In Praise of Virtue

EXODUS 20 – 1 And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them… “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God… “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy… 12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. 13 “You shall not murder. 14 “You shall not commit adultery. 15 “You shall not steal. 16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. 17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

GALATIANS 5 – 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Today as we come to worship we recognize Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts and the values they promote.

The Boy Scout Law says a Scout is: Trustworthy / Loyal / Helpful / Friendly / Courteous / Kind / Obedient / Cheerful / Thrifty / Brave / Clean / Reverent.

The Boy Scout Oath or Promise says:                                                                             On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

The Boy Scout Motto is: BE PREPARED.

Robert Baden-Powell (founder of the Boy Scouts) explains that BE PREPARED means you are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your DUTY.

We applaud the virtues that are promoted by the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts.

And this morning I want to speak “in praise of virtue”, under three headings:

  1. Most of the world’s religions promote virtues that are remarkably similar. We believe this indicates our common origin as persons created in God’s image. (Genesis 1: 26, 27)
  1. We should seek to live by these virtues, building lives of integrity and godly character. And we should teach these virtues to our children. (Exodus 20:1-17) (Galatians 5:22-26)
  1. None of us can live fully virtuous lives. We fall short of moral perfection, but God still offers us eternal life through Jesus Christ. (Romans 3:23; 6:23)

So let’s begin!

  1. Most of the world’s religions promote virtues that are remarkably similar. We believe this indicates our common origin as persons created in God’s image. (Genesis 1: 26, 27)


Buddhists and Muslims and Jews and Christians and even Atheists promote some of the same virtues.

The first century Pali Canon of Buddhism lists 10 virtues: Generosity, Proper conduct, Renunciation, Transcendental wisdom, Diligence, Patience, Truthfulness, Determination, Loving-kindness and Serenity.

The 11th century Muslim scholar Al Ghazali wrote: “Declare war on thirteen enemies you cannot see – egoism, arrogance, conceit, selfishness, greed, lust, intolerance, anger, lying, cheating, gossiping and slandering…”

And in his “Manifesto for Atheists,” British atheist Alain de Botton has suggested “Ten Virtues for the Modern Age”: Resilience, Empathy, Patience, Sacrifice, Politeness, Humor, Self-Awareness, Forgiveness, Hope, Confidence.

Jews and Christians follow the Ten Commandments, which were read at the start of today’s message.

And Christians believe that the fruits of the Spirit (identified by St. Paul and also read at the start of the message) are virtues God wants to plant in each of us so we can achieve the potential for which we were created.

Some would say that, since all religions promote similar values, there must be little difference between them. Perhaps (they say) there are many roads that lead to God.

Traditional Christians (and I am one of those) respectfully disagree. We would say that the religions of the world represent the human longing for God, humans reaching out for God as best they can.

We would say that Judaism and Christianity represent God reaching down to humanity, reaching down to rescue and redeem us.

And, as traditional Christians, we believe that Jesus Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s plan. What began with Adam and Noah and Abraham and Moses was brought to its full realization in Jesus Christ.

The reason almost all religions promote similar virtues is because all of us were created in the image of God. Even though God’s image in us has been broken because of sin, we still all see the value and importance of honesty / and patience / and fair play / and other virtues.

So, first, most of the world’s religions promote virtues that are remarkably similar. As Christians, we believe this indicates our common origin as persons created in God’s image.

  1. Then secondly,

We should seek to live by these virtues, building lives of integrity and godly character. And we should teach these values to our children. (Exodus 20:1-17) (Galatians 5:22-26)

In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, we read about Joseph, son of Jacob. His brothers hated him and ultimately sold him as a slave into Egypt. Joseph became a slave in the house of Potiphar.

In Genesis chapter 39 Joseph was tempted to do evil. His master’s wife tried hard to entice him into sexual compromise. He strongly resisted her advances.

Many today would call Joseph a “Goody-Two-Shoes” because he resisted evil. Today (as often in the past) we live is a culture where many scoff at the righteous and call them “sissies” or (in Canada where I come from) “Dudley Do-Rights” for resisting temptations of the flesh and spirit.

Why not “live a little”? Why not “sow some wild oats”? Why not “try it, you’ll like it”?

This morning I want to stand against the idea that “real men” cannot be virtuous men. I want to stand against the notion that being a virtuous man is somehow sissified or weak or watered down.

Today I want to stand against the widespread notion that “Real Men” must be dabblers in unrighteous behavior. It is a lie of the evil one that goodness must be boring. It is a foul lie that there is more pleasure in unrighteousness than in goodness.

Men, our sons and grandsons need mentors in virtuous living. They need to see men who are truth-tellers. They need to see men who transparent about challenges and short-comings in their own lives, men who don’t hide behind the mask of machoism.

So, secondly, We should seek to live by virtuous lives, lives of integrity and godly character. And we should teach these values to our children.

  1. And third, None of us can live fully virtuous lives. We fall short of moral perfection, but God still offers us eternal life through Jesus Christ. (Romans 3:23; 6:23)

So let’s begin with St. Paul’s words in Romans 3:23: “…all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

Say it with me: “I have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

None of us is faultless within ourselves. We think and say and do things that reveal our inner brokenness, our self-centeredness.

And three chapters later St. Paul says, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, dying in OUR place for OUR sins, God offers us eternal life as a free gift.

We cannot earn it by our good deeds or shining virtues. We cannot earn it by self-sacrifice, or pouring out our lives for others.

But we can accept eternal life as a free gift from God through His Son Jesus.

The band MercyMe has written the song “Flawless”:

No matter the bumps, No matter the bruises,
No matter the scars, Still the truth is
The cross has made, The cross has made you flawless
No matter the hurt, Or how deep the wound is
No matter the pain, Still the truth is
The cross has made, The cross has made you flawless.

There’s an equation that some of you have heard me use before. This equation helps us understand how God’s free gift works.

It’s not “Faith + Works = Salvation,” but rather: “Faith = Salvation + Works”…

So I urge you this morning: Put your trust in Jesus Christ. Receive God’s free gift of salvation through the cross. Allow God to build the character of Jesus into your life,more and more.

Allow the Holy Spirit of God to work in YOU, to build these virtues into YOUR life, for HIS glory.

And all God’s people said: AMEN!

Resisting Temptation


(Brook Hill UMC – Oct. 25, 2015)

(from the series “God’s Messages – They Ain’t Spam”)

Matthew 4:1-11 (NIV) 1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” (Deuteronomy 8:3)

Then the devil took him 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.’ ” (Psalm 91:11-12)

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” (Deuteronomy 6:16)

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ ” (Deuteronomy 6:13)

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.


Every day most of us are bombarded by messages. Billboards urge us to eat All-Day Breakfast at McDonald’s. Yard signs urge us (I saw this sign yesterday) to vote for Bernie Sanders. Television commercials urge us to drink Bud Lite in the new Redskins or Ravens beer cans. My email invites me to buy a Creo Food-Stacking tool from The Daily Grommet. Last night Facebook was trying to sell me a T-shirt that says “Made in Canada – a Long Time Ago.”

In the midst of all these messages God also speaks to us. He speaks to our hearts by His Spirit. He speaks to our minds and hearts by His Word.

God says to us (through the prophet Isaiah): “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.” (Is. 45:22)

He says to us (through His Son Jesus): “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mt. 16:24)

In the midst of a thousand voices, we must hear – we must obey – the Word of the Lord.

This morning we look at the topic of temptation, and how to resist it. The scripture we use is Saint Matthew’s account of Jesus being tempted by the devil.

And we’ll look at this subject under three headings:

  1. The Bible teaches that Satan is real.
  2. Satan tempted Jesus directly, but usually tempts us indirectly, through our own self-centeredness.
  3. Knowing scripture can help us resist temptation.

So, here we go!


In this passage, and in more than 50 other scriptures, Satan is identified as a real being.

A 2011 Gallup poll showed that nine in 10 Americans believe in God.

But a Barna Group survey that same year found that only 43% of Americans believe the devil to be a “living entity,” as opposed to a symbol of evil.

But C.S. Lewis believed in Satan. Lewis was an intellectual, a professor at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities. He is the author of 74 books, including the Chronicles of Narnia and “The Screwtape Letters.”

In his original preface to “The Screwtape Letters”, Lewis warned of:

“…two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils.” One error “is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”

Lewis concluded that the devils “are equally pleased by both errors…”

And in his 2nd preface to that same book, 20 years later, he wrote:

The commonest question [I am asked] is whether I really “be­lieve in the Devil.” Now, if by “the Devil” you mean a power opposite to God and, like God, self-existent from all eternity, the answer is certainly “No”. There is no uncreated be­ing except God. God has no opposite. No being could attain a “perfect badness” opposite to the perfect goodness of God; for when you have taken away every kind of good thing (intelligence, will, memory, energy, and existence itself) there would be none of him left.

The proper question is whether I believe in devils. I do. That is to say, I believe in angels, and I believe that some of these, by the abuse of their free will, have become enemies to God and, as a corollary, to us. These we may call devils. They do not differ in nature from good angels, but their nature is depraved. Devil is the opposite of angel only as Bad Man is the opposite of Good Man. Satan, the leader or dictator of devils, is the opposite, not of God, but of [the archangel] Michael.

And (for what it’s worth) Pope Francis believes in the devil. A recent article by a Catholic priest on the CNN website says:

“His tweets and homilies about the devil, Satan, the Accuser, the Evil One, the Father of Lies, the Ancient Serpent, the Tempter, the Seducer, the Great Dragon, the Enemy and just plain “demon” are now legion.

…Francis refers to the devil continually. He does not believe him to be a myth, but a real person…

The Pope has stressed that we must not be naïve… Francis has been warning that whoever wants to follow Jesus must be aware of the reality of the devil. The life of every Christian is a constant battle against evil, just as Jesus during his life had to struggle against the devil and his many temptations.

…Francis wishes to call everyone back to reality. The devil is so frequently active in our lives…, drawing us into negativity, cynicism, despair, meanness of spirit, sadness and nostalgia.

[The Pope says] We must react to the devil… as did Jesus, who replied with the Word of God… one cannot dialogue [with the Dark Prince]; one can only respond with the Word of God that defends us.

(Rev. Thomas Rosica, July 20, 2015)

In reporting on the life of Jesus (in the four letters of Matthew, Mark and Luke and John), the Bible gives us about a dozen places where Satan is identified by name and spoken of as a real being.

So the Bible teaches that Satan is real.


The Bible says that “each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” (James 1:13-14)

So often when we’re tempted, it’s through our own inner desires, our own inner yearnings.

Why do 70% of Christian men and 30% of Christian women say they struggle with Internet pornography?

Why can’t you resist going back to the buffet and getting three or four helpings of those candied yams? That’s not the enemy directly at work – it’s our own desires.

In the scripture we read, Satan directly tempted Jesus.

He said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” It looks like the enemy was trying to get Jesus to even doubt His identity as the Son of God.

If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from the top of this temple.” The enemy was appealing to Jesus’ vanity and pride, for surely such a miraculous sign would have caused many people to begin following Jesus.

But Satan had never dealt with a man like Jesus. In John 14:30, Jesus told his disciples: “…the prince of this world is coming, and [he has] nothing in me.

But the enemy has something in us! Our lives have been broken by sin, and our self-centeredness and pride often consume us.

Since the fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden, humans have been largely self-focused and self-centered.

Every time I preach at Brook Hill, I want to preach the best sermon ever preached. And I want that sermon to be used by God to help and encourage and teach God’s people.

But if I’m honest, hidden somewhere in the middle of those motives, is the motive of pride. I want people to think well of me. I want to polish my own apple. I want to be seen as a capable preacher, someone worth listening to.

That is pride. At its worst, that is vanity. God, forgive me! Cleanse my heart again! Make me pure in Your eyes.

So Satan tempted Jesus directly, but he usually tempts us indirectly, through our own self-centeredness.


The Word of God is our sword in the spiritual fight! We should be reading it every day.

We should look for opportunities to study it, to memorize it, to get it our hearts and minds. It is the best weapon in resisting temptation.

(1) For we do not have a high priest [Jesus] who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15) It’s a comfort to know that Jesus has been there. He faced every temptation that you or I will face.

(2) Because [Jesus] himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:18) So Christ is able and willing to help us. When we ask Him, He gives us strength to resist and overcome.

(3) I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16 – NKJV) As we actively focus on loving the Lord and walking in obedience, we will be able to resist temptation more easily.

(4) For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age (Titus 2:11–12) God wants to help us and give us victory in our struggles with sin.

(5) Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:5–6) Lord, help us to live in synch with Your Spirit! Help us daily to offer our minds to You, to submit to You as our Governor.

(6) “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2) As we allow God to remake us, to renew our minds, He will transform us more and more into His likeness.

(7) “Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. (Romans 13:13–14 NKJV)  Father, help us to put on the Lord Jesus Christ! Give us spiritual power to live holy lives, lives that please You!

(8) Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:31) Lord, help us to remain often in Your Word, to live there, to abide there!

(9) “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) We will not be tempted beyond our ability to withstand. The Father gives us the power to overcome the wiles of the enemy.

PRAYER: “Lord, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the power of the evil one…”

Jesus Christ, Our King Victorious

(Brook Hill United Methodist Church – November 22, 2015)

Revelation 19:6,11-16 (The Message) Then I heard the sound of massed choirs, the sound of a mighty cataract, the sound of strong thunder: Hallelujah! The Master reigns, our God, the Sovereign-Strong! 

11-16 Then I saw Heaven open wide—and oh! a white horse and its Rider. The Rider, named Faithful and True, judges and makes war in pure righteousness. His eyes are a blaze of fire, on his head many crowns. He has a Name inscribed that’s known only to himself. He is dressed in a robe soaked with blood, and he is addressed as “Word of God.” The armies of Heaven, mounted on white horses and dressed in dazzling white linen, follow him. A sharp sword comes out of his mouth so he can subdue the nations, then rule them with a rod of iron. He treads the winepress of the raging wrath of God, the Sovereign-Strong. On his robe and thigh is written, King of kings, Lord of lords

Revelation 11:15 (The Message) 15 The seventh Angel trumpeted. A crescendo of voices in Heaven sang out, The kingdom of the world is now the Kingdom of our God and his Messiah! He will rule forever and ever!

This weekend Hood College presents music from Handel’s “Messiah” as they have for many years.

Their selections include the “Hallelujah Chorus”, whose words are from the scripture we just read, in the older King James Version:

“Hallelujah! For the Lord God the Omnipotent reigneth! The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. King of kings, and Lord of lords!  Hallelujah!”

These strong words tell of the day when Jesus’ Kingship is fully manifested. This morning I want to think with you about that day.

Today is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the liturgical year.

Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a new liturgical year.

On this Christ the King Sunday, I’m asking you to think with me about Jesus our Victorious King, under four headings:

  1. Jesus Is Our King Victorious.
  2. Jesus’ Victory and Kingdom are Real, but Only Partially Manifested.
  3. It Makes a Difference for Us that Jesus is Both Victor and King.
  4. We Will See the Day when Jesus’ Victory and Kingdom are Fully Manifested, and This Moves Us to Give Thanks.

So here we go:


(a) Because of His lineage as the only begotten Son of God, Jesus is rightful king of the universe.

Colossians 1:15-17 (New International Version)  15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together… 

When we look at Jesus Christ, we see God as we can see Him in no other human.

Everything in the heavens was made by Him: The star called Deneb can be seen in the night sky. It is the most distant visible star. It has been estimated to be as far as 3000 light years away from us. If that is so, then a light-beam which left that star in the time of King David is actually arriving on earth today. (Amazing!) And friends, Jesus made that star Deneb.

And everything on earth was made by Jesus: You have an average of 37.2 trillion cells in your body, and about 200 different types of cells (Smithsonian Online). Jesus knows each cell. He created each of them. He keeps them functioning at this hour and at every hour of your life.

Everything started in Christ and finds its true purpose in him. Everything is held together by Him. He is the rightful king of the universe, and the rightful Lord over all.

He knows you. Do you know Him?

So, because of His lineage as the only begotten Son of God, Jesus is rightful king of the universe.

(b) By His death and resurrection, Jesus has defeated death and all the dark forces of the universe.

Colossians 2:13-15 (The Message) …Think of it! All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant canceled and nailed to Christ’s cross. He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets.

Let’s think about what this means:

When God created humans, He made us in His image. Then Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and their disobedience brought a kind of captivity to Planet Earth.

Our first parents’ sin brought death into the human race. First, physical death. And also spiritual death – separation from a holy God.

Sin brought spiritual darkness into world. Ultimately, it brought war into Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria. It brought ISIS into the world, with bombing in Paris and Beirut.

Sin brought addiction to America. It brought broken relationships to Frederick and right into Brook Hill Church. Sin brought illness and disease into your family.

But Jesus came to bring deliverance. He came as a human, with flesh and blood, just like us. He knew pain and sorrow and hurt and grief.

When He died, he took all the sin, all the pain, all the darkness into the grave with Him.


When He died and rose again, He overcame the powers that held us captive. He defeated the devils and all their dark schemes. He overcame sin and death. He made a way for us to reconnect with our Father God.

So I declare to you that JESUS IS OUR KING… VICTORIOUS!


If you are a believer in Jesus, He has forgiven all your sins. But you still struggle with sin and temptation.

If you have an addiction or an unhealthy compulsion, Christ can set you free from that destructive behavior, but you will still need to live your life “one day at a time.” You may still need to build your life on the wisdom of the 12 STEPS in your ongoing recovery.

As a follower of Jesus, your broken relationships can often be rebuilt, but sometimes the wounds and misunderstandings seem to make reconciliation impossible.

Jesus’ victory is real, but the wars on earth rage on, with an untold sum of human misery.

Why is that? Why is Jesus’ victory real, but only partially manifested?

I wish I had a magic answer for you. I wish I had a slick algorithm that could clear this up for you in 0.17 seconds. But there’s some mystery about it. Are you good with that?

Jesus gives us some clues about this mystery in His 15 kingdom parables (or stories). Here are two of them:

Matthew 13:31-33 (New International Version)  31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” 33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

Let’s think about this:

Jesus says that his kingdom is a living, growing thing, like a mustard seed. It began very small indeed, with the birth of a baby in Bethlehem. It continued with His life of love – helping people, serving people, healing people, teaching them.

The kingdom of Jesus reached a greater manifestation when He died and rose again.

And now, for 2000 years it’s been working its way from person to person. The kingdom continues to grow, sometimes slowly, until now (and who knows what the number really is?) there are an estimated 2.5 billion Christians, about 1/3 of the earth’s population.

It takes a long time for a teaspoonful of yeast to work its way through 60 pounds of flour!

So Jesus’ victory and kingdom are real, but only partially manifested.


And that difference is HOPE. Pastor Wade spoke of HOPE last Sunday. Hope is an anchor for our souls:

Hebrews 6:19 (Living Bible)  19 This certain hope of being saved is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls, connecting us with God himself behind the sacred curtains of heaven…

So we do not DESPAIR, as many do today. It gives us HOPE when we remember that Jesus is our King, and He is Victor over sin and death.


Earlier we read the passage in Revelation 19:

The day is coming when Heaven will open wide. (And some of this imagery is both symbolic but also true.)

We will see Him riding a white horse, leading the armies of Heaven into battle. His eyes will be blazing with fire, and many crowns upon His head. (We sing a strong hymn of praise about this.)

His robe, soaked with the blood of crucifixion. A sword comes from His mouth to subdue and rule the nations. Does He have a tattoo? On His robe and on His thigh two phrases are written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS!

The kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ, And He shall reign FOREVER AND EVER!

And for this we give thanks, in this Thanksgiving season, and always.

Meet the Faith-Filled Parents

Click for audio:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise — “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Fathers (or Parents), do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1-4)

Recently, at a family dinner, Connie and I overheard a brief conversation about parenting. This conversation continued in three emails I’d like to share with you.

Our daughter Shannon wrote, “I feel like parenting is the most important–and undoubtedly the hardest– job I’ve ever had. It is the only job at which I also feel like I fail often.  Teaching– I know I do it well AND people tell me I do it well.  Writing– I know I do it well AND people tell me I do it well.  Parenting– I doubt myself all the time… So weirdly, though the idea of being a single parent and having another full-time job sounds overwhelming, it is actually often easier for me than staying home with two kids.  Because at least I feel like I’m “succeeding” at something every day… [This is] straight up truth from an exhausted mama who loves her babies more than anything else in the world. Except, you know, Jesus.”

Our son-in-law Josiah wrote, “With parenting, you get very little positive reinforcement. In school, you get a report card. In the corporate world, you get promotions, raises, etc. You can count the profits if you own a business. Raising kids, day-in, day-out… not so much. Each day looks pretty much like the rest. You teach the same lesson of growth every day, and it takes YEARS for the kid to ‘get it’. The positive reinforcement comes mostly upon reflection after months/years of work. Right NOW we can look at [our son] Caleb and see some fruits of the labor that we’ve poured into him, but tomorrow’s challenges won’t be solved for a long time. It’s easy to ‘grow weary of doing good’. I feel this to some degree, but it’s a much bigger challenge for [my wife] Aleen, since I get kudos a lot in my career. It’s been very helpful for her to have success with [her part-time business] Photography for a Greater Good.”

Our daughter Aleen wrote, “I am so grateful for God’s grace that fills in the gaps where I fall short in parenting.  He also sends timely reminders that my kids are decent people and that His character is indeed manifest in their lives on days when their sin nature (and my own) rears its ugly head.  Just this morning I was feeling a bit discouraged by some of their sibling rivalry and as I was fixing Abby’s hair this tackle box of hair things fell off the sink and nine million clips and bows were all over the floor.  Without my asking all three came over and helped me re-organize the mess…  Not a huge deal, but a little glimpse that they “get it” – being a family means helping out. Serving my littles is exhausting and there are few accolades for showing up and doing your best every day. Being a stay at home mom (and a home school teacher) I must remember that God sees what is done behind the scenes day in and day out, even when there is little recognition from others.  Working as unto Him, building His Kingdom through my discipleship of my kids is by far the most difficult and awesome thing I’ve ever done.”

In spite of the high cost of good parenting, I see most parents with reasonably high expectations for their kids. This is why I’ve titled this message “Meet the (Faith-Filled) Parents.” Because most parents are filled with faith that their children will grow up to be men and women of good character, people of purpose who will contribute something good to society.

In the scripture that we read, the Apostle Paul has A Negative Warning for parents. He writes: “Parents, do not exasperate your children.”

Other translations put it this way: “Don’t provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them.” (New Living Translation) “Don’t exasperate them by coming down hard on them.” (The Message) “Don’t keep scolding and nagging them, making them angry and resentful.” (Living Bible) “Don’t over-correct them or make it difficult for them to obey the commandment [to honor their parents].” (J.B. Phillips)

You and I have seen countless examples of parents who yell at their children, who are too harsh in their discipline, etc. If you are aware of your own weakness here, God is telling you to stop it. Now!

In this scripture Paul also gives parents A Positive Instruction: “Bring up your children in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

Other translations put it this way: “Bring them up with the loving discipline the Lord himself approves, with… godly advice.” (Living Bible) “Bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” (New Living Translation) “Raise them properly. Teach them and instruct them about the Lord.” (Contemporary English Version) “Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master.” (The Message)

It is our task as parents to raise our children with consistent love and discipline. They are God’s gift to us, and one of our greatest responsibilities is to care for them and raise them well.

So this morning I want to quickly give you Five Principles for Sound Parenting.

And then Two More Principles for Faith-Filled Parenting.

I’m not Doctor Phil. And I’m not an expert on parenting. (But I live with one.)

Here we go!

Five Principles of Sound Parenting  that probably Atheists and Buddhists and Methodists can agree on.

#1. Love your Children. Be willing to sacrifice yourself for them. Invest your time in them, especially in their younger years. Cuddle them often as babies and hug them often at any age. Tell your children that you love them, and back it up with good parenting.

My father was raised in a home where his mother loved him, but he never remembers her saying, “I love you.” So I grew up as a child and a teenager, never hearing my father say, “I love you.”

Until my ordination, at age 26. On that day my father was one of a group of pastors who laid hands on me and set me apart for the work of the ministry. As they finished praying and stood up, my father hugged me and whispered in my ear: “I love you.” I don’t remember much about my ordination except those powerful words.

That was the beginning of a change for him. I call him almost every day, and many days he says, “I love you.” And occasionally, “I’m proud of you.”

#2. Be Consistent and Reasonable in Your DisciplineDon’t say you’ll punish them if they disobey, and then fail to do what you’ve said you would do. (That’s something like a lie.) Don’t punish them out of your anger, but punish them out of your best and clearest thinking. Corporal punishment may seem necessary at times, but avoid it if you can. Almost always, there’s a better alternative.

#3. Have PatienceBe patient with yourself. For my wife and myself, we’re still parenting 35 years after we started. Your patience will be tried and tested by your children, but rein in your anger. “Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:20)

#4. Build a Pattern of Open, Meaningful ConversationsLet your conversation be truthful, and don’t talk down to your kids. Don’t be condescending to them. Listen to them. Hear the meaning behind their words. Become THE EXPERT in hearing and understanding your child. Don’t take your frustrations out on them. Every day, at the dinner table or at bedtime, create opportunities for conversations about EVERYTHING.

Recently I saw a mother and young daughter at McDonalds. The daughter was chatting away, clearly speaking to her mother. The mother’s attention was on her smartphone, which in this case was a tool of the enemy, hindering family dialogue. Put your phone away, parents, when your kids are talking to you! They deserve that!

#5. Be a Model of MaturityOkay, so you may not see yourself as mature. But it’s time to be an adult when it comes to your children. Grow up! As is often said, “Don’t worry so much about being a friend to your child.” They need a parent. Who is YOUR model of a mature adult? Model YOURSELF after them.

So those are Five Principles for Sound Parenting.

Ten Sundays ago I preached a sermon called Teach Your Children Well. The focus was on passing our Christian life to our children in such a way that they become fully-devoted followers of Jesus. Today I will share with you again, from that message, Two More Principles for Faith-Filled Parenting.

#1. Take every opportunity to speak with your children about what it means to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. Exodus 6:6-9 — 6-9 Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates. (The Message)

So we are to internalize the values and commands of the Lord. Write them on our hearts. Get them inside ourselves and our children. Talk about them wherever we are. At home. Walking down the street. At waking-up time. At bedtime. All through the day.

We need to read about God’s ways to our children. We need to write about them. We need to paint the Gospel into our paintings. We need to sing it into your songs. We need to carve God’s Word into our doorframes and engrave it on the city gates.

Live God’s truth. Breathe it in and out. Take every opportunity to teach God’s ways to your children and grandchildren.

#2. Be the kind of Christian you want your children to become. Be the genuine article! Be the real deal! Be the worshiper! Be the servant! Be the encourager. Be the peacemaker. Be Jesus “with skin on” for your children and grandchildren!

When it comes to goodness, put all of your faith in what Jesus Christ has done for you. He is your Boss! He is your Master! He is your Lord! Be the kind of Christian you want your children to become.

If we can instill the teachings of Jesus into the minds and hearts of our children, we will have done something of eternal value. We are frail and broken, all of us. But if we can model Jesus before our children so that they GET IT, so that they see Him in us, we will have given them the very best gift!

God bless you in your role as a Faith-Filled Parent!

How Can I Discern God’s Will?

Acts 16:6-10 (NIV) – Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.


Congratulations to Pastor Dana on her ordination yesterday as an elder in the United Methodist Church. It’s a major milestone after decades of making herself available to God. At the end of today’s message, I’ll share a bit more of Pastor Dana’s story in her own words.

This morning’s message seeks to answer a question: “How can I discern God’s will for the big decisions in my life?”

Earlier this month I posted an informal poll on Facebook: “In deciding to marry your spouse, did you ask God if this was the right decision for you? Or was your decision based on other factors?

I receive 26 responses. Of these, sixteen (62%) were “Yes.” One person said that after two failed marriages, she had definitely prayed and received the Lord’s direction in marrying her third husband.

One person said, “I struggled with God trying to discern yes or no.” Rusty Kight (from the 9:30 service) said “How else do you think I got the wife I have? She’s a saint.”

I received ten “No” responses (38%). Several said “No, but God provided what I needed.” One friend from eastern Canada said, “My parents did the praying; I did the chasing!” Someone else said “Totally hormone-based decision.”

Most of us have made (or will make) important life decisions: Which career path to follow, which job offer to take, which college to attend, which community to live in, which house to buy. In each of those situations it’s wise to ask God which decision is right. It’s wise to listen carefully for His answer.

And in choosing a spouse, a life partner, a person whose DNA may combine with yours to produce another human life – the life of your child – I urge you, I warn you, I implore you – ask the Master of the Universe for His help and direction and wisdom and blessing!

So today we wrestle with the topic of Discerning God’s Will. Please join with me in the wrestling!

Let’s frame our thoughts under four headings:

  1. Get all the Wisdom and Knowledge You Can.
  2. Make Prayer Your Daily Friend.
  3. Marinate your Heart and Mind in God’s Word, the Bible.
  4. Make Yourself Fully Available to God.

Here we go!


This is so basic that I hardly need to elaborate on it. The Bible says, in the book of Proverbs (4:5-8):

Get wisdom, get understanding… Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you… 7 Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Cherish her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you.

Gather as much wisdom and knowledge as you can. Don’t be lazy when it comes to learning. Make truth your lifelong pursuit! Ask wise people for advice. Ask God for common sense.

  1. Then, Second, MAKE PRAYER YOUR DAILY FRIEND. It’s important to build a PRAYER LIFE because your daily conversation with God is life’s most important dialogue. Your PRAYER LIFE is infinitely more important than your FACEBOOK life or TWITTER life.

If there is a God of infinite power and wisdom, and if this God is interested in the personal affairs of your life, then nothing is more important than that relationship.

In your prayers, ask God for wisdom and direction.

James 1:5 (Living Bible) – If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask him, and he will gladly tell you, for he is always ready to give a bountiful supply of wisdom to all who ask him; he will not resent it.

Do you want to know if a decision you’re about to make is a good one? Ask Him: “God, is this the right decision? Is this the right way to go?” Then listen. Is He saying YES or NO?

Tim Leber sent me an article on the Fellowship of Christian Athletes website, titled Quick Word of Prayer — “…Most church meetings begin with these words: Let’s have a quick word of prayer. I believe these seven words grieve God’s heart, because He desires a lasting conversation—not lip service. The underlying message is, Before we get to the important stuff, let’s rush through the God stuff.” Prayer isn’t something to rush through to get to the work. Prayer is the work!

  1. Then third, MARINATE YOUR HEART AND MIND IN GOD’S WORD, THE BIBLE. Develop the spiritual discipline of BIBLE STUDY. The Bible is a special book (actually a library of 66 books).

In the Bible God’s will is revealed – His plans and purposes. In the Bible that we learn right from wrong. In the Bible that we learn about Jesus, the Master of the universe who came to earth 2000 years ago as a humble man from Galilee.

In the Bible we learn God’s will. We learn what God wants.

We learn that God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim. 2:4 – NIV)

We learn that God “is not willing that any[one] should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9 – NKJV)

In light of this, your Brook Hill pastors are calling you, reminding you, imploring you to put your trust in Jesus Christ. Believe on Him. Believe that by His sacrifice He has done everything necessary for your salvation. He wants to change you, to turn your life upside down for the good of the world. Become a follower of this God who calls out to you, who comes seeking after you.

  1. And Fourth, MAKE YOURSELF FULLY AVAILABLE TO GOD. Do Something! Offer to help in in Sunday School, or with the Special Friends ministry, or with Youth ministry, or go on a Work Team or a Mission Trip. Visit a Nursing Home. Visit a shut-in person. Volunteer at Frederick Rescue Mission.

Do SOMETHING! God cannot steer your car while it’s parked by the side of the road. You’ll probably need to try several ways of serving before you find the ministry that’s right for you.

And look for closed and open doors in the circumstances of your life. In the scripture we read, the Apostle Paul and his co-workers were evangelizing in what is modern-day Turkey. They wanted to go into a province called Asia, but the author of this book (Luke the physician) says that in some way the Holy Spirit prevented them from doing this.

So they said, “Well then, let’s go into the region of Bithynia.” But Luke says that the Spirit of Jesus (which is another name for the Holy Spirit) would not allow them to. So they went in another direction, to the seaport of Troas. God was closing certain doors for Paul and his team, and getting ready to open an important door for them to walk through.

Sometimes we can discern God’s will by the opening and closing of “doors”.

And sometimes God calls us directly.

After the doors to Asia and Bithynia were closed to Paul’s team, God gave Paul a dream, a vision in the night of a Macedonian man saying “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

God gave this team a pretty clear direction, so they went to Macedonia in northern Greece. This was the beginning of their ministry in Europe.

Sometimes we can discern God’s will because He speaks to us directly and plainly.

Right now, I’m trying to discern God’s will regarding a possible fourth Brook Hill weekend gathering in downtown Frederick. This would be a Saturday morning gathering bringing together street people (displaced persons, homeless people) and those who have homes. We would invite people (including ourselves) to commit to a 4-step “Discipleship Process”, and the goal would be for every person to be growing in Christ and regularly serving Him somewhere.

Is it God’s will to begin this downtown weekly gathering? I’ve asked Him repeatedly whether this is a door I should walk through. And I cannot sense God telling me to put the brakes on this idea.

So I said, “God, I can’t do this by myself. I will need a team of committed people.”

I specifically “put out a fleece” before God. I said, “God, if you want me to do this, give me five people who will commit to help me for the first year.  And without really recruiting, I now have four people committed to help and another three who are interested or highly interested.

I’ve shared the broad outline for this ministry with the Brook Hill Church Council. I’ll be sharing with them again.

Is this God’s will for Brook Hill and for me? Maybe. I think probably.

The point is, there is a process for discerning such things, and I am pursuing that process.

Here’s part of Pastor Dana’s story, mostly in her own words:

“… I was baptized at age 12, committing my life to Jesus as my Lord.

Later, during a college retreat, I made a commitment to go wherever God led me and to be whoever God created me to be.

“At that time, ‘pastor’ wasn’t a word in my vocabulary because leadership options for women were limited in my denomination. But I knew that when I taught the Bible, when I organized people for ministry, when I helped people connect more deeply with God, I was being my authentic self.

“I attended a Walk to Emmaus weekend in 2005. One of the speakers was Teri Sweeney, a woman pastor. Teri said that God wanted her to share something different than what she’d prepared. She told of how God called her to pastoral ministry after many years as a teacher. Teri said, “There’s someone here whom God is calling. You’ve put this on the back burner of your life, and today, God wants you to respond.”

When she heard that, Pastor Dana burst into tears and left the room. Later Dana spoke with Pastor Teri, who asked her what she sensed so strongly. Dana said she knew that God had called her to be a pastor. But she didn’t know how to do that.

Pastor Teri said, “Dana, I sense God is asking you if you are WILLING to be a pastor. If you’re WILLING, God will take care of the “hows.”’ And Pastor Dana answered, “I am willing.”

What is God saying to YOU this morning? Are you willing? Are you available to become all that God wants?


Two Lost Boys

Luke 15:25-32 (NIV) 25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”


Three months ago I told the Prodigal Son story to a 64-year-old man with stage 4 lung cancer. He was facing imminent death. It was no time for me to be talking Redskins or Ravens. I asked him to tell me about his spiritual journey, and within minutes I had the opportunity to share the story of the wayward son returning home.

This man had never heard the Prodigal Son story. But he seemed captivated. At the end I asked if he identified with the lost son coming home.

He said, “I would like to.” A door had been opened for another lost son to come home. He put his trust in Christ, and several weeks later I preached his funeral.

“Prodigal” means “wastefully or recklessly extravagant.”

Charles Dickens called “The Prodigal Son” the greatest short story ever told. This month at Brook Hill we’ve been preaching about it. Two weeks ago Pastor Dana focused on the younger son’s “Aha!” moment. Last Sunday Pastor Wade focused on the wandering son’s return to a father who offered grace and forgiveness.

Today I hope to focus on the other son, the homebody, the other lost boy.

Because, when you think about it, both of these sons were lost.

The younger son was lost in a far country. He was the partier, the wild man, the rowdy risk-taker, the one who thought he could make it on his own.

But the older son was also lost. He was relationally separated from his father. He could not understand his father’s heart. He was faithfully doing the farm-work, but his heart was not faithful. He was lost, emotionally trapped in self-centeredness and bitterness and insecurity.

This morning my point is that, at some time in our lives, most of us can identify with both the wanderer and the homebody.

After listening to Pastor Wade’s message last Sunday, my wife said, “I realize that I began my spiritual life as the younger son, and then later I became the older son.” Exactly.

Whether we are outright (no holds barred) sinners, or even believers in Jesus, we can find ourselves in the far country of alcohol abuse, pornography, a hundred other sins. We can wander away into the pleasures and distractions of life, until one day we wake up in a pigpen, dazed and confused, and knowing that it’s time to come back home to the Father. Can I get a witness?

And even when we’re believers in Jesus, doing many of the right things, we can take our eyes off of the Savior, so distracted by the do’s and don’ts of religion that we lose the heart of the gospel. We become rigid and judgmental, envious and bitter. Can I get a witness?


THE CHURCH HAS OFTEN BEEN A PLACE OF UNGRACE. We have vilified the woman who has aborted her unborn child. We have rejected the person caught in a homosexual lifestyle. We have turned away from the alcoholic and the drug addict. We have inwardly shunned the lazy welfare case.

We have been people full of ungrace.

“My younger brother has been a jerk, a drunkard, an ungrateful little creep, sexually immoral.  Why should I forgive him?”

But the heart of the gospel is love. God is love.

Anyone who claims to live in God’s light [but] hates a brother or sister is still in the dark… stumbling around in the dark, not knowing which end is up, blinded by the darkness. (1 John 2:9-11 – The Message)

On the night before Christmas Eve I was reading to my wife when we received a phone call. We are close to a family that is going through a difficult divorce. The call was from the husband. Could we be available on Christmas Eve to supervise a visit of his wife with their 12-year old daughter? I felt imposed upon and ungracious and grumpy in the extreme. Connie was gracious and loving and welcomed mother and daughter into our home for a Christmas Eve visit. I was playing the part of the older son, the homebody. Have you ever been there?

My attitude was the attitude of the Pharisees, an attitude Jesus condemned.

This morning I’m recommending two books:

1) The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming (Henri Nouwen)

This Dutchman was a Catholic priest and a professor at Harvard University before he moved to Toronto to work among people with mental and physical disabilities.

2) What’s So Amazing About Grace? (Phillip Yancey) Fifteen years ago God used his book to turn my life upside down. Except for the Bible, Yancey’s book is the most important I’ve ever read. I can’t encourage you enough to read it.

In this story, a father is overjoyed when his lost son returns home. He throws a lavish party to celebrate. Jesus says that, in the same way, our Father God is overjoyed when one of HIS lost children comes home. God throws a wild party! In fact, the Kingdom of God is a party.

Jesus is saying, “This is what it feels like to be God. When any one person turns to me, I feel like I’ve just reclaimed my most valuable possession.”

In his book, Phillip Yancey gives us his contemporary rewriting of the Prodigal Son:

A young girl grows up on a cherry orchard just above Traverse City, Michigan. Her parents, a bit old-fashioned, tend to overreact to her nose ring, the music she listens to, and the length of her skirts. They ground her a few times, and she seethes inside. “I hate you!” she screams at her father when he knocks on the door of her room after an argument, and that night she acts on a plan she has mentally rehearsed scores of times. She runs away.

She has visited Detroit only once before, on a bus trip with her church youth group to watch the Tigers play. Because newspapers in Traverse City report in lurid detail the gangs, drugs, and violence in downtown Detroit, she concludes that is probably the last place her parents will look for her. California, maybe, or Florida, but not Detroit.

Her second day there she meets a man who drives the biggest car she’s ever seen. He offers her a ride, buys her lunch, arranges a place for her to stay. He gives her some pills that make her feel better than she’s ever felt before. She was right all along, she decides: Her parents were keeping her from all the fun.

The good life continues for a month, two months, a year. The man with the big car—she calls him “Boss”–teaches her a few things that men like. Since she’s underage, men pay a premium for her. She lives in a penthouse and orders room service whenever she wants. Occasionally she thinks about the folks back home, but their lives now seem so boring that she can hardly believe she grew up there. She has a brief scare when she sees her picture printed on the back of a milk carton with the headline, “Have you seen this child?” But by now she has blond hair, and with all the makeup and body-piercing jewelry she wears, nobody would mistake her for a child. Besides, most of her friends are runaways, and nobody squeals in Detroit.

After a year, the first sallow signs of illness appear, and it amazes her how fast the boss turns mean. “These days, we can’t mess around,” he growls, and before she knows it she’s out on the street without a penny to her name. She still turns a couple of tricks a night, but they don’t pay much, and all the money goes to support her drug habit. When winter blows in she finds herself sleeping on metal grates outside the big department stores. “Sleeping” is the wrong word—a teenage girl at night in downtown Detroit can never relax her guard. Dark bands circle her eyes. Her cough worsens.

One night, as she lies awake listening for footsteps, all of a sudden everything about her life looks different. She no longer feels like a woman of the world. She feels like a little girl, lost in a cold and frightening city. She begins to whimper. Her pockets are empty and she’s hungry. She needs a fix. She pulls her legs tight underneath her and shivers under the newspapers she’s piled atop her coat. Something jolts a synapse of memory and a single image fills her mind: of May in Traverse City, when a million cherry trees bloom at once, with her golden retriever dashing through the rows and rows of blossomy trees in chase of a tennis ball.

God, why did I leave? she says to herself, and pain stabs at her heart. My dog back home eats better than I do now. She’s sobbing, and she knows in a flash that more than anything else in the world she wants to go home.

Three straight phone calls, three straight connections with the answering machine. She hangs up without leaving a message the first two times, but the third time she says, “Dad, Mom, it’s me. I was wondering about maybe coming home. I’m catching a bus up your way, and it’ll get there about midnight tomorrow. If you’re not there, well, I guess I’ll just stay on the bus until it hits Canada.”

It takes about seven hours for a bus to make all the stops between Detroit and Traverse City, and during that time she realizes the flaws in her plan. What if her parents are out of town and miss the message? Shouldn’t she have waited another day or so until she could talk to them? Even if they are home, they probably wrote her off as dead long ago. She should have given them some time to overcome the shock.

Her thoughts bounce back and forth between those worries and the speech she is preparing for her father. “Dad, I’m sorry. I know I was wrong. It’s not your fault, it’s all mine. Dad, can you forgive me?” She says the words over and over, her throat tightening even as she rehearses them. She hasn’t apologized to anyone in years.

The bus has been driving with lights on since Bay City. Tiny snowflakes hit the road, and the asphalt steams. She’s forgotten how dark it gets at night out here. A deer darts across the road and the bus swerves. Every so often, a billboard. A sign posting the mileage to Traverse City. Oh, God.

When the bus finally rolls into the station, its air brakes hissing in protest, the driver announces in a crackly voice over the microphone, “Fifteen minutes, folks. That’s all we have here.” Fifteen minutes to decide her life.

She checks herself in a compact mirror, smooths her hair, and licks the lipstick off her teeth. She looks at the tobacco stains on her fingertips and wonders if her parents will notice. If they’re there.

She walks into the terminal not knowing what to expect, and not one of the thousand scenes that have played out in her mind prepare her for what she sees. There, in the concrete-walls-and-plastic-chairs bus terminal in Traverse City, Michigan, stands a group of 40 family members—brothers and sisters and great-aunts and uncles and cousins and a grandmother and great-grandmother to boot. They are all wearing ridiculous-looking party hats and blowing noisemakers, and taped across the entire wall of the terminal is a computer-generated banner that reads “Welcome home!”

Out of the crowd of well-wishers breaks her dad. She looks through tears and begins the memorized speech, “Dad, I’m sorry. I know … “

He interrupts her. “Hush, child. We’ve got no time for that. No time for apologies. You’ll be late for the party. A banquet’s waiting for you at home.”

Our Heavenly Father loves to celebrate return. He celebrates the Wanderer when he comes back home.

And He celebrates the Homebody when the sulking is over, when the older son comes into the house to hug his brother and enjoy the party.

The Creator of the universe has made the first move toward us. He has come from eternity to speak with us today. He came to the stable in Bethlehem. He came to the cross of Calvary. He came through the empty tomb in Gethsemane.

Welcome Him! Welcome Him! Delight yourself in Him! Welcome Him to teach you the Way of Life. Welcome Him to change you.

(Preached at Brook Hill United Methodist Church) (Sunday, January 18, 2015)

Teach Your Children Well

Sermon #1 in series “Ripples of the Resurrection”

Preached April 12, 2015

Brook Hill United Methodist Church, Frederick, MD, USA

Deuteronomy 6:1-9 (NIV) 

1 These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you. Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Today we start a sermon series called “Ripples of the Resurrection.”

The resurrection of Jesus is foundational for God’s people. There wouldn’t be a Christian movement if Christ hadn’t risen. And the resurrection is meant to have an ever-expanding impact from our lives into all the world. The ripples of Jesus’ resurrection are meant to flow outward even after 2000 years.

This morning I want to address the issue of how the Good News of Jesus is transmitted from one generation to the next.

My cousin Kevin Hicks sent me a quote whose author we can’t identify: “A faith that is a reality to one generation, if treated by the second as a convenience, will be regarded by the third as a nuisance.”

Our task, I think, is to make Jesus Christ a living reality in our lives, and a living reality (rather than merely a convenience) in the lives of our children.

You may feel that you have not done right by your children when it comes to spiritual things. But God loves your children. He is calling them to Himself every day. He is whispering to them, and sometimes shouting, “Turn to me, come to me and be saved!” It is not His will that any of them should perish, but that all of them should come to eternal life.

So pray for your children and grandchildren by name! Let your children hear you as you pray for them.   Many Christians have never developed the habit of praying aloud, and one of the sad results is that their children and grandchildren have never heard their parents lifting their names in prayer.

There’s probably no ironclad guarantee that our children and grandchildren will follow in our footsteps when it comes to Christian living. But the Bible gives us some important guidelines.

The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy, his son in the faith, and he says: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. (2 Timothy 1:5) 

It’s no coincidence that Timothy’s mother and grandmother were followers of Jesus, and that he followed in their footsteps, even though his father and grandfather may not have been believers.

This morning I suggest to you that passing our faith on to our children and grandchildren doesn’t happen by chance, but by purposeful action.

And I am suggesting two action steps which will make it far more likely that our children will become followers of Jesus:

1. Take every opportunity to speak with your children about what it means to follow Jesus wholeheartedly.

Please read with me again the verses from Exodus 6:6-9 — Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates. (The Message)

So we are to internalize the values and commands of the Lord. Write them on our hearts. Get them inside ourselves and our children. Talk about them wherever we are. At home. Walking down the street. At waking-up time. At bedtime. All through the day.

Read about God’s ways to your children. Write about them. Crochet the good news into your doilies. Paint it into your paintings. Sing it into your songs. Carve God’s Word into your doorframes. Engrave it into the city gates.

Live God’s truth. Breathe it in and out. Take every opportunity to teach God’s ways to your children and grandchildren.

Connie and I are blessed with two daughters who have grown into feisty, opinionated women. They welcomed Jesus into their lives at an early age and are now strong believers in their 30s. I give my wife 90% of the credit for this.

She was their teacher, the parent with common sense, the practical one who indoctrinated our daughters, line upon line, precept upon precept. She was the one who gave them the right to disagree, but to be respectful. She was the one who not only taught what is right and good, but also why it is right and good – the principle – the reason behind everything.

Her main rule was that we would eat our evening meal together, whether early or late. Dinner was the high point of the day, a time to share with one another, to grow together, to laugh, to weep, to pray together.

Connie and I haven’t been perfect people or perfect parents. Early on, there were years of struggle in our marriage. Our daughters knew about those struggles, even as young girls. But they also knew we had made marriage vows to last a lifetime. And they knew our faith was real, even when the going got tough.

Our daughters are not perfect. But I’m so thankful for what I see of Jesus in them.

2. Be the kind of Christian you want your children to become.

Our children live with us. They know whether our faith is deep or shallow. They know whether our commitment to Jesus Christ is a Sunday infatuation or whether it carries over into the rest of the week.

What will happen if our children see their parents as fully devoted followers of Jesus? They will be far more likely to follow in our footsteps.

What will happen if our children see us honestly struggling to apply God’s truth to the hidden places of our lives? They will be far more likely to say, “That’s what it means to be an real Christian.” They will be far more likely to seek after God for themselves.

What will happen if our children hear us praying aloud and they feel our earnestness and they sense the Holy Spirit moving through our words? It will be much more likely that their hearts will resonate with ours.

What will happen when, at mealtime, our children hear us speaking of God’s grace and goodness, and how He is working in the circumstances of our lives? They’ll begin to speak in the same way. Their speech will be seasoned with their own God-thoughts, with their own personal spiritual discoveries.

I suggest to you that we have a real problem if our children never hear us speak about our faith, if they never hear us pray.

In Matthew 12:34b, Jesus says that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (NKJV)

What do your children and grandchildren hear coming out of your mouth?

Could it be that we ourselves – parents and grandparents – have nothing spiritual to say to our children because there is no spiritual abundance within us?

Aiden Wilson Tozer was a 20th-century preacher and writer. Listen to his probing words: “The church is notorious in using outside pressure to make a sinner act like a Christian. You can teach almost anybody to do almost anything. Baptize him, confirm him and feed him the Lord’s Supper regularly; instruct him in the faith, and after a while he begins to act like a Christian. He is not a Christian because there is not that inward factor impelling him to righteousness and true holiness. Outside pressure is making him conform and act like a Christian. However, when he is away from that pressure, he reverts to acting like himself— a sinner.”  (A. W. Tozer “Experiencing the Presence of God”)

It may be that SOME OF US have never experienced the transforming grace of God for ourselves. The GOOD NEWS is that Jesus’ love is meant to be experienced by you in a personal way that will transform your life.

God wants to touch you in the inner places of your heart and mind. TODAY He wants to change you from the inside out. He wants you to have a genuine faith to share with your children and grandchildren.

To the Ends of the Earth

#3 in the series: “Ripples of the Resurrection”

(preached at Brook Hill United Methodist Church, April 26, 2015)

Acts 1:1-8    1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (New International Version)

Matthew 28:16-20  16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (New International Version)

My wife Connie teaches at a small preschool in Germantown. This year her class of 15 students has just two children who speak only English.

Connie has three children of Indian descent, one of Syrian descent, one of Chinese descent, one of Puerto Rican descent, one African American child who speaks Spanish because her nanny speaks Spanish. She has five children of mixed descent, with one parent from the USA, and the other from Bolivia, Columbia, India, Poland or South Africa.

Other students in this small preschool have parents from Argentina, El Salvador, Ghana, Liberia, the Philippines, South Korea, and the Republic of Georgia.

It’s a vivid reminder of the small, small world in which we live, and a reminder of the open doors before us, the opportunity we have to share Christ’s love with friends from around the world. All within 25 miles of Yellow Springs.

Today’s message is part of a series called “Ripples of the Resurrection.” If Jesus really rose from the dead (and we believe he did) there is some urgency that we share his life with our children, and beyond that to our immediate spheres of influence, then ultimately to all the world.

Today I ask a question: How can we work with other Christians to take the message of Jesus to every person on earth?

In the scriptures which were read, Jesus told his followers they would receive power to be his witnesses everywhere, from the city where they lived to the whole world. He commissioned them to make disciples of all nations. Then he ascended into the heavenly realms, where he lives today.

Soon afterward came the Jewish Feast of Pentecost. 120 Christians were filled with the Holy Spirit.

They were filled with tremendous spiritual power. They told the story of Jesus to thousands of pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem from many nations.

They talked powerfully about Jesus. And they communicated in several foreign languages they had never learned. That day 3000 new believers in Christ were baptized.

Within 30 years there were Jesus-followers throughout the Roman Empire, north to Britain, south to Ethiopia, east to India, west to Spain. Soon there were Christian disciples in Ireland and Afghanistan and China.

Friends, the Story of Jesus is the Story of God’s love for every human. It has four chapters:

1) It is a story that begins with God creating us in His image.

2) It is a story that continues with our first parents disobeying God, so that human relationships with God became broken and damaged.

3) This story of Jesus continues with God coming to earth as a man, and potentially rescuing all of us by his death and resurrection.

4) And the final chapter of this story involves us putting our faith in Jesus, learning to obey him, and sharing his story with a broken world that has lost its way.

Today’s question: How can we work with other Christians to take the message of Jesus to every person on earth?

When I ask this question, I assume that we want to obey Jesus’ command. I assume that we want to share God’s love and message with others. I assume that we want to start spiritual conversations with neighbors and co-workers, that we want to help them to meet Jesus and know him as their Master.


 1. Some of us can become full-time missionaries.

God calls certain people to this type of work. My friend Clarice Strong went to the Tigwa Manobo tribe in the Philippines. She lived with them. She learned their mother tongue. They had no written language so she developed one for them. She translated much of the Bible into that language and began to teach them how to read.

This morning, what young person at Brook Hill might hear God’s call to a similar adventure?

We need full-time missionaries right here in our country. says there are still 78 unreached people groups in the USA. And 33% of Americans are identified as “irreligious” so there are many opportunities right here.

So some of us can become full-time missionaries. If God speaks to you, will you say, “Here I am, send me?”

2. Many of us can support the witness of Jesus through international short-term mission trips.

Most of us are wealthy. We cruise or vacation in distant countries. For $1000, we could spend 10 days supporting Christ’s body in Guatemala or Nicaragua or 100 other places.

In Nicaragua, we support the work of Ministerio Messias. In less than 15 years our friend Roberto Mendieta and his team have planted over 180 churches and 275 feeding centers. They minister to 25,000 people weekly.

So, second, many of us can support the witness of Jesus through international short-term mission trips. If God speaks to you, will you say, “Here I am, send me?”

3. All of us can reach out to people from other nations who’ve come to Frederick and nearby places.

8% of Frederick County residents are Hispanic or Latino. 4.4% of Frederick County residents are ethnically Asian.

You probably have neighbors from other ethnicities who would become your friends if you took the first step. Begin a conversation with them! Invite them to a restaurant or a summer barbecue.

Also, more than 800,000 international college students study in USA each year. Many of them are here in the Baltimore-Washington area. Maryland missionaries like my friend Bernie Beall reach out to these international college students in the D.C. area.

So, third, all of us can reach out to people from other nations who’ve come to Frederick and nearby places. If God speaks to you, will you say, “Here I am, send me?”

4. If we will, we can pray for the spread of the gospel around the world.

Paul the Apostle asked friends to pray for him as he communicated the truth of Jesus everywhere he went. In the same way, we can pray regularly for modern-day missionaries as they tell the good news in places where God has called them.

Charles Spurgeon said, “Prayer is the slender nerve that moves the muscle of omnipotence.” I believe that prayer can change people’s hearts, and alter the course of nations.

We have at least three prayer options:

  • Pray daily for missionaries we know by name.
  • Pray daily for one nation or one entire continent.
  • Pray daily for the spread of the gospel in places we hear about in the news.

Recently we’ve heard of Christians beheaded in Libya, of Christian college students murdered in Kenya, of girls were kidnapped from a Christian school in Nigeria. There’s unrest in much of the world where Christians and Muslims live near each other.

But Muslims are not our enemies. Jesus loves Muslims. Please pray for the spread of the gospel among Muslims.

A year ago (April 22, 2014) posted an article titled “Why Muslims Are Becoming the Best Evangelists”.

In this article, Christianity Today interviewed a missiologist who traveled 250,000 miles to interview 1000 former Muslims who are now followers of Jesus.

He says that Muslim-background believers are leading Muslims to Christ in large numbers in their own home countries, hidden from almost everyone.

He asked those whom he interviewed: “What did God use to bring you to faith in Jesus Christ? Tell me your story.”

This missiologist has documented 69 Muslim movements to Christ which are happening today, each of these with at least 1,000 baptisms or 100 new church-starts in the past 20 years.

In one unnamed Arab nation, an Islamic book publisher named Nasr came to Christ through satellite radio. Nasr believed God was calling him to evangelize. So he began a local ministry and baptized 2800 new believers in less than a year.

So, fourth, we can pray for the spread of the gospel around the world. If God speaks to you, will you say, “Here I am, send me?”

5. We can give to support those who are actively telling people about Jesus in distant places.

There are many options. If you’re wondering who or what to support, please have a conversation with me. Email me and we’ll get together.

Our posture toward God should always be one of availability. Are you available for God’s use when he calls your name?

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah heard God ask a question. He heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?” And Isaiah said, “Here I am. Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8)

Are you available? What holds you back from obeying God whole-heartedly? What keeps you from enjoying the Greatest Adventure of your life?

Say no to your fears! Say yes to Jesus Christ, the Master and Commander of the Universe!