Bible Text: Luke 15:11-32 | Preacher: Rev. Dr. Anita K. Herbert | Series: Ralph’s FavoritesLISTEN »
Bible Text: Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-13 | Preacher: Rev. Dr. Ralph Herbert | Series: Ralph’s Favorites | I remember having a conversation with a young man in my previous congregation who was upset with some of the changes implemented in the church. He commented, “Everything in the world is in a state of flux, I come to church because I can depend on it always staying the same.” Pentecost is God’s example that the “new” can be an improvement on the “old.” Jesus’ final words before the ascension were, “I am sending upon you what the Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power on high” (Luke 24:49). They knew the where, but not the when.
There were several undeniable signs of the Spirit’s presence on the day of Pentecost. The first sign was an audible sound of a violent wind or a rushing freight train. Wind, both in Greek and Hebrew, can also be translated “spirit”. Wasn’t it Jesus who said to Nicodemus: we might not be able to see the wind, but we can see its effects. The Spirit’s voice is auditory in the new organic community called the church. The sound we now hear is not a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal; rather, it is the voice of the Spirit spoken through his people: you and me.
The second sign is visual. The Holy Spirit’s presence was evident in tongues of fire. This reminds us of John the Baptist’s prophecy: “I baptize you with water, but one more powerful than I is coming, he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). From that point forward, Jesus’ ministry would be evident in his followers. I suggest that the most visible evidence of God’s activity is life change. A key word in this text is “filled,” the author’s favorite term to describe someone surrendered to Jesus Christ, not merely having the Spirit, but the Spirit having you. The Gallup research organization surveyed tens of thousands of Christians to determine what it means to be spiritually filled. If we can answer “true” to the following statements, it is a helpful guide to discern our yieldedness to God:
My faith is involved in every aspect of my life.
Because of my relationship to Christ, I have meaning and purpose.
My faith gives me inner peace.
Because of my faith, I can forgive those who deeply hurt me.
My faith has called me to pursue my gifts and talents.
Because of my faith, I speak words of encouragement to those around me.
The third sign is that when someone is filled with the Spirit, that one speaks a new language. When someone follows Jesus, conversations are altered and our words are more transcendent. Our language moves away from ourselves to glorify God. The crowds asked the right question then: “What does this mean?” It means that we are now a member of a radically new community of Spirit-filled people, a community that speaks in multiple dialects but lives by the one language of love.
How many of the above statements did you answer as true?LISTEN »
Bible Text: 2 Timothy 1:1-7 | Preacher: Rev. Dr. Ralph Herbert | Series: Ralph’s FavoritesLISTEN »
Bible Text: Philippians 2:3-11 | Preacher: Rev. Dr. Ralph Herbert | Series: Ralph’s Favorites | The Apostle Paul was sitting in a Roman prison writing to a congregation telling them to do things they didn’t want to do! He advises them not to practice self-promotion and advancing their own agendas with no regard to other people’s interests. Instead, he counsels them to renounce a life-style driven by self-interest and put our attention on the needs of others as the road to self-fulfillment. “Be a servant!” Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others!”
Nelson Searcy in his book, “The New You” lists several simple ways to serve:
1. Encourage others: people need affirmation
2. Inconvenience yourself: random acts of kindness
3. Invite someone to church or life group
4. Pray for strangers: You don’t know everyone but God does!
5. Be community-minded: try tutoring
6. Serve on a team at church
Why serve? Altruism? To feel better about yourself? Perhaps. We serve because as followers of Christ we not only believe in him, but we follow his example as well. Authentic servant hood emulates the ” Jesus Model”who existed in the form of God but never used his power for self-advantage. The word form is “morphe” in the Greek and refers to an unalterable state. He never ceases being God! Therefore, Jesus never exploited his divine authority despite the retention of his deity.
When Paul refers to the word “form” a second time he uses a different Greek term, “schema” which unlike morphe means change. As a servant, Jesus surrendered himself to every conceivable temptation and trial that we endure. Being a servant isn’t an act it’s an attitude!
Paul concludes with an implied promise. When we trust the Lord for the final outcome and refuse to lift ourselves up, God will exalt you in his time. For God can lift us higher than we can ever lift ourselves!!
So take the ministry of the “toilet brush” and be a servant. You can’t get any higher than that!
Preacher: Rev. Dr. Ralph Herbert | Series: Ralph’s Favorites | C.S. Lewis wrote, “Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one!’” The quality of one’s life is determined by the quality of one’s friendships. In his book The New You, Nelson Searcy has said there are four ways that we develop a friendship:
Intentionality—We make friends by being a friend, it’s a proactive choice.
Time—True friendships grow through shared experience.
Presence–Friends are friends in hard times, when we’re going through difficulties, or even when we create our own problems.
Vulnerability—Authentic friendships risk vulnerability. A true friend allows him or herself to be known by another person.
Jesus is a great model for making and keeping friends. He practiced Searcy’s four ways of developing friendships. He initiated relationships, he devoted time to his disciples, he was present in difficult times, he gave his life for them.
In ancient Palestine, hospitality was a sacred value. An open door policy prevailed; no prior invitation was necessary. On this particular day, people were crowding in the house to hear people speak of the kingdom of God. Four buddies show up with a paralytic friend and quickly realize that bringing their friend to Jesus demanded creative ingenuity. Most homes in first century Palestine had a stairway on the side of the house for roof access. The flat roof consisted of beams set three feet apart with brush and clay tightly packed in between. The four motivated friends climbed the stairs and dug an opening between the beams to let their friend down to where Jesus was sitting. When Jesus saw the faith of the four men, his first words were surprising: “Son, your sins are forgiven.” The legal experts immediately thought, “Gotcha!” because forgiving sins is God’s prerogative alone. Either Jesus was forgiving sin, or merely conveying forgiveness. The best argument is the Hebrew concept of the link between sin and sickness. Once the disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, whose sin, this man, or his parents, since he was born blind?” (see John 9). Perhaps there was an indirect correlation between the paralytic’s physical and spiritual condition. Did the paralytic think that his paralysis was self-inflicted? Jesus recognized what his opposition was thinking, precipitating the following question: “Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, take up your mat, and walk’?” Obviously, it is easier to verify a physical healing of the body rather than an inner healing of forgiveness. But to demonstrate that Jesus wasn’t just saying it, but doing it, he says to those present, “So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins, I say to you, ‘Stand up, take up your mat, and go home.’” The paralytic stood up on his own two feet because his four friends were willing to go the extra mile.
Do we have friends who need to be brought to Jesus?LISTEN »
Bible Text: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 | Preacher: Rev. Dr. Ralph Herbert | Series: Ralph’s Favorites | One of the very first sermons I ever preached was entitled “What’s Next?” We just experienced Good Friday and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Is that where the story ends, or where it begins? There was a sign in a church nursery from Paul’s resurrection chapter (1 Cor. 15): “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” When we experience the real news of the risen Christ, we are changed in three ways.
Paul writes, “From now on we regard no one from a human point of view.” (5:16) The initial evidence that we have truly met God is how we practice people-assessment. Prior to his conversion, Paul understood Jesus as a mere mortal. He was a threat of the stability of his way of life, Judaism, and the people of God. However, Paul continues, “Although we knew Christ according to a human point of view, we do no longer.” Because of the resurrection, Paul now judged according to the standards of Jesus. No longer do we practice people-assessment based on race, social status, wealth or title. When we meet the risen Christ, we see everyone as he sees them.
The second way we are changed by resurrection reality is that we, ourselves, are no longer the same. “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation…” (5:17) “In Christos” means we are members of a new organism. Easter isn’t just a single day, it’s a new eon. There are two types of organic change. One is exterior (i.e. someone goes on Weight Watchers and loses 50 pounds), but the second is internal transformation. This is not merely a change of thinking or behavior, this is actually a change of nature. The very tense used by Paul indicates a definite point of transition. Old things, like certain distinctions, enslavement to sin or prejudice, slowly dissolve. A regenerative process ensues. New things emerge as God sanctifies us for his purpose. What drives us changes from self to service, and from “what’s in it for me?” to “not my will, but your will be done.”
The third way God changes us is that God gives us a vision for his kingdom. It’s called the ministry of reconciliation. The Lord calls us to continue Jesus’ ministry by being a bridge-builder for God. He commissions us with the word of reconciliation. The message of reconciliation is that God is the consummate bridge builder and in the cross and resurrection of Christ, he took the first step. We are now called to take the next step. What’s next? We start building bridges to people’s hearts, so Jesus can walk across them. We are called to be ambassadors of the risen Lord who has the power to change people from the inside out. What’s next? We have a story to tell, for you and I have been called to be bridge builders for the king so that others can become new creations in Christ.LISTEN »
Bible Text: John 20:1-10 | Preacher: Rev. Dr. Ralph Herbert | Series: Remembering LentLISTEN »
Bible Text: John 12:12-19 | Preacher: Rev. Dr. Ralph Herbert | Series: Remembering Lent | We are mystified by a magic trick until the magician explains how it is done. A new idea seems obvious once somebody thinks of it. Palm Sunday isn’t a mystery to us with 2,000 years of 20/20 hindsight, but to those who were in Jerusalem that day, they didn’t have a clue. To them, it was a ticker tape parade, an old western where the hero rides into town to save it. It was the UVA basketball team coming into Charlottesville with trophy in hand, one year after the humiliation of losing to a 16th seed. Palm Sunday is the most carefully orchestrated event in all of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Everything Jesus did that morning was deliberate to fulfill prophecy. The mega crowds waved palm branches, emblems of military conquest, representing the national hopes of an oppressed nation. However, Jesus’ triumphal entry was larger than one nation or one people. The crowds were chanting the 118th Psalm: “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel!” They were looking for a conqueror of Rome, and not a Savior for their sins.
Why were the pilgrims waving palm branches and singing messianic psalms? Because Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem inspired hope in a people who had been awaiting a deliverer. With hope comes dreams, and with dreams expectations of a different future and a new reality. But sometimes our expectations are not always fulfilled in a way that we think, or even pray. Perhaps God has meticulously prepared an experience or event in our life which will reveal a deeper purpose. We throw up our prayers and our ideas, but God throws us a curveball. We formulate a preferred future and a version of victory on our terms, but not God’s. The Lord sends a donkey to achieve his purpose, and not a victor’s steed to express a message of peace that transcends the puny expectations of the crowds. When they would have settled for a military conquest, Jesus had a bigger idea. God has to elevate our hopes in order to align us with his greater purpose. Too many of us settle for mediocrity when God designed us to thrive, not just to survive.
John writes, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him.” (John 12:16) It wasn’t until after his death and resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit that they truly begin to understand the impact of Jesus’ triumphal entry. Don’t we, too, like to think that we know more about what God is doing, give him some helpful hints on how to fulfill our dreams, write an agenda with our own ideas and wait for their fulfillment? Yet what we thought was a brilliant idea or insight, what we thought was best for us, wasn’t! God had something better, we just didn’t see it yet. The door we had been looking at closes, and God opens another. All our disappointments and discouragements seem to fade because God replaces them with his blessings and hopes.
There was a second reason people showed up that day: they wanted to catch a glimpse of Lazarus, the miracle man. A man who was dead for four days was now alive and walking among them. People who have experienced Christ’s victory at Calvary, and have been raised from the dead, are people with a story to tell.
Bible Text: Matthew 20:20-23; 26:36-46 | Preacher: Rev. Dr. Anita K. Herbert | Series: Remembering LentLISTEN »
Bible Text: I John 1:5-10 | Preacher: Rev. Dr. Ralph Herbert | Series: Remembering Lent | Some say that we live in the worst of times, when the darkness appears to be winning. But this underestimates the power of a single ray of God’s potent light. This is the message we have heard from the Light of the World, that his light is never extinguished, not in an atheist’s mind, not in the slaughter of innocents, not in the death of a loved one. This is the message we have heard from Jesus, that God’s nature always pierces the darkness. There are two major characteristics of God’s light. The first is that God is totally consistent. God’s nature and character is pure and holy and lacks all inconsistencies. Therefore, we can put our lives in his hands, because God is completely trustworthy, completely reliable. We can put our full confidence in his purpose and plan for us. No matter how discouraged we become from life’s events or when we suffer disappointment from others, we never have to question the Lord’s intention for his children. The second major characteristic is that God’s light is revelatory. It is a light that cannot be revealed through self-determination or self-will. We must rely on God to turn on the lights in his time.
Five times in this text the apostle John uses the word “if.” First, “If we say we have fellowship with him while walking in darkness, we lie and are not practicing truth.” (1 John 1:6). Someone once eloquently said, “Conversion to Christ without immersion in Christ is a perversion of the gospel of grace.” If our lives are in continual contradiction to our faith, then we are lying to ourselves, to others, and to God. Jesus cautioned us, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” If we walk without immersion, we are simply play-acting, pretending to be something we’re not. The second “if” is the opposite of the first: “But if we walk in the light, as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). If we are truly walking in God’s presence, then we will have fellowship with other believers, and will have spiritual impact on others. Furthermore, “the blood of Jesus will cleanse us from all sin.” Recently, my iPad started sending out “fake news” to various people, including some I didn’t even know. It appears that one of my email accounts chose to infect another. It’s just like the two operating systems within us: our sin nature and God’s Spirit living inside us. Now here’s what John is saying: God has put antivirus protection within us by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, which reveals to us things that need to be cleansed. God will bring it up on our screens so we can confess.
But wait, there are two more precautionary “if’s” in this passage: “If we claim we are free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves, and if we claim that we have never sinned, we out and out contradict God.” (1 John 1:8, 10 The Message). John tells us, if we don’t take responsibility for what God’s antivirus reveals on the screen, then we are in self-denial, and we’re not walking in his light. The final “if” is God’s assurance of pardon: “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). If we confess and are willing to respond to God’s grace, then God promises that he will make it right with him, because we can’t make it right, but he can. For this is Jesus’ message: God is light, and in him there is no darkness. God is our one constant in life, and we can count on him to forgive us every time when we come to him with a willing heart. Thanks be to God!LISTEN »
Bible Text: Matthew 18:21-35 | Preacher: Rev. Dr. Ralph Herbert | Series: Remembering Lent | In 1997, Apple Computer began an advertising campaign entitled, “Think Different.” The underlying assumption was those who “think different” change the world. Psychiatrist Henry Cloud says, “Many abide by the conventional wisdom, “God is good. You’re bad. Try harder.” However, Jesus says, “think different.” A limited life is one that obeys the rules, not because we wish to be good but we fear being bad. But the scandal of the gospel is to think different, that there is no limit to God’s grace.
Peter was aware of the contemporary teaching of the rabbis that one only had to forgive up to seven times. He asked Jesus, “If someone sins against me, how many time should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus rocks Peter’s world: “No Peter, not seven times, but 77 times” (some manuscripts say 70 x 7 times). The number is insignificant, Jesus is simply removing all limits on God’s amazing grace. Grace doesn’t run out, sin doesn’t exhaust God’s love. Grace doesn’t have a finite supply. Jesus tells a parable about a king who wishes to settle accounts with one of his slaves. When he begins an accounting, he discovers that the slave owes him 10,000 talents, which is equivalent to 150,000 years in wages. Out of great compassion, the king releases him and forgives him his entire debt. There are no means of repayment for our debt to God. None of us has enough time to atone for all our sins. Our debt is unpayable. The only way to be released from our bondage to sin is grace.
Jesus is invited to have lunch with a well-respected Pharisee named Simon. However, when Jesus enters Simon’s home, he receives none of the customary hospitality rituals. Then an uninvited woman, a sinner most likely from the red-light district, comes to Simon’s home. She was so overwhelmed by Jesus’ presence that she began to weep, wetting his feet with her tears, wiping his feet with her hair, and kissing his feet. When Simon observed this scene, he was appalled at Jesus’ total disregard of proper religious etiquette. In order to wipe Jesus’ feet, the woman would have to let her hair down in public, which would be considered provocative and erotic. Jesus told a parable to Simon. A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed 500 denarii, the other 50. When neither could pay him back, the creditor cancelled the debts for both of them. Jesus asked Simon, “Of the two, which will love him more?” Simon responded, “I guess the one who was forgiven more.” Simon was the debtor who owed the 50, while the woman owed the creditor 500. Jesus concludes, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven. For who is forgiven much, loves much. But those who are forgiven little love little.” Those who have been forgiven much by God have much love for God. If you think you haven’t done much wrong, you will have less to be grateful for. But when you comprehend the depth of your own depravity, then you begin to understand the enormity of God’s grace.LISTEN »
Bible Text: 2 Samuel 12:1-15a | Preacher: Rev. Dr. Ralph Herbert | Series: Remembering Lent | It was a beautiful spring day, and David’s troops were in battle, but he chose to stay behind in Jerusalem. He saw a beautiful woman bathing near his palace and he began to secretly take her for his own. The seed had been planted. A couple of months after their rendezvous, the woman named Bathsheba sends an ominous message to the king, three words that changed David’s life: “I am pregnant.” Immediately, David leaps into action to cover up what he had done. At first, he attempts to induce Bathsheba’s husband Uriah to sleep with his wife, but Uriah was too honorable and refused to leave his unit. After that fails, David tries to get Uriah drunk, but that plan doesn’t work either. Therefore David has to go to an insidious strategy and has Uriah killed in battle. He reasoned no one would ever know that Uriah wasn’t the father—but God would.
A friend of David, Nathan the prophet, confronted David about his secret sin. But instead of a direct challenge, he shares a pithy parable with the king. The story is about a rich man and a poor man. The rich man possessed more than he could ever spend, while the poor man lived paycheck to paycheck. The poor man’s family had a single, prize possession: a little ewe lamb, a family pet. Wealthy people have a multitude of options, so when the rich man’s business associate came for dinner, he chose to use the poor man’s lamb rather than one from his many flocks and herds.
After his friend finished the story, David is enraged at the sheer audacity and lack of compassion of the rich man. He immediately pronounces what amounts to being a self-indictment, “as the Lord lives, that man deserves to die.” Even at this point, David wasn’t listening to his friend. He still didn’t realize that he was the rich man in the parable. After the king renders his judgment, the prophet looks him straight in the eye and says, “You are the man!” Initially, Nathan reminds David that his transgression was against God. Everything David possessed was a gift from God: his power, his position, even his life, for God had delivered him from the hand of Saul. Furthermore, that wasn’t all. David had also corrupted and compromised God’s future blessings. Because of his transgression, his life would take a different course. Sin isn’t merely missing the mark, it diminishes fellowship with Jesus and decreases our capacity to do kingdom work. As Mark Batterson writes, “Sin always over-promises and under-delivers!” In his conversation with Nathan, the prophet asks, “Why did you do it?” This was not an act of omission, it was an expression of intentionality and desire. From that time on, David’s family would be in conflict, reflecting the fourfold restitution that he had declared to Nathan earlier:
The baby from his union with Bathsheba would die;
David’s daughter Tamar would be raped by David’s own son;
Absalom would violate the king’s concubines in broad daylight;
Absalom would try to take the kingdom from David and be killed by Joab, the very man who had assisted in the cover up.
Despite his secret sin, the story ends with good news. Finally, David realizes that he is the rich man who lacked compassion. He says to his friend, “I have sinned against the Lord.” In other words, he identifies himself as the man. In Psalm 51, he prays for forgiveness: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight.” Nathan responds with an assurance of pardon: “Now the Lord has put away your sin, you shall not die.” God is more gracious to us than we are to ourselves.LISTEN »
Bible Text: Matthew 5:21-26 | Preacher: Rev. Dr. Ralph Herbert | Series: Remembering Lent | The Pharisees were seen as extremely scrupulous adherents to God’s law but Jesus insisted that” unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” There is a deeper righteousness than simply avoiding sin or not doing something wrong. Jesus explains, ” You have heard it said, you shall not murder.” Initially, we readily assume that we have complied with the sixth commandment. But Jesus takes it further, I say to you that if you are angry with your brother or sister, then you have also transgressed this commandment. In this instance, he is speaking of a grudge:the kind that ruins relationships, splits families, and divides congregations.
He then re-defines anger in how we use words to demonize or de-personalize others. When we use labels or categorize people according to race, gender, appearance, or social-economic level we practice a form of murder. They are no longer people made in God’s image, they are fools, idiots, or morons.
So how do we keep the 6th commandment? When you approach God and you remember that somebody has something against you. Leave your gift at the altar and be reconciled to that person! we can’t say we are sorry to God until we first say we are sorry to others! Making amends is not about blame, it’s about obedience to God. For Jesus warns us: Do it quickly, don’t let it go on too long. The longer it lasts the harder it is to say I’m Sorry!LISTEN »
Bible Text: 1 Samuel 3:1-19 ; Matthew 3:13-17 | Preacher: Rev. Anita K. Herbert | Series: Ralph’s FavoritesLISTEN »
Bible Text: 1 Kings 19:1-8; 9-18 | Preacher: Rev. Dr. Ralph Herbert | Series: Ralph’s FavoritesLISTEN »
Bible Text: 1 Samuel 17:4-11; 41-49 | Preacher: Rev. Dr. Ralph Herbert | Series: Ralph’s Favorites | The name of David’s giant was Goliath. You could put whatever name you want on your own giants. Goliath was a formidable foe, a fierce warrior, a champion. He possessed every advantage needed for a dominant victory. This gave young David every good excuse to run for an apparently impossible situation. Goliath possessed all the right stuff. He was tall, therefore intimidating, and possessed the best military equipment that money could buy. 1 Samuel 16:7 reads “Humans look at the outward appearance, God looks at the heart.” As long as we place our confidence in the external, we minimize what God can do through us because we will base the solution on how thing appear rather than what can be accomplished through courageous faith. The giant stood before the armies of Israel and taunted them: “Choose a man for yourselves and let him come down to me.” Essentially this is called biblical trash talk. Then Goliath proposes a winner takes all contest: “You kill me, and we become your servants; I kill your man, you become our servants.” This is precisely where we discover what we’ve made of: when we encounter our greatest fear. We can respond, “Can’t win, no chance, too risky!” Or, we can face our giants.
When David prepared to confront Goliath, King Saul attempted to dress him up in the standard armor of warfare, but that just didn’t suit David’s faith. He couldn’t fight God’s battles with the wrong equipment. So he went to a brook and found weapons God had provided for him: five smooth stones. Eventually there is a confrontation between our fears and our faith. We will let the world dress us up, or we will be clothed in Christ. Goliath laughs at the innocent schoolboy, and attempts to bully David by saying, “Come to me and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and the wild animals of the field.” But David won’t be intimidated, because he doesn’t measure the problem by its size. “You come to me with a sword and a spear and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts.” He boasts not in his own ability, but in the Lord’s ability to deliver him. In the end, it was a first round knockout: a single stone to the forehead.
What giants are we facing? Are we approaching them with the armor of the world, or are we relying on the Lord? Let’s think about the following questions:
Are we concerned about how we project ourselves to other people so that they only see what we allow?
Are we always trying to prove we’re one of the smartest people in the room?
Do we compromise our convictions to climb the proverbial ladder?
Are we building bigger barns because we’re afraid we won’t have enough?
Do we temper our enthusiasm for Jesus so we won’t turn people off?
I concluded my sermon with a challenge: write down all your fears, and think about what resources God has given you to confront your fears. Have you done it? I’d love to hear from you! email@example.com.
Bible Text: Deuteronomy 30:1-5; Jeremiah 29:4-14 | Preacher: Rev. Dr. Ralph Herbert | Series: Ralph’s Favorites | In 597 BC, the king of the Babylonian empire deported over 3,000 key leaders from Judah. Some false prophets assured the exilic Jews they would be home in two years. This compelled Jeremiah to write a letter saying their stay would not be two, but 70 years. God sends the exiles into Babylon to experience the true nature of their call, obedience to the Lord’s covenant. There were three purposes that God send his people into the wild.
The first purpose was accountability in exile. The false prophets were predicting a quick fix, short-term solution to their trial. However, Jeremiah’s word was that there would be no quick fixes to long-term problems. Although the clay is molded by the potter’s hand, it isn’t finished until it was put in the kiln. The second purpose was activity in exile. One of the most difficult things to do as a Christian is to wait on God’s timing. In the interim, Jeremiah instructs the exiles: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Get married, have children and grandchildren.” In other words, don’t give up, continue to build and grow and to work God’s plan. The exiles were instructed to live a normal life and continue to follow what God had revealed to them up to that point. Even when life stalls, don’t become inert.
Then Jeremiah gives the exiles some astonishing and revolutionary advice: “Seek the welfare of the city of Babylon. Pray to the Lord on its behalf.” The third purpose of exile is our attitude in difficult circumstances. Instead of living in a domesticated environment God calls us “into the wild.” Instead of the false dichotomy between the sacred and the secular, God sends us to do ministry wherever he plants us. The good news is that God never leaves us without vision, even in exile. Jeremiah delivers this promise: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). The word welfare is translated “shalom,” not just a reference to God’s peace, but to God’s wholeness. For his plan includes accountability, activity, and attitude in exile. However, are we willing to passionately pursue God and his purpose for our life. For he invites us “come and pray to me and I will hear you when you search for me, and seek me with all your heart.” Are we satisfied being a domesticated believer when God has created us for the wild?LISTEN »
Bible Text: Jeremiah 18:1-12 | Preacher: Rev. Dr. Ralph Herbert | Series: Ralph’s Favorites | In the Old Testament parable, the prophet Jeremiah describes an illustration of who we are and whom we’re becoming. We are the clay in the potter’s hand, to be shaped into the image of Jesus Christ. The word of the Lord came to the prophet, “Go to the potter’s house.” When he arrived, he witnessed a scene familiar in that culture—a potter shaping a vessel for his own use. God can speak through ordinary means to convey his word. But the clay the craftsman was using had flaws; it was defective material. So he had to start over again and reshape it again into another vessel that would please the potter. The problem wasn’t in the potter’s method, but in the quality of the material. It was resistant to the artisan’s design. For we are all cracked pots, jars of clay that have been broken in one way or another. Our actions and our choices determine the quality of the pot. However, there is good news: GINFWUY! God Is Not Finished With Us Yet! The Lord doesn’t give up on his creation and can reshape even broken vessels if we are willing to put ourselves in his hands. God takes the defects and the flaws of our lives and molds us into someone we could never be without him.
Once God showed Jeremiah the potter at work with the clay, he asked, “Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done?” For those who are on the potter’s wheel soon discover they are not in control. In order to become the people we are designed to be, we must be molded and shaped by the potter’s hand. In his book What on Earth Am I Here For?, Rick Warren says “Your parents may not have planned you, but God did. Long before you were conceived by your parents, you were conceived in the mind of God.” Regardless of circumstance, tragedy or poor decisions, God is still sovereign and can work all these things together to achieve his ultimate purpose. Yet the mystery remains—what is our role in God’s sovereign plan? For God gives Jeremiah two possible outcomes, and two divine intentions. At one moment, the Lord can intend to reshape a cracked pot due to defective material. Yet Jeremiah counsels that if that nation or people turns from evil, God can modify the results according to our response. However, the reverse is also true. We can sadly corrupt God’s intention to bless by our disobedience to God’s will. As one preacher suggested, all Christians are diamonds, we’re just not all the same size. God can withhold blessings as well as he can give them. We can either say, “It’s no use, I’ll follow my own plans,” or we can say, “God, use me!”LISTEN »
Bible Text: Judges 2:11-23 | Preacher: Rev. Dr. Ralph Herbert | Series: Ralph’s Favorites | After forty years of wilderness wandering, triumphantly crossing the Jordan river and defeating many of their enemies, the people of God are ready to claim their inheritance. However, they surrender to two grave mistakes: one is a failure of spiritual leadership, the other a failure to pass on the “God story” to their children. This led to a series of cycles which consisted of four repetitive phases. The first phase is a radical departure from the foundation of faith. They emulate the poor values of the people around them. When faith in the Lord ceases to be one’s ultimate causation, then the seduction of other things ensues: we call this idolatry. Tim Keller writes in his book Counterfeit Gods that “this leads to the breakdown of the family, rampant materialism, careerism, and the idolization of romantic love, physical beauty and profit.” When this is rooted in culture, often the outcome is ingratitude, because gratitude is replaced by expectation.
The second phase of the insanity cycle is the loss of freedom. “And the Lord gave them over to plunderers, and he sold them into the power of their enemies.” On the macro scale, this leads to the loss of moral authority and self-centered leadership. On the micro scale, a return to bondage is the result in four principle ways:
· We rationalize our behavior and surrender to the same temptations over and over again, thinking it will stop without radical change.
· We live a defeated life. We might be moral, but we remain powerless. Jesus said, “Unless you abide in me, you can do nothing.”
· We lose the confidence that God can work through us, and it is replaced with self-doubt and self-pity.
· We lose the ability to see ourselves accurately, and refuse to hear what others are trying to say to us (accountability).
However the third phase of the cycle is good news: God doesn’t leave us alone in crisis. “Then the Lord raised up judges who delivered them out of the power of those who plundered them.” God raises up leaders to inspire Israel to follow God’s purpose. This could be titled, “the personalization of opportunity,” because we often get unstuck through the agency of another person. God’s promise of deliverance in crisis isn’t grounded in our ability to change alone, but in the people he sends into our lives. Yes, we can remain in denial, but that will not free us from the cycles that occur in our lives.
If we refuse to change, we will enter phase four. Phase four is similar to phase one, but worse. As the Scriptures say, “the dog returns to his vomit,” and everything starts all over again.
If you’re in the cycle of insanity, what are you willing to do to get out of it?