Tag Archives: Sermons

Don’t Whack the Weeds

But he said, ‘No, since in gathering the weeds you may uproot the wheat with them.’ (Matthew 13:29 NET)

Each time I read through Scripture I’m amazed at what God brings to my attention. Things which I’ve read many times will sometimes jump out like they’ve never been there before. I had that experience the other evening while reading through Matthew. I read the parable of the wheat and the weeds like I have many times before. I stopped to ask myself, “What was Jesus telling us in this short tale?” The funny thing is Jesus gives an explanation.

The more I thought about it the more I realized I couldn’t remember a single sermon I’d heard on this parable. I’m sure it was mentioned somewhere but apparently not noteworthy enough for me to remember. Often this is tied in with sending more workers into the fields but I see here an accurate description of the world, including the church and dealing with the evil which invades.

For some reason, Christians feel they need to cast their eyes across the world looking for weeds. We think these insidious plants, when found, need to be either converted into proper wheat or culturally eradicated by insuring they behave and look like wheat. Granted these damaging weeds are taking up some of the nutrients, water, and soil space that could otherwise be used by the wheat. It makes sense to us to remove the items which hinder proper growth of the wheat. But Jesus has a different approach in mind.
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Instead of weeding out the invaders Jesus says leave them where they are. Allow them to receive the same fertilizer, water, and care as the remainder of the wheat field. Now why would we leave them there? The Lord makes it clear that their removal would cause damage to the faithful wheat in the process of eradication. Apparently, we’re not very good as farmers in this process. It’s only when they’re harvested together that they can be properly separated without damage. So, the separation of the faithful and unbeliever is left to the final harvest by the reapers (angels). Only then will the true wheat shine in God’s kingdom.

I think of the damage done to the body of Christ by overzealous believers who take their understanding of God’s righteousness and attempt to forcefully weed out the evil in the world. They’re trying to pull up the weeds while their roots are still intertwined with the believer’s. I’m not discounting our call to exercise proper discipline within the church as Paul expressed to the Corinthians. After his call to expel the sinner from their midst he writes back and tempers his harsh commands in order that they show forgiveness and care so they do not cause excessive sorrow.

I also understand the admonition not to associate with those known for their flagrant sinful behavior within the church. But weeding goes directly to the destruction of the sinner and indirectly to the detriment of the faithful as our roots are intertwined. One cannot be ripped from the ground without damaging the other. Sinners are as common in a sinful world as weeds are in the wheat field. Regardless of what we try to tell ourselves we’re intertwined in a way that cannot be undone until the final harvest.

As tenders of the field we need to insure the nutrients of God’s grace, love and care are sowed throughout the field regardless of the plant. I’m convinced God won’t run out of fertilizer this side of eternity. Then we can allow God’s angels to harvest the field and separate the good from the bad. They know how to do this without irreparable damage to the plant, apparently, something we don’t do very well. We need to stop whacking at the weeds and aerate the soil with God’s grace and love. As missionaries and pastors this is our calling. Cultivate the field. The harvest we leave up to the one who knows how to save the good and toss out the bad, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

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Where is the Cross of Christ

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1 Corinthians 15:19 NIV)

I remember growing up attending church most of my life. At the front of each church was a platform with all the appropriate trappings including a cross, pulpit, communion table, organ or piano and seats for the choir. Many churches included a prayer or altar rail as well.

In most of those churches the cross was at the center of the platform. It was usually as large as practical for the space available. In all cases it was the center of focus for all entering the auditorium. The pulpit or lectern, where the Pastor stood, was located on either side of the platform in many cases. Thus the center of attention was always drawn to the empty cross of Christ, not to the efforts of men.

2007_06_01_ruineburgmodeling-076Today, in many churches, the cross is no longer center stage but is behind the pulpit which has moved to center stage. The effectiveness of recognizing the empty cross of the resurrection is often overshadowed by the animated preaching of the Pastor. I have even recently experienced churches where the cross was colored to blend into the wall color making it easily fade from sight.

Jews demand miraculous signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:22-24 (NIV).

Paul preached Christ crucified. The cross is the crux of the Christian Life. Without the cross and the shed blood of Christ there is no redemption or washing away of sins (Hebrews 10:19-22). The crosses in churches where I was raised were empty. This empty cross pointed to the foundation of Christianity in Christ’s resurrection (1 Corinthians 15).

In the sermons found in the New Testament the messages of the Cross and Christ are central, not the qualifications or efforts of the speaker. How often have you read or seen a church falter as a body when the Pastor takes another position? We see this in areas such as missions, youth ministries, and music where a long time servant of God departs and the ministry suffers and many times stops functioning effectively.

It may appear to be dependent on the servant of God and their method of ministry. This is at times true and we find ministers who preach for their own glory and importance. However, more often than not I’ve found the ministering servant to seek after God and desire to draw others to God and not themselves. Unfortunately this leaves us with the uncomfortable thought that we are partially, if not sometimes fully, to blame.

What are we seeking when we enter the church each week? Are we looking for the Sunday message to inspire us, the choir to lift up our spirits as they sing, or a chance to reveal our own vocal or theological talents to those seated near our Holy pew or chair? Or, do we come because we love and desire to see God through Christ, to worship Him because He is worthy of worship?

I’m guilty! Yes, I must admit the quality of music, the comfort of padded seats or the impressiveness of the message are often at the forefront of my thoughts as I enter one of God’s houses. I have to stop myself when I discover I’m seeking entertainment, not worship. I’m wrong!

Our ability to undauntedly justify our thoughts and actions leads us away from worship into self seeking entertainment. We come telling ourselves we are prepared to minister to others and yet, we minister because we expect to receive. Often we will easily be hampered, if not stopped in our ministry, when we are not praised and lauded for our efforts.

Where is the Cross of Christ? Is it at the center of our life as a decoration? Or, is it on the mantle of our heart providing direction and inspiration? We must be sure our ministry and worship are inspired by a heart overflowing with God’s love and not boiling with the pride of man.

For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel,” (Romans 9:3). Paul saw Christ at the center of his ministry. He desired his own destruction if it would bring salvation to the Jews. We need to be willing to give everything to bring others to the cross.

As we gather together to worship, we must truly give ourselves to worshiping  God, not the inventions and trappings of men or the church. As men we are worthy of nothing but condemnation.

. . .for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,. . .” (Romans 3:23).

God is worthy of worship without question.

You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Revelation 4:11)

Let’s put the Cross of Christ back at the center of our lives and our worship. Let’s be sure it’s not a physical face lift to our spiritual auditorium but a real true building on our foundation of faith.

Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

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Conversations About Theology

He called for lights, sprang in, fell down trembling before Paul and Silas, brought them out, and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:29-31 WEB)

At one time, I waded through the massive work, The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Considering the details, he placed on each verbal interchange, physical action and precise emotional situation the story doesn’t move at a strikingly swift pace. But, I enjoyed it. One weekend I read a long discourse on theology and this passing comment by Ivan captured my attention.

The stupider, the clearer. Stupidity is brief and guileless, while reason hedges and hides. Reason is a scoundrel, stupidity is direct and honest.

After years of theological study, sermons, lectures, and tomes of exposition and interpretation, mired down with the sludge of obese vocabulary and obtuse explanations, I found this quotation a refreshing and uplifting approach to the colloquy often infecting our homilies and interlocution about God and His divine intervention in the entanglements of mankind.

2010_07_03-vm-upgrade-005I don’t usually talk or write quite so verbosely as a matter of course. I do enjoy careful composition of a well-turned phrase using the appropriate application of language and vocabulary. However, in normal life, it doesn’t work. Not only am I at a loss for that perfect idiom, to demonstrate concisely the depth of the subject matter, but I don’t think that fast on my feet. (My wife says my sermons, which are usually written in their entirety before delivered, often contain such succinct statements to cause confusion while preaching in a multi-language environment. So, she reads them, before I preach, and changes things to compensate for the lack of direct one-to-one translation of various creedal sentences and theological confabulations.)

What’s my point? Consider my earlier statements. Do they leave room for misinterpretation of my disposition on the matter of simplicity versus complexity in theological discussions? Probably. Even though I carefully composed those sentences their interpretation is subject to the readers understanding or misunderstanding of each word. Using complex vocabulary to carefully divulge the intricacies of a subject only works when the person who is reading also lives and works with that same vocabulary.

On the other hand, there is a collection of basic English (or any other language) words which predominate day to day speech and interaction. It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t use the highfalutin’ words of His day. Instead he spoke, and the Apostles wrote, in the common languages of the day, using common terms clearly understandable by the people. A parable’s meaning might not be crystal clear to the listener but the language embodied within the parable was simple and common.

So why do I, and others I know, chose to occasionally punctuate our writing, or speech, with some of these 10 dollar words and phrases? Am I trying to be vague, to hedge and hide behind the ambiguity of less than common words? Not usually. In fact, I’m often trying to clarify something by a precise selection of terms. It doesn’t always work. On the other hand, sometimes I am trying to squirm out of a ticklish situation, a discourse which makes me cringe in uncertainty, by cloaking my expostulation in language open for a variety of interpretations.

Regardless, when it comes to sharing the message of salvation, a simple and clear message, I try to discard all the trappings of the etymology of words and use simple, concise, and succinct language. Paul was clear, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved!” It can’t be much simpler than that.

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Who Can Understand?

Peter writes, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9) What a royal position we have through the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

In today’s world I wonder how well we understand what God has done for us. In centuries gone past Christians were discouraged from reading the scriptures. The priesthood told the people they were unable to interpret and understand the writings of God and how they apply to daily life. Only the “anointed” could properly explain what God had provided in the Bible.

With the advent of movable type, the Reformation, and understanding of Grace, Christians began to learn they too could understand God. Believers could come directly to the throne of Christ in prayer and supplication without the intervention of priests and clergy. Christians began to dig deep into the word of God and live their lives completely for the creator of the universe.

Paul was clear in his praise of the Berean church for digging into the scriptures to test his words and approve what God had revealed. “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11) They were not willing to accept a new revelation or interpretation without confirmation by the written word of God.

When I visit Christian bookstores my vision is inundated with “self help” books and commentaries expounding the Word of God so we might understand. Unwittingly the church in creating such resources and placing preaching above ordinary man has turned Christians back to earlier days of ignorance. It becomes apparent, because so many writers have to explain things to us, that we are unable to understand and interpret the Word of God and apply it properly to our daily lives.

This needs to change in the church and new attitudes prevail in Christians today. Praise the Lord for good preachers and expositors of the Word of God. I enjoy their writings, preaching and teaching on a regular basis. However, we need to be sure as faithful believers to confirm and know from the Word of God what is true or false. We cannot rely on reports in books, sermons, lessons or conversations to keep our theology on the narrow path.

Companions to Bible study abound and are useful for earnest and fruitful exploration into the revelation of God. Concordances allow us to see where words are used and in what context throughout scripture. Thus, we can confirm our understanding of the writer’s intention in using a particular word. Topical Bibles allow us to see where different subjects and concepts are discussed in God’s holy word.

We must first allow God’s word to explain God’s word. It’s in the depth of God’s revelation that we understand our relationship to the savior and creator of the universe. The psalmist said it well, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” (Psalm 119:103-105)

Paul recognized the importance of turning to God’s word versus man’s interpretation. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV)

I’m not saying abandon all the inspired work of these prolific authors. On the contrary, a good commentary is indispensable in preparation for teaching or preaching. However, this is the last place we go after we have exhausted the gems of God’s word. We go here not to define our understanding of God’s word but to compare ourselves to others. We want to be sure we have not wandered so far from the truth as to miss the message of the passage.

We cannot learn the truths or God through osmosis or the merits of others. If together we are panning for gold and I find a nugget it may look beautiful not only to me but also to you. However, it is my nugget and useful directly to me. As a fellow worker we need to locate another nugget, it may look just like another, and make it our own.

So we must each approach the Word of God to learn. We must search for revelations, nuggets of truth, convictions to guide our walk. They become true to us as we take the time, energy and invest the effort to dig then out with our own hands and minds. Until we have mined God’s word ourselves, we are only onlookers wishing we had what someone else reveals.

So where do we want to be living. Should we live in the dark ages listening to others describe their treasures? Or, should we dig, search and mine our own treasures to live by for a lifetime? We must each make a decision toward studying the Word of God. I pray we will all choose to spend as much time searching God’s word for truth as we do searching cable for a good TV show.

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Swiss Army Ax

Let us therefore draw near with boldness to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace for help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 WEB)

I have mixed feelings about weddings. Not really about my weddings but about attending other people’s weddings. They are usually lovely affairs, the food is good and the pastor seldom preaches a long sermon. With the focus on the bride and groom people are happy when weddings start and the celebration begins.

One furlough we were invited to the wedding of a short term missionary and a former Navy man. We knew the two young people from their time on Guam. The wedding was held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Having never visited this city of steel we thought it would be fun to see the city and enjoy the celebration with our two friends.

We drove along the Pennsylvania turnpike, entered the city of Three Rivers Stadium and located our accommodations at a wonderful Red Roof Inn. The groom’s parents and other members of the wedding party enjoyed the same hotel. We found our friends and looked forward to the ceremony.

On Friday evening I took Joel to a baseball game. Guam doesn’t have a professional team so this was a new and exciting experience. The closest Guam came was Little League. Hot dogs from the roaming vendors, a warm night, cold drinks and a good scoring game made the evening memorable.

Close to midnight we returned to the hotel. Beth, baby Evan and I were in one room. Ellice, Joel and James were in another room. They weren’t adjoining rooms so all visitation involved going outside to get between the rooms. The game was good, the night was warm and we all looked forward to a good night’s sleep.

The next morning, we arose and began preparations for the wedding. Beth and Ellice were participating in the wedding with silk dresses and matching shoes. I called the room next door to ensure Ellice, Joel and James were starting to get ready while Beth and I prepared in our room. They were awake, excited and getting ready for the big event.

Finally, I stepped out our door to go next door and help our children with their final preparations. I knocked on the door, Ellice peaked from behind the curtains and then I heard her working with the lock and door knob. I tried the door and it was still locked. Knocking on the window I told Ellice to turn the knob to unlock the door. I heard the movement of the knob and tried the door again, it was still locked.

It was obvious the dead bolt was dead. Turn, turn, and turn again Ellice was unable, even with Joel’s expert assistance, to unlock the dead bolt. Beth came from our room and tried to get in the children’s room. No good, our children were locked in a hotel room with a broken door.

I went to the hotel office and explained the situation to the attendant and then returned to the broken door to try and find a solution. I explained, to Ellice and Joel in a loud voice through the window, the hotel was working on the problem and should fix it soon.

Just as I finished shouting through the window the young lady from the office arrive and said, “I called the maintenance man and he will come as soon as he can.”

“How long will that take,” I asked as a concerned parent with three small children locked in a hotel room.

“At least an hour or more,” she replied sheepishly.

I looked at my watch, remembered the time of the wedding and replied, “That won’t work. Our children are locked in the room, the wedding starts in less than an hour so they need to get out.”

The young lady looked at me helplessly.

“What will it be,” I asked her.

“What do you mean?” she queried looking uncertain.

“The window or the door lock?” I responded.

“Huh,” she replied as here eyes opened wide as she understood my question.

“I can either smash in the window or break the lock on the door to get them out. Which do you prefer?” I gave her a few seconds to consider the options.

“I don’t know,” she answered looking around for unfound help.

“OK, its the lock then,” I replied and whipped my Swiss Army Knife from my pocket. I went to work on the lock with minimal results and started to reconsider the window option.

Suddenly, the groom’s father walked up and asked about the problem. I explained the situation and he walked off around the corner. I continued to work, ineffectively, on the door lock with my little knife.

After a couple minutes the groom’s father returned carrying a fire ax from the hallway. “Let me give it a try,” he said and positioned the ax near the door lock.

Wham, wham, wham, he smashed at the locking mechanism until the outer cover came loose. That was just the ticket. Again wielding my Swiss Arm Knife, I built upon the work of the Swiss Army Ax to remove the lock cover, poke into the lock mechanism and release the lock and free our children.

It was a joyous reunion, perfect timing for the wedding and the start of a fun day. By the time we returned to the room the door was repaired and the next morning held no more surprises.

Unexpected problems come into our lives at the most unusual times. In Psalm 46 we are reminded that God provides us help, in the present, when troubles come. Sometimes that help comes from the everyday people God places in our lives. The groom’s father was a present help in time of trouble. He was God’s instrument that morning.

It’s times like this when I stop and think of the help God has provided throughout my life and ministry. They are beyond counting and a fountain of blessing to my soul. God wields his Swiss Army Angel, Knife, Ax or whatever tool is necessary to care for His children. We need to stop and thank those folks God uses in our life to provide present help in times of trouble. Who knows, maybe we will be God’s Swiss Army Angel in someone else’s time of trouble.

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