Sermon Blog

an interactive blog from winona lake grace brethren church

Praying to Be Broken: Galatians 5:13-26

November 16, 2018

It can be a beautiful thing when a wild animal is domesticated. Maybe a squirrel sits on your shoulder and reaches into your shirt pocket for peanuts. Maybe an elephant takes tourists on rides. Maybe a monkey picks avocados off the highest branches of a tree and brings them to you.

It’s common to speak of breaking a horse or taking a dog for obedience training. It involves convincing an animal to do what you want it to do, not what it—by natural instincts—is inclined to do.

As a professor, I begin each semester passing out a half-sheet of paper to each student in class, asking them to tell me about themselves. There are questions about where they grew up, what their major is, what their goals in life are, and so forth. One of my standard questions is, What do you most often pray about for yourself? Some students mention praying for the perfect spouse, the perfect job, or even, to win the lottery.

One student’s response floored me: “I pray that I would be broken.” That request is unlike any I’ve ever found among hundreds of students. It almost doesn’t make sense. Why would a student pray to be broken?

For a horse to let you ride it and follow your commands, it has to be broken. For a dog to be a good pet—to be obedient—the natural instincts have to be broken. A horse and its rider—a dog and its master—can be a thrill to watch. But only when there is brokenness.

The natural instincts of humans—self-will, self-centeredness, selfishness, entitlement, wanting life served to us on a silver platter, everything perfect—are the opposites of brokenness. An un-broken spirit can be the root of all kinds of evil: jealousy, discord, selfish ambition, prejudice, pride, deceit, idolatry, and on and on.

Brokenness begins on a hill far away, at the foot of the old rugged cross. We should have been the ones hanging there. In effect, we are the ones hanging there! It’s the debt of our sin that had to be paid, not His.

At the foot of the cross, we deserve no entitlements, no personal rights, no natural instincts, no silver platter. With our eyes fixed on Jesus suffering in our place, there is no space for selfish ambition, envy, prejudice, discord, pride. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature, its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24).

Brokenness at the foot of the cross is the ground-zero of sanctification. It’s the cornerstone of commitment. It’s the root that produces the fruit of the Spirit. It’s the backbone of the body of Christ.

APPLICATION: When a dog, a horse, loses its wild side, accepts the brokenness, and learns its role, it brings its master great joy. Together they can do a lot. When Christians are broken, together with Jesus they can do a lot. Thanks to my student for praying to be broken. It’s now on my prayer list for myself. “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps 51:17).

~ dbs

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A TRUE OFFERING

November 15, 2018

He doesn’t want a worthless offering, He wants all you have to offer Him, all that you are, just as you are. The psalmist tells us in Psalm 51:16-17 “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” It is not our attempts at perfect deeds that please the Lord but our honest hearts. If there is anything that I have learned over the last year about my relationship with the Lord it is that distance in our relationship begins with lack of honesty on my part. The very moment that I put all my cards on the table that distance closes in.

I struggle in certain areas of my life with the idol of perfectionism. I like to have everything put together and if it’s not I don’t like for anyone to see. I think a lot of us struggle in some way with this seemingly innocent idol. But when I introduce that idol into my relationship with Jesus it instantly puts distance between us. He doesn’t expect perfection out of me and He never has. Even when He gave the Israelites the law He also gave atonement law. He told them what they needed to do but also what to do when they messed up because He knew they would.

The Lord sees our hearts and that’s what He desires, our honest hearts. He already knows the truth of how we feel even more than we know ourselves, there is no point in keeping Him in the dark. I’ve said this before and I will say it again, it is okay to come to the Lord and say “Abba, I do not want Your will for my life, but I want to want it. Please help me.” He will meet you where you are just as you are, but that doesn’t mean He wants you to stay there. Offer Him all that you are in this moment and He will be faithful to meet you there. Offer Him a true offering, offer Him a broken and contrite heart.

 

-CCT

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Discipline and Mercy Psalm 79:1-13

November 14, 2018

While I was working at a public elementary school, meeting out disciplinary action was often a frustrating endeavor. Perhaps if a firm and loving spanking had been allowed, it could have sent a more clear message than letting the student get away with writing “I will not disrespect my teacher” 25 times. The offensive behaviors would continue repeatedly because there was no heart change in the child.

We adults who were privileged to receive a light form of corporal punishment as young children can gratefully honor our fathers and mothers who cared enough to correct our rebellious ways.

Following two chapters of Israel’s history of recounting the saving acts of God, Psalm 79 is a prayer for mercy. Yes, there is acknowledgement that God had to punish Israel for the accumulation of generations of sinfulness, but now there was an appeal to God to favor His covenant people by lifting their heavy sentence.

The nations God had employed to unleash the harsh consequences on Israel acted with hostility and disdain toward Him. So, not only did the “sheep” yearn for relief, they desired to have God’s holy name lifted high with honor. This indicates repentance. Asaph, the writer of this prayer song claimed God’s people, when shown mercy, would praise the Merciful One for generations to come.

When someone asks us, “How are you?” we can answer, “Better than I deserve” as Roger Peugh taught us to reply.  I’ve mentioned before in an earlier blog, understanding that I deserved damnation was the turning point in my spiritual life. We have been given mercy because of what Christ did for us on the cross. Constantly reminding ourselves of the gospel message will fill our hearts with gratitude rather than idols. Phrases of worship choruses come to mind, “Your grace is enough” and “Christ is enough for me.” Idols of the heart can never give us enough.

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Mud Pie Idols Ezekiel 16:1-63

November 13, 2018

November 13, 2018

Have you ever had to substitute an ingredient in a recipe? Last night I was preparing for Sunday lunch and discovered that I didn’t have a key ingredient.  So I decided to substitute. Would the food be edible?  Would my family turn up their noses in disgust?

Substitutions often produce less than satisfactory results.  In Ezekiel 16, the prophet is using prophetic poetry to speak to the elders. In Ezekiel 14, Yahweh, through the prophet identifies the idolatrous hearts of the people. Then the Lord states that He will answer the people despite their idolatrous hearts, so He can recapture the hearts of His chosen people.

In Ezekiel 16, the Word of the Lord compares the detestable practices of the Jewish people to an adulterous woman.  The Jewish people had allowed their hearts to be captured by desires that became substitutes for following Yahweh.  In Ezekiel 16:15-34, we see that in Israel’s fame and prosperity, she has forgotten the Lord who gave her the wealth and she has begun to use God’s generous gifts for worshipping idols.  How many times am I guilty of worshipping the creation and not the creator?  Romans 1:21-25

It is easy for the desires of my heart to captivate my life.  I become focused on how others perceive me.  I quickly become consumed with my desires to have the life that I see someone else enjoying.  I begin to question why God didn’t choose to heal my mom while others enjoy lifetimes of relationships with their moms.  The desires of my heart begin to beat consistently with a message of discontent and my soul pulses with desires to please myself rather than seek God.

Whenever God’s people turn from His Word and become satisfied with substitutes, they are headed for failure.  Israel chose to trust in their own abilities to secure their borders and made alliances with their neighbors.  They substituted their own wisdom and abilities for God’s strength and power.  How often have I chosen to worry, run ahead of God, fixing problems, resolving situations with my own abilities, believing myself to be wise.  Proverbs 3:7 states; “Do not be wise in your own eyes.”  Yet, I choose to substitute my wisdom, a pale imitation of God’s wisdom, to resolve relationship conflicts, figure out how to pay for that unexpected expense, or fix my children’s issues. I choose a cheap imitation to rely on rather than bringing my desires, my heart, to God and allowing Him to captivate me and show me His wise plans.

 Imagine that sandbox in your childhood backyard and the fun you had there as a child, making castles and mud pies in the frigid and colorful Indiana fall.  Leaves twist and twirl around you as they litter the ground and the wind whistles through the air, chilling you to the bone. Then a family member comes to offer you an all expense paid trip to the balmy coast of Florida and even throws in a visit to Disneyworld.  You ignore them because you are enjoying your chilly mud pie making fun.  All too often, like Israel, we become comfortable with the substitutions we have made for seeking and following Yahweh.  We choose to make mud pies when we could be reveling in a vacation.  The substitution I made for my dinner was satisfactory but it was far from its usual deliciousness, much like the imitations that we grow accustomed to in our lives, not recognizing that God has so much more in store for us.

C.S. Lewis puts it this way; “It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.  We are half hearted creatures, fooling around with drink, and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum, because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea, we are far too easily pleased.”

What mud pie desires do you need to let go of, so you can know the infinite joy of letting God recapture your heart?

lkb

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Unanswered Prayer, Ezekiel 14:1-8

November 12, 2018

Does it ever seem that God is not hearing your prayers? Heaven is silent in spite of your urgent pleas, seeking help from the God who has promised to hear and answer. When others are praising God for answered prayers, you seem to be left all alone with nothing to relate. Today’s Scripture may give us some hints as to why we’re not hearing from God when we are so desperately calling upon him.

In Ezekiel’s day the prophets were spokesmen for God. When the people wanted to approach God, they did so through the prophets. On this occasion, before they even stated their purpose, God asks a question of the prophet (v. 3), “Why should I listen to their requests?”

Why would God not even let them present their requests to him? The clear answer is: “The Israelites [have] set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling block before their faces” (vv. 4, 7). The people cannot approach God because they have sinned against him; they have broken the very first commandment to have no other gods before him (Exodus 20:3).

God cannot overlook their sin, the fact that they have “deserted [him] for their idols” (v. 5). . So, he warns them of the consequences of their sin. He says: “I will . . .

. . . set my face against them (cf. Leviticus 20:3, 5, 6)

. . . make them an example . . .

. . . . . . and a byword (proverb)

. . . remove them from my people” (v. 8).

You might well ask what this has to do with you. You haven’t created any carved images and bowed down before them, substituting them for Jehovah God. Well, we know that many in Israel had done just that, but here God identifies their sin as “idols in the heart” (vv. 5, 7). That certainly would include images of stone, metal, and wood, but it also includes the intangible sins of the mind and heart. What were the distractions that drew them away from God, the things that grabbed their attention, that gained their allegiance?

These are the same questions we must ask ourselves. In Pastor Bruce’s words, we need to identify “when good things become god things.” For most of us it’s not likely idols of wood and stone, but more likely the obsession with sports, career, sex, financial security, social acceptance, and the like. Those are the idols of the heart that become substitute gods for many of us.

God’s crystal clear message in Jeremiah’s day is no less important to us today. He says in verse 6: “Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!” His desire was “to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel,” and it is just as true for his people today. In spite of great sin, Jehovah loves his people and longs to restore them.

What are we, as the church of the 21st century, to learn from the report of Ezekiel? It’s obvious, of course, that God hates sin and idolatry and will punish them when he sees them in his people. If we do not want God to set his face against us, to make us a public example and a despised proverb and to be removed as his people, then we must confess, repent, and forsake our sin. Specifically, we must address the “idols in [our] hearts.” In our current sermon series, we will hear more, no doubt, about the kinds of idols we have to address, the “wicked stumbling blocks” in our lives and hearts. Simply put, we should ask ourselves, what good things have become god things to us? What has stolen our heart’s affections, has consumed an inordinate amount of our time and resources, seeking contentment, satisfaction, and fulfillment in our temporal lives? The New Testament gives us good counsel about what we should be giving our allegiance to, and following it will undoubtedly open up the way to answered prayer.

 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need (Matthew 6:33). Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth (Colossians 3:1-2).

jbd 11/12/18

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Unanswered Prayer, Ezekiel 14:1-8

November 12, 2018

Does it ever seem that God is not hearing your prayers? Heaven is silent in spite of your urgent pleas, seeking help from the God who has promised to hear and answer. When others are praising God for answered prayers, you seem to be left all alone with nothing to relate. Today’s Scripture may give us some hints as to why we’re not hearing from God when we are so desperately calling upon him.

In Ezekiel’s day the prophets were spokesmen for God. When the people wanted to approach God, they did so through the prophets. On this occasion, before they even stated their purpose, God asks a question of the prophet (v. 3), “Why should I listen to their requests?”

Why would God not even let them present their requests to him?The clear answer is: “The Israelites [have] set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling block before their faces” (vv. 4, 7). The people cannot approach God because they have sinned against him; they have broken the very first commandment to have no other gods before him (Exodus 20:3).

God cannot overlook their sin, the fact that they have “deserted [him] for their idols” (v. 5). . So, he warns them of the consequences of their sin. He says: “I will . . .

. . . set my face against them (cf. Leviticus 20:3, 5, 6)

. . . make them an example . . .

. . . . . . and a byword (proverb)

. . . remove them from my people” (v. 8).

You might well ask what this has to do with you. You haven’t created any carved images and bowed down before them, substituting them for Jehovah God. Well, we know that many in Israel had done just that, but here God identifies their sin as “idols in the heart” (vv. 5, 7). That certainly would include images of stone, metal, and wood, but it also includes the intangible sins of the mind and heart. What were the distractions that drew them away from God, the things that grabbed their attention, that gained their allegiance?

These are the same questions we must ask ourselves. In Pastor Bruce’s words, we need to identify “when good things become god things.” For most of us it’s not likely idols of wood and stone, but more likely the obsession with sports, career, sex, financial security, social acceptance, and the like. Those are the idols of the heart that become substitute gods for many of us.

God’s crystal clear message in Jeremiah’s day is no less important to us today. He says in verse 6: “Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!” His desire was “to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel,” and it is just as true for his people today. In spite of great sin, Jehovah loves his people and longs to restore them.

What are we, as the church of the 21st century, to learn from the report of Ezekiel? It’s obvious, of course, that God hates sin and idolatry and will punish them when he sees them in his people. If we do not want God to set his face against us, to make us a public example and a despised proverb and to be removed as his people, then we must confess, repent, and forsake our sin. Specifically, we must address the “idols in [our] hearts.” In our current sermon series, we will hear more, no doubt, about the kinds of idols we have to address, the “wicked stumbling blocks” in our lives and hearts. Simply put, we should ask ourselves, what good things have become god things to us?What has stolen our heart’s affections, has consumed an inordinate amount of our time and resources, seeking contentment, satisfaction, and fulfillment in our temporal lives? The New Testament gives us good counsel about what we should be giving our allegiance to, and following it will undoubtedly open up the way to answered prayer.

 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need (Matthew 6:33). Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand.Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth (Colossians 3:1-2).​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​jbd 11/12/18

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Spiritual Cancer: James 4:1-3, 7, 10; Proverbs 4:23

November 9, 2018

It’s invasive, insidious, often incognito. You never know when you might get it, where you might get it, if you might get it. Some 14 million new cases are discovered each year. There’s no inoculation to prevent it, no pill to cure it.

For many people, cancer is a life-sentence. Once you get it, it’s hard to get rid of. Even if it goes into remission, the chances of it coming back are high. It’s the most feared disease on the planet.

Actually, there’s something we should dread even more than cancer of the body. It’s the cancer of the soul. James has much to say about it in his letter.

  • Those who take pride in their wealth will—like a wildflower scorched by a burning sun—wither and die, their beauty destroyed. (1:9-11)
  • Those who take pride in their status and show favoritism, not loving all their neighbors equally, will be convicted as lawbreakers. (2:1-9)
  • Those with prideful tongues will discover that they have been infected with a world of evil among the parts of the body, corrupting the whole person and setting the whole course of life on fire. (3:5-6)
  • Those who boast and brag will find that their lives are nothing but a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. (4:14-16)
  • Those who live in luxury and self-indulgence will end up weeping and wailing because of the misery coming upon them, the corrosion of their gold and silver eating their flesh like fire. (5:1-5)

Get the picture? See the cancer? This kind is also invasive, insidious, often incognito. The malignancy is a combination of pride, self-centeredness, entitlement—summed up in one word, idolatry. The metastasis is happening, and we don’t even realize it. Others see it in us, before we’re likely to see it in ourselves.

Is there a cure? James points out that God wired us with strong desires (“to envy intensely”— 4:5). And what we most desire shapes who we are and how we think. So desire God and focus on learning to think like He does, and our lives will overflow with His character. But desire friendship with the world, and think like they do, and our “gold and silver . . . will eat our flesh like fire” (5:3), even leading to hatred toward God (4:4).

APPLICATION: The question is, What do we most strongly desire? If it is God, then how do we make sure we don’t substitute some idol in place of God? If we desire healing from the spiritual cancer of pride and self-centeredness, how do we learn to think humbly and practice humility? We can be sure of this: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6; Prov 3:34).

~ dbs

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Ears to Hear & Eyes to See

November 8, 2018

It was a still night on the hall and I sat quietly listening to my roommates music playing softly while she worked. My mind had been wondering for quite some time but my gaze caught our prayer wall which was covered with photos and names of loved ones. I looked over faces and names of people I loved who did not know the Lord and my chest suddenly grew tight. I softly asked my roommate “Brooke, have you ever thought what your life would be like without Jesus? Or how blessed you are to know Him? Because He didn’t have to open our eyes to Him.” She paused from typing, leaned back and said “Man, I couldn’t even imagine.”

As I read through Matthew 13:10-17 this conversation played over in my mind and all I could gather form the words held on that page was that I am blessed beyond what I can fathom. I am blessed to know my God and to be known by Him. The people described in this passage of Scripture have eyes that cannot see and ears that cannot hear. Who am I that my eyes can see and my ears can hear? Who am I that the God of all creation would open my heart to the reality of Who He is? Even a small glimpse of His holiness is too much for my heart to take.

Why me? That is truly a sobering thought and passages like these remind me that the gift I have in Him is so undeserved and it is to be treasured. The Bible I hold is a miracle, my ability to glean from it truth is a gift immeasurable. The gift to see and to hear came at a great cost on Calvary and that is something we should never forget. What we have we do not deserve, but we have been entrusted with this truth. What will we do with it?

-CCT

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Desiring God    Isaiah 43:8, 10; 42:18-20

November 7, 2018

The Jewish people were chosen by God to put His greatness on display for the surrounding pagan nations by obeying and glorifying Him. But, this chosen people so often displayed malice, rebellion, ingratitude, stupidity, apostasy, and resistance to obeying God’s law.

Although internally and willfully blind and deaf, Israel had ample capacity and ability to hear and obey God – they just lacked the desire (James B. Coffman).

In a community with many good churches a child can grow up in a home with Christian influence, learn AWANA verses and Sunday School songs and still reject it all. Not every student on Christian college campuses is truly born again. He or she can sit through lectures and chapel services and graduate with an unchanged heart. We can sit in our favorite pew and listen to amazing sermons and on the way home  sometimes we cannot remember anything that was said. It’s early November and we’re already being bombarded with the pressure to begin Christmas shopping. In the stress of it all we can forget the immense significance of the Incarnation.

Brothers and sisters, let’s pray for each other and pray earnestly for our church leadership. We know the Truth and we cannot let the Enemy sway us toward false teaching. John Macarthur wrote a book, Truth War, as a response to the susceptibility of too many evangelical churches falling into a lax attitude towards the truth of God’s Word. People in churches like this are looking for pseudo truth to tweak their circumstances so they can find their purpose to “become everything you can be.”

How often can we relate to the chorus, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love. Take my heart, Oh take and seal it; seal it for thy courts above.” (R. Robinson, 18th c.) How often do we remember the God-given courage Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had as they refused to bow to the statue of Nebuchadnezzar? They desired God. We desire God.

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No Light From an Idol  Psalm 135:14-18; 115:3-8

November 6, 2018

In his ode to Martin Luther King Jr. (titled “Shed A Little Light”) singer-songwriter James Taylor sings,

“Can’t get no light from the dollar bill
Don’t give me no light from a TV screen
When I open my eyes, I wanna drink my fill
From the well on the hill”

The chorus of the song calls for the Lord to “shed a little light.”  In other words, it’s only in the light of the Lord, that one can really see.

I wouldn’t call James Taylor a prophet, but with this song he tapped into a prophetic line.  We need light to see by, but that light doesn’t come from idols.  It comes from the Lord.

In yesterday’s passage (Isaiah 6), the Lord command Isaiah to tell the people: “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive”?

Why were the Israelites’ hearts “dull,” their ears “heavy,” and their eyes “blind”?

An answer comes in today’s passages.  Both passages include this line: “Those who make idols will be like them.” In other words, we resemble what we revere; we become like that which we worship.

If what we worship is deaf and blind, we will become deaf and blind to the truth.  We will be so fixated on the object of our worship, that we will be as good as dead to God.

There’s no light in a dollar bill.  The light from a TV screen doesn’t help us really see.  The same could be said about a thousand other things that clamor for our devotion, promising light.  But it is only in the light of the Lord Jesus that we truly see.  It is only when we listen for his voice that we truly hear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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