We Do Not Lose Heart

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One of These Things is NOT Like the Others

I said in my sermon Sunday that I had permission to share this photo, but I’m probably pushing my luck now!

This picture was taken two summers ago as we rode The Voyage roller coaster at Holiday World. Connor grabbed my hand and dragged me to the line. Trish went along because she was convinced he’d chicken out at the top.

It was one of those rare occasions when Trish was wrong. Seriously, they don’t happen very often.

In fact, this was one time when daddy absolutely was NOT going to leave!


We Despaired of Life Itself

As I stated in the sermon, I don’t think that smile on Connor’s face is just about the roller coaster. I believe it’s because he knows his daddy is sitting next to him. More importantly, he knows that just because things are dark and chaotic at the moment, that doesn’t mean daddy’s going to get off the ride and abandon him.

Sunday we took a serious look at Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1:8-11. In this passage he reflects on a time in Ephesus when he was so overwhelmed with fear and uncertainty that he didn’t think he could go on living.

He wrote, “For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.” If any of you told me that, we would have a serious talk about what you might be contemplating. We dare not minimize the pain Paul was feeling.

And yet, on the other side of such a great despair, Paul found hope. Later in the same letter he wrote, We do not lose heart. . . For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17). You don’t come to a place where you can call your struggles “light and momentary affliction” without first feeling despair and finding hope.

I think this is a very important message for everyone who has ever been on the dark and scary ride of life and felt they didn’t have their Heavenly Father to cling to. When the darkness hits, remember your Father is right beside you.

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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: Woman, Behold Your Son

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Jesus said, “There is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” That’s a promise that no one should ever feel they’re alone. God has connected us through the cross as one big family. When we care for each other we’re proving the truth of what Jesus said.

There’s probably no place that call was ever displayed with more beauty and pain than on the cross in Jesus’ words to the Apostle John and his mother, Mary. Through the cross, Jesus redefined their relationship, just as he redefines ours.

As with the other sermons in this series, I had originally preached this one in 2009. It was amazing to see how little I needed to add and change with this one. I added the illustration about the news that Jesus had a brother (that’s some news) and the story about my text from Andy. Other than that, I updated my scripture references and tweaked the conclusion a bit.

The amazing part was just how timely the sermon was. There have been some issues about caring for one another and recognizing our need for each other lately. The sermon addressed them perfectly. I’ve been told there have been several “are you ok?” messages sent out over the past day or so.

The text message illustration provided something simple and concrete for them to do with the message. It was almost like giving them permission to care for each other.

I’m looking ahead to next week’s message: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” With it the shift will go from practical relationships with one another to their relationship with the Heavenly Father. It will be an interesting transition.