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Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Person and Work of Jesus (Colossians 1.13-23)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; April 29, 2018 - Colossians 1:13-23

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

::: Scripture and Music ::
Our God Saves (Baloche, Brown)
Cornerstone (Bethel Music - Myrin, Morgan, Liljery, Mote)
Worship Team: Living Hope (Wickam, Johnson)
Living Hope (chorus)
Fairest Lord Jesus (CRUSADER'S HYMN)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

If you could know the future, would you want to? Would it change your actions today? We’ve been watching the show Timeless for a couple of seasons. It involves some good guys, some bad guys, and a lot of time travel. It’s mainly focused on history and the impact of changing key events. But one character has recently developed the ability to catch glimpses of the future. She and several other characters are wrestling with what to do with that information. Well, today’s text is not quite that sci-fi, but it does visit the whole span of history, from Creation to Jesus’ future reign over all things. Colossians 1 will walk us through the person and work of Jesus – who he was and what he did (and is doing still). As we continue in our “Raised for a Reason” series we will be reminded that we were created for a reason, saved for a reason, and yes, raised for a reason.

In verses 13-14, the context is set for our text today. Paul writes that God “rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.” That’s the announcement, the Good News! And God did through Jesus the Son, “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” What follows is a description of the Beloved Son and what God has done for us through him. I’m highlighting a number of “He is” statements about who Jesus is – the person of Jesus. And each one says a bit about what he has done – the work of Jesus. All of this describes God’s rescue of you from darkness to His Kingdom, so I’d challenge you to ask yourself those same Timeless questions: Do I want to know this? Does it change anything for me today? I’ll return to those at the end.

HE IS the firstborn of all creation (vv.15-17)

Starting in verses 15-16, we read that “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” I didn’t use all that in the title because it’s long and the ‘firstborn’ language frames the whole passage. But it is all said about who Jesus is. First, he is image of the invisible God. He is God made visible to humanity. This brings to mind the first chapter of John and the “Word made flesh” who “moved into the neighborhood.” Jesus is God with us, full of grace and truth – visible, tangible, audible, and come among us in the flesh. He is also the “Firstborn of all creation.” This does not mean that Christ was created or born at Creation, but that he is the heir of God’s power and authority over all creation. This relates to the corresponding language and imagery in the rest of this passage which describes the Kingdom of the Beloved Son and His full power, glory, honor, and authority AS God.

Indeed, verse 16 goes on to make clear that he was not created, but that “BY HIM all things were created.” And the list of what he has created is not just heavens and earth, but visible and invisible, and all forms of authority and power in heaven and earth. The verse concludes, “…all things have been created THROUGH Him and FOR Him.” The point of all this is not just to show that Jesus is eternally co-existent with the Father or that He was present and involved with Creation, but that godly power and authority over all things belongs to Christ as well.

I’m also including verse 17 in this section. It says, “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” This continues the declaration that Jesus preceded all of Creation, but also that he sustains all of Creation. This is part of his power, authority, and rule. You may have heard the Trinity explained functionally before – that God is Creator, Jesus is Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit is the Sustainer. Well Colossians 1 disagrees. The Triune God cannot be separated that way, for Jesus is involved with all three of those functions in these few verses.

So WHO is Jesus?

He is God made visible to us, God come among us, with all the power and authority of God Himself.

WHAT has Jesus done?

He has made us and everything there is and he rules us and everything there is (whether we acknowledge it or not). Part of that rule is holding all things together.   

HE IS also head of the body, the church (vv.18-23)

In verse 18 we read that “He is also head of the body, the church.” That is rich imagery that we explored last Fall. The same verse moves on to several other “He is” statements that we’ll look at in a few minutes, but then verses 19-23 describe the WORK Jesus has done to create the church. Verse 19 begins with the WHO thread: Jesus is the one in whom the “fullness” (of glory, power, authority) of God dwells. This is continuing what has already been said about Jesus being the image and firstborn heir.

Then, verses 20 and following pick up the WORK thread, expanding on the redemption and forgiveness in verse 14. Here we read of God’s reconciliation in Christ, making peace between us and God, though we were formerly “alienated and hostile (to God)… engaged in evil deeds.” This is all the work of the cross, of Jesus death: it has reconciled us to God. Just as, in faith, we are joined to that reconciling work, we are joined to the resurrected Jesus that he might present us to God “holy and blameless and beyond reproach.” (v.22)

And that is where the work of Christ shifts from His death to His resurrection, because He is not presenting us holy, blameless, and dead to God, but holy, blameless and ALIVE! We are also joined to his resurrection, which is the focus of this series. It’s that whole Good Friday – Easter distinction I always want to make. On the cross on Good Friday Jesus bore our sin that we might be forgiven and made right with God. But it was in His Easter resurrection that we have life after forgiveness. We were raised for a reason – to live and join with Him in His ongoing work.

So WHO is Jesus?

He is the head of the church who bears the full authority, power, and glory of God.

WHAT has Jesus done?

He has reconciled us to God – making peace where there was no peace and a way where there was no way.

HE IS the firstborn from the dead (v.18)

So back in the second half of verse 18 we read: “He is the [new] beginning, the firstborn from the dead.” This bookends the first statement that Jesus was in the beginning as the firstborn of creation. In His resurrection, He is the firstborn from the dead (with us coming after, joined to Him) and His resurrection marks a new beginning for us (indeed, for all creation!). What is already true in the present is that the risen Jesus is head of the church and ruler of God’s Kingdom. But that Kingdom is now and not yet, with Jesus’ reign still unfolding. That’s why verse 18 continues with this explanation of the new beginning Jesus’ resurrection has created: it is “so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.” Remember, he was in “first place” before creation as the firstborn of creation, but now he is bringing fallen and restored creation with him as firstborn from the dead, so that we and all creation will come to recognize and acknowledge His reign and rule.

So WHO is Jesus?

He is also firstborn in resurrection and the ruler of God’s now and coming Kingdom.

WHAT has Jesus done?

In resurrection, He brings us holy and accepted into the presence of God and holds first place not only in the new creation but in our lives.

Would it Change Your Actions?

At the beginning of the sermon I asked if you’d want to know the future and if knowing it would change your actions. I’d like to do something I don’t know that I’ve ever done and ask you to answer that question.

What we talked about today was WHO Jesus is and WHAT Jesus has and is doing. God’s Word declares those things as true, not only in the eternal past, but in our present and into our future. What’s your takeaway? What’s one thing that you’d say or do differently with this news? (Now if you already knew all these things and it’s already profoundly changed your actions, I’d love to hear briefly how so. But more so I’d like to hear how you respond to God’s Word today.)

Responses from the congregation…
It is easy to separate weekday activities from Sunday activities. For me, a takeaway is consciously incorporating God and my relationship with Christ in each moment during the week, even in the mundane moments of “wake up, get ready for school” and throughout the day.

Thanks to Jesus, I am blameless; BUT there are a lot of other people who are blameless, too, and I ought to treat them that way.

One thing that sticks with me is the image of “team Jesus” when he throws the cloak around us and claims us as his own. I think, “I did this and I did this” but I can picture Jesus standing next to me claiming me on his team. That’s a very comforting image for me.
For myself, I think the news that we have been raised for a reason continues to give me forward momentum and hope. It would be one thing – a glorious and wonderful thing – to know that my past sins and mistakes have been addressed, forgiven, and wiped clean. But there are some days I wake up and it’s hard to see or be positive about what’s next. But this news is like a lifeline, perhaps into the fog, but trusting the one who is on the other end. So, the action for me are choices and steps to trust God even when I can’t see what’s ahead, because I know WHO is ahead. Amen.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Help and Hope in the Lord (Psalm 146)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; April 22, 2018 - Psalm 146

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

::: Scripture and Music ::
Choir: Forever Praise (Martin)
Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken (AUSTRIAN HYMN)
Meet with Me (Ten Shekel Shirt)
Bless the Lord (Andre Crouch)
You Have Shown Us (Gloworks: Baloche, Chapman, et al.)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Have you ever been in way over your head? Way beyond your skill set and your capability? It has been said that there are no foxhole atheists. I don’t know if that is completely true, but I do know that it is very common, perhaps even very instinctual to call out to God when we are really in need. It may be the short prayer, “Help me, God!” or even more to this point the exclamation, “Oh, God!” But I believe there is some innate, created impulse to reach out for HELP when we are in desperate need. And there is often also a thought, a desire, a HOPE, beyond ourselves – that help will come.

We are continuing in the series, “Raised for a Reason,” looking at some of the direct results of the new life we have because of the Easter Resurrection of Jesus. Today we are turning to the Hebrew hymnal of Psalms, in which God’s people sang praises because of God’s sure promise of help and hope to those in need. That promise of help and hope have been fully kept in Jesus Christ, in whose name we gather and worship this morning. Today we look at Psalm 146, which is organized in several pretty clear sections. It begins with praise, then a warning about where not to seek help, then the lengthiest part describing why God IS where we should hope and seek help, then a final return to praise because we know this God. I want to look at all that with you and then consider how Jesus IS the very hope and help of God described in this Psalm.

PRAISE! (vv.1-2)

Psalm 146 begins with whole-hearted praise:

1     Praise the Lord!
    Praise the Lord, O my soul!
2     I will praise the Lord while I live;
    I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

Praise may seem hard to define, but we know what it is from everyday usage. We praise people for what they do or who they are when we approve of those things. Praise of God is related, but also of a higher order, because what God does and who He is always worthy of praise. If we know God, if we see what God is doing or has done, then we will praise God because He is good. While praise of God is always appropriate, it is fitting in this Psalm because the middle section will detail a number of the things God has done as well as the character of God that stands behind those actions. We will see, too, that after the details of who God is and what God has done, that the Psalm will conclude with more praise.

TRUST NOT (vv.3-4)

In verses 3-4, before getting to the positive description of who God is and what God has done, the Psalmist takes a brief moment to set up a counter-point. It is natural for human beings to look to earthly power for help and hope, but the introductory warning is: “Do not trust in princes.” (v.3)

3     Do not trust in princes,
    [Do not trust] In mortal man,
        in whom there is no salvation.
4     His spirit departs, he returns to the earth;
    In that very day his thoughts perish.

Princes are but mortal men and verse 4 goes on to further describe the mortal limitations of even the powerful people of this world. They, too, die and return to dust, their influence waning. While we may be drawn to their visible earthly power in the here and now, there is no salvation in them – no lasting help or hope.

The modern application is not difficult to make. We seek help and put our hope in any number of earthly powers and promises, from politicians (our version of ‘princes’) to medicine to money to fix-it-quick advice on TV or the Internet. This Psalm does not deny that some temporary and real help may be found in some of those things, but its warning is to not put our TRUST in those things. Trust and hope are intimately related and are only truly lasting if tethered to an eternal, wise, and good God. So, don’t hear me or this scripture steering you away from doctors or voting or working to support yourself and family; rather, it is exhortation to recognize the limitations of such things and the greater hope that is to be found in God alone.

HOPE and HELP (vv.5-9)

So verses 5-9 dive deep into a description of this greater hope. The first two verses (5-6) focus on the character and power of God as Creator, using the words HELP and HOPE from which I named the sermon. I also could have gone with “How Blessed!” to describe those who look to God for help and hope. I did a whole series on blessing last year if you wanted to dig back into that. Remember that being blessed is not only experiencing “God’s good” in your life, but describes being aligned with God’s will and purpose. So if you are seeking help and hope from God, then you are putting yourself in line with God; no wonder that is described as “how blessed!” In contrast with the limited power of mortal princes, God’s far greater power and character is held up here as Creator and as the one who “keeps faith forever.” God is eternally powerful and faithful!

5     How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
    [How blessed is he] Whose hope is in the Lord his God,
6     Who made heaven and earth,
        The sea and all that is in them;
    Who keeps faith forever;

Verses 7-9 offer a representative list of how God’s character is demonstrated in the needy places and to the needy people of this world. I say representative rather than exhaustive on purpose. It’s a long list, but not to say that these are all the ways and the only ways God offers help, but to say that God’s help is expansive and broad, not just limited to one or two forms of help. Listen again to the breadth of help described here. Perhaps you hear your own cries for help answered in some way…

7     [The Lord] executes justice for the oppressed;
    [The Lord] gives food to the hungry.
    The Lord sets the prisoners free.
8     The Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
    The Lord raises up those who are bowed down;
    The Lord loves the righteous;
9     The Lord protects the strangers;
    He supports the fatherless and the widow,
        But He thwarts the way of the wicked.

Justice, provision, deliverance, healing, dignity, love, protection, support… what is clear is that God stands on the side of those who need help and hope! And while I’m not speaking to each line, don’t miss the last one; God also stands AGAINST wickedness.

So, the Psalm says, while not neglecting earthly helps, look first to God for help and hope in all these needs and more, for God is not only powerful, but eternal and faithful. This Psalm declares that our HELP and HOPE are in the Lord. But that’s not the end of scripture.


The claim of the New Testament is that Jesus was God in the flesh, the Messiah, the fulfilment of God’s great promises to His people and to the whole world. As I read this Psalm and the description of the help and hope found in God alone, I was instantly reminded of another passage from the Gospel of Luke. It would be enough for me to know that Jesus is the help God sent and the hope of the world. But there is more that makes that connection much more explicit and direct.

As Jesus began his earthly ministry as an adult, Luke records in Luke 4 that Jesus went to the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. As was the practice, he stood up to read and he was given the scroll of Isaiah the prophet to read. He opened it to Isaiah 61 and read the scripture there. Listen to those words from Luke 4, imagining Jesus reading them in the synagogue, and remember the description of God’s promised HELP and HOPE from Psalm 146.

18     “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
    Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
    He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
    And recovery of sight to the blind,
    To set free those who are oppressed,
19     To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

After reading that Jesus returned the scroll to the attendant, sat down, and said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:20-21)

Did you hear the overlap with Psalm 146? Jesus was not only claiming to be the fulfilment of God’s promises to His people through the Prophet, but also claiming to be the very HELP and HOPE of God in and for this world.

So run all that I’ve said regarding Psalm 146 through that revelation! Not only are we to look to God over earthly powers for our help and hope, but we find it specifically in the person and work of Jesus Christ. And not only does Jesus embody that help and hope for the world, the Bible goes on to describe Jesus as the head and the Church as His body. So, see where this is going? Not only do you and I find the help and hope we need in Jesus Christ, we also are part of how God embodies that help and hope through Jesus to the world.

That is why it is so important for Church not to think about itself as “what’s in here” but in terms of participating in what God is already doing through Christ out there and all around us. You and I are a part of that. That is why Jesus talked so much about neighbors and about the arrival of the Kingdom of God.

It is precisely God’s design that we bear the hope of Christ because we have the hope of Christ. It is precisely God’s design that we bear the help of Christ because we have experienced the help of Christ.

And it all begins with what this Psalm teaches: to look to God as the first and lasting source of our HELP and HOPE.

PRAISE! (v.10)

Finally, the Psalm returns in verse 10 to praise. In great contrast to the reign and limited power of the mortal princes of v.3, the Psalmist declares:

10     The Lord will reign forever,
    Your God, O Zion, to all generations.
    Praise the Lord!

God’s power is eternal and His reign forever. He is God to Zion – to the people of Israel – to all generations. And so the Psalm ends where it began: Praise the Lord!

Indeed, we have good reason to say it with the Psalmist. Would you say it with me? Praise the Lord!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Life in the Spirit (Galatians 5.16-25)

Sermon by: Karen Katibah; April 15, 2018 - Galatians 5:16-25

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

::: Scripture and Music ::
Breathe on Us (Jobe, Cash)
Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart (MORECAMBE)
Spirit of the Living God (Iverson)
Holy Spirit (Townend, Getty)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Good morning church! My name is Karen Katibah, I’m excited to be talking with you all this morning.

I am a true G-shep kid, born and raised in this church. Some of you have known me since before I was born, some of you luckier folks have only known me in the last couple of years. I’ve haven’t been around much recently because I don’t live in Charlotte anymore…

But actually being a church kid. I accepted Jesus in my heart at a VBS at a young age, I grew up going to Sunday School every week, knowing all the answers, getting all the stickers and then eating my “only one” cookie at 10:30am on my way to the sanctuary. I’ve blocked out the years where our family attended the early service, it was a truly troubling time in my youth.

But for most of my life, up until high school and college, I didn’t really understand what it meant to be a Christ-follower. I knew what it meant to follow the rules and say the right things, but I didn’t have a relationship with Jesus, I didn’t know Jesus personally. I credit a lot of my significant faith transformation to InterVarsity, but the Lord planted so many seeds in my childhood and teenage years. One of those seeds happened right in this room, during a sermon that our dear Pastor Robert preached. I can picture exactly where I was sitting on July 2011, when he said something that changed my life. He said “Jesus is not a mission trip.”


All of my life, I thought the only moments that mattered in my relationship with Jesus were the ones on mission trips, the ones at youth group, the ones on Sunday mornings. But what if a life with Jesus is about so much more? What if our lives aren’t just about the significant mountaintop experiences? What if Jesus not only cares about our Tuesday afternoons, our hours of sitting traffic, our mindless scrolling through Facebook, but actually wants to be involved with them?

I believe that we invite Christ to live in our hearts, we are inviting Christ to be an active part of our lives, every moment of every day. I believe that God has assigned significance to everything we do and that anything can be an act of worship and reflection. I believe that nothing means nothing, that every minute matters.

When I came on staff with InterVarsity, I got the amazing gift of free IVP books once every few months. One of the first books I received through this mail-out happened to change my life. I have given multiple talks based on this book, I re-read chapters and quotes regularly and I recommend this book to people more than anything else.

The thesis of the book, the statement the book was written to support is…

“The often unseen and unsung ways we spend our time are what form us…But whether we examine our daily activities theologically or not, they shape our view of God and ourselves. Examining our daily life through the lens of liturgy allows us to see who these habits are shaping us to be, and the ways we can live as people who have been loved and transformed by God.” (p32)

The things we do, do things to us. But we can control our routines and we can control our reactions. God cares much more about our heart and our intentions than He does about our actions and He invites us to spend every moment of every day meditating on Him, keeping our eyes on Jesus, living a life with the Spirit.

Before we take a deeper dive into the book, I want us first to turn to Scripture.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Paul wastes no time, he makes his point right away, walk by the Spirit, don’t walk by the flesh. What does it mean to walk by the Spirit? This means living according to the plan that God has laid out for us and not just doing whatever we want to in any given moment. Living by God’s plan and living by our plans are two different things and people who live by the Spirit are now called to live by what God wants for us.

I’ve found recently, in the last 23 years, that I don’t like being told what to do. I don’t like it when people say I’m required to do something, or say that I must do something. It grinds my gears and I become very stubborn and sometimes unpleasant.

So I ask, is living by the Spirit better? Is God asking us to step into something painful and worse? What does life lived by the law, lived by the flesh look like? We continue in verses 19-21.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Yeesh. Perhaps the Lord has a reason for saving us, for inviting us to live differently. Perhaps the Lord wants better for us than to live a self-centered life. Perhaps God would want us to inherit the kingdom of God, to live in eternity with Him. A life lived under the law is not a life of freedom. Scripture says that wherever the Spirit is, there is freedom! God gives us boundaries and guidelines but they are in place to help us keep our focus on Him. Doing these things, living out these acts of the flesh will send us looking for something that is not Jesus, and therefore will never satisfy.

When Paul is describing the acts of the flesh, he’s describing who we once were. He’s describing the fallen part of our souls, the part that Jesus died for. If you are in a relationship with Christ, if you are walking with the Spirit, your flesh was crucified with Christ. Your sins have been paid for because Jesus paid the cost and then conquered death. Your life has also risen from the dead and you are now living life in the Spirit because this is one or the other.

When Paul says those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God, he is not saying that if you mess up in any of these areas, you are definitely not going to heaven, because that wouldn’t be the good news of the gospel. Our salvation is not now, never has and never will be dependent on our actions. Those who will not inherit the kingdom of God are those that haven’t invited Jesus to live in their hearts, who haven’t surrendered their lives to Christ.

When you begin walking with Jesus, you are a new creation. You are now invited to live by the Spirit. What happens when you begin living by the Spirit, let’s continue reading.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

I can still remember hearing the fruit of the spirit song playing on the tape in the car. I used to think that fruits of the spirit were character traits I should work on and whenever I wasn’t doing well in one, I should work on it.

The way we can see if the Spirit is moving and working in our lives is when we exhibit these characteristics, when we live in these ways. Scripture says that out of the overflow of our hearts, the mouth speaks. When we sit in the presence of Jesus, our hearts are shaped to function more like his and this is how we will respond.

The fruit of the Spirit is not a gift that God gives only to His most faithful followers, it’s not something that you might receive one day. The fruit of the Spirit is just how you will live when you spend time with the Spirit.

Our salvation is not now, never has and never will be dependent on our actions.

If you have invited Jesus to live in your heart, if you’ve surrendered your life to Him, you are no longer controlled by the flesh. You belong to Christ Jesus and you are now marked by the fruit of the Spirit.

But we can see in this Scripture, that Paul doesn’t say make a one-time salvation decision by the Spirit, take one step one time with the Spirit. Paul says walk by the Spirit, live by the Spirit, keep in step with the Spirit.

Living a life with the Spirit includes our Tuesday afternoons, our sitting in traffic, our scrolling through Facebook, not to mention our mission trips, Sunday mornings and times we spend with Jesus on our own.

Faithfulness in the Christian life is about ever keeping your gaze on Jesus. Walk by the Spirit, keep in step with the Spirit, live life by the Spirit. Walk by the Spirit, keep in step with the Spirit, live life by the Spirit.

So how do we do this? I’m glad you asked. Tish Harrison Warren has blessed us with so much wisdom on this topic.

Liturgy of the Ordinary has completely reshaped my thinking on how to live a Spirit-filled life, in how to infuse worship in my very ordinary days. Each chapter walks through a different everyday habit and explains how it can made worshipful, with chapters on brushing teeth, losing your keys, fighting with your spouse, and drinking tea in the evening.

I know most of you probably have hours and hours of free time every day and you’re ready to pick up this book, read it from cover to cover and gain all the goodness. But if there happens to be anyone who lives a very full life and doesn’t have time to read, I thought I’d pick out a couple helpful disciplines and give you a nice summary. The two chapters I’ve chosen to summarize today are waking up and sitting in traffic.

We’ll start as any day does, with waking up.

This is an area where people have lots and lots of opinions. Some people like to wake up to loud sounds, some people like to press snooze, most people do not enjoy this time of day one bit. For me, my waking up routine is very, very specific. For starters, I do not snooze. I just don’t. This is a true story: in college, I was reading an article on etiquette for gentlemen. I don’t even remember how I got there, but I saw “20 Things Every Gentlemen Should Know” and I said yep, this was written for me. The article said Gentlemen don’t snooze and since then I haven’t snoozed.

So after I don’t snooze, I generally will spend my first waking moments scrolling scrolling scrolling. It’s a specific routine, first Facebook, then Twitter, then my email, checking the weather and then aimless staring at the ceiling for several minutes agonizing over what I’m going to wear. Consider your own morning routine. What are your first thoughts? What usually takes up your mind space right away?

What does it look like to walk by the Spirit, keep in step with the Spirit, live life by the Spirit as we wake up?

Whenever we want to consider how God feels about us, it’s helpful to look at how God addresses Jesus in Scripture. At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he was baptized by John the Baptist and we read that the heavens opened up, the Spirit descended on Jesus and God said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Now I’m sure we’ve heard this story before and we’ve appreciated the poetry of God’s word. But let’s pause here. Why was God saying this to Jesus? Jesus has not even begun His ministry yet. He has spent 30 years in relative obscurity, going to church, working, eating and spending time with his family, but He has not yet accomplished anything significant, by our standards. God has bestowed these words on Jesus because Jesus is eternally beloved by the Father. Jesus, as God’s beloved Son with whom He is well pleased is simply who Jesus is. Jesus’ identity is secure in His Father because He did not earn His Father’s approval by His actions.

The same is true for us. When God looks at us, He is well pleased because we are eternally loved by Him. He loves us because He made us in His image and He says we are good, well pleasing to Him. Right when we wake up, we are so vulnerable. We are so helpless. We sometimes wake up confused, sometimes cranky, often slowly. We wake up every day without real certainty of what may happen. But even before we open our eyes, even before we brush our teeth and put our contacts in, even before we have that first conscious thought, we can be sure of Christ’s love for us. We can be sure that Jesus is good and real and enough. We can be sure that we have been risen from the dead and free from our sin and shame.

“As Christians, we wake each morning as those who are baptized. We are united with Christ and the approval of the Father is spoken over us. We are marked from our first waking moment by an identity that is given to us by grace: an identity that is deeper and more real than any other identity we will don that day.” (p19)

What if, instead of beginning my day scrolling through my phone and dreading the day ahead, I sat in the presence of the Lord and gave thanks? What if I spent my first few moments reflecting on God’s unchangeable love for me? What if I sat with Jesus and just sat?

The things that are true about me remain true about me even when I don’t remember them, because my identity in Christ is based on what Jesus has done, not what I have done. How different could my day look if I began by reflecting on Jesus’ sacrifice for my life? I remain beloved either way.

“And before we begin the liturgies of our day – the cooking, sitting in traffic, emailing, accomplishing, working, resting – we begin beloved. My works and worship don’t earn a thing. Instead, they flow from God’s love, gift and work on my behalf. I am not primarily defined by my abilities or marital status or how I vote or my successes or failures or fame or obscurity, but as one who is sealed in the Holy Spirit, hidden in Christ, and beloved by the Father.” (p20)

May we be all begin our days singing the praises and celebrating the goodness of God.

The other practice I wanted to summarize is sitting traffic.

When I was in college, I had the great pleasure of working a cushy office intern job. It was a standard 9-5, with hourly pay and occasional free lunches and gift card bonuses. I worked with other fun college students and I was pretty good at the work part too. But one of the great banes of my existence was the location: this office building was located right off of Arrowood Road off 77. If you’ve never had the pleasure of trying to drive on 77 around 8:30am or 5:30pm, let me clue you in: it’s not a pleasure. Even with the 70mph speed limit and even with knowledge of traffic patterns, my journey to work was more often a 45 minute or hour commute. Even if you don’t commute on 77 or 485 or 85, we all live in or near Charlotte, which means we all experience traffic in one way or another. It’s just a congested city.

How in the world can we walk by the Spirit, keep in step with the Spirit, live life by the Spirit as we sit in traffic?

I’m going to expand on everyone’s favorite fruit of the Spirit: patience.

Sitting in traffic, especially standstill traffic, is one of the truest reminders that we are not in control of our time, that time is not determined by our preferences. In 2018, we have control over so much, over the temperatures inside our homes and cars, over how much knowledge we can acquire, over how we want others to view us by the lens of social media.

But we will never be able to control how quickly time passes or how slowly it moves.

“As one who is beloved of God, I must learn the hard practice of patience.” (p105) A Christian life is one of waiting. As people who long to be more like Jesus, as people who are sure of what is to come, as people who exist on this side of heaven, we long for something better. We are sure that Jesus is coming back, we are sure that we will one day live without suffering, without death, without pain, without loneliness, without sin. We know this coming and we ache to see that day soon.

We do not want to wait for this time to come, we eagerly yearn for Jesus to return. But as in all things, we must wait for God’s timing.

Waiting is not something I do well. I do not like being told to do anything, especially being told to wait. I work in full-time ministry with college students and I feel like most of my job is waiting. My work is to provide room for the Holy Spirit to move in the hearts of my students and guess what? I don’t control the Holy Spirit. I don’t get to choose when this student will finally commit to leading other men in the chapter. I don’t get to choose when this student will stop placing his identity in his grades and choose to put his hope in Jesus. I don’t get to choose when she will decide to stick to mature boundaries with her boyfriend. I don’t get to choose when she will stop running away from Jesus and choose to give her life to Him permanently.

I love my students so much and I want them to have personal, transformative relationships with Christ. I will be faithful to my work and continue to pray for them and meet with them and study Scripture with them, but ultimately everything I want for my students will (or won’t) happen in God’s timing.

We all have things we are waiting for. We all have things that are yet to come. The temptation is to believe that once we have the things we are waiting for, life will be better. But, friends and family of GSPC, that is just not true. If we want to put our hope in anything, anything at all besides Jesus, we will be left wanting.

What if the glory is in the waiting? What if the practice of sitting in traffic, waiting for cars to move, is helping us grow in our endurance and perseverance? What if, in our waiting we choose to remain faithful to Jesus and allow Him to do great and wonderful works in us? What if that is the gift?

“Christians are marked not only by patience, but also by longing. We are oriented to our future hope, yet we do not try to escape from our present reality, from the real and pressing brokenness and suffering in the world…We live in a brutal world. But in the life of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit we glimpse redemption and participate in it.” (p112)

Do not pass over the cup of longing. The Lord has goodness for us in everything, especially the waiting. The Lord promises to be more than enough, so we can have patience. In ministry, in parenting, in teaching, and even in traffic.

My hope for all of us is that in whatever we do, on our Sunday mornings, on our Tuesday afternoons, as we wake up and sit in traffic, that we know a life with Christ, that we would walk by the Spirit, keep in step with the Spirit, live life by the Spirit. Let every moment be an act of worship and let us truly know the depths of Christ’s love for us. He wants more for us than we could ever want for ourselves and promises to be enough along the way.

Praise God.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Three Days to Raise (John 2.13-22)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; April 8, 2018 - John 2:13-22

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

::: Scripture and Music ::
See What a Morning (Resurrection Song) (Getty/Townend)
The Father's Love (This is Your House) (Austell/Dawson)
SOLO: The Temple Song (Austell, Dawson) - see audio and lyrics below
CHOIR: Peace I Give to You (feat. Chris Orr, violin) (Davis)
How Firm a Foundation (FOUNDATION)

This is a guitar version of the piano song I sang in church.

And the piano version from church.

The Temple Song
By Robert Austell and Gerrit Dawson, Easter 2000.

Taking up a robe of flesh, to the far country he came.
The Son made his way among the lost; He traveled to his Father's house.
Yet the song of home was drowned by the din of coarse trade and coin.

"Out, out!" he commanded; Tables overturned, coins scattered.
"Out, out!" he commanded, "I am the Temple now!"
"Tear it down and I will raise it!"

Standing in the cluttered court among the baffled and enraged
Jesus lifted up his hands to sing, "Father Here I am!"
Here I am with the children you gave me. We sing your praise. (Chorus)

Zeal for his Father's house, the house of many mansions,
Filled his heart and swelled his voice.

I came to give you life, not dwell in a den of thieves.
Come, come in to my Father's house; I am the Place of Meeting now
So where I am, you may be with me today and always (Chorus)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

I hope you all had a good Easter Sunday and weekend last week. Today and in the weeks to come we are going to build on the news of resurrection and look at a number of scriptures describing God’s purpose for us in the salvation and resurrection offered to us in Jesus Christ. I’m calling this series, “Raised for a Reason,” and today we will look at an event early in Jesus’ ministry when he looked ahead to this Resurrection work that he would do. Today we’ll look at the so-called “Clearing of the Temple” and then what Jesus had to say about it afterwards.

I’ll confess this up front: this story has fascinated me since I was a little kid. It’s the one time we get to see Jesus really losing his cool. It was intriguing to read about my Savior – the perfect man – becoming so angry that he literally tore down people’s display tables and booths and drove them away with a whip. Wow! No gentle Jesus that day. And here’s the fascinating part – this WAS the Savior, the Son of God, the perfect One. There was something right, something righteous, about his anger.

And so, it is important for us to understand this story – for two reasons. One is to know what so angered Jesus in order that we not so displease God that we stir up His righteous anger against us. The other reason is that if we want to know God and experience God in relation to us and our lives, we need to love the things God loves and attune our hearts and spirits to his. We need to know what stirred up Jesus so passionately, in order to have the mind and heart of Christ, the way to the Father.

Since Jesus speaks of tearing down the Temple, I’d like to divide the sermon into three phases of a building project to help it stick in our minds more easily. For those of you in the middle of renovations, perhaps this scripture will come to mind as you move slowly through the work of renovation.

Phase One: Clear Out the Temple

The bulk of this story deals with phase one – with clearing out the Temple. What Jesus saw in the Temple was not unusual or out of the ordinary. It was Passover time, which meant people were traveling to Jerusalem to the Temple to make sacrifices of various kinds to God. It was impractical to carry large animals, and certainly inconvenient to carry the small ones. Some industrious and helpful people had worked with the Temple priests to sell animals approved for sacrifice right outside the worship area in the Temple courts. And then there were moneychangers there for those who had foreign coin or needed change.

The sale of animals and the changing of money were really just side-industries that had developed over the years to accommodate those trying to practice their religion. The businessmen weren’t out to blaspheme God or undermine the Temple practices. It all seemed straightforward enough. We do similar things in churches in the United States. It’s not unlike making sure there are pens in every church pew so people can write their checks for the offering. There may be some who have gone too far – there are some churches that have put debit and credit card swipers in the back of the church for the same purpose! Or some big churches offer valet parking or golf cart rides from your remote parking spot. It can be hard to find the line between helpful and going overboard.

This is an easy place to stop for a sermon. There are all kinds of ways that we as American Christians have turned God’s house into a place of business. That’s an easy sermon to preach – and an important message to consider. But it’s not the main point of this story. I do hope that we will think twice about marketing stuff out in the gathering area or using church as a place to conduct our own businesses, or anything else that diverts our attention from worshiping God and it’s something that, historically, the elders at Good Shepherd have taken very, very seriously.

But what really angered Jesus that day was that the worship of God was no longer the primary function of the Temple. And that is the main message we need to look at – what it means to worship God. Do you want to know God or know God better? Our chief mission, our purpose, as described by God is to worship Him – that means honoring Him with our thoughts, words, and lives, and it means serving Him in all we do.

Jesus, as we shall see, was angered by the shift in focus away from the worship of God because he WAS God and also because he was to become the new Temple – that is, the new way for people to reach God. That’s why this story is so important in our consideration of knowing God – because Jesus goes on to demonstrate that he will become the way to know God.

It was at the point of driving the animal and money merchants out of the Temple that people asked Jesus how he had the authority to do this. His answer was surprising to everyone that heard it: “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it.”

Phase Two: Tear Down the Temple

In house renovations, after clearing away furniture and other items in the appropriate rooms it is time for ‘demo’ work. It is time to tear down or tear out what isn’t going to be used any more in order to put something new in its place.

When Jesus’ authority was questioned, he gave that intriguing answer about tearing down the Temple. And John tells us that those who heard his words that day thought he just wasn’t making sense. It sounds absurd to us at face value, but to Jewish people who believed the Temple was THE place where God dwelled in order to be worshiped, talk of tearing it down would have sounded crazy and even blasphemous. But his followers later remembered the words and linked his death and resurrection to these words.

And John, the writer of this Gospel, saw the actual destruction of that Temple in his lifetime, making Jesus’ words not only symbolically real, but literally real as well.

As with home renovations, before something new is built, space must be cleared out, and the old structures torn down. And that is the “sign and miracle” Jesus accomplished that day. Jesus turned the event into a living parable – a teachable moment in which the miracle of one angry man driving a whole group of merchants out of the Temple courts pointed heavenward to the great act of God in making all things new through his Son, Jesus Christ.

After a few short years, Jesus would die on the cross and rise from the dead in three days to establish a new way to God and our means of truly worshiping and loving God. Phase three of renovations is raising the new structure.

Phase Three: Raise the New Temple of God

Here we move beyond the scope of this story, except that John does note the later realization of Jesus’ followers that his death and resurrection tied in to that momentous day in the Temple courts.

The Temple represented an old and indirect way of approaching God and knowing God. And the business practices and activities of the various merchants only further hampered the effectiveness of the Temple. Jesus came that we might have a new and living way to reach God, and in his death and resurrection, he effectively cleaned house and tore down the old way and raised up a new one in its place.

In terms of religion and history, Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, the one the old laws and prophecies and religious system were looking forward to. In the clearing of the Temple and later with his death and resurrection, Jesus was saying, “Loving, knowing, and worshiping God is the great purpose of your life; I am the way to God and to fulfill that purpose… I AM the Temple now!” That has great implication for our personal lives and spirituality!

Renovation: Jesus and New Life

Jesus is the great Renovator – not of houses, but of humanity. “Renovate” means “to make new again” – and that’s exactly what Jesus offers us. When we first moved into our house, workmen made a new laundry room on the main floor out of what used to be a bathroom. To an infinitely more significant degree, Jesus makes new what was old and dying.

Where false gods, misplaced allegiances, upside-down priorities, and blurry focus keep us far from God, Jesus says “come and see; come and believe; come and follow.” When we trust in Jesus Christ as the only Son of God and as Savior, he renovates our lives. Often, there is trash and clutter, or misplaced “worship,” which needs clearing out. This is sin, which under God’s conviction, we confess and turn away from. Often there are structures like addiction, behaviors, and mindsets that must be torn down.

And it can feel like our peaceful lives are being stood on end. House renovations are anything but peaceful when they are going on. And Jesus indeed can be the disturber of our earthly peace. But he is also the Prince of Peace and brings with his life-renovation a peace that is beyond understanding or description. It is a heavenly peace and it is the peace of knowing God and being ‘right’ before God.

The invitation to come and see Jesus is to come and meet one who will change your life significantly for the good. May God continue to draw you closer to the one who makes all things new. Amen.

Monday, April 2, 2018


Law, Grace, and Freedom (Lent/Easter 2018)
Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church
February 18 - April 1, 2018

Having looked at God's commandments and grace, we look at the freedom in which God has invited us to live and thrive.

      Sunday, April 1, 2018

      Lord and Christ (Acts 2.22-36)

      Sermon by: Robert Austell; April 1, 2018 (EASTER SUNDAY) - Acts 2:22-36

      :: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

      ::: Scripture and Music ::
      CHOIR/CONG: Christ is Alive (arr. Hopson)
      Christ the Lord is Risen Today (EASTER HYMN)
      Resurrection Hymn/See What a Morning (Townend Getty)
      CHOIR: Glorious Day (arr. McDonald) - feat. Melissa Katibah, Eric VanderHeide
      Let God Arise (Tomlin, Cash, Reeves)
      Thine is the Glory (MACCABEUS)
      **And some awesome jazz for prelude/postlude by Rick Bean!

      :: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
      This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

      This morning our scripture text comes from a sermon by Peter, the disciple and follower of Jesus. In that sermon, Peter tells the story of Jesus. This morning I’m going to tell you the story of Jesus as clearly as I know how to do. People are here for different reasons. Maybe it’s your first time back to church in a long time. Maybe you are here visiting a relative or friend. Maybe you are a long-time church member and you are here like any other Sunday. Whoever you are, in some form or fashion, you are here because of Jesus Christ. It is Easter because of Jesus; we’re in church because of Jesus. So, if you’ve heard it before, listen again, you might hear something new. If you haven’t heard it or it’s been a long time, listen, this is the story that is at the heart of it all.

      Listen: Jesus the Man (vv. 22-23)

      “Listen to these words.” That’s how our text begins. Listen to these words:

      Jesus died on a cross.
      Jesus… the Nazarene… the miracle-worker… crucified at the hands of the Romans.

      The starting place is the historical Jesus. He’s a figure in history, mentioned not only in the Bible, but also in other histories of the times. If you could time-travel, you’d find him there… a first-century Palestinian Jew, a wandering Rabbi-Teacher, a man with a following. While you might question the miracles, you’d find a trail of people who would tell you they’d been healed, freed of demons, and confronted with a man like no other.

      Whatever else he is, Jesus is not a figment of our religious imagination. He is not a Zeus or Apollo, created by human minds to explain the unexplainable. He is at the least a man who lived and died, with a life documented by eye-witnesses who were his followers and some who were not. To claim that he was less than that is not being honest or, at least, is being deceived.

      Listen, Jesus was a real person… and even two thousand years later, that cannot be convincingly denied.

      Listen and Look: God at Work (v. 32)

      Listen and look – now Peter calls witnesses for what he says next. Jesus the crucified Nazarene wasn’t the end of the story. Nor was that the end of his life. THIS JESUS, Peter says, God raised up again. And Peter doesn’t just claim it on pure faith, sight unseen. He is surrounded by others who witnessed a living Jesus themselves. He says that in v. 32 – “…we are all witnesses.” Twice he says it (vv. 24 and 32): “God raised him up again.” Peter witnessed God at work and he claims the legal and practical support of an eye-witness.

      We, unfortunately, are removed from the eye-witnesses of the Jesus raised from the dead. And yet, there are eyewitnesses of God at work, even today. Jesus is in Heaven with God the Father, ascended back to his Heavenly home. But he left the Holy Spirit to remain with us. The Spirit, says Jesus, is invisible, but like the wind blowing the leaves of the trees, it can be seen when it is working among us.

      The Christian witness to the world is that God is still at work – both in the world and in our lives. Are you a witness of God at work? Have you seen or heard God? Think – your first answer might be, “No.” But consider how you “see” God. You who are Christians are the eyewitnesses that God answers prayer, that the Holy Spirit is living and active in your life, and that God has indeed rescued you from death into life. God speaks through His written Word, the Bible. God acts through the Holy Spirit. God meets us in worship and goes before us in His mission to the world.

      How will someone who has not trusted in God hear news of THIS JESUS God raised up again? It will be because you who are Christians are witnesses to God’s presence and power.

      Know This: Lord and Christ (v. 36)

      Finally, Peter says in vs. 36:

      …know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ…

      First, what is it we should know for certain? It is that Jesus was not just a man, even if he was a documented man in history with profound influence on the world around him. Jesus is more than that. Jesus was also raised from death by the power of God. That makes him much more than a man; it indicates that he is God working in the world. Believing that is a stretch of faith, but there are still eyewitnesses… that God is at work in the world and in our lives. There is more than the routine of our daily lives; there is an active God.

      But Peter asserts the real truth that we should know for certain. God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ. Jesus is not just a Nazarene, a man; he is the demonstration of God’s power, anointed by God as “Christ,” chosen one, Messiah. He is also Lord; God Himself at work among us. What we should know for certain is that Jesus is Lord and Christ – both the way that God chose to restore us to Himself and give us life, but also the one we believe, worship, and follow. THIS JESUS is Lord and Christ – the way we look to, trust, and obey the God of the universe.

      Second, how can we know this for certain? It is by faith, to be sure. For one cannot trust, obey, worship, and follow except from the spirit and by faith. We might trust a teacher, and even obey and follow, but we dare not worship anything less than God. If we could document, bottle, examine, and describe God, then our worship would be misplaced. Only a God who reaches out to us and whom we trust in faith is worth worshiping in the first place.

      Yet, faith is not as blind or “mindless” as some would imagine. It is grounded in our experience. We have, after all, the historical record of Jesus the Nazarene. We have the testimony of eye witnesses, whether first century followers like Peter and Paul or contemporary followers among our family or friends. And we have the declaration of scripture – purporting to be God’s self-revelation and describing an infinite God who has acted in history and the world to make a way for us to return home to Him. If you read it with an open heart and open mind, you will find a God worth worshiping. Yes, faith is required to really “get it” – but faith isn’t as elusive as it’s made out to be. Peter gives us a road map to faith and grounds us in a clear description of God’s mission to the world.

      Where are You?

      Having said all that, the big question that remains is to ask, “Where are you?” Where are you in relation to THIS JESUS? Maybe you know him and trust him and follow him. If so, consider what kind of witness you are. It may be that your words and actions become part of another person’s journey to faith.

      If you don’t think you get it, begin where Peter began. Start with Jesus the Nazarene, Jesus the man. Read everything the Bible has to say about him. Read Josephus, a Roman Jewish historian who wrote about him from an outside perspective. As you read, also consider the testimony of the witnesses. The New Testament was written by eye-witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. Talk to some modern witnesses – people you know trust Jesus Christ and try to follow him. Consider the core story about Jesus – that he was God’s Son, sent to die and be raised so that we might be restored to a relationship with God. And talk to God – ask for help and ask for faith.

      If you are here today, it is because of Jesus in some way. It is worth asking the question, “What is Jesus to me?” Consider what it means that THIS JESUS is Lord and Christ. Is he that to you? If not, what stands in your way? It may be less than you thought.

      May God give us ears to hear and hearts to respond to His Word this morning. Amen.