The temptation of us and them

Intro 

Partisanship is ugly in politics, but even uglier in the church, because there it should not exist between followers of Jesus Christ.

Goal 

I want us to understand Jesus’ attitude towards partisanship between those who follow him. 

Sermon Plan 

We will discuss the temptation to point to us, heretics and stumbling blocks. 

The temptation to point to us 

In Mark 9:38-50 the disciples stopped a man preaching in Jesus’ name, as they said, “because he was not following us.” This has continued for two millennia. The church grew large in the Greek and Latin-speaking worlds. After a thousand years of disagreement, they divided, each vilifying the other because they were “not following us.” In recent centuries Rome and Constantinople have only slightly modified their exclusive claims because of these Jesus’ words. Anciently, there were many churches outside the Roman Empire in places like Britain, Ethiopia, India, China and Armenia who had no part in the Great East-West Schism. In recent centuries there has been an explosion of churches following the teachings of Jesus. There is no need to offend them or point them to us, but point everyone to Jesus and be at peace with each other. 

When heretics follow Christ 

I was once part of a movement that followed Christ, but misunderstood his teachings. Patiently Jesus led many of us into the Gospel’s truth. In Mark 9:38-50 the disciples wanted to stop a man preaching in Jesus’ name because he did not follow them. What attitude ought we to have towards those who are not of our flock and who may even have doctrines that we believe are wrong? Christian movements often begin in enthusiastic heresy and explosive growth. If Christ is leading them they eventually align with historic church teachings. When we try to stop those who follow Christ because they are not following us, we are looking to ourselves to correct their error. We are actually impatient with Christ’s leadership. He will lead them into all truth, what we call orthodoxy, at his merciful and gracious pace. 

Causes of stumbling 

When Jesus warned against causing little ones to stumble (Mark 9:38-50) he spoke specifically about those “that believe in me.” In that context the stumbling would be to cause people not to believe in him. Jesus is always faithful to his promises, but some teach false promises that Jesus did not make, causing people to stumble when those false promises are not fulfilled. Many people enter and donate their so-called seed money because false gospels sound attractive. Jesus did not teach any such thing, but positive thinking gurus and motivational speakers have found great profits in using Jesus’ name. Some people stumble and leave Jesus altogether when those false promises fail. Thankfully, some few are digging deeper into their Bibles and realizing that Jesus made no such promises and are leaving for churches that actually teach what Jesus taught. 

Outro 

Partisanship between Christians is contrary to what Jesus taught. All churches have wrong things in their traditions and doctrines, but they are all right if they follow Christ, because if we truly do, then he will make all things right in his time.

For more information on the history of the church
A Church History by Mahan, Milo [Hardcover] (Google Affiliate Ad)

Who is the greatest

Intro 

Have we ever asked ourselves which is the greatest nation or who is the greatest person today? If we want to understand true greatness, we need to start with Jesus. 

Goal 

I want us to understand the importance of true greatness from God’s point of view. 

Sermon Plan 

We will discuss what constitutes greatness, what makes someone first in God’s eyes and see a couple of examples. 

Who is the greatest 

Who is the greatest? Whether it be sports, national greatness, talent or celebrity, we have heard that question answered with numerous opinions. In sports the rivalry is most often just a conversation starter. In national bigotry it is just a variation on old the worn out theme of why our country is the “master race.” Sometimes the sentiment is disguised in terms of “manifest destiny” and other times it is expressed bluntly in exaggerated terms such as ours is the “greatest country in the world.” All this is the exact opposite of the true greatness that Jesus described in Mark 9:30-37. If anyone desires to be first, they must be last of all, and servant of all. That does not seem to fit personal fame, covetousness or national military might, but it does fit anyone who selflessly serves others. 

Who is the first 

What makes us first, nationally or individually? In heaven the first are “last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:30-37). When a neighbor rescued the person next door at 2:00 AM from a burning house and gave temporary shelter he joined the ranks of the first. When red cross helpers came at 3:00 AM with aid, they joined the ranks of the first. Nurses speak often about the joys of their profession, because they know the secret. It is not about what we can do for ourselves. It is not about fame, fortune and power. It is about service to others. This is also service to God. As Jesus said, as much as we have done for one of the least of these his brothers and sisters, we have done it for him (Matthew 25:40). 

Those who watch 

Those who watch and protect are quiet heroes. Susan had gone blind in her thirties. She was angry and bitter and deeply depressed. When she was ready to return to her job, her husband Mark drove her to work faithfully. He knew she would eventually need to take the bus on her own. In anger, Susan refused, but Mark gently insisted and rode with her the first week. Eventually, she ventured out alone. After a week, the bus driver said he envied her. Why? She was blind and felt useless. The driver explained that each day she got off the bus, a handsome young man was watching from the side and when she got off safely he silently saluted and left her. It was her husband Mark. Truly the first are those watching and waiting to serve (Mark 9:30-37). 


Those who sacrifice 

Her baby was born with good hearing but without ears. She knew her son would struggle. As he grew into a handsome young man, the boy’s father asked about an ear transplant, but he needed a donor. Eventually one was found and the operation was remarkably successful. The young man married and had a successful career, but he wanted to know about the person who was an ear donor. An agreement had been made to keep the donor’s identity secret. Then the young man faced that dark day that we all face when a mother dies. As father and son approached the casket, the father reached forth his hands and raised his wife’s beautiful, thick hair to reveal to his son that she no longer had outer ears. Truly the first are those who sacrifice for others (Mark 9:30-37). 


Outro 

True greatness is not counted in dollars, or fame or military might, but is measured by sacrifice for others? If we want to understand true greatness, we need to start with Jesus.

Our best life ever

Intro 

There are only two ways of life, the give way and the get way. Jesus showed us the give way, yet even in the church many don’t believe him. 

Goal 

I want us to understand that giving is really far happier than getting. 

Sermon Plan 

We will discuss how Jesus revealed the way of self-sacrifice and how a false Christianity perpetuates the world’s way of self-centeredness. 

Our best life ever 

The devil deceives us by offering a wide variety of lifestyles with one ingredient in common, self. They all build altars of self-worship filled with idols of self-gratification. We may not all be able to build our own Trump Towers, or have a hundred million dollar trust fund for our children, but the idolatry of self expresses itself in thousands of other ways. It is a delusion that guarantees misery and loneliness. There is a lifestyle which guarantees happiness forever. Jesus described it in words which are the opposite of our culture of self (Mark 8:27-38). He defined a better way of life. It includes words like deny self, take up our cross and lose our self-indulgent lifestyle for the Gospel. This is shocking to a narcissistic, self-centered culture, but it is the way to our best life ever. 

Narcissistic Christianity 

Narcissism is extreme selfishness. Narcissistic Christianity is therefore not true Christianity, but it is a very popular counterfeit. Rather than sacrificing for others and enduring injustice, it falsely advertises “your best life now,” but teaches a selfish life of setting our minds on the materialistic things of earth not the things of heaven. It lies by saying that our best days are ahead of us, while Christians in some countries await persecution. Narcissistic Christianity substitutes cheap materialism for spiritual wealth, selfishness instead of love of neighbor and promotes unrealistic expectations from this life. Narcissism is being ashamed of Jesus (Mark 8:27-38). Jesus defined true Christianity as the exact opposite of materialistic narcissism. It involves turning from our selfish ways, taking up our cross and following him. Following Jesus’ example of self-sacrifice is the only way to finding true life. 

Real heroes 

Real heroes would have to include any who make a great sacrifice for others. That would include soldiers, firefighters, those police officers who truly do protect and serve, missionaries and volunteers who serve the needy. A one-time sacrifice is to be praised, but also a lifetime of sacrifice. In Mark 8:27-38 Jesus defined some ingredients of what it takes to be a true hero. Denying self, taking up our cross and losing our life for the gospel. On one university campus a theology professor asked his students to look out the window at the school of medicine and the school of law. He then said that those graduating from those schools would make many times more than a pastor, but serving Christ is where the true riches are. We are all called to be part of that heroic mission. 

True wealth and success 

We live in a world obsessed with wealth and success. Yet true wealth is not found in gaining the whole world. Even Christians are deluded by monetary wealth and material success, even believing that God promises money. Yet a man with millions and billions who lives a selfish life does not have wealth but abject poverty of spirit. Someone who achieves worldly status by destroying the lives of others is an abysmal failure not a success. In Mark 8:27-38 Jesus defined true wealth and success as the way of the cross. True riches are the wealth of people that we have sacrificed to serve. True success is also found in rejecting selfish living in this world for a better life in eternity. True celebrity is not in this life, but in joining Jesus in his glory at his coming. 

Church growth at the expense of truth 

Some churches are growing while mainstream churches are dying. Yet, where are we more likely to hear the Gospel? The simple fact is that mainstream churches are far more likely to read a Gospel text each week. In large popular churches we are more likely to hear a materialistic motivational speech about health and wealth that actually contradicts the Gospel. The good news is that living a selfless life is a life of abundant blessings, but it is not popular. People do not want to hear about emulating someone who lived a life of poverty and sacrificed himself for others. They want to hear about making money and having things. Mainstream churches are tempted to change from the Gospel to empty-headed fluffy topical sermons that deny denying self (Mark 8:27-38). That is church growth at the expense of truth. 

My world not yours 

“My job, my flag, my team, my lifestyle, my inheritance, my church, my salvation, my world not yours.” Does any of this sound familiar? It ought to. We all tend to be selfish and our way of life is more about getting than giving. Jesus challenges us to think about another way of life (Mark 8:27-38). To our habitual way of thinking it seems to be the most miserable and unhappy way of life. That is because we have spent a lifetime steeped in the propaganda of the devil. His propaganda even enters the church as a counterfeit gospel of self-interest rather than self-sacrifice and of gaining our lives only to lose them. This counterfeit Christianity is ashamed of Jesus and his words because it seeks to have us run away from our cross rather than take it up. 

The selfish life 

The selfish life is appealing. Walking a red carpet to the cheers of worshiping fans drives some of us. Living away from the troubles of the world in a monastery penthouse atop a beautiful mountain appeals to others. Living in the lap of luxury with gold accoutrements, marble floors and servants to prepare gourmet meals every day also sounds appealing. Let’s face it. We don’t really believe in denying ourselves anything. We don’t really believe in burdening ourselves with a personal cross. We really believe in gaining the whole world for our country and ourselves. We give lip service to Jesus while in reality we are ashamed of emulating his life of self-sacrifice. We live selfish lives. Why did Jesus have to go and say that our way of life would lead to us losing our lives (Mark 8:27-38)? 

Outro 

There are only two ways of life, the give way and the get way. Jesus showed us the give way, yet even in the church many don’t believe him. The way of self-sacrifice is the way to true success and happiness.

Sermon: A throwaway God

Intro 

In a throwaway world how do we hold onto the important things and the most important of all, our relationship with God? 

Goal 

I want us to understand that our relationship with God involves persistence. 

Sermon Plan 

We will discuss how Jesus can be politically incorrect at times by worldly standards but never by heavenly standards. We will also discuss how we must be persistent with God. 

Politically incorrect Jesus 

What kind of Jesus do we worship? There is a Jesus of the Bible and any number of Jesuses of pop culture. Often the two are very different. Mark 7:24-37 introduces us to an aspect of Jesus that may not be popular. Like Daniel, Jesus was not always politically correct. In Daniel’s day, the politically correct thing to do was to at least pretend to worship the golden image created by the government establishment. His three friends refused and were arrested. Jesus insulted a gentile woman using politically incorrect language. Certainly in the Greek he actually used the term puppy rather than dog. Even though the expression is a metaphor, it still refers to her as a lesser racial priority than Israel. Jesus was not concerned with political correctness, but teaching. Sometimes being politically incorrect is the right thing. 

Christians today are afraid to be politically incorrect lest we be ostracized by those around us. But we are called to stand up for justice and God’s way of life, even if popular opinion would brand us as unacceptable. Christian positions on abortion, homosexuality, and the necessity to take care of the poor are not popular, but we must stand for justice and righteousness. 

A throwaway God 

How does a throwaway society treat God? We package things in throwaway containers. Our cars are designed to be thrown away rather than continually repaired and renewed. We throw away spouses like old clothing. We toss aside loyalty to family members in our lust for status and money. Some people are more loyal to a sports team than to God. Do we worship a throwaway God? In Mark 7:24-37 Jesus spoke with a gentile woman who would not quit on him. He ignored her, but she persisted. He insulted her, but she persisted. How often has it seemed like Jesus has ignored our prayers? How often has it seemed like Jesus insults us? How often has it seemed like we are beaten down by evil and need God’s help? Do we persist or is our God a throwaway God? 

Outro 

Jesus was politically incorrect at times by worldly standards but never by heavenly standards. He sometimes seems to ignore us or offend us, but no matter our opinions or feelings we must be persistent with God.

Tradition without Heart

Intro 

The Protestant Reformation addressed some very important problems in the church. Some say that it did not go far enough and others say that it threw the baby out with the bath water. Jesus’ reformation, on the other hand, was perfect. What can we learn from it? 

Goal 

I want us to understand that the church is always in need of reformation, but that first we must each reform ourselves. 

Sermon Plan 

We will discuss good, neutral and bad traditions. We will discuss Jesus’ basics for reformation in the church, human politics, the real problem with church and the real solution. 

Tradition without heart 

Many churches have very fine traditions that are meant to encourage a deeper understanding of the Christian walk. Ceremonies and pictures can all help remind us of the important lessons of salvation. But didn’t Jesus condemn traditions as really burdensome legalism? Not all traditions. In fact the traditions of baptism, taking bread and wine were established by Jesus. How can we tell good traditions from bad? In Mark 7:1-23Jesus gave some guidelines. Human traditions are not necessary for salvation and there is no reason to criticize those who do not follow them. Many traditions are in the unimportant category of mere human rules. Matters of the heart are what’s important. When traditions reject God’s commands or nullifies his word they are wrong. Rituals cannot cleanse what really defiles us. That is the wrong thoughts from inside our hearts. 

Baptism of hands 

A Baptist understanding of the Greek word baptize is incorrect as many passages of Scripture show, most clearly in the baptism of Israel to Moses when they didn’t even get wet (1 Corinthians 10:2). Although washings and cleansings were religious ceremonies, the word baptize was not originally a religious word. Mark 7:1-23 also shows another use of the word baptize, to wash or cleanse. The disciples had failed to ceremonially wash their hands according to tradition, before they ate. The tradition developed from the Pharisees’ application of commands such as that in Exodus 30:17-21. They had biblical basis for their cleansing traditions. Jesus’ criticism was not that they used the Bible, but that their interpretation had made such a big deal out of the physical that they neglected the more important cause of uncleanliness, the human heart. 

Reformation basics 

There is no doubt that every denomination needs some kind of ongoing reformation effort. How do we go about this without creating division? Jesus challenged not only religious traditions but the interpretation of the Bible behind them (Mark 7:1-23). Similar to but more perfect than the Protestant Reformation, Jesus’ reformation was not based in the highest offices of his day, but in the grass roots. Although the outward form of religion may need some changes, Jesus' priority in reformation was the inner person. This is the reformation that is often missed. We seek to change outward forms of worship but in so doing become just like the Pharisees. Jesus’ reformation basics saw the important battles not in outward things but in the heart. Allow the Holy Spirit to fix the inside and the outside will take care of itself. 

The lies 

This current campaign has proven one thing: neither party is qualified to hold the highest offices in the country. Republicans lied that Obama raised taxes on middle income families, when in fact he had signed several reductions. Democrats lied when they blamed Romney for decisions made at his former business when he was no longer making such decisions. Republicans lied about Obama causing America’s loss of AAA credit rating, when in fact Standard and Poor’s cited the reason as both sides not working in harmony. Democrat claims that as governor Romney cut taxes on millionaires and raised them on middle income families is false. Further details can be found at factcheck.org a website devoted to correcting lies in politics. What defiles America? Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty. Would not Jesus say that lies defile America (Mark 7:1-23)? 

Us and them 

This election is so partisan that both sides have fallen into the cesspool of lies and distortion, as one reporter called it “brazenly willing to twist the truth.” But the biased mentality is a lack of understanding of human reality. It is a self-righteousness that labels ourselves good and the other guys evil. Yet, we are all in the same boat and have experienced the same sins in our heart, what the Message terms “obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness.” (Mark 7:1-23). Yet, strangely when we confront evil we think that it is us and them instead of us and us. The “us and them” mentality is a delusion, a lie. It makes us think that we are better than anyone else when we are all hopeless without Jesus Christ. 

Burping at the table 

I grew up in a family where burping at the table was not allowed and knives and forks were called cutlery. Then I went to a fundamentalist Bible college where we were taught the proper placing of silverware, glasses and plates on the table. Then I learned that burping in China is a compliment to the cook and that other cultures use their hands to eat. Later I saw how traditions like etiquette can contradict the Bible. Etiquette can be an expression of love for neighbor, doing what makes a guest feel comfortable and welcomed. Etiquette can be outright self-aggrandizing snobbery and thus hatred of neighbor in disguise. Etiquette can also be a blind, unthinking adherence to outdated traditions. InMark 7:1-23 Jesus broke with religious etiquette that did away with God’s commands and effectively nullified God’s word. 

The real problem with church 

Church has problems, but also the Gospel which is the solution to all human problems. What is the real problem with church? Is it the traditions, the burdensome rules made up by men or the politics? In Mark 7:1-23 Jesus discussed a few of the problems of religion 2,000 years ago, but ended up concluding with the real problem. If church did not contain people, it would not have problems. The real problem with church is not that it occasionally gets things terribly wrong, we all do. What is the real source of evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly? The real problem with church is that it contains people and all of the church’s problems come from something that is deep within all of us, the human heart. 

The real solution to church 

The church has always had problems. Is there an answer? Some think that a solution is a non-denominational or independent church, but a one dollar bill is still a denomination and as long as people gather together there will always be politics. Others try to avoid the institutional church, but even a house church or hermitage for one is organized and therefore an institution. The difference is only scale. Even becoming a hermit does not give us escape from the evil within our own hearts. The real problem is not polity or structure but the human heart (Mark 7:1-23). Running away is not the solution because we go to church to be part of God’s kingdom on earth, and the solution is not from within the human hearts in the church, but the message of the church, the Gospel. 

Outro 

The Protestant Reformation addressed some very important problems with church tradition but it also did away with some good traditions. The church is always in need of reformation, but first we must begin with our own hearts.