Sermon Options: March 17, 2019

February 2nd, 2019

THE RIGHT WORD 

GENESIS 15:1-12, 17-18

I purchased another book, Thesaurus of Alternatives to Worn-Out Words and Phrases, to help me find the right word for every occasion. Communicators are not the only people searching for the right word, or principle, to assist them to live effectively. Abram discovered that the right word was "the word of the Lord."

Abram's circumstances did not match his understanding of God's purpose. This believer was no apprentice, but during a difficult moment in his life was reminded that God was his "shield and exceeding great reward." In a vision God disclosed three characteristics of himself, three words, which reaffirm Abram's understanding.

I. The Word of the Lord Satisfies Life's Disappointments (vv. 1-6)
Abram had answered God's call and followed God faithfully. Still, there was a missing piece to the puzzle of God's promise: Abram did not have an heir. God's word corrected Abram's misunderstandings about his role in God's plan to bless the earth. The word of the Lord also confirms our purpose in God's plans, plans that are often beyond our comprehension. Further, the word of the Lord convinces us that faith and obedience are effective. Abram received a much needed word of reassurance. He "believed the Lord," or more accurately, he leaned upon the Lord. God was able to do what Abram was not.

II. Another Word of the Lord Strategically Details Life's Direction (vv. 7-11)
"I am the Lord," is the common formula of God's self-proclamation. Abram was old but not finished. When God spoke, his word renewed Abram's mission to possess the land. Even though Abram's life was not shaping up as he anticipated, God's plan was still the same. That word clarified Abram's vision by establishing a covenant and a call to action. The covenant became effective by Abram's obedience to follow God's instructions. With every step of obedience Abram grew more confident. When the birds of prey invaded the covenanting process, Abram drove them away as if he were driving away any remaining doubts about God. Abram had decided that nothing would stop him now!

III. The Word of the Lord Also Secures Life (vv. 12-15)
The darkness identifies insecurity that eventuates from fear and the unknown. God's word provides security for your life by terminating the turmoil of extreme persecution (v. 13). God's word also transposes injustice with extravagant prosperity (v. 14). You can be confident, just as Abram was, that God's justice reserves retribution for the faithless and reward for the faithful. Further, God's word transcends the temporal with eternal peace (v. 15). One sign of disfavor with God was to have no heir. Another sign of disfavor was to die prematurely, ravaged and dismembered in a battle of faith so that one's body parts could not be gathered for burial. God's promise assured Abram of his pleasure. Abram would live a long life, die in peace, and meet his ancestors in burial.

Look no further for a word to empower you to live successfully. God covenanted that day, to make real what he had already promised. Abram's vision ended with a likeness of God's presence, a flaming torch, and a likeness of his people's presence, a smoking fire pot, passing between the animal parts. The setting sun anticipated the dark years of Egyptian bondage, a bondage such as you may now feel. But through the darkness, God's promise flames with hope that you will be faithful and realize what God has already begun. The word of the Lord is the word for which you are searching. (Barry J. Beames)

HEROES NEEDED

PHILIPPIANS 3:17–4:1

"Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us." Charles Barkley made himself famous by declaring that he was not a role model for children. Parents should be role models and I am not your parent, he said. Well, who are your role models? Who are your heroes?

The man had organized community action volunteers all over the southwest. He was meeting with another group of Christian volunteers and he asked two questions: Who are your heroes and who are your enemies? He told them Jesus could not be used as an answer. An interesting pair of questions: Whom do you want to be like and who are your enemies? These Christian volunteers had a horrible time with both questions. Most of the volunteers could name somebody whom they admired, but they refused to name anybody as an enemy.

Paul has no trouble with either one. You ought to be imitators of me, and those who are living like I am living, and your enemies are those who are enemies of the Cross.

I. We Learn to Walk with Christ as We Imitate the Heroes
Living in faith is not living by a rule book; it is catching the spirit, the flavor, the quality of life of another Christian. That is why the church lives by the spoken word, the lived life of fellow believers who walk with Christ. That is one reason each community of faith needs a few old saints. The Christian faith is not done by the numbers. It is an attitude that is caught.

It is like the gentleness of a Mother Teresa, to whom young women all over the world come to feel and to live in her spirit. The way artists want to paint alongside a great artist to catch the energy and the spirit of the master. Don't tell young Christians how to live; tell them who to copy, show them one who has been walking in the steps of Jesus for a lifetime and say, "Do it like she does. Copy the way he has struggled in his life."

II. Watch Out for the Enemies
There are enemies of the Cross. There are those who will try to tell you that nothing is really important enough to undergo sacrifice. There are those who would want to say that God wants everybody to be happy and prosperous and any talk of a Cross is a setback for God's goodness. Why all this talk about sin and confession and repentance? Be positive. You are a child of God and you were meant for wonderful things.

Many years ago there was a very popular book called I'm O.K. You're O.K. One of the Christian saints suggested what Jesus might say from the Cross to that notion, "If everybody is OK, what am I doing up here?"

One of the greatest enemies of the Cross is our fascination and preoccupation with material possessions, the things of this earth. For some it is what we will eat, and what we will wear, and what we will drive, and where we will vacation, and the list goes on of the things that can be enemies of the Cross of Jesus.

Christian people need to encourage one another to have Christian heroes, Christian models. Young Christian disciples need to be encouraged to get to know the saints of a church and to listen to them. And we need to stop pretending that we do not have enemies. There are enemies of the Cross and we need to identify them so we can do as Jesus tells us and love them. Jesus says love your enemies, and pray for them. How are we to follow those instructions if we do not admit that we have enemies and opposition? Paul says, "Copy me." The principle is still valid—there is always some gentle faithful saint within your Christian community you can copy. Find your heroes and know your enemies. If we can identify what we want to become and know who we do not want to look like, it strengthens us for the long journey to the joy and grace of God's kingdom. (Rick Brand )

BLESSED OPPOSITION

LUKE 13:31-35

Recently I heard about a congregation where, at the conclusion of a hymn a young man jumped to his feet and shouted at the people, "You don't mean a word of it! You sang, 'All to Jesus I surrender,' 'Where he leads me I will follow,' 'Jesus, I my cross have taken.' How many of us have done or would really do that?" The congregation sat stunned under the impact of his words. The question haunted the people as they sat in the pews speechless, even after they realized the outburst was a preplanned part of the youth-sponsored special service (from William Powell Tuck, The Way for All Seasons, 163).

Do we really want to follow wherever Christ leads? Have we surrendered all to Jesus? Have we taken up the cross as our own? Those are tough questions. But they are not to be avoided if we intend to take Jesus Christ seriously. He never suggested that he would be content with the spare time or spare energy or spare change of his followers. He set no limits on the loyalty he expected, no constraints on the commitment he required. He not only insisted that his followers be distinctive in their devotion to him, he also told them that they should expect to suffer for that devotion.

As the ministry of Jesus neared its climax, he traveled to Jerusalem, teaching and healing along the way. The disciples knew that Jesus was heading for trouble. He was about to intrude on the center of the Jewish political and religious establishment. Others were concerned as well. Some Pharisees came to warn him. Pharisees were often opponents of Jesus. They were rigidly righteous and by their standards Jesus looked like a spiritual slouch, inattentive to the finer points of the Mosaic law. But apparently not all the Pharisees had it in for Jesus. A few of them came to warn him that King Herod wanted him dead. "Turn back," they urged.

Maybe you've heard warnings like that at one time or another. Perhaps you didn't like the way people on the bottom rung of the company you work for are treated. You saw that the working conditions are poor. They're underpaid. They're not dealt with respectfully by certain supervisors. You were about to take the matter to top management but more experienced voices in the company said, "Turn back!" Or maybe where you work some product that is being made isn't reliable or safe. Others know this but they hid the truth because its correction was too costly or convenient. You began to speak up but some warned, "Turn back!"

Or maybe you're at school and you see just how rotten some students are treated. Maybe they don't dress as nice or look a little goofy or tend to be awkward or tongue-tied. So they get teased a lot, never included. You decide to reach out and be a friend but other people in your circle say "Turn back!" You might find yourself rejected too. It's hard to do the right thing when you might have to pay a high price for it.

So the Pharisees warned Jesus to turn back and not to go to Jerusalem. Herod had already killed John the Baptist. Jesus would be next. But instead of heeding the warning, Jesus had a mission to accomplish. Threats and the likelihood of death would not turn him from his path. Regardless of the cost, he intended to do what God had called him to do.

How many of us are willing to do what God calls us to do? Isn't it true that we often reinterpret the will of God so that it fits more comfortably with our spiritual timidity? We squirm under the very thought of facing opposition, rejection, ridicule. So we define for ourselves a notion of faithfulness that will not seriously put us at odds with the mainstream of our cultures. Our Lord expects better of us.

In the historically based movie Braveheart, William Wallace rallies the people of medieval Scotland to fight for freedom against the oppressive and much more powerful forces of England. The Scottish nobles want to come to terms with the English because they fear for their lives. Wallace, challenging them to stand firm, declares, "All men die but not all truly live!" In different words, Jesus said the same thing. Some have listened and found strength to follow him.

Clarence Jordan, founder of the innovative interracial community Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia, endured much harassment, threats, and attacks. He was visiting with a minister in a less controversial church. The man gave Jordan a tour of the building. The minister showed him the lovely stained glass and beautifully designed sanctuary. Then they stepped outside and the minister lifted his arm and pointed to the huge cross atop the steeple. "That cross alone cost well over $10,000," he said. "You got cheated!" Jordan declared. "Times were when Christians could get them for free."

One of the leading contemporary thinkers said, "In Christianity the cross is everything that deserves to be called Christian." The cross tells us that survival is overrated. Faithfulness to God is what matters most of all. The faithfulness of Christ won for us salvation. Our faithfulness, regardless of the cost, is our glad gratitude to the One to whom we owe all. (Craig M. Watts)

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