“When Living Is Christ, then Dying Is Gain” (Philippians 1:21 sermon)

Aaron Sorkin, the writer for “A Few Good Men,” “The West Wing,” and other tv shows and movies, was speaking at graduation at his alma mater, Syracuse University, in May 2012, and he said: “Two newborn babies are lying side-by-side in a hospital nursery and they glance at each other. Ninety years later, through a remarkable coincidence, the two are lying side-by-side in the same hospital room. They look at each other and one of them says, ‘So … what’d you think?’”

What do you think about this experience we call “life”? What about this thing we all face, known as “death”? What is the purpose and meaning of it all? If religion does anything, it should answer those questions. And true religion, God’s word, certainly does answer those questions.  What Paul wrote here in Philippians 1:21 answers these ultimate questions about the meaning of life and death from a Christian perspective. Here we find in a concise summary in this one verse, the real meaning of life, as well as death, to a Christian — AND the very important personal choice that makes it all possible:  “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

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“Working Out Your Salvation” (Philippians 2:12-13 sermon)

SO, how do you follow up on Easter Sunday?! We had such a great day last Sunday, didn’t we?  Celebrating our Risen Savior; seeing several people follow Him in baptism — It was a great Easter Sunday. But how do you follow that up? How do I follow that up, as a pastor; where do we turn to next in the word of God?

Well, we get some direction from the Apostle Paul. I’m reading the Book of Philippians in my own morning Bible reading, and I’m in Chapter 2, where it proclaims that Christ “become obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,” then was glorified, so that “every knee will bow, in heaven on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, the the glory of God the Father”!  THAT is as good as it gets! That’s “Easter Sunday” kind of stuff there, isn’t it?!  

So how does Paul follow THAT up in Philippians 2? This gives us some direction today:  you follow it up, he says here in Philippians 2:12-13, by “Working Out Your Salvation”

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“But Now Christ IS Risen!” (I Corinthians sermon, Easter 2021)

Frank Morison was a gifted English lawyer who set out to write a book he planned on calling Disproving the Resurrection of Jesus. He was convinced that he would be able to do what his title proclaimed. However, when he had completed all of his research, he wrote a completely different book than he had first intended. He now gave it the title: Who Moved The Stone? which has become a classic, demonstrating that the rules of evidence do not disprove, but rather confirm the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. In it, Morison wrote these opening words:

’This study is, in some ways, so unusual and provocative that (I) think it desirable to state here very briefly how the book came to take its present form.  (He wrote) “it is essentially a confession, the inner story of a man who originally set out to write one kind of book and found himself compelled by the sheer force of circumstance to write quite another.  (He wrote) “Somehow the perspective shifted — not suddenly, as in a flash of insight or inspiration, but slowly, almost imperceptibly, by the very stubbornness of the facts themselves.’”  (Richard E. Simmons III, Reflections of the Existence of God, pp. 233-234)

Morison is not the first man who went to the Bible to disprove it, who ended up being converted by it! And what he discovered is what Christians all over the world are celebrating today: “Christ is risen indeed!”

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“Rescued By His Sacrifice” (Galatians 1:3-5 sermon)

In one of the first major battles of the Revolutionary War, the British routed the young American army on Long Island, New York. They hoped to destroy the rest of the retreating Americans, but American Commander William Stirling made the sacrificial decision to cover the retreat of all the other American forces. David McCullough writes how “He and Major Mordecai Gist and no more than 250 Marylanders attacked (British General) Cornwallis in a headlong, valiant effort to cover the retreat of the others and perhaps even break through the redcoats … The fighting was the most savage of the day. Driven back by a blaze of deadly fire, Stirling’s men rallied and struck again five times. Stirling himself fought ‘like a wolf.’ The Marylanders, who until that morning had never faced an enemy, fought no less tenaciously than their commander.”

General George Washington, watching from a Brooklyn hill, is said to have cried out as he saw the Marylanders cut down time after time, “Good God, what brave fellows I must this day lose.’” (David McCullough, 1776, p.177)

But the sacrifice that Stirling and his men made, saved the rest of the American army to live and fight another day — and the Revolutionary War would one day be won, because of their costly sacrifice.

Today we are celebrating another sacrifice — a sacrifice even greater than one made for our country — the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made when He bought our salvation on the cross. Next week is Easter Sunday, and we always look forward to that celebration — but the week before Easter I always like to remember the sacrifice Jesus made that led to Easter: His sacrifice on the cross that brought us our salvation. We see it described in our passage for today from Galatians 1:

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen.”

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“A Body In Motion” (Ephesians 4:11-16 sermon)

Sir Isaac Newton, the English scientist, is famous, among other things, for the “laws of motion” he formulated in the 1600’s: among them being that a body at rest tends to remain at rest, and a body in motion tends to remain in motion — unless acted upon by an outward force. 

Perhaps ironically, those two terms could describe a lot of CHURCHES today too:

— There are a whole lot of churches that are “at rest,” and they just “tend to remain at rest,” and as a result, many of them are dying. Several thousand dying churches will close their doors this year in America. 

— But there are also a lot of churches that could well be described as being “in motion”— and they “tend to remain in motion.” They’re always doing something. We might that of that as a “good” thing — and it CAN be good — but we need to make sure that the “motion” of our churches is in the right direction. 

And the place where check that “right direction” is the word of God. 

As churches of Jesus Christ, we are not here just to “remain in motion;” we are here to remain in motion by doing the right things, those things which are based on HIS WORD.

So this morning we are looking a passage of scripture (Ephesians 4:11-16) which describes what the church as a “body in motion” should look like.

We need to KNOW what this passage teaches we are to do as a church, and make sure that we are committed to it as a people in the days ahead.

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“Glorifying God as Salt & Light” (Matthew 5:13-16 sermon)

“(Victor) Frankl was a prominent Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist who lived in Vienna, Austria. In 1942, he and his wife and parents were arrested and transported to a Nazi concentration camp. At the end of the war three years later, Frankl was set free, though his wife and parents did not survive.” After this experience, Frank wrote a book he called: Man’s Search For Meaning. “In sharing his experiences in a Nazi death camp, Frankl concluded that the difference between those who lived and those who died came down to one thing — meaning. The reason is he was convinced we are driven, above all else, to understand our purpose in life.  (Richard E. Simmons III, Reflections on the Existence of God, p. 87-88)

If having meaning or a. purpose is life is as important a Victor Frankl says it is, do you know what YOUR purpose for being here on earth is? The good thing is, you don’t have to guess; Jesus TELLS us what it is in our passage for today. 

The first thing we need to remember is the context here. Jesus just gave His disciples the Beatitudes, and now He shows us what our purpose IS here on earth as His disciples who are becoming like Him:

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“Peacemaking: The Pinnacle of Christlikeness” (Matthew 5:9 sermon)

John Adams is probably best known as the 2nd President of the United States, but he himself wanted to be remembered for ONE thing more than any other. He wrote to a friend of his, ‘I desire no other inscription over my gravestone than: “Here lies John Adams, who took upon himself the responsibility of peace with France in the year 1800.”’”  (David McCullough, John Adams, pp. 566-567)  

France had been our ally in the Revolutionary War, but we almost got into a devastating war with them in 1800, as a very young nation — but through John Adams’ deft maneuvering and diplomacy, war was avoided.

So of all the things he accomplished in his life: as a member of the Continental Congress; all he did in the American Revolution, and even as the 2nd President of the United States, John Adams said that the ONE greatest accomplishment of his life, at least in his eyes, was that he kept peace between America and France in 1800. Peacemaking was the most important thing.

This morning we come to the 7th Beatitude, “blessed are the peacemakers,” and, similar to what John Adams expressed, peacemaking should be regarded as the greatest achievement in our character, the most Christlike thing we can do. This is the next to last Beatitude; all the others have led up to this. The last Beatitude is persecution, which is really more the response of the world to us for being like Christ — so this 7th is really the height of Christlikeness. When you have achieved this quality, people will recognize you as being like Jesus. Like John Adams said: this is the one thing you want on your headstone! The “Peacemaking” that Jesus describes here is, in a very real sense, “The Pinnacle of Christlikeness.” 

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“It’s What’s Inside That Counts” (Matthew 5:8 sermon)

When I got sick in 2012, they ran me through a bunch of tests trying to diagnose my illness. One day I found myself on an exam table, hooked up to an ultrasound machine, and the technician smeared some gel on my chest, and put a scanner right over my heart. As we looked at the screen she said: “Do you see that? That’s your heart. See that opening, and closing? That’s your heart valve. It looks like it’s working well!” I just sat there with my mouth open. It was the most amazing thing, that they could see inside my body like that, into what the valves of my heart were doing! Some of you have been in that same situation, and it is truly a wonder. 

But as amazing as that is, we need to understand that this is what God does all the time — and not just with our “physical heart” but with our spiritual heart as well. God says in Jeremiah 17:10  “I the Lord search the heart; I test the mind.” All the time – not just on “special checkups” – God is examining what is going on inside of us, in our hearts and minds! 

And this is really the point of this 6th Beatitude that we are looking at today. It is that the HEART is what matters to God. And if we are ever going to achieve the pinnacle of human existence/the height of human desire — to see God, we must be “pure in heart.” “It’s what’s inside that counts”!

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“The Character of Christ: Merciful (Matthew 5:7 sermon)

Several years ago, a man and his wife were traveling on the Interstate in Florida, when their car broke down, with the next exit 40 miles away. There had been a rash of highway robberies there recently, so no one would stop to help them. They actually counted 100 cars that drove past – until they just finally stopped counting!  At last one man stopped to help – a man who could barely speak English. He helped them out, and would take no money for it when they offered, and then he just drove away. Afterwards the wife turned to her husband and said, “How do you pay somebody back for something like that?” After thinking about it, the husband said, “We can’t; but what we can do is pass along to others, what he did for us.”  

Now in some ways, that couple’s story is very unique. But in another way, if you are a Christian, this is YOUR story!  God saw you stranded in your sin, and He did for you what no one else would do or could do — He sent Jesus to die on the cross to pay for your sins and save you, when you totally didn’t deserve it. What can you possibly do to pay Him back?  Nothing!  We could never with our whole lives pay God back for one drop of the blood that Jesus shed to save us! But what we CAN do – and what we WILL do, if we’re really grateful for what God did for us – is pass along to others the same kind of mercy that God first showed to us.

This morning we continue our study of the 8 character qualities of Christ from Matthew 5:3-12 that God wants to build into our lives. Today we come to the 5th quality: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

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