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Sunday, July 28, 2019

Lukewarm (Revelation 3.14-22)


Sermon by: Robert Austell; July 28, 2019 - Revelation 3:14-22

:: 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." 



::: Music ::
One Pure and Holy Passion (Altrogge; arr. Austell)
Be Thou My Vision/Open Our Eyes (public domain; refrain by Austell/Youngblood)
Light the Fire Again (Doerksen)
DANCE: Thank You (Smallwood) - dance by Gwen Ingram (testimony from 12-03-17)
Just As I Am (WOODWORTH)

:: 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

Today we come to the last of the seven letters in Revelation. These are letters written from Jesus to the people of His Church and because you are also His Church, these are letters to you. There is much different between these first century people and us, but also much in common. Like them we get mixed up about what is true and false, our actions don’t line up with our beliefs, our obedience falters, and – with today’s letter – we suffer from ineffectiveness with things that matter most.

Of all the letters in Revelation, this one may be the most familiar to you even if you didn’t know the chapter reference or the church name of Laodicea. That’s because it has two memorable parts to it. One is verse 16, “Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” The other is verse 20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.”

There is a lot of detail and several ways to work through today’s letter, but for today I want to look with you at spiritual ineffectiveness, Jesus diagnosis and prescription for it, and the opportunity and invitation before us still.

Lukewarm (vv.15-16)

We’ll start with “lukewarm.” Contrary to what you might think, ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ do not refer to one’s faithfulness or passion for Christ. Rather, both are good in the context of first century Laodicea. Cold water could refresh a weary traveler; hot water could be used for bathing or cooking. Both were useful. But lukewarm or tepid water was not useful.

Jesus was describing a faith that had lost its effectiveness in the world. The outworking of the Laodicean’s faith was lacking. Perhaps they didn’t show compassion for one another or didn’t care for the poor among them. We don’t get that detail, but we can understand the imagery: their faith just didn’t make a difference in their lives or the world around them.

Jesus writes to them to diagnose this problem and offer a prescription for health. And that’s what comes next…

Doctor and Parent/Teacher (vv.17-19)

In verse 17, Jesus offers a quote to get at the inner dialogue or reasoning of a lukewarm person in Laodicea. That person believes they have what they need in life – “I have become wealthy and have need of nothing.” It’s easy for me to see how I could (and do!) become ineffective when I think I have everything I need. Or it’s easy to see how my focus turns from spiritual things if I pursue “everything I need” apart from God.

In response to this self-satisfied soul Jesus diagnoses, “You do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” (v.17)  But he is not tearing down or belittling us. At the beginning of this seventh letter Jesus is named as “the faithful and true witness.” (v.14) He is not belittling us; he is telling the truth! He continues with a prescription for health and healing, “I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.” (v.18) These are not literal prescriptions for spiritual self-satisfaction and ineffectiveness, they are metaphors for what we really need to become effective once again.
  1. We desire riches and wealth; Jesus points us to the greater treasure of mature faith refined by obedience in trial.
  2. We cover ourselves to hide our shame; Jesus points us to the “white garments,” a symbol of being clothed with his righteousness and forgiveness.
  3. We don’t even realize our spiritual blindness; Jesus offers us healing and spiritual insight.
These things may feel like a rebuke; they may even feel painful. Using a different metaphor – one of a caring parent or teacher, Jesus speaks of the connection between love and discipline. Still truth-telling, he says that this is discipline offered in love. It’s not punishment; its discipline designed for us to learn and grow and thrive. So, he urges, “Be zealous (passionate!) and repent.” (v.19)

Opportunity Knocks (vv.20-22)

At this point every other of the seven letters moves directly into the “he who overcomes” and “he who has an ear, let him hear.” But this last letter has this extra sentence – and a third metaphor – which is one of the most familiar verses of the letters, even though most probably don’t realize this is where it is in scripture.

The same Jesus who was present in the beginning (v. 14) is also the God who desires relationship with us:

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with me.” (v.20)

This verse is often used in evangelistic rallies or altar calls as an invitation to salvation. And certainly Jesus does invite people to open up and welcome him into their life. But that’s not really the context here. The context is the person whose faith has become ineffective. Finding or seeking satisfaction consciously (or unconsciously) apart from God can contribute to a faith without impact. In this vivid image of knocking at the door, Jesus reminds us of several things:
  1. The time is urgent (it’s more than “call me when you’re ready”; because he loves you, he desires to be in your life)
  2. Jesus will not force his way into your life (i.e. kick the door down)
  3. Jesus desires to share life with you (i.e. not run your life, but enjoy it together)
How does this happen? How can we regain our effectiveness for Christ – a faith that overflows into what we say and do?

Do you “hear his voice?” I don’t mean audibly; but if you are interested in this message and this invitation, then I think you are hearing his voice. In fact, whether you are hot, cold, or lukewarm, I think there is something important in Jesus letter to you today. Do you hear it?

If so, then “opening the door” means accepting God’s loving discipline, Jesus’ offer for help and healing, and His invitation to do life together. Remember, he’s not going to force himself on you and he’s not out to run your life. That’s not the image of welcoming him in to eat a meal together. It is the image of a God who loves you enjoying life together with you, as He intended it to be when He created man and woman in the beginning and said, “It is good.” May God give us ears to hear. Amen.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Anchors (Revelation 3.7-13)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; July 21, 2019 - Revelation 3:7-13

:: 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." 



::: Music ::
Holy, Holy, Holy (NICEA)
Bless the Lord/10,000 Reasons (Myrin, Redman)
Be Unto Your Name (DeShazo, Sadler)

:: 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

A few weeks ago California was rocked by some pretty significant earthquakes. News clips showed store owners with all their merchandise shaken off the shelves and shattered on the floor. One owner had just cleaned up only to have the area shaken a second time by an even stronger quake. It’s quite literally a terrifying and unexpected disruption of life. But it also is a parable of so much else in life that also shakes and disrupts and undoes us: sickness, unemployment, betrayal, disappointment, death, and an uncertain future. I know many feel a general concern about our country and society, regardless of what side of the aisle you sit on. It seems like we are tearing apart no less than the ground around those quakes in California.

In A.D. 17, the ancient city of Philadelphia was briefly re-named Neocaesarea (“Caesar’s New City”) in appreciation for imperial reconstruction aid after an earthquake. Like others of these letters in Revelation, Jesus seems to tap into themes that would be familiar to his audience. In this letter to the shaken city, he promises his suffering church an infinitely more stable future – a “pillar in the temple of God” – and a greater name – “the city of My God, the new Jerusalem.” (v.12)

Today we’ll look briefly at what the believers in Philadelphia were doing well and where they were challenged. And I’d like to do an exercise with you out of their story and Jesus’ challenge to them.

Philadelphia

The Christians in Philadelphia were not in the cultural majority. They were likely still seen as a minor offshoot of Judaism, and neither recognized yet by the surrounding culture, nor welcomed by the Jews in the city. They indeed had little earthly power or influence, but Jesus identifies what they do have and it is the main thing. They have held fast to God’s Word and to Jesus’ name. Let me repeat those because that’s our focus today: they held fast to God’s Word and to Jesus’ name.

Because of those two anchor points, Jesus promises to protect them in the trials yet to come. Along with that, he claims the power to hold the door open to them. Whatever they will face, Jesus holds the key and is the door into the presence of God, in that new Promised Land, the New Jerusalem. It’s reminiscent of the language in chapter 14 of the Gospel of John, when Jesus tells his disciples that he goes to prepare a place for them that where he is they will also be.

His charge to the believers in Philadelphia who have held fast to God’s Word and to Jesus’ name: keep holding fast! I picture the person fallen overboard to whom the life preserver has been thrown. Those on board are shouting, “Keep holding on!” That life preserver of God’s Word and Jesus’ name will continue to provide rescue and salvation.

Holding Fast to God’s Word

So what do we do with that? How do we appropriate this letter to ancient Greeks for our 21st century selves? I think the lesson is remarkably consistent and close: we too are facing and will face trial, disruption, and uncertainty. And it is still God’s Word and Jesus’ name that serve as our anchor point, our life preserver, our hope for getting through. And Jesus message to us is, “Keep holding on!”

Last week Bob Simes preached an inspiring sermon around the importance of reading and studying God’s Word, the Bible. I’d like to do an exercise that I hope will both demonstrate the importance of this and also convict us of our need to keep on and to go deeper.

What I’d like you to do is think of a verse or phrase from the Bible that has encouraged you or helped you or otherwise inspired you. If you can remember the verse number, add it; but if you can’t, don’t worry. You can either text it to me right now or write it in the white space in your bulletin at the bottom of the first page where there is some white space. Please print so I can read it. If you want to put more than one, that’s fine, too, but just 2-3 at the most. But I want the words, not just a reference like “Psalm 23.” After you are done, please fold them and pass them to the center aisle and I’ll ask the ushers to bring them up to the table. Now if you can’t think of any from memory, would you write out this prayer, “God, help me learn Your Word.”

I’ll give you a moment to do that.

[I collect them.]

Now, I don’t know what you’ve written, but I’d like to read these back to you. In this way your holding fast to God’s Word – however limited or small that may seem – will bless someone else in the room… I believe that. And if we have 50 “Help me learn Your Words” then that is a great prayer for us to lift up today.

*Verses passed forward (I’ve organized them in canonical order, with the prayers to know God’s Word better at the end):

Old Testament Verses

  • And thou love the Lord your God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy might. (Deuteronomy 6:5)
  • Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted in all the nations. I will be exalted in the earth. (Psalm 46:10) – 4x
  • The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want. (Psalm 23:1) – 2x
  • Because the Lord is my shepherd I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures… Yea, though I travel through the valley of death I shall not be afraid. (Psalm 23:1-2a,4)
  • God, You are so forgiving & good, abounding in love to all who call on You. (Psalm 86:5)
  • I lift my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1) – 2x
  • Where can I flee from Your presence? If I rise up on the wings of the dawn and settle on the far side of the sea, yet you are there. (Psalm 139:7b,9)
  • Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all of your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5)
  • Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 9:10)
  • Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)
  • For everything there is a place (time) under heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
  • I love the verse about rise up on eagle’s wings, but I don’t know it completely. I pray to learn the Bible better. (--> Isaiah 40:31)
  • Walk humbly. Act Justly. Love mercy. (Micah 6:8); Also praying to help me learn God’s word.
New Testament Verses
  • Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)
  • Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven give us this day our daily bread and forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil for thine is the kingdom the power and the glory forever. (Matthew 6:9-13)
  • I am with you always. (Matthew 28:20)
  • Lord, I believe, help me in my disbelief. (Mark 9:24)
  • Do unto others as you would have them do to you! (Luke 6:31) – 2x
  • In the beginning, the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)
  • For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten that whoever believeth in Me should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16) – 6x
  • I have come to give you life abundantly (John 10:11)
  • And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am there ye may be also, and if I go ye know the way. Thomas said, “Lord, how can we know the way.” Jesus said, I am the way, the truth and the life. No man cometh unto the Lord but by me. (John 14:3-6)
  • I am the truth, the life and the way. No one comes to the Father but through me. (John 14:6)
  • Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friend. (John 15:13)
  • I shall not be ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation of all who believe first for the Jews and then the gentiles. (Romans 1:16)
  • For all have fallen short of the glory of God, but by grace we are saved. (Romans 3:23-24)
  • Therefore we have an obligation but it’s not to the sinful nature to live according to it for if you live according the sinful nature you will die, but if by the spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live! (Romans 8:12-13)
  • Nothing can keep God away! (par. of Romans 8: 35-39)
  • Faith comes by hearing, hearing from Word of God. (Romans 10:17)
  • I appeal to you therefore brethren, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the mercies of God. (Romans 12:1-2)
  • Put on the full armor of God so that you may stand against the wiles of enemies. (Ephesians 6:11)
  • I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13) – 6x
  • Do not worry about anything but in everything through prayer and thanksgiving present your request to the Lord and the peace of God through Jesus Christ will guard your heart and mind. (Philippians 4:6-7) – 2x
  • Love one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (par. of Colossians 3:12-14)
  • All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:15)
  • Cast your cares upon Him, for He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
Prayers
  • God, help me learn Your mind.
  • Lord, help me learn Your word.
  • Jesus, help me learn Your mind.
  • Help me learn Your word.

There have been house churches and persecuted Christians who could not have their own copy of the Bible. In many cases they would commit scripture to memory… no one could remember the whole thing, but when they gathered they could share the Word with each other as you have done this morning.

Home Assignment: If you’d like to take this a step further, I have an interesting home challenge for you. Take a notebook (or computer or cell phone if you like) and see how much scripture you can write out for memory. You can include portions you know word for word, or broad outlines or re-telling of stories: for example, you may not be able to quote past Genesis 1:1, but you could write “Genesis 1-3, creation story.” Imagine if printed Bibles were taken from the world and we had to re-construct it from memory or tell it to our children, what could you remember.  I bet it won’t be as much as you’d like, but I also bet it will be more than you think. And as you do this exercise, ponder what it means to be anchored in God’s Word and to hold fast to that Word as the foundational anchor or life preserver in a time of trial or disruption. How might you keep on and go deeper? Would you like to have a better understanding of the overarching story? Or learn key verses?

Jesus’ Name

The other anchor point or life preserver in the letter today is the name of Jesus. What does it mean for us today to hold fast or keep the name of Jesus? I’d suggest two things:

1. “Life in Jesus’ name” means that we live in obedience and service to God through Jesus. We do what he’d have us do. He taught a lot about loving neighbor, helping the least, and living as a citizen of the Kingdom of God. We’re going to focus on that this Fall, starting in September, so we’ll have an opportunity to really dig into “Life in Jesus’ Name.”

2. Affirming Jesus’ name: Jesus specifically mentions (v. 8) not denying his name. The opposite of denying is affirming. In other words, our first allegiance, devotion, commitment, and obedience… is to Jesus. Again with today’s political climate: a Christian is not first a Republican or a Democrat… not first Fox or CNN… a Christian is first a follower of Jesus Christ. We evaluate our politics, our priorities, our lifestyle, our goals by our love for and obedience to Jesus Christ.

Back in the 90s there was a kind of fad that swept through the church… the “WWJD” bracelets, with the letters standing for “What Would Jesus Do?” I even wrote a song about it.  That movement was based off a book published in 1896 by Charles Sheldon and called In His Steps. It was the story of a church and town that became convicted they should ask the question “What would Jesus do?” in regards to everything they did. The changes to the church and town were both significant and often surprising. I’m not suggesting we resurrect the bracelets – that was kind of a cheesy marketing gimmick… but life in Jesus’ name does take seriously that question and I think it is one that would change our personal lives and national dialogue in significant and probably surprising ways. On a more manageable level, I’d simply ask you, in addition to considering the role of scripture in your life, to pause to ask the question “What would Jesus do?” throughout the day and particularly as you evaluate the news, post online, and interact with people different than you.

Remember, Jesus holds the door open for us, that we might continue to hold fast to God’s Word and Jesus’ name, and know God’s presence now and forever. Amen.

---------------
* I read about 8-10 in the service, but am here including all the verses and prayers handed in to me on Sunday morning. I had suggested that if one could not remember any scripture one could write a prayer to God to “help me learn your Word.” Interesting the variations on that (esp. with ‘mind’ and ‘Word’). In addition, there were two submitted that were interesting and not verses I could find in scripture: “God is God” (certainly a truism, and there are some verses that speak to Israel, “Your God is God” but nothing quite like this); and “Fear nothing – except the wrath of God.” I could not find the latter one, though there are many statements of “do not fear” and “don’t be afraid” and many references to God’s wrath. The closest match was Matthew 10:28 which says “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” This verse has a narrower and somewhat different focus than the submitted quote seemed to carry. It left me wishing I knew who submitted it to see what they were thinking about. It is also unusual to me that this was the one ‘verse’ given in response to my request for an encouraging verse one might have committed to memory.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

What is the Bible (2 Timothy 3.1-17)

Sermon by: Bob Simes; July 14, 2019 - 2 Timothy 3.1-16

:: 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." 



::: Music ::
This is My Father's World (TERRA BEATA)
Break Thou the Bread of Life (BREAD OF LIFE)
Grace Greater than Our Sin (MOODY)
OFFERTORY: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (arr. Smith/Hustad)
How Firm a Foundation (FOUNDATION)

:: Sermon Manuscript :: There is no manuscript this week.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Sleepy (Revelation 3.1-6)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; July 7, 2019 - Revelation 3:1-6

:: 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." 



::: Music ::
Creation Sings the Father's Song (Getty/Townend)
Light the First Again (Doerksen)
CONFESSION: Create in Me (Shepherdson, Ferguson)
OFFERTORY: The Power of the Cross (Getty)
Build Your Kingdom Here (Rend Collective)

:: 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.

You are listening to the lecture in history class and the teacher’s voice is droning on and on. Your eyelids start getting heavier and heavier. The room is warm and you start to drift off. Minutes pass and your thoughts are wandering. Are your eyes even open? It’s hard to remember. Then all of a sudden you hear your name and jolt awake. The teacher is looking at you, obviously having just asked you something. You try to rewind and play it back, but there’s nothing there. The adrenalin is surging, but you are caught flat-footed and embarrassed. “Wake up and pay attention!” the teacher says, and goes on with the lecture.

That’s something many of us have probably experienced in one form or another. And, while it’s just an illustration, it captures a bit of what is going on in the letter to Sardis today. This is the 5th of seven letters in the first few chapters of Revelation. They are letters from Jesus to the church, which means they are letters from Jesus to you and to me.

Are their ways in which we have fallen asleep as Christians? as a church? That’s the question raised by today’s text, and it comes with a strong caution about the importance of staying spiritually awake and alert, both to God and to the world around us.

Wake Up: strengthen what is incomplete

The church in Sardis had a good reputation. Jesus said so: “I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive.” But the reality is a bit different than the reputation. Jesus continues, “…but you are dead.” But then he backs off a bit. Not unlike one of my favorite scenes in the classic movie Princess Bride, the church is evidently not all-the-way-dead, just mostly dead. Because Jesus goes on to say, “Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die.” There is still hope; there is still some possibility of life!

Jesus tells them to remember what they have received and heard… and KEEP it, and REPENT. So, they have the information, the training, and the mission. They just haven’t finished the work God has given them to do, and they seem to have dozed off at the wheel. And I don’t mean to sound light-hearted about it; it’s a life and death matter for the church. But Jesus, as with the other churches, holds out hope and a way forward.

There are some at Sardis, he says, who have not fallen asleep. They will walk with Jesus in the Kingdom of God. And there is still hope to repent and overcome; those, too, will be clothed in white and walk with Jesus in the Kingdom.

And so, Jesus charges the sleepy saints at Sardis to wake up, pay attention, re-engage, and complete their mission. Do you ever feel like you are spiritually sleepy? I want to look at two other passages with you to illustrate how to wake up and stay alert and engaged spiritually. Then, in response to Jesus’ usual “for those with ears to hear” I want to consider what it means for us to be alert and awake in our day.

Alert and Sober (1 Thess 5) – illustration/analogy

In a letter to the Thessalonians a generation or two earlier, the Apostle Paul wrote a similar message. He wrote that the timing of the Lord’s return was unknown, but would be sudden, catching many off guard. He offers two specific analogies, warning the Christians in that city to be awake and sober. In contrast, he notes the ways that sleep or drunkenness dull us to what’s going on around us. His point is that just as we can be alert and sober with our bodies, so we can be with our spirit. And therefore we can be looking out for God to work or hardly aware of it at all.

But Paul goes beyond the analogy to offer some specific and practical ways to be alert and sober. Using imagery he also uses in Ephesians, he talks of spiritual armor, something we have to consciously “put on” in our life. He names a breastplate of faith and love and a helmet of salvation. It is in wearing faith, love, and our salvation in the world that we are prepared for what we will face. He also instructs us to “encourage and build up one another.”

What does it mean to be spiritually alert and sober? It means consciously covering ourselves in faith and love, living out of the reality of our salvation. Picture, if you will, a soldier of the time standing guard at night. But as the hours get long the soldier takes off his armor to more comfortably sleep. He will be neither alert nor ready if an enemy or thief approaches. That’s the kind of imagery Paul is drawing on here and Jesus is in the letter to Sardis. If you are of the Church, if you are of Christ, then remain “dressed,” alert, and ready spiritually. Don’t sleep; don’t leave the watch half-done; be diligent and faithful.

More than the Watchmen for the Morning (Ps 130)

Our call to worship in Psalm 130 drew on this same imagery. It both describes the alert and ready watchman and the spiritual illustration found therein. This illustration of being an alert and ready watchmen was particularly powerful for Sardis, as it was a supposedly impregnable fortress city that had twice been sacked in history because the night watchmen fell asleep. The people of Sardis knew well the dangers of falling asleep and Jesus words would have rung powerfully in their ears.

In Psalm 130 the watchmen who is both diligent and eager for the morning is compared to the human soul. It is a spiritually ‘awake’ individual who writes:

“I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning; indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in the Lord; for with the Lord there is lovingkindness, and with Him is abundant redemption!” (vv.5-7)

So add hope to the description of being spiritually awake. This is hope in the Lord’s compassion and redemption, for something after the darkness of the night. Put it all together and what Jesus desires for his Church and his followers is an alert and ready faith, prepared to watch and serve the Lord with faith, hope, and love and thriving together in spiritual community. To fall asleep at that calling is to leave the mission incomplete and miss the power and joy of faithful obedience and participation in God’s work.

Ears to Hear

As with every letter, Jesus concludes the letter to Sardis with “the one who has an ear, hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (v.6)

I want to offer two specific “I’m listening” points of application for us as Christ-followers today. The first has to do with faith and the second with politics.

Faith

Don’t put off what is most important. When Jesus speaks of a faith that is awake and watchful, he is not talking about church attendance. He is talking about knowledge of and a relationship with God through himself… one that manifests itself in our inward thoughts, outward actions, and hope in God.

Don’t put off taking faith seriously until you are older or need to pray a desperate prayer or have some sort of dramatic experience of God. You don’t have to have all the answers or live a perfect life to take faith seriously. You don’t have to have a perfect faith, but Jesus does invite you to take faith seriously.

Politics

And here’s where I’m going with “politics.” As our country has become more and more polarized around politics and issues, I have increasingly felt like the Church has fallen asleep at a critical time. Instead of speaking and acting with Christian faith, hope, and love into a very needy world around us, we line up our talking points with our party of choice, even when – on both sides – that conflicts with our faith.

What is immediately pressing on my mind and heart is the plight of the children being held at the border. Whatever your position on immigration policy, that should stir our hearts to grief, prayer, and action. I feel like many are sleeping through a humanitarian crisis because the politics around it are complex and contentious. But here’s the first step I want to offer you today, and I hope it is a helpful application of today’s text.

It is not only possible, but desirable, for a Christian to sometimes disagree with one of the two parties. It is not only freeing, but would be incredibly healthy to be able to say, “I voted for President Trump, but I disagree with his action or words here because Christ leads me to say or do this.” It would be freeing and healthy to say, “I always vote Democrat, but I don’t agree with the party on these issues because Christ leads me to say or do this.” It would not only work against the dangerous polarization in our society, but would also be a faithful and healing witness to our neighbors and the world. It is entirely possible to say “I think we should have strong borders, but we must take care of the children responsibly.”

I know it’s hard to go against the polarized spirit of the age, but I’d challenge you the next time you hear a news report or talk to someone of similar or different political views, to ask yourself in the moment (or even afterward) how your faith leads you on the topic. Is it a multi-part situation that needs deeper reflection than “I’m for it” or “I’m against it”? Are there ways that we can be awake to God’s Spirit such that we actively clothe ourselves in faith, hope, and love, and seek to encourage and bless each other and the community in which we live?

For those with ears to hear…  Amen.

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Call for Discipleship (Matthew 28.18-20, Acts 2.42-47)

Sermon by: Zach Drummond; June 30, 2019 - Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:42-47

:: 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." 



::: Music ::
Revelation Song (Riddle)
Let Us Be Known (Armstrong, Massey, Moore)
Christ, Be Our Light (duet, Kayleigh Knight, Eric VanderHeide) (Farrell)
By the Sea of Crystal (duet, Kayleigh Knight, Eric VanderHeide) (arr. Bean)
Go to the World (ENGELBERG)

:: 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.

My name is Zach Drummond - I am the Director of Youth and Children’s Ministries here at Good Shepherd. This summer we have been going through a series called “Message to the Church.” We’ve been studying the letters written to the 7 churches in the book of Revelation. This week we are going to take a break from Revelation to talk about something that I feel like God has put on my heart for the past year, discipleship.

I want to start with a reflection question for all of you to think about: When in your life have you felt the closest to God? At which points did you feel the strongest connection with God? Ultimately: What caused that intimacy? What was the reason for that closeness or strong connection? Today I want to make the case that your intimacy with God is directly linked to your connection with the body of Christ. In other words, Christian community is designed to help us become more mature followers of Jesus.

Last week I had the privilege of taking our high school students and a few of their friends to Jamaica on a mission trip. I've been on a lot of mission trips in my life, but this was definitely one of my favorites. The theme for the week was change. We studied the life of Peter and how he was powerfully changed by Jesus. I loved being a leader on this trip and watching the change that happened in all of our students.

Before the trip, all of them kind of knew each other and we're friendly. But by the end of the week, they were the best of friends. They really opened up and shared personal issues and struggles. They even cuddled together as a group a few times. Even though we worked really hard all week on construction sites and barely got much sleep, they remained positive and were always willing to serve. Even Camron cleaned up after dinner with a smile on his face. They were so moved by the need in Jamaica that they decided to begin helping and loving those in need in Charlotte when they got home. Before the trip, they had become busy with school and life and had grown distant from God. By the end of the trip, they had reconnected with God and wanted to make Him more of a priority in their lives. They even stood in front of the entire group and shared about how God had changed them that week.

What is it about mission trips that enables this amazing transformation to happen? I've noticed that people tend to grow more spiritually on mission trips than anything else. You may argue that this was caused by the mission trip itself or the destination, but I want to argue that it was caused by our connection with each other. In Matthew 18:20, Jesus says, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Jesus is saying that when believers gather together, He gathers with them. We invite the presence and power of God among us when we meet with other Christians.

In Jamaica we spent every day gathered together with other believers. Every morning we spent time with God separately and then came together for breakfast and shared how God had spoken to us. During the day we went out in teams and served Jamaican families and children that were in need. At night, we gathered together to worship, pray, share testimonies from the day, and hear God's word. At the end of the day we shared how we had seen God move and speak that day. God powerfully transformed and changed each one of us because of our connection with the body of Christ. The type of Christian community we have on mission trips is what enables us to grow so much spiritually. But don’t just take my word for this - I’ll let God’s word show you the same thing.

Let's read Acts 2:42-47 again, But this time I want you to pay attention to what the believers do when they gather together. "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."

The spectacular aspect of this community is how powerfully God moved in them and through them. These believers were performing miracles every time they gathered! And non-Christians were giving their lives to Jesus every single day and joining their community! You can clearly see the presence and power of God in this community. Why? What enables this amazing transformation to happen? The believers gathered together daily and Jesus met with them. But what I want you to notice is that they were very intentional with their gatherings. As the text says, they ate together and spent quality time together. But even more so… It says that every day they gathered together to pray, to study God’s word, to worship, to encourage one another, and to meet people's needs. Their community had a very specific purpose for gathering: Jesus. Everything they did was rooted in and centered upon Jesus.

And it was actually Jesus that taught the disciples how to build a community like this. Jesus formed a community just like the one in Acts. First, he handpicked 12 guys to follow Him. Then, during His 3 years of ministry, Jesus spent 90% of His time with His disciples, building this kind of Christian community. He taught them about God, prayed with them, encouraged them, worshipped with them, studied God's word with them, and showed them how to love and meet the needs of others. When His work on Earth was finished, He sent his disciples out to do the same. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus says, “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” Jesus gave us the perfect example of what our fellowship time with other Christians should look like. It's called discipleship.

According to Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus defines discipleship as the lifelong process of learning to obey His commands. If you look at how Jesus made disciples, then discipleship is the process of following someone in order to become more like that person. Discipleship involves 3 main things. Every Christian should be helping unbelievers become believers by teaching them about Jesus. That is making a disciple. And every Christian should be helping other believers grow to more and more spiritual maturity. That is making a disciple. And every Christian should be seeking to get help for themselves from other believers to keep on growing spiritually. That is our discipleship.

As God has been teaching me more about discipleship, and as I've studied how Jesus poured His life into His disciples, I've been convicted by these lingering questions: How much time do I spend with Christian community? How much of that time is centered upon Jesus and aimed toward discipleship? When spending time with friends or family, it's so easy and natural to make it all about having fun or catching up or making memories together. Jesus wants us to have fun, to enjoy our lives, and make memories. But even more so He wants us to make disciples for His glory.

Unfortunately, I’ve come to realize that I’m more influenced by American culture than I want to be. We live in a very individualistic culture in which we’re taught to rely on ourselves instead of each other. But on my own, I have always struggled to pursue God. I strive to spend time with God every day, reading my Bible and praying. But the habit never lasts. I start strong but fizzle out because I lose the motivation to keep going. Within a week or two I’m sleeping in or watching Netflix instead of spending time with God.

There are some days where I’m feeling a range of emotions: exhausted, apathetic, tired, lazy, or just in a bad mood. Those are the most difficult days for me to connect with God. For me to muster up any faith or love for God. There are even some days in which I would rather do something else than spend time with God. On those days - I need Christian community more than ever. I need someone to remind me of the gospel. That Jesus died for me, loves me, and is for me. That Jesus will never leave me and still wants to be with me. It’s my Christian brothers and sisters that always bring me back to Jesus. God didn't design us to walk our faith out alone. He designed us to bear one another's burdens and pursue Him together.

One summer in college experienced the greatest discipleship of my life. I was part of a summerlong Christian leadership training program with around 100 other students. I lived in a one bedroom condo right on the beach in Panama City Beach, Florida. We managed to squeeze 9 guys in that one bedroom to save money. With one toilet and one shower it got pretty bad. But I loved every minute of it. Everyone got a job to pay the bills so I worked at Wendy's. Each morning, before work, my roommates woke up at 5:00 or 6:00 a.m. to spend time with God. This challenged me to do the same. Even though I'm not a morning person, I found myself waking up early to spend time with God.

At work, we became friends with the other employees and tried to teach them about Jesus. After work, before dinner, I met with my roommates one on one to pray together and study the Bible. One of the 9 guys I lived with met with me every week to disciple me. I also met with half of my roommates every week for small group. Three nights out of the week everyone gathered together too worship and receive training on prayer, Bible study, and evangelism. One afternoon each week we did beach evangelism, where we shared the gospel with total strangers. I grew more mature spiritually that summer than any other time in my life. I saw the presence and power of God at work all summer. It was thanks to the intentional discipleship that happened every single day.

So what am I trying to say here? That we should all move into one condo on the beach and create our own Christian leadership training program? No! Not at all! I'm trying to help you see the value of and need for discipleship in our lives. In Matthew 28, Jesus commands all Christians to make disciples. To teach non-Christians about Jesus. To help Christians become more like Jesus. And to get help from other Christians to become more like Jesus.

I want to challenge all of you, as God is challenging me. How can you be more intentional with your time to make room for discipleship? How can you be more intentional with your Christian community to be discipled and to make disciples? The good news is that Jesus gives us many methods for discipleship. You can meet one on one with another believe or with a group of believers. All that matters is that you center your time, conversations, and activities on Jesus.

I fully believe that the more we pursue intentional discipleship within the body of Christ, the more we will become like this community in Acts. We will experience the closest kind of intimacy there possibly is with Jesus. We will love each other better and be more generous than ever before. We will be more joyful and fulfilled than ever before. We will see miracles in our midst. And non-Christians will give their lives to Jesus and join our community.