“We Are All A Mixed Bag” (Luke 10:38-42 sermon)

One of the controversies that has engulfed our country the last months has been regarding statues in different parts of our country, of people who had something in their past which is offensive to some people today. For example, Thomas Jefferson has been the target of some of the criticism. He was a slave owner. So was George Washington. Christopher Columbus was involved in the subjugation of the native peoples of America. Some would assert that those with such failings should not have a statue in a public place. But at some point, the question becomes, “Whose statue COULD we put up?” Who has no flaws in their background, no aberrant practices, no quotes or attitudes in their past history, which might be considered controversial today? Who is it, who has no mix of both good and bad qualities in their lives?  Because ALL of us — except the Lord Jesus Himself — are what we might call “a mixed bag” — a mixture of both good and bad. Continue reading

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“The Maladies of Martha” (Luke 10:38-42 sermon)

A few weeks ago I read Joseph J. Ellis’ book on President Thomas Jefferson, entitled American Sphinx. In it, he discussed, among other things, the men who influenced Jefferson and made him the kind of president that he was. He wrote: “Most students of the Jefferson presidency explain his leadership style in terms of the POSITIVE lessons he had learned from (George) Washington and the NEGATIVE ones learned from (John) Adams.” (Joseph J. Ellis, American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, p. 189).   

I had to chuckle when I read that, because John Adams was always a bit jealous of George Washington; Washington was so widely revered, even in his own day, and John Adams never felt like he quite measured up to him. And then, to go down in history, not for the positive, but for the NEGATIVE example he was for Jefferson, would be particularly galling for John Adams, who was actually used by God in a great way in bringing about the birth of our country.

But the truth is, we do receive both positive and negative examples from the people around us. Those of you who have been participating in our ZOOM Sunday School lessons on Proverbs have seen that. Proverbs is packed full of both the positive and negative examples that we can see in people around us, and we can and should learn from both. 

And we see that in our passage for today too: there is the positive example of Mary that we saw last week, of she how sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to His word — and then there is the more “negative” example of Martha — but we can still certainly learn from even some of the negative aspects of her example for us in this passage: 

38 “Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with [a]all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; 42 but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.’”

What are some of the “maladies of Martha” that we see here — understanding that her shortcomings are also very common in many of US too. As we review some of her “maladies” this morning, see if some of “Martha’s Maladies” may not be present in your own life as well!  Continue reading

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“Find Me At The Feet Of Jesus” (Luke 10:38-42 sermon)

In the 1700’s, Thomas Scott was a young man who felt a call to go into the ministry, but he didn’t know much about it. He became acquainted with John Newton, the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” who was pastoring a church at nearby Olney, England, at that time, and they began corresponding. Newton wrote to him:  “The first lesson in the school of Christ is to become a little child, sitting simply at his feet, that we may be made wise unto salvation.” (Newton, Letters, p. 248)    Newton’s words pierced Thomas Scott’s heart, and he became an evangelical Christian, who walked 14 miles on Sundays to preach to patients in a London hospital. He served in the ministry the rest of his life, and wrote a Bible commentary that was named after him. Undoubtedly that “first lesson” Newton gave him, made a strong impression, and guided him to that successful ministry: “simply sit at His feet.” That is the key to the effective Christian life.  And that is just what we see in our passage here in Luke 10 today as well:

“Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with [a]all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.’ 41 But the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; 42 but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.’”

Last Sunday we saw how Martha’s experience with Jesus can serve as an allegory of what happens in each of our lives with Him:

— First, like Martha, we must each personally ask Jesus into our lives

— But also like her, even when we have asked Him in, we are still “a work in progress” and have some changes in attitude and lifestyle, and so on, to make.

So this morning, as a followup, we are going to look at THE single most important thing that needs to happen in each of our lives after Jesus comes in. Martha didn’t regard it, at first, as the most important thing — and honestly, many of God’s people today do not see it as that important either. But that it SHOULD have the highest priority in our lives, Jesus makes very clear, both here and elsewhere in scripture.  What is that “one thing”? It is what we see Mary doing here: Verse 39 says that Martha “had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word.” Continue reading

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“Martha & Jesus: A Christian Allegory” (Luke 10:38-42 sermon)

One of the most famous allegories in history is John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. An “allegory” is where some character or symbol represents something else. In Pilgrim’s Progress (which is perhaps a rather “thin” allegory) the main character of Bunyan’s novel is named “Christian,” and he meets a man named “Evangelist” who points him to the way, where he has to enter through a narrow gate to the right road to the Celestial City. Along the way he meets with characters like Mr. Worldly Wise Man, and the Giant Despair, among others. You can see the analogy, as I said it is not a deeply hidden one: the character “Christian” represents all of us on our journey through the Christian life, and the Celestial City is heaven, and so on.  Pilgrim’s Progress for many years was the second most-read book in all of the world behind the Bible. Its characters and scenes used to be referred to in public speeches and media, because everyone knew them. Now, of course, Pilgrim’s Progress has gone “out of vogue” with our modern age, and most people have no idea who “Mr. Worldly Wise Man” is, if you mention him, or any of the other characters, which is a shame. If you have never read Pilgrim’s Progress, you should get a copy and read it. 

We find what I believe is another very apt analogy of the Christian life here in Luke 10:38-42, in what is for many of us the very familiar episode of Mary & Martha. Right off the top, let me make this clear: this episode is a REAL event. There really were two sisters by the names of Mary & Martha, and what is described here really happened in history. It is a historical fact. But also I believe that what happened in this very real event is also symbolic of what happens in our lives as Christians, and can serve, in a way, like Pilgrim’s Progress, as an allegory, or picture, of the Christian life. 

What happens here in this story?  Continue reading

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“Save Me By Your Grace” (Psalm 6:4 sermon/Lord’s Supper)

After the Second World War, General Douglas MacArthur and his wife and their little son Arthur went to live in Japan, where MacArthur was administering the Island after the war.  As things settled down, slowly the American occupying troops were being sent home. And the way they decided who would go home first, was on a point system: “so many points were awarded for each month overseas, so many for battles and decorations, and so on.”  Little Arthur was tired of living in Japan and wanted to go home, so at one point he asked his dad: “Do I have enough points to go home?” (William Manchester, American Caesar, p. 515) 

Unfortunately, that is the way that too many people think of going home to heaven: they think if we have enough “points,” based on our goodness or good works, then we get to go. But that is not true at all. The Bible tells us that we are not saved by our good works, but by the GRACE of God — which is what our verse for this morning says: 

  “Save me because of Your lovingkindness” (Psalm 6:4)

We are saved by God’s lovingkindness (or grace) which is what we are celebrating as we share in the Lord’s Supper this morning.  Continue reading

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“The Lord Tests The Righteous” (Psalm 11:5 sermon)

During the Civil War, they got a new orderly, a young man to carry messages to and from President Abraham Lincoln. Not long after he started, someone offered him $100 (which was a lot of money back in the 1860’s!) for a message he carried from the President. He wouldn’t do it. Then they offered him more, which he also refused. He held off until they offered him $200, then he whipped out a revolver and took the briber prisoner. Later he found out that the man who was trying to bribe him was really a secret-service agent, who had been employed to TEST him, to see if he’d be faithful with the Presidential messages or not! (Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln, The Prairie Years and the War Years, p. 391)

Well, we go through a lot of tests in this world, don’t we? But the most important testing that we as Christians go through, is from the Lord Himself, as we see in Psalm 11 this morning, where it says in verse 5:

“The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked.” Continue reading

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“Dying, Yet Being Renewed” (II Corinthians 4:16 sermon)

Writing at age 75, mystery writer Agatha Christie observed: “With every year that passes, something has to be crossed off (my) list of pleasures. Long walks are off, and alas, bathing in the sea; fillet steaks and apples and raw blackberries (teeth difficulties) and reading fine print.
But there is a great deal left. Operas and concerts, and reading, and the enormous pleasure of dropping into bed and going to sleep, and dreams of every variety, and quite often young people coming to see you and being surprisingly nice to you. Almost best of all, sitting in the sun — gently drowsy … And there you are again — remembering. ‘I remember, I remember, the house where I was born …’. (Agatha Christie, An Autobiography, p. 530)

Ms. Christie said there were both negative AND positive aspects about growing old for her — there were things she could no longer do; but also some things she really enjoyed more. That is also true for the person who is a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. There are some difficulties we experience with age — and we need to be aware of those, and face up to them — but if we are really walking with the Lord, there are also some great compensations, which are a foretaste of the glory we will experience with God forever. Paul speaks about this whole process in our verse for today:

“Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, our inner man is being renewed day by day.” Continue reading

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Book Review: Reflections on the Existence of God

51ooxPFriDL._AC_UY436_QL65_.jpgInstead of closing with the perfunctory “I was sent this book in exchange for reading it and promising to write a review,” I am going to open with it. Because that is exactly how I encountered this book. But I am glad I did, because I can also honestly say that it is a very readable, very quotable Christian apologetics source which I would recommend to anyone.

Reflections on the Existence of God, by Richard E. Simmons III is not a random series of reflections, but follows an orderly progression of arguments for the existence of God in general, then building concept upon concept, through specific Christian commitment —  it is reminiscent of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity in that way. It comprises very brief, 4-5 page “chapters” he calls “essays.” But this format makes it very readable — you can get in an “essay” even if you only have five minutes to spare. Each is quick-hitting, and contains historical, foot-noted stories.

Did I say it was very readable? I intended to start the book by reading just 2-3 pages one Wednesday night after prayer meeting, and ended up reading 50! This happened several times during the course of my time in the book. Each little chapter draws you into the next — just like you’d pop another M&M into your mouth!

For any Christian interested in strengthening and sharing their faith — and especially preachers and teachers — Simmons’ book is a gold mine of stories, quotes, and illustrations for sermons and other messages: Continue reading

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The Providences of 1776

fullsizeoutput_4232I’ve made a personal “tradition” of reading David McCullough’s 1776 on the 4th of July 
for the last couple of years. The book is a marvelous retelling of this pivotal year in the story of America. A repeated theme that impressed me in this last reading was the number of “miracles” — or what theologians might call works of “The Providence of God” — which contributed to the birth of The United States, which, had “circumstances” gone the other way in one or more of these cases, might never have taken place. Following are a few examples: Continue reading

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“His Grace Prevails” (Psalm 117 sermon)

Last Sunday we spent some time looking at Psalm 101:3, which gives us an important commitment towards holiness: “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not fasten its grip on me.” I hope that you were able read and memorize that verse this week – and especially I hope you USED it to avoid the enemy’s temptations.

But if we are honest, many of us will say that we did not. We failed to use the word, and indeed failed – perhaps many times – to do what was right when we look back at last week. So is all lost? NO: thank God for His grace. “His grace prevails,” is our “follow up message” of sorts today. Even when we as His people fall short, His grace prevails over us, as we see in Psalm 117:2: Continue reading

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