“A Living Hope” (I Peter 1:3 sermon)

(Preached at First Baptist Church, Angleton, TX Easter 2019)

One of my privileges as a pastor over the last 35 years of ministry, has been to be able to hear the last words and testimonies of my church members who knew they were facing death. People who went to the grave with confidence and joy, because they had a “living hope” in Jesus that was stronger than the grave. One of the last services I did in North Carolina was for a senior adult man by the name of Jimmy Duckworth. He was a faithful man, who had just spent months tending to his wife Faye in the nursing home rehab, and who thought he was just tired from caring for her — when in fact unbeknownst to him he was developing cancer. When they found it, it was too late to do anything about it. And when I heard, I went to their house again — I’d been there just a few days before, when they had finally gotten home from the rehab, but this time it was to see him in light of this news. I wondered: “How is he going to feel? What is his outlook going to be?” I wondered if he would be crushed and devastated. But the man was a rock. He just sat there and in a very plainspoken manner told me what his condition was, and that he had a short time to live. But he said, “Pastor, I have lived a good life, and I know where I am going. I am ready to go.” He had an amazing peace. He did not fear the grave. Jimmy Duckworth had “a living hope” — and he had that hope because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

That is what our verse in I Peter 1:3 talks about this morning:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Continue reading

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“Red Letters”

I recently watched David Crowder’s testimony about writing the popular song, “Red Letters.” He said when he was a little boy, he was sitting in a church service with his grandmother, and he was fiddling with the envelopes or whatever — but he looked over and saw his grandmother’s Bible open, and it was one of those “red letter” edition Bibles, in which all the words of Jesus are printed in red. And he asked his grandmother: “Why are those words in red?” And she told him the story: that God Himself came down to earth in Jesus Christ, and those were the words that He Himself spoke while He was here. He said it made such an impression on him: these were the words of God! Words that ended up changing his life.

But he said when he was older, he began to research those “red letter Bibles” some more. Continue reading

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“Pilgrim’s Progress” (I Peter 1:1-2 sermon)

The Bible is the #1 best-selling, most-read book of all time. But right behind it, is The Pilgrim’s Progress, widely considered the second most-read book in history. It was written by Puritan John Bunyan, in the form of an allegory: a man, “Christian”, receives God’s word from a messenger named “Evangelist,” so he leaves “The City of Destruction” and heads towards “The Celestial City.” Of course it is all a parable, representing the story of every “Christian” on our journey through this world to heaven. There are a number of very clever characters in the story: “Mr. Worldly Wise Man,” “The Giant Despair,” and many others Pilgrim encounters which represent people and circumstances we all deal with in life. If you have never read this classic book, you really should. It is very insightful.

But the “big picture” you get out of this book is that for “Pilgrim,” the Christian, this world is not our home. We are just passing through, on a journey to heaven. And this is one of the most important attitudes that we as Christians need to adopt. We are just “pilgrims,” temporary travelers through this world. This world is not our home. If we “get” that; then we will be able to deal successfully with a lot of the things that face us in life. If we don’t “get” that, then we will FAIL in a lot of ways, because we’ll wonder why we have certain difficulties, or why people don’t “accept” us, because we haven’t realized that we are only temporary residents, “pilgrims” in this world.

This morning, we are beginning a journey as a church body through the Book of I Peter, and one of the themes of this book is that as Christians, we are “pilgrims” in this world like Bunyan talked about. We aren’t living for the pleasures and applause of this world, but we are just traveling through it, and we are living for the God who has called us to our ultimate home with Him in heaven. So let’s look together at what the first couple of verses of this insightful and challenging book have to tell us: Continue reading

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“The Goodness of God in the Midst of Affliction” (Psalm 119:65-72 sermon)

In February 2012, I stood to lead prayer meeting at the church in Louisiana I had pastored for 12 years, but the longer I stood the sicker I became. I had to leave during the prayer time and have my associate pastor take over. That was the first evidence that something had started to go wrong with me physically, and it would just grow worse from there. Soon I could no longer preach on Sunday morning without almost passing out during the service, and that May I went on medical leave until my doctor could come up with a diagnosis. After months of testing, they finally determined that I had what was then a rare & little-known diagnosis, but which has become more common over the last couple of years, called dysautonomia, or POTS: “Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome.”

With POTS, the autonomic system malfunctions; things that are supposed to be regulated by that part of the brain misfire: for example one’s heart rate, which should adjust automatically when you stand, doesn’t. My heart rate might rise from 80 when I was sitting, to 140 or more when I stood. Essentially it was like running in place all the time when I stood, which is why I’d get so sick. It also causes severe fatigue, sleeplessness, nausea, and migraine headaches that were so bad I couldn’t read, or listen to anything.

There is no known “cure” for dysautonomia/POTS — still to this day. They just to try treat the symptoms with whatever medication seems to work best on the individual. But after months of trying different medications and treatments — some of which had side effects that were worse than the illness — nothing was helping, and it became increasingly evident that I was not going to get well any time soon. I knew I needed to step down, and let the church call a healthy pastor, who could minister to them like they needed. I was losing my job, my career, and my ministry. We had to sell our home, Cheryl’s dream house, along with about 2/3 of our possessions. I was so sick while we were moving that I couldn’t even stand to pack our belongings, and some our church members stepped over and around me on the floor as they packed my things. After 27 years of pastoring, I would now be out of the ministry. We moved to Norman, OK, where we had a small apartment, began to apply for disability, and try to convalesce without any human hope for a healthy future. As far as I knew then, my career and my life as I had known it, was over. Continue reading

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“Pursuing Holiness” (Hebrews 12:14 sermon)

The old Puritans of England in the 1500-1600’s have gotten what J.I. Packer calls “a bad rap.” Usually if someone calls a person a “Puritan”, or says that something is “Puritanical”, they mean it as an insult: that the person is being a “stick in the mud,” or is acting “holier than thou.” But in reality, the English Puritans were some of the best Christians ever to walk the earth, and we can learn much in our own Christian life from reading them.

One book of Puritan writings is called “The Valley of Vision.” It is actually a little book of prayers from the Puritans which a minister (Arthur Bennett) edited in the 1900’s. Many of these prayers are very beautiful, but they are also very convicting. One prayer in particular asks God: “For if I do not walk holily before Thee, how can I be assured of my salvation?” (p. 14)

That’s a good question. If you don’t walk holy before God, how CAN you be assured of your salvation? Our verse for today answers that question in a very firm way:

“Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” Continue reading

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“Your Daily Time With God” (Mark 1:35 sermon)

Back in the 1950’s, A.W. Tozer decried many of the weaknesses he saw developing in American Christianity. One thing he preached about was the desire of American Christians for “shortcuts” to spiritual growth:

“In my creature impatience I am often caused to wish that there were some way to bring modern Christians into a deeper spiritual life painlessly by short, easy lessons; but such wishes are vain. No such shortcut exists. God has not bowed to our nervous haste nor embraced the methods of our machine age. It is well that we accept the truth now: The man who would know God must give time to Him. He must count no time wasted which is spent in the cultivation of His acquaintance. He must give himself to meditation and prayer hours on end. So did the saints of old, the glorious company of the apostles, the goodly fellowship of the prophets, and the believing members of the holy church in all generations. And so must we if we would follow in their train.” (A.W. Tozer The Pursuit of Man, p. 5)

Tozer reminded us that time with God is THE key to spiritual growth. A couple of weeks ago, we saw that worshiping God and spending time with Him was the single most important thing that any of us can do. If that’s true, then we need some instruction on how to do it. And that is what we find from the life of Jesus here in Mark 1:35: 

“In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.”

Jesus models for us here several important elements of a morning devotion time with God: Continue reading

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“Reaching, Teaching, Caring” (Matthew 4:23 sermon)

I came home from work last Monday night and Cheryl was sitting on the couch wrapped up in a blanket, and she said, “You remember that thing you said in the sermon yesterday about how ‘If you worshiped God first thing this morning, it doesn’t matter what else you did today, you still did the most important thing’ … Well …” And we both laughed. She was just joking, of course; she had dinner on the table, laundry going, and had gotten all kinds of things done.

But last week we DID see that worshiping God really IS the #1 Priority of a Church or an individual. It is the most important thing we can do. But worship is not the ONLY thing we are supposed to be doing. What else are we supposed to be doing as a church? That should be one of the most important questions we have.
— NOT “what do WE want to do?”
— NOT “what do people in our community THINK we should be doing?”
— NOT just “what did we do last year?”
But what does God’s word say that we should be doing as a church? Continue reading

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