Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Sermon Video: Jacob I Loved, Esau I Hated - Malachi 1:1-5

The last of the prophets before the 400 years of silence preceding John the Baptist, Malachi brings a message to the people of Israel reminding them of their covenant obligations.  The Word of the LORD through Malachi begins with a hypothetical conversation between God and his people in which the people question the validity of God's statement of love for his people.  In response, God replies with, "I have loved Jacob, but Esau I hated".  The use of the example of Jacob and Esau, Abraham's twin grandsons, serves as a stark reminder of the nature of the relationship between God and his people, for it is a relationship founded entirely upon grace.  Esau was the older brother, but God chose to make Jacob the heir of Abraham's promise, before the boys were even born.  It was not a question of which brother was superior, for Esau displayed greater character than Jacob, but of the choice of God.  Because God's love is an act of grace, not obligation, those who receive it have no basis to demand anything of God, and ought to simply respond by praising the goodness of the Lord.

To watch the video, click on the link below:

Friday, September 15, 2017

Sermon Video: Paul tries to make peace with his critics - Acts 21:15-26

Having returned to Jerusalem, the Apostle Paul finds renewed controversy there as false rumors being spread about him have antagonized the Jewish Christian community against his work among the Gentiles.  In response, James encourages Paul to make a public demonstration of his own ongoing personal commitment to the Law of Moses by sponsoring the completion of the Nazarite vows of several of his fellow Jewish Christians.  Despite having done nothing wrong, Paul accepts this advice and takes on the sponsorship expense in order to foster peace within the Church.  In the end, it will be a futile attempt, as fresh lies against Paul will result in his arrest, but the willingness of Paul to act as a peacemaker is an example of the humility required of a servant of the kingdom, and of the sacrifices that may prove necessary to preserve unity within the Church.

To watch the video, click on the link below:

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Mt Everest vs. Space: Why we can never reach God on our own.

When trying to explain why our own righteousness, that is the morally upright things that we do, can never be sufficient to please the holy God who created us, I hit upon an analogy that might help some understand what Jesus is trying to say in Matthew 5:20 "For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."  Given that those two groups were believed to be the most righteous people in Israel, the words of Jesus seem like an impossibility.  Later on Jesus would explain the failures of the religious leaders of his people, focusing on their pride, failure to care about those in need, and the shallowness of their devotion, but the point about righteousness remains.  The statement by Jesus is intended to invoke a sense of despair, about our ability to please God on our own, hence setting aside our pride and allowing us to lean upon the grace of God.

So, how high can we climb on our own, and why isn't that good enough for God?  Let's suppose that you make it to the pinnacle of human moral achievement, climbing higher than anyone else.

Image result for mt everest

That seems like a tremendous accomplishment, especially with so many other people falling far short of your lofty achievement and others not even trying.  But what is the goal, have you reached it, simply because you can't possibly get any higher?

Image result for space walk

But God is holy, perfect, without flaw; we are not.  Our highest possible ascent toward God, on our own, leaves us far, far short.  Could Sir Edmund Hillary have climbed from the summit of Everest into space?  Of course not, the gap is too wide, and there's nothing left to climb.  Our righteousness, whatever it might be, is equally hopelessly insufficient when compared to the holiness of God.

So, what is left for us to do, give up?  In a way yes, to come to God, we need to give up trying to fix ourselves and instead trust that the righteousness of Christ, who died and rose again on our behalf, will be applied to our account by God because of our faith in him.  So go ahead and climb the Mt. Everest of morality, doing the right thing is always the right thing, but not because it will make God accept you, do it because you wish to honor the sacrifice of Jesus and be as much like him in this life as possible.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Out of Control: The unspoken cost of over-scheduled children

The most recent issue of Time magazine featured a cover story, "How Kid Sports Turned Pro" which highlights many of the financial dangers to families of the traveling sports teams for children, some younger than ten, which can cost a family tens of thousands of dollars a year in the pursuit of the dream of raising a professional athlete or simply netting a college scholarship.  In addition to this financial burden, the article emphasizes the serious potential for emotional and physical injury to these children (from the frantic schedules, high pressure performances, and too specialized exercise).

All of these things, and more, should be warning signs to parents of the danger of over-scheduling the lives of their children, and of raising a narcissist by teaching that child that the world revolves around him/her, and yet there was one area of danger that the article failed to address: the elevation of these athletic pursuits above devotion to God.   It should come as no surprise that the weekend tournaments that families travel, often half-way across the country to attend, necessitate that the family will not be attending church on Sunday.  As a pastor, I've seen this trend increase over the years, as families feel pressured to choose the hobby/sport that their child loves (or at least the parent thinks they love it) over spending time as a family in the house of God at worship.

Going to church isn't the priority it once was and our society (and countless individuals and families) have lost an intangible asset as a result.  In a world where human connections are more tenuous and rare, our spiritual connection to God and each other looms ever more crucial.  Will my child someday participate in a sport that holds games/tournaments on Sunday morning?  No, she will not, and not just because I'm a pastor and my absence would be noticed; because my wife and I recognize that our time spent as a family in the house of the Lord is an invest in our family and an example to our daughter of how highly we value God.

** This is not an indictment of parents who must work on Sunday to provide for their family, such things are unavoidable for some, nor does it concern those who miss church to take a family vacation or attend a family event.  My concern is with those for whom church is such a low priority that attendance a "we're not doing anything else" option instead of being the high priority that our devotion to God ought to demand of us.**

Sermon Video: The Lord's Will Be Done - Acts 21:1-14

As Paul finally approaches his destination of Jerusalem, both those traveling with him and those fellow disciples of Christ whom he meets at each stop, urge Paul to abort his trip and not go to Jerusalem.  Despite these significant warnings, one from a known prophet of the Lord, Paul insists that he must continue onward.  Paul had already accepted that his life was in danger, and that the cost of his discipleship might be imprisonment, or even death.  It was not that Paul didn't care about the risks, he simply considered his mission for the Kingdom of God to be of surpassing importance, even surpassing his own life.  And what was that mission?  To meld together the Jewish and Gentile Christians into one Church by bringing the famine relief offering from the Gentile churches to Jerusalem in person.  In the end, Paul's hope was a forlorn one, the Jewish revolt was only a few years away and Jerusalem itself would soon be destroyed by the Romans, but to Paul it was a cause worth dying for, if need be, for like his Savior, Paul lived by the rule, "the Lord's will be done."

To watch the video, click on the link below: