Monday, June 25, 2012

Blessed are they...

6/24/12  FBCRB

“Blessed are they…”  Matt. 5:1-12

One of the great things about being in Nicaragua was getting to spend time with some other pastors and preachers.  The vast majority of people that went on the trip were not pastors or preachers but my friend Scott was there.  He’s a pastor in east Texas.  And Jody Kennedy was there, of course.  He’s a missionary and he preached several times.  And since we were based in a Baptist church, that pastor was obviously there and I got to hear him preach a couple of times.  His name is Pastor Ervin and he can’t speak much English but for me as a preacher it was still interesting just to see his style and how he led the congregation.

You see, I love to do what I do.  I love to preach and love to pastor.  I love to be around y’all.  I thank God all the time for allowing me to have what doesn’t even seem to me to be a “job”.  I love to hear other preachers and I often glean from their style, their content or their passion or knowledge.  I’ll never have the knowledge or quiet confidence of Charles Stanley.  I’ll never have the organization or ability to express myself like Adrian Rogers.  I’ll never be Billy Graham or Charles Spurgeon.  That’s not who God made me to be and that’s ok.  But I love to hear those guys and study them and what they say and how they lead.

I love to hear my dad preach and have gotten more from him than anybody but lately I have been studying another preacher who I find fascinating.  In His day He was quite controversial but he could sure draw the crowds.  He never had a church of His own but He often had to preach where thousands could hear Him.  He was the best illustrator of a sermon ever even though He never fell down or wore a funny hat to illustrate anything like…some people.  He was usually fairly soft-spoken but still had people on the edge of their seats as they listened.  He rarely used big, fancy words and believe it or not, He never even went to the Seminary.  Not everybody liked Him but everybody agreed He spoke with great wisdom and understanding even as a young man.

In your Bibles, turn to Matthew chapter 5 where the greatest preacher who ever lived preached what is considered to be the greatest sermon ever preached.  Matthew 5:1-12 contains the words of Jesus as He sat on the side of a gently sloping hill near the Sea of Galilee.  And before we read the text I want you to envision the scene.  We don’t know what Jesus looked like or what He was wearing but we know from scripture that there was nothing about how he looked that would draw people to Him.  He wasn’t good-looking or unusually tall or short.  He didn’t wear nice clothes or ride the nicest donkey in town.  And yet the people saw in Him something that attracted them.

Yes, he performed miracles, healing the sick, blind and lame and I’m sure a lot of people wanted to see Him do more of that but in this passage He is not healing anybody or performing any kind of miracle.  He is simply speaking the truth.  And if there is any characteristic of Jesus the preacher that I hope to emulate it is that.  I pray that God, more than anything, would show me what is truth and give me the boldness to preach it! 

We don’t know how many people are hearing Jesus this day but it says that large crowds were following Him.  They would follow Him around everywhere He went and when He would stop and sit down they knew He was about to speak and teach truth because in those days that is how scholars would teach.  They would sit down and the people would gather around to hear.

This area is fairly rocky around the Sea of Galilee and I envision Jesus found a rock He could sit on where He could be seen and heard by the most people and as He did, He said these words:   starting in verse 3.

These words continue to be controversial even today.  Sometimes you may hear somebody say they just live their lives according to the Sermon on the Mount.  I want to say, “Do you now?  That’s big talk.”  Some others might claim one of the Beatitudes as “their Beatitude”.  Because they are poor or because they mourn they say they are claiming a certain one of these.  I don’t believe that is correct thinking either.  On the other hand, some scholars would tell you that these are sort of Jesus’ wish list.  He doesn’t really expect us to live up to these.  But it would be nice.

As a preacher I can tear this sermon apart pretty quick based on form.  Every good preacher knows you need 3 points and a poem.  He doesn’t have that.  He doesn’t have an outline.  He has no notes.  He doesn’t start off with a joke to get people’s attention.  And as good an illustrator as He was there is no illustration.  I’m sorry but if He turned this in to the seminary preaching class I don’t think it would even pass.

So, what is it about this sermon that has been so compelling for thousands of years?  I believe it is because it touches on the very basic need we all have to want to be happy, to have joy in our lives, to be content and fulfilled.  That’s what the word “blessed” means.  It means to be fortunate or to have everything that you need.

Brian Amerman used a phrase several times as we studied the Purpose Driven Life Book on Wednesday nights.  He used the phrase “counter-cultural” to describe how our lives should be.  That should be part of our purpose as Christians and followers of Jesus, to be different than the culture in which we live.

Back in the 60’s and 70’s that term came to describe hippies and so-called “free-thinkers” who had mottoes like, “Drop out, drop in and drop acid” or “Make love not war”.  These people were tired of the status quo.  They weren’t content with just getting a job, getting married, having kids and retiring just before they died.  They wanted something more and that kind of thinking could actually be exciting to us because if fully developed and fulfilled, that thinking would ultimately lead them to Jesus but even as it did those people would see the church as the gateway to Jesus but then see that the church was just like every other institution.  And because the people in the church looked and acted just like the rest of the world, those free-thinkers just turned on, turned off and turned away.

Some people read these words and see the value in them as the path to Heaven.  They may see each one of these sentences as a rung to be climbed on our way to the Promised Land.  They start with the first one and try to be real poor in spirit, whatever that means to them, and then they try to work their way to the end and figure if they do all these things that Jesus says to do then surely that’s how you have eternal life.  Surely that is the secret to getting to Heaven.

In fact, it says right there in the first one that if you are poor then you go to Heaven, right?  Well, we are going to look at these a little closer next week.  This week is just the introduction but I can tell you that is not what is being said here by Jesus.  He is not saying this is how to get to Heaven.  He is also not saying to pick one or two and just hang on.  He is not saying He hopes you can kinda sorta live this way if you want to but He really knows it’s impossible.

Jesus is saying that when you follow Him and allow His Spirit to work in your life and live in your heart that you will be all these things and that ultimately it makes you just like Him!  He doesn’t promise that we will never be persecuted or that we will not have hard times or that life will always be fair.  He says that through all of these things, you can be blessed.  You can have everything you need.

He says you will be comforted.  You will be shown mercy.  You will be fulfilled.  You will be rewarded.  Some of these promises are for here on earth and some we won’t see until we see Jesus face to face.  But this is the secret to living a life that is counter-cultural.  This is the secret to living a life that looks like Jesus.  From the very beginning that has been God’s plan.  In Genesis 1:26, God said let us make man in our image.  In Romans 8:29 God says that we are to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.  God wants us to look like Jesus.  Not that there will be anything physically attractive about us but that others will see truth in us just as they did as they saw Jesus preach that day.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Question

About 1500 miles from here, as the big silver bird flies, is a country that is in almost every way different from where we live.  Their culture, clothes, language, weather, even transportation would be considered strange by our standards; not necessarily strange in a bad way but dissimilar to our norms.  The beautiful country of Nicaragua welcomed eleven gringos with open arms and continued to make us feel welcome for the entire ten days we were there.  While the customs agent only smiled as he did his job, almost the entire rest of the country literally had open arms for us.  They are very affectionate and love to hug.
We also had gifts for them as we arrived.  We started with the gift of English in the form of four English classes a day tailored to the individual's level of knowledge and comfort of the language.  Many could speak absolutely no English while others conversed about difficult subjects with ease, only needing some clarification of nuances and figurative meanings.  All were appreciative of the gift we gave since it will be a great help in finding and keeping a good job.
We soon starting working in the next and best gift which was the gift of the Gospel.  Through testimony, songs, and preaching, as well as our own open lives we were able to present the Good News of Jesus to over four hundred people from kindergarten age on up.  My new Nicaraguan friend Marta was well into her sixties or maybe seventies and did not know how to even say "Hello" when we started but learned not only English but also about how Jesus died for her sins and was resurrected and now waits for her in Heaven.  Teenagers with bad attitudes (ok, not everything is different there) heard and accepted the free gift of English but much more importantly the free gift of eternal life with Jesus. 
We had approximately 100 adults and 100 teenagers come to have a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ over the week.  We gave a good gift and a great gift and asked for nothing in return but, of course, received some wonderful tokens and souvenirs as we left.  The best thing we received was obviously not a tangible bauble or trinket but the incredible gift of God's revelation of Himself in our work.  We did what we needed to do but God blessed it and made it worth something far more valuable.  As we were preparing to leave our leader and missionary friend Jody Kennedy asked us a question.  He asked us what God had revealed about Himself to us this week and also what God had revealed to us about ourselves.
I didn't have an answer when he asked but I see now the answer is clear that God, in his sovereignty and power showed me that He is more of a big deal and I am less of a big deal than I have been giving us credit for.  And that is a great gift.

Monday, June 4, 2012

6/3/12  FBCRB

“Rebuilding the Walls”  Pt. III

How many of you have ever done anything to validate the old idiom that “No good deed goes unpunished”?  You have probably at least heard the term if not seen it in action.  Many times it seems that when we try to do something good, it turns around to bite us.  It could make a person become cynical if you let it.

There was a man who worked for the post office whose job was to process all the mail that had illegible addresses. One day, a letter came addressed in a shaky handwriting to God with no actual address. He thought he should open it to see what it was about. The letter read:

Dear God,
I am an 83-year-old widow living on a very small pension. Yesterday someone stole my purse. It had $100 in it, which was all the money I had until my next pension payment. Next Sunday is Christmas, and I had invited two of my friends over for dinner. Without that money, I have nothing to buy food with, have no family to turn to and you are my only hope. Can you please help me?

The postal worker was touched. He showed the letter to all the other workers. Each one dug into his or her wallet and came up with a few dollars. By the time he made the rounds, he had collected $96, which they put into an envelope and sent to the woman. The rest of the day, all the workers felt a warm glow thinking of Edna and the dinner she would be able to share with her friends. Christmas came and went. A few days later, another letter came from the same old lady to God. All the workers gathered around while the letter was opened. It read:

Dear God,
How can I ever thank you enough for what you did for me? Because of your gift of love, I was able to fix a glorious dinner for my friends. We had a very nice day and I told my friends of your wonderful gift. By the way, there was $4 missing. I think it might have been those creeps at the post office.

Stuff like that could make you cynical.  Stuff like that makes you wonder why you should ever do anything nice for anybody, right?  We saw last week in Nehemiah evidence of the fact that when people are obedient that God blesses.  And when the people are obedient and then God blesses, what happens?  Satan attacks.  We have seen that in our own lives and in the life of this church.  Over and over again I have seen this church be obedient to what God calls you to do and then He blesses us in all kinds of ways but then Satan comes along and whacks us upside the head.

For some of you it starts getting old.  You start to wonder in the middle of Satan’s attack whether it is all worth it or not.  It seems like you don’t get attacked near as much when you just do the bare minimum.  Just come to church when it’s convenient.  Tithe when you have extra.  Don’t drink (at least not the hard stuff) …on church property.  You know, the bare minimum.  That way Satan doesn’t care about what you do and he won’t cause you grief.  What’s wrong with that thinking?

Go ahead and turn to Nehemiah.  It is between Ezra and Esther in the Old Testament.  We are going to look at several passages; not long ones but that is why it only says Nehemiah in your bulletin without chapter and verse because we didn’t have room.  We saw in Ephesians 6 all of the armor we have to protect ourselves against the schemes of the devil.  Now we are going to look at some common ways he attacks. 

If we are obedient, we see God blesses that and when God blesses that makes Satan mad and he attacks.  He is not going to attack by knocking on your door and declaring war.  He is going to use people and circumstances to attack you and since we know that our battle is not against flesh and blood we will see how he attacks and how to respond and what our motivation is for continuing to be obedient.

We will start in chapter 2 verses 17-20.  Read.

If you remember, I ended last week’s sermon with a hint as to what we should expect when Satan attacks by reading a previous verse that said Sanballat and Tobiah were very disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.  Now they found a buddy and have actually started making fun of Nehemiah and the workers.

Why do you think they did that?  Why would somebody ridicule you when you try to do the right thing?  Well, these 3 guys were rulers over parts of the country; small parts, sort of like mayors or governors and they were concerned that Nehemiah was a threat to them.  Also, later on some of the workers are described as being men of integrity and people who live their lives with integrity will always be a threat to those who don’t.

It makes people uncomfortable to be around someone who doesn’t wink and nod at their inappropriate behavior.  Light will always war with darkness.  In fact, it’s to be expected so much that if your integrity doesn’t offend some people every now and then, you may not have that much integrity.  We should expect to be ridiculed.  It happened to Nehemiah and it also happened in Matthew 27:27-31.  Read.

Jesus hadn’t done anything to those men.  He hadn’t broken any laws or done anything wrong.  But they despised Him.  In fact, in 2 Corinthians 2:16, it says we as Christians are the smell of death to non-believers.  To God we are the very aroma of Christ and of life but to others we are the smell of death.  Expect for people to make fun of you when you try to rebuild the walls of democracy, decency and doctrine in this country.

Not only does Satan try to hinder us by ridiculing us, we should also expect him to try to distract us.  Read chapter 6, verses 1-3.  Sanballat and Gesham had no real reason for wanting to carry on a conversation with Nehemiah.  They just wanted him to stop working.  They wanted to distract him from the work he was doing.  And what would have happened if he had left the other workers and went to talk to them?  What would happen if you saw somebody else working next to you just stop and go talk to some guys down the street?

Well, why am I still working when he’s not?  That’s not fair.  I’m working hard and he’s not.  Who does he think he is?  And Satan breaks out laughing.  Not only has the work stopped but now everybody has a bad attitude.  It’s the same with us even today in this church.  Whatever attitude you have is contagious and when you stop pulling your weight, when you stop rowing toward the goal of furthering the kingdom with prayer and scripture as your oars, it makes the people around you think maybe they should do that too.

When you don’t show up for church others think, “Well maybe it’s not as important as I thought.”  And when you can’t get along with somebody in the church it makes others say, “You know, I don’t like that person either.”  Your attitude is contagious and now everybody is distracted from doing what we are called to do and Satan’s side is hurting from laughing so hard.

We should expect to be ridiculed.  We should expect Satan to try to distract us and according to verses 5-8 we should expect to be slandered when we are obedient.  Read 6:5-8.

Sanballat sent that letter unsealed because he wanted everyone to read his made-up words.  He wanted Nehemiah to know that now everybody thought he was leading some kind of revolt.  Sanballat is ramping up his attacks just like Satan does to us today.  I was talking to somebody in the community just the other day who said, “I heard all y’all do down at that church is argue.  That’s why I don’t go there.”  That hurt my feelings.  In fact, it made me mad because I know that’s the opposite of the truth.  So I started arguing with him about it.  No, I’m kidding.  But that’s to be expected.  Samuel Johnson said “Slander is the revenge of a coward.”  It’s sort of like, “If you can’t say something nice about somebody, make up something bad.”  Satan is a coward and he wants other people to think poorly of you so don’t be surprised when your good name or the good name of the church or even the name of Jesus is slandered.

Now read 6:10-13 and see the next way Satan likes to attack.

If ridicule doesn’t work and slander falls short of Satan’s goal don’t be surprised if people try to intimidate you when you try to be obedient to what God has called you to do.  Tobiah and Sanballat hired this guy Shemaiah to intimidate Nehemiah.  First, he told him a lie that people were coming to kill him.  Then he tried to get Nehemiah to go into a part of the temple he was not allowed to as a layman.  Only priests could go into the sanctuary part of the temple but Nehemiah would not be intimidated into stopping his work or doing something wrong.

II Timothy 1:7 says, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”  If you are doing what you are supposed to do;  if you are rebuilding the walls that need to be rebuilt in this community then you have God’s own Spirit living inside of you and nobody can do anything to you that God doesn’t allow.  When you stand up against gay marriage somebody is going to try to quiet you by saying you are going to hurt somebody’s feelings.  When you tell your neighbor about the relationship you have with Jesus they are going to tell you that is for the weak and simple-minded.  And some day soon, Satan is going to come to you, maybe when you are alone, maybe when you are tired or discouraged and he is going to whisper in your ear that it’s ok, everybody does it.  He is going to tell you that this isn’t all that bad.  Nobody will ever find out.  And if you don’t then everybody is going to laugh at you. 

Don’t be intimidated!  He’s a liar and a coward and he wants to kill you.  He wants to distract you and he will ridicule you and slander you and if you let him he will intimidate you into missing out on God’s blessings for obedience.  You say, “But Todd, what are the blessings of obedience?  Every time I try to do my part in rebuilding the walls, Satan attacks me and I have to won der sometimes if it is even worth it.  Sometimes it seems that no good deed goes unpunished.  If there are benefits of obedience, what are they?  I’m ready for them.”

That’s a good question.  I’ll start by saying that our first blessing is knowing that God is there with us.  There are more passages and illustrations in the lives of Biblical characters than we have time for to prove that.  In the Old Testament He was with Joseph and over and over God made that obvious.  In the New Testament God was with Paul and over and over again He made that obvious.  It is also true in your life and in the life of this church and every day God makes that obvious.

And while God makes Himself known to us in real ways every day by showering us with blessings, gifts, mercy, grace, forgiveness and even with physical, tangible things, nowhere in the Bible does God promise that if we are obedient He will bless us with stuff in this life.  He does not promise wealth.  He does not promise good health.  He doesn’t even promise you another breath.  But to close I want you to turn to one last place in the Bible.  Turn to Matthew 5:11-12. 

When Satan attacks you with insults, persecutions and slander I want you to see what Jesus promises us.  Read.

Rejoice when this happens because your reward in Heaven is great!  Todd, what does that mean?  What kind of reward?  I don’t know but Jesus says it’s great and Jesus doesn’t go around saying a lot of things are great.  So I trust Him and instead of thinking that no good deed goes unpunished, I know different because I know Jesus.  Do you?