Sermon Options: November 26, 2023

October 7th, 2020

The Search is On

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

A pastor overheard a little girl ask her mother, "Mommy, does God believe in us?"

The more I've thought about it, the more serious that question has become. Does God believe in us? God created us. God sustains us. But does God believe in us?

God believes in us and wants to help us find our way to him.

I. We Must Admit We Are Lost Before We Can Be Found

The Texas educational bureaucracy recently received and approved a new set of textbooks. A group of concerned parents conducted their own review. They found 231 errors, including the following: Napoleon winning the battle of Waterloo, President Truman dropping the atom bomb on Korea, and General Douglas MacArthur leading the anti-Communist campaign in the 1950s (it was actually Senator Joe McCarthy). When called to account for these errors, the bureaucrats studied the texts again and found more errors than the parents first found. Then the parents found more. Now the tally stands at 5,200 mistakes.

How did the publishers react to this mess? One publisher's spokesperson argued that "except for the errors," everyone agreed that these were the finest textbooks they had ever seen. "Except for the errors"? "Except for the error," that teenage girl wouldn't be pregnant and contemplating an abortion. "Except for the error," that man's wife wouldn't be leaving him because he had an affair. "Except for the error," the young man and that young women wouldn't have AIDS.

"Except for the errors." Except for his drinking problem, he is a pretty good guy. Except for her drug problem, she is a pretty good mother. Except for his sticky fingers, he was a pretty good banker. Except for her gossiping, she is a pretty good friend. Who are we kidding, except ourselves? We make excuses. We let ourselves off the hook. And when we do, we become lost.

II. God Seeks and Saves the Lost: Even Us

The good news is that the search is on. Like a shepherd, God seeks us. Sometimes we run. Sometimes we hide, but God always seeks us. For we are lost and the lost must be found.

Sitting on a table near the sanctuary was the Lost and Found box. It was just a cardboard box with "Lost and Found" written in bold letters. But in the box was a little girl's doll. The doll looked as if she was resting comfortably, waiting for her little girl to claim her. Her arms were extended, and it looked as if she were saying, "Please come get me. I'm lost and I need to be found. Please hunt for me and take me home."

That's a parable for today. Sometimes we think that God has forgotten us or left us sitting on the pew in church when, in reality, we have lost our way. The good news is that Christ searches for us.

III. Only Christ Can Bring Us Home

We don't have to go in search of our salvation. God came to us in Christ. God loves us so much that Christ sought us out. And if we will but stretch out our arms to God through Christ, then we will become the lost who have been found. God will rescue us. And once we are found, God will lead us to good pastures. God promises to be our shepherd. Does God believe in us? Of course God believes in us. God believes in us so much that he sent his only Son to die on the cross for our sake and to be the Good Shepherd. (Billy D. Strayhorn)

Not Yet Finished

Ephesians 1:15-23

Most of us tend to shy away from religious bumper stickers. They are usually long on tackiness and short on theology. There is one, however, that has proven to have lasting appeal. No doubt you have seen it many times. It reads, "Be patient with me. God isn't finished with me yet." That attitude is reflected in the words of Paul to the Christians at Ephesus.

Paul writes with thankfulness in his heart. He has learned the lesson of thankful praying. He knows of the joy of praising God for God's marvelous grace. He begins this text by offering praise for the church at Ephesus. They have demonstrated their "faith in the Lord Jesus and their love toward all the saints" (v. 15). He continues to offer prayers of thanksgiving to God for their good work. Paul then points to the future, knowing that there is more to be done, more growth to come, and more grace that will be needed.

In the verses that follow, Paul shares with his readers a glimpse of his prayer list. Knowing that "God is not finished with them yet," he prays that they will have the wisdom to know God better, and that their eyes will be opened in appreciation of God's grace.

I. The Wisdom to Know God Better (v. 17)

It is Paul's desire that the Christians of the Ephesian church progress to maturity. Reflecting the attitude of James who writes, "If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly" (1:5), Paul prays that these Christians might have more wisdom so that they will develop a deeper relationship with God. Paul wants them to grow up. Growth is the result of the right environment, diet, and exercise. Spiritual growth occurs as believers place themselves in an environment of wisdom, created by the Spirit of God.

Each generation of believers should challenge all the notions concerning the identity of God. Christians should be involved in a self-discovery of God: asking new questions, discovering new ways of seeing and relating to God. Our knowledge of God must increase. We, too, must seek the wisdom to know God better.

II. Eyes Opened in Appreciation (vv. 18-19)

With apologies to Robert Fulghum, I did not learn everything I need to know in kindergarten. I learned some lessons much earlier. One lesson that I was taught at a very early age was the lesson of thanksgiving. I was taught to say "thank you" when people did nice things for me. In turn, my wife and I are trying to instill that lesson in our children.

Paul desired that the Ephesians appreciate God's continual grace in their lives. Paul had offered his prayers of thanksgiving, and now he prays that these Christians will also have their eyes opened in appreciation.

Many of our day-to-day blessings go unappreciated. We do not remember to be thankful for some things until we no longer have them. Spend a warm week without air-conditioning in your car. Try living without a telephone. Imagine living without running water in your home. It is easy to neglect our thankfulness for simple blessings that are ours to enjoy each day.

The blessings of God in our lives are so constant and boundless that we almost forget to acknowledge them. Paul prays that the Ephesians will have an awareness of God's grace displayed in three ways. Paul challenges them to appreciate the hope that is in Christ Jesus, the glorious riches of salvation, and the power made possible by a "Spirit-filled" life. By having their eyes opened in appreciation of these things, all uncertainty of the future is dispelled, and daily struggles with temptation and anxiety are defeated. God is not finished with us yet. Let us pray for the wisdom to know God better as we appreciate divine grace in our lives. (Jon R. Roebuck)

Extending Love

Matthew 25:31-46

In this text, Jesus delivers a message on the topic of judgment. He states that the people who extend a heart of love to a hurting world will receive a righteous assessment. God's judgment is in accordance with our reaction to humanity's need. God's estimation of us depends not on how scholarly or famous we become but on the help we choose to give others.

Missionary Albert Schweitzer, known for his life of sacrificial service, appeared on a late night talk show. The talk show host told him, "I'd like to be an Albert Schweitzer if I could commute." Many want the fame without the work of love. As we love, we give back to the world God's holy love and compassion.

I. Extending Love Means Going Back to the Basics

I enjoy a good game of racquetball. The exercise and competition make my heart pump rapidly with excitement. Often I find myself beginning to trail my opponent so I have to analyze the reason. Usually, it happens because I have not focused on the basic principles of racquetball. I must then begin a routine of talking to myself with these words, "Center the ball and patience." I repeat them often to draw myself back into the basic game plan and intensity. Too often the Christian becomes distracted from the basic game plan of God. The game plan of God's priorities as Jesus outlines them includes caring for the needy by giving the basics of food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, and clothing to the poor.

The Christian's game plan includes inspiring hope to the hopeless. Hal Lindsey said, "Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air...but only for one second without hope."

The basic game plan of hope brings us to looking for the good in people and not dwelling on their failures. It asks what can be done instead of grumbling about what cannot be accomplished. It views problems as challenges and opportunities. It moves ahead when it would be easier to stop. Extend that hope in love!

II. Extending Love Means It Comes from the Heart

William Barclay stated that those Jesus cites in the text did not even realize they were being helpful to the world around them. They helped because they could not stop themselves. Christ's love in the heart compelled them to compassionate action. It was the natural, instinctive, uncalculated reaction of a loving heart. It was honest generosity.

Francis Clark said, "To feel sorry for the needy is not the mark of a Christian—to help them is." Earl Allen pointed out, "The fragrance of what you give away stays with you."

If you claim to have a religious experience, it must be verified in the action of extending love. Who can you be generous to in the name of the Lord of love?

III. Extending Love Means It Goes to People and God

Myron Augsburger tells of taking his wife to Basel, Switzerland. While there they visited St. Martin's Church. Both of them were impressed by the sculpture on the front wall of the church depicting Martin of Tours, a Roman soldier converted to Christianity.

The inspiration for the sculpture originated from a story that occurred on a bitterly cold winter's day. Martin was entering a city and was approached by a beggar pleading for alms. Having no money, Martin removed his coat, cut it in two, and gave half to the beggar. That night he had a vision that he had died and gone to heaven. There he saw Jesus, and on the back of Christ was half of a Roman soldier's coat. An angel asked the King of heaven and earth, "Master, why are you wearing that battered old coat?" Jesus answered, "My servant Martin gave it to me." We are called to action in our extension of love. Will you respond? (Derl G. Keefer)

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