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Forgive and Forget

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I shared a story in this sermon about a church where I used to preach. The previous minister, for some reason, taught the people “If you haven’t forgotten then you haven’t really forgiven.” I’ve struggled to understand the logic of such a statement and often wondered just how ingrained phrases like “forgive and forget” are in the minds of believers. Do we really think that we’re supposed to forget our hurts? Do we understand that there is a difference between forgiveness and trust? That you don’t put a forgiven pedophile in the church nursery?

After last week’s sermon on “Judge Not,” I knew God was working on me with this message. It came together quickly, which allowed it to germinate in my heart over the course of the week. I can’t say it changed a lot, but I can say I did. I felt God’s grace working on me in new ways.

I owe it to those who have hurt me to be the greatest display of the grace of God in their lives.

On Friday before I preached this sermon I committed to finally reading (finishing) Brennan Manning’s “The Ragamuffin Gospel.” I hate to admit it, but I had tried to read it several times and never got past the first few chapters. I look back now, though, and realize that there were times when I was reading it for all the wrong reasons. The first time I tried to read it I did so in rebellion. The other times because it was cool and insightful. This time it was because my heart needed it.

I also listened to Manning’s sermon, “God Loves You As You Are, Not As You Should Be” three times over the course of two days. It really worked on me.

A week before I preached the message I sat down to write some preliminary notes. I didn’t expect any big insights, but I was already being worked on with the idea from the previous sermon, “Jesus wants me to fall so in love with his grace that I want nothing less for anyone else.” As I sat to write my notes a thought hit me that I had to write down. “I owe it to those who have hurt me to be the greatest display of the grace of God in their lives.”

I still struggle with what that ultimately means. I struggle with how that should look. But I look at Jesus and I consider what I have received from the one I crucified and I know it’s true.

The next sermon is on the misunderstanding, “God will not give you more than you can bear.” It’s not a happy sermon. It’s hard. I feel like it’s growing out of these previous two.

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Do Not Judge

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When I started this summer series the idea was simple. A collection of sermons built around the idea that there are many things we believe the Bible says that it either doesn’t say or we’ve misapplied. The nice thing about a summer series like this, rather than an exposition of a particular book of the Bible, is that if people aren’t able to be there from week-to-week it’s no big loss. There’s nothing but the overall topic to tie the sermons together.

I have to admit, I had low expectations of myself and the topic. I thought it would be a lot of fun, but I didn’t expect any real depth. Then it started surprising me. I guess I started surprising myself. I would go so far as to say the Holy Spirit surprised me!

With the “Judge Not” sermon, an arc began that I didn’t really expect when I first laid out the series. I knew the topics would flow together, but I didn’t really expect the sermons to compliment each other like they have. The response has been amazing, humbling and I’ve grown in ways I didn’t expect.

“Jesus wants me to fall so in love with his grace that I want nothing less for anyone else.”

This sermon didn’t go as I had initially envisioned it when I first put the series together in the spring. I saw this sermon as being a defense for the reality that there are times when we are called on to judge. I wanted to point out that there’s a difference between forgiveness and trust and we shouldn’t shy away from judgment when we are called to judge. It ended up being a sermon about the heart of the one doing the judging. In many ways, it ended up being a sermon for my heart.

There’s a particular phrase in the sermon that really surprised me. I’m sure it’s not an idea that is unique to me, but when it hit me I saw how essential it was to my own heart. “Jesus wants me to fall so in love with his grace that I want nothing less for anyone else.” He wants my desire for others to experience his grace to go beyond my own desire for vengeance or what I think justice should be.

That thought led me to the next sermon on “Forgive and Forget.”

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Charity Begins at Home

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When I was in college I had a weekend ministry preaching at a small country church. One of my favorite parts of that ministry was regular visits to one of the members who was in the nursing home. She was very sweet and encouraging and we both enjoyed the visits.

One afternoon while visiting she reached for her checkbook and told me that it had been a while since she had made a contribution to the church. She filled out the check with instructions for me to drop it off with the treasurer and to remind him that her money was NOT to go to support foreign missions. “After all,” she said, “the Bible says ‘Charity begins at home!'”

I wish I could say that was my only story like that. Unfortunately I’ve heard it over and over again. I’m not sure what bothers me more, the gross neglect of what Scripture truly says or the pious excuse to do nothing about helping your fellow man.

I managed to finish writing this sermon on Monday afternoon. I had all week to mull it over and let it ferment. The final product is pretty much the same as I had written on Monday with a few changes. I added the story of being approached by the person in need on Friday and I sharpened the challenge at the end of the message.

The sermon went longer than I had intended, just shy of 30 minutes. I really want to try to keep these summer sermons at about 20-22 minutes. I’ll work on that for the next one in two weeks. I’m taking next Sunday off!

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God Helps Those Who Help Themselves

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Today I preached the second sermon in my summer series, “Did God Really Say . . . ?” The topic was the often quoted but completely unbiblical old chestnut, “God helps those who help themselves.” The challenge I’m finding with this series is tying an unbiblical idea to a Biblical passage. I did a lot of research last week and finally settled on Paul’s struggle with his thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12, a great example of God’s help in our weakness rather than our strength.

I feel like I overcame what I feared would be a huge obstacle in these sermons. I didn’t spend too much time focusing on the negative. Of course, neither does Paul.

I have a couple thoughts about illustrations from this sermon. I’m not one of those story telling preachers (I really wish I was). I use illustrations sparingly. In this sermon I started out with a story of Jay Leno’s “Jaywalking” bit. That was more of a lead in than an illustration, though. I cited Donald Trump’s rise to riches and subsequent troubles. I think that worked well, especially with the visual of his 1987 book cover for “Trump: The Art of the Deal” bursting into flames and being replaced with a modern photo of him with his bad haircut (how I love Keynote!).

The big illustration that I got comments on was that of my son Connor found at 14:35 in the sermon. I’ve written several times in the past about Connor and his autism. I occasionally use Connor as an illustration, though I’m cautious when I do it. For those who only see Connor from the outside these illustrations could look more like attempts to pull heart strings. “That poor dear, and what that family must go through to care for him.” If they only saw the rampant goofiness and fun we have inside the house they would probably think, “That poor dear, to be stuck with such parents!”

I feel we have to be cautious when we have a life situation that illustrates weakness or our own sufferings. You can’t go to that well very often. Whether it’s a struggle with sickness or a disability in the family, use it sparingly and make sure it connects to the ever present struggles of the hearers rather than elevates your own struggle.

I really wonder if that’s why Paul refused to disclose what his “thorn in the flesh” was. If he had named it there would have been the temptation of some to say, “OH! I suffer from the same thing! I know Paul’s pain!” And then there would have been others who would have thought, “Bah! Paul thinks he’s got it rough. He’s just got a thorn; I’ve got a whole spike in my flesh!”

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Did God Really Say . . . ?

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I had intentions of writing an article on planning my summer preaching. I still might do it, but it won’t be quite as timely.

Preaching in the summer just feels different. People are busy with vacations and family plans and you can’t really count on consistent attendance. As a result, extended expositions, like the one I did from Romans last winter, just don’t seem to work for me. So, I like to pick topics where each sermon will do a decent job of standing on its own.

This year I decided to do a series called “Did God Really Say . . . ?” It’s an attempt to look at a few of those misunderstanding and misquotations that seem to infect the way we think about God. Several of the preachers I regularly listen to did similar series last year. Some took more serious approaches while others seemed to have a little more fun with it. I’ll be covering a little bit of both. We’ll look at the old saying “charity begins at home” and tackle some deeper things like “God will not give you more than you bear.”

Today I started off with an introductory sermon that set up the topic for the rest of the summer. I didn’t want it to be too heavy, but I felt the need to address a few serious topics. Since the suicide a couple weeks ago we’ve had some people questioning whether or not suicide was the unforgivable sin. I honestly thought we were beyond that kind of stuff by now, but it’s deeply engrained in a lot of people’s thinking. I brought it up briefly and did ask the family if it would be alright to do so. They gave me their blessing.

I really wish our recording picked up the laughter and responses from the congregation. They loved the introduction today.

Sermon CardLast year I read Preach: Theology Meets Practice by Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert. Great book! I can’t say enough about it! Add it to your library and dig in. One recommendation from the book was to provide sermon cards, with your topics and dates on them and provide them for your congregation. I decided this would be a good opportunity to do that. People responded well today. I’ll be interested to see how well they keep up in the weeks to come.

The sermon went well. I chose a bit of an inductive style for this one and I think that worked well. The text really lent itself to that. I feel like I should have worked a little more on the ending. Switching from Eden to Jesus so quickly seemed a bit abrupt, but amazingly enough they got there with me! I had good responses to that.