Sermons

July 24, 2016 — “Next Steps”, Zechariah 3:1-10

Next Steps Zechariah 3:1-10 First Baptist Church Laurens Sunday, July 24, 2016   For weeks now, we have centered our attention in worship on the decline of Israel during the period of the minor prophets. During that day, the Northern part of the country which was known as Israel and the Southern part of the country which was called Judah were both taken captive. The Northern Kingdom fell to Assyria and the Southern Kingdom to Babylon. It was a dark, difficult and challenging time for the Israelites and yet it was also a time that was largely of their own making. While we don’t know what happened to the Northern Kingdom since they never really returned home from Assyrian captivity, we do know that a new day came for the remnant of the Southern Kingdom. Eventually, the Persians conquered the Babylonians and they begin to allow the captive nations of the Babylonians to go home including the Israelites. In turn, in Zechariah 3, our text for today on this last look at the minor prophets, focuses on that period. The people have returned home and they are trying to put their lives back together from a civic, family and spiritual perspective. They are in rebuilding mode – rebuilding their towns, their homes and even their temple as they seek to return to a more focused faith in God which was a focus that they had lost before the fall. As they do, they reinstate the role of the High Priest. The High Priest will once again be the central figure of authority for the people and their faith. In our text for today, the priest’s name is Joshua. The problem, however, is that Joshua is evidently a flawed person. He isn’t perfect. He has a past. He isn’t worthy of the role to which he has been called. And in our text, this unworthiness is symbolized through his wearing of “dirty clothes”. In the passage, there are those who say that since Joshua is a flawed figure, he should not be the High Priest. In the midst of these accusations, God speaks. Interestingly, God doesn’t deny Joshua’s sinfulness. Instead, God focuses on the fact that Joshua has received forgiveness. In turn, through the symbol of putting on new, clean clothes, God invites Joshua to lead. While not denying what was happening with Joshua, many biblical scholars also see in this scene a way for God to speak to the Israelites as a whole. They too had a checkered past full of bad decisions that had led to the demise of their personal lives and to their country. But, they were now forgiven. They had put on clean clothes and it was time for them to live in light of this new identity. Last week, we talked about repentance which a word that speaks of our sadness over our poor decisions that leads to a willingness to seek God’s forgiveness and to change our ways and direction. This is always a first step for us to make as we seek to change the trajectory of our lives. The next step after the first step of repentance, is always to resolve to hold tight to this forgiveness as we live in light of this chance to begin again. I remind us of this because there are always those in our lives, like those in the life of the High Priest Joshua, who will bring up our past. They will point out of our flaws. They will question God’s ability to forgive us or to use us. And, in truth, they are...

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July 17, 2016 —”The Right First Steps Hosea”, 6:1-3

The Right First Steps Hosea 6:1-3 First Baptist Church Laurens July 17, 2016 Most every family has a good story or two about getting lost. Whether it is on the road as a part of a family vacation, getting separated from one another in a theme park, loosing one’s way out in the woods or coming out of a sporting event and forgetting where we parked, losing sight of which way we should be going is simply a part of the human experience. When I think about this several moments immediately come to my mind. I remember a family trip from my childhood when we left very early in the morning for an overnight trip to Atlanta. Everyone else in the car fell asleep on the way except for my dad who was driving. Even though there were basically only two turns to make from our home in Alabama to the big city and though we had made the trip a hundred times, Dad lost his way and took us a couple of hours in the wrong direction. Fast forward to when Ann Marie and I lived in the suburbs of Atlanta. I remember another moment of being lost when we came back from a trip and landed at the airport. Tired and ready to go home, I remember spending over an hour looking for our car in the parking lot because we had forgotten to take good notes of the location where we had left our car before departing. I am sure that my memories have brought back some of your own. So, as you reminisce, I want to invite you to think about something. Imagine your family being on the road and suddenly realizing that this path that you are traveling down is the wrong one. No question about it, you are headed the wrong way. As you continue to drive, you begin to express your frustration, your disappointment and even your sadness that you are going the wrong way. Now, imagine that as you share all of these heart felt emotions with your family, you continue, just as before, to travel in the same direction with out ever altering your course. Without question, before long, you can be sure that someone is going to say, “if we are truly going the wrong way, when are we going to turn around”. This silly scenario, I think, is a good way for us to get our mind around a basic idea of the book of Hosea and of the life of faith – this idea is called repentance which simply means to be grieved to the point of changing our way or to reach the point of sadness with our life where we choose to turn and go a different direction. You see, our three verses for today from Hosea 6 are centered on this prophet calling the people to do this very thing. Rather than simply being sad about where they find themselves in the midst of the destruction of their land or captivity at the hands of the Assyrians or Babylonians, Hosea invites the people to do something about it. He challenges them to allow their sadness and dissatisfaction with their lives to lead them “to return to God, that God might heal them”. Rather than just crying about where they find themselves he challenges them through renewing their relationship with God to begin to make changes. Like the Israelites, we are very good at lamenting. That is to say, we are very good at expressing our grief over the state of our lives, over the...

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July 10, 2016 — “Common Questions, Uncommon Answers”, Haakkuk 1:2-4; 3:17-19

Common Questions, Uncommon Answers Habakkuk 1:2-4; 3:17-19 Sunday, July 10, 2016 Over the course of June, the national nightly news carried a familiar story from summertime – massive wildfires in the Western US that were the result of the hot and dry conditions that are so prevalent during this time of the year. One night recently, just such a story caught my attention a little more acutely than normal. The report that night was centered in the town of Weldon, California, a community of about 2,500 folks roughly 150 miles into the mountains north of Los Angeles. Numerous people there had lost their homes due to the wildfires and one of them, a man named Danny Walker, was profiled. Walker’s home had literally burned to the ground. He had lost everything. In fact, about all that he had left was his dog which he clutched to his chest in his arms throughout the report. As he walked through the charred remains of his house, Walker struggled to make any sense of what had happened. Why had his house and not someone else’s home burned? Why had the fire been so cruel in taking this place where he had lived for a long time, keeping to himself, not hurting anyone but rather just living his basic, simply life? As Walker ponder his questions, he said this which really caught my attention, “ I am just going to have to [sic] ’figure some things out, clean up this mess and start over’ ”. I am just going to have to “figure some things out, clean up this mess and start over”. (NBC Nightly News, June 26, 2016, “California Wildfires Leave Destruction, Homelessness in Their Wake”) I think that if the prophet Habakkuk had seen that news report featuring Danny Walker, he would have found in him a kindred spirit. Like Walker, Habakkuk realized that he and the Israelites were standing squarely in a mess. Yes, again, as we have said for a number of weeks now, the mess was their coming destruction by Assyria and Babylon and it was a mess of the Israelites own making due to their disregard for God and for God’s laws. Yet, even though Habakkuk recognized that judgement was what Israel deserved, he still struggled with the ways of God. What caused Habakkuk such a struggle was the fact that God was using the Assyrians and the Babylonians as his agents of punishment against his people Israel. Again, Habakkuk recognized Israel’s failures. But, in the Assyrians and Babylonians, Habakkuk saw pagan nations with absolutely no regard for the things of God and he couldn’t for the life of himself figure out why it was that God would use an even more barbaric people to rectify the bad decisions of his own covenant people. In essence, despite their failures, Habakkuk assumed that the Israelites as God’s chosen people would have gotten a break here or there and would have been shown some extra grace. Likewise, he seems to have reasoned that God would have chosen someone with a little more integrity to show Israel the error of their ways than the Assyrians or Babylonians. As he writes about Habakkuk, Eugene Peterson says that we as modern Christians should be able to relate to this prophet on two levels. First, like him, and may I add like Danny Walker in California, we too regularly find ourselves walking around in the rubble trying to find answers to our own questions about why God has chosen to act in the ways that he has or why God appears to have...

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July 3, 2016 — Morning Worship

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June 26, 2016 — Morning Worship

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June 19, 2016 — “One Hundred Percent Unnatural”, Amos 3:1-2

One Hundred Percent Unnatural Amos 3:1-2 Sunday, June 19, 2016 Some of you here this morning may remember the name Larry Walters. Walters, who was a California truck driver, achieved wide spread, albeit short lived fame back in the summer of 1982. On July 2nd of that year, Walters created a homemade airship using two primary resources – his lawn chair from the back yard and 45 helium filled weather balloons. You see, Larry longed to hover over his house at a high, yet relatively safe altitude before gentle bringing himself back to earth. So, he inflated the 45 weather balloons, strapped them in a cluster to his chair and put his pellet gun in his lap. The plan was simple. He would cut the cord, glide safely into the air and then when he was finished, he would shoot the balloons one by one with his gun which would allow him to easily make his way back to terra firma or the good, solid soil of earth. Larry, however, was the ultimate victim of a plan that worked far, far better than expected. For on that fateful day in 1982 when Larry cut the chord, his chair didn’t simply make its way gently into the sky so that he could hover nonchalantly over his house. Instead, like a rocket, Larry zoomed into the airspace over San Pedro, California to an amazing height of 15,000 feet where he began to drift into airspace controlled by the Los Angeles International Airport. After 45 minutes in the air and now scared utterly to death, Larry finally began to shoot a few of the balloons which created some level of decent. Ultimately he crashed into a power line pole which lead to a twenty minute blackout in the area of Long Beach, California where he landed. When he hit the ground, the police swarmed him and arrested him. After Larry’s arrest, the spokesman for the Long Beach police had this to say, “We know he broke some part of the Federal Aviation Act, and as soon as we figure out which part, charges will be filed.” Ultimately, Larry was fined $1500 for his unauthorized flight. This, however, was a small price to pay in light of his sudden notoriety and fame. Now known as Lawn Chair Larry or the Lawn Chair Pilot, Walters made the talk show circuit, went from driving trucks to be a motivational speaker for a while and was featured in an ad for Timex. In fact, believe it or not, Lawn Chair Larry even had a request for his now famous seat from none other than the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. (“Larry Walters” entry in Wikipedia) But why? Why did Larry Walters, the Lawn Chair Pilot, achieve such fame? It really wasn’t because he made any monumental achievements in flight or displayed some uncanny ability or talent other than to make some really, really dumb decisions. Indeed, I would argue that what led to Walter’s momentary fame was nothing more than the uniqueness of the event or the fact that what he did was so unusual. Silly? Yes. Not very bright? Yes. Hard to believe? Yes. But also completely unexpected and out of the norm. In fact, one thing that we can all agree on, I think, is that in a world where we are all trying desperately to fit in and to be like everyone else or to keep pace with the Joneses, the thing that really gets our attention is the person who has the courage and the willingness to deviate from what everyone else does....

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