Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Nov. 27, 2005: Sermon Notes: What are We Thankful For?

Note: Post taken from outline notes of the pastor. Video available. Ask Pastor or post in comments for details.

Scripture: Isaiah 9:6

Let's ask the cliched question we ask at this time of year: What are we thankful for? Well, we have full bellies of turkey and dressing and desserts. we have great fellowship. We are thankful for friends and family. We are thankful for our cars, our baseball cards, our toys, our pools...on and on and on. What should we be most thankful for? Tough question on the surface, but easy once you think about it. We are most thankful for the thoughtful divine providence of God.

Let's look at that word--PROVIDENCE--provide is in there. And that is what God does, He provides. yous ee, we can be thankful for all those things listed above, but we must be thankful to God for providing us with them. It is only through Him we get these things. However, the greatest bit of providing He does is providing us with salvation, the path to eternal life, vs. eternal death. God provides us this extreme blessing, this great gift, and the only cost is having faith and believing in Him and following the two great commandments.

God also provides us with challenges, with lessons, successes, failures. All of these things. And, because He is in charge, all things work to the Good for those who believe in God (Rom 8:28). Even in the midst of tragedy, we learn great lessons. Even in the midst of failure, we can find great joy.

God provided the Pilgrims with this great land, but only after they were persecuted everywhere else they went. It took the failures in Europe to push the Pilgrims to their "promised land." There was some suffering, there was some death, but God provided for them, and he taught them many lessons along the way.

We need to be thankful for our failures. I am thankful for my knee getting busted up. What?!? Yes, you heard me. Why? One, it helped me to see the value of walking. Dad and I were talking the other day, and I heard someone gripe about a long walk, and I remarked that you don't appreciate walking until you lose it. God gave me a new perspective, a new understanding, new awareness of the blessings of simply hoofing it. He also helped me to see the value of relying on others, that sometimes we have to give up independence in order to succeed and be made whole (sound familiar, anyone, us giving up ourselves to something or someone else?Hmm...). I am thankful that it helped me to appreciate my family for helping me out, and it gave me a chance to help others. At the rehab center, there was a teenage girl who had the same injury. She was in a funk. With my ribbing of "see, even an old guy can do it," she prodded on and has made tremendous progress. Through my injury, I was used.

Likewise, I am thankful for not having finished my degree at Capital U. If I had, I might be practicing law somewhere far away, or involved in a political campaign in washington dc. If I would have finished up there, I would not be here. It was miserable, giving up that cushy scholarship and leaving my friends, as well as admitting my own failures up there, but it has proven to be a blessing, despite my having gone through much pain to get here. However, without it, I would not be the pastor I am, I would not be the person I am, and I would not be the teacher I am. God used those failures and will continue to as long as I stay fixed upon him.

So, give thanks for successes, failures, joys and sorrows, because all are made for God's purposes through His PROVIDE-nce. And, He will provide for us with food spiritual and physical when he comes again. Amen!

Sermon Notes November 20, 2005: Train Part 3: End of the Road

Note: Posting based on outline notes of pastor. Video available. Ask in comments or contact pastor.

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 4:20, John 14:2, Rev. 21:1-5

Last week we talked about our souvenirs to show to God that we have learned and experienced what we need to on our journey. This week, we are going to talk about that journey's end, at the eternal kingdom, the new Jerusalem, the Holy City.

First, we need to ask: Who is gonna get there? One group of people will be the soul winners (Daniel 12:3). These are people who help win souls, who help get people to turn to the path of righteousness away from other paths. Now, we immediately think of people like Billy Graham or Max Lucado, but you and I can be soul winners. We can help win souls to the cause of Christ by living the commandments, by being that reflection of Christ to others, by showing that Christians can have fun and still be faithful, by giving that love to the unclean. We can be the soul winners, as well.

Next, thosw who are humble servants will be there. In order to be a servant, we talked last week, we must be made humble in the eyes of the Lord. We have to realize that anything we do is His, not ours. We are merely the instruments. The sooner we realize this, the more pliable and worthwhile servants we are. You see, by being humble servants, we give Him the glory. These people (ref. Matthew 10:42) will be there in the new Kingdom.

Third, but not in any order, will be the faithful stewards (ref. Matthew 25:23). These are people who take care of the Church and the body of Christ. They are people who use the church and the creation of God for good purposes, but do not plunder. They are not people who take politically correct positions for personal gain or for inflating numbers, but rather are those who take seriously the law of God and seek to kee the church working and on track for the next generation, and for building the resources to get us closer to the kingdom.

Here is the really great news: ALL RANKS AND STATIONS are welcome (ref. Ephesians 6:8). God is the ultimate equal opportunity employer/provider. There are no special set asides, no special consideration, all are equal in the eyes of the Lord. God wants all people there, not just a few. However, the people have to live up to his standards, they have to show evidence of their journey and getting the right souvenirs along the way. They cannot bring any excess baggage or they will be turned aside.

Well, what will this place look like. I will not go into great detail, but check out Rev. 21 and 22 for details. This will be a beautiful city, made up like a bride on her wedding day. Now, I am not married, but I do no that there are no ugly brides. There is just something about blushing brides on their wedding day, something holy, something wonderful. Think about the beautiful dress, with all the preparations, made perfect, down to the exacting detail. God is like that, the perfect wedding planner, more meticulous than the most ambitious mother of the bride. The city will be beautiful, like a bride.

It will have streets with gold, gates of gems, check out that description I referenced above. And, it will be the best of conveniences. There will be a river running down the center, and not that bottled water but the Pure River of Life flowing from the Lamb. It will be the sweetest, most satisfying water ever. And, the fruit of the tree of life will be available to all. We will be provided for like God did to the Israelites in the desert, except we will be outfitted in the finest clothing, the resurrection body, and we will have the ultimate fellowship with God. That is the kicker.

More better than disneyland, world, or universe, this place is worth the train ticket. It is worth the bumpy ride, leaving behind our baggage, and striving to stay on board despite the temptations of other stops in the journey, other detours. It is the most amazing place, and it awaits. We need to get on board and stay on board, and stay the course.

Train Part 2--Tickets and Souvenirs Nov. 13, 2005

Note: This writing taken from pastor sermon notes. Video may be available. See pastor for details, or post in comments.

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 4:20; James 2:5

Last week we talked about God's call to board the train to salvation. We talked about my love of seeing the land go past us on trains and buses, seeing the great land the Lord has blessed us with go by. We talked about how the journey is long, the path narrow but straight, sometimes perilous, and oftentimes scary, but that the tracks are sure and result in a destination beyond our wildest imaginings.

This week, we are going to talk about the tickets to the train, and how we show God we are ready for the kingdom, that we have travelled the full path of the train he intended for us to go.

What are those tickets? Well, the tickets to jump on board are faith, belief, love and repentance. Faith in our conductor. We must want to go to the kingdom, and we must trust the conductor. Obviously, He has been there before. Obviously, He knows what is best, or he would not be piloting. Unlike human pilots, this One knows no error. We have to believe that the Conductor knows the best way for each of us, that He is not going to get us into too much trouble, that He knows the way, even when at times we feel that we may be treading in unknown territory. We have to trust that God knows the path and that He is leading us through certain things for the greater purpose of attaining the kingdom. We have to love the Lord, we have to love our destination, desiring to be with God for ever, to fellowship with Him for eternity.

Lastly, we have to realize when we are on the wrong train. We have to repent and ask to be included in the great Salvation express. We have to admit we have sought other conductors who promised shorter, easier journies, who allowed us to carry the baggage with us. We have to admit we have been and may oftentimes be, wrong. This is very hard, but very necessary, to get on and stay on the train.

Now, what keeps us on the train, what keeps us going, and what gets us into the Kingdom?

First, let's talk about trips. When we go on a vacation or a trip, what do we need? SOUVENIRS! Yep, that's right. We need souvenirs to remind us of the great times we had. We get pictures, we get momentoes, we get all sorts of things. My house is full of them. Likewise, on our journey, we get momentoes and souvenirs, things which we may not think important at the time, but which may become very important to us as time goes by.

We like to show our souvenirs as evidence we have been to places. For instance, mouse ears from disneyland, civil war bullets from gettysburg, all sorts of things to prove we have been somewhere and experienced it. Likewise, God wants us to show some souvenirs of our journey on his spiritual train of salvation and service.

First, we need to show humility (ref. Matthew 5:3). We need to be made humble so we can realize our place in the world. Some of the beautiful wonders I have seen across this great land are humbling. The natural wonders of creation do that to me. The wonders of our imagination God hs given us do that to me. We have to be made humble so we can learn. If we don't acknowledge God as supreme and humble ourselves, why are we going to listen to Him? Humility also means being willing to wait on God, to wait for Him and His time. When we are humble, then we can truly wait for Him and listen to Him. Sometimes part of our journey on the train is a humbling one--realizing culpability in loss, losing something or someone important, having some great item torn from us....but it is a souvenir of our trip we need to have.

Next, we need to have the souvenir of service (ref. Matthew 25:34-5). We need to be willing to help others on, to help them leave their luggage behind. After all, The Lord helped us, as did many others I am sure. God works through our loved ones, He works through their service for us. He worked through ministers with me, great men of faith I have known and worked with. He worked through family members, whose giving nature shows their servants heart. He wants us to help serve as He served us. In that manner, we bring others to the fellowhsip of believers.

We need to not look back, to look forward. (Luke 9:62) We need to stop looking back at the supposed "fun" and "good ol days" of before we were Christians, and instead keep our eyes fixed on Christ and the kingdom. Think about plowing through a field. It takes a lot of focus and work. If we plow forward by looking back, we are going to plow where we shouldn't or we are going to end up bumping into something. We have to keep our eyes fixed ahead, at the destination. We have to keep looking ahead, so we can see the obstacles ahead. If we focus too much on the past, then we end up getting surprised by that tree that just jumped into our way and knocked us over. We must be willing to quit dwelling in the past, so we may see our future. Another part of not looking back is that we want to jump off at every obstacle, at every stop. We might lose focus on what's ahead, and we might drift off the train, then we have to ask to get back on, go through customs, all sorts of rough stuff. So, we need to stay focused on what's ahead, not the past.

next, we need a new suit. When we travel, we want to get new clothes so we look good in a new place. Well, the reference here is John 3:3. We need the new suit of the new birth in Christ, of being Born Again. We have to be remade, to show God our new suit of ourselves in order to gain entrance to the kingdom. God loves to see us in these new clothes. He loves to see us dolled up and dressed to the nines in the purity of repentance and in being reborn.

Lastly, we need what some have called endurance (ref. Acts 14:22). We need to not give in to temptation, or to time. We have to be willing to bear the bumpy rides of ridicule, of missing out on the quick hit, of going through the apin of separation from some friends, of even being separated from those we love, in order to see the kingdom. We have to be willing to take things on God's time, not ours.

We have to give this evidence to God in our travels. We have to give this evidence to God that we have learned what we need to know, that we have grown from our trip along the path of salvation, that we have gotten tthrough the valleys of death and have emerged victorious. That through God, we are victorious.

These souvenirs also act as guideposts and comfort for us. We turn to our evidences of these characteristics when we face trials on the train. WE look for other examples of how we may have faced something similar, and how God got us through. When we look at our souvenirs, we look not only for evidence of our growth, but for the increasing evidence of God growing in our lives. Let me close by telling you a story of a comforting souvenir.

When my grandpa passed, we went through a lot. He was a great man. Caring, funny, a true character in every sense of the word. The summer after he passed, we went to King's Island. Many of us were still dealing with the grief. You know how they take pictures upon entry to King's Island, and you pick them up later. Well, we got ours taken and went to pick it up. I and others in the family were feeling lonely at not having grandpa around any more. Well, in that picture, seemingly in the background, suspended, is a fishing hat. Grandpa wore a fishing hat. There is no trick photography here, no "swamp gas" images. There is a hat in the background just like the one grandpa wore. God sent me that souvenir as a comfort, that Grandpa was still with me, that he was gone physically, but that maybe, just maybe, an extra angel was watching over me.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Come on Ride the Train, pt. 1 Sermon Notes

taken from Pastor outline notes, no video available.

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 4:20; John 18:36

You know, I like trains. Unfortunately, I grew up after train travel had been mostly discarded for airplanes. I like planes, just not flying on them. Well, maybe an F-4 or an F15, or even a 16. I like bus rides. Granted, they do little for my back, but I like them. Riding on Buses and trains you get to see the territory you are going over. You get to feel part of it. Riding in the air makes you apart from it, separated.

God wants us to get on his train. His train is to the kingdom, the Spiritual Kingdom, of God. It is to the eternal rest, the greatest place ever. He wants us to jump on His train and ride it out to its terminus. There are several other trains in the station, and we have to figure out which one to get on. What we need to realize, and what the competition does not advertise, is the destination. God advertises the destination--eternal rest and salvation. The other guys just talk about the stops on the way--lust, greed, avarice, addiction, gluttony, etc. Well, they use codewords like all you can want, all you can handle, no limits, etc. However, the destination for every train where God is not the conductor is a very warm place, shall we say.

We have some questions before us as we talk about God's train to salvation, to the eternal kingdom. First: how do we get on? We get on via confessing that we don't like where we are. Most likely, we have found ourselves at a crossroads after riding another train. We dont like the looks of the neighborhood. So, we call out, can I get a ride to somewhere better? God answers, yes, come and ride my train.

Next: where and wwhat is my ticket? Well, the ticket to get on the train is faith. Simple faith and admission of ones sins. That is the ticket to get on the train. However, the ticket to the kingdom is salvation and redemption. That ticket is belief, more faith again. That f word of faith, so easy to say, so hard to keep and understand.

How do I get the ticket, how do I pay for it? "Hear the good news: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." The ticket is free. All it costs is admitting you need help, admitting you are lost and admitting Jesus is the only way out of this bad neighborhood we are in. The cost to us is free, the Cost to God is total: He paid it with his most precious asset: His Son. Those of you with children, think about that: paying for something with your children. That is the most precious and valuable gift we can offer as parents (speaking metaphorically, I have no children). This ticket is very costly, but free to us.

However, it does come with some restrictions. The ride will not always be easy. We are to leave our baggage (temptation, issues, addiction, etc.) behind. We cannot take the past with us. We cannot look back over what we have done before and hold it against ourselves. We can only take with us our hearts and minds. It will be a rough ride, it may be a long ride. There will be some dangerous gulleys and rises. However, the rack is sure and the path is straight. And, we have the light of the Word to guide us. Next week, we will talk about getting tickets and the conditions of entrance to the kingdom. Hint: God just loves Souvenirs!!!!!

Sermon Notes: Ecclesiastes Experience, pt. 2

Note: This series comes from an idea that a friend of mine is writing a book about. The book will be far more detailed than this sermon, and will no doubt be better to read and understand. The book is in progress.

Sermon taken from pastor prep notes. No video available.

Scripture: Ecclesiastes 12:13-14; Matthew 22:37-40

Last week we talked about how the book of Ecclesiastes is just as much telling of Solomon's life as the biographical accounts in other Old Testament books. During the time he is said to have written this, it was a time of great joys and sorrows. One can see the currents going on, as Solomon gets to the sunset of his years, and finds himself wanting more than simply the power and glory of king. He is striving to find the purpose of it all, the meaning. He is struggling to find the keys to the answer. Well, he begins with calling it all meaningless, then he comes to the conlcusion that the best thing to do is to fear God and keep His commandments. This is a good start, but it is not hte end for us as Jesus people.

Solomon got to a point of fearing God and following his commandments. However, this is not complete. Look at what happened between God and the Israelites in the prevailing time. Fear breeded routine and even, in some cases contmept. Sure, you feared God, so you kept his commandments, not out of caring and obedience, but because you feared Him and were afraid of His anger. This breeded contempt, not just for God, but for others in society. It caused people to put masks on trying to hide from God, and trying to hide the true nature of God.

This is Halloween. Let's look at the masks we put on God. There is God the angry God, the God of sodom and gomorrah, who destroys. People who see this view of God are in the position of the post-Ecclesiasties israel. You do what he says,b ut there is an underlying contempt and even hate there.

Then, there are those who put on another view of God, who see only the loving, grandfatherly God. There is no way he can punish us. There is no hell, he understands I have faults and accepts them. He won't send me to perdition for my sins. You are right, yo umake that choice yourself, and you fool yourself by putting a mask on God if you think you won't be judged.

Which view is right? Well, we need to look to Scripture. When we peel away the masks of the spoiling God and the vengeful God,w e get the true nature of God. Look back at Genesis. What did God want? He wanted us to walk beside Him. He wanted a relationship. He wanted something more meaningful than just fear. He wanted love. He wanted to give and receive love.

While God is the God of power and creation and even destruction, He is also the same God who konws everything about each of us, and wants us to strive to know more about him. WE have to pull away the masks from God, and likewise from ourselves.

We put up masks. The masks of outward obedience, of chastity, of abstinence. Inside, we are cauldrons of hurt, anger, deceit, and holes in our hearts. God wants us to pull away the masks and stand revealed, needy though we are, but knowing we can trust him to guide and strengthen us.

The Ecclesiasties experiences of our lives don't need to end with fear. They should end with love. Love from God, because he cared enoug to send his Son. He didn't have to, but he did. And, he desires to hear form each of us. He desires for us to talk to Him, to walk with him, not just to fear him. Therefore, the complete exit of the Ecclesiastes experience is "love the lord and follow his commandments."

Ecclesiastes Experience Part 1

This notion of an Ecclesiastes experience is taken from a friend of mine's idea for a book currently under development. It in no way reflects finished product of my friend, which will be far better.

These sermon notes taken from prep notes of the pastor, no video available.

Scripture: Ecclesiastes 1:2-3; 12:13-14

What's so depressing about Ecclesiastes? Of course, we get the to every thing a season, and the obvious meaningless, meaningless, all of life is meaningless. Obviously, some would consider the book of wisdom a downer, however, look at who it was written by: Solomon. Look at the ordeals in his life, with his children, building the temple, his wives, etc.

Solomon's own story gives us the context in which he, the wiseest man ever to roam the earth, experienced Ecclesiastes, and his experience reflect those we all must face in our mortality and immortality.

Two views emerge from Ecclesiastes. The first is a materialist point of view. Eat drink and be merry because tomorrow we are all going to die anyway. Solomon says there is nothing better than to toil and take pride in your work. However, even this leaves him cold. It is not meaningful. It is temporary. For all his wisdom, Solomon is still finite, he will die, he will leave behind work and empires to others who will do things and leave it to their offspring, and so on.

As a wise man gifted by God, Solomon struggled and thought about this. Surely there must be more. I believe in Ecclesiastes we are seeing Solomon walking through such a life crisis. Initially, he sees everything as meaningless because nothing lasts on earth. Empires are destroyed, buildings razed, people die, etc. What is the point? And, in some respects, he is right. We cannot take it with us, so to speak, the fancy things. However, there is something more.

As Solomon goes through his deductive and inductive reasoning with the touch of the Lord's wisdom, we see what he is going through. His moral struggles, his personal struggles with childrenand his wives. His duty to God and his sinfulness of false idolatry.

As Solomon begins to add things up, he comes to a greater conclusion. There is something more. There is the soul, htere is the Lord. The greatest we feel is when we are fearing the Lord and doing his work and following his commands. Solomon felt that during the good times, and he realizes a key conclusion that he comes to in the other verse we read today: Fear the Lord and keep his commandments, that is wht it is all about.

Well, let me say this. Solomon came to a good starting place. There is more than just vain meaningless things that disappear. There is more than the temporal feelings we have. There is eternity. There is God's will. And, we need to seek out God's will, to come to him and awe and respect and seek his will, to keep his commandments. However, that is not hte end of the Eccleiastes experiences we face. As we will see in part 2, acknowledging hte eternal is just the beginning of coming to the true peace of the kngdom. It is a good start, but it is not the end that Solomon thought it was. However, due to when and where he was in Biblical history, that was all he could come up with. There was no abiding Holy Spirit yet. However, that is where we need to be, at the point of acknowledging there is an Eternal God with an eternal purpose and plan that we need to respect and revere. However, unlike Solomon, we need to move further. Just awing and respecting God is ont enough, as the Israelites proved over time. Next, we will see what we shold do at those times in our lives when we weather the storm, realize God is there, but what do we do next during those Ecclesiastes moments.

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