—everything is where it ought to be. The smells, the fire, the chair by the window. The ultimate home fits you. The ultimate home is everything you want.

And he goes to his ultimate home, the perfect home, and it’s a ruin. And it’s a nightmare. He says it’s a nightmare. Of course it’s a nightmare! He goes back to the place where he grew up. Verse 16: “And his place remembers him no more.” He’s a man without a place. He’s a man without a home. What a nightmare, right? Why?…

Why is our place so important? I don’t know. But the one thing we do know is that this is the human condition… Over and over and over again we go back and we find that our place remembers us no more. No matter how hard we try, houses crumble, we can’t make the mortgage, people break up, people get divorced, children won’t speak to you… that beautiful field you always remembered has a shopping mall now!

Why? What is this getting at? What it’s getting at is, we all need a place, we all need a sense of home, and until, we’re being told, you realize what your heart is really after, you’re going to spend all of your life chasing will-o’-the-wisps. You’re going to spend all of your life working too hard. You’re going to spend all of your life searching for something, and where can you find it?

Take a look at the contrast. It’s amazing. Its place, verse 16, remembers it no more, but… verse 17: What’s the replacement for that? “From everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him.” The Lord’s love is the home. The Lord’s love is the place. The Lord’s love is the only place that when you go there, they have to take you in. The Lord’s love is the only place where the fire never goes out in the fireplace. Jesus Christ says to his disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you.” Where? “In my Father’s house there are many rooms.” The ultimate home your heart is looking for is in there. The ultimate absolute safety you need is in there.

God knows I spent too many years of my life looking for home somewhere else! Don’t make the same mistake.

The following is a song about home from the Kinks’ 1969 masterpiece, Arthur, or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire. Any home we try to make outside of our Father’s home won’t satisfy us.

Sermon 12-01-13: “Reel Christmas, Part 1: It’s a Wonderful Life”

December 7, 2013


George Bailey is a man who sacrifices his own dreams for the sake of others. Joseph, the adoptive father of God’s Son Jesus, would be able to relate. As both Joseph and George learn, God’s dream for our lives is bigger and better than any dream we have for ourselves. To appreciate this, however, we have to receive the greatest gift any of us can receive this Christmas, or any other time: forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.

Sermon Text: Matthew 1:18-25

The following is the complete sermon with videos:

The following is my original sermon manuscript along with the video clips we showed in the service. We began the sermon with this first clip.

All we know for sure at the beginning of the movie is that a man named George Bailey is in trouble—so much so that he’s contemplating suicide. People who love and care for him are praying for him. And we know that God hears their prayers—because an angel named Clarence is assigned to the case.

If you’ve seen the movie already, then you know how it unfolds. If so, keep this in mind: what happens to George at the end of the movie is the result of people praying for him. This movie tells us at the very beginning that prayer changes things. God does things in response to prayer that he otherwise wouldn’t do. Jesus himself makes this point time and again in the Gospels. He tells a story, for instance, about a widow who goes before a judge day in and day out, demanding that the judge give her justice. Jesus says that this judge couldn’t care less about this widow, about God, or about doing the right thing, but guess what? He finally relents and gives her what she wants: because she’s persistent in asking. Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 12-02-12: “It’s a Wonderful Life”

December 6, 2012


In this sermon, which integrates clips from the classic holiday movie It’s a Wonderful Life, I talk about what it takes to have a wonderful or—as Jesus puts it in John 10:10—”abundant” life. This sermon is part of a series we’re doing during Advent called “A Very Merry Vinebranch Holiday Special.” Each week, my sermon will use clips from a Christmas TV special or movie. 

Sermon Text: John 10:7-10

The following is my original sermon manuscript with video clips included in the proper order. The sermon begins with the following clip:

All we know for sure at the beginning of the movie is that a man named George Bailey is in trouble—so much so that he’s contemplating suicide. People who love and care for him are praying for him. And God hears their prayers. Because an angel named Clarence is assigned to the case. Read the rest of this entry »