God Is About To Do A New Thing

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An honest letter was sent to the Internal Revenue Service. It stated: “Dear Sirs: I cannot sleep. Last year, when I filed my income tax return, I deliberately misrepresented my income. Now I cannot sleep. Enclosed is a check for $150.00 for taxes. If I still cannot sleep, I will send you the rest!”

During these 40 days of Lent we have repented for our sins. We have found just how important “change” really is in our lives. Every day we, like Rip Van Winkle, awake to find the world different. The molecules keep moving around us.

2CO 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! While there is stability in God, there is also change. That change makes us who we are and what we are as Christians. To the degree that we are willing to change, God will mature us. Do we live with such certainty that we believe God will change our lives?

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” Why down to the potter’s house? Why not the house of worship? Why not some place that has a beautiful sunset? So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. Ever been in a pottery shop? They are messy. There is clay all over the floor, I call it dirt. It is usually hot from the kiln. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.

The illustration of the potter and his wheel was to serve as a warning to the Hebrew people for their evil. But it was also letting them know that through a relationship with God that their lives could and would be changed. When Paul had so persecuted the Christians, even to the point of death, when Paul was converted to Christianity, no one wanted to believe it, but God showed Paul a new man, totally different. When the woman caught in the very act of adultery was brought to Jesus, he changed her life. Not only because he spared her life from the religious leaders, but he offered the opportunity of change, “go and sin no more.”

We are always being unfaithful to God, but God continues to return. This is what the Lord says – he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. It almost sounds like our baptism!
For we go down into the water, and that part of us that was evil, is washed away.

How many of us live in the past? Look what God has done? That reminds us of how powerful and wonderful God is. See, I am doing a new thing!

In the story of Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:1-20). We may not be possessed by demons as was the demoniac, but we are possessed by harmful and destructive character traits, unclean attitudes and thought patterns can take up residence within us. A zoo of lust, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds.
“My name was Legion.” And like the demoniac, the cure for us is to run to Jesus, bow down before Him and allow Him to cast out whatever may possess us.

Forgiveness isn’t pretending nothing has happened, or pretending that what happened didn’t hurt. It isn’t even forgetting it completely, and it isn’t going back and starting over as though it hadn’t ever happened. Instead, forgiveness is refusing to let anything permanently destroy the relationship. There’s a place for saying, “I’m sorry.” There’s a place for assuring the other person that “all is forgiven.” But the goal of both is to rebuild the relationship. One of the amazing things about a healthy beginning again is that the relationship is often stronger than it was before.

The Angels Are Watching

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In Family Circus by Bill Keane, Billy comes into the house all tattered and torn. He looks like he’s been in a wreck and then a fight and then drug for a mile or two by a team of runaway horses. He asks: “Do guardian angels take days off?” Anyone who is aware of what is written in scripture, knows about guardian angels. Anyone reared in the Church has heard stories of guardian angels and how they have helped in the life of Christians. Percentage of Americans who say they have seen or sensed the presence of an angel: 13. Newsweek, 11/28/94.

One night the king of Syria sent a great army with many chariots and horses to surround the city. When the prophet’s servant got up early the next morning and went outside, there were troops, horses, and chariots everywhere. “Alas, my master, what shall we do now?” he cried out to Elisha. “Don’t be afraid!” Elisha told him. “For our army is bigger than theirs.” Then Elisha prayed, “Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” And the Lord opened the young man’s eyes so that he could see horses of fire and chariots of fire everywhere upon the mountain!

Ever wonder how many angels are around you, right now? As educated people who want everything proven, there is no evidence of a spiritual world around us. But the Bible paints a very different world that we live in. It is a world inhabited by people but also a world filled with angels.

God said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Heb 13:5) Jesus said, And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. One of the ways that we feel God’s presence in our lives is by the presence of the angels. Then the devil took Jesus to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'” Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” Jesus never denies that there are angels standing near by to rescue him.

“The Lord encamps around those who fear him and rescues them” (Psalm 34:7).
Six Soviet cosmonauts said they witnessed the most awe-inspiring spectacle ever encountered in space — a band of glowing angels with wings as big as jumbo jets.
According to “Weekly World News,” cosmonauts Vladimir Solovev, Oleg Atkov and Leonid Kizim said they first saw the celestial beings last July, during their 155th day aboard the orbiting “Salyat 7” space station. “What we saw,” they said, “were seven giant figures in the form of humans, but with wings and mist-like halos, as in the classic depiction of angels. Their faces were round with cherubic smiles.” Twelve days later the figures returned and were seen by three other Soviet scientists, including woman cosmonaut Svetlann Savitskaya. “They were smiling,” she said, “as though they shared in a glorious secret.” What I want us to understand this morning is the “omnipresence” of God. (Jer 23:24) Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the LORD.” Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the LORD. Angels are everywhere!

One of the avenues of God’s eternal omnipresence are the angels. Daniel was never alone in the den with lions. Jacob was never alone on that journey away from home. At no time are we out of sight of the angels.

Of all the supernatural beings mentioned in the Scriptures, it is the angels who are constantly depicted as being identified with heaven. When the angel of God called to Hagar in the wilderness, we read that this call was heard “out of heaven”. It was an angel “from heaven” that rolled away the stone at the tomb where our Lord was buried. Our Lord said, “Angels do always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 18:10). He who takes care of the lilies of the field, surely takes care of us.

John G. Paton while he was a missionary in the New Hebrides Islands, hostile natives surrounded his mission headquarters one night, intent on burning the Patons out and killing them. Paton and his wife prayed, terror-stricken, all that night. At dawn, they were amazed to see the attackers just turn and leave. A year later, the chief of that very tribe was converted to Christianity. Paton then asked him what had kept him and his men from burning down the house and killing them that night. The chief asked Paton a return question: “Who were all those men you had with you there?” Paton told him that there were just he and his wife, but the chief insisted they had seen hundreds of men standing guard — big men in shining garments with drawn swords.

Nothing you do is in private! I believe that for every Christian that there is at least one angel in attendance at all times. Sometimes more may be necessary.

We so often hear the expression “the voice of an angel!” So I did some research, and discovered that an angel’s voice sounds remarkably like a person saying, “Hurry up!” “Get up and hurry!” “Rise quickly.” It might be a good idea to allow an angel to occupy the pulpit on Sunday. An irate hearer said to Samuel Barnett when he was canon of Bristol Cathedral in England, “I come to church to be comforted, and you sound like a fire alarm.” Perhaps there was a fire.

A Whole New World

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Jamie Buckingham once said, “All the holy men seem to have gone off and died. There’s no one left but us sinners to carry on the ministry.” I like that because it admits that we are imperfect but needed in ministry and certainly still a part of God’s plan. As Christians we have one of the most wonderful gifts that God could possibly give, that gift…the ability to start over, again. This past week I was setting up the payroll program in the new computers in the office. The payroll program has a security feature built in that when you enter an amount it cannot be changed. Well, I made a mistake, I put the wrong amount in the wrong column. The computer told me that I couldn’t change it! I pulled the plug and erased it. I started over.

Our Christian baptism reminds us that we too can start over. We emerge from the waters, “New creatures in Christ.” With God, forgiveness, allows us to begin anew.
Paul in his early adult life persecuted the Christians to the point of death. Was there any hope for Paul to ever change? Yes, on the Damascus Road Saul was changed into Paul. God allowed him to change, the Church had a much more difficult time of accepting this change.

God has always scrapped the old and started anew with His people. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. It is interesting when we look closely at this creation story: God created (but) the earth was “formless and empty,” in other words this may very well mean that God “re-created” the earth. It wasn’t that He created the world as we know it out of nothing. He recreated it out of chaos. Some believe that when Lucifer was cast out of heaven that there was mass destruction in God’s created universe. Here, God had created Heaven and all the angelic hosts in Heaven. It was marred or ruined by Satan’s sin. When God created or re-created the world, He was starting over.

The story of Noah and the Flood, is a story of God starting over again with His people. People became so sinful that it was necessary to bring life to an end. God selects the most hopeful prospects (Noah) and starts over.

The whole story of Easter is about more than you and me and Jesus. Easter is about the recreation of the world. A whole new world. The Church claims that, beginning with Easter, the world is recreated, as if God the creator starts over.

This is all important to us! When we fail we can start over. I marvel at people in tragedy, who have the gift of God within, and can start over. Our house burns to the ground, it is a tragedy, but we collect ourselves and find a new place to live.
Our spouse comes home and announces that they are leaving you. We go through stages of grief, denial and anger, but we collect our self and go on.

The optimist believes we live in the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears this is true. The Christian doesn’t worry about tomorrow, why?, because we live with the hope of being able to start over. See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

At the University of Chicago Divinity School each year they have what is called “Baptist Day”. It is a day when all the Baptists in the area are invited to the school because they want the Baptist dollars to keep coming in. On this day each one is to bring a lunch to be eaten outdoors in a grassy picnic area. Every “Baptist Day” the school would invite one of the greatest minds to lecture in the theological education center. One year they invited Dr. Paul Tillich. Dr. Tillich spoke for two and one-half hours proving that the resurrection of Jesus was false. He quoted scholar after scholar and book after book. He concluded that since there was no such thing as the historical resurrection the religious tradition of the church was groundless, emotional mumbo-jumbo, because it was based on a relationship with a risen Jesus, who, in fact, never rose from the dead in any literal sense. He then asked if there were any questions. After about 30 seconds, an old, dark skinned preacher with a head of short-cropped, woolly white hair stood up in the back of the auditorium. “Docta Tillich, I got one question,” he said as all eyes turned toward him. He reached into his sack lunch and pulled out an apple and began eating it. “Docta Tillich …” CRUNCH, MUNCH … “My question is a simple question,”CRUNCH, MUNCH …” Now I ain’t never read them books you read… “CRUNCH, MUNCH … “and I can’t recite the Scriptures in the original Greek… ” CRUNCH, MUNCH … “I don’t know nothin’ about Niebuhr and Heidegger …” CRUNCH, MUNCH … He finished the apple.” All I wanna know is: This apple I just ate — was it bitter or sweet?” Dr. Tillich paused for a moment and answered in exemplary scholarly fashion: “I cannot possibly answer that question, for I haven’t tasted your apple.” The white-haired preacher dropped the core of his apple into his crumpled paper bag, looked up at Dr. Tillich and said calmly, “Neither have you tasted my Jesus.”

We spend a lifetime starting over again, and again. When we were moving to Wichita and looking for a home, we visited lots of houses. There was something exciting about having a new place and starting over. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

In the Revelation Jesus said, I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; I will also write on him my new name. Even when it ends, it begins anew!

Single Parenting

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A young farm girl was out milking the family cow when a stranger approached the house and asked to speak with the girl’s mother. The girl called for her mother and yelled, “There’s a man here to see you.” The mother hollered back, “Haven’t I told you not to talk with strangers? Get in this house right now.” The girl shouted, “But Momma, this man says he’s a Congressman.” The mother then stepped onto the porch and said, “In that case, bring the cow in with you.”

The pollsters at Gallup learned that 51% of the 13 to 17 year olds they surveyed last year do not have an adult role model they want to be like. The other 49% were more likely to cite their parents rather than sports stars or entertainers as the adult role model(s) they hope to emulate. The void of heroes can and should be filled by parents. Children as I have pointed out in my previous sermons emulate their parents, whether they are aware of it or not.

There are 10 million single parents in America today. That means 29% of all American parents are single. A little girl posed a curious question to her mom.
She asked, “If the stork brings babies, and if Santa Claus brings presents, and if the Lord gives us our daily bread, then why do we keep Daddy around?” 70% of long-term prison inmates grew up fatherless. Girls without a father in the home are one and a half times more likely to get pregnant before marriage. Children in single parent families are five times more likely to grow up in poverty, are three times more likely to abuse drugs, are four times more likely to commit suicide.

Significantly, research proves out that such negative effects are not present when a parent’s absence occurs due to death. The problems arise when the father never marries the mother of his child, and when the parents are divorced. Seemingly, permanent marriages would provide some of the best salve to our nation’s most pressing problems.

Scripturally, marriage was designed as the perfect way to rear children. We hear clearly those words Gen 2:24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. But we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a world where 50% of marriages end in divorce. We live in a world, where, like with my own family, spouses die young. A sign of our times are adults who have never married and want to be parents, adopting children and rearing them in a single parent home.

Whether we wanted to be a single parent or not, this is where we find ourselves, what do we do? There are many issues that face us as single parents: economic changes, dealing with the loss, loneliness, guilt (usually false), and self-esteem.
There are many issues that our children face in single parent homes: dealing with the loss, guilt (usually false), trust, and playing one parent against the other.

The Church has a role in helping these families. God has a special place in His heart for the single parent and for the orphan. Exod 22:22 Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. As believers it is our job to become supporters of single parents. I was aware a long time before Vickie’s death that the congregation helped in the rearing of my children. The Church becomes an extended family that the single parent and the children belong to.

What can the single parent do? The first and most important rule is, Take care of yourself! When you board an airplane to fly somewhere, the airplane hostess will go over instructions before you ever leave the ground. The instructions are what to do in an emergency. If the plane decompresses, oxygen masks drop down. If you have a child you are instructed to first put your own mask on and then on your child. You cannot give what you do not have. Ps 146:9The LORD watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

Do not try to be both Mom and Dad! You can only be one or the other. There is a chair in every child’s heart for his/her Mother and Father. No one else can ever fill that chair. Step parents can be added but they can never replace the real parent. Try not to create or destroy a relationship that a child has with his/her real parent. They may be real dumb, but it is not your place to protect or reveal that fact to your child. Let the child make that revelation for themselves.

Don’t be a victim! It is far too easy to get caught up in the grief, the guilt or the feeling of hopelessness. Work on the grief; deal with it, don’t play with it. Understand the guilt and resolve it. Make the new home a place of joy. Create some new traditions in your home.

You don’t have to be a perfect parent! For some reason as a couple we don’t have as much pressure to be a perfect parent. When we become single, there is great pressure to make up for the one lost parent. Perfect parents demand perfect children, is that what we really want?

A single parent with a teen-age son, have gone through many financial difficulties.
Consequently, we live in an old mobile home with all sorts of structural problems.
When one of my son’s friends, who lives in a beautiful house, ran away for a few days, I was puzzled. I asked, “Why did he do it? He has everything he could possibly wish for.” Her son said matter-of-factly, “Well, Mom, it’s like this. Jimmy has a lot of environment, but not much love, and I have a lot of love but not much environment.

Habakkuk: A Faith Tested

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The righteous will live by faith! We know very little about Habakkuk the person or Habakkuk the book. We believe that Habakkuk lived in the 7th century about the time of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was so popular and well known, that may well be one of the reasons that we know so little about Habakkuk. We believe that it was at this time because the book reveals the impending danger of Babylon.

Habakkuk the person, reminds me of Thomas. He is wonderfully human. Habakkuk doesn’t always live in the mountain tops of life. He is sometimes found complaining. He is also like Job, in that he doesn’t mind questioning God.

How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? It takes a person secure in their faith and in their relationship with God to be that bold. As righteous as Habakkuk was, he needed answers to some questions that just didn’t make sense. We often hear a miss-truth in the Church – faith is blind!

Opera singer Mary Ann Brant went to a New York post office to pick up a package. The clerk asked her for some identification, and she realized she hadn’t brought any. “I can’t give you the package without some identification,” the clerk insisted. “All right,” she said. “I’ll show you who I am.” With that, she began to sing one of the arias for which she was well known. A crowd gathered around to listen, and in a few moments the clerk said, “OK, lady, you can have the package. Just be quiet.” That’s what the world wants us to do — be quiet about who we are. But Jesus has given us a song to sing.

Faith never means denying reality or ignoring the facts. We go into a patients room that has a terminal illness. We ask them how they are doing and they will quickly respond they are fine. We call it denial! Faith is finding a balance between living with reality and living with hope.

I visited Mammoth Cave a number of years ago. In this largest cavern, several hundred feet underground, the guide points out the extensive system of electric lights in the cave, and then, after a warning, shuts them off. “The black is so thick and total it is disconcerting. I have heard of darkness so complete you could not see your hand in front of your face, but that was the only time I ever experienced it. After a few seconds of this complete blackout, the guide lights one match. One tiny match can light up a cavern of thousands of square feet!

This is what John in the gospel was talking about with faith. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. Habakkuk, is in a world of darkness. He too, is lighting a match of faith to find meaning to what is happening to he and his people.

Habakkuk asked God two big questions. “Why hasn’t Hababkkuk’s preaching changed the people so that they will repent?” They will repent because God will raise up the Babylonians to punish them. If repentance doesn’t come through a willing heart it will come through hardship. “Why will God use a more wicked or sinful nation to punish His people?” In the end, even the Babylonians will be punished.

Habakkuk was pressing God to work a miracle right now! We all know that God moves and acts in His own time, not ours. God responds to Habakkuk in a revelation. What is God’s answer to Habakkuk? The just shall live by his faith.

What does God mean by this response to Habakkuk? The “just” are those who have been justified by God. In Habakkuk’s case in would be the Hebrew people. The Hebrew’s were justified by their covenant with God though Abraham. Today, we are the “just” because of the blood of Christ. Paul writes to the Church at Rome (1:17). For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

To “live by his faith” is a call for the believer to live by faith in God. Habakkuk, you may not feel that your preaching has brought any change to your people, but trust God. You may not understand why God would use a nation that is more wicked than even your own people, but trust God. Faith is allowing God to be God and allowing God to have His own timing.

Faith in God is putting complete trust in someone based on their vision, not ours.
Early one morning a father was awakened by the smoke detector in his basement.
He woke his wife and they quickly went to their children’s bedroom and woke them up and started heading for the door through the smoke which was getting quite heavy. The father was carrying his one and a half year-old daughter in one arm and held the hand of his four year-old son with the other. The son, being scared and unsure of what was happening pulled his hand from his father’s clasp and ran to what he thought was a place of safety, a corner of his bedroom where his favorite stuffed toys were kept. The father got outside and called to his son who appeared at the bedroom window crying and calling for help. The father called to him and told him to jump, but the boy yelled in reply, “But I can’t see you!” Then the father called back with a reassuring message: “That’s alright, I can see you!”

We have confidence — not in our ability to see clearly — but in God’s! He can see us just fine! Our trust must be in Him.