Lord of the Church (part 4) Sermon Preview

What is more precious than life? Well, not much. Want some proof?
 
If you have a serious form of cancer, and the only way to stay alive is to undergo expensive and physically debilitating chemotherapy treatments; many will still pay the money and undergo the pain in exchange for length of days. Life is more valuable than money or comfort.
 
If you are in your home, and it is burning to the ground around you, you will leave your possessions (even if they are uninsured) to remove yourself and your family from the property. Life is more valuable than possessions.
 
We could go on with other examples, but you get the point. We value life. And we should. People are created in the image of God, so they have intrinsic value and worth. Your life matters … and so does mine.
 
However, human life is not the ONLY thing that matters. In fact, it is not even what matters MOST. Like the examples I give above, a couple of other extreme examples will demonstrate what I mean.
 
In 155 AD, Polycarp (the Bishop of Smyrna) was arrested because of his unwillingness to worship a human Caesar as god. Threatened with his life, Polycarp stayed true to his faith and said, “Eighty-six years I have served Him (Jesus), and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” Polycarp was burned at a stake and stabbed to death with a spear because of His faith in Jesus. To Polycarp, his life was not what was most precious to him. He would rather die with Christ, than live in disobedience.
 
In 177AD a young woman named Blandina was arrested under similar circumstances to Polycarp. She was tortured viciously and coerced to try to convince her to renege her faith in Christ. She refused to deny Jesus, and as a result was thrown to wild animals for the sport of the watching crowd. To Blandina, her life was not more important than her connection to Jesus Christ.
 
Though these stories are from long ago, this storyline echoes through every generation (including our own). Followers of Jesus for 2,000 years have indicated that there was something more valuable than their life — Jesus Christ. This was not just an idea they said, it was something they were willing to pay for with the ultimate price.
 
And so, fellow Christian, let me ask you: Is Jesus more valuable to you than your life? More valuable to you than your stuff? More valuable to you than your reputation? More valuable to you than your position in society or the marketplace?
 
For the majority of Christ followers over the years, their lives have not ended in martyrdom, but Jesus asks all of us to consider the cost as we follow Him.  Will we lay down our lives for His name?  Our desires for His direction?  Our programs for His plan?
 
Now, what could possibly convince someone to follow Christ, even unto death? In what way is this even remotely a circumstance we might be able to endure? Especially as 21st century American Christians who are programmed to care for ourselves above all, why would we supplant our self-preservation for His proclamation?
 

We find the answer to this question in Revelation 2:8-11 in the example of the church in Smyrna. This Sunday at Wildwood in part 4 of our “Lord of the Church” series, we will see how Jesus encourages them to hold up in the face of intense persecution … and how that challenges us as well.
 
Additionally, we will be sharing an update on our church plant partner in Lagoa De Sao Francisco, Brazil and present an opportunity for you and I to continue to support the work there. Hope to see you Sunday, January 23 in our 8:30, 9:45, or 11:00 services or online in the stream.

Lord of the Church (part 3) Sermon Questions, Audio & Video

On Sunday, January 16, 2022 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Revelation 2:1-7.  This message was part 3 in the “Lord of the Church” sermon series.  Below you will find questions related to the message for personal reflection or group discussion.  You will also find the audio and video of the message to listen to/watch, download or share.

 

Sermon Questions:

  1. Pray
  2. Read Revelation 2:1-7
  3. Have you ever considered that Jesus REALLY CARES about what happens in His churches?  In general, what do you think Jesus would most care about regarding His churches?  Throughout our study of Revelation 2-3, we will get a much clearer picture of how Jesus evaluates His churches.  This will be both encouraging and challenging!
  4. The Ephesian church was maintaining a lifestyle and doing “works” that were consistent with the call of Christ, even in the midst of a world that was pressuring them to do and think otherwise.  What are some examples from your world today where the culture wants you to behave in certain ways, even if the Scripture tells us otherwise?
  5. The Ephesian church also was doing well at evaluating teachers and teachings to see if they were accurate.  What are some common “false teachings” that threaten the church today from your perspective?
  6. Even though they had much they were doing well, the Ephesian church still had a significant problem … they had floated to a religion instead of a relationship with Christ; to duty and dogma instead of devotion.  How are your affections for Christ currently?  Have you maintained your first love, or is it waning?
  7. The solution to a lack of love (Jesus says in Revelation 2:5) is to REMEMBER, REPENT, and REPEAT.  What would it look like for you to apply these principles in your life today?
  8. How does remembering our reward in eternity stir your affections for our Savior?
  9. What is one particular application you took away from this passage/message?

To access these questions in pdf format, click here.

 

To listen offline, click the link to download:

Lord of the Church #3 1.16.22

 

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Lord of the Church (part 3) Preview

Did you know that Jesus wrote letters? Letters that we actually still have? Letters that were written in interaction with 7 different real world churches that detailed what was going well and what they were doing wrong; that reminded the churches of who Jesus was, and what He was promising to them; and laid out specific prescriptions for action or response tailored to their particular situation?
 
Jesus actually wrote letters like this … and we have them, in Revelation 2-3. After John sees Jesus in all of His glory in Revelation 1, Jesus immediately has John pick up a pen and write down specific dictation about 7 churches that John either pastored personally, or knew something about.
 
So, when we look at Revelation 2-3, we find out a LOT about what Jesus loves AND hates about what is happening in His churches. In our day and age, millions of people tune into podcasts to hear of the failures of different churches, while others find sport in watching YouTube explanations of all the churches who are getting it wrong. Therefore, I am guessing that our curiosity is certainly peaked to find out what JESUS HIMSELF thinks about HIS church! After all, Jesus both knows EXACTLY what IS going on and EXACTLY what SHOULD BE going on inside His church. And He thought enough about His church to send them a letter to let them know what was up.
 
AND (and here is the real kicker) … these messages were not just for those 7 churches, but are for you and I as well! Jesus concluded each of the letters with the statement, “He who has ears let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” So, if you are curious what Jesus thinks about the church, then your spiritual ears are raised … and you should read Revelation 2-3!
 
Over the next seven weeks at Wildwood Community Church, we will be looking at these letters Jesus sends to the seven churches in parts 3-8 of our “Lord of the Church” series. This Sunday (in part 3), we will be looking at Revelation 2:1-7, and the letter Jesus wrote to the church in Ephesus. There is SO MUCH IMPORTANT STUFF for us to see in this letter. Read it before you come, and make plans to join us on Sunday … at 8:30, 9:45, or 11:00 in person, or at 9:45 on the livestream. See you there … all who have ears to hear.

Lord of the Church (part 2) Sermon Questions, Audio & Video

On Sunday, January 9, 2022 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Revelation 1:9-20.  This message was part 2 in the “Lord of the Church” series.  Below you will find questions related to the message for personal reflection or group discussion.  You will also find audio and video from the message to listen to/watch, download, or share.

 

Sermon Questions:

  1. Pray
  2. Read Revelation 1:9-20
  3. Has there ever been a time/circumstances in your life where you wondered where God was or if He had forgotten you?  Are you in one of those moments/experiencing some circumstances like this right now?
  4. How does remembering what the Apostle John had experienced and was going through help you to understand more the significance of the vision Jesus gives him in Revelation 1?
  5. While there are specific meanings to all the symbols in the appearance of Jesus in today’s passage, we should pause for a moment and allow the ART of His appearance to sweep over us (not just the science of breaking down the symbolism).  We should rest in our relationship with Him for a moment (instead of just finding the religious significance).  Jesus revealed Himself to us in this glorious vision to elicit certain emotions in us.  How does this vision of Jesus prompt you to respond?
  6. What are you going through right now that you can face when you remember that HE (the Jesus of Revelation 1) is with you?
  7. In what ways can you practically “fall” before Him this week?
  8. Are you trusting Jesus for your eternity?  Remember He has the keys to life beyond death!
  9. The church is pictured in this vision as a lamp stand.  Have you ever had any experience with a church that functioned in this fashion?  In what ways can the light of Jesus shine through you and our church in the year ahead?
  10. What is one particular application you took away from this passage/message?

To access these questions in pdf format, click here.

 

To listen offline, click the link to download:

Lord of the Church #2 1.9.22

 

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Lord of the Church (part 2) Sermon Preview

Most of us are familiar with the concept of a woven piece of art. Whether it is a rug, a tapestry, or even a Christmas sweater, the front side of a woven piece displays a beautiful picture, while the backside reveals a messier version. If all we ever saw was the “backside” of the sweater/tapestry/rug, we might think that the art was more worthy of the refrigerator than the Louvre. Oh, but when we turn the woven piece over … WOW! The art becomes crisp and beautiful.
 
We live in a world that has two sides. One side is messy and awkward, while the other side is bright and glorious. Our problem is … we forget which side of the “quilt” we are on.
 
We are tempted to think that this world is the “front side.” When we think that way, we expect things to be more obvious and evident. We hear that God is sovereign … but then we look around and it can FEEL like this world is spinning out of control without anyone at the wheel. We understand that God is a God of justice … but then we see so much injustice in the world around us. We say that God is present with His people … but we sometimes feel alone. We look at this world expecting to see everything in HD clarity, and yet it looks a bit fuzzy. If we assume we are looking at the “front side” we will be tempted to doubt core beliefs.
 
Rather than assuming that Biblical truth is a lie, might I suggest another possibility? Could it be that this world in which we live is somewhat like the “back side” of the woven work? We see signs that point to God’s sovereignty, justice, and presence … but it is a bit of a patchwork of yarn, scarred by the fall. However, the stitches we see in this world, remind us that there is a beautiful work of art that is being prepared on the other side … if we could only see it!
 
In Revelation 1:9-20, the Apostle John is toiling away in a prison camp on a lonely island called Patmos. Talk about the back side of the quilt. Jesus had promised John and His friends that He would return to this earth … but 60+ years had gone by and Jesus had not yet returned. Jesus had promised that He would be with them always … but John felt alone. Jesus had said that they would reign with Him … but John’s friends (the other Apostles) were killed because of their connection with Jesus, and John was in prison. It is at this moment that Jesus invites John to see “the other side.” And WHOA! What a vision! What a work of art!
 
The world in which John lived … the world in which we live … is the back side of the tapestry. We need to remember what is really going on, and who is really in charge. We need to flip the sweater over and see the work of art. We need to be reminded of who Jesus truly is.
 
This Sunday at Wildwood Community Church in our 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00 worship services, we will be in week 2 of “The Lord of the Church” (part of our year long study of Revelation), as we look at Revelation 1:9-20 and allow these verses to flip the rug over and show us a contemporary portrait of Jesus Christ.
 
SPOILER ALERT: He does not look like the picture hanging on the wall of your Sunday School classroom from the 1970s. In the words of C.S. Lewis, what we see is a Jesus who is not “safe” but who is “GOOD” and who invites us to know Him and be with Him forever. See you Sunday … and bring friends!

Lord of the Church (part 1) Sermon Questions, Audio & Video

On Sunday, January 2, 2022 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Revelation 1:1-8.  This message was the first part in the “Lord of the Church” sermon series.  Below you will find questions related to the message for personal reflection or group discussion.  You will also find the audio and video of the sermon to listen to/watch, download, or share.

 

Sermon Questions:

  1. Pray
  2. Read Revelation 1:1-8
  3. Have you made any “resolutions” for the new year?  Would any of the resolutions you made include some facet of “getting to know God better” in the year ahead?  
  4. Have you ever read or studied the book of Revelation before?  Ever heard a sermon series on this book?  If so, what is your reaction to hearing that we are embarking on a study of this book for the new year?  If not, how do you feel about reading this book together in the new year?
  5. There was a long list of things we learn about Jesus from Revelation 1:1-8.  Of this list, what stands out to you most?  Anything in that list surprise you?
  6. In light of the imminence of Christ’s return, how will you prioritize getting to know Jesus better in the year ahead?
  7. How would your life be impacted if you remembered that Jesus is “near”?
  8. What is one particular application you took away from this passage/message?

To access these questions in pdf format, click here.

 

To listen to audio offline, click the link:

Lord of the Church #1 1.2.22

 

To listen to audio online, use the media player:

 

To watch the video, use the YouTube stream online:

 

Lord of the Church (part 1) Sermon Preview

 

As I write this, we are less than 48 hours from 2022.  Like many, I am taking some time before the turn of the new year writing out some resolutions for a new era.  You probably are too.

My goals fit into different categories: health, personal development, work, family & friends, spiritual growth, and fun.  I have mapped out a target number of minutes to exercise each week, how many books I want to read, a writing project I want to pursue, specific things to do as a family, a book I want to use in my prayer life, how many rounds of golf I want to play, and several more.  Are you working through similar targets for yourself?

While all these goals can be helpful, I also find myself reflecting on some BIGGER THINGS.  I was walking out to my car a minute ago and found myself praying out loud, “Lord, I really want to KNOW YOU MORE this year.”  As I pray that prayer, I find myself reflecting on a few things:

  1. By God’s grace, I already know the Lord.  I don’t mean I know all of Him, but I mean I know much of Him.  He has given us His Word, history, nature, the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit, the communion of the Body of Christ, and more to help us know Him … and I am so thankful for that gift.  However, I want to continue to get to know Him better and better.  “And this is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom God has sent (John 17:3).”
  2. Knowing more of God most likely means walking with God through difficult things.  We get to know much of God through worship and Bible Study … but there is a FELLOWSHIP with God that comes as we suffer in His name (Philippians 3:9) or walk with Him through dark valleys (Psalm 23).
  3. Knowing more of God probably also means exploring areas of God’s character we may have neglected investigating in the past for a variety of reasons.  

My strong guess is that many of you probably have on your list for 2022 that you want to know God better.  To say it another way, I would highly doubt that many of you have a New Year’s Resolution to be further away from God in December 2022 than you are today.  So how will this happen?

Well, as it relates to walking with God through difficult things, we don’t have to go looking for trouble.  My guess is that enough hard moments will find you on their own in 2022.  Our task will be to simply trust God when these hard times surface.  And, the best way I know to trust God is to get to know MORE of His character by investigating previously neglected sections of God’s Word to see how trustworthy He really is.

So, at Wildwood in 2022, I want to take our Sunday sermons and have a stated goal.  I want us to get to know Jesus better this year.  Collectively.  As a church family.  Get to know Christ more, and get to know Him in a way that will impact the way we trust Him, the way we live our lives, and the way our community is impacted in a positive way as a result.  I want us to stare at the awesome greatness of our God together, until the glow of His redeeming Light reflects off of us into a dark and dying world.  

The tool we will use to this end will be looking at the oft-avoided, yet awesome book “The Revelation.”  This last book of the New Testament is a book written with a promised benefit, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. (Revelation 1:3)”  But it is also a book that unveils Jesus for us, reminding us of who Jesus truly is.  Too many look at Revelation as a veiled, symbolic confusion … but that is not fair or accurate.  In fact, the Greek Word that gives this book its title, actually means to “make something appear” not to bury it.  And what appears when we read its pages?  Jesus Christ.  After all, Revelation 1:1a begins and tells us that this is – “The revelation of Jesus Christ…”  It is a book about Him, not just charts, graphs, and end-of-world events.  Jesus is the star of the show.  If we want to get to know Him, we need to look at this revelation.

This Sunday, January 2, 2022, it is going to be cold outside.  And you may even be a little bleary-eyed from New Year’s Eve festivities.  But don’t let those reasons keep you from joining with us at Wildwood in one of our 3 Sunday morning services:  8:30, 9:45, and 11:00.  We will be looking at Revelation 1:1-8 in the first message of our series on Revelation, as we continue to get to know Jesus better as individuals and as a church family.  Hope to see you Sunday … and bring friends!!

December 25: Joy to the World! Rejoice! The Treasure of Jesus

This devotional is a part of the 2021 Christmas devotional book – “Joy to the World.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

December 25

Rejoice!  The Treasure of Jesus!

Scripture Reading:  Luke 2:19

One of the things that God has reminded me of this past year is the natural means by which He does supernatural things.  This principle has many applications:

  • I am praying right now for physical healing (a supernatural gift from God) for a number of people who are struggling, and God may provide that healing through “natural” means (like medicine or surgery).
  • I am working right now on my sermon for Sunday.  I need supernatural illumination of His Word to make sense of it, but God often provides this insight after the natural process of study and preparation.
  • I want those around me to know how much I love and care for them with supernatural depth, but the way God works that out often is through the natural process of affirming words and good deeds over time.

See what I mean?  Certainly God DOES supernatural things, but often the way He does them is through natural means.

This principle can even be used to understand the writing of much of our Bible.  The Bible, no doubt, is a supernatural work (inerrant and authoritative).  However, the means by which God brought us the Scripture involved natural processes.  The supernatural and natural processes of the transmission of Scripture are demonstrated through a couple of New Testament verses:

  • Peter (who himself wrote two of the letters included in our New Testament) says in 2 Peter 1:20-21, “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.  For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”  In this verse, Peter highlights the supernatural origin of God’s Word.
  • In Luke 1:1-4, Luke talks of the natural process he used to compose his supernatural letter, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”

So, God supernaturally moved the writers of Scripture along to write His Word to His people, but the process by which the Scripture was written sometimes looked very natural — like when Luke researched and compiled the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ disciples in writing his Gospel.

But who did Luke talk to?  And when did he talk to them?  At this point, we are dealing with some conjecture, but conjecture educated by historical facts.  Luke’s Gospel dates to the late 50’s AD, about 25 years after Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.  Many scholars believe Luke (a traveling companion to Paul) probably got a lot of his “eyewitness accounts” during Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea from 57-59.  During these years, Luke (a Gentile who joined Paul’s ministry as he headed to the European continent) found himself in Israel (possibly for the first time) and interacting with many of the original Apostles . . . and Mary – the mother of Jesus.

Knowing this background helps us understand a bit more why Luke’s Gospel includes so much detail from events ONLY MARY (or the Holy Spirit) would have been able to share.  Event’s like:

  • The Angel’s visit to Mary to inform her of her virgin pregnancy (Luke 1:26-38)
  • Mary’s trip to visit Zechariah and Elizabeth while pregnant (Luke 1:39-45)
  • Mary’s response to this news in song (Luke 1:46-55)
  • The events around the manger (Luke 2:8-20)
  • The story behind the naming of Jesus (Luke 1:31, 2:21)

In all these accounts, Mary opened up the vault of her soul, and probably shared with Luke what she had treasured about the birth of her firstborn son, who was the Firstborn of all creation! (Luke 2:19) In turn, Luke wrote these treasures down and through that natural process, the supernatural revelation of God was preserved for you and me.

Suggested song for today:  O Holy Night

In this Christmas devotional, there is a song referenced for each day.  All these songs, are included in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links:

December 24: Joy to the World! Rejoice! There is Hope for Dusty Shepherds

This devotional is a part of the 2021 Christmas devotional book – “Joy to the World.”  Access the entire devotional and download your free copy by clicking here.

December 24

Rejoice!  There is Hope for Dusty Shepherds

Scripture Reading:  Luke 2:8-20

Imagine that you were the shepherds that first Christmas night.  You were gathered out on the hillsides surrounding Bethlehem watching your livestock.  You were bundled up to keep warm.  Having never been a rancher or taken care of any animal larger than a Beagle, I have a hard time imagining what they were doing.  My best guess is that they were sitting by the fire . . . maybe singing a song.

As the they sat there, these shepherds saw an impressive sight.  It is hard for me to imagine what shepherds were doing on that Christmas night, but it was even harder for the shepherds to imagine the sight they were getting ready to behold.  Out of no where angels appeared in the sky singing a new song.  They were singing “Gloria in Excelies Deo!”  For me today, it is easy to imagine the shepherds seeing the angels . . . this is a story I have heard since I was born . . . but for the shepherds, this was a very “out of the ordinary” situation.  It was not normal for them to see angels on the hillside.  This was a unique event!  The angels told the shepherds to go to Bethlehem and see a baby which was the Savior of the world.

The shepherds quickly took off for Bethlehem.  Can you imagine the conversation they may have had with each other all the way to the stable?  “I wonder what He looks like?  What could this all mean?  I wonder if everyone got this same announcement . . . if so, I wonder how long we will have to wait in line?!?”  The questions would have no doubt fired back and forth throughout their walk/run to the manger.

Upon arriving on the scene, however, I am sure the shepherds were probably scratching their heads a bit.  There was no line outside the stable filled with government and religious dignitaries and local celebrities.  Upon entering the stable, the place smelled more like a barn full of animals than the temple incense.  As they approached the baby in the manger, no halo circled His head, and the child was probably crying for His mother to give Him more milk.  While the text does not say it, I am guessing that the shepherds were probably wondering (either aloud or to each other) if they had heard the angels correctly.  Given the disparity between what they saw and what they had heard, these old school cowboys were placed in a spot that is very familiar to us . . . they were being asked to take God at His Word.

I walk through this story today because many times as I read the Christmas story I think, if only all people could see what the shepherds saw then all people would believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world.  To my old way of thinking, the shepherds, based on what they had seen, would not have needed a lot of faith to believe in Jesus as their Savior.  The reality, though, is that I still think it took LOTS OF FAITH for the shepherds to believe.  In fact, they did not have some of the benefits that we have.

When the shepherds saw Jesus in Bethlehem, they had never heard Jesus preach; they had never seen Him work miracles; they had never imagined the cross;  they had never conceived the empty tomb.  While they had an angel declaration, there were many facts of the story that they did not have.  Based on what they knew, they were asked to take God at His Word (through the angels) and trust Him with the rest.  As people today, we have record of His preaching, miracles, death and resurrection.  We have the testimony of  2,000 years of Church History, and the corroborating evidence of ancient historians.  Given that, however, we have never seen Jesus face to face, and angels have not visited us on hillsides.  Based on what we know, however, we are asked to take God at His Word (through the Bible) and trust Him with the rest.  When we do this, great blessings come our way.

The Apostle Peter wrote a letter to the first generation of Christians who were growing up in our present reality . . . people who had the testimony of eye-witnesses and the Scripture, but had not physically seen Jesus.  To this group (to us) Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:8-9, “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  Peter celebrates the faith of those who have not seen Jesus, but still love and believe in Him.  This verse of Scripture is talking to you and me!

1 Peter 1:8-9 further indicates that when we believe in Jesus based on what we know (but have not seen), we reap the same benefits that His first followers experienced, “an inexpressible joy” (“Good news of Great Joy”) and “the salvation of our souls” (“a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord”).

At first glance, it appears that we have very little in common with the shepherds that first Christmas night, but in the end, we have something big in common . . . we are both being asked to embrace by faith that the child born in Bethlehem is our Savior, Christ the Lord.  Upon hearing this announcement this Christmas will you run to the manger as the shepherds did?  Will you believe in Him based on what you know and trust Him for the things that are harder for you to understand?  If you will, then joy and salvation await.  Those are two Christmas gifts that are on everyone’s list.

Suggested song for today:  Go Tell it on the Mountain

In this Christmas devotional, there is a song referenced for each day.  All these songs, are included in a playlist found on Apple Music and Spotify at the following links: