Sermon "Skill in Your Hand & God in Your Heart"

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

In the Hands of the Potter

"O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potters hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel." - Jeremiah 18:6
It's amazing how a clay pot can be so strong, yet at the same time so fragile. From the earliest scenes of man's story, God taught us how to take clay, heat it to a certain point, then let it cool to create earthen ware that would last a long, long time. There have been whole clay pots found that have survived thousands of years, yet one could fall only a few feet off a shelf and shatter.

I don't know about you, but often times I feel like a piece of pottery. In my 41 years, I have lasted through a lot. Certainly when I consider the people who live in war-torn parts of the world, or those who survived ethnic genocides, or other horrible human tragedies, my life may seem easy in comparison. However, I can only observe the hardships of others, but I have to live mine. And it has been through some of the lowest valleys in my life that I have witnessed the strength that God can give me to survive physically, mentally and emotionally. Sometimes now I can look back and wonder, "how in the world did I make it through that'.

But as often as I have felt very strong, I have also felt very weak. Though I have survived many mountains, there are some hills that I 'clare' are about to do me in. Though I have amazed myself at times at the big things I have been able to stand up to, I have also shamed myself at the small things that have brought me to my knees. And when I look at the clay pot that I see when I look into the mirror, I wonder how something so durable can at the same time be so fragile. But then I read in the bible about the potter and his clay.

In reading Jeremiah 18, I am reminded that both the strength and the weakness of a pot rest in the hands of the potter. Only He can choose the clay used to make it, how He will shape it, how long He will bake it. The pot cannot choose that. And once it is made, the fate of that pot still rests in the hands of the one who created it. Through that I realize that God chose to make me out of clay so that I can be strong enough to be of some use to Him, but fragile enough so He can break me and make me over when He wants.

So if today you happen to be feeling particularly fragile, I hope that you have accepted Christ so that you can rest assured that you are safe in the hands of the potter.

Monday, February 18, 2013

I Won't Go Back!

"If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up." Daniel 3:17-18
Don't you just hate a detour? I mean, no one takes leisurely "Sunday drives" any more, so when we are driving some where now, we are headed there with a purpose. Therefore, when we come upon an unexpected detour, it puts a wrinkle in our schedule. Whether its a road I travel daily, like on my way to work, or a road I travel rarely, like on our way to vacation, a detour can really be frustrating.  But as frustration as they may be, I can't think of a time when a detour caused me to turn around and go back. Sure, I may have had to take a different route around my to get to my destination, but I guess I always felt the destination was important enough to go around. 

A long, long time ago there were 3 young men who found themselves facing a detour of their own. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were traveling along their normal paths in life when all of a sudden a major detour popped up, and it's name was Nebuchadnezzar. He was the Babylonian king who conquered Judah, killing many and taking some back to Babylon with him to be his servants. These boys were among them. King Nebuchadnezzar chose them to serve in his palace, along with Daniel, because they were smart, skillful and handsome. He even changed their names to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Man, talk about a detour.

Fast forward a little, and now you find these three young men standing only some feet away from a furnace that is so hot, they watch men burst into flames just standing too close to it. They are there because they refused to bow down to the golden image of the king as he had commanded, and they were about to lose their lives for it. You see, they were on a path to serve and love the one true and living God; the God of their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They had set out on a life  journey to follow Him and to live for Him no matter what. But that was all before this detour, before the glows of this red hot furnace was drawing beads of sweat from their faces. So what would they do? Would the journey be just too hard to continue? Wouldn't it be reasonable, if not wise, to turn around and go back on their commitment to God? Well obviously not to them. The bible says that all three of them answered, without hesitation, and perhaps in unison..."If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up." They decided that no matter the detour, the reward of the destination would far outweigh the cost of the journey. They had set out on a path of faith in God that would lead them to a home in heaven, and there was nothing that would cause them to turn back, not even death.

Do you have your mind made up like that? Have you committed to a path with God and to heaven and prepared to reach your destination no matter what the detours may be? I hope that you have. If you haven't, the time to decide is now, and not when you hit that detour in your life. There is nothing for you in the life behind you, but God and every good gift that He can carry lies ahead. Make that commitment today, and tell the Lord, "I WON'T GO BACK"!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Climbing Calvary

"And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha." John 19:17
Could you walk a mile? Sure you can. Could you walk a mile carrying a piece of wood weighing as much as 100 lbs? Maybe you could. Could you walk a mile, carrying a piece of wood weighing as much as 100 pounds and then climb a steep, rocky hill with it? I doubt that you could. But you know what, Jesus did.

After hours of beating and flogging, spitting and slapping, railing and riving, the Roman soldiers hoisted a wooden cross on Jesus' shoulder and prodded Him into marching out of the city walls of Jerusalem. It may have been just the crossbeam, which would have weighed 100+ pounds; or it may have been the whole cross, which would have be at least 300 pounds. They marched Jesus towards a hill the Bible calls Golgotha, the place of the skulls, which is also called Calvary. The exact location is greatly debated, but He likely had to walk at least a mile outside of the city. The gospels, except for John, mention a man named Simon who was ordered by the guards to help Jesus carry this cross. We're not sure if he carried it all part of the way, or helped to carry it all of the way. Nevertheless, Jesus bore His own cross.

It took enough for Him to make it to the hill, but then He had to climb it, with cross in tow. The Romans believed in crucifying on a hill just outside the city so all coming in and going out would see. So step after step, stumble after stumble, legs wobbling, blood and sweat running into His eyes, Jesus walked up that hill. He pushed through the pain and made it to the top, because He knew it was what He had to do.

Here, I won't go into details about what happened next. You know the story. If you don't feel like you fully understand how hard it was for our Savior, you should watch The Passion of the Christ. But, it just really grabbed my heart this morning thinking about how Jesus went through so much so that He could give so much. I mean, seems like if He was going to have to die, He shouldn't have had to suffer before it. Seems like if He had to be crucified, He wouldn't have to climb a hill to where it was going to be done.

But I realize that what Jesus went through physically is a picture of what those who will follow Him will go through spiritually. Sure, compared to what Jesus went through so that we might be saved, we have it easy to receive that salvation. But it's still hard. I mean, its more than just showing up to church, and coming down to the altar and saying that you believe. That's what happens on the top of the hill. But it takes a lot to make it to that hill. Long before I ever made it to the altar about 15 years ago, I had to struggle with bearing my own cross of sin. My shame had beat my to a pulp and my regret had whipped many stripes on my soul. So by the time I knew I needed a savior, meeting Him on Calvary was easier said than done.

That's why now, when I see those who I know want the Lord in their life, but struggle to come to Him, I understand. I know that climbing Calvary is not easy. I know that it's hard to kneel and pray when you're carrying so much on your shoulders. I know it's hard to have faith when so many have broken your trust. I know it's hard to find hope when nothing good can be found in the life around you. But, now that I have made it up on my Calvary, I want to tell you if you are in the midst of that same struggle....Jesus is there waiting, and ...It is worth the climb!

Thirsty in the Middle of an Ocean

"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord." Amos 8:11
Think about could die of thirst stranded in the middle of the ocean just as fast as you could stranded in the middle of a desert. Wouldn't that be terribly ironic to die of thirst in the middle of an ocean; water on every side and none to drink.

Of course, I don't have to explain to you that you can't drink sea water. But maybe it's worth a few lines to tell you why. Of course you know that's it's because it's too salty, but what happens when you drink it is that the salt in your blood stream draws the water out of your cells. Your body tries to get rid of the excess salt by excess urination. So you end up getting rid of more water than what you take in and you dehydrate...rapidly!

You know spiritually speaking, we can easily find ourselves in a similar situation. The prophet Amos said that the days will come when there will be a famine, not of bread or water, but of the hearing of the word of God. And I think those days are upon us. But say...there's a church on every corner, preaching on every Sunday, sermons on tv, podcasts...hey even on Facebook. So why is there a famine of the hearing of the word of God? Well, the closer that I get to the Lord through His word, the more I see that lots of church and lots of preaching does not mean lots of hearing of the words of God. Not everything that comes out form behind a pulpit is the word of God. Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of good teaching and preaching, but there is also a lot of ear-tickling and people-pleasing. And it's a crying shame that many people are dying of spiritual thirst in the middle of a ocean of church. And if we heed the warning of Amos, we can expect it to only get worse.

The good news is that Jesus, our High Priest, opened the door for you to approach God for yourself. And by His power and grace, He has preserved His word through thousands of years and countless attempts to destroy it. You can acces God's holy word, His spiritual water, any time you want, so that you don't have to die of thirst...not even in the middle of an ocean.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Precious Lord, Take My Hand

"For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee." Isaiah 41:13

You might not know it, but what is probably one of the most famous gospel songs of all time was born out of a pretty bad situation. In the 1920's, a young and talented jazz artist named Thomas Dorsey was making a name for himself on stage and in night clubs all over. But God had a different name He was making for him...redeemed. Thomas gave his heart to Christ, turned away from his career in jazz, and started writing gospel music. 

Fast forward 10 years, then Rev. Dorsey was preaching the gospel and sharing his faith through his music. Until one Sunday while he was leading a church service, someone handed him a telegram stating that his wife had died in child birth. Then, only 24 hours later, the baby died. As you would imagine, Rev. Dorsey was overwhelmed by a flood of grief and despair. So much so that he questioned God and vowed to  never write another gospel song.

As the days went on, Thomas Dorsey struggled to keep his head just above the pain that was about to drown him. One day he sat down at the piano that seemed like the only place he felt comfortable; the place where he had met with and heard from God so many times before; seeking something and not really knowing if there was anything that could save his heart from the hurt. It was then that God put a melody in his spirit, and so Thomas just started playing it. Then he opened his heart and mouth through which flowed from the Lord's fountain these words..."Precious Lord, take my hand, Lead me on, let me stand, I am tired, I am weak, I am worn; Through the storm, through the night, Lead me on to the light: Take my hand, precious Lord, Lead me home." 

When God sent those words through him, they weren't just for him. They were for me...and for you too if you need them. Though I didn't lose my wife during child birth, I almost did when she had a heart attack and subsequent double bypass surgery just a week and a half after my youngest daughter was born. And it was then and many other times that I as a grown man, needed God to hold my hand. During the times that I wished what was going on would go away and it didn't; times when I searched for an answer to the 'why', but no answers were to be found; it was those times that if God wasn't going to lead me around it, I sure needed Him to lead me through it...and I needed Him to hold my hand.

Maybe as you read this, you are going through something that feels like is about to eat you alive, even if its from the inside out. Maybe you feel like there is not one single ray of hope to be found in your life, and you believe giving up is the only option. God wants me to tell you what He told Isaiah, what I believe He told Thomas Dorsey and what He has told me..."...I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee."  God is the only one who can truly help you, and the best news is He really wants to. So right where you are, reach up to the Father...yes I mean it...reach up to God and say "Precious Lord, Take My Hand!". And see what God will do!

God bless you!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Straightening Out Your Wall

"Thus he shewed me: and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumbline, with a plumbline in his hand. And the Lord said unto me, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A plumbline. Then said the Lord, Behold, I will set a plumbline in the midst of my people Israel: I will not again pass by them any more." Amos 7:8,9
  Do you know what a plumb line is? Well, it's the string from which hangs the plumb bob of course. Oh...wait...what is a plumb bob? Well, I'm glad you asked. Let me tell you by first telling you how I know what it is.
  Needless to say that the work I now do with my hands involve  more ink pens and computer keys than hand tools and plumb lines. But, that doesn't mean I don't know about it. I grew up working on a farm where you have to learn how to be a jack of all trades and the master of many tools. Not to mention, my dad worked many years in construction, both carpentry and heavy construction. So anything I have ever learned how to do with my hands, I learned from him. And one of the things he taught me about was how to use a plumb line. 
  This simple but effective tool has been around for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians used it to build those perfectly symmetrical pyramids, many of which still stand today. It is simply a weight with a pointed tip (plumb bob), that is hung from a string (plumb line). Based on the law of gravity, that God created and maintains, when you hang the plumb bob on the plumb line, it will hang perfectly vertical.  So from that line you can judge whether whatever it is you are building is perfectly vertical or not. It's probably most often used in constructing masonry walls, but there are many other applications for it. And...there's a spiritual application too.
  God picked another man named Amos, who also grew up a farm boy, to be the prophet to tell the children of Israel that they were far away from Him. They had fallen away from the truth that God had given them, had forsaken a relationship with Him, and had even started worshiping false gods. The problem was they didn't realize they were far from God. Their spiritual walls were crooked, but they didn't notice because when each person looked around at everyone else's wall, theirs was crooked too. And when Israel as a nation looked at the nations that surrounded them, their spiritual walls were also crooked. So when you compare one crooked wall to another crooked wall, both walls tend to appear straight. But they were not. So God told them through Amos that He was standing on the wall with a plumb line in His hand. Not so that He could condemn them for being crooked, but so that He could show them how to get straight. 
  You don't have to look long or far to see that we need that same plumb line now. In the world that we live in that is so far from God, it's hard to tell what's straight and what's not. It easy to assume that just because something is widely practiced and socially acceptable that it's ok. We look around and see everyone else's wall leaning, and we as Christians feel awkward for even trying to make ours straight. But the truth is, God's plumb line still exists. The Lord said "I will set my plumbline in the midst of my people..." and no where does it ever say He removed it. And for you and I, that plumbline is His Holy Bible. It's is the only perfectly straight thing in this crooked world. And the less we read it, the more the crooked will appear to be straight. 
  If God sent this farm boy to tell you anything this morning, He sent me to tell you this. He has put a plumb line, His Word, in your life. It's there, you know it is. May be you haven't picked it up in a while, but it's there. Maybe you can't remember where you put it, but it's there. You can just google "bible" and find it at your finger's there.  And God put it there not to condemn you for your wall being crooked. He put it there to help you get it straight. And you know why He put it there? For the same reason He sent Amos to Israel...because He loves you!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Straining Gnats and Swallowing Camels

"Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel." Matthew 23:24
It seems that lately the sad is often followed by the silly. What I mean by that is it seems we are greeted every day by the sad news of horrible acts of sin and violence, not just around the world, but now in our own back yards. But to me what adds insult to injury is when that sad news is followed by silly comments or actions of people in response to that. 
Ok, case in point. We all have been hearing lots of sad, sad news about people being killed by gun violence. Whether it's on the streets of our inner city neighborhoods or in the classrooms of our neighborhood schools. It is heart-breaking that it now seems to happen so often, we don't even have time to be shocked by it any more. But then, I hear a report on the news yesterday that some school somewhere in this country, suspended a boy for having the picture of a gun on his computer. Let me repeat, the PICTURE of a gun on his computer. Don't get me wrong, I know that school officials have to be serious about the matter of protecting our children while in their care, but to me that is just silly. And when I heard that, I thought of something that Jesus said.

After Jesus returned to Jerusalem in preparation for the time to give His life on the cross, He took the occasion to teach His disciples and others who followed on a number of different topics. He spent a great deal of that teaching time speaking about the scribes and Pharisees, who were the religious leaders of the time. Most of them were against Jesus, and in fact hated Him for all the "trouble" He was stirring up. Of all the things our Lord said about their devotion to tradition and not to God; their concern more about appearing righteous rather than being righteous; their misguided belief that the temple was more important than our God that it represented...of all those things He said about them, the one that jumped out at me the most was when He said "Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel". That is a powerful statement in such few words.

Do you get the analogy? The thought is like if you're going to drink something, and you see a tiny gnat in the glass. You don't want to drink a gnat, so you strain it out. Yet, there is a camel in that same glass, and you ignore that and swallow it any way. He was telling them that they worried about the little things that in the scheme of the bigger picture didn't matter as much. Yet the bigger things that should matter more, they ignored. The Pharisees worried about things like did you tithe the exact tenth on the altar...when you came to the temple to worship, did you follow the right protocol...did you make sure when you were in public you appeared to be the right person by not associating with the wrong people. Things like that. And Jesus was trying to tell them that they spent too much of their time majoring on the minors.

I see a lot of that in us as a nation. We have these huge problems that are eating away at our families and our communities and at our very way of life. Yet we are being distracted by straining out gnats all the while we're choking on camels. We suspend a kid for having a picture of a gun, yet we spend billions of dollars on violent video games for our children. We spend more and more on building prisons to house our criminals but spend less and less on educating our kids. We worry about whether people are wearing the right things to be worthy of sitting in our churches, while there are well dressed church members who are far away from God. We spend lifetimes seeking God through religion, when all His Son Jesus wants is a relationship. 

I don't know about you, but I am tired of the taste of camel. And my prayer is that God will help me to focus on Him, get my priorities straight, and (to borrow a phrase from Steven Covey) to teach people through the Word of God how to keep the main thing the main thing.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

From the First Breath to the Last

"And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Genesis 2:7

 Most people if asked, would probably agree that breathing is one of the most miraculous things in the world. But because we do it so much and it comes so natural, it pretty much goes on without us really thinking about it. I mean after all, if we take approximately 12 breaths per minute (the average respiratory rate), and there are 1,440 minutes in a day, then that means we take on average 17,280 breaths per day. And I would say that probably about...say 17,280 of them come and go with little to no attention from us. There's the breaths you take when you sleep, the breaths you take when you're watching tv, oh and when someone gives you exciting news that deep big breath you take just before you blurt out "OMG!". How about the breaths you've taken since you started reading this post (that is unless it has already left you breathless :)  Yeah, all these breaths, and we don't pay any attention to them.

There are two breaths however you will probably notice and remember for the rest of your life if you have ever experienced them. That's a first breath and a last breath. Ever seen those? I have. I was there when both of my daughters were born, and the crescendo to that whole, dramatic birthing process reached its peak as we waited for them to take their first breath. Wow! It was amazing. When they first came out, I was wondering if they were ok, if they were alive; and finally after a few heart-wrenching seconds, they took that first breath. It was just amazing.

 I have also experienced a last breath. It was when I and my dad and brothers and sisters were in the hospital room watching life slip away from my momma. Though she had been sick for so long, and we knew the end was near, we didn't want her to go. Her breathing grew more and more shallow; the time between breaths got longer and longer; until she finally exhaled for the last time on this side of glory. I felt like my heart stopped with her last breath.

Having witnessed the taking of a first and a last breath, I have come to realize how both precious and fragile every single one of them are. I mean think about it, if you were to just miss a few of those breaths, you'd no longer be living. And there are so many things that could stop those breaths from coming; an illness, smoke and certain gases, water, a pillow, the hands of another person,  and so on. That can be scary if you think about it, but let me tell you why I don't worry. See, both those first and last breaths I have seen, God was in control of them. From the very first moment that God put the very first breath into Adam, He has been in control of every breath ever since. For the 250 million plus breaths I have take in my lifetime, I know that I owe every single one of them to the Lord. And the more I understand that, the more I agree with the psalmist who wrote "Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord!" (Psalm 150:6) I wish say that I could say I have been praising Him ever since my first breath, but I'm determined to praise Him until my last.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Boy Who Saved a Kingdom

"Josiah was 8 years old when he became king, and he ruled for thirty-one years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jedidah; she was Adaiah’s daughter and was from Bozkath. He did what was right in the Lord’s eyes, and walked in the ways of his ancestor David—not deviating from it even a bit to the right or left." 2 Kings 22:1-2 (CEB)
What were you doing when you were 8 years old? Let's see, what was I doing when I was 8? I was probably riding bikes, playing paper football, and getting up early on Saturday mornings so I could watch Super Friends and eat sugar pops. You know what Josiah in the old testament was doing? He was saving his kingdom.

Israel's first king was Saul, who did great things, but was disobedient to the Lord. So then God chose David who defeated many of their foes and unified all 12 tribes into one kingdom. His son Solomon built the temple and brought the nation to a level of glory greater than any other at the time. But he also started a trend of flirting with other gods that would prove to be a legacy embraced by many other kings to follow. So for generations, Israel would fall into a cycle of good king, bad king; follow after God, walk away from God; until it got to the point that any evidence of Israel being a God-fearing people scarcely could be found. 

Until one day when an 8 year old boy named Josiah found himself surrounded by adults who were explaining to him that his father the king was dead. He had been assassinated in the palace by some of his own officials. Now people are looking down at a boy and telling him he's the king. What was he to do? His father had not left him much of a good example because he was evil and worshiped false gods. The boy had plenty of advisers, but how could he trust them after he saw what happened to his father? What was he to do? For the first 18 years of his reign, I'm sure Josiah was wondering the same thing as he ruled the kingdom the best that he could.

But then one of his servants found a book in the temple that had been scarcely read and mostly forgotten. They dug out this relic, blew the dust off of it, and read it to the king. Lo and behold, it was the book of the law...the word of God. Young Josiah's heart crumbled under the weight of shame when he realized how far his people were compared to where God wanted them to be. He immediately ordered the book to be read to all the people. Then he sent his men to tear down all the altars and idols to false gods. He kicked out all the sorcerers and wizards, and he restored worship of the one true and living God among his people. Josiah did so much to undo all of the evil that had been done before him that the Lord said of him "and like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him." (2 Kings 23:25)

This is one of my favorite stories in the bible, and from all that we can gain from it, there are 3 truths I want to share. 1) If the tip of the arrow hits the target, then the whole arrow hits the target. Likewise, if the tip of the arrow misses the target, then the whole arrow misses the target. Godly leadership is important. 2) You can not have God in your life without having God's word in your life. Dig your bible out from under all the idols you have put before Him and read it! 3) Don't count out our kids. Not only can God use them for the next generation, He can use them for this one!

So today, as you think about all the things there is to thing about, don't forget the boy who saved a kingdom.