Preacher

St Lukes
A few weeks ago the priest at Mom’s church asked me if I ever preach. Without thinking or hesitating, I said yes. In truth, I’ve only ever preached in cyberspace (AKA, my blog), but this was an amazing opportunity, and I wasn’t going to turn it down.
So yesterday was the day, and what a perfect Sunday for me to preach: Presentation Sunday. The Gospel passage for Presentation Sunday is Luke 2:22-40:

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

So here is my sermon for Presentation Sunday:

Living in Breathless Anticipation

I am a missionary, based in Milan, Italy and called for all of Europe. What I do is encourage missionaries because Europe is a very difficult and discouraging mission field. I work with missionaries and pastors of all Christian denominations. When I started ministry in 2010, the problem was how to find missionaries. The answer was simple: go where missionaries hang out—churches. So it became my habit to attend at least two church services each Sunday.
I love going to church. I know that some people come to church, and once a week is about all that they can stand, but I love church. I attend services from the whole range of Christianity: Catholic high masses to chandelier-swinging Pentecostal services, and everything in between. Of course, I have my own preference, which lies somewhere in the middle, but no matter what kind of expression of worship, I love going to church. I love going to church because no matter where I go or what the worship is like, God always shows up. Sometimes it’s my favorite song or my favorite passage from the Bible. Sometimes it’s a nugget in the sermon and every once in a while, it’s a whole sermon that feels like it was a personal message to me from God. So I love going to church because God always shows up for me.
So I can relate to Simeon and Anna. They were at the temple every day. They each had a promise from God that they would see His Messiah, the Christ. So they did what I do: they came to the Temple every day with the breathless anticipation of seeing God’s Messiah. And because of their expectation of meeting God, I believe that God showed up each day for them, like He does for me. So every day for years, for decades, they came to the temple in breathless anticipation, meeting God in the little things until that day finally came when they saw Him in the face to face.
But my story is not over. We are living in the time when Jesus could return. According to Bible prophecy, His return is likely to be in our lifetime. So we should not only come to church, expecting to meet God, but we should wake up each day with breathless anticipation: is today the day? It could be!

So yesterday, on a sunny Super Bowl Sunday, I gave the sermon at both morning services in the sweet little Episcopal Church around the corner from home. It was wonderful, getting the opportunity to preach. My sermon was well-received. God is good!

Divine Forgetfulness

“No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord.  “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more,” (Jeremiah 31:34, emphasis mine).

Of all the things that God can do, I think the most mind-blowing power He has is the power to forget.  Have you ever considered how God is able to forget?  I mean, He’s God, right?  He knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10)—every detail!  How does God forget anything?  Psalm 9:18 says that God will never forget the needy.

I heard a sermon in which the preacher said that in order to resurrect the dead, God doesn’t need the entire body intact, only a sample of their DNA.  But there are many saints who were martyred by being burned.  Their DNA has been completely destroyed.  But God, who has numbered the very hairs on their heads (Matthew 10:30), remembers them in detail, right down to the details of their DNA.  Even with all our scientists and computers, we still don’t know the exact number of genes there are in human DNA, but estimates range up to 150,000, according to the Human Genome Project.  And each person is absolutely unique.  So if God knows the exact number of the hairs on each head of every person alive today (over 7 Billion, source World Population Clock), and everyone who has ever previously lived, which is a number that only God knows, but we could estimate would be another 7 Billion, that is a mind-boggling amount of information.  And God doesn’t need to write it down.  He remembers it—all of it!

So I think I’m safe in saying that God has an infinite memory—He is omniscient, which means that He knows everything (I John 3:20, Hebrews 4:13).  How does someone with an infinite memory forget?  Yet the Bible says again and again that God will forget our sins (Hebrews 8:12, Hebrews 10:17, Isaiah 43:25, and Jeremiah 31:34, above).

The Bible gives the answer in Psalm 32:1: “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered,” (emphasis mine).  And again: “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them,” (Romans 4:7-8, emphasis mine).  How does someone with an infinite memory forget?  He forgets by focusing on the thing that has covered our sins.  There is only one thing that covers sin, and that is blood.  And only the blood of Jesus permanently covers sin.

If your sins have not been covered by the blood of Jesus, you cannot stand in the presence of our Holy God.  But you can very easily remedy that situation.  Right now you can make Jesus your Savior.  Pray this prayer with me:

Lord God, I know that I’ve sinned against You.  I am truly sorry.  Please forgive me for the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ.  Thank You for sending Jesus to die in my place to cover my sins.  Help me to live a life that is pleasing to You through the power of Your Holy Spirit who I receive right now.  In Jesus’ Name I pray.  Amen.

If you just prayed that prayer for the first time, welcome to the family of God!  Yes, you have been adopted as His child, and you are now a new creation (Romans 8, Galatians 4:6-7, and 2 Corinthians 5:17).  All the old life has passed away.  Hallelujah!  To start this new life right, you should do 2 things right away:

  1. Read the Bible.  If you don’t have a Bible, most cities have a Christian bookstore where you can get one.  Most churches also sell Bibles—some even give Bibles to new believers.
  2. Get involved with a Bible-preaching church in your area.  Notice I say “get involved.”  Church is not a building.  Church is a living organism—the Body of Christ.  So get actively involved.

Remember this above all else: God is good!

Blessed Reassurance

Part One

My title today is a play on words.  Many of you know the old hymn Blessed Assurance (link here, just in case you don’t), which sings of the assurance that we can have of our salvation.  The same people who feel strong assurance about salvation are some who have trouble believing in the full message of grace or a pre-tribulation rapture.

Grace

The people preaching against “hyper-grace” believe in grace, up to a point.  They believe that they are saved by grace, but then they must take over and work hard to live a holy life.  And if they’re discipling somebody, they stay vigilant over that person to make sure that they dress right, live right, talk right, etc.  They believe that the grace of Jesus Christ got them into Heaven, but they need to work hard to stay there.  They teach a God of rules that watches to see if we are going to continue in sin.

Read 1 John 1:5-2:17.  Anyone who continues in sin proves that they are not really born again (1 John 1:6).  But John continues by explaining about what happens when believers sin, which we do.  Remember that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).  We are in perfect agreement about the fact that there must be repentance.  What we disagree about is the power to live out that repentance.

They believe that it’s now up to us, and so mix law in with the message of grace.  “Oh, you’ve got to watch out for sin,” and they teach daily confession and repentance.  The law has never saved one single soul.  That’s because the purpose of the law was to demonstrate our need for a Savior.

How do we get saved?  It is as easy as believing.  Here are some sample verses (there are many!):

John 1:12 – Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.

John 3:16-18 – For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.  Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Acts 16:30-31 – He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”

Romans 3:20-24 – Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.  But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Hebrews 11:6 – And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

Galatians 3:6 – So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

That last one is so good and appropriate for this discourse that I’m going to expand it:

You foolish Galatians!  Who has bewitched you?  Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.  I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?  Are you so foolish?  After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?  Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain?  So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?  So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” (Galatians 3:1-6, emphasis mine).

You know what I think?  I think that it’s all just too easy for some folks.  After all, there are lots of religions out there that require their followers to live by a set of rules: don’t eat this, don’t touch that, etc.  Christianity breaks that mold by being simple and easy.  It’s simple and easy for 2 very important reasons: 1. God is almighty and He has done it all for us; and 2. Since we didn’t do anything besides believing, we can’t take any of the credit.

So what is the power of grace?  Love!  Just as it was love that kept Jesus on that cross when He could have called down countless angels to save His life, it is love that gives us the power to live a life that pleases God.  We love God because He first loved us (I John 4:19).  When full grace is preached—that is preaching that gives us an idea of how long and wide and high and deep is the love that Jesus has for us—then we respond with a love that seeks to please the lover of our soul.  At that point, sin loses all its appeal.  And it’s not because we confess and repent daily.  It’s not because we dress right, talk right, act right.  It’s because we think with a completely different mindset.  Instead of doing this or that based on what we want to do, we do things based on what would most please or honor God.

Most days I wake up with a love song to God playing in my head.  Nobody told me to do that.  I just love Him, so my heart wakes up singing love to Him and my head overhears it.  Here’s a link to the one I woke up with today: Amazing Love.  God is good—believe it!

The Poster Child for Communism

The missionaries I came to meet with, Ted and Carol, picked me up at Budapest airport and drove me to their home about an hour and a half away.  They live in a former mining town in Hungary.  Their town’s people were the “poster children” for Communism because the workers were miners.  Miners have big muscles, so they were celebrated in pictures and sculpture shirtlessly embodying the Communist ideal.  The Communist dictators treated them very well because they were the poster children.  So the town’s infrastructure was far better than most of the rest of Hungary.

This is the pretty town square viewed from T & C's window

This is the pretty town square viewed from T & C’s window

When Communism collapsed, there was joy all over Hungary—except for this town.  They had lost their celebrity status and all the perks that come with it: the finest housing, cars, the best food, good schools for their children, etc.  For them freedom meant learning how to scrape their resources together, working at whatever jobs they could find when the mine closed.  Many in this town are nostalgic about the “good old days of Communism.”

Having arrived Saturday night, I had missed the gypsy Bible study (see Six Hours Late).  But I did get to hear Ted preach.  Over breakfast this morning I had mentioned the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-6) in conversation about how God is moving among the Italian Catholics (see Touching the Hem of His Garment).  Ted said, “Guess what scripture I’m preaching about!”  Yup!  John 5:1-6.  His sermon was really good, teaching me something new that I had never considered before.

Jesus had approached the paralytic and no one else.  Why?  Perhaps because everyone else had someone there to help them into the waters when they rippled.  Ted said that it was strange that this man was alone.  Jesus asked him a strange question, one I had always wondered about: “Do you want to be healed?”  Of course He knew the answer, but it gave the man the opportunity to reveal something about his own character.  He complained that there was no one to help him into the water.  And even when he had been healed, he “blamed” Jesus because He had told the man to carry his bed home—in other words, to work on the Sabbath.  And after he saw Jesus again, he ran to the authorities and told them that it was Jesus.  Not one word of gratitude for his miraculous and life-changing healing.  This guy had some definite character issues, which is something I had never really thought about before.

After church we walked around town a bit, returned home, and prayed together.  Ted and Carol mostly work with gypsies, doing CHE, Community Health Evangelism.  The CHE concept is great.  It involves health, but not only the health of the body, but of the whole person: body, soul (mental/emotional), and spirit.  I love the holistic approach, and it is so desperately needed in the gypsy communities of Europe.  The gypsies are the most receptive of all Europeans when it comes to the Gospel message.  They grab it with both hands.  So we prayed together for them, for their family, and for their ministry.

And I pray daily for the Lord of the Harvest to send more workers for this mission field.  The harvest is ripe, but the workers are few.  If you are interested in missions in Europe, whether with gypsies or not, check out GoMissions.

God is good!  Working with God is great!  He’s the best Boss ever, and the retirement plan is out of this world!