Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Matthew 7:15-20
Sermon on the Mount

Tonight we’re going to continue down the road of the Sermon on the Mount series. Over the past several months we have been studying what Jesus taught in His most famous sermon and questioning ourselves about whether or not we could live out what Jesus was asking us to do in today’s culture. Our passage today comes from Matthew 7:15-20, “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. 16 You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. 19 So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. 20 Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.”
            I know where Jesus was going with this passage. I know what He was trying to say. I know that He is reaching the end of His sermon and that He is making His plea for His audience to make a response. Last week, we discussed the narrow road and the wide road. Jesus reached the climax of His sermon. If we were in the audience we would have heard over the past hour or so about how our view of prayer is wrong, our view of money is wrong, our view of our selves is wrong, our view of the world is wrong—basically everything we have been taught about everything is wrong—and Jesus is saying, “Now you have a choice: You can take the easy road which leads to destruction, or the hard road which leads to heaven.”
            Today’s passage falls after that plea and is a warning to new believers not to be snatched away by false teachers. Paul, the greatest missionary and teacher of the New Testament time, wrote from prison to the church in Galatia that he could not believe that they were already turning away from the gospel he had preached to them and they so eagerly accepted. Imagine that--Paul! You may or may not know this but many people believe Paul was nearly blind for most of his ministry. Paul reminds them that they were willing to pluck out their own eyes to give to him if that would be possible. Now they have rejected him and his message. In Galatians 4:16 he said he feels that he has gone so far that he has become their enemy because he speaks the truth to them.
            So is there a problem with false teachers, false doctrines, and false religions? Yes, absolutely. There has always been and always will be false teachers looking to mislead people for their own personal gain. Think about it—every false religion began with one person who knew that he was making the whole thing up. That is astonishing to me. The Mormon Church was founded by Joseph Smith, a man who claimed to receive a golden plate from aliens. It had a foreign language written on it. Joseph Smith then translated that language by himself, behind closed doors. The translation he came up with was the original doctrine of the Mormon Church. As of October 2010, there were 13,840,000 mormons in the world.   
But as I look at our youth group am I worried about false teachers coming in? Not as much as I’m worried about your fruit. Jesus said, “every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire.” As Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last week of His life we find this story, “The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. 14 Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it. The next morning as they passed by the fig tree he had cursed, the disciples noticed it had withered from the roots up. 21 Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the previous day and exclaimed, “Look, Rabbi! The fig tree you cursed has withered and died!” (Mark 11:12-14, 20-21)
            So what is your story? Do you claim Christ as your Lord and Savior? If so, are you bearing fruit? If you’re not bearing what consequence are you facing? You are facing being chopped down and thrown into the fire, but that hasn’t happened yet so you still have some time to do something. In this story, it was right before Passover which would not have been fig season yet, but there still should have been some flowers, and maybe some small unripe figs. There was nothing. It was a worthless tree so Jesus cursed it. A day later the tree was withered from the roots up.
            You can say, “I have been sharing my faith over and over again, but no one has accepted it.” You are doing the work but haven’t seen the harvest yet. That’s ok. The fig tree was not doing the work. There were no flowers or buds—nothing. But if I had to guess I would say that most of us are not doing the work. We haven’t been sharing our faith, or reaching out to the lost. So the question is “why?” If you are in this room and have been a Christian for over a month, you should be able to clearly present the gospel to a friend.
            If you are feeling like that fig tree that isn’t doing what it was created to do, and for humans that is to worship God and tell others about Him, and you would like to change that we are going to do a few different things in the next couple of weeks that will allow anyone who wants to, to be able to clearly present the gospel to friends and strangers alike. But until then I suggest to start small: pray and ask God to give you a passion for sharing your faith to the lost; pray and ask God to place lost people in your path; when you go out to eat, or to a grocery store ask the waiter or clerk if there is anything you can pray for them; send a letter presenting the gospel to a lost friend; or practice on your saved friends. These are just beginning steps. There are so many excuses we can make. And we can stall out on practicing on our saved friends and never move on. Just picture that fig tree. If Jesus walked by, what would He do?           

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Narrow Way

Narrow Way
Matthew 7:13-14
The Sermon on the Mount Series

            Imagine you are in downtown NYC a little after 8:00 AM Tuesday September 11th, 2001. You are casually walking down the street when you see thousands of people running in the opposite direction. You don’t know why they are running. You just know they’re running. What do you do? Do you keep on walking because their running doesn’t really affect you and you haven’t been invited to join them? Or do you turn around and join them running and screaming even though you don’t know why you’re running or screaming?
            Or how about this? Have you ever seen a disaster movie where they show an aerial view of the highway? It is packed bumper to bumper going one direction but there is always one car going the opposite direction. What would you do if you were in the car heading into town? Would you turn around, assuming everyone else knows what’s going on, and you better follow along? Or would you keep going to your destination?
            Most of us would turn and join the crowd. Why do we do that? Is there really any safety in numbers? A few years ago some rowdy fans threw beer bottles onto the field at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Eventually more and more people began throwing the bottles assuming they couldn’t catch everybody. Well they probably didn’t catch everybody but they did catch a lot of people. There were a lot of photographs and videos being taken of the game. The Browns put their pictures up on websites, had people identified, and banned from the stadium. Even though almost everyone else was doing it, they still got caught and busted.
            Is there safety in numbers? If you are walking down the street and a mob of people are screaming and running in the opposite direction, I would turn around and run, and then find out what’s going on later. If you are driving into town and everyone else is driving out of town, I would turn around, turn off my Brittney Spears CD and turn on the local news.
            That’s my advice for the physical world. What about the spiritual? If everyone believes that there is no absolute right and wrong, and your religious views are just as valid as my religious views, should you join in that crowd? If you graduated from school and got a job in Dubai and everyone there was Muslim should you become Muslim, too?
            No. When God established the world and put everything in order, He didn’t ask for our opinions, nor did He take a Facebook poll to see what was the most popular view point. He simply said, “This is right. This is wrong. If you want to play my game, you have to play by my rules.”
            The sad truth is that if you look around most of the people we come into contact with, see at the stores, and go to school with, will go to hell. If you are a Bible believing, sold out for Jesus Christian you will not only stand out in a crowd, you will feel the heat of persecution. The persecution we experience here in America is nothing compared to what others are experiencing but it still is not any fun to be made fun of, laughed at, singled out, or picked on. But that is what’s going to happen. In other words everyone else will be going one direction; you and a few others will be going the other. Will you have the courage to keep going the direction you know is right or will you give in to temptation and follow the crowd down the road of least resistance?
            Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” The road to hell is easy, and wide for all of the people who are travelling on it. The road to heaven is narrow, difficult, and hard to find. The road to hell is easy because it doesn’t ask you to do anything except ignore that feeling you get when you know you’re doing something wrong. It doesn’t ask you to stop checking out pornography, drinking, doing drugs, or sleeping around. The road to heaven is hard because God asks you to put aside all of those worldly things that separate you from Him. He will ask you to stand up for what you believe in even if it will cost you everything. He will ask you to love your enemies and forgive those who have done the unthinkable to you. The road to heaven is narrow for a reason—not many people will travel it.
            If you have been travelling down that broad road that leads to destruction and you want to turn from it, what are you waiting for? If you’re waiting for Christianity to become popular, it’s not going to happen. If you’re waiting for a friend to get saved first, maybe they’re waiting on you. You need to take a stand for what you believe in and change the path you’re on once and for all.         

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

How Then Are We To Pray?

How Then Are We Supposed to Pray?
Sermon on the Mount Series: Matthew 7:7-12

            Last week in Sunday School, one of my members mentioned that when he prays he asks one time and then doesn’t mention it again. His rational was that God was going to do what He was going to do anyways. He had made his request, and it seemed like a waste of time to keep asking for the same thing over and over and over again. I agreed to a certain extent. I believe God wants us to share with Him our wants and desires as well as our thoughts and feelings. (Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself also in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”) I’m sure God wants a deeper relationship with us than Him just being our celestial Santa Claus. Imagine if you had a friend that only talked to you when they wanted something. And to top it off, they asked you for that thing over and over and over again. Chances are you probably wouldn’t want to be around that guy or girl anymore. If you saw them coming you would jump into the bushes or start making out with a complete stranger or something. I did that once. It turned out to be a cactus. I don’t recommend it. It might even get to the point that even if you had the ability to give them everything they asked for, you wouldn’t do it simply because they were such a lousy friend who was just using you to get what they wanted.
            Now stop and think. When you pray do you always ask for something? Do you ever tell God something about what’s going on? Do you ever quietly wait for Him to respond? Or do you simply pull into the drive-thru, throw your request into the tube, and drive off like you’re at a pharmacy? What would God feel about your relationship? If the roles were reversed would you delight in blessing someone like you? I’ve heard of people who set out to go a whole month without asking God for anything. Their prayer life became telling God about what was going on their life and worshiping Him. Remember asking God to bless others is still asking God to do something.
            My response to the young man in my Sunday School class was, “Yes, but…” and then I shared how I was coming home from a trip knowing I had to deal with an issue when I got there. My stomach was rolling in anticipation of confrontation. So I prayed a simple prayer, “God you know my heart. You know I don’t want to screw this up. You know I don’t want to intentionally cause a problem, but something needs to be done. Give me the words to say, and give me your peace.” Immediately the anxiety of the situation went away. A few miles down the road, the anxiety built back up and I said a similar prayer. The anxiety again subsided. This went on for hours. I repeatedly made the same prayer over and over again, and yet God gave me the peace I sought.
            So how are we to pray? We studied earlier in the Sermon on the Mount Series where Jesus said in Matthew 6:7, “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions like the heathens do. For they think they will be heard for their many words.” So obviously volume and repetition is not the answer. He went on to teach his listeners what we know today as “The Lord’s Prayer.” But even in my Bible, the sub-title to that section is “A Model Prayer,” in other words, something to base your prayers on—a skeleton to flesh out your own prayers. We could completely miss Jesus’ point and recite “The Lord’s Prayer” word for word a hundred times a day.  All that it would do for us is be a repetitious, vain prayer that would in all likelihood go unanswered.
            Let’s look at some common prayers of today. The Catholics have what is called a Rosary. Perhaps you have seen the man who walks up and down Dogwood and
Stewart St
all day. Sometimes he’s riding a bike, but he is always thumbing through the Rosary. I guess the idea is that he is blessing everything he’s walking or riding past. Many people make fun of him and have given him nicknames. I disagree with his theology but I admire the depth of his belief and conviction.
The rosary is a series of beads on a string, very similar to but not a necklace, and shouldn’t be worn around the neck or hung from a rear view mirror. I’m not now, or have ever been a Catholic, but I know that is a “no-no.” (See attachment for proper prayers for the Rosary) To me, this screams vain repetition something Jesus himself spoke against. It amazes me how Jesus spoke against the Pharisees for their vain, repetitious prayers, and their funny hats and robes. Here we are 2,000 years later and the leaders of some of the largest denominations wear funny hats and robes.
            But the Catholic Church doesn’t have a monopoly on vain, repetitious prayers. A few years ago a Pastor named Bruce Wilkinson was reading through 1 Chronicles. For those of you who have read through 1 Chronicles, you can agree that parts of it can be extremely dry, particularly the parts of the genealogies. Chapter after chapter, verse after verse of John begot Sam. Sam begot David. David begot Michael. After a while your eye starts to twitch, and you begin to question your sanity for attempting to read through the Bible. Eventually you get to 1 Chronicles 4:9 where you find this little oasis, “There was a man named Jabez who was more honorable than any of his brothers. His mother named him Jabez because his birth had been so painful. 10 He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!” And God granted him his request.” And then you go back to Tom begot Jerry. Heckle begot Jekyll. Chilly begot Willy. Verses 9 and 10 were almost like a commercial in the midst of a boring documentary. So Wilkinson wrote a book about his findings. The main point of his book was that this was the type of prayer that God will answer. He made note that the prayer wasn’t a magic spell, but like the Lord’s Prayer it was simply a model to flesh out our own prayers. However, his book, The Prayer of Jabez sold six quadrillion copies, and then all of the other merchandise and books came out: hats, shirts, calendars, devotionals, pens, bracelets, key chains. Wilkinson became an overnight Christian media sensation. This simple two verse prayer became a mantra for millions of Christians wanting to be blessed by God, without care for the relationship behind that blessing.
            Then there is this prayer. It’s not famous but it is popular. Have you ever heard somebody pray and throw “God,” “Lord,” “Lord Jesus” and other names in there as if they were commas or other punctuation points? “Oh God, Thank you, Lord Jesus, for the blessing you’ve given us, Lord Jesus. You are, Oh God, so amazing, Lord Jesus. Father, please help, Lord Jesus, the Buckeyes, Oh God, to have a winning season, Oh Lord.” Imagine talking to your friends like that. “Hey Cody, friend Cody, matchless and wonderful Cody, did you watch, Oh Cody, the baseball game the other day, Cody, son of Gary and Karen? It was, Cody, the best, magnificent Cody, game I’ve ever seen, oh Cody.” Aside from breaking one of the Ten Commandments for using the Lord’s name in vain, it is extremely annoying to listen to, and most likely hinders our relationship with God. I know for a fact it would hinder my relationship with Cody if I talked to him like that. There was a man at camp who prayed like this. It went on for several minutes. I became distracted from what he was saying to how he was saying it. I also made a mental note not to ask him to pray before my meals.
            So how should we pray? Short prayers? Longs prayers? New prayers every time? I pray almost the same prayer over my food everyday? Is that wrong? Yeah, because it has become just another thing I say—words without meaning. Like a recorded message. Imagine if your loved ones recorded a message that said “I love you,” then simply pressed play for you as they went about their daily lives. It wouldn’t mean as much to you as if they would stop what they’re doing, take a moment, and tell you what you mean to them.
            Today’s passage will shed some light on the subject of how we are supposed to pray. Matthew 7:7-12, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? 10 Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! 11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him. Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.”
            Keep asking. Keep seeking. Keep knocking. If it is important to you, ask God. I’m pretty sure Jesus wasn’t referring to a new Bentley, but down the road when it comes time for you to find a suitable spouse and there doesn’t seem to be one on the horizon, ask, and keep asking. If you need a job, ask and keep asking. Do you think He doesn’t know that you’re broke? These are prayers God wants to answer, but what’s most important to Him is the relationship between you and Him. Do you trust Him? Or are you still banking on yourself? There is a military term called FPF—Final Protective Fire. Imagine you are in a position but are surrounded by the enemy. You can hold them off for a little bit with the little remaining rounds you have left, but the enemy knows all it has to do is wait until you are out of ammunition and then storm you. You would be basically defenseless. That FPF is a little bit of a reserve to hold back that storm when it happens. At some point you have to fire off your last rounds and then trust God. Do you trust God that He will give you what’s best for you or are you still holding onto some of that FPF? Maybe the best thing for you right now is to be single rather than be in a bad relationship that will take your focus off of Him. Maybe the best thing for you is to be unemployed rather than take a job that might make you compromise your values.
            Jesus said, “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? 10 Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! 11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” We have to trust that God has what’s best in mind for us. I admit that when I was younger and didn’t have the faith in God I have now I was afraid that God would have me marry some Christian woman I wasn’t attracted to. It was a lack of faith that God wouldn’t give me what was best for me, that what was best for me would be something I hated, or even that he wouldn’t fulfill the promise he made in Psalm 37:4, “If you delight in Him, He will give you the desires of your heart.”
            So how can we apply this information? 1) We need to be aware, (not beware) our prayers. Are they selfish? Are they short term? Are they one sided conversations? Are they repetitious? Do I use God’s name, or title, 30 times in a 60 word prayer? 2) Trust that God has what’s best in mind for our lives. Rebekah and I wish that we would have dated all the way through HS and College. That way we could have experienced more memorable moments together, but that wasn’t God’s plan and we trust that it was in our best interests. 3) Delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Are you delighting in the Lord? What exactly does that mean? Do you spend time with God? Is that time boring or is it awesome? Do you do what God asks of you? If you do, is it like pulling teeth for you? I delight in the Lord, and I trust that God will give me, not only what I need, but what I want.