For God – or against?

With no pastor now, several of us from our Lake Como Community of Hope have been taking turns leading worship, reading scripture, and presenting the sermon — or in my case, a “Bible Talk” — based on the scriptures from The Revised Common Lectionary  for the Sunday assigned.

After reading and re-reading the biblical passages from several translations, I look for a theme that ties the readings from the Torah (aka “Old Testament”) with the Epistle (Letter) and the Gospel readings from the New Testament.

Sometimes a theme or topic is immediately apparent, sometimes not. This week, for example, the readings for September 30, 2018 kept bringing to mind a vital question: “Are we for God or against?”

Although I’ve been known to “tweak” (and even completely rewrite!) a Bible Talk before the Sunday it’s actually presented, I felt urged to go ahead and share this one with you. Before reading, however, you might want to check out the scriptures recommended for September 30, 2018: Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22, Psalm 124, James 5:13-20, Mark 9:38-50.

“For God – or against?”

In the day’s reading from Esther, we see prejudice and anti-Semitism at work. Haman didn’t just hate Mordecai though. He conspired to put him to death simply because Mordecai was an honest man – a Jewish man – who worshiped God. Haman’s jealousy and intolerance of one person made him hate-filled enough to maneuver the King into ordering the extermination of the entire Jewish populace!

That’s not exactly the justice meant to be found in the biblical law of an eye for an eye! It’s more like taking a whole city for one eye. It’s more like taking revenge instead of giving justice or mercy.

What Haman didn’t realize is that Queen Esther was a relative of Mordecai and also a Jew. More important, Haman didn’t realize that being against the people of God sets a person squarely against God Himself.

Anti-Semitism does that. Bigotry does that. It polarizes Christians against Christians, Jews against Jews, and Jews and Christians against one another. This also happens when one political party or one sex or one race turns against the other, even though both come from the same creator and worship the same God.

Regardless of why such things get to that point, we have to decide – as individuals and as a church Body of Christ: Are we FOR God or against? Are we strongly FOR or against ANY child in the Family of God – even if that child is our self – or someone totally unlike ourselves?

In the other Old Testament passage, we read Psalm 124, which, like many (but not all) of the Psalms, is attributed to King David. Political enemies had come up against David, but the king knew God was with him and with the people of God. By strongly standing FOR God, David had faith that God was FOR him. He showed this by humbly giving credit to God instead of taking credit for the victories and glory that followed.

David was FOR God. And, God was FOR David and the people of God.

Is that true for us too? If we are FOR God does that mean God is FOR us? Or do we think like an immature child might and fear that God is against us?

Here’s the truth according to God’s word: God is love. And, Love is FOR US. God is for us.

Even so, the Bible clearly shows, from Genesis to Revelation, that bad things can and do happen to God’s people. For example, in the New Testament message from the epistle of James, the writer of this letter acknowledges that some Christians suffer and others get sick. Does James complain or blame this on God? No! Amazingly, he tells US to DO SOMETHING about it!

Really? Like what? Well, as James goes on to say, if anyone among us is suffering in some way, we should pray for that person. We should take it upon ourselves to do that. But – if anyone among us is sick, THAT person should do something! The person who is ill should call the elders of the church and ask for prayer! Then, James instructs the elders of the church to anoint that sick person with oil in the Name of the Lord.

But there’s more to it! People don’t just get sick physically. They also get sick mentally and spiritually. So, if that’s the case, James reminds us to confess our sins, admit our wrongdoings, and own up to anything we’re ashamed of or wish we had not done. This act of confession alerts the group to pray for one another, so that we may be healed.

Once we’ve accepted God’s forgiveness, we have a clean slate again! Isn’t that a wonderful plan?! Then, when we’re right with God again, we’re once again righteous. And, as James says, the prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective. Such potent prayers make a big difference in the life of the forgiven, in the life of the person who prays, and in the life of the whole church.

When we’re FOR God’s will as revealed in the Bible, God WILL work to bring good for us, no matter how things look at the time. The catch comes in knowing God’s will, knowing what God is like, and knowing God can always be trusted to do the good and right and loving thing – even if circumstances don’t seem to make that super clear at the moment.

Unfortunately, what we think we know about God might be our faulty first impressions or the rumors we heard early in life or the flawed teachings we received from people, who taught whatever sounded good to them, rather than checking to see if it were biblically and spiritually true.

For example, when you were a child, authority figures might have told you God is watching you or out to get you – not because they were mean, but because they believed “good behavior” would get you into heaven. So, that group or particular person might have presented God as the bogey man in order to make you behave and keep you in line!

In real life and in the spiritual realm, such a deity would be nitpicking and judgmental – not at all the loving, merciful, forgiving God the Bible introduces us to consistently, from beginning to end.

Remember, God is FOR us. And, as today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark lets us know, God EMPOWERS us to overcome evil. How? By believing in God’s goodness, rather than our own, and receiving the strength we’re given in the Name of Jesus, we can cast out demons and be at peace with one another. We can be at peace with God and ourselves because we KNOW: God is FOR us!

As we really, really believe the words of Jesus and embrace His Name, our job is to do whatever we can to maintain a close relationship with the Lord. This might mean giving up something that gets between us and God. Or it might mean taking a risk and praying for someone’s healing or asking someone to pray for you. The Lord likes this, for, as Jesus said: “Anyone who does a deed of power in My Name will not be quick to speak ill of Me.”

God LIKES to send His power through us in Jesus’ Name to minister prayers, forgiveness, love, and healing to other people – and to receive the same ourselves. Such opportunities build up our faith, strengthen the Body of Christ, and draw other people to Jesus.

Just think of it! What would our world be like if everyone we know began to believe that the Almighty GOD IS FOR US. What would our world be like – and how powerful and effective would our ministries be – if all of us, clearly and deliberately, made up our minds FOR GOOD, that, yes! WE are FOR God – and God is FOR US.

 

Dear Lord God, Heavenly Father, we thank and praise You for Your Totally Good Self and all Your good gifts to us. Lord, if there is anything – old or new – that’s standing between us, please bring it to light and help us to confess this and receive Your healing.

And, Lord, if we’ve been wavering between the certainty of Your word and Your promises or the doubt of wondering if You always mean what You say, please fill us with Your spirit, draw us to Your word, and set our minds at ease in the truth of You. Help us to give every part of our selves to You in Jesus’ blessed Name. Amen.

 

 

3 ways to get closer to God

Each of these spiritual disciplines provides the basis for a sermon, article, or beginnings of a book. May God guide you as you communicate – clearly, accurately, and lovingly – for Christ.

Pray:

Matthew 6:9 – As Jesus taught us “This is how you’re to pray: Our Father Who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name….”

Mark 11:24 – Jesus said, “Truly, I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe you’ll receive, and it shall be yours.”

Psalm 122:6 – “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!”

1 Thessalonians 5:17 – “Pray constantly.”

Romans 8:26-27 – “The Holy Spirit comes to help us in our weakness. For we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit intercedes with groans that cannot be expressed. And the one who searches our hearts knows the intention of the Spirit, Who intercedes for us according to God’s will.”

Ephesians 6:18 – “Be alert! In every situation, pray in the Spirit. Use every kind of prayer and request for God’s people.”

Matthew 5:44 – As Jesus told us, “Love your enemies. Pray for those who mistreat you.”

Mark 11:25 – Jesus also taught, “When you stand to pray, forgive anyone against whom you have a complaint or grudge, so your heavenly Father may forgive your offenses.”

Confess:

Psalm 32:1-6 – “When I kept silent about my sins, even my bones ached from groaning. Your hand felt heavy upon me, and my strength drained as in summer heat! But when I acknowledged my sin and no longer tried to hide it, You forgave me and took away my guilt.”

Proverbs 28:13 – “Those who conceal their sins do not prosper. Those who confess and turn from their wrongdoing will receive mercy.”

1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

James 5:16 – “And so, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so you may be healed.”

Romans 10:9 – “If you confess aloud that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Worship:

1 Chronicles 16:29 – “Give to the Lord the glory due His name! Bow down before Him. Bring your gifts of worship to the Lord, Whose holiness is splendid.”

2 Maccabees 1:3 – “May God give you all a heart to worship Him and do His will sincerely with a willing spirit.”

Matthew 4:10 – Jesus said, “Get away, Tempter! As it is written, ‘you shall worship the Lord, your God, and God alone shall you serve.’”

John 4:21-24 – “Indeed, the time is coming – and is here – when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. Indeed, the Father seeks such people to worship Him. For God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

Revelation 4:11 – “O, Lord our God, You alone are worthy to receive glory and honor and power for You created all things. Through Your will all creation came to be.”

Psalm 100, King James Version (KJV)
“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before His presence with singing. Know ye that the Lord is God: it is He Who hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting; and His truth endures to all generations.”

Compiled by Mary Sayler, ©2018, following word searches of various translations found on Bible Gateway.

10 tips for sermons that keep everyone awake

Sermons aren’t meant to be lullabies or long songs that drone on and on, lulling people to sleep! The idea of a weekly message is not to offer advice or tell people what to do but to show the relevance of God’s Word as you work and pray for a Christian faith community of Christ-like love.

If you’re the priest or pastor of a liturgical church or one that offers Eucharist or communion every week, you probably have only five or ten minutes at most to deliver your homily or message. If, however, your church service allows more time, you might consider adding another hymn or Bible reading and confine your talk to fifteen minutes or less (yes, preferably, less!)

Regardless of the worship format used, these tips will help you get to the point, be concise, and encourage Christlike lives and actions.

1.Pray! Ask God to give you insight.

2.Study the appropriate readings from the 3-year scripture-reading cycle (Year A, B, or C) used by many churches to encourage Christians from all over the world to read, study, and pray the same scriptures at the same time. Notice which Bible verse or passage speaks to you the clearest.

3. Focus on the single theme or primary topic in your chosen verse(s).

4. Read commentaries and the footnotes in a variety of study Bibles to see what God has given others to bring light to that portion of scripture.

5. List every point you can think of that’s related to your theme or topic.

6. Arrange key points in order of importance to your congregation or particular audience and its needs.

7. Get everyone’s attention with an unusual fact, a question they might have, or a startling statement. For instance, if I say: “This morning I swept the dead bodies off my deck,” you might wonder about that true statement! The “bodies” were the belly-up frogs and snakes the young hawks dropped out of the nest above us, but who knows? Maybe that would lead to a sermon on how we might not like to look at death, but we can rejoice in God’s Word of eternal life in Christ.

8. Keep it simple. Stay on track. The longer the message lasts, the more restless people will become and more likely the sermon will be to wander.

9. Apply God’s Word to everyday situations and concerns. Use Bible people, Bible stories, or contemporary examples to build faith, encourage relevant action, and aim toward a Christian lifestyle.

10. Emphasize your three main points. Use numbers, First…, Second…, Third.… Or repeat a catchy sentence as a refrain to help people remember God’s message to you and them long after they’ve gone home.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018