Sermon Options: March 10, 2019

February 1st, 2019

WORSHIP HABITS

DEUTERONOMY 26:1-11

At a recent leadership conference I participated in breakout sessions where I was introduced to a variety of worship experiences. The opportunity to experience worship traditions that were different from my usual worship expression was refreshing.

The large banquet hall of the convention hotel was divided into several smaller sanctuaries. In one room you would find traditional worship furniture, familiar prelude music, and ushers distributing bulletins at the entrance. The congregation heard a call to worship, sang an opening hymn, listened to the announcements, greeted one another, sang another song, and took an offering! Then there was special music, a sermon with three points, an invitation, and closing prayer.

In the next room worshipers were welcomed to a Seeker Service, not by ushers but by a note in the program. Words to the two short songs were videographed on a large screen on the wall in front of the worshipers. Most of the music was performed. A dramatic presentation introduced the pastor's message of simple truths designed to acquaint non-Christians with the claims of Scripture. The invitational hymn was replaced by an invitation to meet with a church representative to acquire additional information about the church.

From down the hall echoed the upbeat tempo of the evangelistic worship tradition. Familiar songs like "Down at the Cross," "When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder," and "I Surrender All" were parenthetically interrupted by emotional testimonies. The minister's sermon majored on the ruin of sin and the need of confession and salvation. And next door were heard the majestic chords of sacred anthems, Scripture, and responsive readings. A divided chancel, robed platform personalities, and a message focused on Christian responsibility in our culture engaged worshipers with a liturgical style of worship.

While our worship traditions may vary, three distinct principles from Moses' instruction to Israel provided directions for worship to be genuine and meaningful. These guidelines anticipated Israel's possession of the Promised Land.

I. Worship That Possesses the Promise of God Is Characterized by Concentration (vv. 1-4)
Albert Palmer, former President of the Chicago Theological Seminary, insisted that worship provides the miracle necessary for religion to endure. We concentrate on God by seeking the place where God has placed his name. We also concentrate on God by seeking the priest God has placed in our midst. As God's representative the priest was a spiritual guide to assist in the development of a proper relationship with God. Faithfulness, loyalty, and trust in God's appointed leaders are qualities that enable us to possess God's promise.

II. Worship That Possesses the Promise of God Is Also Confessional (vv. 5-7)
These verses form an outline of the Pentateuch as the worshiper confesses her or his own finiteness. Moses also directs us to confess God's divine omnipotence in verses 8-9 by acknowledging the greatness of God, expressing the deliverance of God, and testifying to the generosity of God. Confession results in a personal submission (v. 10), which is confirmed by an impressive demonstration of obedience and an individual relationship with God that finds expression in daily life.

III. Worship That Possesses the Promise of God Is Also Characterized by Celebration
The people of God should have a reputation of joy and celebration. Moses does not refer to an emotional response, but a disciplined habit. That habit rejoices in the unity of the people of God, the extended grace of God, and an exceptional walk with God. In these areas we discover the promises of God that surprise and enrich mundane spirituality.

You can possess the promises of God with the right worship habits! (Barry J. Beames)

THE WORD IS NEAR YOU

ROMANS 10:8b-13

"The Word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim)" (v. 8). This suggests that it is no great secret. The Word is near. The confession of faith that is redemptive is almost a spontaneous confession. It is on the tip of the tongue. It is the heart's reaction to life. But the confession needs some content. It has to have form and substance.

Dwight Eisenhower once suggested that what this country needed was faith, and it did not matter what faith. By contrast, the apostle Paul is convinced that the shape and content of that faith is critically important. He tells us there are some things that are essentials if the faith we hold is to be called Christian. What are those essentials?

I. Jesus Is Lord
"If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord"—that the event of Jesus is the highest manifestation of God; that in Jesus we have discovered the purest form of goodness.

Walker Percy, in one of his novels, has a character in search of one truly evil event. The character had been present when so many terribly wicked events had been "explained" away as sickness or as misguided good. For instance, the man who shot sixteen children in Dunblane, Scotland, was mentally unbalanced, or Hitler was simply attempting to build a great new human race.

The Christian faith, on the other hand, declares that in the life, person, and work of Jesus we discover the mighty power of grace and love that humanity is not capable of creating in its own power. That goodness, that grace, that love is the supreme authority and power over all creation. Jesus is Lord.

II. God Raised Jesus from the Dead
"And believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead"—that the love, goodness, grace, and mercy that is in Jesus could not be allowed to be destroyed by death. The power and might of death is not able to contain, to hold, to destroy the goodness, grace, the love of God for creation, and so God stood Jesus back up on Easter Sunday morning.

Paul says that kind of conviction is not far from our lips, and our hearts are looking for that faith. We want to believe in the power of love, we want to affirm the power of God to retrieve life out of the power of death. It is part of our created image of God that we want to live in that kind of faith. It is the conviction of heart that God is able and God is active in saving goodness from Death. Publicly declaring that we are servants of the grace that has been made visible in Jesus makes us part of the community of salvation.

What is fascinating and exciting in this passage is that once Paul has affirmed that we confess Jesus as Lord and that goodness and grace have been resurrected from the dead, Paul says it is the same for Greeks and Jews. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Our joy as Christians is to get to share with them that all their hearts yearn for and their spirits strive after has been demonstrated and done in Jesus. The Word is near all of us. All we have to do is to help them hear and affirm it. (Rick Brand )

TEMPTED

LUKE 4:1-13

It is a strange story. Jesus is in conversation with Satan. It's hard to imagine. We expect Jesus to be in conversation with God the Father. As we read the Gospels, time after time, we find Jesus at prayer. Jesus was in constant conversation with God. But in the Scripture text for today, we find Jesus in a very different sort of conversation.

Jesus was tempted. He struggled over how to live his life and how to do his ministry. Satan tried to draw the Lord away from God's good plan for salvation. Satan offered Jesus easier options than death on a cross.

Often the most powerful temptations are the most subtle ones. Blatant sin is easier to spot and easier to avoid. The sin that is really hard to resist is sin for a good cause. Good causes have justified a multitude of evils. When Satan came to Jesus, he didn't try to get him to steal or kill or lie. He simply tried to get Jesus to pursue his mission by using other means than God's means. Sometimes we try to out-think God. We ignore God's guidelines and instead devise our own plans. We trade God's will for our own clever techniques. We may try to pursue a good goal but not by God's method. That is the kind of temptation Jesus faced.

For us, what is temptation?

"The tempter came and said to him, 'If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread' " (v. 3).

When Nancy McGraw returned to her office from a meeting, her secretary greeted her with a message: "Drake Henson wants to see you in his office at 3:00 today," she said. Henson was vice president for sales. When the time came, Nancy walked down the hall to Henson's spacious office. "You wanted to see me?" asked Nancy. "Yes, come on in and have a seat," said Henson. From the smile on his face, she knew that the news was good.

Henson began, "Nancy, I think you'll be pleased to hear that you're being offered a promotion. You've done such a fine job we want to offer you the position of chief sales trainer for the Southeast region. You've always been a hard worker. In this company, hard work pays off. Congratulations!"

Nancy McGraw squirmed in her chair, took a deep breath and hesitantly spoke. "Mr. Henson, I am genuinely pleased you have so much confidence in me. I've always tried to do the best job I can. But I'm already away from my family more days a month than I prefer. I know he's only kidding, but my son sometimes refers to me as 'that strange woman.' I'm afraid if I'm gone much more my family will really begin to feel that I'm a stranger."

With a look of disappointment on his face, her boss remarked, "What exactly are you saying? You know you're being offered a real opportunity here."

Nancy shifted in her seat as she began to speak. "I realize this is an important promotion. But it will require me to travel so much that I'll be away from my family twice as much as I am now. We used to do a lot of things together. It's hard for us to even go to church together anymore. I have to think about my family."

Henson shook his head in dismay. "Your family? This is for your family. Just think about all you'll be able to do for them with the significant increase in salary you'll receive. You want to provide the best for them, don't you?"

"And Jesus answered him, 'It is written "One shall not live by bread alone" ' " (v. 4).

"The devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, 'To you, I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me it will all be yours' " (5-7).

A group of concerned Christians from all over the city had gathered. It wasn't a large group, but they were committed and they knew they represented the feeling of a lot more people. The congressman speaking to them was intense. The men and women in the group were nodding in agreement. An occasional "Amen" could be heard.

"We have to take America back!" he proclaimed. "Pornography, illegal drugs, and the breakdown of the family are undermining the moral fiber of this country. We can't just stand around and do nothing. It's time we get tough. Stricter law enforcement, longer prison sentences, capital punishment for more crimes. This country needs to promote righteousness. Prayer and Bible reading should be a part of every public schoolroom's activities. It's time for church leaders and politicians to team up to make America Christian again."

The group burst into applause. Before long, the affair ended, and Mary Elliot approached the smiling congressman. "I agreed with a lot that you said," she began. "But I still have some serious questions. You talked a lot about getting tough on crime but not much about getting tender with the needy. What about the homeless and hungry?" His smile was almost gone.

"And I'm not so sure the churches should depend on the government to promote our faith. We shouldn't look to the government to step in. We don't need a government handout to do our work. Righteousness is not something you impose; it's something God inspires."

"Look lady," he said. "Politicians like me are doing Christians a big favor. What the churches can't do by persuasion, we can do by legislation. What you can't do with a gentle word, we can do with the power to prosecute. I think it would be smart for your people to team up with folks in high places."

And Jesus said, "It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him' " (v. 8).

What is temptation?

"Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, 'If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here' " (v. 9).

The church the Reverend Adam Jones served was once one of the largest in the state. But for the past twenty years, it had been in a decline. The population of the entire region was smaller than it once was. Several large factories had closed and people moved elsewhere to find jobs. The church felt the shift of the population as its membership shrunk.

Something had to be done. The chairman of the board of the church said his brother's church hired a firm that did wonders for the growth of his congregation. The board agreed to call in the outfit to see if they could do the same thing for their church.

Barry Baker came from Growing Churches Advertising Incorporated. His presentation was powerful. "If your church wants to soar with the eagles rather than waddle with the ducks, you have to try things no one else has ever done. You have to set yourself apart, get noticed. In our day and age, you have to grab the public's attention."

Heads nodded with agreement all over the room. People were smiling with dreams of better days to come.

Barry Baker continued, "You have to make the public know you're not a run-of-the-mill congregation. Down in Texas, there is a church that has been growing in leaps and bounds since the church began to sponsor an annual Christian body builders contest. They promote themselves as the 'hard body church: the healthiest congregation in town.' The Sunday before the contest the minister preaches with his shirt off."

A few of the people had their mouths gaping open in surprise. One older man raised his hand and spoke, "I recall Jesus once said the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed or like leaven in bread dough. It grows less conspicuously."

The consultant swept the comment aside. "That was a long time ago," he said. "Things have changed. You have to face up to the competition. My motto is 'Whatever it takes.' You have to do something that's a big deal, something people can't ignore. For instance, since you want to project an image as a vital cutting-edge church, I propose that you start a group called, 'Bungee Jumpers for Jesus.' I even have a great motto for you: 'We have a faith that always bounces back.' What do you think?"

"Jesus answered him, 'It is said, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test" ' " (v. 12). (Craig M. Watts)

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