One thing a pastor has to do is look ahead and anticipate what is coming and then equip the congregation to face that future. It doesn’t take a prophet to look ahead and say that in this life we will have afflictions and trials, we will endure suffering in all sorts of various trials. I feel more compelled to prepare us because of the complacency many of us have as comfortable American Christians. We are easily lulled into thinking we deserve an easy life. I revealed this attitude when I asked you for prayers for flying to Ohio and for driving back to Lynden. Asking for prayer is good, but my motive wasn’t completely pure. I wanted everything to go as well as possible, I didn’t want any inconvenience, any problems, any hardships. God put me to the test right away when my midnight flight out of Seattle was delayed an hour and a half and I was told I wouldn’t make my connection out of O’Hare. It was clear to me that I had no control over what was happening. God was most merciful and I actually made the connection with the door closing behind me. Not exactly the crown of life, but a clear sign of God’s undeserved generous grace.
Can you imagine being David hiding in a cave in the wilderness with a crazy king and his army trying to kill you? Can you imagine being Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt with a little boy in your arms and a crazy king and his army trying to find him and kill him? Can you imagine being an early Christian in the catacombs of Rome with a crazy Caesar and his army trying to light you on fire to be a torch in his garden? Can you imagine being a Jew in Poland with a crazy Fuhrer and his army trying to capture you and burn you in his ovens? Can you imagine being a Kurd with a brutal Isis army out to destroy you and all your people? Can you imagine living as refugee on the run in Syria or Iraq? Can you imagine living in Liberia in fear of a microscopic terrorist like Ebola? Can you imagine being a Junior High school girl being bullied and traumatized to the point of wanting to kill yourself? Can you imagine living in a world where people with guns or bombs randomly enter planes or schools or sporting events to kill people? Can you imagine ever needing a fortress, a refuge, a stronghold, a rock, a high tower? Can you begin to enter into the mind and heart of a 38 year old man called before a tribunal of bishops, scholars, pastors and politicians being attacked for what he believed and wrote, and excommunicated and condemned as an outlaw and under the threat of assassination? In fact, anyone who killed him was promised they would not be prosecuted. Can you begin to feel the power and promise of a Psalm like Psalm 46? Can you begin to appreciate the emotional and spiritual power of a hymn that grows out of this Psalm 46 as Luther and his closest friends sing it over and over again in times of distress and discouragement?
Someone writes in answer to the question who are the hungry: “Statistics provide part of the answer: let me share some numbers with you, just because they are important for us to know. The hungry are 1 billion people who don't get enough. The hungry are 27 children who starve each minute. [The hungry are the 3 million children under 5 who die each year because of poor nutrition.] The hungry includes the 25 million who could be fed by the tons of grain used annually to produce alcohol in US. The hungry include some of 30 million Americans who live below the poverty line. “So who are the hungry? Behind the statistics are the faces of real men & women, especially children. They are disparately poor. They have a permanent ache in their belly & hopelessness in their eyes. You will not likely meet many of them because most of the 1 billion live far away, speak a different language, & live in a different culture. They seem to be on a different planet. But the Bible tells me they are my brothers & sisters, & we ought to think of them that way. [Think of them] as if [we] all sit at the same dinner table & can pass each other milk or vegetables when it’s asked for.” Well, we just observed World Food Day & will be observing our annual denomination’s world hunger awareness week & Sunday at the end of the month. So we must listen to what God says in His Word what must be our response to the world hunger. & we do so by considering Jesus’ parable in Lk.16 that pulls no punches about the eternal consequences of closing our hearts & hands to the needy. About living in such a way that we deprive them of the necessities of life. Therefore we want to look at THE RICH MAN CONFRONTING LAZARUS & we see 3 truths: 1st, his conduct is sinful; 2nd, his end is awful; &, 3rd, his excuse is foolish.
Can you imagine how humbling it would be if Jesus wrote a letter to the First CRC church of Lynden and put it in the Bible for everyone to read, the good with the bad? Jesus tells John to write seven letters to seven churches in Asia Minor (western Turkey). It’s an interesting little bit of trivia that Paul also wrote letters to seven churches: Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and Thessalonica. That there are seven churches suggests completeness, which suggests that were is a universal application of these letters to all churches in all times and in all places. They stand for us. Their triumphs, failures and struggles are ours. The repetition between all seven letters is meant to highlight what is most important. To say something twice is to intensify it. To say it seven times, well let him who has ears to hear, hear. No church is perfect and no two churches are equally healthy. There is an invitation here to evaluate our own church and respond faithfully. These seven letters to seven church each have seven parts: The salutation or address, to the angel of the church in … Christ’s self-designation, the words of him who … Christ’s commendation, I know … Christ’s condemnation, But this I have against you … Christ’s warning and threat, Remember … Christ’s exhortation, He who has ears to hear … Christ’s promise, to him who overcomes, I will … Only Laodicea has nothing commendable. Only Smyrna and Philadelphia have nothing condemned.
As we begin to make our way through another book of the Bible this morning let me remind you of some of the benefits of preaching this way. A pastor who just preaches topics or jumps around to favorite or popular texts has the temptation or danger of just preaching what he likes or what interests or appeals to him, or just what he thinks his congregation wants to hear. It has the danger of being a human or self-centered undertaking. It has the danger of turning to technic or gimmicks or entertainment to tickle the ears. Preaching through books of the Bible in a verse-by-verse manner forces us to hear what God wants to say to the church and makes us increasingly to think God’s thoughts after him. Preaching expositionally, as this is called, lets the Holy Spirit guide His Word to each heart according to each of our needs. Preaching expositionally lets the Scripture be the main point, and lets God speak through His inspired Word. It seeks to be less about me and more about God. And preaching in this way gives you the tools to understand God’s Word and study and apply it for yourself. Brothers and sisters, of all the things people try to come up with to make a church healthy, the one thing many miss, is the expositional preaching of the Word of God. If we get this right everything else will follow behind.