Archive for the ‘Preaching’ Category

God has a purpose for every human life. Whether a person has mental health challenges (according to research one out of four Americans has some sort of challenge) or whether a person is completely healthy in every way, every person has a God-given purpose. Human life is not in the hands of human beings but in the hands of God.

During my time of “in between assignments,” I have been preparing to preach each week. As those who have known me or have followed my ministry, you know that I preach mostly in series and most of the series take on books of the Bible or portions of a book of the Bible. For December, I am preparing messages from the first two chapters of Luke. This week I have prepared a message from Luke 1:57-80 which describes the birth of John the Baptist. This passage emphasizes how God keeps His promises made to His people. The details about the naming of the baby born to Elizabeth and Zechariah indicate how he was destined for a significant ministry in service of God.Zechariah

Previously, Gabriel had appeared to Zechariah while he ministered in the temple. He delivered the message from God that Zechariah and Elizabeth would have a son. Because of their advanced ages, Zechariah questioned how this could happen and essentially asked for a sign. The Lord shut Zechariah’s mouth as a result of his faithlessness.

Since Elizabeth had hidden herself and Zechariah was mute, the news of the birth of this promised baby came as a sudden surprise for the neighbors and kin. They reacted with rejoicing and celebration. On the eighth day when the baby was circumcised, the people called the baby Zechariah, following the tradition of the day. But Elizabeth firmly declared, “No, he shall be called John.” When the crowd objected the name, they turned to Zechariah and made signs to him to see how he reacted to this name. Still speechless, Zechariah wrote “John” on a tablet. The people marveled at his agreement with Elizabeth and in the firmness of his reply.

As he expressed his agreement with Elizabeth, Zechariah regained his voice. With his first words, he offered praise to God. The people had witnessed the powerful moving of God and they were afraid. They asked, “What then will this child be?”

Zechariah moved dead silence to praise. Luke characterized his speech as prophecy which is always directed to others, not God. It served as guidance for those gathered for the circumcision ceremony, and it sheds light for us today concerning the Messiah. Zechariah answered more than the people’s question and went on to declare what this child’s birth revealed about God’s faithfulness to the promises made to Abraham and David. He also declared that it signaled the advent of the Messiah to deliver Israel.

This Messiah would be the Redeemer of all people, the mighty and victorious King, and the Savior of the world, the Lamb of God who would remove the debt of sin on the cross. The Messiah would also be the Light of the world who would rise up in the darkness and be the light of the world. He would be the Prince of Peace. The Messiah would be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of Isaiah 9:6.

God has a divine plan for your life. Do not minimize it. God has you here for a purpose. You are a part of God’s plan. Ultimately, God wants you to find your purpose through Jesus Christ.

Whether you believe it or not, whether you accept it or not, God has placed within your heart eternity. He has wired you to want to know Him. The writer of Ecclesiastes says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart” (Eccl. 3:11, ESV).  This makes people different and more valuable than every other living thing. People are not like animals that live and die and give no thought to what will happen in another life. We human beings ponder and lose sleep over what will become of us after death. That’s because God has made us for eternity. He created us for a greater purpose, a greater objective, not just for this life, but for what comes after this life.

This fact sets us apart from animals. This is what gives meaning to life. People were not made only for this existence on the earth. No, we were made by our Creator for eternity, and He has planted that into our hearts.

Recently I learned about an amazing bird that illustrates from nature what our Creator Bar-tailed_Godwithas implanted in us. There’s a small bird that grows up in northern Alaska called the bar-tailed godwit. The godwit has no outstanding outer characteristics. They have no extraordinary markings and they seem so ordinarily colored in mottled brown, black, and gray. They almost seem to blend into the water scene along the shore as just another bird that you see along the water.

But every fall flocks of bar-tailed godwits fly about 7,000 miles to New Zealand. When the young birds mature and start to migrate, something wired in them also directs them to New Zealand. Though they are land birds, and cannot fish or rest on the sea, they will cross most of the Pacific Ocean, and fly all the way to New Zealand. Many of them are young, and have never done this before.

How they do that, many of them never having been in the southern hemisphere, never having seen the southern stars, nobody seems to know. But they manage. One female, dubbed E7, because that was the code on her wireless transmitter, flew 11,680 kilometers (7,369 miles) in 8.1 days. Non-stop. The same homing signal that guides them over treacherous waters to New Zealand also navigates them back to their parents.

God has created the bar-tailed godwit with New Zealand in their hearts. Similarly, God has created within us “homing signals” for God and eternity. He has put eternity in our hearts. Our desire to live and our longing for something beyond this life comes from the One who loves you and wants you to spend eternity with Him.

 

15445658829_5b8245266e_bA number of years ago I began taking off my boots whenever I would preach. I never called attention to it; I simply did it.

For the most part, I’ve learned that it didn’t really make any difference to most people because they couldn’t see my feet while I was preaching anyway. For those who did, most generally did not ask me about it, but rather would either speculate why I did so or they would ask someone else.

Those who chose to speculate generally decided that I removed by boots because my feet hurt. Let’s deal with this first. While I do have a genetic circulatory issue (primary lymphedema), I don’t generally have pain associated with it. The lymphedema does call swelling in my calves, ankles, and feet, I don’t experience much discomfort. It just looks unsightly. I began wearing boots to cover the swollen ankles and to keep people from worrying about how big they were. While I enjoy wearing boots (and I rarely wear any other kind of footwear), my boots gave me some confidence because a negative aspect was covered.

However, the Lord convicted me concerning my pride when reading through the scriptures. In Exodus 3, Moses saw the burning bush and went to investigate it. God called out from the bush, “Moses, do not come near. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” The Holy Spirit convicted me of my pride in covering the part of my body that was not perfect. I didn’t want people to think less of me because of this physical deficiency. So one Sunday I removed my boots prior to going to the pulpit. Doing so serves to remind that when I am speaking for the Lord that I am standing on holy ground. I must look to Him and depend upon Him for the words that I will use. There’s a special urgency and a sense of unique importance in declaring each message that the Lord has given to me. Having removed my boots reminds me that I must never forget what the Lord has called me to do. Preaching His Word must never become a Sunday or Wednesday routine.

Removing my boots reminds me of the gravity of my calling and the reality of the one true God we worship. It reminds me that I am merely a tool in the Lord’s hands. It reminds me that I must depend on Him. It reminds me that no matter how much I have prepared in the study for the preaching moment, I must find my strength in the Lord alone.

 

 

Most every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings you will likely find me in the principal’s office. I meet with one of our high school principals to listen, to encourage, and to pray for him and the school.

However, this week I also learned something about how people are likely watching what we do and how  we act. In fact, I learned that people look for the details in our lives. This week the office assistants at one of the schools asked about my snuff! So I guess it’s time for me to go public about my habit, because while some have been courageous enough to ask me about my back pocket ring, others have not.skoal-ring

Let’s be clear: it’s not Skoal ring! It’s a breath mint ring. The backstory about carrying it the round container is not very exciting. I choose this particular breath mint because it comes in a plastic container. Other brands come in metal tins, and the mints rattle as I walk.

So there you have it. It’s not very exciting.

However, it does say something about the fact that people do pay attention to the smallest things and draw conclusions about us. Sometimes those conclusions are wrong.

This made me think about other things people notice about us. Do they pay attention to our actions, to they way we dress, to our conversations with other people, to places we go? Let me just say, “Probably so.” And the consistency of these various aspects of our lives converge to reveal the true nature of our character. Our testimony should be like that of Paul: “We can say with confidence and a clear conscience that we have lived with a God-given holiness and sincerity in all our dealings. We have depended on God’s grace, not on our own human wisdom” (2 Corinthians 1:12, NLT).

Does the nature of your character reveal that you live in holiness and sincerity in all your conversations and dealings with people? Remember that your testimony is built through your 24/7 life — not just what you do and say at church or when you think no one is looking.  And your testimony gives you the platform for sharing the good news and for leading people to faith in Christ.

These next few weeks will give you plenty of opportunities to invite your friends and family members to share the season of Christmas. At our church (Mandeville’s First Baptist Church), we have an evening of Christmas music next Sunday, December 4, at 6 o’clock. We have the annual live nativity on December 9-11. We have a Christmas Eve service at 4:30 pm on December 24 and a Christmas Day service at 10:00 am on Sunday, December 25.

Yet the thing that we really need to share a verbal witness of the good news of Jesus Christ. Each of us have someone in our lives who has not experienced salvation and would spend eternity in a godless hell. We need to focus prayerfully on that individual and pray for the opportunity that the Holy Spirit will provide. Share how you came to faith in Christ and how your life has been affected by Him. Then tell how they, too, can have this forever relationship with Jesus Christ.

By the way, having a mint ready in my back pocket makes those conversations more pleasant for everyone!

KenThe answer to all the fundamental questions in life is the same. The answer…is Easter.

Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church and author of The Purpose Driven Life, together with his wife, Kay, went through a devastating loss when their twenty-seven-year-old son, Matthew, took his own life after battling depression and mental illness for years. About a year after this tragedy, Rick said, “I’ve often been asked, ‘How have you made it? How have you kept going in your pain?’ And I’ve often replied, ‘The answer is Easter.’”

“You see, the death and burial and the resurrection of Jesus happened over three days. Friday was the day of suffering and pain and agony. Saturday was the day of doubt and confusion and misery. But Easter—that Sunday—was the day of hope and joy and victory.

“And here’s the fact of life: you will face these three days over and over and over in your lifetime. And when you do, you’ll find yourself asking—as I did—three fundamental questions. Number one, ‘What do I do in my days of pain?’ Two, ‘How do I get through my days of doubt and confusion?’ Three, ‘How do I get to the days of joy and victory?’

“The answer is Easter. The answer…is Easter!”

Your loss may not have been like the Warrens, but your loss—no matter its form—brought you pain and suffering. At the time of the crisis, you hurt deeply. Whether the loss was a loved one or a marriage or a relationship or a job or a home, your loss brought doubt and confusion. And the only way anyone can overcome these kinds of losses comes in faith resting on the ultimate provision through Jesus Christ.

Let me be clear. I’m not simply talking about believing the facts about Jesus—the virgin birth, living a perfect life, dying on a cross, and rising from the dead. I’m talking about believing this AND receiving Jesus into your life. Receiving Him means to welcome Jesus into your life to take control of your life. It means turning from your sin and turning to Christ. When you rest your life on Jesus, you can face the losses in life knowing that God has not forsaken you and that He will ultimately bring you to days of joy and victory. If you have never placed your faith in Christ by welcoming Him into your life, I urge you to do so today.

images-3At the Midweek Service on Wednesday, I told about an article written in the New York Post. On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy slammed into the coast of the Northeastern United States. (The article called the storm “venti-sized” which I prefer to the media referring to it as a superstorm, but that’s another story.)  By the time Sandy subsided, 286 people lost their lives along the storm’s path in seven countries.

As the hurricane bore down on New York City, almost everything shut down — except for one rogue Starbucks near Times Square. Desperate but highly committed Starbuck junkies fought high winds, dangerous rains, and dire warnings just to get a latte or a cup of coffee. Bethany, 28, walked 10 blocks with her one-year-old daughter for a fix. “I saw on Facebook that they were open,” she said. “It was scary not having Starbucks.” Her neighbor and friend, twenty-nine-year old Chris came along and later said, “When she said they were open, I said, ‘Pack up the baby. Let’s go!’ I didn’t know they were all going to close. I started panicking. There’s nothing else I would’ve gone out for. This makes my day complete.”

They were a part of a daylong stream of customers that packed the store, standing shoulder to shoulder and waiting at least ten minutes to order. Alex, 25, walked more than twenty blocks looking for an open Starbucks. He told reporters, “It took half an hour. But I’m a Starbucks fanatic. I go four or five times a day.” David, also 25, said he went to three closed Starbucks before learning the store was open. He said, “I’m really happy these guys are open. I can’t get a pumpkin spice latte anywhere else. The ten-minute wait was worth it.”

People will make sacrifices for what they value. If we value Christ, we will lay down our lives for Him. The people in this true news story were nuts, but you have to say that they weren’t lukewarm or uncommitted about following their deep desire for a pumpkin spice latte. They willingly risked the safety of their homes to pursue what they valued.

When it comes to serving the Lord, He calls us all to the same level of commitment. “If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). That’s a definitive call and that call is not based upon what is comfortable. It’s a call to self-denial.

images-2Without a doubt, 2016 will be filled with plenty of adventure as well as plenty of the ordinary. Sometimes we think that “the ordinary” seems “too ordinary.” That’s what happened to William Cimillo back in 1947. Since you may not know about Cimillo, let me tell you about it. On Friday, March 28, 1947, Bronx bus driver, William Cimillo, got into his bus to start his daily route. Suddenly, Cimillo decided to take a crazy leap. Fed up with the New York traffic, he decided that he had had enough. So instead of sticking with his daily routine, he headed his bus south, going nowhere in particular. He stopped in New Jersey for lunch and parked in front of the White House and took a look around D.C.

Three days later, he was in Hollywood, Florida, where he stopped for a nighttime swim. Now strapped for cash, he telegrammed his boss and asked for $50. The cops showed up soon afterwards. Two New York detectives and a mechanic were sent to fetch the runaway driver and his bright red bus, but according to Cimillo, the mechanic couldn’t really drive the bus, so they had Cimillo drive them back to New York. Upon their arrival, Cimillo discovered that he had become a legend. People from across the country sent him fan mail, newspapers portrayed him as a working-class hero, and his bus-driving buddies raised enough cash to cover his legal expenses.

Realizing they were “the bad guys” here, the Surface Transportation System decided not to prosecute. In fact, they gave Cimillo his back back. For the rest of his life, Cimillo never pulled any more wild stunts. Instead, he kept on driving that bus for 16 more years and passed away in 1975. Those few crazy days in 1947 were more than enough adventure for him. Asked why he did it, the bus driver explained: “This New York traffic gets to you. It’s like driving in a squirrel cage….I just wanted to get away from everything.”

Do you ever feel like the stress is too much and you just want to get away and start a fresh life somewhere else? There’s a better way — trust the Lord, take a Sabbath, be faithful to your tasks.

God has called us to trust Him and to remain faithful to our calling in Him. In the mundane and routine and in the challenging and new, we must look to the Lord as He guides us while serving Him with our hearts and hands.

Last Sunday, our church voted to replant a church in Barker’s Corner. We acted in faith, trusting in God to guide us. I want to report that upon hearing the official word that we would take them on, the congregation there expressed joyful praise and anticipate that the Lord will bless our efforts in replanting a vibrant church there.

We’ve begun the process of the merger, but it will go slowly. I’m asking that we all join together in much prayer for the those working closely with the replant. Legal matters and the naming of a campus pastor are among these first steps. We hope to name a campus pastor soon so that core group development can begin.

We also expect that the Lord will move some from our church to become a part of the core group. I ask that we join together praying for those who will do so in the spirit of Acts 13:2-3. However, until the core group development begins, no one from our church needs to begin attending at Barker’s Corner.

The beginning of the year is a great time to begin reading through the Bible. There are a variety of plans available. Some of these can be found in the devotional guides that are available in our magazine racks. One that I have found to be particularly valuable to me is produced by The Navigators. This simple plan has “grace” built into it, because the monthly plan only has 25 days in it. This gives me the “grace” I need when I invariably miss a day. So as long as I don’t miss too many days in a month, I can stay on a schedule that enables me to read the entire Bible in a year.