A Big Liar

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I’ve never really thought of myself as a liar, but maybe I am.

Many years ago, I was living in post Soviet Central Asia. I walked into a department store of sorts and was suddenly greeted by the familiar voice of Whitney Houston.  

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong. They are weak but He is strong.” 

The music echoed down the aisles and drew me into a time of worship. At the time, I wasn’t attending a corporate worship service in English, so the music ministered to me deeply. My eyes teared up as I mouthed the words and wished it would last forever. 

There was a brief break between songs. I expected another familiar praise song or hymn of worship. Instead, she belted out another song.

“I got the stuff that you want, I got the thing that you need”

Yes, Jesus is all we need, but that wasn’t what she was implying.

My personal worship time ended and I felt myself, with self righteous indignation, thinking “Whitney Houston is a big liar. She didn’t mean what she was singing.”

I’ve come to understand two things about that day:

First, I had no reason to judge. I don’t know what’s in her heart.

Second, I’m the one who’s the big liar. I lie every week, sometimes multiple times a week, especially when I’m gathered together with the people of God. 

But I’m not alone.

A.W. Tozer once wrote, “Christians don’t tell lies. They just go to church and sing them.”

When I first heard that quote, I thought, “Surely that doesn’t mean me. How can it when I’ve given my life to serve the Lord, to praise Him, to make His name glorious and bring people into His kingdom.”

But have I really done that? I’m not sure. 

Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)

Have I honestly given up my own way? Have I taken up my cross and followed Jesus completely? 

I’ve sang “All to Jesus, I Surrender. All to Him I freely give” while never really surrendering everything. Sometimes, I’ve hardly surrendered anything.

I’ve sang “Jesus, be the center of my life” while making myself the center of attention.

I’ve sang “I will build my life upon Your love” while never showing love to anyone but myself.

Augustine of Hippo once said, “Christ is not valued at all unless He is valued above all.” 

Do I really value Jesus above all? Is He really the Lord of my life or is it just something I say and sing because it makes me sound spiritually important? When all is said and done, would I really choose Jesus over myself? I hope so, but my track record does give me reason to doubt.

Photo courtesy of Tajmia Loiacono of Unsplash

 

Dear Propresenter Technician

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Dear Propresenter Technician,

We have three things to say to you.

First, you are important.

  • You are vital to the success of every portion of the worship service or event. 
  • You serve as a technical worship leader throughout the musical and sermon portions of the worship service.
  • You are proclaiming scripture and solid theology to scores of people who desperately need it. 
  • You are actively participating in worship, discipleship, edification, and evangelism without leaving your seat.

Second, we’re sorry.

  • We’re sorry for everyone who’s ever reduced your role to running lyrics. Thank you for helping them even when they unknowingly downgrade your position.
  • We’re sorry for the weird stares from congregation members when things go wrong. For the record, most of them have no idea what’s happening.
  • We’re sorry for every speaker who’s asked you to display something to hundreds (or thousands of people) that wasn’t in the playlist. 
  • We’re sorry for every worship song when the leader was feeling it and repeated the bridge 37 times, hoping you would be feeling it as well.
  • We’re sorry when unusual people mistake you for the sound technician and ask you to adjust the volume.

Third, please don’t forget.

  • Please don’t forget to prepare. Listening through unfamiliar songs, reviewing the sermon presentation, and rehearsing with the team goes a long way toward service excellence which in turn helps to accomplish the purpose of the service in worship, discipleship, and evangelism.
  • Please don’t forget to ask questions. When you’re uncertain as to the purpose of a picture, the sequence of a song, or the translation of a scripture passage, please ask questions of the worship leader or preaching pastor or service producer for clarification. It shows that you care enough to ask.
  • Please remember to fire the next lyrics slide when the congregation is singing the last (or next to last) word on the current slide. Not doing so can cause worshipers to disconnect from the worship song and possibly from the entire worship service.
  • Please don’t forget that you are appreciated. Much of what happens within the worship service wouldn’t happen smoothly without you. Thank you for serving.

Sincerely,

All of Us

P.S. Thanks for confirming on planning center.

Photo courtesy of Alvaro Uribe and Unsplash.com

 

I’ve Had It With This Guy

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I’ve had it with this guy.

Yesterday, when I had work to finish, he distracted me.

“Excuse me,” I said, “But I really need to finish this.”

He didn’t catch the hint. He just kept right on diverting my attention.

In the end, I finished the project, but it took me twice as long, all because of his insensitivity.

I have to tell him he’s being a nuisance. 

It’s going to crush him, but he has to know.

As I look back, I realize that he’s been doing this to me for years.

And not just at work. 

Yeah, you read that right, he follows me home. 

I have a plan to exercise everyday. 

He always finds something else for me to do. 

He prevents me from going to bed at night so I can be well rested.

The dude even has the audacity to interrupt me when I’m reading the Bible.

He thinks his whims are more important.

He blocks solid communication between my wife and I, causing strife between us.

This guy is my greatest resistance.

I’ve had it with him.

He must be dealt with.

I have to tell him.

Somehow.

 

*Photo by Fares Hamouche on Unsplash

Intruder In My House

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I woke early this morning and decided to go for a walk. As I reached for my keys, I sensed something strange and suddenly realized I was not alone. 

Then I saw him. An intruder had entered my home.

He shook his long pointed finger in my face. Surprisingly, I recognized him. How could I possibly forget that face?

We first met when as a child a bully threatened to beat me up after school. Later, he sat beside me in college while I took my exams, causing me unfounded anxiety. He visited me as an adult, right before I made a bold career move.  Sometimes, he stops by and I don’t see him, but I see what he’s left behind: broken dreams, forsaken promises, hopelessness, and even despair.

He showed up again this morning in my home unannounced.

I looked him right in the eye and said, “Hello, Fear.”

He rolled his eyes and asked, “Just where do you think you are going?”

“For a walk.”

“You’re not going anywhere.”

“What?”

“I’m telling you right now, if you walk out that door, you’ll never come back alive.”

“What do you mean?”

“You step outside, you die. It’s as simple as that.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“It doesn’t matter if you believe me. I said it and that settles it. It’s going to happen.”

“You can’t frighten me.”

“I’ve been paralyzing people for thousands of years. You think you can avoid me?”

I looked down at the floor and held my keys tightly. For a moment, I thought I should just wait until tomorrow to walk.

“You know,” he said, “I’ve kept you in my power since you were a child. I made you lie to keep from getting in trouble. I’ve caused you to run from family and friends and opportunities and experiences. You have no choice but to do what I say.”

I paused. He had manipulated me in the past and even now I was frozen. 

He watched me suffer in silence.

“What did I tell you?” he said. “You’re my servant.”

“No,” I said faintly.

“Silly man, I have you under my control even now.”

“I’m not your slave,” I said in a stronger tone.

“You must serve me,” he said, “I will be like God to you.”

“No, you won’t,” I replied, suddenly defiant. “I already have a God and His grace is sufficient. He doesn’t give me a spirit of fear. He gives me a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.”

Fear raised an eyebrow.

“You are weak” he said. “You will fail and come running back to me.”

“I may be weak,” I answered. “But He is strong and He loves me. The Bible tells me so. Get out of my house and stay away from me. I’m going for a walk. You can’t stay here and you’re not welcome to join me.”

What If This Is It?

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Everywhere you look, people are searching for what’s next. 

What’s the next career for them where people will pay and respect them like they deserve? Where’s the next place for them to live that will suit them perfectly? Who might they meet next who will become their perfect mate for life? What next step might they take personally that will equal God’s will for them in the future?  What person, place, or career might be next for them and be the ultimate thing that will finally give them the fulfillment they are looking for?

People everywhere want to know what’s next. But what if it doesn’t work that way. 

What if what’s next is right in front of you? What if the next step for you is not found in searching the world to see what it might hold for you? What if the secret for your success and contentment is found in what you can bring to the world right where you are? 

What if this is it? 

What if the perfect job for you right now is the one you currently have? What if the home you’re living in is the one that can be perfect for you? What if you’re already serving the organization that will propel you to greater heights of success? What if you’re currently married to the person who is right for you now and will still be right for you in 50 years? What if God’s will for you is to be right where you are?

Think about it. If you knew for sure that where you are right now is exactly where you should be and is the catalyst that will launch you to greater things in your relationships, career, happiness, satisfaction, heck, your whole life… If you knew this for sure, what would you do differently? How would you treat people? How would you invest in yourself and others around you? How would your habits and attitudes change?

What if this it – your shot, your chance, your destiny, your opportunity to do and be something in this world? Whether you believe it or not, acting as if this IS it will move you forward in all of these areas because it will change your actions, your behaviors, and your results.

It’s your move. It’s your turn. You’re up to bat. It’s your big break. 

What are you going to do about it?

Bad Things Happen

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Bad things happen. 

Terrible, awful things that make your stomach turn and tears come to your eyes. Things that make us question God and His motives. 

Why does the Lord allow bad things to happen, especially to good people?

I don’t know. 

Oh, I’ve heard the pat answers from speakers and preachers and I’ve read what both Christian and secular authors have to say. Even though they’ve published books, some of them with their own picture on the front, most of their answers haven’t helped me so far. They’ve just brought more questions. I know they are good people and they mean well, but when the worst happens, I often feel like their answers are just trying to make me shut up.

But I have learned one thing for sure: Bad things happen.

They happen to Christians and non-Christians. 

No one is immune to bad things. Even those who love God and try to follow Him have to deal with bad things in life: Angry people, bad traffic, sickness, theft, natural disasters, car problems, unwanted children, cancer, broken homes, fatal accidents, infertility, drunk drivers, suicidal thoughts and actions, hurtful words, domestic violence, spoiled food, broken relationships, accidental death, scarred lives, and shattered dreams.

Bad things suck.

C.S. Lewis, in A Grief Observed, wrote the following: Nothing will shake a man-or at any rate a man like me-out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself.”

Honestly, I’m not sure I understand everything he’s trying to say in that quote or in his book, but I do agree that it often takes something terrible in our lives to remind of the reality of God and us.

God is God and I am not. 

And neither are you.

I love Him and I know that He’s good.

Bad things still happen.

I still don’t get it.

But I know that He does.

That’s all I know.

 

*Photo courtesy of Alessio Lin of Unsplash

Pastor Claude Williams Was Wrong

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Pastor Claude Williams was wrong.

He was a loving husband, caring father, faithful pastor, and my friend, but he was very wrong.

Many years ago, before Hurricane Katrina, before Pastor Claude became Pastor Claude, we were in life group together. One night, our group gathered around a picnic table outside a local hamburger restaurant. Claudes sons, yet to be born, were mere dreams, but his love for Twila was quite real. At the time, she was serving in children’s ministry and Claude had accompanied her on several children’s ministry projects. I had seen him enjoying himself as he interacted with the kids, and I mentioned to him at the outing that he seemed to be good with kids. Claude had always been very precise and eloquent with his speech, so his humorous response took me by surprise.

He said, “I don’t know nothing about no children.”

But Claude Williams was wrong.

When I shared the news of his passing with a friend and co-worker, she said, “I ran out of gas in the middle of the road three months ago. It was Claude who showed up and pushed my car out of the street and then on to the gas station.”

Pastor Claude was always giving of himself to others, but as I think back on his response to me 15 years ago, I realize that he was still wrong.

I watched him love his wife, raise three sons, give himself to children’s ministry, youth ministry, and then care for and lead a congregation filled with the children of God.

But he was wrong. You see, Claude knew all he needed to know about children, both young and old. 

If he were here today, if he could read these words and hear me speak to him, I’d congratulate him on being a great man, thank him for being my friend, remind him of our conversation, and tell him how wrong he was.

Miscast in a Bad Play

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Ever feel like you’re playing a part you weren’t meant to play. I know I have. I must admit I’ve been confused at times when I’ve read Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

I know the Lord’s plans are good. I believe they are for my good. I have sung that His promises are “yes and amen,” but I think, like many others, I confuse them with other plans. The plans others have for us.

Think about it.

Our parents have plans for us.

Our teachers and professors have plans for us.

Our bosses have plans for us, often to give them a hope and a future.

Credit card companies and car dealerships have plans for us as well.

McDonald’s wants us to supersize. Burger King wants us to King Size.

But have you seen the Burger King in the last several years? He’s creepy.

Do you think he really wants us to have it our way?

But the Lord does know the plans He has for us. They are good. They are for our good and for the good of His kingdom. But I often confuse it with what I do. Solomon felt the same way in Ecclesiastes 2.

I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned. And who can tell whether my successors will be wise or foolish? Yet they will control everything I have gained by my skill and hard work under the sun. How meaningless! So I gave up in despair, questioning the value of all of my hard work in this world… Some people work wisely with knowledge and skill, then must leave the fruit of their efforts to someone who hasn’t worked for it. This too, is meaningless, a great tragedy. So what do people get in this life for all their hard work and anxiety? Their days of labor are filled with pain and grief; even at night their minds cannot rest. It is all meaningless.

In the world of Shakespeare, MacBeth felt this same way as he spoke to Danforth in Act 5 Scene 5. Upon hearing that his wife had died, MacBeth expounds on his own surprise at his indifference to her departing. He refers to death as if it might be the dreadful ending of a very bad play in which he is forced to act out a part of which he was never meant to be cast. 

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,          To the last syllable of recorded time; and all our yesterdays have lighted fools, the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow. A poor player, who struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Sometimes I’ve felt like MacBeth. Sometimes I’ve felt like Solomon. I learn and work and try and work some more and then do it again over and over before I stop and belt out “Who am I and what am I doing? Why am I playing a part I was never meant to play?”

I’ve met some people who even wish their play was over so they could rid themselves of their role.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The Lord really does have the perfect role for you.

It may be hard. In fact, it will be. Everything worth doing is hard in one way or another.

But in Him, there is fulfillment.

Seek the Lord. Learn His will for your life. Don’t play a role you were never meant to play. Don’t end up playing the lead role in a very bad and terribly long play designed to end tragically.

Henry David Thoreau is credited with saying, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation, and die with their song still inside them.”

Don’t let that happen to you.

Sing your song.

Let your music out.

Live out the plans God has for you.

And never, never, never quit.

 

*Special thanks to Alberto Bigoni and Unsplash for the picture above.

 

Good Friday 2019 Service Script – Full Outline

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Here’s a copy of our 2019 Good Friday Service Script. You may find this helpful for Good Friday services, Communion Services, or any service that focuses on the cross.

Opening Worship Set

Suggested Song – Grateful

Suggested Song – Death Was Arrested

Suggested Song – Living Hope

Transition

Turn and Greet/Bumper

Welcome/Explanation of Service/Communication Cards

  • Thank you for coming this evening. Tonight’s service is totally focused on the cross of Jesus and all He did for us. We’re going to look back in time and then reflect on our own lives before we share in communion together at the end of the service. Before we begin our journey, we’re asking everyone to complete their communication cards. We’ll collect them at the end of tonight’s service. But first, before we begin, we’re going to receive our offering. Some people here have already given online and some are preparing to give right now. However you are giving, thanks so much. Let’s pray and then we’ll continue on with tonight’s service.

Offering Prayer

Transition Video (adapted from Andy Stanley’s book “Irresistible.)

 

Construction on the Roman Colosseum began in AD 72 during the reign of Emperor Vespasian and was completed in AD 80 by his son Titus. It held over 50,000 people. That’s roughly 79% of of the New Orleans Mercedes Benz Superdome. That’s a pretty big arena for first century technology.

Nearby is the site where Nero’s circus once stood. This was the place where the first state-sponsored persecution of Christians took place. In the summer of AD 64, the city of Rome burned for six days and seven nights, consuming almost 75% of the city. Many Roman citizens blamed Emperor Nero, claiming he set fire to the city for his own amusement. Nero denied this accusation and claimed the fire had been started by the Christians who did not worship the Roman gods yet instead followed a King named Jesus. He set out to persecute the Christians and torture them in Nero’s Circus. It was there that the Christians were first dressed as animals and fed to the lions.

But the larger site, where the persecution of Christians continued, was the Colosseum, which soon became the symbol of the strength of the Roman Empire and its king. Spectators entered and exited the Colosseum through 80 arched entrances. 76 of these gates were numbered and allowed the general public to exit within 10 minutes. The remaining four unnumbered entrances were the emperor’s gate, two VIP gates, and the gladiator gate. Guests today are ushered in through the emperor’s gate.

And every single person who enters the Colosseum walks directly toward an enormous wooden structure that Pope Benedict XIV had placed there in the eighteenth century. By that time, the Colosseum had fallen into disrepair. Everything of value had been stolen and vagrants lived in the lower levels. Town planners, for safety, decided to tear down the entire structure. But to keep this from happening, Pope Benedict declared the Colosseum as a sacred monument dedicated to the suffering of Christ. As a part of his declaration, he commissioned the construction of an enormous cross to be hung over the emperor’s gate to commemorate the Christian martyrs who had died in the Colosseum and in Nero’s Circus.

When you see the Cross of Jesus in the Roman Colosseum, you are faced with the reality that the gospel is the power of God. The contrast is staggering. Here are two symbols representing two kingdoms – the Roman kingdom and the kingdom of God. In the end, the kingdom of the Lord prevailed.

The Roman Empire is no more. The Colosseum, once marveled at by man as a sign of Roman strength is now a tourist destination where the central attraction is the Cross of Jesus. The symbol that once represented the most horrible kind of death represents eternal life. The cross, the symbol of our King’s plan for our salvation and His own victory over death, hell, and the grave.

Praise be to our King.

Sermon – THE KING

We are here today to celebrate our King.

King Jesus lived like no other king because He was a King like no other.

Before Jesus was born, wise men from Eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem asking:

“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2)

Expound on scripture:

  • “Once in our world, a stable had something in it that was bigger than our whole world.” – C.S. Lewis
  • Jesus was born in a place reserved for animals and was wrapped not in fine linen but in cheap strips of material. He was placed not in a prince’s cradle, but instead was lain in a manger, the feeding trough for the livestock. This wasn’t the typical birthplace for a king, but Jesus is no typical king.

Jesus Was Born Like No Other King

When Jesus entered the City of Jerusalem, He fulfilled prophecy by telling His disciples: “Tell the people of Jerusalem, ‘Look, your King is coming to you. He is humble, riding on a donkey— riding on a donkey’s colt.’” (Matthew 21:4-5)

Expound on scripture:

  • “I am persuaded that love and humility are the highest attainments in the school of Christ and the brightest evidences that He is indeed our Master.” – John Newton
  • Jesus didn’t enter Jerusalem on a white horse, showing himself off to the world. Instead, He purposefully rode on a young donkey, showing how humble He truly was. Kings aren’t typically known for their humility, but for their pride. Jesus personified humility in everything He did.
  • Jesus was God and deserved to stay in Heaven. Yet out of His great love for us, He chose to come to earth as a human. He even chose to obey God to the point of dying an embarrassing and painful death on the cross for our sins. Jesus is the perfect example of humility.

Jesus Was Humble Like No Other King

Jesus was arrested and brought before Pilate, the Roman Governor. “Are you the king of the Jews?” the governor asked Him. Jesus replied, “You have said it.” But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against Him, Jesus remained silent. “Don’t you hear all these charges they are bringing against you?” Pilate demanded. But Jesus made no response to any of the charges, much to the governor’s surprise.”  (Matthew 27:11-14)

Even when Pilate tried to make a way to release Jesus, it didn’t go well. He had a custom where he would release one prisoner a year at Passover. He asked the people to choose between Jesus and a thief named Barabbas. They chose the thief.

Pilate asked them, “Then what should I do with this man you call the king of the Jews?” (Mark 15:12)

They shouted back, “Crucify Him!”

Expound on scripture:

  • Jesus is God. He is the Ultimate Judge. He lowered Himself to be judged by Pilate in order to carry out the will of His Father.

Jesus Had A Trial Like No Other King

Some of the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into their headquarters and called out the entire regiment. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it. When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified. Matthew 27:27-31

After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. Then they sat around and kept guard as he hung there. A sign was fastened above Jesus’ head, announcing the charge against him. It read: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”  The leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders also mocked Jesus. “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! So he is the King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in him! He trusted God, so let God rescue him now if he wants him! For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” (Matthew 27:32-44)

Expound on scripture:

  • In their mocking of Jesus, the Roman soldiers placed a crown of thorns on His head and a reed stick in His hand as a scepter. The crown and the reed certainly caused Jesus pain, but even more, it caused intense humiliation before the people. The scarlet robe drove the point home even more.
  • The jeering crowd caused even more humiliation for Jesus. They were jabbing at him, hoping to elicit some response that would ruin His claims about Himself. They received none.

Jesus Was Humiliated Like No Other King

At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”… Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead. They left the cemetery after Jesus’ resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people. The Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, “This man truly was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:45-46, 50-54)

Expound on scripture:

  • “It was not nails that held Jesus to that wretched cross; it was His unqualified resolution, out of love for His Father, to do His Father’s will-and it was His love for sinners like me.” – D.A. Carson
  • “God proved His love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, ‘I love you.’”

Jesus Died Like No Other King Because He Was, And Is, A King Like No Other

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When He appeared in human form, He humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated Him to the place of highest honor and gave Him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

Video – No Other King by Dan Stevers –  https://www.danstevers.com/store/no_other_king

Decision Time – This King Gave His Life For You On the Cross

Communion

  • Spoken Intro – You heard the story of King Jesus. This is who we are remembering tonight…
  • Communion Song – Mighty Cross  

Closing Announcements

Closing Song

Self-Centered, Self Reliant, and Just Plain Selfish

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The night I gave my life to Jesus, I joined with hundreds of young people at a camp singing:

Take my life, Lead Me Lord,

Take my life, Lead me Lord,

Make my life useful to Thee*

I meant those selfless lyrics with all of my heart. I went home determined that my life would be focused on and useful to the Lord, so I dug into prayer and Bible study. One of the stories I read was Jesus’ story of the Lost Son in Luke 15. In the story, the younger of two sons was totally self-centered. He had the audacity to go to his father and ask him for his inheritance early. He basically said, “I’m tired of waiting for you to die so I can get my shot at what’s coming to me.”

As I read about how self-centered the young man was, I vowed, “That will never happen to me! I’m going to do great things for God no matter who I have to run over. I’m going to make the best of my life for the Lord. I’m going to go to a Christian college, I’m going to major in some kind of ministry degree, I’m going to achieve great things, I, I, I, I….

The story of the Lost Son continues with his father miraculously giving his younger son his inheritance early. The young man is filled with a spirit of self reliance and is determined that he can manage his inheritance better than his father or older brother. He leaves his father’s house and goes to a far off land where he squanders his inheritance in riotous living.

As a young man, I read that part of the story and said to myself, “That will never happen to me! I will never be as self reliant as that young man. I’m going into the ministry. I’m going to take the gifts the Lord has given me and make something of them. He’s going to be amazed when He sees what I have done!

Jesus’ story continues with the Lost Son, a young Jewish boy, having to take a job feeding pigs, an animal detestable to Jewish people, for a farmer in the distant land. He had lost his fortune and with it all of his friends. He was hungry and no one gave him anything. As he looked down at the slop in his bucket that was meant for the pigs, even that looked good to him.

As I read that part of the story, I vowed, “That will never happen to me!” I will never be so selfish that I find myself without anything. I’m going to live a holy life! I’m going to seminary and to the mission field and I’ll use the brain God gave me to get out of tough situations.

In the story, the young man came to his senses, and remembered that even his father’s servants had food enough to spare. He made a plan to go to his father, fall at his feet, confess his sin, and ask to become a servant in his household. And the young man began his journey. As he neared his father’s house, his father sees him, runs to him and embraces him. The young man tries to get his speech out, but his father commands his servants to kill the fattened calf and prepare a feast, for his son was lost and now is found. So the party began.

The older brother, who had remained faithful to his father, came home while the party for his younger brother was taking place. He learns what has happened and becomes angry. His father tries to lure him inside to celebrate, but the older son, responds, “I don’t believe this. You give my brother his inheritance, he goes out and wastes it, doing God knows what with God knows who, and when he’s broke, he comes back here and we’re celebrating! I’ve served you faithfully for all of these years, working hard before the sun comes up and continuing after it goes down, and you’ve never even considered giving me anything for a party like this!”

For many years, I vowed that I would never become the older brother, but I’ve seen myself morph into him time and time again. I’ve seen that my life, which I thought was self denial, has often been self-centered, self reliant, and just plain selfish. And wow, as I read that story again after so many years, I’m not making any vows. Have I been the Lost Son or have I been the Older Brother?

The answer is yes. I’ve been both.

The way I feel can be summarized in the lyrics of the late Rich Mullins.

I’ve gone so far from my home,

I’ve seen the world and I have known so many secrets I wish now I did not know.

For they have crept into my heart, they have left it cold and dark, and bleeding,

bleeding and falling apart.

I’ve seen silver turn to dross.

I’ve seen the very best there ever was,

and I tell you, it ain’t worth what it cost.

And I remember my Father’s house,

what I wouldn’t give right now just to see Him

and hear Him tell me that He loves me so much.

And when I thought that I was all alone, it was Your voice I heard calling me back home,

and I wonder now, what was it that made me wait so long?

And what kept You waiting for me all that time?

Is Your love stronger than my foolish pride?

Will you take me back, take me back and let me be Your child?

Cause I’ve been broken now,

I’ve been saved.

I’ve learned how to cry and I’ve learned how to pray.

And I’m learning, I’m learning even I can be changed.

And everybody used to tell me big boys don’t cry,

but I’ve been around enough to know that that was the lie

that held back the tears in the eyes of a thousand prodigal sons.

We are children no more, we’ve sinned and grown old,

but our Father still waits, and He watches down the road,

to see the crying boys come running back to His arms.

And be growing young.**

 

Photo courtesy to Ant Rozetsky of Unsplash

*Take My Life, Lead Me Lord by P. Mains Rawls

**Growing Young by Rich Mullins