Faithlife Sermons

07-July

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Suggested Preaching Program for

July

•   Sunday Mornings

Continue the series called “Practical, Probing Questions for Serious Consideration.”

•   Sunday Evenings

Continue the series on Psalm 23.

•   Wednesday Evenings

“Discovering and Removing the Obstacles to Effective Prayer” is the theme for Wednesday evenings.

Wednesday Evening, July 1

Title: The Hindrance of Idolatry

Text: “Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumbling block of their iniquity before their face: should I be inquired of at all by them?” (Ezek. 14:3).

Introduction

In the text God presents the question to the prophet Ezekiel concerning some of the elders of Israel who had been approaching the throne of grace in prayer. God inquires concerning the right of these men to have entrance to and an audience in the throne room of prayer. A negative reply is the only proper answer.

It could be that idolatry is that which has prevented you from receiving an answer to the request you have presented before the throne of God’s grace in prayer.

Do I hear you raise the questions, “What is idolatry? Who is an idolater?”

You may assume that because you do not bow down before some heathen shrine or offer sacrifices on the altar of a hideous image that there is no possibility of your being an idolater. But an idol is anything that usurps the place that belongs to God in a person’s heart. To yield the throne of one’s heart to something or someone other than God is to be guilty of breaking both the first and the second of the commandments given to Moses. It was primarily idolatry that caused the people of Ezekiel’s day to experience the judgment of God that led to their captivity in Babylon. They still were blind to their own sin of idolatry, and consequently they were deprived of the privilege of productive communication with God in prayer.

I. Have you made an idol out of your marriage companion?

It must be admitted that there are men who put forth more effort to please their wives than they do to please God. There are women who are more eager to have the approval of their husbands than they are to have God’s approval. If God has the place that belongs to him, the marriage will be much happier than it can possibly be when either party has usurped the place that belongs only to God.

II. Have you made an idol out of success?

The inward desire to achieve success is commendable. Something is radically wrong with the person who has no desire for significant achievement. But the subtle temptation to achieve success at any cost can lead into idolatry without our recognizing it.

III. Have you made an idol out of love of comfort?

All of us enjoy a soft chair. We must admit that we prefer a cushion to a cross. The love of comfort and ease can prevent us from studying and training for effectiveness in Service and may even prevent us from serving God at all.

Does the love of comfort and leisure keep you away from the house of worship on the Lord’s Day?

IV. Have you made an idol out of yourself?

Is self on the throne, or does Christ occupy the throne? If Christ is not on the throne, then self has usurped the place that belongs to God.

Conclusion

Only when we treat God as God can we pray effectively. God is no errand boy. To pray effectively, we must pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10), rather than, “My kingdom come, my will be done.”

Sunday Morning, July 5

Title: Are You at Your Post of Duty?

Text: “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me” (Ezek. 3:17).

Scripture Reading: Ezekiel 3:10 – 19

Hymns:  “Come, Thou Almighty King,” Anonymous

              “Be Ye Doers of the Word,” Linthicum

              “Onward Christian Soldiers,” Baring-Gould

Offertory Prayer: Holy Father, we thank you today for the gift of faith that makes it possible for us to respond to you in spirit and in truth. We thank you for the fellowship that we enjoy with you from day to day. We are grateful that our hearts hunger for you and that in worship we find that which meets the deepest need of life. As we have received from you, even so today we bring to you our tithes and offerings in a spirit of worship that indicates our hope and our desire to give ourselves completely to you and to your will for us. Bless these gifts to the work of your kingdom. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Introduction

People in America and in Western Europe can sleep soundly at night in the assurance that others stand at the post of duty constantly watching the skies lest an attack be made on their homeland. Our security in the Western hemisphere depends largely on their being faithful at their post of duty.

God placed Ezekiel in charge of a spiritual radar station among the Jewish exiles who had been carried into Babylon as the captives of Nebuchadnezzar. As a watchman over the house of Israel, he was to fill a spiritual role that had its counterpart in the defense of the city or the nation.

In the ancient world, people built high, thick walls around their cities to protect themselves from enemy attack. Usually the city, or at least the portion of it that was the refuge in time of trouble, was located on the highest part of a hill or mountain. Watchtowers were built on strategic points on the wall, and watchmen were stationed in these towers to keep the entire countryside under surveillance. A watchman was charged to watch and listen and blow a blast on the trumpet to warn the people when there was any evidence of danger. To be derelict in this duty was to experience severe condemnation from superiors.

There are some striking similarities between God’s commission to Ezekiel and our Lord’s commission to his disciples. Christian witnessing to the unsaved is not optional; it is obligatory upon every follower of Jesus Christ.

Jesus spoke words to his disciples that are as binding upon us today as they were on the day when they fell from his lips. “Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost; Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained” (John 20:21 – 23). As each Christian bears a witness to the unsaved, he or she becomes the means whereby that one can experience the forgiveness of sin. For us to be careless or indifferent or silent is like a watchman in Ezekiel’s day ignoring the presence of danger to his country.

These words of the Christ to Christian watchmen are universal in application. They continue to be binding upon us.

I. The watchman must watch.

We must be observant.

      A. We must see ourselves as saved persons.

      B. We must see ourselves as servants of God.

      C. We must see the sad condition of unbelievers.

          1. They are unsaved sinners.

          2. They are spiritually dead.

          3. They are completely helpless to save themselves.

          4. They are the objects of God’s loving concern. “Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11).

II. The Christian watchman must listen (Ezek. 3:1011).

      A. We must listen to the Word of God.

      B. We must listen to the Holy Spirit who dwells within.

      C. We must listen to the requests for spiritual testimony and information that come from hungry hearts.

III. The Christian watchman must speak.

      A. We can speak by the life that we live, but our actions alone are not enough.

      B. We can speak by deeds of mercy, but these alone are not enough.

      C. We can speak by our loyalty to the church, but this alone is not enough.

      D. We must actually communicate the message of God’s love for sinners, for God has no other means of saving the unsaved.

IV. Where is your post of duty?

      A. Your post of duty is where you are.

          1. At home.

          2. In business.

          3. In recreation.

          4. In school.

      B. Your post of duty is where you ought to be.

          1. Where God’s love leads.

          2. Where human need is present.

Conclusion

Have we faced up to the seriousness of our responsibility for the spiritual welfare of others? Are we aware that others can be ushered into eternity unprepared to meet God and that our neglect to witness could be one of the contributing factors to that unpreparedness? It is too fearful to contemplate that we might have the blood of a soul upon our hands (Ezek. 3:18).

Instead of being motivated out of a sense of duty, the joy of leading someone to know Jesus Christ should be a continuing challenge that will cause us to do our best to persuade others to trust Christ.

Sunday Evening, July 5

Title: “I Will Fear No Evil”

Text: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4).

Introduction

Let us go once again to the green pastures of Psalm 23. I encourage you to lie down by the still waters, feast your soul on the Bread of Life, drink from the fountain of living waters, have your soul restored, be instructed in the paths of righteousness, and have your fears dissolved, that you might face life courageously and boldly, confident that the Good Shepherd will abide with you as he did with David in ages gone by.

The psalmist pays tribute to the fact that the shepherd ministers to the sheep throughout their entire lives. He assists with the birth of lambs and ministers to the young. He provides for them and protects and guides them throughout their entire lifetimes. The prophet Isaiah had this in mind when he spoke concerning the ministry of the Good Shepherd: “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young” (Isa. 40:11).

The totality of life is referred to in this psalm. If you study Psalm 23, you will find that the shepherd leads his sheep out in the early morning into the pastures. During the heat of the day, he carries them to a place of rest, relaxation, and refreshment and causes them to lie down. He then leads them into the paths of righteousness. Finally, he leads them through the dark, gloomy canyons that lead to the safety of the sheepfold at the other end of the road.

I. The dark valley of danger in life.

The next verse tells us that occasionally the straight and narrow path of righteousness leads through a dark, gloomy, discouraging, and fearful valley. The psalmist says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

There are some who labor under the mistaken impression that if you live a good Christian life; go to church on Sunday; treat your spouse, family, and neighbors right; and fear God and try to keep his commandments, all of life will be beautiful, a happy flower garden with one delight after another — no discouragement, no disease, no sorrow, no grief, no sadness, no failures.

This is a rather romantic, unrealistic, and immature attitude toward life. It does not square with the facts. Nowhere in all of God’s Book are we promised that if we will live a good life everything will be rosy and happy, joyful and successful. Over and over again we find promises in God’s Word to the effect that if we seriously try to walk in the paths of righteousness, our Lord will be with us throughout all of our days to provide us the inward strength that we need to face the difficulties, responsibilities, and burdens of life.

Psalm 23, particularly verse 4, has been so associated with death in the minds of many people that they have lost the joyful, triumphant, victorious note that was in the heart of the psalmist when he recorded, by inspiration, these precious words. We have done the same thing to a number of great hymns. “Near to the Heart of God” is a joyful, beautiful message in song. We have used it at funerals to the extent that we have made a dirge out of it. This is tragic. “Rock of Ages” is a thrilling, triumphant hymn of security and joy because of the strength of our Savior. Some people place a shroud on their spirit when they sing it.

II. A bold confession of faith.

The psalmist, in this passage of Scripture, is not gloomy and sad and morbid; he is filled with optimism, faith, and courage. He shouts, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” It is as if he were saying, “I have lain with him in green pastures. I have walked with him in the paths of righteousness. I have experienced restoration of the vital energies of life. As I face the future, I am confident and courageous that, come what may, I will be able to meet it.”

The psalmist gives us a bold, triumphant confession of faith based on experience. When he was just a boy caring for his sheep, a lion attacked one of his sheep. David was a good shepherd, and he did not flee as a hireling would. Nor was he overcome with fright. His love for the lamb caused him to come to the rescue, and with the help of God, he was able to kill the lion. Later David killed a bear that attacked his flock. And as he grew older and his faith developed even more, he was courageous enough to face the giant Goliath in the name of his God. David had tested God and proved him. He was speaking from experience, and he was confident that he would be able to face the future with adequate resources at his disposal. We have no need to be overcome with fright if we will stay close to the Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd has been with every person here who has exercised faith in the promises of God. Those who have stayed close to the Good Shepherd can bear joyful testimony that he was with them in their time of great need. The psalmist is not here saying that he is going to assume a nonchalant, careless attitude toward whatever the future might hold. He is not saying that there will be no uncertainty, but he is saying that he is confident that with the help of God, he will be adequate for any emergency.

III. A great tribute of praise.

Not only does the psalmist give us this confession of faith based on experience, but he speaks with a shout of praise. He is giving God the credit, the glory, the praise for all that he has been able to achieve in life. He is praising God not only for what he has done but for what he is persuaded God will do in the future.

Someone has said, “Today is the tomorrow that we worried about yesterday.” Most of the things that we worry about never happen. We should face the future with the confidence that he who holds the future will be there to meet our deepest need when that time comes.

I do not like to bring bad news to anyone, but all of us should be realistic enough to know that at some point we will come to a dark, gloomy, dangerous valley through which we will have to walk. Unless we have had experience with the Good Shepherd on the sunny days of life, we may be overcome with fright and uncertainty when we come to the dark valleys.

IV. A personal challenge to others.

The psalmist speaks with the voice of commendation.

      A. He is encouraging each of us to let the Good Shepherd become our Shepherd.

      B. He is encouraging each of us to follow the Shepherd closely.

      C. He would insist that we develop such an intimate relationship and fellowship with the Good Shepherd that we will be able to face the dark and dangerous periods of life with courage and confidence.

A mother was to have serious surgery. She had three daughters at home, the eldest about sixteen. The welfare of those daughters weighed heavily on her heart. She had hoped that her surgery might be delayed until her daughters were older. Finally, it was necessary that she have the surgery. After entering the hospital, she said to her family, “It is going to be all right.” She reached over to pick up a magazine from a table. In the center of the page, blocked in with heavy lines, were the words: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” The mother read that verse aloud and then placed the magazine back on the table and closed her eyes calmly and courageously.

The psalmist is not talking about death; he is talking about the shadow of death, the valley, some gloomy period in life. Death for a Christian is not a dark valley; it is a door that opens to the sunny hills of God.

A woman called her pastor one day and told him about a neighbor who was dying. She said, “She is frightened. She knows that she is going to die, and she is afraid to die. Could you come?” He went to the woman’s home and found that when she moved to the city she had left her church membership back in her home town. She had drifted along, and her faith was not as strong as it could have been. He sought to restore her faith and her courage. He began to quote verses of Scripture. Finally, as he quoted, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” he noticed her lips beginning to move. She was repeating it silently and slowly with him. He quoted the entire psalm, and her faith and courage came back. She was happy and contented and relieved, and throughout the afternoon again and again she expressed her confidence and her joy over the fact that she was now ready to meet her Savior. Three days later the pastor conducted her funeral Service.

Conclusion

Do you know the Good Shepherd as your Savior? Are you following him closely? If you are, when you come to the dangerous, gloomy period of life, you will find him there as close as your breath. I challenge you today to decide to follow him closely and to trust him implicitly.

Wednesday Evening, July 8

Title: The Hindrance of Unconfessed and Unforsaken Sin

Text: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isa. 59:12).

Introduction

During the days of Isaiah, the people offered many prayers to God. They were greatly disappointed when they did not receive the desired answers. As they analyzed the reason for their failure to receive from God, someone finally arrived at the conclusion that possibly God’s arms were short so that he could no longer save, and his ears were deaf so that he could no longer hear their prayers.

Through the prophet Isaiah, God sought to correct this mistaken conclusion. He declared that he was not deaf nor blind nor weak as far as answering their prayers was concerned. He informed them that it was the presence of unconfessed and unforsaken sins in their lives that hindered them from receiving that for which they had prayed.

I. The presence of sin in the heart and life always hinders us from receiving God’s best gifts.

The psalmist declared, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Ps. 66:18). For God to continue to bestow his best gifts upon those who persist in sin would be both to condone and encourage their continuance in such. Sometimes our prayers receive a negative response, which is God’s means of encouraging us to forsake that which is destructive to us and harmful to others. Is there sin in your life that needs to be recognized, confessed, and forsaken?

II. Are you guilty of sins of commissionrepeatedly (Isa. 1:1618)?

III. What are your sins of omission that are impoverishing your life as well as the lives of others (James 4:17)?

IV. Are there sins of disposition that cause you to be in disfavor with God as well as with others (2 Cor. 7:1)?

Conclusion

One of the greatest truths of the Bible concerns forgiveness and cleansing from sin (1 John 1:9). Claim the promises of this verse for your own heart. Let God forgive you. After God has forgiven you, be sure and forgive yourself and face the future with a clean heart.

Sunday Morning, July 12

Title: If Life Caves In, What Then?

Text: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13).

Scripture Reading: Matthew 7:24 – 27

Hymns:  “How Firm a Foundation,” Keith

              “God Will Take Care of You,” Martin

              “Wonderful, Wonderful Jesus,” Russell

Offertory Prayer: Holy Father, this is a day that you have made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. We recognize your goodness toward us, and gratitude rises up within our hearts and expresses itself not only through the praise of our lips but also through the actions and Services that our hands can render. Accept our tithes and offerings as expressions of our love and as a symbol of our desire to be completely yours. As the Christ gave himself for us, so help us to give ourselves to your Service. In Christ’s name. Amen.

Introduction

By using the title “If Life Caves In, What Then?” I am not encouraging you to believe that life is going to cave in on you. Many people live in terror of what may happen, and that is heathenish. They waste a great deal of energy worrying about that which is not going to happen. Someone has said, “Today is the tomorrow that we worried about yesterday.”

Some of us have made such an idol out of happiness that we do not know how to deal with unhappiness. Occasionally it does seem that life is caving in on us.

I have seen life cave in on many people. When a young man’s fiancée was killed in an automobile accident, it seemed to him that life had caved in. A couple’s youngest son greatly disappointed them with his irresponsible attitudes and actions, which led to the accidental death of one of his classmates. For them, life had caved in. A young wife was injured in a diving accident and was almost totally paralyzed. In addition to this tragedy, her husband forsook her and their child. For her, life caved in. A fifty-year-old man lost his job and because of his age was unable to get another job to support his family. For him, life had caved in. A young soldier, while rescuing a wounded buddy, was horribly and irreparably disfigured. In spite of the best efforts of the plastic surgeons, they could not restore a nose and ears and fingers that had been burned away in an explosion. For him, life had caved in.

What will you do when death comes to take away your dear and beloved companion? How would you react if you were to find yourself suffering the heartbreak of knowing that your companion had been unfaithful to the marriage vows? If your children bring heartaches, disappointments, and possibly disgrace, how will you pick up the pieces?

We have often heard it said that it is too late to buy insurance after the house has burned down. As the farmer said to his boy, it is too late to close the gate after the cattle are out and gone. And so we need to make some preparation in case life should cave in upon us.

Each of us should face up to the fact that we can individually be responsible for causing life to cave in on ourselves. Many of the tragedies and troubles that plague us are but the consequences of errors in our judgment or faulty choices that we made without considering the destiny to which the choice would lead. Today we will concentrate on preparing for troubles that may come over which we have no control.

I. Face life with real faith.

Paul, the author of our text, declared, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” He believed and demonstrated that a man can be victorious over the circumstances that befall him provided he faces life with a courageous and steadfast faith. We need to have a faith that will sustain us and strengthen us in the time of crisis. We should not be satisfied with a faith that needs to be defended and propped up. A complete faith is a faith that recognizes that genuine piety does not provide us with an immunity against pain and sorrow. We must recognize that life may cave in on us even if we are some of the very best of God’s children.

      A. We must have faith to believe that God is a good God and that all of his purposes toward us are purposes of love. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). The Devil will win his victory over us when life caves in if he can cause us to believe that God is not a good God. He has sought to deceive people in this manner since the beginning of human history (Gen. 3:4 – 5). We must believe that God is a good God in spite of the fact that at times he appears otherwise. God is not our enemy. He wants to shower upon us the abundance of heavenly love.

      B. We must have faith to believe that God is at work for our good in all things that happen (Rom. 8:28). Many have misquoted and misunderstood this verse. Some have interpreted it to say, “Everything happens for the best.” That just is not so. Many things happen for the worst, for they shatter and wreck and ruin and bring awful agony into human lives. There are others who interpret this verse to say, “Whatever happens is the will of God,” and this is not so. This would mean that God is responsible for evil, and God is not responsible for evil. We should not blame him for the fact that life caves in on us at times.

      This verse expresses the faith of the apostle to the effect that God will be at work in everything that happens to those who love him in order to rescue and to restore and to bring every possible good out of that which appears to be a complete disaster. We can count on God to help us with our burdens, our problems, our questions, and our sufferings. Someone has jokingly said, “If life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.” The apostle is declaring that if life hands you a lemon, then God will be there to help you make the best lemonade that can possibly be made!

      C. We must have faith to believe that God will not permit impossible burdens to come upon us (1 Cor. 10:13). The Bible provides a continuing testimony that God will be with us to provide us with strength and wisdom and grace that are sufficient to bear the burdens of life. Nowhere in the Bible are we promised complete immunity from trouble if we have faith. Instead, we are promised the strength of God’s presence through which we can be adequate. Paul believed that God would provide for all of our needs through Jesus Christ (Phil. 4:19).

      D. We must have faith to believe that there may be a redemptive purpose in some of our sufferings. Paul spoke of a thorn in the flesh that was a continuing source of agony to him. With all his heart he prayed at least three times for the removal of this thorn (2 Cor. 12:7 – 8). As he struggled he discovered that there was a benevolent purpose behind this hardship (2 Cor. 12:9).

      It is altogether proper that we seek to learn everything possible through the experiences that come to us. Hosea is a case in point. His contribution to the divine revelation came through the wound that was inflicted upon his heart by the moral and spiritual breakdown of his wife.

      Only by means of a genuine faith in the greatness of God can we hope to overcome the world and be triumphant even amid tragedy.

II. Avoid faulty ways of facing tragedy.

Some unknown writer has penned the following poem:

Don’t talk about your troubles

And tell them o’er and o’er,

The world will think you like ’em,

And proceed to give you more.

Sometimes tragedy can be compounded by the fact that we use faulty methods of dealing with the tragedies that befall us. There are certain ways of facing tragedy that need to be avoided.

      A. Feelings of guilt and self-condemnation overwhelm some people when tragedy comes. In many instances we have to face the fact that we are at least partially responsible for life caving in on us. To accept proper responsibility is a wholesome thing, but we must not permit feelings of guilt and self-condemnation to destroy us.

      It is impossible to change or even to alter the events of yesterday. We can only deal with the consequences of yesterday. Instead of cultivating our sense of guilt with continuous self-condemnation, we need to enter into the forgiveness of God. Also, we need to forgive ourselves. It is neither Christian nor logical to continue to condemn oneself for past mistakes.

      B. We must not react to tragedy with bitter resentment and hatred. It is easy to hate and to hold resentment toward someone who has been responsible for tragedy or disappointment in our lives. We need to recognize that hate is a corrosive force; it is a malignant thing that distresses the heart if we permit it to remain in our lives.

      C. It is normal to experience some self-pity and moods of depression when tragedy strikes. All of us have felt sorry for ourselves at times. All of us will feel sorry for ourselves at some future time, but we need to recognize that this is not the best way to deal with tragedy. We must gain the victory over self-pity and depression.

      D. Some resort to an artificial escape from tragedy through alcohol or drugs. We need to be on guard lest our emotions deceive us. Instead of giving way to some faulty way of facing tragedies, we need to look to God. The psalmist said, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth” (Ps. 121:1 – 2).

III. Grow a faith that can sustain you.

      A. We must become doers of the Word as well as bearers of the Word (Matt. 7:2427). Living the life of faith provides one with inward resources that are adequate for the time of testing.

      B. We should face the daily trials of life with joy (James 1:2). This kind of joy is possible only to one who has faith to believe that God is present in any circumstance to provide an opportunity for growth and Service.

      C. Face your problems on your knees (James 1:5). Most of us are short on wisdom, so James encourages us to ask God for divine insight and understanding. Wisdom is available to those who trust God and ask for his guidance.

      D. Enjoy God’s blessings day by day in the present. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Deliberately look for that which can bring joy and thanksgiving into the heart.

      E. Live life one day at a time. Do not worry about tomorrow. The sparrows could preach us a powerful sermon at this point. They work and do not worry. Life may never cave in on you, so do not worry about what may not happen.

Conclusion

The secret key to the door of happiness is in the capacity, disposition, and determination to be a giver of joy and happiness to others in all circumstances. You can face life courageously and victoriously if you will determine with God’s help to always be a giver. Some of God’s richest blessings to the world have come through those for whom life caved in.

Sunday Evening, July 12

Title: “Thy Rod and Thy Staff, They Comfort Me”

Text: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4).

Introduction

The “comfort” in our text is the comfort against fear. Fear enters the hearts of people when they become aware of the presence of danger. Since we all live in the presence of danger, we all stand in need of the comfort the psalmist discovered in the rod and the staff of the shepherd. Many of us fear disease. Some of us get cold chills when we hear the word cancer. Others of us are afraid of failure. Some are afraid of being in an automobile accident, and many are afraid they will be a victim of violence. Only people who have access to the inward resources of God can walk through the world today with confident courage and perfect poise.

I. The meaning of the terms.

      A. “The valley of the shadow of death.” To receive the comfort of this text, one must know the meaning of “the valley of the shadow of death.” God spoke to his people during the days of Jeremiah and described the exodus journey from Egypt to the Promised Land in terms of a journey through the valley of the shadow of death. This land is said to be “a wilderness, through a land of deserts and of pits, through a land of drought, and of the shadow of death, through a land that no man passed through, and where no man dwelt” (Jer. 2:6). Our text teaches us that there will be times in life when we will have to walk through a dark, gloomy, dangerous valley — not necessarily death itself, but some dark tunnel through which we cannot see the way.

      B. “I will fear no evil.” The psalmist was declaring his faith when he said, “I will fear no evil.” The reason for this confidence was the very presence of God. “I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” Have you studied this psalm closely enough to recognize the change when you come to verse 4? Until this verse the psalmist had been talking about God. Starting at verse 4, he talks to God. God is close and dear to him.

      C. “Thy rod and thy staff.” The psalmist uses terms that are not very familiar to people in the twenty-first century. He speaks of the shepherd’s rod and staff and how they comfort him.

      D. “They comfort me.” The word “comfort” is an interesting word in the Bible. It means “with strength.” To comfort means to give strength, to comfort by increasing the power. The psalmist was persuaded that God would strengthen him and stimulate him so as to enable him to do what needed to be done.

II. The significance of the symbols.

Much of the unrest of our souls and minds, much of our spiritual immaturity, and much of our ineffectiveness in Service are due to a hazy and indistinct grasp of the teachings of God’s Word. Every phrase and every passage of God’s Word has a unique and particular significance. It is important that we understand the spiritual significance of these symbols of the Shepherd.

It was customary during the days of David for a shepherd to carry a rod and a staff. May God help you to apply them to our Savior and to your own heart and life today.

      A. The shepherd’s rod. Many times the Bible speaks of the fact that God will cause his sheep to pass under the rod. In David’s time the sheep passed one at a time under the shepherd’s rod on entering or leaving the fold so that they might be counted. In the evening the shepherd would bring his sheep in from the pastures to the sheepfold where the sheep could rest. The shepherd would lead his flock to the door of the sheepfold, and then, one by one, name by name, he would tap each one of them with his rod and count them off as they entered the sheepfold. If there was one sheep missing, the shepherd was made aware of it so that immediately he might go out in search of the wayward sheep.

      In the morning the shepherd would come down to the sheepfold, the keeper of the sheepfold would open the door, and the shepherd would call his sheep out by name, tapping them with his rod as they came out, to make certain that all of them left the fold. By this accurate individual count every evening and morning, the shepherd could determine when a sheep was missing.

      Thus this verse says to me that the Good Shepherd in heaven will soon be seeking me if I go astray. It says to me that the Good Shepherd takes an individual interest in each of his sheep and that he knows them by name and calls them by name.

      The shepherd also used the rod to defend his sheep in times of danger. He stood between his flock and the wild beasts. Our Savior stands between us and the Enemy. He is able to give us comfort if we will let him.

      B. The shepherd’s staff. The staff was the symbol of the shepherd’s constant care. After the flock was led out of the sheepfold, the shepherd’s staff was used as a means of guidance. The shepherd would lift his staff and point, and by means of the pointing staff, the sheep knew the path of safety to get to the greenest pasture and the best water. A sheep keeps its head close to the ground, and because it has poor eyesight, it cannot see very far ahead. If it can see the shepherd’s staff, lifted and silhouetted against the sky, it knows the direction in which to go. If we will follow the guidance of our living Lord, we will never fall over a precipice to death and destruction. We will never fall into the pits of evil, for he leads us only in the paths of righteousness that lead to the right destination.

      The staff was also often used as a means of rescuing a fallen sheep. Sheep would fall into a pit or slide down a bank and be utterly helpless to escape. All of us will face such times. We can rejoice to know that in that time our Lord will come and use the staff of his Word, the staff of a Christian friend, or some other staff to rescue us.

Conclusion

Do you know the Shepherd? Are you willing to give your heart to him? Are you willing to trust him? He will never lead you wrong; he will always lead you right.

Wednesday Evening, July 15

Title: The Hindrance of Mistreating Your Mate

Text: “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered” (1 Peter 3:7).

Introduction

There are many misconceptions concerning the privilege of prayer. Prayer was never intended as a means by which selfish persons could seek that which they desired for their own self-centered purposes. Instead, prayer is the divinely ordained channel by which the children of God are to receive the things needed for the advancement of God’s kingdom and for meeting the responsibilities, obligations, and difficulties of life.

Every prayer promise is conditional. In no instance are we given a signed blank check upon which we can requisition our selfish desires.

A study of the Bible reveals that a number of different attitudes or actions can deprive us of being effective when we pray. Tonight we will see that a husband or wife may fail to receive an answer to prayer because he or she has mistreated a companion.

I. That your prayer be not hindered.

The apostle Peter specifically informs husbands that if they mistreat their wives, they close the door to the throne room of God and deprive themselves of God’s presence and provisions. The same instruction is applicable to the wife.

II. The mistreatment of another always affects our fellowship with God.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that one cannot purchase the favor of God with an offering or enjoy fellowship with God if he is guilty of mistreating a fellow human being (Matt. 5:23 – 25). The Creator of all men and the Father of those who have faith will not permit one of his children to mistreat another without suffering his chastisement. God loves each of us equally and is concerned about our well-being. If it seems that the heavens are made of brass and that God has refused to hear your prayers, it could be very profitable to examine your personal relationships, not only with others, but in particular with your marriage companion and other members of your household.

III. Examine your attitudes and actions.

      A. Are you impatient with others?

      B. Have you been unkind toward others?

      C. Have you been envious of others?

      D. Have you been generous with others?

      E. Have you been discourteous to others?

      F. Have you been distrustful of others?

      G. Have you been helpful rather than a hindrance?

      H. Have you been complimentary rather than critical?

      I.  Have you practiced forgiveness, or do you carry grudges?

Conclusion

Love that can be defined as a persistent spirit of goodwill is the Christian attitude that each of us should maintain toward others. To catch and maintain this attitude will assist you greatly both in the matter of entering the presence of God in prayer and in receiving the things that he has for you.

Sunday Morning, July 19

Title: Why Do Good People Suffer?

Scripture Reading: Romans 8:35 – 39

Hymns:  “I Must Tell Jesus,” Hoffman

              “Count Your Blessings,” Oatman

              “Jesus Is All the World to Me,” Thompson

Offertory Prayer: From your bountiful and gracious hand, O God, we have received a multitude of blessings. We acknowledge that every good and perfect gift comes from you. We thank you for the glad consciousness of forgiven sin. We thank you for the assurance of divine adoption. Today we offer to you the fruits of our labors as an expression of the love of our hearts. Bless these tithes and offerings in a manner that will cause others to experience your mercy, your forgiveness, and the joy of fellowship with you. In Christ’s name. Amen.

Introduction

There is no complete and final answer to the mystery of why people suffer. What we do know, however, is that suffering has permanent effects that can be either negative or positive. For some, suffering is a shattering experience that produces bitterness and cynicism. For others, suffering has a mellowing effect and results in a gracious and compassionate heart. Some allow suffering to drive them away from God. Others would say that if it had not been for suffering, they never would have found God.

I. There is more suffering in our world than we realize.

Most of us have missed the application of the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30 – 37). We have hastily identified with the Good Samaritan or with the victim and have refused to see ourselves wearing the cloak of the priest or the robe of the Levite who passed by on the other side of the road. We find it convenient to be blind to the suffering about us on all sides.

      A. There is great physical suffering in our world.

      B. There is a greater amount of mental illness and suffering than we realize.

      C. Some of the most intense agony that can be experienced is emotional. A homiletics professor said to his students, “Remember, every time you preach there is someone with a broken heart in your congregation.” The professor would have been closer to the truth if he had said, “Remember, every time you preach every row contains someone with a broken heart.”

      D. Perhaps the greatest suffering is spiritual. People find life frustrating and painful because they have never found the inward peace and strength that are the results of knowing Jesus Christ in a vital living relationship.

II. Some false solutions to the problem that must be rejected.

All of us have attempted to solve problems in a wrong way. We have also accepted a partial answer as being the complete answer. At times all of us have oversimplified. Particularly is this the case as people have dealt with the problem of pain and suffering.

      A. Some believe that all suffering comes from God. This idea must be rejected. The Devil, from the beginning of time, has sought to misrepresent the character of God. He slandered God in the garden of Eden by implying that God wanted to restrict and hinder humans from experiencing their highest possible destiny. At every opportunity Satan would suggest that God is responsible for the tragedies and pain that people experience.

      B. Some believe that all suffering is due to sin that has been committed by the sufferer. This was the belief of the friends of Job who declared that the reason he was suffering was because he was a great sinner (Job 4:7 – 9). The book of Job refutes the idea that all suffering is the result of some specific sin or sins in the lives of those who suffer.

      While most of us would agree that sin will result in suffering, we need to recognize that all suffering is not a result of some sin that has been committed by the person who is in pain. Many of us have wondered when trouble came, “What have I done to deserve this?” While this is an appropriate question on many occasions, and the answer can be found, it should be recognized that at times the one in pain could not possibly be held responsible for the suffering that he or she is enduring.

      C. Some believe that all suffering is mere illusion. They deny the reality of pain, saying that suffering is in the mind. Doctors confirm that much of our illness is in the mind. The field of psychosomatic medicine is a field by itself. The mind does play tricks on us. In many instances the only way to cure our illness is to change our thinking, but to deny the reality of suffering is illogical.

III. Partial explanations for the problem of suffering.

Many of us like to find simple, pat answers to complex questions. This is difficult to do, particularly as one faces the problem of suffering. Instead of one simple answer, usually there are many different factors that enter into our suffering.

      A. The Devil deserves the blame for much of what God is charged with. While the book of Job reveals that nothing is permitted to come into the life of the child of God without the permissive will of God, it also says that Satan is behind much of our suffering (Job 2:7). Peter, who had some personal experience with the Evil One, warns against the peril of being devoured by the Devil (1 Peter 5:8). It is wise to recognize that the Devil tries to tempt us and ill advise us to bring great suffering into our lives. Parents should recognize these satanic designs upon their children and do all they possibly can to lead their children to a deep and vital faith in Jesus Christ. The responsibility for much of our suffering can be laid at the feet of him who sought to tempt and destroy our Savior.

      B. We are personally responsible for much of our suffering. To blame all of our suffering on the Devil would be not only false, but it would be a way of denying our own responsibility.

          1. Much of our suffering is the result of our ignorance.

          2. Much of our suffering is due to negligence. If we neglect to do right, we cannot escape the consequences.

          3. Much of our suffering is due to our carelessness. We must not blame God or the Devil for an automobile accident if we were not paying attention to our driving.

          4. Much of our suffering is due to greed (1 Tim. 6:9).

          5. Much of our suffering is in the form of worry. Anxiety is due primarily to our lack of faith in the goodness of God (Matt. 6:25 – 30). We need to work and not worry. We need to trust God to help us in whatever life may bring.

      C. Others are responsible for much of our suffering. By no stretch of the imagination can we believe that God would punish us for the sins of others, but it is true that we suffer because of the sins of others. This is true in marriage, in the family, in the community, and throughout the whole world.

      D. The natural law of the universe is responsible for some suffering. Natural law is benevolent as long as it is recognized and obeyed. To violate this law is not to break it but rather is to be broken upon it. Fire can warm, but fire can also destroy. Water can quench the thirst, but it can also fill the lungs and make breathing impossible. The laws of cause and effect are inseparably tied together.

      E. Some suffering does come from God (2 Cor. 12:7). When God is responsible for suffering in our lives, his motive is benevolent and redemptive. It is our responsibility, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to discover the purpose or meaning behind this training or chastisement (Heb. 12:5 – 12).

IV. How shall we react to suffering?

      A. Shall we react with self-pity? Most of us do, and to some degree we will continue to do so. There have been times when all of us have felt sorry for ourselves. We should not be shocked if we pity ourselves in the future, but such a reaction will not solve the problem of suffering.

      B. Shall we react with blind, fatalistic resignation? Some have and some will. Often when tragedy strikes, someone will hastily say, “It is the will of God, and we must accept his will.” If this explanation is always given, what will this do to one’s concept of God and to one’s faith? God must not be blamed for something he is not responsible for. Many times he has been slandered when in reality he was not responsible at all for the suffering that someone was enduring.

      C. Shall we react with bitter resentment? Some have and some will. To become hard-hearted and cynical builds a barrier in the mind that shuts God out and makes it impossible for the sufferer to utilize spiritual resources in his or her time of greatest need.

Conclusion

Instead of seeking a simple explanation of why people suffer, we should seek for victory in our sufferings and over our sufferings. In one way or another, a solution can be found in the cross where God suffered in the person of Jesus Christ. God is no stranger to suffering, for there was a cross in the heart of God long before there was ever a cross on Calvary’s hill. Christ suffered courageously and victoriously.

In the words of our text, the apostle Paul declares that no suffering of the past, present, or future can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:35 – 39). In writing to the Corinthians, he declared that no trial or trouble would come upon them that would be unbearable if they would utilize the spiritual resources that were available (1 Cor. 10:13).

With Christ on board the ship of our life, we can experience victory in and over suffering. Rebecca R. Williams put it this way:

One ship drives east, and another drives west,

While the self-same breezes blow;

It’s the set of the sails and not the gales

That bids them where to go.

Like the sails of the seas are the ways of our wills

As we voyage along through life;

It’s the set of the soul that decides the goal

And not the storms or the strife.

Sunday Evening, July 19

Title: A Banquet Prepared by God’s Grace

Text: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over” (Ps. 23:5).

Introduction

In our earlier Sunday evening sermons on Psalm 23, we noted that there is a progression in the psalm. In verses 1 – 4 we find the relationship of God and his people treated under the figure of the shepherd and his sheep. When we come to verse 5, we find that the spirit, the atmosphere, and the relationship of the shepherd and the sheep is enriched in the progression. The shepherd becomes a host, and the sheep become the guests at a gracious and festive banquet.

It is wonderful to think of ourselves in terms of being the sheep of the Good Shepherd’s pasture and to consider the safety, security, and satisfaction we enjoy under his guidance, leadership, and protection. It is even more wonderful to think of ourselves as guests at his table enjoying the bounty of his plenty and the fellowship that is ours as the children of God.

I. The life of faith is a feast.

      A. A feast. The psalmist says, “Thou preparest a table before me.” The life of faith and surrender to God is treated under the figure of a feast in which fellowship is enjoyed. It is interesting to note as we study the life of our Savior how many of the wonderful experiences of his ministry took place around a banquet table. After Matthew’s conversion one of the first things he did was to prepare a banquet for Jesus and invite a great host of people to come and meet his Savior. The scribes and Pharisees criticized Jesus, saying, “This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them.” Evidently Jesus spent much time at the dinner table enjoying friendship and fellowship.

      Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). Once he who stands at the door of your heart knocking is permitted to come in, he becomes the Host and prepares the banquet, giving you the privilege of feasting on the bread of heaven and drinking from the fountain of living water.

      B. A prepared feast. It is interesting to note that this is a prepared banquet: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” When we are having guests at our house, a number of things are taken into consideration. One of the primary concerns is what our guests would enjoy. Food is prepared with them in mind. We want the meal to delight and refresh them. The psalmist looked upon the life of faith and fellowship with God as being a feast in which God had prepared that which would delight the hearts of those who participated.

      We should always remember that everything God brings into our lives is something prepared especially for us. Sometimes we may not be able to understand it, but after time has gone by, we can look back and see how certain things came into our life to prepare us for that which was yet out in front.

      C. Fellowship and feasting. Usually only the best of friends get together around a banquet table, for here there is an intimacy and affection of fellowship that is precious and sweet. God wishes to cultivate and develop that kind of a relationship with his people. God is not a tyrant or a bully or a killjoy or a policeman. He is a loving host who has prepared a bountiful feast.

II. A feast in the presence of our enemies.

The psalmist continues, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” Many of us could say, “So far as I know, I do not have one single enemy.” But the psalmist could not say that, for there had been times when men had tried to destroy him. He speaks from real experience when he says, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.”

In the ancient East a traveler enjoyed the complete protection of his host until he departed from his tent. There were no motels and hotels, and they did not even have locks on their doors to shut their enemies out. However, they had customs and traditions that were just as inviolable as the locks on our buildings today. Once a man came under the tent of even a stranger, he enjoyed the protection and the security of that tent and its owner until his departure. To injure a guest was the mark of deepest depravity in the ancient East. So here we have a picture of great significance. The psalmist is saying that throughout life, when I reach the safety of the heavenly Father’s tent, I can lie down in perfect peace and safety even though my enemies be but a few feet away.

There are some things that we cannot escape. There are even some enemies who dog our heels day and night. Some enemies are common to all of us. Many years ago Dr. J. H. Jowett preached a remarkable sermon on this text called “The Guest of God.” He listed three enemies who confront each of us and from whom we can have safety and security in the tent of our heavenly Father. They are:

      A. The sin of yesterday. There is not one among us who is not a sinner. No two of us have sinned alike. In the life of every person, there is sin of which he or she is ashamed. Some sins have been forgotten, yet like a hound at our heels, they sometimes return to plague us. The Scriptures teach us that sin by its very nature pursues the sinner. We are taught to believe that sin and its punishment are wrapped up in the same package. The Bible says, “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23). It does not say that your sin will be found out, but it says, “Be sure your sin will find you out.” The Bible teaches us that “their works do follow after them.”

      There are many of us who have sometime in the past done some vile act that degraded and defiled us and that sometimes returns to torment us. At times even memory is an accusing finger that would destroy our peace, our happiness, our joy, and our fellowship with God. Dr. Jowett declared that in the presence of this enemy, the sin of yesterday, it is possible for us to have full, free, and complete forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses us from all sin. The God of heaven forgives us for the sin of yesterday. He holds it against us no longer, for it was taken care of in the death of Jesus Christ.

      B. The temptation of today. The second enemy that faces everyone of us is the temptation of today. Sin is a peril, a menace, an enemy that would invade the pulpit as well as the pew. Sin would enter the heart and life of the most aged saint, as well as the life of the inexperienced, unwise juvenile.

      Temptation stands by the wayside of every person’s life. With deceptive deliberateness evil would enter my life or your life, the lives of our children or the lives of our parents, and literally ruin us if we do not stay close to the Master and follow his guidance and avail ourselves of his power. Sometimes temptation is sly like a fox; at other times it roars like a lion with mighty power to engulf and to overthrow and to completely submerge those in its wake. Temptation is ever present, and it crouches very near even when we pray.

      Through the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, temptation lurks in the pathway of each of us. Paul had this in mind when he said, “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Cor. 9:27).

      Every man, woman, boy, and girl stands always on the brink of disaster. We need to recognize this fact that we might be cautious and might trust the Good Shepherd, being instantly responsive to his leadership and guidance. We do not wait until our children are on the edge of a cliff to warn them of the danger of falling over. Neither does the Good Shepherd. He gives us warning after warning. The Christian who falls into great sin does so because he or she has deliberately refused to heed the warning voice of the one who leads us in the paths of righteousness. Everyone of us has an enemy in the temptation of today. The enemy that sows all of these evil thoughts and possibilities is the Devil.

      C. The death that awaits us tomorrow. The last of the enemies each of us has is the death that awaits us tomorrow. The Bible says, “It is appointed unto man once to die” (Heb. 9:27). The Bible also says that death is our last enemy. Jesus Christ came and tasted death for every person that he might deliver us from the fear of death (Heb. 2:14 – 15). “The sting of death is sin” (1 Cor. 15:56). If sin were not a part of our human experience, then death would cease to be a horrible thing that many of us fear. It is sin that causes us to fear the experience and consequences of death. If it were not for sin, our attitude and our viewpoint and our evaluation of the death experience would be entirely different. Jesus Christ came and died for us that he might take the sting out of death.

      In the presence of these three great enemies — the sin of yesterday, the temptation of today, and the death that awaits us tomorrow — God prepares for us a feast in which it is possible for us to sit down in the safety of fellowship with God. We can face the future with peace, poise, and courage.

III. “My cup runneth over.”

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” We do not have anything in our contemporary lives that compares to the act of anointing a guest with oil. In the days of the psalmist, a host who was prosperous would anoint a guest with fragrant oil. The rich fragrance was a constant reminder of the happiness of the host on the occasion of the guest’s visit. God is delighted and happy to have us at his banquet table. We should be continually reminded of his goodness, joy, happiness, and delight in those who are the supreme objects of his concern.

As the psalmist considered his blessings, he declared, “My cup runneth over.” A retired minister addressed seminary students in a chapel Service, and he began his message by saying that someone greeted him with, “How are you, John?” He replied, “I am drinking out of the saucer. My cup runneth over.” Here we have a picture of what God wants our lives to be — lives of drinking out of the saucer!

There are some whose cups never overflow because they go to the wrong source. Some never let their cups overflow because they have a pessimistic spirit that always causes them to see what is wrong rather than what is right. Some never let their cups overflow because of envy. One can always look around and see that which belongs to others and become envious. We should continually drink out of the saucer, because by God’s grace ours is the privilege of having the glad consciousness of forgiven sin. Ours is the privilege of enjoying the precious relationship of being children of God. God has given us the gift of eternal life. We have access to inexhaustible spiritual resources. God has given us the privilege of Service. All of us could say with the psalmist, “My cup runneth over.”

Conclusion

I challenge you today to open the door of your heart and let the Christ come in. Let him become the Host. When you become the guest, he prepares the banquet. Make that decision today.

Wednesday Evening, July 22

Title: The Hindrance of an Unforgiving Spirit

Text: “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if you have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:2526).

Introduction

A sincere and devout woman spoke to a small group in a prayer circle, requesting their prayers on her behalf. She described her need as follows: “I find in my heart an unforgiving spirit toward one who has brought great harm to a member of my family. I bear a grudge against this person, and I have found this grudge to be a barrier in my way when I try to approach God in prayer. Please pray for me.”

It is possible that a grudge you bear toward someone will hinder you from entering the closet of prayer where you can have a transforming experience with God. Jesus declared that it is necessary not only to enter the private place of prayer but that we must also get the door shut (Matt. 6:6). In this specification Jesus is declaring that the barriers, hindrances, obstacles, and obstructions to fellowship must be removed. One of these barriers that all of us have to deal with from time to time is the matter of an unforgiving spirit.

I. Injury by others is inevitable.

      A. People are natural mistake makers.

      B. Seldom are we mistreated deliberately.

      C. Occasionally we are injured by others unconsciously.

      D. Quite often we are injured by others indirectly.

II. How do you react to injury?

      A. Do you give expression to your hostility on the spot with remarks that seem to be appropriate?

      B. Do you follow the policy of doing unto others as they have done unto you?

      C. Do you list your grudges in a little black book so that when an occasion arises you can pay back the injury with interest? If these are your reactions, then you are acting in a manner that would be considered normal by the unregenerate person.

III. Unlimited forgiveness (Matt. 18:2122).

Peter’s offer to forgive as many as seven times was thought to be the height of generosity. The disciples were shocked when Jesus instructed them to forgive until seventy times seven. His primary motive behind this requirement of unlimited forgiveness was for the spiritual well-being of the offended rather than for exempting the offender from punishment. Jesus was fully aware that the carrying of a grudge, the harboring of desire for revenge, and the refusal to forgive would eat like an acid and fester like an infection in the soul. He was also aware that God could not forgive those who were unwilling to forgive.

Conclusion

Do you find it difficult to forgive? The basis for our forgiving others is found in God’s forgiveness of us (Col. 3:12 – 23). The God who forgives is able to give you the grace to forgive others. Ask God to help you to be willing and able to forgive those who have trespassed against you.

Sunday Morning, July 26

Title: What Is the Gospel?

Text: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).

Scripture Reading: Romans 1:14 – 16; 1 Corinthians 15:1 – 4

Hymns:  “Great Redeemer, We Adore Thee,” Harris

              “I Love to Tell the Story,” Hankey

              “We’ve a Story to Tell,” Sterne

Offertory Prayer: Heavenly Father, from your heart of love you have given us your Son to be our Savior. Through him you have given us forgiveness and new life. Through him life has become meaningful and joyful. Because of our love for you, we come bringing our tithes and offerings. Accept them as symbols of our desire to give ourselves completely to you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Introduction

Radio stations, TV stations, and newspapers are in a constant contest to outdo each other in conveying the news to their audiences. Within the past several years, tremendous advances have been made in the means of mass communication. Incidents on the other side of the world are reported instantaneously via satellite. Our eyes and ears are constantly assaulted with the gory details of crimes or tragedies that take place. With all of the news coming from the north, south, east, and west, many of us become hardened to the things that are going on about us from day to day. We hear too much bad news. Today we consider some good news: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The English word gospel comes from the Anglo-Saxon godspel, which meant good tidings or God’s story. In the New Testament it is the Christ-message, not the books that were written to spread that message. The gospel is not only good news; it is the greatest news and the latest news about God (John 3:16 – 17), a message that we need to proclaim continuously to the world.

Jesus began his earthly ministry preaching the gospel. “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14 – 15). Jesus brought his earthly ministry to a conclusion by commanding the infant church to “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).

Just what is the gospel that Jesus preached and the early church proclaimed? What was Paul talking about when he spoke repeatedly of the fact that he had been called to preach the gospel? Have we misunderstood this word? Have we failed to appreciate it? Have we neglected to respond to it? Have we neglected to be the instruments for its proclamation to the world?

I. The gospel is good news about God.

The greatest contribution of Christ to the world is his revelation of the nature and character of God. Jesus said, “He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father.” He also said, “I and my Father are one.”

      A. Jesus revealed that God is love (John 3:16).

          1. Redeeming love.

          2. Forgiving love.

          3. Merciful love.

          4. Saving love.

      B. Jesus revealed God as a heavenly Father. In the four Gospels, Jesus speaks of God as “Father” 153 times. Only once did he address the heavenly Father as “God,” and that was while he was on the cross.

      At night a child will grip his daddy’s hand as he walks through the darkness. He does this because he has security in the presence of his father. Jesus would encourage us to trust the Creator God as a loving Father.

      A little girl at an airport terminal became frightened when her father assisted her grandmother on board the plane. The mother was unable to console her until the father returned and took her into his arms. The world today needs to know that our God has not taken a trip and left us to our own resources. Jesus said that not even a sparrow falls to the ground outside of the Father’s knowledge.

II. The gospel is headline news about Jesus Christ.

When Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” he was using a negative statement to declare a positive truth. He was affirming that Jesus Christ had never disappointed him and that he was proud of Jesus Christ. He actually gloried in the cross of Christ (Gal. 6:14). Paul was proud of who Jesus Christ was, what he had done, and what he could do.

      A. Christ lived a marvelous life. Jesus set an all-time world record in character achievement. His life was sinless and perfect in God’s sight.

      B. Jesus died a matchless death. “Christ died for our sins.” This is good news that should be proclaimed constantly.

          1. Love took Jesus to the cross.

          2. Love kept Jesus on the cross.

          3. Love is what we see in the cross.

      C. Jesus ever lives to save unto the uttermost (Heb. 7:25).

III. The gospel is good news for everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16).

In many parts of the world, human life is cheap. In the eyes of the world, many people are poor and insignificant; nevertheless, Christ died for all. An unknown poet prayed as follows:

Lord, help me see in all I meet

On country lane or city street

Not just men and women passing by

But those for whom my Christ did die.

IV. The gospel is headline news of salvation and redemption.

      A. The gospel is God’s chosen instrument for delivering men from the penalty, power, pollution, and presence of sin. While education is wonderful and powerful, it does not solve the problem of evil.

      B. The gospel is God’s only instrument for saving people from the tragic tyranny and waste of sin. The gospel appeals to the heart. It changes the heart. It transforms, reorganizes, and regenerates human souls.

      C. The gospel is God’s power unto salvation to everyone who believes. Only the gospel has the dynamic power to really save.

          1. Power to save morally.

          2. Power to save physically.

          3. Power to save intellectually.

          4. Power to save personally.

          5. Power to save economically.

          6. Power to save socially.

          7. Power to save eternally.

The gospel is divine in its origin and contains within it the dynamic creative power of God. The gospel is the unique power of God by which he saves people from the tyranny and waste of sin. Only through a response to the story of his love and mercy can God bring about the miracle of salvation to the heart.

Conclusion

Has the gospel of Jesus Christ awakened your heart to your need for salvation? The gospel of Jesus Christ invites you to something better and nobler. The gospel invites you to forsake the love of sin and to embrace Jesus Christ as your own personal Savior. May God help you to do it today.

Sunday Evening, July 26

Title: The Home at the End of the Way

Text: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Ps. 23:6).

Introduction

Today we come to the last verse of Psalm 23: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” There are several thoughts in this verse, each of which could serve as a text for a sermon.

I. Facing the future with faith.

      A. “Surely,” the psalmist says“without doubt, beyond question.” “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” He speaks with confidence, faith, courage, optimism, and hope as he faces the future. He has no question about the goodness, faithfulness, and love of God. Because of his great faith in a wonderful Shepherd, the psalmist is able to say, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Some modern versions translate “surely” as “only”: “Only goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”

      B. “Goodness and mercy.” God always deals with his children on the basis of goodness and mercy. It is very possible that some shepherds of David’s time had sheep dogs that followed along behind the flock to keep the sheep from straying and to protect them from wild beasts. Someone has casually suggested that if this were the case, then perhaps the Good Shepherd had one dog whose name was Goodness and one whose name was Mercy.

      As the psalmist looked back over his lifetime of varied success and failure, he bore testimony that God always deals with his own in terms of goodness and mercy. If God were to deal with us in terms of justice, we would be destroyed.

      Is your heart and mind filled with fear, anxiety, and uncertainty as you face the future? Many situations in our world today would frighten us to death if we forgot that God has everything under control. The psalmist faced the future with courage and optimism, for he was convinced that the God who had been so gracious to him in the past would continue to be gracious to him in the future.

II. Faith’s commitment for the present.

Concentrate now on the psalmist’s wonderful confession of faith: “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” This statement approaches better than any other in the Old Testament the revelation of life beyond death. It is similar to what Jesus said in John 14: “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you.”

Many people think that here the psalmist is referring only to heaven, but actually he considered it possible to begin dwelling in the house of the Lord here on earth. In Psalm 27:4 we read, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.” Although David had committed some grievous sins, the Lord had mercifully forgiven him, and now he could say, “I am going to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

The eternal home of the soul is a continuation of the home of the soul that we have here and now. By his grace, God wants us to taste the very joys of heaven in this life. He wants us to enjoy fellowship with the saints and develop friendships with our brothers and sisters in Christ. In twenty-first-century terminology, David was saying, “I am going to stay close to the church all of the days of my life. Then I am going to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

From time to time, every pastor’s heart is grieved by hearing a fallen church member give one of the following reasons for leaving the church: “Things didn’t suit me in Sunday school class”; “I became unhappy with one of the deacons”; “I became dissatisfied with the pastor”; or “I did not like the way that certain things were done.” Such people have left the church to the detriment of their own spiritual lives and to the poverty of their own souls and the souls of their family members.

One of the wisest decisions that any of us can make is to say, “Come what may, I am going to stay close to the church. I am going to be a vital part of the church. I am going to be loyal to the church all the days of my life, for the church is the nearest thing on earth to the home of the soul in heaven.”

III. Faith in the future home.

Many people cannot read the Twenty-third Psalm without thinking morbid thoughts, for they associate this psalm with death. We need to have a Christian understanding of death. Death for the Christian is not earth’s greatest tragedy. We do not grieve because people go to heaven; we grieve only because we have been left behind. To paraphrase, the psalmist was saying, “When my body is worn out and when I am no longer able to function in this life, I will go to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

      A. The home at the end of the way is a prepared place for a prepared people. In no other area of life does preparation pay off so much as being prepared for the home at the end of the way.

      B. Heaven is a prepared place where praises will be perpetual and where we will praise God without the limitations that we have known in this life.

      C. Heaven is a prepared place of purity. Through the years saints have been disturbed by the fact that even in their most sacred moments of prayer they have been interrupted by impure thoughts. In heaven that sinful nature will no longer be with us.

      D. Heaven is a prepared place where payment is made. Jesus said, “For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward” (Mark 9:41). Jesus said, “Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be” (Rev. 22:12). I believe that somehow we develop the capacity in this life for enjoying and appreciating the life beyond. When we get to heaven, everybody’s cup will run over, but as Dwight L. Moody said, some of us will have small cups. The size of our cup is determined by the works we do and by the worship of our hearts in this life.

Conclusion

This life is the vestibule, the preparation room for the life beyond. I challenge you this day to make the Good Shepherd your Shepherd. Let him become your Leader, Guide, Teacher, Friend, and Savior. Make that decision today.

Wednesday Evening, July 29

Title: The Hindrance of Unbelief

Text: “Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering” (James 1:6).

Introduction

If you have been disappointed with the results of your efforts in prayer, it might be wise for you to examine the faith that you have exercised in the matter of prayer.

It is the testimony of all Scripture that God is a prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God. Jesus declares that the heavenly Father knows our needs even before we present our requests (Matt. 6:8). He says that the heavenly Father is even more eager than a generous earthly father to bestow good gifts upon his children if they come to him in prayer (Matt. 7:9 – 11). Since this is so, then why is it that we do not receive the things for which we make request in prayer? While there may be a number of different explanations, tonight let us consider the possibility that the hindering cause is the lack of faith on our part.

I. Jesus clearly taught the necessity of faith in prayer (Mark 11:24).

      A. We must believe that God is able to answer prayer.

      B. We must believe that God is eager to answer prayer.

      C. We must believe that our request is in harmony with both the character and the will of our heavenly Father (1 John 3:22).

II. Illustrations of praying in faith.

      A. Elijah prayed in faith for the fire of God to fall (1  Kings 18:3639).

      B. Elijah prayed in faith for rain (1 Kings 18:4146).

      C. The centurion prayed for the healing of his servant (Matt. 8:510).

      D. The publican prayed for mercy (Luke 18:13).

      E. The early church prayed in faith for the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14).

III. The prayer of faith.

      A. Study the prayers recorded in the Bible that God answered for patterns for your praying.

      B. Heed the instructions concerning the proper manner of praying as given by our Lord (Matt. 6:913).

      C. Pray for more faith (Luke 17:5).

      D. Act on the faith that you already have (Matt. 17:1920).

Conclusion

The writer of the book of Hebrews declares that without faith it is impossible to please God. He who comes to God in prayer must believe that God is and that he is the rewarder of those who diligently seek him (Heb. 11:6). The spiritual giants of the past have been those who out-believed and out-prayed their contemporaries. May God grant to us more faith as we give ourselves to prayer and witnessing.

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