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Famous Last Words: Today You Will Be With Me in Paradise

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The story of the thief on the cross has always intrigued me. I doubt I’m the only one. I’ve had more than one conversation about salvation with someone and been asked, “What about the thief on the cross?”

Why don’t we take the attention off the thief and put it where it belongs–on Jesus? It’s only when we focus on Christ that we can see ourselves in this story.

I was really surprised at the reaction I got to this sermon–it was all positive. Honestly, I felt like my delivery stuttered and floundered in several spots, but I’ve had a lot of great feedback on this one.

The truth is, this is one of my oldest sermons. It was originally my senior sermon way back when I was in college in 1989. It’s the sermon I preached when I tried out for my first full-time church and it’s one I’ve gone back to over and over again. The last time I delivered it was in 2009.

My re-writes have mostly been illustrative. I changed the intro this time to draw attention to the idea of being saved “by the skin of your teeth.” The audience was really with me on that part. I think they could feel the train barreling down at me.

About 15 years ago I added the Spurgeon story. I really enjoy that part.

The “What Does it Mean to be Crucified?” is actually much older. I picked that up from an old issue of Leadership Journal somewhere around 1986. I used it in an even earlier sermon I preached during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college.

One of these days I intend to write an article on how to “re-tread” a sermon. Until then I’ll remember the words of my Greek professor, Dr. Marion Henderson, “If it’s not worth preaching twice it probably wasn’t worth preaching once.”

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7 Bad Examples: The Sin of Achan

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For forty years Israel had wandered in the wilderness. It was forty years of frustration due to the failure of the previous generation. Surely, they learned from that generation’s mistakes. Surely they would prove themselves faithful and know victory in their new home, right?

Within days of entering the Promised Land Israel is making the same mistakes and suffering the same failures as before. Looking at the sin of Achan, our failures aren’t all that different.

This “Bad Example” wasn’t in Paul’s list from 1 Corinthians 10. In fact, three out of the seven in this series were of my own choosing. I think this was the first one on my mind. In the months before I put the series together I had seen the sin of Achan referenced in several articles about how unfair God can be. Apparently this story is a favorite of the new atheists. I didn’t want to confront their misreading, but I wanted to make sure my people were familiar with the story in case it was ever thrown at them.

I put a lot of work into this one and I feel like I could have used a lot more work. Sunday morning I was still honing the points a bit and making a few adjustments. Most of my preaching in the last couple of years has been with smaller passages. Preaching a whole chapter has become a bit of a challenge for me. I found myself cutting some supporting scriptures in an attempt to not overwhelm my audience.

By the way–and this note is just for you preachers out there–in my research I looked up some examples of how other preachers have handled this text. There were a few good outlines out there and some great supporting material, but I had to shake my head at the titles some of these sermons were given. Titles like:

  • What’s Achan You?
  • God’s Prescription for an Achan Heart
  • Prescription for an Achan Nation

and who could forget:

  • When Achan Became Bacon

Really guys?

Look, I will be the first one to say you shouldn’t take yourself too seriously, but these puns do not convey the horror of this story. A man sinned and his children were stoned and burned with him. Bacon? Really?!?!?

I got to share the message a second time with my other church Sunday evening. It’s a much smaller and more laid back crowd and I’m able to chase a few rabbits with them and do some dialogue. As I did, I fleshed out a thought on the text that I really wish I had time for in the message itself.

The sin is explained in the first verse that Achan “took some of the devoted things.” Later in verse 12 God says, Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction.” When Achan took the items that God had devoted for destruction, they didn’t become his, rather Achan became theirs. Their doom became his.

Sin is like that. We can’t master it, it can only master us. We can’t bring it where we’re going, we can only let it enslave us to its ultimate destruction.

Man, I would love to preach that!

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7 Bad Examples: Baal Worship at Peor

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 This should have never happened. God had warned the Israelites over and over again of the dangers of following other gods. In his list of Ten Commandments, “You shall have no other god before me” comes first. But they broke that commandment and suffered from it. Could any of them have understood the ultimate cost for their disobedience?

Do we yet?

I have to confess a great deal of apprehension over this message. The language is harsh (maybe not harsh enough). The content is a heavy R rating. The story is simply heartbreaking.

As with other “Examples,” there was a lot of material I didn’t really have time to share. I almost left out the explanation of the child sacrifice to Baal, and definitely could have said more. I considered explaining that “hanging” actually meant “impaling.” Streamlining the sermon kept me from heading off into those directions, though.

Bringing it back to Christ was paramount. I was glad to be able to do that on several levels. First of all, Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 10:11, “…on whom the end of the ages has come. Christ is the “Fulfillment of the Ages” so these examples can’t just point us away from evil, they must also point us towards Christ.

And, of course, there’s the connection with hanging on a tree. How could I not bring Christ into that?

In fact, what’s really amazed my listeners–the comment I’m getting week-after-week–is how I’m able to bring these Old Testament stories back to Christ. As a preacher, it’s one of those things that I realize should happen (Jesus himself says so in John 5:39). For my hearers it seems to be confirmation of the centrality of Jesus to the Bible.

Next week I finish up this series with the story of the sin of Achan from Joshua 7. It’s another one that’s not included in Paul’s list. When I first thought of this series, though, it was probably the first one on my mind. As I get closer to delivering it, though, I wonder what was I thinking?!?! Why did I want to preach THAT?!?!

Oh well . . . we’ll see how it goes. 🙂

 

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7 Bad Examples: The Bronze Serpent

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“We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents” 1 Corinthians 10:9

As long as these bad examples are just about the failure of a three thousand year old culture half a world away they don’t really impact us. Paul minces no words here. “We must not put Christ to the test.” This isn’t about them–it’s about us. It’s about what we do to Jesus when we refuse to look to him.

Have you ever had one of those Sundays where you couldn’t seem to catch a break? That was our Sunday!

It began with the weather. A big snowstorm was predicted and an hour before worship it was coming down pretty hard. Thankfully by the time worship started the snow had stopped, but it did keep several people away.

With the threat of bad weather, I had prepared a short devotional message on 1 Corinthians 10 “just in case.” However, enough people came that I didn’t feel it was necessary to substitute the message. Still, it was a little taxing to have two messages running around in my head.

Speaking of my head, I didn’t get a lot of sleep the night before. That contributed to some personal difficulty that morning.

I do my best to make my messages visual experiences. I use Keynote with a lot of great pictures. I had some wonderful ones picked out for this sermon.

tumblr_ljkrzmvcNL1qi9q4ko1_500Unfortunately the internet went down right as I began, so the visual aids didn’t work. That caused some confusion between me and my video guy. I know in the long run missing a few slides doesn’t seem like much, but I put a lot of work into those slides. My men especially look forward to them.

There were also a few missed cues between the music team and the audio/visual guys. Again, no big deal, but all those little deals got the best of me.

The sermon went well, though. I had some good response. It’s been a while since I’ve really made an evangelistic plea in a message. While no one came forward, the message went out. They heard it.

I finished writing this sermon on Wednesday, which is a good day for me to wrap up the bulk of the sermon work. I remember when I hit that final “save” on the file. I was exhausted. This one took a lot out of me to write and preach. I really loved it, though. Even if it impacted no one else, it definitely impacted me!

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7 Bad Examples: Grumbling

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1123Mention grumbling in church and you’re likely to to be met with laughter. “We all do it,” someone will say. “That’s just the way we are” or “that’s just the way she is.” Grumbling seems to be a given and it’s seldom taken seriously . . . at first.

God’s attitude seems different, doesn’t it? He takes grumbling seriously. He sees it as an affront to his will and his very being. In fact, it doesn’t take much reading in the book of Numbers before you realize God simply doesn’t tolerate grumbling.

So why do we?

I recognized early on in my prep that this message had the potential to simply be a joke. Everyone’s got to have a sermon on grumbling. Every preacher grumbles about grumbling. “Yeah, yeah. We get the point. Be positive, right?” I knew the message had to be more than that. Again, taking my cue from Paul, I knew it had to be about, “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did (1 Corinthians 10:6).”

Hitting the three stories from Numbers enabled me to develop the idea of what the source of grumbling really is. There were plenty of illustrations and details to work with. Maybe a few too many, really. I needed to keep this sermon short due to some other activities we had planned for the day. Short meant 25 minutes. Not really what I was shooting for. I’m still not sure how it went that long!

It easily could have gone longer. I originally had notes to bring the story of Korah up to Jude 11 and 12, where Jude uses them as examples for the ungodliness that is still happening in the church. I would have liked to have developed that idea more but in the end it seemed to distract from where I wanted to take them.

tommorrowmondayLately I find myself thinking a lot about one of Haddon Robinson’s favorite quotes. “As Bessie Brooks and Tommy Snooks walked out of church on Sunday, said Bessie Brooks to Tommy Snooks, ‘Tomorrow will be Monday.'” If my sermon is just for Sunday–if it doesn’t impact people on Monday–then what good is it? I’ve had two conversations since Sunday with listeners who commented how the sermon challenged their attitudes on Monday. Not bad for a short sermon.

We’ve seen some great things happening in our church lately. We probably don’t have time to grumble, and yet there are those who do. As I stated in the sermon, though, grumbling in church doesn’t overly concern me. We’ll still be a church if you grumble. But grumbling at home . . . that concerns me.

Grumbling at home can lead to not being a home, not being a family. Grumbling at home can stop the move of God in your life and getting swallowed up in emptiness.

I really hope they heard that.