Archive for the ‘Sermons’ Category

Why Church?

We are busy. We balance work and family, home projects and recreational pursuits, responsibilities to others & ourselves. It’s website graphichard enough to fit everything in, who in the world has time for church? I have found many reasons why I make time for church in my life. But influence is the one I’d like to focus on today. 

It’s easy to forget the impact other people have in our lives. Our parents, friends, teachers, mentors, even acquaintances are part of the environment that serve to shape who we have become. We have not chosen many of the people who have touched our lives. But it’s the ones we choose, the ones we let “in” to our lives that influence us the most. And yet we too often ignore the importance of these choices in favor of the belief that we are fiercely independent and immune from the influence of others. The church becomes unimportant in such a worldview.

However, there is evidence all around us that we are influenced by others more than we care to believe. In 2011, there were 36 companies in the U.S. who spent more than $1 billion on advertising with the express purpose of influencing your decisions. These companies either wasted their money or they know something we want to ignore. Consider a restaurant study as it relates to how we are influenced… The waiter either brings a sweet mint with the bill or doesn’t. If he brought a mint, the tip was 3% greater. If 2 mints were given, the tip was 14% higher. If the waiter gives 1 mint and starts to walk away, but then returns to give another mint, the tip was 23% greater!

Let’s face it, we are influenced by others. This should be no surprise to any student of the Bible. Satan influenced Eve. Eve influenced Adam. And we’ve been influencing each other ever since. We influence for better or for worse those around us everyday. And we are influenced for better or for worse by those around us everyday. That’s because we are social beings. Like it or not, we need each other. We seek connections in life. Just like the wires in your house need to be connected to an outside source to provide the power you need in your home, you need to be connected with others outside of yourself to provide you with the power you need each day. Loneliness and depression have become an epidemic in this country for lack of meaningful sources of outside connection and power.

Church is simply the term we use to describe how God connects people together to influence one another and the communities in which they live. Bill Hybels has said that “the church is the hope of the world.” I have found this to be true in my own life. It was church that touched my life through the age of 18 when I went off to college. I then attended church, but was not part of the church for several years. During this time I took a journey into atheism as I wanted to deny my need for God or those who follow Him (church). It wasn’t until I was able to settle into a church community in Rockford, Illinois that I found my way back to God.

You will be influenced and you will influence. Who will you choose to be your influencers? And who will you choose to help you influence your community? My advice is to choose the church. Better yet, be the church. God uses the church to bring you hope and He wants to use you to bring hope to others. If you really care about your influence, why not try church?

Sharing Your Faith

As a kid growing up in the midwest it was considered rude and self-centered to talk about yourself. I could talk website graphicabout the successes of my friends, but not my own. Because of this unspoken rule, not only did I avoid talking about anything that might be seen as a personal achievement, I avoided talking about anything that might be too personal. And so I learned to never share what I really believed… about anything. This included my belief in God as my Creator and Jesus as my Savior.

So how could I accept a call from God to be a pastor when I was a senior in high school? Well, the answer is easy. I saw the command of Jesus in Matthew 28 to go and make disciples as a command to DO, not a command to SHARE. With this mindset, I saw evangelism as an event you attend, not a life you live. It would include such things as a series of sermons to tell you about Jesus and His plan of salvation. It would include teaching you what the Bible says about the end of the world. You see, as a kid I could talk about our family trip to Florida and all the things I saw and the places we went. Similarly, as a pastor I could talk about God by quoting verse upon verse to prove a point without talking about what God had done for me. After all, that would require disclosure of personal information about myself. The very habits I had cultivated to avoid sharing my successes I was using to avoid revealing my failures. After all, a spiritual success has its roots in a moral failure. 

Perhaps this is one reason I did not go into pastoral ministry after college, but rather went to medical school. I could preach a good sermon about God, but I was not comfortable truly sharing my faith. However, as I journeyed through a career in medicine, I learned the value of accountability, transparency, and openness. It was while being a part of “Quality Assurance” committees in various hospitals that I learned the importance of openly sharing my successes and failures. The more accountable we were to one another as physicians, the better quality of care we provided to our patients. It became apparent that improved patient outcomes were dependent upon the willingness of physicians to share openly with one another. This included sharing what worked (successes) and what didn’t work (failures). And so I began to see that the unspoken rule I had learned as a kid requiring me to remain silent about my successes was not only a bad rule, but a potentially self-destructive one.

As a pastor, I have discovered that evangelism is not about preaching, but about living. It’s not about telling, but about listening. It’s not about a public event where I can teach, but about a private event which I can share. Evangelism is a lifestyle resulting from a transformational experience with Jesus. It’s about my faith. It’s about His grace. It’s not about me who no longer lives, but about Jesus who lives in me. Sharing my faith means sharing the life I now live by faith in Jesus. Such faith can only be shared as it is lived. 

In the words of Francis of Assisi, let us “preach the gospel and when necessary use words.”  

Connections: The Missing Link

Downton Abbey is a hit TV series on PBS as part of the Masterpiece Classic anthology. There is an episode in Hands1season 2 that illustrates the missing link in relationships that is far too common. According to Wikipedia, “The series, set in the fictional Yorkshire country estate of Downton Abbey, depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants in the post-Edwardian era — with the great events in history having an effect on their lives and on the British social hierarchy.”

Robert Crawley is the Earl of Grantham in this series whose relationship with his wife, Cora, Countess of Grantham has become distant. They have allowed Downton Abbey to be used as a hospital during World War I. Cora has become overseer of the newly established hospital that is taking all of her time. Their lives are completely disrupted. They are committed to each other and have a very good marriage by every account. But in an innocent exchange with a housemaid, Robert shares his feelings about his life during this difficult time. He has made an unintended emotional connection that catches him by surprise. He now finds the housemaid almost irresistible and yet he is still completely committed to his wife. In the end, he honors his commitment to his wife, but seems puzzled as to what happened and why.

What Robert didn’t understand is that we all have a need for emotional intimacy. It is a powerful inner motivation. We can do and buy things for each other, but if we don’t share our feelings with each other, there is a missing link. And then when someone comes along who provides a release for our feelings, we become connected with them. The key is to share myself with those I love if I want to have a lasting, vibrant, and real relationship with them. It’s called communication. It is the avenue husbands and wives have to reigniting their passion and shoring up their commitment to each other. The best communication is when I share my hopes, dreams, anxieties and joys and listen to yours.This is the missing link in many relationships.

Our relationship with God has the very same dynamic. If we want to be close to God we need to share our hopes, dreams, anxieties, and joys with Him. But that’s not enough. We must also listen to His hopes, dreams, anxieties and the joys He has for us. This is called prayer. It’s the missing link for many of us in our relationship with God. Without it, we will seek emotional intimacy elsewhere. The Bible calls this “idol worship.” We begin to chase after wealth or get trapped in all manner of addictions to satisfy our need for emotional intimacy with God. And then when we pray we make it about getting answers and things from God rather than a relationship with Him. We then make our relationship with God about doing things for Him. I have become convinced that all God really wants from us is us! He wants my heart. He wants to spend time with me. He wants to talk with me and listen to me. That’s what prayer is all about. It just might be the missing link. What does prayer mean to you?

Connections: Aren’t They Really about Family?

I was a third year OB/GYN resident at Bethesda Naval Hospital when I was required to live and work at the MarineHands1 Corps base, Camp LeJeune located in North Carolina for three months as part of my obstetrical training. In the big scheme of things three months isn’t much, but it seemed like an eternity as I left Pam and our three children in the Washington, D.C. suburbs for the solitude of the BOQ (Bachelor Officer Quarters) in North Carolina. I was sent there to gain more experience in obstetrics (delivering babies). What I learned was the importance of my family. 

We talk about the need to connect with others, care about others, and reach out to others, which is important. However, at Camp LeJeune I discovered the most basic and formative connections we make are those with our own family. I’m astonished at how easy it is to take for granted our relationships with our spouses, children, brothers, and sisters. And yet the family unit, the home, is the God-appointed place for us to learn how to relate to one another. The home is a “testing ground” of sorts. It is the place God designed for us to learn relational skills. 

During those three months at Camp LeJeune, I thought carefully about how much I treasured my family. I thought about my attitude toward them and how often I interacted with them out of selfish motives. It was the beginning of a long journey for me to understand how precious my family truly is to me. Though I missed them dearly when I was absent from them, I knew that I often treated my car with more love and respect than I treated them when I was present with them. It was then that I determined to make a shift in my life. I realized that my priorities were amiss. I had seen things as more precious than people. Too often, my car, my job, my reputation, my status was more important than my family.

It’s been a challenging and yet rewarding journey toward treating my family as the precious gifts they are. Once I learned to value my family as precious, I slowly realized that I was beginning to see others as precious as well. I am thankful God is patient with me and has never given up on me. No matter what our family relationships have been like in the past, God can transform us into people who can connect with others beginning with our family today. It’s up to us. It is in this context that Paul writes in Colossians 3:

18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. 22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

The Bottom Line

We had been married for about a year when we totaled our 1975 Chevy Vega in a head-on collision with a 4-wheelHands1 drive Ford pickup truck. We were returning to Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan on a Sunday evening from Kenosha, Wisconsin where Pam’s parents lived. There was a severe winter storm that January evening, but we made it within 10 miles of our home when the accident happened. Pam’s face hit the windshield requiring stitches and a light night in the emergency room, but there were no serious injuries.

It was a month later when we were at a Chevy dealership in South Bend, Indiana desiring to purchase a slightly larger Chevy Nova to replace our last car. This experience was perhaps more traumatic than the head-on collision. We had decided on the car, but the process of deciding on the price was arduous at best. We were sequestered into a small room. Our salesman assured us he was on our side and would get the best possible deal for us. He would go to his manager for 20-30 minutes at a time pleading on our behalf. He would come back with new terms and new decisions for us to make. After 2-3 hours, we just wanted to leave. I just wanted to know the bottom line. At what price would they really sell this car? We finally left there having purchased a new 1976 Chevy Nova. But I was determined to never go through such a process again. Even though I had purchased a car, to this day I am still not certain as to their bottom line.

When it comes to life, we all want to know the bottom line. We want to know the bottom line in our purchases, in our work places, and in our relationships. In Colossians 3:1-17, the apostle Paul talks about the principles, realities, and virtues of the Christian life. In verse 16 he says, “Let Christ’s peace control you. God has called you into this peace by bringing you into one body.” I don’t know about you, but I want the reality of inner peace. That’s my bottom line in life. What’s yours? 

Who Is Jesus?

I attended a 2-room, 8 grade church school through my 7th grade year. There were a total of 35 kids in that school. It was a huge deal to Hands1make it to the “big room” in 5th grade. It’s something I had looked forward to for 4 years! After all, the really cool kids were in the “big room” which was actually the same size as the “little room” that housed the first 4 grades. “Big” referred to the kids in the room. And I desperately wanted to be “big.” But when you’re a 5th grader in a room full of kids in 5th through 8th grades, you don’t feel very big. I certainly didn’t.

This is where Steve enters the picture. He was in 8th grade and the biggest kid of all when I entered 5th grade that year. Not only was he the biggest kid, he was the fastest and the strongest. Everyone wanted to be on Steve’s team, no matter the sport. When we played kick ball, he would send the ball over the entire school every single time which was counted as a home run. In fact, our teacher changed that rule and made such a kick an automatic out rather than a home run, all because of Steve. When we played capture the flag, you guessed it, Steve always captured the flag. When we played softball, Steve was the pitcher on defense and the star batter on offense. And when Steve talked, all the other kids listened.

So when Steve took a special interest in me, a 5th grader, I was ecstatic. I hung on his every word. He would always pick me to be on his team. And when it didn’t work out to be on the same team, I knew Steve was still my friend. My status among the other students grew because Steve included me in his inner circle. I felt special. As I look back on that experience, I realize that in actuality no one was excluded from Steve’s inner circle. He somehow made us all feel special. When you feel special, when you feel like someone cares and is on your side, you somehow do better than you thought possible. At least that’s what I discovered in 5th grade.

I got to know Steve really well that year. That’s because he not only included me, but I intentionally responded to his open invitation to be his friend. It was a 2-way street; he asked, I joined. Jesus is like that. He asks us to be HIs friend. Jesus is inclusive, accepting, forgiving, wise, and strong. Jesus brings out the best in us. He includes all of us. The only question that matters is, Will you respond to His invitation?

Connections: Where Does God Fit In?

I am the result of an unplanned pregnancy. My mother developed hyperthyroidism after having two girls. About sixHands1 years after Sheryl (daughter #2) was born my mother was treated for her disorder. What she didn’t know was that hyperthyroidism causes infertility that is easily reversed when the underlying disorder is treated. I don’t know if her doctor did not tell her or she simply did not hear him if he did. But 9 months after being treated for hyperthyroidism I was born.

Though I was unplanned, I never felt unwanted. My father was 43 & my mother 32 when I was born. My father was kind, patient, and filled with love for me. He was always there for me until his death when I was 29. He taught me how to drive a tractor and arranged for my first job at the age of 12 caring for a 5 acre yard. He would stop by with lunch and admire my work gently giving suggestions on what to do next. His pride in me taught me to take pride in my work. He helped me buy my first bike. He allowed me the freedom to ride that bike around town. And when it was time, he patiently taught me how to drive a car – a 1962 Ford Galaxy 3-speed manual transmission with the gear shift on the column. He then helped me purchase my first car in 1975. Though I inherited my mother’s temperament & many of her characteristics, it was my connection with dad that has most influenced my life.

We all have at least one person in our lives who has influenced us deeply. In fact, most of us have several people who have helped shape our lives. It’s worth taking time occasionally to consider the impact of these people in our lives and even drop them a note of thanks. I find this helpful as it reminds me of the characteristics of those who have meant so much to me. I don’t know why it’s so easy to take these connections for granted, but it is. And to take the time to dwell on the characteristics that produce the character I want to have helps me to focus on the life I truly desire.

In Colossians 1:11-14, we find Paul describing 5 actions of God that result in a connection with Him that I have found to be not only formative, but transformative in my life. In these verses we find that God strengthens us, qualifies us, delivers us, transfers us, and redeems us. Once you’ve experienced a connection with this kind of force, you will never be the same. 

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