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Category Archives: Preaching

Doing Good Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

It is a difficult day to be a good person. Good people are targeted for scams and shootings. Good people are taken advantage of. We wonder, what good is it to be good?

Life in a fallen world brings suffering. There is the suffering that is common to all people—disease, death, sorrow, distress, weariness, to name a few. There are also times when we suffer for our faith. This suffering or persecution can be overt, like the Romans throwing Christians to the lions or a church being burned, or subtle like being passed over for promotion because of your Christian characters and witness.

As a Christ follower, how are we to respond to suffering? In 1 Peter 3:13-17, the apostle Peter explains that when Christ is Lord of our lives, we can face suffering with confidence, knowing that every crisis is an opportunity to witness.

When you suffer for doing right (13-14a, 17). Generally speaking, when we do right, we are rewarded. When we do wrong, we are punished. However, we live in a fallen world where Christians are persecuted for doing right. If we have a choice, it is much better to suffer for doing right than for doing evil, because those who suffer for doing right are highly favored by God. Those who suffer receive God’s blessings.

Face it with confidence (14). Because the natural temptation is to bail out and run away from suffering or persecution, Peter quotes from Isaiah 8:12-13. The historical context is that the Assyrian army is invading Israel and Ahaz, the king of Judah, is tempted to form a political alliance with the kings of Israel and Syria. Isaiah warns the king to fear God, not the enemy. Peter uses the quote to encourage his readers not to be intimidated or afraid. Because we know that persecution brings blessing, we have no reason to be afraid.

Live under Christ’s authority (15a). When we fear, we allow our enemies to take control. Instead, we are to honor Christ as Lord. Since the heart is the sanctuary where Christ prefers to be worshipped, we are to place all the areas of our lives under his authority. We are to fear displeasing Christ rather than fear what people can do to us.

Share your testimony convincingly, yet graciously (15b-16). If you want to enjoy corn on the cob in the summer, you have to plant the seeds in the spring. If you want to share your faith tomorrow, you need to be preparing your testimony today. We should have a ready answer whenever anyone asks us what we believe and/or why we believe it. We need to keep in mind, however, that we are witnesses, not prosecutors. The goal is not to win an argument. The goal is to win lost people to Christ. Thus, we need to witness with grace.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on July 8, 2018. It is part of a series of messages on 1 Peter. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

The Key to the Good Life

The Declaration of Independence contains the well-known phrase, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” which its author Thomas Jefferson listed as among the “unalienable rights” God gave to people. For most people today, that means the pursuit of self-gratification and pleasure such as cars, houses, vacations, stylish clothes, the best seats at sporting and entertainment events, and health and fitness.

During the twentieth century, the novelist Ernest Hemingway was the personification of a hedonistic lifestyle. However, his pursuit of the good life—heavy drinking, hunting and fishing expeditions, celebrity parties, fighting in and reporting on several wars and revolutions—did not bring satisfaction. Hemingway took his own life in 1961. In Scripture, King Solomon pursued the good life through wine, women, gold, horses, building projects, and work. And yet he said it was all meaningless without God.

In 1 Peter 3:8-12, the apostle Peter gives the key to the good life. He explains that if we want to love life and see good days, it must come as we live in harmony with one another. If we want to enjoy the blessings that God offers, we need the right attitude, the right response, the right foundation, and the right motivation.

The Right Attitude (8). With the word, “finally,” Peter indicates that he is wrapping up the middle section of his letter (2:13-3:12). He appeals to “all of you” to describe specific corporate behavior which will silence the hostility of an unbelieving world. Peter lists five character qualities and actions that relate to social relationships. The first and last, live in harmony and be humble, relate to how we think about people. The second and fourth, be sympathetic and be compassionate, relate to how we feel towards others. These four qualities are centered around the middle instruction, love as brothers. Like the fingers of a hand, they radiate from the center and work together. As Christ followers, we are to set aside our rights and serve the needs of others.

The Right Response (9). When someone harms us, our natural tendency is to fight back and get even. Peter instructs his readers to resist the temptation and break the cycle. We are to choose “blessing others” as our preferred method of retaliation. This will result in us receiving a blessing.

The Right Foundation (10-11). To emphasize his point, Peter quotes from Psalm 34. He explains that the key to the good life is found by obeying the guidelines of God’s Word. Rather than deceive others, we should speak truth. Rather than perform evil, we must do good. We should focus on ways that make peace. We must build our lives on the truth of God’s Word.

The Right Motivation (12). Peter wraps up this section by encouraging us to make it our goal to please and glorify God. God is aware of all that takes place in our lives. He is ever open to the prayers of his children. And he will punish those who commit evil.

If we want to enjoy the blessings God has for us, we must seek to live in harmony with one another.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on July 1. It is part of a series of sermons on 1 Peter. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Monday Therapy

From Spring to Fall, Monday morning typically finds me mowing my lawn. As good a job as I can do, it always grows back and requires weekly attention. But truth be told, I find it to be good therapy.

One of the challenges of pastoral ministry is that people are always in process. Spiritual growth is internal. You don’t see quick results. You sometimes wait years to see significant changes. You seldom see a finished product.

Mowing the lawn provides instant results. As I progress up and down the rows, I see quantifiable before and after evidence. When I apply weed & feed, the grass seems greener in two weeks and the dandelions don’t make an appearance. After a two-hour walk behind the lawn mower, I can take pride in a job well done.

As a pastor, I spend all week preparing a sermon. After delivering it, I receive a few “good sermon, Pastor,” comments, but I cannot tell if it sunk or not. In some cases, it may be weeks, months, or even years before a change is evident. The typical measures of pastoral success, attendance and giving, don’t really measure success. They simply tell me how many people were present and how much they gave. They don’t indicate whether or not growth is taking place.

Taking care of the lawn reminds me of the need for faithfulness. If I skip a week or two of mowing, the grass is taller and harder to mow. If I neglect applying the weed and feed, the grass turns brown and the weeds take over.

Pastoral ministry requires faithfulness as well. If I take shortcuts in sermon preparation or skip praying, the results will eventually show up in the lives of people. I need to be just as diligent and even more so, before people are much more valuable than a green lawn.

Another therapeutic benefit of mowing the lawn is that it gives me time to think. I evaluate my sermons. I think about needs of people. I make and revise plans. I dream about the future. I pray for people and ministries.

Time to fire up the mower and begin another therapy session.

 
 

Who’s in charge?

Submission is a dirty word today. When someone tells us we have to submit, our immediate response is “No!” or “Why?!?!?!” We don’t like being told what to do. We want to have a say in every decision. While we don’t necessarily want to lead, we certainly don’t want to follow.

As Christ followers who live in a culture that promotes individualism and anarchy, how should we respond to those in authority over us? What should we do when we don’t respect the person giving the orders? How should we act when we don’t think the law is fair or in our best interests? What is our role as Christian citizens?

In 1 Peter 2:11-12, the apostle Peter gave a guiding principle for all of life. We are to live in such a way that unbelievers will be convinced and God will be glorified. In 2:13-17, he adds a further explanation. As Christian citizens, we are to submit because our testimony is at stake. These verses fit in the middle section of 1 Peter and revolve around the theme of submission. We are to submit as a citizen (2:13-17), as an employee (2:18-25), as a marriage partner (3:1-7), and as a member of the body of Christ (3:8-12).

As Peter pens verses 13-17 of chapter 2, he answers the basic questions of Who? What? Why? and How?

What is Submission? (13a). Submission is not passive indifference, blind obedience, being a doormat or a slave. Submission is a military term meaning “to arrange in military fashion under the commander.” Rather than being forced to submit, we voluntarily choose to place ourselves under another person’s authority. We do this because Christ asked us to. Ultimately, we are submitting to Christ, who stands behind the human authority.

To Whom do we Submit? (13b-14). We are called to submit to every human institution, which includes the home, the church, and the government. From the White House to the State House, from the Supreme Court to the traffic court, we are to obey the laws of the land, including paying taxes, voting, and driving safely. According to Peter, government is established by God with the two-fold purpose of punishing evildoers and praising right-doers.

It’s usually at this point that we raise our hand, and shout, “Yeah, but! What about …?” Rather than argue about the exceptions, we are to obey the clear teaching of Scripture. It comes down to whether or not we trust God and are willing to obey him. We also need to remind ourselves of the historical context of this letter. When Peter wrote it, the Roman emperor was Nero, who was known for his violent persecution of Christians. The call to submit does not depend on the moral virtue of the one in charge.

Yes, there are exceptions to submission, but only when obeying the law violates the clear command of Scripture. However, while civil disobedience may be appropriate, it may also come at a cost. In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego disobeyed the king’s command to worship his image, and they found themselves in the fiery furnace. Daniel disobeyed the edict to no longer pray to Yahweh and he wound up in the lion’s den (Daniel 6). Peter and John were instructed not to talk about Jesus (Acts 4:18-20). They disobeyed and were put in prison (Acts 5:17-18). When we choose civil disobedience, we still need to be respectful.

Why should we Submit? (15). Peter makes it crystal clear that submission is part of God’s will for each one of our lives. By doing so, we muzzle our critics. Their accusations don’t stick and leave them with nothing to say. This fits with Peter’s instruction in verse 12 to living in such a way that unbelievers will be convinced and God will be glorified.

How do we Practice Submission? (16-17). To those who offer the counter argument of “I’m a free person in Christ!” Peter says that the best use of freedom is when we choose to serve Jesus Christ. Peter lists four specific groups or individuals and how we demonstrate our submission to them: (1) Honor all people. We are to treat all people with respect and dignity since all human being are created in the image of God. (2) Love the brotherhood. As Peter explained previously, loving one another is the mark of an authentic Christ follower. (3) Fear God. Peter previously stated that we are to live in awe and wonder of who God is. (4) Honor those in government. Regardless of the morality of the individual in office, we are to grant them respect and honor.

Christ followers are to live in such a way that unbelievers will be convinced and God will be glorified. As Christian citizens, we are to submit because our testimony and credibility are at stake.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on June 3, 2018. It is part of a series of sermons on 1 Peter. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Listening to Sermons

The natural tendency when listening to a sermon is to think:

  • Boy, too bad so-and-so isn’t here. They really need to hear this. Maybe I’ll get a CD and give it to them.
  • Who does the pastor think he is talking about this topic? He is not perfect either!
  • When is church going to be over? I wonder what’s for lunch.

Instead, our first thought should be, “God, what do you want to me to learn from this message? What do you want to teach me about yourself? About myself? About your plan? How do you want me to respond to your Word?”

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2018 in Preaching

 

Living Proof

Imagine that you work for a PR firm. You have been assigned the task of rebranding a group with a questionable background. In the past, they have been accused of cannibalism, immorality & incest, atheism, political disloyalty, arson, splitting families, destroying the economy, and inciting rebellion among workers. What would you do to change their image?

When Plato was told that certain individual was making slanderous charges against him, Plato’s response was: “I will live in such a way that no one will believe what he says.”

Plato’s response is similar to the advice given by the apostle Peter in 1 Peter 2:11-12. He was well aware that Christians were accused of many things, including those charges mentioned in the first paragraph. Peter’s advice to the first century believers and to us as well is to live in such a way that unbelievers will be convinced and God will be glorified.

These two verse serve as a bridge between the opening section of the book on salvation (1:1-2:12) and the following section on submission (2:13-3:12). Not only do these verses describe the mission of the church, but they help us to understand how we are to submit as individuals to God’s plan. Verse 11 presents the instruction negatively while verse 12 states it positively.

Live like a Foreigner (11a). Rather than issue a command, Peter appeals to our sense of what is right. He comes alongside as a friend rather than as an apostle. He reminds us that since this world is not our true home, we must resist the temptation to “go native.” We must travel light and not adopt the values of the culture in which we find ourselves.

Live a Disciplined Life (11b). Like Odysseus, we must resist the siren song of the world. The world encourages us to pursue pleasure, nurse grudges, be materialistic, harbor jealousy, champion individualism, become cynical and critical, pursue selfish ambition, and follow the gods of sex, money, and power. We must remember that we are in a spiritual battle and these desires wage war and attack our souls. We must stand firm and resist.

Live a “Good” Life (12a). Keep in mind that unsaved people are constantly watching to see how we live and respond to the events of life. A “good life” is composed of good deeds. Do you have a solid marriage? Are your children respectful? Are you a good employee? Do you pay your bills on time? Do you act honestly? Are you a good neighbor? These questions help to define what excellent, honorable behavior looks like.

Live Convincingly (12b). We must realize that our lives are an advertisement for Christianity. While we may be accused of wrongdoing, we should live in such a way that unbelievers will be convinced and God will be glorified. The “day of visitation” could refer to a time when God brings judgment on the wicked or when he brings mercy and salvation to his people. In terms of good works, serve your neighbors, organize a block watch, be a tutor at a local school, serve as a sports coach, help out at a crisis pregnancy care center or a homeless shelter, or become a volunteer at a senior center.

Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf was a leader of the Protestant mission movement in the 18th Century. He established the Order of the Mustard Seed with the following guiding principles: (1) Be kind to all people. (2) Seek their welfare. (3) Win them to Christ.

Live a godly life in order to prove your salvation is real.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on May 27, 2018. It is part of a series of sermons on 1 Peter. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

The Nature & Purpose of the Church

If one wanted to build a stone fence, one would begin by gathering loose stones. After organizing them into size, color, and shape, one would then place them into position and cement them together into the fence. By themselves, the stones are at best useless and at worse, a danger to someone who might trip over them.

The same can be said of Christ followers. By themselves, they don’t amount to much. In addition, they can be in danger of being led astray. It is only when they unite together in a local church can the individual and the corporate body be built up.

After describing the nature of our salvation (1 Peter 1:1-12) and the impact it has on our daily lives (1:13-2:3), the apostle Peter now explains how salvation makes us part of the church (2:4-12). He first describes the nature and purpose of the church (2:4-10) before talking about the mission of the church (2:11-12). As Peter explains in 2:4-10, the church is a worshipping community built on a solid foundation with a unique identity and a significant purpose.

The church is a worshipping community (2:4-5). In chapter 1, Peter talked about coming to Christ for salvation. Now, he speaks of the habit of coming to Christ for fellowship and deeper communion. The one we seek is not a monument or dead principle, but is the living, resurrected, life-giving one. Though rejected and cast aside, he is the cornerstone of the spiritual temple God is building. As we come to him, we become part of that house. In fact, we serve as believer priests, both to represent God to the world and to offer spiritual sacrifices, including our bodies (Romans 12:1-2), our praise (Hebrews 13:15), good works (Hebrews 13:16), money & material things (Philippians 4:18), and people we win to Christ (Romans 15:16).

…built on a solid foundation (2:6-8). Peter quotes from two Old Testament passages to describe the role Christ plays in the house of God. Jesus is the cornerstone, the one who supports, strengthens, and lines up the rest of the building. Jesus is the capstone, the pinnacle of the building. From beginning to end, the church is built on Christ. The one who trusts in Jesus will never be ashamed, but those who reject Christ will stumble over because of their disobedience.

…with a unique identity (2:9a, 10). Peter introduces five key terms to describe our new identity. Christ followers are a chosen race. We enjoy a privileged status because of God’s grace. We are a royal priesthood. We enjoy unlimited access to God and we are set apart to serve him. Believers are a holy nation. We are set apart and called to moral purity. We are a people for God’s own possession. We are highly valued and the object of God’s special care. Christ followers are also a people who received mercy. We have been given a gift we did not deserve.

…with a significant purpose (2:9b). As Christ followers, we have been called out of darkness into the light. We have the privilege and burden of proclaiming God’s glory to an unbelieving world still lost in the darkness.

As a community of believers built on Christ, we are to declare his praise to a needy world.

This the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on May 20, 2018. It is part of a series of sermons on 1 Peter. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.