Thursday, February 28, 2013

Jesus Christ

Some years ago, I had just finished doing a wedding when one of the groomsmen approached me in the foyer of the church.  He said, “There’s something I have always wanted to ask a minister.  Do you have a second?”  I should tell you at this point that weddings are one of the most stressful parts of my job.  Don’t get me wrong; I am honored and privileged to officiate a wedding.  But while preaching in front of hundreds of people each Sunday feels easy and comfortable, standing in front of the bride and her mother frankly scares me to death.  Then I consider the fact that a good number of the people in that crowd probably aren’t churchgoers, and therefore never get to hear a presentation of the Gospel, so I know this is a unique opportunity.  On the one hand, I am trying not to drop the ball and ruin the wedding for this young woman and her mom, and on the other hand I want to make sure that everyone there hears about Jesus.  So when this young man came up to me after the service, I knew that—in spite of the fact that this was what I would describe as a redneck wedding, the stuff of reality TV—God had brought me an opportunity to speak a word of truth to someone.  So I said a quick, silent prayer and said, “Sure, I’ve got time.  What’s your question?”  “Well,” he said, “You know how people say Jesus H. Christ? What’s that H stand for?”

You'll have to come to WBC this Sunday to find out how I handled that one.  But there's a better reason why you should be there.  As we seek to represent Christ in a non-Christian culture, we are going to need the supernatural power of God to be made manifest in our lives.  That only happens when we pray in the name of our Lord.  Praying in the name of Jesus means acknowledging in prayer that we can only come before God because of what He did for us on the cross; and it means praying in a way that is consistent with His character.  So between now and Easter Sunday, we’re talking about some of the names our Lord is called in the New Testament.  This Sunday, we’ll start with the name He is most commonly called these days: Jesus Christ.  Where did this name come from, what does it mean, and how can knowing Him as Jesus Christ change our lives forever?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Call on His Name

Once years ago, I was calling a church member on the phone.  They weren't home, so I left a message on their answering machine.  At the end of my message, instead of saying goodbye, for some unknown reason I heard my mouth say, "In Christ's name, Amen."  I was mortified at that point, because it was just a bizarre thing to say on a phone message, and there was no way for me to take it back.  I had been taught all my life to end my prayers with those words.  I must have said them thousands of times in my life, so often I didn't even think about them when I said them.  That explained why they slipped out of my mouth at an inappropriate moment.  But why was I taught to pray that way? The short answer is we're commanded in John 14:12-14 to pray in the name of Jesus.  But what does that mean, exactly?

 We are ambassadors for Christ.  Our mission in life is to help people reconcile with God.  When I look at the people in Scripture who represented God well in godless times, they had certain characteristics in common.  One was that they were men and women of supernatural power.  They changed the world by calling on His name.  Scripture tells us that at the name of Jesus, demons flee.  At the name of Jesus, someday every knee will bow in Heaven and Earth.  But it’s not a magic trick.  Acts 19 tells the story of seven young men who fancied themselves exorcists. They were trying to cast a demon out of a man by saying, “In the name of Jesus who Paul preaches, come out of him!”  The demon spoke from within the man and said, “I know Jesus and I know Paul, but who are you?”  He then pounced on these seven guys and beat them so severely, they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.  We also know it isn’t a matter of just tacking “In Jesus’ name” onto the end of your prayer, like I was in the habit of doing.  After all, in the model prayer Jesus gave us—we know it as the Lord’s Prayer—He ends it with a simple “amen.”  So for the next six weeks—from now until Easter—we’re going to talk about how we can experience the power of Jesus Christ.  We’re going to look at the various names He was called in the New Testament (names like Jesus Christ, Son of Man, Son of God, Lamb of God, and My Lord and My God), so that you and I can know more about this God to whom we pray.  This Sunday, as we start this new series, let’s look at where this idea of praying in the name of Jesus comes from—and what it really means.

By the way, the title of this sermon has had me singing this song in my head all week.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

When We Feel Weak and Discouraged

Do you know the song, “There is a Fountain”?  (Click here to hear one version of the songIt was written by a man named William Cowper (pronounced "Cooper").  Cowper wrote many other hymns that were sung for years.  He is also known for his poetry, one of the many great English poets of history.  But what many people don’t know is that William Cowper was also a man who struggled mightily with depression.  He was actually converted in his thirties during an 18 month stay in an asylum after attempting suicide.  After his conversion, he lived for many years in Olney, where he attended the church pastored by John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace.  He and Newton became close friends, and together wrote an enormously popular and influential hymnal.  Newton later said he couldn’t imagine any person having a closer walk with the Lord than Cowper.  But Cowper had a relapse, and attempted suicide again.  For years, he fought against this terrible gloom and self-doubt.  Many years later, on his deathbed, Cowper apparently caught his first sight of the glory that awaited him, and his last words were, “I am not shut out of heaven after all.”
Some people seem to think that a good Christian should be full of joy all the time.  Certainly God wants us to live joyful lives, but in truth, every believer goes through times of despair.  It happens because we are human.  For a time, we take our eyes off of God’s goodness, stop trusting His providence, and all we can see is our problems and pain.  I have told you about Cowper, but I could go on to tell you of many, many other Christian heroes who also reached the end of their ropes.  Did you know that even happened to Elijah?  Elijah is one of my favorite biblical figures.  To me, he is the Dirty Harry of the Old Testament, a man who fearlessly faced--and defeated--the enemies of God.  1 Kings 18 tells of him facing 450 pagan prophets on Mount Carmel, and bringing fire from Heaven in the sight of all Israel.  It was a fantastic day for Elijah...perhaps the best of his life.  But in the very next chapter, we find our hero literally giving up.  If that could happen to him, believe me, it can happen to you and me. 

So how does God respond when we're ready to quit?  And what should we do at that point?  This Sunday, I will talk about how we can be exactly who God created us to be--ambassadors for Christ, reconciling people with their Creator--even when we are at our breaking point.  I hope you can be there, and that you leave feeling lighter than you came in. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

When We Doubt

My father-in-law had a saying that served him well: "Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see."  He knew the danger of being naive and gullible in a world where deception is a finely-honed art form.  Jesus told us in Matthew 16:10, Behold, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves, so be as wise as snakes, and as innocent as doves.  God may love childlike faith, but He knows that naivete about the things of this world can be deadly.  Sometimes, doubt can be a healthy thing.

But what about when we doubt the things God Himself tells us?  It’s our job as ambassadors for Christ to represent Him well in a non-Christian culture.  And sometimes we ourselves doubt the very message we’re supposed to be communicating.  For some of us, this happens when tragedy or hardship strikes: A loved one who we fervently prayed for dies anyway.  Or a job we desperately wanted goes instead to a person who is not a believer.  At moments like that, we doubt God’s power or His love.  “Lord,” we think to ourselves, “either you’re not as strong as your Word says, or you don’t really care about me.  Otherwise, this wouldn’t have happened.”  Others doubt God’s mercy.  We’ve done things that fill us with so much shame.  Even though intellectually we understand the Gospel, and we have heard about His forgiveness and grace, deep down inside we just don’t see how He can love us.  Still others begin to doubt God’s very existence.  In your study of Christianity, you’ve come across Bible stories that don’t seem to make sense, details that don’t seem to square with science, or teachings that are difficult to accept.  Or in light of the arguments of unbelievers who you respect, faith in Christ suddenly seems like a belief in dragons, fairies or unicorns.  You’re wondering how long you can hang on to this faith, or if it’s even worth it. 
            Chances are, some of you right now are wondering how I knew that about you.  You’re wondering if I am reading your emails, your journal, or even your mind, and am preaching this sermon just for you.   I assure you that’s not the case.  What if I told you that you’re not alone?  I would be willing to bet that almost every one of us has experienced some sort of doubt at some point in their walk with Christ.  What if I told you that one of the greatest, most courageous followers of Jesus once doubted whether He was really the Messiah?  This Sunday, we’ll look at that story.  We’ll learn two important, life-changing truths about doubt.