Sermon Options: December 5, 2021

September 2nd, 2021

I'm Not Responsible... Am I?

Malachi 3:1-4

If a wife cheats on her husband, whose fault is it? It could be the husband who was inattentive, her parents who caused her low self-esteem, the man who seduced her, or the society that glamorizes affairs. If a man steals a stereo, is he really to blame? It could be the fault of his friends who own stereos and make him feel inadequate, the advertisers who make stereos look so good, or the stereo’s owner who left her car door unlocked. Our society is adept at avoiding responsibility.

I. We Don’t Take Responsibility

Every day we see other people deny their responsibilities. It’s harder to admit that we do the same thing. We have a list of excuses for our lack of commitment to Christ. We don’t love our neighbors, but it’s the neighbors fault. They aren’t very friendly. We don’t pray as we should, but it’s our family’s fault. They’re always finding something else we should be doing. We don’t share the gospel, but it’s our employers fault. They don’t want us to make anyone uncomfortable. The easiest way to avoid our real responsibilities is to say, “I have responsibilities.”

II. We Are Responsible.

Martin Luther wrote: “A man is not responsible if a bird flies over his head, but he is responsible if that bird builds a nest in his hair.” We are not accountable for all the sin in the world, but we are answerable for the apathy in our hearts.

Dennis Waitley argued that to match the Statue of Liberty in New York there should be a Statue of Responsibility in San Francisco. Without individual duty there can be no real freedom.

God’s grace makes us accountable. Grace demands we live true to the trust we have been given. We are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We are to live and speak the gospel. The ultimate folly is to accept the gift of grace without recognizing the responsibilities of Christian faith.

III. God Will Judge Us

Malachi understood that the day of the Lord’s coming will be no Sunday dinner on the grounds. God’s judgment will fall first upon the priests, for they are the most responsible. Church people usually think that judgment is for everyone else. We softpedal the many passages of Scripture that make it clear that judgment comes for all of us.

What percentage of what could be done for God do we actually do? Is it as much as 10 percent? Do we really believe that we bear no responsibility for the other 90 percent? Judgment is facing what we have done and what we have left undone. Judgment begins in the heart of God and reaches into our hearts. In the best families, children are concerned with disappointing their loving parents. This is the judgment feared by the children of the heavenly Father.

We need to repent and let God make us right. Malachi envisioned judgment day as cleansing. Christ will be a refiner’s fire purifying his people. God will give us a scrubbing that one commentator described as getting caught in a car wash without a car. We should pledge ourselves to the God who leads us to a holy life. One day we will have to answer for what we have done. (Brett Younger)

A Prisoner's Prayer

Philippians 1:3-11

Sitting in a drab, cramped house is a balding man writing a letter. His shoulders are stooped, his hand and foot are chained. Accompanying him in those chains is a rather large, muscular fellow with body armor displaying the seal of the Roman army. The year is around A.D. 63 or perhaps 64 in the city of Rome. The occasion that prompted this letter was a gift sent to the apostle Paul from his closest friends in the church that met in Philippi.

The tone of this prisoner’s letter was not complaint, grievance, lament, or bitterness. It is a letter of joy, a treatise on hope. The beginning paragraph is a prisoner’s prayer of thanksgiving. That’s right—thanksgiving!

I. The Prisoner’s Prayer Is for His Friends

Paul calls his friends “saints” in verse 1. He had a lofty view of the members of this parish. To him each one had great spiritual worth. He knew that they were “in Christ” and that Christ was “in them.” God’s grace, presence, strength, and power continually surrounded them.

This young congregation of men and women were relatively new Christians at Philippi. We might not call them saints due to their lack of maturity, but Paul saw them as saints in the making. He believed in their potential to deepen and broaden their relationship with God over the passage of years. His confidence ran deep in his converts.

Today the church is filled with many who are coming from the raw side of life. They are rough around the edges, hard to understand, illiterate of Bible truths and doctrines. But Christ sees in them great potential. Can we see any less? Our task is to be their friends, not their critics.

II. The Prisoner’s Prayer Is for Spiritual Progress

There is a crisis moment when Christ comes in and all is forgiven. A new relationship is established between God and the individual. In a sense this relationship is a process. Christ continues his wonder-working relationship. Paul prays for their spiritual development.

Today God desires the same for us. His dynamic and creative power is available to work in us, perfecting us so that some day we may hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21 NIV).

Robert Schuller relates that at the end of World War II the Allied armies searched everywhere for snipers. At a broken down farmhouse on a crumbling basement wall, a victim of Hitler’s holocaust scratched a Star of David. In rough letters he wrote:

I believe in the sun—even when it does not shine;
I believe in love—even when it is not shown;
I believe in God—even when he does not speak.

Spiritual growth occurs even in the midst of adversity and the moments of silence.

III. The Prisoner’s Prayer Is for Knowledge
and Discernment

We seek a clear perception of who God is and what God is all about. We are in Advent. The Christ Child in the manger is the Jesus of history. Lyle Flinner said, “We need to see things as they really are and discern the highest and best for all involved.” That discernment comes only through divine love, a love that is directed both to Jesus and to the people of the earth. It is divine truth seen through human eyes filled with a godly vision.

The spiritual battles of today are almost unparalleled in human history. Today’s global Christian fights spiritual battles in a world that is blinded by New Age trickery, biblical ignorance (one-half of all American children by the year 2000—just over two years from now—will not have entered a church building), stark indifference, and in some areas of our world, outright torture and killing of believers.

We must be alert, knowledgeable, and discerning in our spiritual lives. Thanks, Paul, for your prayer for not only the church of Philippi, but for our church! (Derl G. Keefer)

Under Construction

Luke 3:1-6

The idea that one must prepare for the coming of the Lord is nothing new, for the entire focus of the Advent season centers upon the celebration and anticipation of the birth of Christ. But in preparing for the “good news of great joy,” Christians often overlook the one who actually paved the way, John the Baptist. Although John’s ministry follows the Incarnation, it functions as an introduction to the redemptive purpose of Christ and the necessary human response.

Luke begins the third chapter of his Gospel with a list of earthly rulers from Rome to the synagogue in Jerusalem (vv. 1, 2). But aside from providing a chronological framework for the ministry of John the Baptist (A.D. 25–26), this roster contrasts the powers of earth against the Power of the universe. The inclusion of these leaders emphasizes their insignificance when compared to the impact Christ had on the history of the world. Every earthly ruler wants to be remembered for his contributions to civilization, but Jesus irrevocably modified society by changing humanity’s relationship with God.

Like a herald proclaiming the arrival of a king, John prepared the hearts and minds of those who went out into the desert to hear his message. The quote from Isaiah 40:3-5 epitomizes John’s prophetic role and the demands of God upon humankind. The call to make “paths straight” and “rough ways smooth” describes preparations for a royal visit. Before a king traveled to distant lands, roads and bridges were improved for the journey. Likewise, the beginning of Christ’s ministry on earth required major improvements to lives in poor condition. So the townsfolk wandered into the desert to hear a strange man with a strong message.

There is something very intriguing about the desert. It is a place of introspection and self-reflection. With the distractions and pressures of city life absent, one becomes sensitive to the voice of God. Unfortunately, some people must journey to a barren land before they will hear God’s call. Only when they are alone and totally dependent upon God will people stop to listen to his requirements. And with no place to hide, they must confront God’s demand upon their lives.

What does the Lord require? After wandering through the desert looking for the prophet of God, the people were told to “turn around,” to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. John offers no soothing words of compromise or compassion. The command of God is clear. In order to receive the Lord and his salvation, one must pro-actively change his life by turning away from sin. The King is coming! And God’s people must prepare themselves by straightening out their lives.

As an outward sign of their commitment, John baptized those who sought to turn their lives around. But this change of heart did not automatically elicit the forgiveness of sin. That activity would be accomplished by Christ’s death on the cross. John could only prepare the people for the One who would reveal God’s salvation to all humankind. So their lives remained under construction, paving the way for the Lord.

In this Advent season, all people must reflect upon the condition of their hearts and lives. As homes are being decorated and gifts wrapped, what internal improvements are we making in our relationship to God? Do not be fooled by the tenderness and innocence of a babe lying in a manger. As Christians celebrate the birth of Christ, remember the demands of our Lord. For God does not tolerate sin, and his people must repent to prepare for the coming of the King. (Craig C. Christina)

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