Sermon Options: February 16, 2020

January 7th, 2020

CHOOSE LIFE 

DEUTERONOMY 30:15-20

A dedicated, beautiful, popular young woman made a poor choice in her mate for life. Until the day she died at the age of seventy, she felt the negative impact of that decision. Israel had the God-given opportunity to make good choices instead of bad ones. Israel was given the option of either keeping the covenant with the Lord or rejecting the terms of that agreement. God made clear to Israel through Moses that obedience to the covenant would bring blessings and that disobedience would bring curses. Moses' last address to Israel was an admonition to choose wisely. Christians have a covenant with God, also. It is the new testament in the blood of Jesus Christ. Our covenant has parallels to Israel's in regard to the choices involved and their repercussions. God's Word admonishes us to choose wisely.

I. We Can Choose to Disobey God in All of Life
Disobeying God involves turning our hearts away from God. This is the opposite of repentance. It means that our ultimate concerns in life oppose all that God is and all that he desires for us. Also, disobedience, according to our text, consists of turning deaf ears to God's Word, being obstinate and unyielding in regard to the divine will, and opting to worship and serve other gods. Such behavior, Moses cautioned Israel, will result in insecurity and death.

When people turn their backs on the gospel of Jesus Christ, they bring upon themselves eternal punishment ( John 3:36 ; Rev. 20:11-15). When Christians become rebellious toward Christ as Lord, we bring upon ourselves destructive consequences spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically. I have observed again and again Christians who decide to become unfaithful to the local church. Eventually, they lose touch with God and plunge into lifestyles that cause pain and distress to them and to those who love them. Stay yielded to the Lord. Daily deny yourselves, take up your crosses, and follow Jesus. If you do, you will avoid the heartache that follows disobedience.

II. We Can Choose to Obey God in All of Life
Obeying God in all of life consists of loving him, walking in his ways, and obeying his commandments. Since we enjoy the company of those we love, obeying God and walking in his ways give us joy.

When we choose to obey the Lord in all of life, we may expect the Lord's blessings. Though not identical always to those promised and delivered to Israel, they do parallel Israel's and are more desirable. Instead of a home on earth, we are assured of a heavenly home ( John 14:2) . Rather than a large progeny, we receive numerous spiritual fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and children through our involvement in the family of God. In place of a long life on earth, we are given everlasting life in Christ. Better than security in this world, we are told that no one can pluck us out of the Father's hand. I do not suggest that those who obey God in all of life receive no blessings in this life. We certainly do! For example, a married couple were on the verge of divorce until they decided to rededicate their lives to God and attempt to rebuild their marriage according to God's Word. Now, nearly twenty years and two children later, they continue to discover the bliss of a beautiful life together.

The choice of obedience or disobedience to God's overtures to us is ours to make. Also, the consequences are ours to either enjoy or suffer. The choice is yours—choose life! (Jerry E. Oswalt)

ACCOUNTABLE CHRISTIANITY

1 CORINTHIANS 3:1-9

Accountability is not a very popular word in a world defined by convenience. Christian growth involves accountability as a necessary tool that seeks to enable us to be honest about who we are in our relationship with God in Christ. This truth is the tool Paul uses in this passage to confront the Corinthians in response to their frustration at Paul's simple teaching of the gospel.

Paul aggressively encourages the Corinthians to face up to their immature faith. Their criticism of Paul's preaching so simple a gospel becomes the springboard for this great preacher to honestly identify the immaturity of the Corinthians' expression of faith.

I. Immature Faith Majors on Minor Issues
The Corinthian believers were splitting into factions centered on loyalty to various human leaders. The church consisted of "preacher parties." Paul confronts them with the truth that congregations who seek to center their growth and life on personalities are infants in faith who need to grow up. Only God causes growth.

Paul holds this young congregation accountable for their growth in the Christian faith as he addresses a nonissue and turns it into a clear example of their Christian immaturity. Paul would never allow such a hollow, immature nonissue to intimidate the vision of God he has been called to share.

II. Immature Faith Must Be Confronted by Visionary Leaders
Paul dares to respond to the issue by defending the simplistic content of his preaching because it fit the audience to which he preached. The images used here are rich and powerful ones: infants in faith need receive the gospel only on the level they can handle it, as an infant can handle only milk. Paul's boldness with these Corinthians makes preachers' hair stand on the backs of their necks as they imagine such a dialogue in their own congregations over issues that so often are nonissues. How many churches have never been led with God's vision because leaders did not have the courage, with God's leading and grace, to confront the nonissues for what they are?

Paul has no time for such foolishness. Not only does he call their bluff, but he uses their issue as a platform from which to proclaim that they need to grow beyond such spiritual immaturity, led by the God who gives the growth. Walt Kallestad, pastor of the Community Church of Joy, shares in his seminar "How to Grow a Church" that the primary role of the pastor is that of the visionary leader. Stephen Covey, in his breakthrough book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, talks about the need for the visionary leader in any business or institution.

In the church we understand such vision to come from God. God grows persons from infancy to maturity in faith. Pastors, as the visionary leaders of their churches, share and proclaim God's vision.

III. Immature Faith Must Be Called to Accountability
God's vision demands accountability. The accountability Paul offers is honest. It is an accountability that offers so much more than just judgment; it offers the opportunity for growth and a more mature understanding of the God who enables and empowers such growth. In love and grace, Jesus himself never sacrificed the vision of God for people who needed accountability with the immature faith they sought to share. The vision of growth in faith demands accountability. Those who fail to be held accountable—as well as those who can bring accountability but don't—will discover little, if any, growth in their faith.

The vision of new life in the birth of a baby involves growing up. To remain an infant is to miss the whole point of life. Without effective and honest accountability, growth will be strangled. (Travis Franklin)

DANGER OF HELL'S FIRE

MATTHEW 5:21-37

Jesus says to the crowd around him that anyone who calls a sister or brother a fool stands in danger of hell's fire. To judge by the language and attitudes presented on TV, there aren't many people who still believe that, however. Who could blame them? If you have been listening to the message from pulpits across this country, there has been a constant focus on the grace of God but little attention to the significance of our deeds. We have been promoting a form of Christian salvation that denies any significance of our human initiatives in the drama of life. We have been offering a form of redemption that actually seems to make our human conduct and words insignificant.

A friend commented that the most distressing thing he observed as he grew older was that it became more and more difficult to sin. Walker Percy writes about the desire of a doctor to find one clear and obvious evil. We have been working to eliminate sin. Nobody cares enough to hold us accountable. No one seems to expect anything from anyone anymore, so there can be no betrayal of commitment. We have been so anxious to declare to everyone that God's unconditional love will accept us as we are, that what we have done in the past doesn't matter, God will receive us just where we are. The constant proclamation of God's unconditional love soon becomes the declaration that we as human beings do not matter because nothing we do has any affect on God or on God's love or even can affect our eternal salvation.

Douglas John Hall, in his recent book Professing the Faith, suggested that Helmut Thielicke's description of covert nihilism is the basic attitude of most of North America. It has a basic indifference about life. Covert nihilism practices detachment, noninvolvement, "value free" investigations. It affirms the possibility of objective research. It shuns commitment. It translates into apathy and "psychic numbing." Nothing that we do seems to matter.

The individual approach is to take a personal survival tactic with little conviction about the direction of the future. Covert nihilists are masters of repression. They will not even examine their spiritual emptiness. They are living with a massive loss of meaning for life and for eternity. The gospel of unconditional love confirms this hidden and massive feeling that what I do and how I live have no meaning. The more the Christian faith tells people that forgiveness is simply God's unmerited free acceptance of our sins, the more suspicious people become about the real price of this kind of grace, which is the surrender and sacrifice of the dignity and meaning of our human existence.

God's forgiveness is not just to tell us the past did not matter; the real and powerful purpose of God's forgiveness is to say that we have such an important work to do as God's agents of stewardship of creation that God cannot afford to lose one good worker and so we are given back our future and told to get to work. Jesus Christ never expected those who entered the Kingdom to be pure and perfect when they entered, but he did expect them to strive to become perfect while they stayed.

Perhaps this word from Jesus—about the calling of a brother or sister a fool getting us eternal damnation—ought to remind us that God does expect much from us. God will not deal kindly with people who have seen divine love in Christ, accepted divine grace in Jesus, and done nothing with the power of the Holy Spirit. It is a terrible thing for one to stand in danger of the fires of hell, it is an awesome thing to fall into the hands of a righteous God, but there is only one thing worse: to declare a grace that removes forever the possibility of standing in danger of the fires of hell. For the fires of hell and the glories of heaven give some eternal depth and height and glory to our human lives. (Rick Brand)

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