What I’ve learned in the 5 months as pastor of Cornerstone is that sermon preparation is not always the same.
My normal method is to start on Wednesday with the scripture I’m working with. When you preach through a book, you pretty much know where you’re going to be. In a topical series, however, your source material comes from different books, but with passages that are complementary.
These are sometimes harder sermons to write because each one really takes on a life of its own.
So I’ll start on Wednesday and really try to grasp the context of the scriptures I’m using. On Thursdays I’ll outline the whole sermon and think my way logically from beginning to end. Then on Fridays I’ll write the whole thing. I preach from a narrative because I like to have a complete thought from start to finish. Then on Saturday and Sunday mornings I’ll re-read the whole thing again, make notes, and basically just make sure the thoughts are fresh in my head.
This sounds like a nice, neat routine. That’s what I like to do. It doesn’t always happen that way. Sometimes, as hard as I try, as much as I’ll read the scriptures I’m using, I just can’t put words around the thoughts I’m trying to convey. What usually happens in those weeks, though, is God will give me an experience that really helps to bring everything together. That’s what happened this week.
A couple of conversations with Amanda really pointed me in the right direction and helped me clarify what I wanted to say. Amanda is such a wise person. She’s infinitely patient with me because I’m pretty stupid sometimes, but more than that, she is a wonderful sounding board for my sermon prep. You may think my sermons are tedious just listening to them once. Amanda usually hears them 2 or 3 times before Sunday morning. She usually has something good to say that makes it into the sermon, too. This week her thoughts really inspired what it is I have to say today.
Then there was one other experience that helped me put into words what I feel like God is telling us.
You know that we’ve been working on the building, trying to make it more inviting and create a more intimate environment in which we can worship. Part of the work we did was to install these monitors and get rid of the old projector and screen that were hanging on the wall.
Never did we dream that installing these monitors would be the ordeal it became.
Needless to say, yesterday we needed one more piece of equipment that was only available at a store in Dallas. Other places carry them, but nobody had one in store. So Joe, Luke, and I flew to Dallas yesterday afternoon to get one.
Everything was going smoothly. We got the part we needed, met with one of Joe’s mentors for lunch (who is just a wealth of knowledge and really helped me articulate what it is I wanted to say today), and got back to the airport to come home. We took off from the airport in Addison and everything was fine for about 10 minutes. Then we lost all electrical power in the cockpit.
The engine was still running, Joe still had control of the plane and we were still in the air, but none of the electrical instruments were working. The altimeter, horizon, and compass were all great and he had a backup GPS device and a handheld, long range walkie-talkie, but that was it.
He was faced with a decision: do we turn around and land back at Addison (in busy airspace with traffic taking off and landing almost constantly) or do we go ahead and come home, but land at Gregg County instead of Rusk County. Joe decided that since we still had control of the plane and a battery-operated GPS, we would press on and deal with the electrical issue later. No big deal, right? The thing we haven’t mentioned is that without electrical power there’s no way to lower the landing gear like usual.
That’s why he chose Gregg County instead of Rusk. Gregg County actually has a tower with someone in it who can spot the plane and tell us if the gear are down. So we manually crank down the landing gear and make our approach to Gregg County. They tell us the gear are down, but we don’t know if they’re locked or just most of the way down, so Joe is coming in for this landing, Gregg County Sheriff’s Department has the emergency response vehicle ready just off the runway, and they’ve cleared all the traffic because they know we’re coming in manually. The gear were all the way down, Joe executed a perfect landing, and the Sheriff’s department simply drove the emergency vehicle back into the hangar.
What it did, though, was scare the mess out of all three of us. Oh, we all acted calm the whole way, but there was a tension in that plane that was palpable.
An experience like that, although not quite a near-death one, causes one to think about his life.
You are a mist. Your life is a vapor, some translations say. Life is here today and gone tomorrow. We never know when it will be taken from us. What happens in the vapor, though, is eternally significant. What happens in the vapor determines two things: where we’ll spend eternity and what that eternity is like for us.
The author of Hebrews gives us insight into the nature of God in this verse. It is impossible to please God without faith. First of all, we must believe God exists. This requires some level of faith because we can’t see God. We simply have to believe. Secondly, we have to believe that if we seek him, if we pursue him, he will reward us for that. He is a rewarder of those who seek him. If we don’t believe this, why seek him at all? If he’s not going to reward us for our pursuit, why pursue him?
1 Corinthians 3:10-15
Paul tells us that there are rewards for the works we perform for the Kingdom of God. This is not a passage about salvation. Salvation is by grace, through faith, Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us. But verse 10 of that same passage says that we were set apart for good works which God prepared for us. We were saved for a purpose. If not, the moment of our salvation would be our last moment on earth. If there was no job for us to do, there would be no need for us to remain on earth.
But we were saved for good works. We were saved for a purpose. We were saved to serve the Kingdom of God, to preach the message of Jesus, to make disciples. How well we perform those works matters in eternity. Scripture is explicit in talking about rewards in Heaven. It seems that how we serve the purposes of Jesus matters.
What we do with the vapor that is our life matters.
“I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider this story from the February 1998 Reader’s Digest: A couple ‘took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30-foot trawler, play softball and collect shells…’ Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: ‘Look, Lord. See my shells.’ That is a tragedy.”
God rewards those who pursue him. God wants your life to matter.
We’ve been talking for 4 weeks now about making your life count. Jesus’ last command to us was to go and make disciples. We know what we’re supposed to be doing. If you want to know how, we can help you with that. We can give you the method, but we can’t give you the desire. We can’t make you want to use your life to serve the Kingdom. That has to come from you.
I want to read two passages: one an example not to follow, the other an account of those who got it right.
This is a pretty harsh parable Jesus told about covetousness and selfishness. The story goes that a rich man had fields that produced an abundance of crops. The amount was so great that the man, instead of storing as much as he could and giving the rest away, tore down his old barns and built larger ones to contain the superfluous amount of grain and goods. He was apparently so rich that he thought it would better serve his purposes to tear down what he had and build completely new barns. It makes me wonder what he did with the crops while this process was going on.
Anyway, satisfied that he would have plenty of food for many days to come, he sat back and said to himself, “I don’t really have to do anything anymore. I can just sit back and enjoy my abundance for a long time.” This is where the story gets hard. At this point God said to the man, “tonight you’re going to die. Then what’s going to happen to your abundance?”
There seem to be several sins in this parable.
First of all, the guy had more food than he could really ever eat, but he hoarded it for himself. Since Jesus seems to always be about giving things away, this probably hurt the man a bit. Secondly, he wasted resources to make himself more comfortable.
Again, Jesus seems to be against selfishness, so strike two for rich guy. Finally, he ignored the fact that life is fragile. We never know how much time is given to us. We don’t know when our life is going to be required of us. Because of this, we should be serving the purposes of the Kingdom always, never stopping for a moment to be satisfied with where we are.
Jesus ends this parable with a warning: “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” There is a plea here: Don’t waste your life! Don’t lay up treasure for yourself! Life isn’t about you!
A completely opposite passage to the one we just read in Luke, Hebrews 11 is about people who get it right. It starts with a discussion about what faith is. The author then takes us on a journey through history, talking the whole time about faithful men and women who served God’s purposes in their generations. These were people who got it right. They weren’t perfect, but they were faithful.
The author concludes the chapter with one of my favorite passages in the whole Bible. He includes a list of nameless people who served the purpose of the Kingdom. We don’t know who these people were. We don’t know their names or where they were from. History doesn’t record them at all. As far as the world is concerned, they never existed. But their tales are told in the end of Hebrews 11.
These were people who were tortured, imprisoned, mocked, flogged, stoned to death, sawn in two, and killed with swords. Those who lived went through life wearing animal skins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. They did this for the Kingdom. They did this because they believed God existed and he would reward those who pursued him. The author thought enough of them to say “of whom the world was not worthy.” They gave their lives for the pursuit of the Kingdom of God.
I find myself more and more wanting to be like the people listed in this passage, wanting nothing more than to serve the Kingdom of God.
This has become one of my favorite Pauline passages in scripture. He’s come to this point in life where he tells the Philippians “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” He goes on to tell them that he would much rather be with Jesus, for that is a far better life. He knew, though, that his job was not done. He knew that his task of making disciples was not done. “But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”
It’s so easy to read Paul and think of him as an arrogant jerk. “I’m so cool that you need me to stay.” But that’s not at all what Paul is talking about.
He goes on in verse 27 to say “whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith in the gospel.” He’s saying “I want you to get it. I want you to understand. If by my life or my death you become better disciples of Jesus, then that’s what I want.” Our lives are for the Kingdom of God. They are not about us. They never were. Our lives are about making disciples, reaching into the darkness that is the world and leading people into the marvelous light of Jesus.
Your life is a vapor. You can spend it like the foolish rich man and hoard treasure for yourself, or you can spend your life for the Kingdom of God, making disciples and leading them to make other disciples, sharing the love of Jesus with as many people as possible.
Friday night I got to hear my favorite band, Luminate, in concert. I love these guys so much not just for their musical ability, which is phenomenal, but for their amazing hearts.
These are five guys who are absolutely in love with Jesus and it shows. They want the world to know Jesus and you can tell. Their music is thoughtful and inspired.
Their newest album is called “Come Home.” The title track starts with the line “You’re best friends with the word ‘regret.’” This is such a powerful word. Everyone has regrets. All of us have things in our lives we would rather not be there.
As we conclude this series called “Make Your Life Count” I want us to think for just a few moments about regret.
Some people have no regret because they have no conscience. They don’t care about anything they’ve ever done because they only live for the moment. Nothing has ever bothered them and nothing ever will. These are the people who are fun to be around for like a day, and then they become tiresome because there’s no depth to them, all they want is to have fun.
Some people are defined by their regret. Their mistakes are what make them who they are. They are consumed with their past mistakes. They can’t get past the past no matter how hard they try. Every decision they make and every person they meet seems only to add to their problems. They never get beyond the string of decisions that made them who they are. They can’t seem to ever overcome anything. Their lives seem hopeless.
Most of us live somewhere in the middle, after all, everyone makes mistakes. There are mistakes we acknowledge, but we don’t dwell on them because we don’t really like to think about them. The difficulties we’ve experienced help to define us and we get that. We embrace our pasts but aren’t controlled by them. We understand regret, and we have regrets, but they don’t control us.
Then there’s a fourth group of people. This population is quite small. These are people who limit regret because they never want to look back on their lives and see that they have missed something. These are the people who take the greatest risks, suffer the greatest failures, but achieve the most incomprehensible success.
When you come to the end of your life, whenever that is, what will be your wish? Will you wish that you had spent more time at the office or more time with your children? Will you long for those few extra dollars you could have made or that relationship with your wife that was strained?
When you come to the end of your life will you long for a few more hours on Facebook or in front of the TV or perhaps another opportunity to share the gospel with someone, another opportunity to build a relationship, another chance to share your life?
I don’t want to have any regrets about not sharing my faith. I don’t want to waste my life. I don’t want to bring seashells before God on the Day of Judgment.
We’re going to close this series like we started it, talking about “The Least of These.” In November at the RightNow conference in Dallas, we got to hear Max Lucado preach. I’d read several of his books and I’d heard him on the radio before, but I’d never really heard him preach. He made this statement: “I sure hope that at the end of my life God says ‘I needed a great sermon preached and you did that. I needed a best-selling book written and you did that. Well done good and faithful servant.’ But he didn’t say that. Instead he said ‘I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. Whatever you did for the least of these you did for me.’”
This is what it all comes down to. How will you spend your life?
What are you going to do in the vapor that makes up the time you’ll spend on earth?
I have regrets in my life. There are things I wish I would have never done. I hope, however, that I never have regrets about not sharing the love of Jesus. I hope I always risk for the gospel.
I hope I can say: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”