Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Way that Seems Right

In 1990, Hank Gathers was one of the best college basketball players in the country.  His team, Loyola Marymount University, was the highest-scoring team in the nation.  Professional basketball teams were fighting for the chance to draft him, which would make him a multi-millionaire at the age of 23.  Late in his senior season, he was diagnosed with an abnormal heartbeat.  A cardiologist prescribed a beta-blocker medication.  But Gathers felt like the medicine affected his play.  So he cut back on the medicine without consulting his doctor, and stopped attending check-ups.  On most game-days, he wouldn’t take any of the medicine at all.  In March of 1990, in a conference tournament game, Gathers took an alley-oop pass and brought it down with a tomahawk dunk.  He then took a few steps down court and collapsed.  He was dead before they could get him to the hospital.  An autopsy revealed that he had a heart defect called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.  

                You and I were born with a spiritual heart defect.  I call it a rebel heart; it is a desire to break free of God’s control of our lives.  Proverbs 16:25 gives us the prognosis: it is fatal, spiritually and otherwise.  The question isn’t “Do I have a rebel heart?”  You do, and so do I.  That heart defect needs to be exposed for what it is.  In this message, I want to look at two different ways the rebel heart manifests itself in our lives today.  Then I want us to talk about the cure.

               Note: This isn't a light, cheerful sermon.  In fact, it's likely to make some people angry.  Some will find it intolerant and narrow-minded.  Others will think it meddles in areas I should just stay out of.  If you want to know why, be here Sunday!  And pray that God  will speak His truth to each of us.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Treasure That Never Runs Out

Raise your hand if you've ever heard a joke that involves a genie (or a fairy godmother) granting a wish (or two, or three) to an unsuspecting person?  There are too many of those in circulation to account for.  A quick google search reading "genie jokes" will give you hours of jokes, some chuckle-worthy, some groan-inducing, some disappointingly low-brow and profane (these are the times in which we live).

Believe it or not, there was a real man who faced a very similar scenario once.  A being much more powerful than a genie or a fairy offered him one of anything he desired.  His story is found in 1 Kings 3.  This Sunday, I want us to look at that story and find out what he chose.  But that’s just the first part of the message.  The second part of this message is to examine why that choice was the best choice he could have made.  And in the last part of the message, we’ll talk about how—even if God never appears to us visually or audibly--you and I can have the very thing that man wished for, the treasure that never runs out.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Day God Made You

It's the week after Mother's Day, but it would still be a fun experiment: If you are fortunate to have one or both of your parents still with you, ask them what they remember from the day you were born.  What sticks in their minds from that day?  What emotions did they experience?  What hopes did they have for your life?

God has blessed me with two children.  When our oldest child, Kayleigh, was born, I was so incredibly nervous: I really had no desire to be in that birthing room.  I had seen too many movies where the woman in labor is depicted as a raving monster; I wasn't sure I could handle seeing my sweet, petite wife morph into Mom-zilla.  Even more so, I was terrified that there might be some complications in the birth, or that our baby would be stillborn.  But my fears were unfounded.  Carrie handled everything with incredible courage, grace and calm.  And Kayleigh let us all know how healthy she was by screaming furiously before she was even completely delivered...that screaming continued for the first half hour of her life (a taste of things to come).  Will's birth was very different.  My mother and Carrie's oldest sister were in the room with us.  He came much faster than his sister did.  And when he emerged, he was completely limp and silent.  For a split second, I was afraid something was wrong, then he sprang to life, cleared his lungs, and introduced himself to the world.

The day you were born was a special day for God, too.  It was the end of a long process of creation, a deeply personal project for Him.  I promise you He remembers vividly the things He felt when you came into the world.  Have you ever wondered what your Heavenly Father was thinking on the day of your birth?  I know it’s impossible to pin down God’s exact thoughts, but His Word gives us some pretty strong clues.  This Sunday, we'll look at Psalm 139, and talk about three things I believe God would have said about you on the day He finished making you.  If you need some encouragement, this is a Sunday you won't want to miss.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Truth About Sin

A few years ago, an employee of a plant nursery in England perpetrated a very dangerous practical joke.  He was in charge of the tags that would be placed on the plants before they were sent out to the show room for sale.  The tags had the name of the plant, instructions for feeding and care, and any other important information.  One particular plant was supposed to have a warning on its tag, stating as follows: “All parts of this plant are toxic.”  The employee, however, changed the tag to say, “All parts of this plant are tasty in soup.”  He claimed later that he just assumed the nursery’s staff horticulturist would see the tags before the plants hit the show room, would freak out, and everyone would have a good laugh.  Unfortunately, no one noticed the tag for eight days.  For over a week in April, those plants sat on the shelves of the nursery.  When the error was finally discovered, the nursery was horrified to find out that 17 of the plants had been sold with the misleading tag.  They scrambled to find the 17 purchasers before they made a fatal mistake.  Eventually, they managed to track down 8 of the plants.  But that of course left 9 more people out there who might reap the deadly consequences of a bad joke.
In a very real way, that is what the world has done with the concept of sin.  When God created humanity, He put a label on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The label said, “on the day you eat of it, you will die.”  That is still true today.  The wages of sin is death; not immediate physical death in most cases, but death in the form of destroying relationships, killing hope, separation from God.  But Satan changed the label on sin. The new label says, “This stuff tastes good!  It makes your life more fulfilling!  You would be crazy to deprive yourself of all that this has to offer!” And the world buys it.  Increasingly, there are voices in our world that say there is no such thing as sin.  Going back to our analogy of the poisonous plant, they would say, “There is no such thing as a plant that is poisonous at all times, in every situation.  What is toxic to you may taste just fine to me.  Who are you to say that your moral standards should apply across the board?”  For most of us, it’s easy to spot the flaw in that thinking.  As pervasive as it is today, we have been so steeped in the commands of God, we know there is such a thing as right and wrong.  But there is another way to buy into the world’s lie, and this is one that afflicts many Christians.  It is the idea that sin, while toxic, is a necessary part of life.  So we can indulge in a little of it, as long as we do so in moderation.  Just like drinking a few beers probably won’t give you liver disease, and like smoking an occasional cigar probably won’t give you lung cancer, a little sin never hurt anyone.  It’s just part of life.  I hear Christians say two things that exemplify this attitude: “I’m not perfect, just human.  I’m just a sinner saved by grace.”  The other one is “God forgives every sin.  He’ll love me no matter what I do.”  Both of those statements are true.  But they aren’t the whole truth about sin.  David found out the truth about sin.  Late in his life, something devastating occurred, something that rocked both his family and his kingdom.  And it was all the result of sin.  In telling this story Sunday, I want to share with you the truth about sin; three truths that the world (and in some cases, the church) won’t tell you.

And by the way, when we think about sin, we often think of the sins of others.  As you prepare for Sunday, ask the Lord to help you to hear this message for YOU, not for your neighbor.  Ask the Holy Spirit to show you the areas of your life where you are currently in rebellion against God's perfect will, or places where you are one step from stumbling into an abyss.  This message is not going to be cheerful, but it's necessary for all of us to hear.  "Let the one who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall."  

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Man After God's Own Heart

Our friends Brandon and Clarissa came back to Westbury last Sunday, with their little girl Kolbe, who was born after they moved to Dallas.  We got to spend a little time with them Sunday evening.  Kolbe did a few "tricks" for us, and we clapped for her.  Suddenly, my son Will piped up.  "Would you like to hear me play my violin?" he asked.  I was a bit stunned.  It's not easy making Will practice his violin.  He never volunteers.  But he played, we clapped, and I remembered how I was that same way as a kid. We all were.  Some of us were more naturally extroverted, born performers, while others were more quiet and reclusive, but we all longed for that affirmation, that signal from others that we had done well.

That doesn't change when we grow up.  Most of us spend our whole lives looking for that affirmation. Some of us look to our spouses.  Some of us look to our parents, hoping we can finally please them.  Others look to our peer groups for that acceptance, that feeling of being “in the club.”  Still others crave the recognition that comes with success in their chosen field.  And then there are those whose own worst critic is themselves.  

But there is really only one person whose opinion about us matters.  Someday, every one of us will stand before a judgment seat and give an accounting of our lives.  And the person on that throne won’t be your spouse, your parent, or your boss.  It will be the one who knows you best, the one who created you and has watched every moment of your life.  And if you find that to be a terrifying thought, it’s because that’s exactly what it is.  But I know of one man who got it right, who lived a life that pleased the Lord.  In Acts 13:22, it says that God called David “A man after my own heart.”  I am not saying David is the only person who ever lived a life pleasing to God, but he’s the only one in Scripture given that title.  And furthermore, God was good enough to give us a very vivid and detailed picture of David’s life in the Bible.  We know pretty much every major event in his life from the time he was a teenager to his death at the age of 70.  So what was it about David that pleased God so much?  What in Him should we seek to emulate, so that at the most important moment in our lives, the ultimate final exam, we will pass with flying colors? This week, we'll take a look at that very important question, taking a long view of David's life.  If you're reading through the Bible with us, we're right in the thick of David's story, so you might come into the sermon Sunday with your own ideas.  I'll be interested to see afterwards if you agree with the answer I come up with.