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Category Archives: Preaching

It All Comes Down To Love

Sometimes, the simplest commands are often the hardest to obey. Three times in his first letter, the apostle John instructs his readers to “love one another” (2:7-11; 3:11-18; 4:7-21). It is a simple, straightforward command. Yet, it is difficult to practice in daily life.

Instead of showing love by listening, we monopolize the conversation. We criticize instead of affirming. We believe the universe revolves around us. We demonstrate indifference, respond in anger, and are unwilling to forgive. All of these work to destroy relationships.

In 1 John 4:7-21, John makes the argument that Because God loves us and lives in us, we are to love one another. John instructs Christ followers to love one another three times in the passage with a fourth time as an implication.

We are to love others because God loves us (7-10). John’s exhortation to love one another is based on the fact of God and his love. He relates our responsibility back to God’s character and example. Our responsibility to love is rooted in God’s character (7, 8). The proof of God’s love for people is that he sent his only Son to provide eternal life for us (9-10). When we love others, it identifies us as followers of Jesus (7). If we don’t love others, we really do not know God (8)

We are to love others because God lives in us (11-16). The demonstration of love by God is our model for showing love to others. As God manifested love in us then by sending Jesus Christ, so he manifests his love among us now as we love one another. The unseen God reveals himself through the visible love of his followers (12). No one has seen God in his pure essence without some kind of filter. Whenever we love one another we make it possible for God to “abide” in close fellowship with us. Furthermore God’s love reaches a fullness and depth in us that is possible only when we love one another. When we put our trust in Christ, God comes to live in us through the Holy Spirit (13-15). If we don’t love others, God is not in our life (16)

We are to love others because God’s love is perfected with us (17-21). The demonstration of love by God is our model for showing love to others. As God manifested love in us then by sending Jesus Christ, so he manifests his love among us now as we love one another. Full grown love produces confidence (17-18). Our love becomes complete in the sense that we can now have confidence as we anticipate our day of judgment. We need not fear the judgment seat of Christ if we have demonstrated love to others. God took the initiative to love us and we responded to him (19). Our ability to love and our practice of love come from God’s love for us. We are to love the members of God’s family (20-21). Love for the unseen God will find expression in love for our brothers and sisters whom we can see. It is easier to love someone we can see than it is to love someone we cannot see. If we don’t love others, we are lying about our relationship with God and have reason to fear the Day of Judgment (17, 20)

Because God loves us, we are to love one another. Because God lives in us, we are to love one another. Because God’s love is perfected in us, we are to love one another. How can you demonstrate love this week?

During the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, sentenced a soldier to be shot for his crimes. The execution was to take place at the ringing of the evening curfew bell. However, the bell did not sound. The soldier’s fiancé had climbed into the belfry and clung to the great clapper of the bell to prevent it from striking. When she was summoned by Cromwell to account for her actions, she wept as she showed him her bruised and bleeding hands. Cromwell’s heart was touched and he said, “Your lover shall live because of your sacrifice. Curfew shall not ring tonight!”

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on April 30, 2017. It is part of a series of sermons on The Letters of John. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Expository preaching is trendy – Who knew?

According to blogger Tim Challies, “The Hottest Thing at Church Today” is expository preaching.

According to a new study by Gallup, the hottest thing at church today is not the worship and not the pastor. It’s not the smoke and lights and it’s not the hip and relevant youth programs. It’s not even the organic, fair trade coffee at the cafe. The hottest thing at church today is the preaching. Not only is it the preaching, but a very specific form of it—preaching based on the Bible. And just like that, decades of church growth bunkum is thrown under the bus. As Christianity Today says, “Despite a new wave of contemporary church buzzwords like relational, relevant, and intentional, people who show up on Sundays are looking for the same thing that has long anchored most services: preaching centered on the Bible.”

For those unfamiliar with the concept, expository preaching is simply explaining what the text means and what it looks like in real life. It is a balance between explanation and application. It’s what I was taught to do years ago at Dallas Theological Seminary.

Seems my old-fashioned approach is now a trendy practice. And now that I’m a bald-headed expository preacher, I must be doubly trendy. Who knew?

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2017 in Preaching, Tim Challies

 

Don’t Settle 4 Fool’s Gold

Eureka! This simple Greek word—meaning “I have found it!”—became the life slogan for thousands of California gold prospectors in the mid-1800s. It summed up every treasure hunter’s dream and expressed the thrill of striking pay dirt. For James Marshall (the first to discover the precious metal in 1848) and the “forty-niners” who followed him, the term meant instant riches, early retirement, and a life of carefree ease.

However, world-be prospectors quickly learned that not everything that glittered was indeed gold. Riverbeds and rock quarries could be full of golden specks that were entirely worthless. This “fool’s gold” was iron pyrite, and miners had to be careful to distinguish it from the real thing.

In the same way, Christians must learn how to distinguish teaching which is biblical and sound from that which is not. We need to be wary of spiritual fool’s gold. That is the subject that the apostle John addresses in 1 John 4:1-6.

Don’t believe every teacher who comes along (1). Some of John’s readers were being swept away by false teachers. John is telling them to take the time to test and see if what they are being taught is true.

Some theology being taught today is the equivalent of eating a candy bar. It is sweet, tasty, and filling, but it has absolutely no nutritional value. In fact, it can blunt your appetite for healthier fare. Rather than blindly consuming everything we hear, we need to put it to the test and see if it is true or not. John provides two tests we can use.

Test #1: What do they say about Jesus? (2-3). In the same way you can identify a follower of Christ by their works, you can identify a false teacher by their message. Rather than ask, “Do you believe in Jesus?” we should ask, “What do you believe about Jesus?” A false teacher will err on either the humanity or the deity of Christ.

Test #2: Who are they listening to? (4-6). John reminds his listeners that they are victors, that they have overcome. They are not necessarily more intelligent or more skilled than false teachers, but they possess the Holy Spirit. In contrast, the false teachers are listening to the world (4-5) rather than to the truth (6). A teacher’s doctrinal beliefs are often revealed by the character of their followers.

As Christ followers, we must practice discernment. Get into the Scriptures for yourself on a regular basis. Ask God for wisdom to know truth from error. Ask God to give you ears to hear and a heart to obey.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on April 23, 2017. It is part of a series of sermons on The Letters of John. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Changing the Mind of a Skeptic

Being a bit of a wordsmith, I am intrigued by the word of the year determined by the Oxford University Press. In 2012, it was omnishambles which means a situation of total disaster. In 2013, selfie referred to the phenomenon of taking pictures of yourself. 2014 introduced vape, inhaling the vapor produced by electronic cigarettes. In 2015, the word of the year was a picture, an emoji. In 2016, the word was post-truth, which built on the preponderance of fake news.

Fake news rose to the forefront during the 2016 US Presidential campaign. One website described five types of fake news: (1) News that is intentionally deceptive; (2) Jokes taken at face value; (3) Large-scale hoaxes; (4) Slanted reporting of facts; and (5) Stories where “truth” is contentious.

The sad thing is that many people are taken in by fake news. Oftentimes, they pass it on through social media without even checking the veracity of the stories. While countless people were taken in by these pranks, there are others who are reluctant to believe that Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning. If we are so gullible to believe a compelling lie, why are we so skeptical of the truth?

If you find yourself among those who have a hard time believing in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, you are in good company. Luke 24:1-12 explains that even Jesus’ disciples had a hard time believing he rose from the dead. But the passage also demonstrates that the truth of the resurrection transforms skeptics into passionate witnesses.

The passage opens on Easter morning with several female disciples heading for the tomb where Jesus was buried (1). Rather than checking to see if the resurrection had taken place, they were there to properly bury the body. When they found the stone covering the entrance absent (2) and the body missing (3), they didn’t know what to make of the situation (4a).

To their surprise, two angelic messengers (4b) roused their attention with the shocking question, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here; but has risen!” (5-6). They went on to remind the women of what Jesus had taught them during the past three years (6). He would suffer and die and come back to life three days later (7). You could see the light bulbs go on in their heads as they recalled Jesus’ teaching (8).

The women left the tomb and raced back into Jerusalem to tell the other disciples (9-10). Rather than be overjoyed by the news, Jesus’ closest friends and followers were not convinced. In fact, they concluded that the women were delusion and out of their minds (11).

The fact that women were the first witnesses of the resurrection demonstrates the uniqueness of the gospel. In the culture of the day, women were considered unreliable. You would never build a case on the testimony of women. And yet, the gospel records that they were the first ones to believe the message that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Peter, at least, goes to investigate the report firsthand (12). Rather than be convinced by the empty grave clothes, he goes home even more perplexed. He is taking the first step on the road to faith, moving from disbelief to curiosity to wonder.

Dr. Luke’s account of the resurrection (Luke 24:1-12) can be summarized in six words—“Come and see … Go and tell!”

  • Read the Scriptures. 14 Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled on Good Friday alone.
  • Examine the evidence. Read the source material firsthand. Study the proofs of the resurrection.
  • Believe the testimony. Read the stories of those whose lives were transformed by the gospel.
  • Tell the story. Once you are convinced the story is true, share the message of hope with another person.

Christ is not dead; He is risen indeed!

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church on April 16, 2017. It is part of a collection of messages on Easter & Palm Sunday. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

A day of clashing expectations

On Palm Sunday, churches around the country give palm branches to children and stage their own version of the triumphal entry. We celebrate the fact that Jesus is the king. We want a feel good moment.

The term, “Triumphal entry,” however, does not describe the apostle John’s recollection of those events. As he describes the event in John 12:12-26, it was a day where expectations clashed head on. Amidst conflicting expectations, Jesus reveals that he is going to die so that others might live.

In verses 12-15, Jesus is presented as the King of Israel, the one who fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament. As John explains, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem occurred the day after Mary had anointed him in Bethany (John 12:1-11). She understood he was going to die and she was anointing him beforehand for burial.

As he began his journey to Jerusalem, Jesus was accompanied by people who were present at the raising of Lazarus (John 11). There were those in Jerusalem who heard about the miracle and came out to meet Jesus. There were others who were in the city for the Passover feast. Estimates of the crowd range from 120,000 to Josephus’ estimate of 2.5 million. Whatever the number, the people started crying, “Hosanna!” or “Save now!” The words of the crowd, “Hosanna” and “Blessed” were taken from Psalm 118:25-26. They were part of the Hallel, sung during the Passover Feast. The people hoped Jesus was coming as a conquering general to drive out the Romans.

If we were to stage Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, we would use a Presidential motorcade, a stretch limo, or at least a white stallion. Rather than enter as a conquering king, Jesus entered as a humble servant. He chose a young donkey rather than a chariot and horses. In so doing, he fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9.

Present among the crowds of people were at least five different types of people. John describes them by their reactions to Jesus. Mixed in the crowds watching Jesus enter Jerusalem were the confused, the consumers, the legalists, the seekers, and the followers.

The disciples were confused (16) and did not understand what it all meant. It would be sometime later after the resurrection before the light bulb of understanding would turn on.

Many of the people were consumers who wanted another miracle (17-18). They were curious to see what Jesus might do next. They wanted another entertaining experience.

The religious leaders (19) were jealous of Jesus’ growing popularity. As other verses explain, they were upset that Jesus did not practice religion according to their rules. They were legalistic in thinking that worship could only be done their way.

There were some god-fearing Greeks who wanted to see Jesus (20-22). They were seekers who approached first Philip and then Andrew about getting an audience with Jesus. The fact that Greeks were coming to Jesus demonstrated the time had arrived for him to die for the sins of the world. He no longer belonged only to the Jews.

Rather than respond to the Greeks directly, Jesus reveals his impending death (23-26). Rather than speaking of tragedy, Jesus saw his hour as one of triumph. Instead of being dishonored, he was going to be glorified. Using an agricultural metaphor, Jesus explained that the way of fruitfulness lies through death.

Jesus also explained the ultimate cost of discipleship, of being his follower, involved the death of the disciple. To follow Jesus we must die to self. Jesus promised eternal life and heaven to those who made that choice.

As you consider the events of Palm Sunday, which group do you identify with?

  • Are you Confused—not understanding what it all means?
  • Are you a Consumer—wanting something from God; waiting for the next big thing?
  • Are you a Legalist—opposed to Jesus because he does not follow your rules or meet your expectations?
  • Are you a Seeker—wanting to see Jesus and know him better?
  • Are you a Follower—have you died to self and are serving the King?

All Hail, King Jesus!

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on April 9, 2017. It is part of a collection of sermons on Palm Sunday and Easter. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Confident Assurance

You sit down and start to pray. As you begin interceding for an unsaved friend, a thought pops into your head, “Are you qualified to pray for anyone? Your life is so inconsistent. You’re no better than they are. In fact, you’re a hypocrite because you don’t even practice your faith.”

Is it possible to have confidence about our relationship with God? Is it possible to come into God’s presence with boldness? These are questions that many of us wrestle with. The apostle John answers these questions with a strong statement of assurance, “By this we know … we have confidence before God … by this we know” (1 John 3:19, 21, 24). He explains that when we love God by loving others, we enjoy a clear conscience and an effective prayer life.

In the previous passage (11-18), John explains the importance of loving one another. He states that love is not murder, hatred, or indifference. Instead, love is sacrificial. The evidence of love is not in our words, but rather in our actions. By loving other people, we demonstrate the fact that we truly love God.

When we love God by loving others, we gain confidence before God (19-20). By stating, “By this we know that we are of the truth …” John is building on his instruction in verse 18 to love one another. Loving others demonstrates we are followers of Jesus. This fact will provide reassurance when our conscience pricks us.

Someone once said there are three types of people: (1) Those whose consciences are seared or in the process of being repressed into silence. They feel no guilt at all. (2) Those whose consciences are attuned to a taskmaster God who is impatient and never satisfied. They labor under a load of false guilt. (3) Those who consciences are attuned to a God who is holy and also compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness. They deal with their guilt by confessing their sins and enjoying God’s forgiveness.

When we love God by loving others, we gain confidence in prayer (21-22). Once our hearts no longer condemn us, we can have confidence before God. We can come boldly into his presence knowing that he hears and answers our requests. However, the promise of answered prayer is directly related to our obedience and willingness to please God. Power in prayer does not come from occasional bursts of obedience, but from lives of habitual obedience.

When we love God by loving others, we gain confidence about our relationship with God (23-24). John reminds his readers that there is only one central command—believe in Jesus and love others. You cannot believe without loving nor love without believing. The Christian life demands an essential union between faith and love.

John closes this section the same way he started. He uses the phrase, “by this we know …” The primary evidence of our mutual abiding experience in God is the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This statement prepares John’s readers for what follows in 4:1, testing the spirits.

When we love God by loving others, we can enjoy a clear conscience and an effective prayer life.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church on April 2, 2017. It is part of a series of sermons on The Letters of John. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

The Mark of the Christian

In 1 John 2:28, the apostle John challenges his readers with the statement, “Abide in him.” That leads a thinking person to ask the question, “How can I know for sure if I am abiding in Christ?” John answers that question in 2:28-3:10 by explaining that one who abides in Christ will practice righteousness. Rather than continuing in a lifestyle of sinful habits, a Christ follower will develop habits and a lifestyle that pleases God.

In 3:11-24, John adds that how we treat other people will also reveal whether or not we are following Christ. A Christ follower will obey the command, “Love one another.” In 3:11-18, John says that we do this because of what Christ did for us on the cross. Because Jesus Christ sacrificed his life for us, we should demonstrate our love for one another.

John’s thesis statement in found in verse 11, “Love one another.” As he explains, this was something Jesus taught during his ministry on earth. It is part of the gospel (John 13:34). It proves that we are Christians (1 John 3:14). It proves we follow Jesus (John 13:35). It proves that Jesus was sent by God (John 17:21).

Love is one of those concepts where we all assume we know what we are talking about. In reality, we often have different definitions. Before describing what love is, John states what love is not.

Love is not murder (12). In contrast with love, hate destroys and kills. John mentions Cain killing his brother, Abel, without any details or qualifications. He simply says he belonged to the devil and that he murdered his brother.

Love is not hatred (13-15). John moves from an individual example to a corporate example. In the same way that Cain killed his brother because he was righteous, sometimes the world hates Christ followers for the same reason. Anyone who lacks love has a heart filled with hate. There is no middle ground. And hatred eventually ends in murder, as Cain proved.

Love is not indifference (17). While we may not have the opportunity to die in someone’s place, we can do the next best thing by helping others during a time of need. When we have resources but close our hearts towards others, we demonstrate we are self-centered.

After saying what love is not, John now defines what love is. Love is self-sacrifice (16). John points to the supreme example of love, namely, Jesus Christ. We know what love is because we have heard the message of the gospel.

Self-sacrificial love means a readiness to do anything for other people. It might involve giving up our—money, time, agenda, preferences, control, possessions, listening ear, vacation, desire to be right, desire to be liked—in order to meet the needs of others.

Ultimately, love is action (18). Love is not words or talk, but rather deeds and truth. Love is not merely a verbal profession, it is a vital performance.

Because Jesus Christ sacrificed his life for us, we should demonstrate our love for one another.

“Father, help me to see ___________ as you do. Help me to be willing to give up my __________ for others.”

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on March 12, 2017. It is part of a series of sermons on The Letters of John. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.