Called Out

Colossians: A Little Letter to a Church Just Like Yours

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I preach in a town of about 800 people. In fact, I’ve lived here my whole life.

It’s easy to feel like God misplaced you when you’re in a small town. Every conference I attend has speakers from big cities. Every preacher whose books I read is from a church that has more people attending than we do in our entire town. In the meantime, there are days when counting the dogs that randomly walk into the building would be tempting.

Who am I fooling? We’ve done that. Continue reading

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Yep. I Preached a Sermon about Gossip

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We giggle, we wink, we lower our voice and say, “I know I’m not supposed to say this . . . but . . . “ We fully acknowledge that gossip is wrong, but that doesn’t stop us from doing it. In that moment we feel rewarded for both telling and being told. We have revealed that we are part of an exclusive club that knows secret, hidden information and we have granted you access because you are willing to listen.

But how does God see gossip?

To say that this sermon struck a nerve would be an understatement. Within hours I was receiving text messages thanking me for the message. The next day there were visits to my office, phone calls, emails. People who weren’t at church had heard about it and were listening to the sermon online.

And we probably were still gossiping too.

As I mentioned in the message, I had started this sermon some years ago. I had little more than a rough outline–Three Reasons God Hates Gossip and You Should Too. Honestly, that was about it. To be completely honest with you . . . and I hate to admit this . . . I didn’t even have a text yet.

God help me . . . I prooftexted this sermon!

No, I don’t feel good about that. I don’t know whether to cling to the grace of God and say, “Isn’t it amazing that he worked this out?” or hang my head in shame and confess.

Maybe I should do a little bit of both . . . maybe I am.

Two things amazed me about this sermon. One, the outline came together with the Scripture in what seems like a very fortuitous way to me. I don’t feel like any of the points were a stretch. Even my wife commented about how strong the Scriptures were in this one. That’s high praise!

What amazed me even more after I had preached the sermon was the trinitarian elements I saw in both it and the text. Paul ends 2 Corinthians with a great trinitarian blessing in 13:14, The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.As I looked at my points I saw a definite focus on the work of the trinity:

  1. Gossip is doing the work of Satan as opposed to the work of God
  2. There is nothing redemptive about gossip – nothing that points to Christ’s work as redeemer of our lives.
  3. Gossip negates the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Again, I feel like I just stumbled into this and I promise I’ll never intentionally do it again, but I continue to be amazed at how it worked out.

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Famous Last Words: It Is Finished

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It Is Finished

There are times when I am very aware of what I lack in faith, faithfulness and devotion. There are times when I struggle to imagine that’s God’s grace is big enough to make up for all that I lack. In those times I find my peace in those three final words from the cross, “It is finished.”

There was a lot more I wanted to do with this sermon. I had some specific issues I wanted to address. In reality I  probably had a hobby horse or two I wanted to ride.

A few month ago I was listening to a radio program where a woman was explaining the doctrine of Purgatory. She explained that while Jesus’ death on the cross paid the penalty for our sin, sin had left something like a “ring around the collar” on our souls. Therefore, Purgatory is necessary to remove the final stain of sin.

I was angry. I really was.

I wanted to yell at the radio, “IT.IS.FINISHED!!!” Either Jesus died for all our sin or he died for NONE of it!

I tend to get a little excitable about this stuff.

In the end, though, I realized I wasn’t addressing a crowd of people who had concerns about Purgatory. Not many of them, at least.

I also realized I wasn’t addressing my usual crowd. Our attending was the typical Easter crowd; family, friends and a few extras who show up to do the Easter thing. I also realized many there weren’t accustomed to my usual delivery, so I changed things up a bit. The sermon was much more story driven than usual. In my average sermon I’m lucky if I have one illustration. This one built on two major stories, one personal and one from Jon Acuff.

All-in-all, we had a great Easter service and a very nice build up to Easter with this series. For me, though, the series (a retread of an earlier series) was supposed to provide me with some much-needed time to prepare for the next few months. Unfortunately that didn’t really happen. It’s been a busy and stressful season and there’s been no time for planning ahead.

Thankfully I am blessed with wonderful and caring leaders who insisted I take some time out of the pulpit after Easter. So, I’m spending two weeks plotting out the next six months. I’m really looking forward to where we’re going next!

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Famous Last Words: Into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit

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Jesus’ last words reveal much about his heart and his character. The fact that in the moment of his greatest pain he was able to forgive those who had crucified him says volumes about who he is. His concern for his mother and best friend speaks to his desire for our relationships. Even his cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” points to a depth of connection with his Father that was so intense that the separation was unbearable.

So when we come to those words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,” they are more than just a prayer, they’re his very heart. They are the words he has known and lived by his whole life. They are now the words he will die by.

Of all my sermons on the last words from the cross this one might be my favorite. The reason is because of the connection to the audience.

On Tuesday before I preached I sent out an email asking for those favorite promises. The response was overwhelming. I hadn’t actually planned on providing them in print, but once I that I wouldn’t be able to use them all it seemed like a great way to keep the connection going.

I feel like the sermon not only provided a point of connection back to Jesus on the cross but also a connection to the community through the scriptures offered by others. It also offers a connection for the future, when those promises others trust in can be used in their own time of need.

I’ve spoken with others about using questions like this through emails and social media posts. I really thinks it’s a great way to connect your people to what you’re doing. They become part of the message and take ownership of it. If you get a chance, definitely do it.

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Famous Last Words: My God, My God, Why have You Forsaken Me?

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What would it take? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself this week. From time to time our kids disappoint us. We are at times upset about their choices. But as disappointed as we can be we would never abandon our children . . . would we?

And yet God the Father did exactly that. Jesus cried out those words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” because for the first time in all eternity he was truly alone.

The day after I preached this sermon a friend of mine messaged me as he was listening to it and contemplating adapting it for his own Easter sermon. It wasn’t until we began chatting about the message that I remembered the huge influence John R.W. Stott’s The Cross of Christ had on me and this message when I originally wrote it in 2009. Stott’s book was one of those transformational tomes that I read years ago and have never seemed to put down.

Rather, it’s never put me down.

In chapter three, Stott dissects the different views of Jesus’ “cry of dereliction.” Quoting John Calvin, Stott concludes:

As Calvin put it, ‘If Christ had died only a bodily death, it would have been ineffectual . . . Unless his soul shared in the punishment, he would have been the Redeemer of bodies alone.’ In consequence, ‘he paid a greater and more excellent price in suffering in his soul the terrible torments of a condemned and forsaken man’. So then an actual and dreadful separation took place between the Father and the Son; it was voluntarily accepted by both the Father and the Son; it was due to our sins and their just reward; and Jesus expressed this horror of great darkness, this God-forsakenness, by quoting the only verse of Scripture which accurately described it, and which he had perfectly fulfilled, namely, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.’

I was amazed again at the timeliness of this message. Even though it was written six years ago it spoke directly to many needs currently in our congregation. I credit that to the wonderful way God works through his word and, unfortunately, the universality of the feeling of abandonment.