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

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Let's Get Focused!

Over the last few years, I have grown to love watching football. I guess one of the reasons is because it's an escape. It has absolutely nothing to do with my responsibilities in life. But also I have developed a real respect for the players. I'm amazed not only by the athletic gift they have to do what they do on the field, but I am also impressed by the athletic intelligence it takes for them to play on the professional level.
A game I watched last year comes to mind between the Patriots and the Jets. I'm a Panthers fan, so I didn't have any emotions invested on either side to win. I was kind of pulling for the Jets, because I think the young quarterback starting at the time has potential, and I was afraid if they lost too many more they might bench him. He played pretty well that game. In fact he kept them in the game against one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Tom Brady.

It boiled down to one last field goal attempt by the Jets. The Patriots were only leading by 2, so a 3 pt field goal would have won it for them. Though it was from 58 yards, the Jets' kicker was capable of making it, and the Patriots knew it. The ball was snapped and set. The kicker took his couple of steps forward and kicked it with everything he ha. As soon as his foot hit the ball, the Jets on the sidelines were already jumping up to cheer for their win. But that's when the Patriots defensive tackle Chris Jones jumped off the line, raised both hands and swatted the ball right out of the sky. Boy, talk about taking the wind out of somebody's sail. The whole Jets team looked like they were hyperventilating in disbelief.
I was thinking about what it took for Chris Jones to be able to hit that ball when he had those big bodies blocking him. Not to mention that ball was firing off the kickers foot like a rocket. I believe it was his focus. He was able to tune out the crowd, look past the snarls of the offensive linemen, ignore any expectation they would lose the game, and concentrate on that ball. Now that is focus!
That blocked kick reminded me I need to be more focused too. Though I won't ever throw, catch or block an NFL football, I do have a job to do and a position to play. Except my field is the whole world, my game clock reads 'eternity', my goal is heaven, my opponent is my own sin and a team of spiritual forces, and satan is their quarterback. But I need God's help to move past my last play, whether it was a field goal or a fumble. I need to remember that no points have ever been gained by running in the wrong direction. My focus needs to not be on my past but on God's future. I need the Lord to help me clear my head and my heart and block out the noise of the crowd, whether they are cheering me on or booing me out. I want to be useful on the team called the Heavenly Saints, but I need to hear from God my coach to know what to do next. And I need to focus!
I ask that you focus on your own life for a minute. Have you joined the team? No, I don't mean have you joined the church. Have you joined the team? Everybody in the stadium is not on the team, just like everybody in church is not saved. Some are just spectators. If you haven't already, then you need to! We are winning and I don't want you to be left standing on the sideline with your head hung down. I want you to be in the end zone with me celebrating. But don't wait to decide. Just look around. The game clock is ticking down fast. Let's get focused!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Just Keep Pedaling

I was recently thinking that I need to get me another bike. I should have kept the one I used to have back when we lived in Rocky Mount. I used to enjoy riding it. Oh...and when I was a boy..riding my bike was my thing. I used to ride my bike all the time and all over the place.
I guess times were different then. Once I got up past 10 years old, my friends and would ride our bikes all up and down the roads. In fact I was thinking about one day I told my dad that instead of riding with him up to the farm, which was about 5 miles away, I wanted to ride my bike, and he said ok. There were a few different ways I could go, so I had to weigh out my options based on factors like traffic, number of hills, distance, and of course the most important one...dogs! When you know your neighborhood and you spend a lot of time riding your bike around it, you learn where the untied dogs are, and which are the baddest and the fastest. Unfortunately, all of my options on that day had at least one bad dog along the way.
So, I made my choice, and I chose to go the way where I would pass a dog named Sam. I knew all about Sam because he was one of my friend's dogs, and Sam was fierce. So, as I was coming down the road approaching Sam's house, I was getting my strategy together, which I planned to be one of stealth and quickness. I thought I could catch him sleeping or looking the other way and quickly but quietly zoom past Sam's house. That didn't work. Obviously Sam wasn't asleep like I'd hoped, and the chain on my bike wasn't as quiet as I thought. Needless to say, Sam was already stretched out charging across the yard before I even got to it. He wasn't running towards me, he was running towards where he knew I would be by the time he got to the road. It was like he had drawn a triangle, calculated the math, and solved the word problem. So not only was I dealing with a mean dog, and a fast dog, but also a smart dog. I thought my saving grace was coming when I saw my friend's mom in the yard watering flowers. But Sam ignored her repeated calls to come back. He was locked in like a leg-seeking missile.
So in a matter of seconds I had to decide what to do. Should I keep going or should I stop and go back the other way. But, in that brief moment I thought to myself that I had already ridden about 3 miles and I had to make up a really steep hill to get to where I was. I realized that was too much work to have to turn back. So I decided I was going to do the only thing I thought I could do...I kept on pedaling.

I must say that Sam was pretty determined because he chased me a long way. Not to mention just past his house I had to go up another hill. So there I was being chased by a dog up a hill. But, I felt like my only option was still the same...keep on pedaling.
Well, my typing this post is testimony that I survived Sam. But there are a lot of difficult things I still face in this life. Maybe they don't growl and run on all fours, but they are just as viscous and intent on getting me as Sam was. Even recently I have had some days that I felt like I was being chased by a mean dog up a steep hill. But I believe that God reminded me of that story to tell me that He has had to bring me up too many high hills, lifted me out of too many problems, delivered me from too many sins for me to even think about turning back now. So Lord I won't. I will just do the only thing I can do, and that's to keep on pedaling.
I thank God that there is no hill I will climb and no Sam I will face...alone. The Lord has always kept His promise to be with me always, and for that I love Him. .

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Don't Throw Away the Whole Apple

Two apples sitting on the counter in our kitchen caught my attention. They have been there for a few days, and I was thinking that I need to go ahead and eat them before they go bad. I love apples and should eat more of them. I think I got my taste for apples from my dad. Growing up, he was always buying apples; even had apple trees in our yard. He liked to peel his before he ate them. I loved to watch him pull out his pocket knife and attempt the cut the peel off, starting at the top then all the way down in one piece without it breaking. Often he could, and I was really impressed. Then he would cut a big piece off and give it to me.
When it was one of the apples off the trees in our yard or on the farm, when he cut it, he would inspect it before he gave it to me. He was making sure it didn't have a worm in it. Sometimes I thought he was being too cautious because the apple would look perfect on the outside, no sign of a worm hole or a soft spot. But he told me that sometimes even the prettiest of apples could still have a worm in it. So I would look at an unpeeled apple and try to figure out how could a worm sneak in without leaving a trace. Daddy explained to me that there were certain types of flies and moths that would lay their eggs on the apple bud just when it was barely sprouted out from the branches, and as the bud grew into an apple, the egg would be already growing inside. Once that egg turned into a worm-like larvae, it would start eating the apple from the inside out.
I must say that is pretty ingenious for God to give that wisdom to those insects. But it can make for a bad experience for me with an apple. There is a joke I heard a long time ago that goes..'What's worse than finding a worm in your apple?..finding half a worm'. Perhaps worse than that is biting into an apple, seeing where the worm has been, but finding not worm at all. That has happened to me, and to this day I am reluctant to eat apples right off the tree.
Sometimes I see my own and other people's experience with church sort of like biting into those apples. I have been a member of 3 different churches. I have visited too many to count. I have had the perspective from the back pew to the pulpit and everywhere in between. And in my life, I have witnessed people catch their first view of church; often looking at it like a shiny red apple. There is something about it that appeals to them as they view it from the outside. Maybe it's the building, or the fellowship, or the prayer, or the music, or the preaching, or the members, or whatever it is. But it looks appealing to them. So they decide to take a bite, whether that be they come for the first time, or come back for the umteenth time, or may they decide to join or to sign up to serve in some way in the church. But then as they bite deeper, they stay longer, or they work harder, at some point they encounter a worm.

It could be a small worm like maybe a negative comment, or a small disagreement, or it could be a really big worm like false teaching creeping into the pulpit or a leader in the church being exposed on some horrible sin. Whatever it may be, I have seen people bite that apple to reveal a worm and so they decide to throw the apple away. They stop growing, they stop serving, or even they stop going.
My prayer is that God will remind me and others who've had experiences with worms that He gave us His perfect Word to learn and His perfect Son to follow with His perfect Spirit to guide us. And that He have given us this to be done in a local body of believers, we call the church, which is filled with imperfect people...including me. We are all born with the worm of sin already within us, and our struggle TOGETHER is to seek God so it won't eat us from the inside out. We need to be reminded that an occasional worm is not worth throwing away the whole apple.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Hold Back the Hulk Inside

I was watching some of the movie The Avengers the other night with my family (notice I said "some", because I fell asleep in the middle of it). I was noticing how some of my favorite comic characters have been given a serious upgrade since when I watched them as a kid. Especially the Incredible Hulk.
I remember as a boy watching the live action series on the Hulk. In fact I saw that version before I ever saw the cartoon or comic book version of him. At first I was afraid to watch it because even the end of intro of the show has this green monster standing in the dark with lightning flashing behind him as he raged in the rain. But I watched it anyway. Even though it was a simpler version compared to today's high tech adaptation, Bill Bixby's portrayal of David Banner and Lou Ferrigno's green body painted portrayal of the Hulk drew me in week after week. The thing to watch was what would it be that would take David Banner over the emotional edge and bring out the Hulk.
I can't relate to what's it's like to be a wondering man with nothing but a stolen set of clothes, a duffel bag and the determination to find a way to reverse the effects of the gamma rays. Nor can I relate to being a Mr. Olympia level raging green beast whose anger will cause him to burst out of all his clothes (except for his pants). But I think I can relate to the person that stood between the two.
See, I know how it is to feel like you have a person locked up inside of you that you never want anyone to see, and yet it wouldn't take much to cause him to break out. I know how it feels when it seems like the person you don't want to be is about to take over the person you had hoped to be. I know how it feels to know what the bible says and how it says we are to think, talk and act, and yet our emotions, whether anger or sadness or hate or frustration or defeat or hopelessness or jealousy or pride or all of them at the same time...they drive you to want to toss all that word right out the window. I know I am to put on the whole armor of God, but sometimes I feel like doing a Hulk and ripping it all off. So I have to pray to God for help, and this is what I pray...
I know that as long as I am breathing on this side of Heaven, and I am living in what God's Word calls the flesh, I will have to keep on fighting back this Hulk of feelings that live inside of me. My prayer is that the Lord will help me so that he won't win. I need God's help so he don't cause me to make long-term decisions based on short-term emotions. I need God to keep him from breaking out and causing me to say or do things that I will have to clean up later. I ask God to not let the person I don't want to be take over the person I had hoped to be.
I pray to God for that because though I'm not strong enough, He is more than able to hold back the hulk inside.