Sermons

January 17, 2016 — “Living in a World Gone Mad James”, 1:19-21

Living in a World Gone Mad James 1:19-21 First Baptist Church Laurens   The Internet giant Google keeps a list called “Ten Things We Know To Be True”. The list is in essence nothing but a set of guiding principles for the company. Though slightly altered for a modern and hip work force, some of the principles are age-old ideas such as the number one truth on their list – “Focus on the user and all else will follow” which is simply another way of saying that the customer comes first. Or, take number six on their list “you can make money without being evil” which sounds to me a lot like “you can succeed without sacrificing integrity”. In Google’s “Ten Things We Know to Be True” there are also some ideas, however, that are a product of modern times. Consider their 9th truth, “you can be serious without a suit” which goes against the old classic of the business world that we should “dress for success”. Or how about the 10th Google belief, “Great just isn’t good enough” which is their way of saying that they want to set goals that they know they can’t achieve. Though compelling, that’s a lot different from the old adage of setting measurable and achievable goals. But, it is the third item of the Google list of things that they “know to be true” that I am most interested in today. Their third truth is simply this; “fast is always better than slow”. “Fast is always better than slow” in 2016, we have to admit that most people would agree with this. We do indeed often see fast as better. The restaurant where we receive the quickest service often rises to the top of our favorite places to eat. The person who gives us quick and timely answers is someone that we often feel is on the ball or ahead the rest. And the friend who always has a response is the one we deem as being wise, intelligent and a leader. We would indeed be tempted to say that “fast is always better than slow”. And, yet, in our text for today from the later verses of James 1, just the opposite is suggested. In these verses James seems to say this, often times, “slow is far, far better than fast”. And further, James wants to apply this principle to two basic areas of our lives – being slow to speak and slow to anger. Having lived with these verses for the better part of the past week, I have to say that I like fast service and quick answers just like you do. But, I am also prone to want to be quick to speak and quick to show my emotion. In light of this, I very much appreciate the simple, practical wisdom of James here that there is some areas of life where we all need to take things at a much slower pace. I also believe that in the maddening modern world in which we all live, work and play, that the advice of James here can make a huge, obvious and profound difference for the better in so many ways. Just think about it for a moment. How much better would our world be if we were slow to speak? And, how much better would our world be if we were slow to anger? Think with me about these two ideas for just a moment. First, just as James says, what if we really lived quickly to listen and slow to speak? Or said another way, what...

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January 10, 2016 — “For the Long Haul James”, 1:2-8

For the Long Haul James 1:2-8 First Baptist Church Laurens I have only been snorkeling one time in my life. It was a half-day excursion off the coast of the Florida Keys on what is called Sombrero Reef. Honestly, it wasn’t a very pleasant experience. The water was choppy and I felt seasick most of the afternoon. While the fish and the reef were absolutely beautiful to see so close up, my thoughts were elsewhere, namely on getting back to dry, stable land as quickly as possible. The one thing that I remember most vividly from that day is the speech that our guide gave us before we jumped into the water. Most everyone on board was an amateur at best and as I recall no one had ever snorkeled in that particular area before. This led to one primary word of advice. “Here is the big thing,” said our guide. “I want you all to know right now that there are fish down there that are as big or bigger than you are. But, they are all harmless. So, when you see one, don’t be afraid, just know in advance that they won’t hurt you.” Well, you can imagine how that affected our little group. Everyone, humbly and generously invited the others to be their guest and enter the water first with the words, “Don’t worry, I’ll be right behind you!” Of course, that was a frightening little piece of advice to receive before jumping into unfamiliar and deep waters. But, it was a needed word. Without question, it was far, far better for us to have that piece of advice ahead of the game than it would have been for us to have seen such a fish up close and personal without having had any prior warning of their presence. I feel similarly about the words that greet us in James chapter 1. They are good words as we stand on the bow of a New Year with choppy waters around us too. The writer of James wants us to know, just as he wanted his original audience to know that difficulties are not a possibility but rather a certainty in the road that lies ahead in our lives. This passage, in essence, becomes our spiritual fair warning if you will. James’ reason for making this clear is similar to the rationale of our guide on that snorkeling trip. James wanted believers to know that difficulties are a given so that we can be prepared for them and so that we can approach them as life situations not to fear but merely as obstacles to overcome. James’ takes the perspective that when it comes to troubles in our lives the question is not if they will happen but rather how will we respond when they happen. And, James’ goal is that when difficulties do come our way that we will stand firm or persevere. It is very interesting that the Greek word used in this text that we translate as persevere was actually a military term. The idea was that of a solider who maintained their ground in the midst of battle rather than retreating. The goal is for us not to throw up the white flag of surrender but rather that we will stand our ground. So, how do we do this? When the inevitable life issue arises in 2016, how do we stand our ground? How do we put our faith into action in the midst of life’s worries, stresses and struggles? James insinuates that we need to adopt two basic perspectives. First, we have...

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January 3, 2016 — “Do We Have the Courage to Follow? Matthew”, 2:1-12

Do We Have the Courage to Follow? Matthew 2:1-12 First Baptist Church Laurens Over the holidays, while at my parent’s house, I picked up a book off of one of the shelves in their house. The book was called Mysteries of the Bible or at least something similar to that. Knowing that I was going to be preaching on Matthew’s story of the Magi today, I immediately went to the table of contents, and, as I suspected, there was a nice section on the Wise Men. In the end, it dealt with the usual questions. How many Wise Men were there? Of course, we don’t know for sure. We say three simply because there were three gifts. Where we they from? Again, we don’t know but many suggest ancient Persia, which would be modern day Iraq or Iran. What exactly was it that they followed? Here, all kinds of theories were given – the tail of Haley’s comet, an alignment of two planets with the moon, or even a new star that had never been seen before. And, how long did it take them to get there? Yet again, this is a mystery too. It likely took quite a while since Matthew states that Herod, after meeting with the Wise Men, ultimately had all of the boys two years of age and under in the area of Bethlehem put to death just to make sure that Jesus was in the mix. This book devoted quite a lot of space to the Wise Men and their story. And, in all honesty, I enjoyed reading what it had to share and the theories that were explored. But in the end, it made the same fatal mistake that we too so often make when it comes to this story – it dealt with all of the unknowns in the story and failed to address what we do know and what we can learn from this beautiful passage in the early pages of Matthew’s gospel. Without question, one of those obvious lessons is that the Wise Men were followers! There is a story which I like that may be more legend than historic truth and yet it makes a great point that is right on the mark. The story is of a small college where applications were being considered for the following year’s freshman class. One particular application was from a young girl named Mary. Mary had evidently asked one of her high school teachers to write a recommendation for her. The teacher, in his or her recommendation wanted to be very honest with the admission board and wrote the following, “Mary is NOT a leader, but she is an excellent follower.” According to the story, the president of the little college, having seen the application, wrote across the top, “by all means admit Mary; with a class of four hundred and fifty leaders we need at least one follower!” (Thinking About Leadership, Nannerl Keohane, Princeton University Press, 2010, page 48) Today, on this first Sunday of the New Year and in light of today’s text regarding the Wise Men, I want to make a similar suggestion to all of us. In 2016, in a world full of people charting their own paths, we need to be people who are followers – Jesus followers! I say this knowing full well that followers are not always admired in our day. Instead we lift up those who are pioneers, who dare to be different and who lead us down paths and in directions that we have never known before. Without question there is something very...

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December 6, 2015 — “A Love Worth Waiting For Luke”, 1:67-80

A Love Worth Waiting For Luke 1:67-80 December 6, 2015 Back at Christmas in 1974, a sociologist at Brigham Young University in Utah decided to conduct an interesting experiment. His name was Phillip Kunz. That year, Kunz decided to see what would happen if he and his wife sent Christmas Cards to complete strangers. In turn, the Kunz family sent out 600 Christmas Cards to people that they did not know at all. Each card contained a handwritten note and a photo of their family. Then, they sat back and waited. During that bizarre Christmas of 1974, the Kunz family received more cards than they had ever received up until that point. In the weeks leading to the Christmas of 1974, cards came to the Kunz home by the dozens literally every day. They arrived in all shapes and sizes and they came from complete strangers. What was humorous about it all was the fact that many of the senders wanted the Kunz clan to know how much they thought of them, how much they appreciated their family and they sometimes even sent along little updates about what was happening in their own lives. Some of the cards included pictures of family members, photos of new homes and recent graduates. A few even included a personal note such as one that said, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Years, love Lou, Bev and the children. Why did Phillip Kunz conduct his crazy Christmas card experiment? Remember, Kunz was a sociologist at Brigham Young. What he wanted to investigate was whether or not total strangers, having received an unexpected Christmas card from his family, would feel a sense of obligation to send a card in return. What he discovered was that most of them most certainly did feel such a need. The big fancy word here is the term reciprocity. Reciprocity describes our deep sense that we have an obligation to return to others the same favors that they offer to us. And, we see a lot of this at Christmas time. If someone gives us a gift, we feel obligated to get one for them. If someone sends us a Christmas card, we feel that we should return the favor. If someone spends $75 on us then our nagging sense becomes that $35 spent on them may simply not be enough. If someone invites us over for cake and coffee during the holidays then by golly by the end of January, we need to find a time to invite them into our own homes for a visit. All of these ideas are built off our very human notion of how we display our love and affection for one another. Our sense is that we communicate how we feel for others by making sure that we match their care for us in a tit for tat manner. As a result, when others don’t match our affection at all or in a timely manner, our sense is that they no longer care about us. Further still, this sense of reciprocity even exists in how we feel day-by-day and moment-by-moment about God. If we have shown our affection to God – through being in attendance at church, through faithful giving to the church, through volunteering for committees, by teaching Sunday School, through being faithful in our reading of the bible, or by helping the less fortunate, then we expect something in return. We expect that God will take care us, we expect that our lives will be full of joy that our health will be good, that our children will be safe and...

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November 22, 2015 — “Being Thankful for What We Have Exodus”, 20:17

Being Thankful for What We Have Exodus 20:17 November 22, 2015 During one of my early years of High School, I took a course in Biology. The class met in the old school lab, which was longer than it was wide. Rather than sitting at desks, we sat at lab tables and my particular group was assigned to a spot near the back of the room. Over time, in that particular class, I recognized that whatever was written on the chalkboard was a bit blurry to me. I had experienced this in other classes before but not in quite as pronounced a way as I did in biology class since I sat much further from the front of the room. I must honestly admit though, that despite the blurriness that I was experiencing in my eyesight, I assumed that this was simply the way everyone saw those same words on the board. I credited the issue to our distance from what we were looking at rather than to a particular problem that was unique to me. One day, however, one of my tablemates loaned me his glasses. “Try these,” he said. Though they were nothing more than a low power set of basic glasses for someone who was slightly nearsighted, I was amazed at what I saw when I put them on. In an instant, what I realized was that the issue was indeed my own particular eyesight. I was the one who had a problem, but, thankfully one that was easily corrected. In his writings on the Ten Commandments which I have mentioned several times over the last several months, the Methodist Minister J Ellsworth Kalas says that what the tenth commandment reminds all of us of is the simple fact that almost all human beings are prone to have trouble seeing possessions clearly from a spiritual perspective. When it comes to both what others have and to what we have, the tenth command suggests that we all have impaired vision. You see, this tenth command is more a matter of the intentions of our heart and soul than of our daily actions. If we live always wanting what others have and if we are never satisfied with what we have ourselves, we will likely never find either peace or contentment. I don’t think it is an over exaggeration at all to say that while the tenth commandment may be the most overlooked it can at the same time be one of the most debilitating in our quest to find the life in God that all of us long to have. Kalas drills down into the idea of coveting and spiritual eyesight in two basic practical ways. First, he says that coveting is the temptation to see too narrowly the possessions of others. And second, he also says that coveting is the temptation to be completely blinded to our own gifts and resources. First, to covet is to be tempted to see too narrowly the possessions of others. Let’s be honest, virtually all of us do it. If I only lived in the house they do. If I just had in my bank account half the money that he has. If I only had her work hours. If I just had the friends that he has. If I was the boss instead of the low person on the corporate ladder. If I had this or that then I would be happy, content and life would be good – no questions asked. Virtually all of us have some or most of these feelings floating around in our hearts and...

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November 8, 2015 — “Be Careful Little Mouth What You Say”, Exodus 20:16

Be Careful Little Mouth What You Say Exodus 20:16 November 8, 2015 Back in 1956, a game show debuted in the United States with Bud Collyer as the host. The show was called To Tell the Truth, and along with The Price is Right, it is the only game show to have aired at least one episode in each of the last seven decades. The show featured three guests and a panel of four celebrities along with the host. The guests all pretended to be the same person who had an unusual hobby or occupation. One of the three guests was the real person while the other two were only imposters. Each game on the show began with the host asking the three guests the same question “contestant, what is your name?” After all three gave the same name, that question from the host was followed by questions from the celebrity panel in an attempt to figure out which of the three guests was the real person and which two were only imposters. As the questions were asked, the real people had to always tell the truth about themselves whatever the question happened to be. While at the same time, the two imposters were free to lie in their attempt to convince the celebrity panel that they were the real person rather than one of the two people only pretending. In the end, the celebrity panel cast their votes for which of the three guests that they felt was telling the truth. To Tell the Truth insinuated that in life it pays to be less than truthful. If you are good a making up a creative story, if you have the ability to play on people gullibility, then you can go far. Besides, what does it hurt to tell a little white lie to the various people in our lives when in the end no one really gets hurt. The ninth commandment, the command to be truthful in our relationships with others, which is to say in our relationships with our neighbors, suggests that is never pays to stray from the truth. Like that other eight commandments that we have looked at so far, there are a hundred different directions that we could go as we focus on truth telling today. This morning, I want to focus merely on two. What dos it mean to tell our neighbor the truth about their lives? And, at the same time, what does it mean to tell our neighbor the truth about our own lives? In 2015, these basic forms of deception happen so often and so quickly that we don’t think very much about them. And yet, almost all of us struggle with these two ways of being truthful to some degree or another. On the one hand, what does it mean to tell neighbors the truth about their own lives? Here I am not thinking about our struggle to tell someone that we like that shirt they are wearing when we don’t or that they look great when we know that they really need to drop about twenty pounds. Instead, I am thinking about the deeper more profound moments when we are less than honest with a friend, family member or even fellow church member as we choose to keep the peace rather than tell the truth. This happens when it comes to a decision that our friend has made that we don’t like but remaining silent about. This happens when our spouse has developed a habit that we are concerned about but choose to ignore. And, this also happens...

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