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Showing posts from 2012

Growing Up

(A sermon based on Luke 2:41-52 & Colossians 3:12-17 for the 1st Sunday after Christmas Day)

The 2008 movie “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” told the story of how the title character was born as an old man and how as he lived he grew younger and younger until finally he just ceased to be. Reflecting on that story, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to carry the experiences of old age with you into middle age and those of old and middle age into young adulthood and those of old, middle, and young adulthood into adolescence and childhood. After all, what adult among us has not said, “If I had known then what I know now”?

That is not, though, how it works. We are born as babies and we grow into adults who become older and older adults until finally we die.

Since Jesus was a normal human baby, he grew up in the normal human way. As a baby he nursed, he burped, he spit up, he messed up his diaper, he cooed, and he cried. As a toddler he learned to walk and to…

Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me

(A message delivered at the Christmas Eve service at First Baptist Church of Fitzgerald, GA)

“Wait, wait…don’t tell me!” It’s something you say when someone asks you a question and the answer is right on the tip of your brain but won’t quite make the leap to your mouth. You hear it when people are playing a quiz game or when a teacher asks a question or when someone is trying to guess what is in that funny looking package under the tree.

“Wait, wait…don’t tell me!”

That’s probably not the answer you would give were I to ask you, “What are we waiting for tonight?”

No, your initial and quick (and correct) reply would be “Jesus”; you wouldn’t need for me to wait for you to come up with that answer.

But what if I followed that question up with this one: “And what does that mean?”

“Wait, wait…don’t tell me!”

OK, I won’t. Perhaps you will allow me, though, to give you some things to think about as you formulate your answer.

Jesus is already and always here; we are waiting for …

Jesus Is Coming—So Live!

(A sermon based on Micah 5:2-5a & Luke 1:39-55 for the 4th Sunday of Advent)

Here on this fourth and last Sunday of Advent, on the eve of Christmas Eve, I want to talk with you about being pregnant.

While I suspect that most of the children (and I reckon all of the adults) present know the meaning of the word, allow me to tell you that our English word “pregnant” comes from a Latin word meaning “before child”; it thus came to have the meaning of being “with child.” A pregnant woman is a woman who is going to have a baby, then.

Our Gospel text tells us about two pregnant women, Elizabeth and Mary, who were kin. Did you ever see the movie Father of the Bride, Part 2? The story involved a middle-aged mother and her young daughter who were pregnant at the same time; it being a movie, they delivered their babies at virtually the same time on the same day in the same hospital attended by the same doctor. The story of Elizabeth and Mary is not quite like that—they were likely cou…

Jesus Is Coming—So Be Joyful!

(A sermon based on Luke 3:7-18 & Philippians 4:4-7 for the Third Sunday of Advent.)

The candle of joy is now burning on the Advent wreath.

But how can we talk about joy in light of what has happened this week?

That is the question that has haunted me since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut on Friday.

Then another question occurred to me: how can we talk about joy in light of what happens every week? While the deaths at Sandy Hook are shocking and heart-rending, especially when we consider the deaths of so many children, the truth is that many violent deaths occur every week. There were 14,612 murders in the United States in 2011; that averages out to 281 per week.

All tragedies are not due to violence, though. For example, some five million children in developing countries die each year due to malnutrition.

This is not even to mention the many public and private tragedies, the innumerable “little deaths,” that so many of us bear in our daily liv…

Jesus is Coming—So Look!

(A sermon based on Luke 1:68-79 & Philippians 1:3-11 for the Second Sunday of Advent)

Perhaps you have had an experience similar to mine. I will be asked by my good wife, “Did you see such and such on such and such television show?” I will reply, “No.” And she will say, “But you were sitting right there when it was on.”

There are several possible explanations for that recurring phenomenon. First, perhaps I was dozing. Second, perhaps I was paying attention to something else, like my iPad. Third, and most likely, perhaps I was watching but not seeing; my eyes were open and even pointed in the right direction but my mind and heart were not engaged in what was on the screen.

It’s amazing what you can miss when you aren’t paying attention, when you are not fully present in the moment. If we aren’t careful, we might even miss what God is up to in Jesus Christ—even during this most wonderful time of the year.

That’s ironic because the ability to see what is important is one o…

Greening our Hearts

(A Sermon based on 1 Corinthians 13 for the Hanging of the Green 2012)

This morning we have celebrated the greening or the decorating of our sanctuary for the Advent and Christmas seasons (a reminder: Advent begins next Sunday and continues until Christmas Eve; the Christmas season begins on Christmas Day and ends twelve days later). The decorations serve to enhance the always-present beauty of the sanctuary; they make an already beautiful place even more beautiful.

Decorations can dress up a place that is not already attractive, though. Imagine that you are driving around town at night looking at Christmas lights. You drive through various neighborhoods and by many houses, all the while thinking, “Well, that’s pretty.” Then imagine that you drive through those same neighborhoods and by those same houses in the middle of the next day. In some cases, you will still think the houses are pretty. In other cases, not so much.

You can dress up an ugly place. You can enhance a be…

Give Thanks

(A Communion Meditation based on Luke 22:14-20 for the Sunday before Thanksgiving Day)

The American Thanksgiving holiday has a long and rich history. Its roots can be traced to November 1621 when those English Separatists, known to us as the Pilgrims, celebrated their first corn harvest in the New World with a three-day feast that was shared with their Native American allies. The feast of thanksgiving, declared by Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford, followed the harvest that followed the summer and spring that followed their first winter in the New World, a winter during which around half of the settlers had died. The Pilgrims celebrated their blessings, then, but they did so in the shadow of great suffering and of great trials as well as in the face of the great unknown that stretched out before them.

The first national Thanksgiving Day proclamation issued by the new United States government was that of President George Washington in 1789; he called for it as a day to giv…

Following Jesus: We Live From the Inside Out

(A sermon based on Luke 11:37-44 for Sunday, August 26, 2012)

Trying to be a real Christian while living a real life in the real world is tricky business. I mean, just think of some of the tensions with which we live.

For one thing, we know on the one hand that being Christian is not a matter of doing all the right things but we know on the other hand that we should and could do better at doing the right things.

For another thing, we know that we are limited because we are human but we know on the other hand that we can be more than we can imagine because of the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives.

For yet another thing, we know that our behavior is often of a higher quality than the state of our hearts but we know on the other hand that the state of our hearts is sometimes of a higher quality than the quality of our behavior.

One of the challenges we confront is to face who we are in all our complicatedness, who we can by grace-infused effort become, and the gap that l…

Following Jesus: We Take Up Our Cross

(A sermon based on Luke 9:18-27 for Sunday, August 19, 2012. Eighth in a series...)

Gregg Allman’s disturbingly fascinating autobiography, which I recently finished reading, bears the unfortunate title My Cross to Bear. It is an unfortunate title because it uses that phrase in a way that is all too common but all too incorrect, namely, as a way to name the burdens that come upon us in the course of our living of life. In Gregg’s case, while some of the most difficult crises he faced were thrust upon him, namely, the murder of his father and the accidental death of his big brother Duane, most of his struggles were self-inflicted, such as the liver disease that resulted from his substance abuse. Still, whether we are at fault or not for our struggles, and as real and hard as the struggles of life are, such struggles are not our cross to bear.

Our cross to bear is our following of Jesus in the kind of life that Jesus lived. It is a particularly Christian way of living that is base…

Following Jesus: We Care

(A sermon based on Luke 6:1-11 for Sunday, August 12, 2012. Sixth in a series...)

Our nation has in recent days been struck with two mass murders, one at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado and the other at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Both were senseless, heartless, cruel acts that can finally only be explained, if they can be explained at all, by the presence of great evil and deep sickness among us.

It seems to be the case, based on what information we have, that the shooter in the Aurora murders was motivated by personal demons while the one in the Wisconsin attack, we might surmise based on his association with white supremacist groups, was motivated by racial and/or religious hatred.

Each tragedy is as heart-breaking as the other and we pray for the communities, for the victims’ families, and for the injured in both cases and in both places.

In the case of the Wisconsin shootings, the violence was carried out against a community of p…

Following Jesus: We Seek Solitude

(A sermon based on Luke 5:15-16 for Sunday, August 5, 2012. Sixth in a series.)

A few weeks ago the New York Times published an editorial by Tim Kreider entitled “The ‘Busy’ Trap.” He wrote,

If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.”

Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their …

Following Jesus: We Hope

(A sermon based on Luke 19:1-10 for Sunday, July 22, 2012)

This saying has been going around on Facebook lately: “Some people are so poor all they have is money.”

Zacchaeus was one of those people. He was one of those people who had everything and nothing, all at the same time. He had more money than anyone else in Jericho, he had more power than anyone else in town, and he had more enemies than anyone else in town. But he had no friends, no respect, no honor, and certainly no love.

He likely had no hope that it was going to get any better for him. He had dug his hole and now it was just a matter of hanging around until he was completely covered up with dirt.

Then along came Jesus.

Evidently Jesus’ reputation had arrived in Jericho before Jesus did because a big crowd gathered to see him. Zacchaeus was among them.

Look at him, jumping up and down trying to see over the crowd; look at the people, laughing at the little big man in town making a fool of himself. Look at him…

Following Jesus: We Eat

(A Communion Meditation based on Luke 5:27-39 for Sunday, July 15, 2012. Fourth in a series...)

Jesus called Levi the tax collector to follow him and Levi did. One of the first things that Levi did after he started following Jesus was to throw a big dinner party at his house for Jesus.

That makes sense, because following Jesus is cause for celebration.
Sure, following Jesus involves repentance which is a turning away from another way of living life and toward the way of living life in a free and full relationship with God, but that is no cause for mourning. It is reason for celebrating! Following Jesus is more about the life you are entering than it is about the one you are leaving; it is about the much that you are gaining rather than the little that you are losing!

Levi’s guest list was made up of what Luke described as “a large crowd of tax collectors and others” and of what the religious folks described as “tax collectors and sinners.” Tax collectors are tax collectors an…

Following Jesus: We Pray

(A sermon based on Luke 11:1-13 for Sunday, July 8, 2012. Third in a series.)

Richard Foster said, “Prayer catapults us onto the frontier of the spiritual life. Of all the Spiritual Disciplines prayer is the most central because it ushers us into perpetual communion with the Father” (Celebration of Discipline, p. 33).

We see the truth of that statement when we look at the life of Jesus.

Had we been among the people who followed Jesus during his sojourn on earth, we would have often seen him praying; we could also have assumed that, if he was not around, he was likely off somewhere by himself praying. Prayer, therefore, was central and essential to the life of Jesus.

If we are his followers, then let’s make prayer central and essential to our life as well.

Let’s make prayer central to our individual lives.

Let’s make prayer central to the life of the church.

And not the kind of prayer that is just a sharing of a list of the things we want or think we need.

I’m a little nervou…

Following Jesus: We Are Loved

(A sermon based on Luke 3:21-22 & 6:20-26. Second in a series...)

Brennan Manning told the story of a woman who came to see him at a retreat he was leading. She told him of a life of mental anguish and spiritual suffering because of the long-term sexual abuse by a relative that she had endured as a child. He advised her to repeat the following to herself every morning: “I am Abba’s beloved child.” Her later testimony was that the practice had helped to heal her spirit.

We all have our hurts and wounds; some are deeper and more painful than others. We all need help and healing.

I have told you before of my morning routine. I get a cup of coffee and head to our home study to read Scripture and pray, a process that ends with my writing of the daily prayer that many of you receive via email or Facebook. Then, I go outside to walk a prayer path made up of a series of sets of three pavers, two small ones then one large one. With each step I say one word of the first part of …

Following Jesus: We Call Him “Lord”

(A sermon based on Luke 6:46-49; this is the first in a summer series on "Following Jesus.")

Jesus asked his disciples, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?”

It’s a very good question.

Over the next few weeks we are going to be talking about what it can mean for us to follow Jesus. I hope that we will give much thoughtful and prayerful consideration to what it might mean for First Baptist Church as a body and for each one of us as disciples if we ask the Holy Spirit to help us to understand what our Bibles tell us about who Jesus is and who we might be if we follow Jesus. I furthermore hope that we will ask God to give us faith and strength to act on what we discover.

Let me confess right up front that there are some things about this I don’t know and so I can’t tell you. I can’t tell you everything there is to know about who Jesus is. I can’t tell you what your particular following of Jesus should look like. I can’t tell you exactly what wa…