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Encouragement in Exile (A Sermon)

Intro

I want to say at the start that I understand it can be hard to sit there and be engaged. I’ve been there. I want to challenge you, however, to lean in and listen. The events we’re talking about here may be some 2500 years in the past but they have amazing significance today.

Plus, the book of Esther is an amazing book. It is a true work of literature. There is a heroine, suspense, irony, reversal, and surprising coincidences. Basically everything you’d want in a story.

Setting: Exile

The book of Esther tells “the story of events surrounding the rescue of the nation of Israel from the threat of extinction while it was in exile in Persia… The more profound and universal purpose of the story is to explain how God’s providence can protect his people.”[1]

Whoever you are, wherever you come from, and no matter where you are spiritually, this year has likely brought many challenges to you. I believe the book of Esther offers some much-needed perspective on things.

Chapters 1-2

As we saw the last two weeks, God’s people are in exile, under the reign of king Ahasuerus. Ahasuerus, as the King of Persia, has a ton of wealth. So he shows his wealth by having a party for 180 days (1:4).[2] With that much partying it is no wonder that he seems to be somewhat of a drunk and pushover. However, it appears that he’s trying to combat his pushover persona (but not his potential alcoholism!) with the help of his friends and so he makes an example of his wife Vashti who did not obey his every whim.

In Herodotus’ Histories, it says that that the “king of Persia could do anything he wished.”[3] And so, that’s what he did. He gets rid of his old wife and throws a lavish beauty pageant to find the most beautiful and pleasing bride in the kingdom (2:2-4). In somewhat of a Cinderella story, the king “fell in love” with Esther or at least more than all the other women and so he put the royal crown on her head and made her queen (v. 17).

Esther’s Exile

Israel is in Exile. God’s people are not in the Promised Land. They have a foreign ruler. And can you imagine, that ruler was allowed to do “anything he wished.”

Our Exile

We too are in exile, we too are not home. It may be different than Esther’s exile but we are in exile too. We see this truth in Scripture in various places. For instance, 1 Peter 1:1 talks about us being “elect exiles” and verse 17 tells us how we are to conduct ourselves throughout the time of our exile. First Peter 2:11 says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” Philippians 3:20 reminds us “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Hebrews 13:14 says that “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”

So, just as Esther was in exile, we as Christians are in exile too. This book is relevant and has a lot to encourage us in the midst of the challenges of exile.

More and more our exile is a very visible reality. The Public Religion Research Institute did a study on religious affiliation in America. Here are their findings:

 “The American religious landscape has undergone substantial changes in recent years… One of the most consequential shifts in American religion has been the rise of religiously unaffiliated Americans… In 1991, only six percent of Americans identified their religious affiliation as ‘none,’ and that number had not moved much since the early 1970s. By the end of the 1990s, 14% of the public claimed no religious affiliation. The rate of religious change accelerated further during the late 2000s and early 2010s, reaching 20% by 2012. Today, one-quarter (25%) of Americans claim no formal religious identity, making this group the single largest ‘religious group’ in the U.S.[4]

The study also found “about two-thirds (66%) of unaffiliated Americans agree ‘religion causes more problems in society than it solves.” They also “reject the notion that religion plays a crucial role in providing a moral foundation for children.”[5]

It is not just America, however, that is becoming increasingly less affiliated. The Church in America also has less and less commitment.

One recent study conducted by Barna Group for the book Faith for Exiles found that out of the around 1,500 people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine that grew up in the church (as Christians) the majority no longer go to church. 22% are now considered “ex-Christians.” 30% may identify themselves as Christians but they no longer go to church. 38% describe themselves as Christians and have attended church at least once in the last month but do not have the core beliefs or behaviors associated with being a disciple of Jesus. Only 10% were found to be regularly involved in the life of the church, trust in the authority of Scripture, affirm the death and resurrection of Jesus, and express a desire for their faith to impact their world.

Dedicated Christians are more in more considered odd. Christians are more and more on the fringes of society. If things don’t change, these trends will just continue in the future. The reality of our exile status will be felt more and more.

So, friends, Esther has a lot to teach us about our exile. Let’s go to the first scene…

1. Haman’s Plot (Ch. 3)

Scene 1 starts with Haman, the antagonist or bad guy of the story,[6] being promoted (3:1). It seems like he’s promoted because the beauty pageant was his idea.

Haman soon became furious at a Jewish man named Mordecai because he would not bow down to him. But instead of just taking it out on him, Haman wanted to destroy all the Jews throughout the whole kingdom (3:5-6). So, we see a big problem introduced in the plot.

Read More…

Untouchable Peace: A Sermon on John 14

Hi! I’m Paul O’Brien, one of the pastors at Ontario Christian Fellowship. I’m glad you’re checking out this sermon.

I wish I could see you. I think of John’s words from 1 John: “I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.” This is a little awkward… But I’m super thankful to God for technology.

Alright, let’s pray together…

Intro

Within the past seven days, a lot has changed…

  • Kids our home
  • Many are working from home
  • Restaurants, bars, libraries, and all sorts of businesses are closed
  • Travel is restricted
  • We are unable to visit our loves ones in nursing homes
  • And you’re at home

This is an unprecedented situation.

Many hearts are heavy.

Read More…

A Sermon on 1 Timothy 2

 

The passage that we are looking at today has some very controversial issues in it. We will look at them in a little bit but first I want to explain the background of the letter as well as the main point of what Paul says in this chapter.

Paul wrote this letter to Timothy to address a particular context and a particularly difficult situation in Ephesus. Paul was addressing false teaching (1 Tim. 1:3-20; 4:1-5; 6:2b-10) and he was telling Timothy how people ought to “behave in the household of God” (1 Tim. 2:1-3:16; 4:6-6:2a).[1] People at the church in Ephesus were teaching things that were wrong and doing wrong things.

Paul labored at the church in Ephesus for three years (Acts 20:31) and wrote one of the most amazing letters that have ever been written to them and yet they were still liable to fall to unhealthy teaching and living. We see later on that they were also liable to lose the love that they had for Jesus at first (Rev. 2:4). This letter should serve as a wakeup call to us! We too are capable of falling! We too need correction!

Paul wants people to teach what is right and act the right way in “God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). If the church is teaching and living wrong that’s really bad news for everyone. It is the church that is to be the “foundation of the truth.” If the church is not the set-apart light that it’s supposed to be how great is the darkness?!

It’s important that we not miss the main point of what Paul is saying in this passage because our modern disputes distract us. Paul’s main point in this chapter is to instruct us to pray. He tells us to pray together. And he tells us how to pray. So, the main point is: In light of Jesus’ sacrificial love, pray with compassion and holiness.

We will look at that in more detail soon. A few things, however, should be said at the outset. First, OCF is committed to a high view of Scripture; we believe it is the word of God. We also believe that unless the Bible is God’s word to us, we live without any real moral authority. “Right” and “wrong” would then become matters of personal taste or popular opinion. We would not be able to talk about justice or truth at all, for there would be no way to know objective truth.[2]

So, second, the Bible is our authority. The Bible informs us and teaches us. We are not to sit over the Bible, God’s word, and inform it… It informs us.[3]

Claire Smith has pointed out in her book, God’s Good Design, that “we do not come to the text as neutral readers. We all have cultural blind spots and sensitivities that influence our reading.” She goes on to say, and I couldn’t agree more, that “we must always allow God’s word to critique us and our culture, rather than the other way around.”[4]

Third, all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable. One of the reasons it’s profitable is for correction. One of the things the Bible does, is it functions like a mirror by which we can see ourselves and compare.

Fourth, we must always keep in mind God’s lordship and love. God is all wise and powerful as the Creator. But He is also good and loving. He has definitively shown that at the cross. God’s lordship and love should always inform how we think about things.

If what we discuss below is hard for you, I get it. But please don’t doubt the good character of God. And also don’t doubt His lordship. He is loving and Lord.

Read More…

My Checklist for Preaching

This is a checklist that I put together to look over as I prepare to preach. There are, of course, other things that I could have put on this list. But these are the specific things that I need to be sure to check at this point in ministry…  

  • Am I preaching the good news of Jesus?
  • Am I praying and pleading with God to bless my sermon?
  • Am I working with a team in preparation to preach?
  • Am I getting and listening to Leah’s feedback?
  • Am I preparing far enough in advance?
  • Am I preparing my sermon with specific people in mind?
  • Am I going to bring people on the journey with me? (Am I going to peak people’s interests? Am I taking baby steps when necessary or am I making huge leaps in my logical reasoning?)
  • Am I using the 6 Journalistic Questions (What?, Who?, When?, Why?, Where?, and How?) and answering what will be most helpful for the audience?
  • Am I illustrating my point like Jesus would have? And am I getting the full impact from my illustrations?
  • Is the sermon going to be “G rated”? (Is the sermon for a general audience or is it restricted to those with special training? Did I break it down like I need a mechanic to break it down for me?)
  • Is the sermon going to create and relieve tension?
  • Is my sermon focused, making one sustained point? (Am I considering what the one thing is that I want people to take away from the message?)
  • Can I pass the 3am test? (If I was awakened at 3am and asked about the main point and structure of the sermon could I answer in a helpful way?)
  • Will unbelievers understand and find the sermon appealing? (Not that we ever want to compromise the truth but we do want to intrigue unbelievers with the view of reality that the Bible gives)

In the future I’d like to write a blog post for each of the above points to further convince myself of their importance.

4 Reasons Sermons are Essential

Why are sermons such a big deal? The Bible tells us to sing as the gathered church. The Bible also tells us to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and baptisms. But why are sermons essential? 

Sermons are essential because they teach God’s truth so as to exalt Christ, encourage and build up, and exhort the gathered church.

First, the teaching aspect of the sermon is important. Its importance is seen all over Scripture (e.g. Neh. 8:7-8; 1 Tim. 3:2). God has spoken and so helping people understand and apply the revelation from Him is life-changing. God’s people, however, are able to understand His truth. This is because all believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:22; 1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16), Jesus has made all those in Him priests (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:5-6), and Scripture is clear on the things which are “necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation” (The Westminster Confession of Faith, ch. 1). Qualified teachers are still vital, however, because sound (or healthy) doctrine is vital. That is, in part, why pastors must be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2; 2 Tim. 2:24) and defend the truth (2 Tim. 2:25; Titus 1:9). We also see in Scripture that right teaching leads to maturity and the body of Christ being equipped for every good work. Believers may be able to subsist on milk but teachers are able to provide needed meat (2 Cor. 3:2; Heb. 5:12-13).

Second, communicating God’s truth in sermons is vital because the Bible is the authoritative word of God and it is uniquely profitable (2 Tim. 3:16-17). It is our sole authority for faith and practice. Scripture is a light (Ps. 119:105,130), a sword (Eph. 6:17), a hammer (Jer. 23:29), and a surgeon (Heb. 4:12). Scripture is more essential than bread (Matt. 4:4), better than gold (Ps. 19:10; 119:72), and we need it to live (Ps. 119:144). Scripture is perfect (Ps. 19:7), true (Ps. 19:9), pure (Ps. 19:8), and eternal (1 Pet. 1:25). Scripture contains the words of life (Jn. 6:68) and the words that are breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16). Scripture gives joy (Ps. 119:111; Jer. 15:16), makes wise (Ps. 19:7), equips (2 Tim. 3:17), guards (Ps. 119:9), guides (Ps. 73:24; 119:105), saves (1 Pet. 1:23), sanctifies (Ps. 119:9,11; Jn. 17:17), and satisfies because by it we know God (1 Pet. 2:3 cf. Ps. 16:11; Jn. 17:3).

Read More…

“To God be the Glory!” Sermon on Psalm 115

Discussion Questions

  1. When you think of God’s glory, what are some of the things that first come to mind?
  2. God deserves glory for so many reasons. What are some reasons you think of that weren’t talked about in the sermon?
  3. Can you relate to C.S. Lewis’ struggle? Is it hard to understand why God cares so much about His own glory? What has been helpful for you as you think about this?
  4. What are some of the results of idolatry in our lives?
  5. What is an idol? Give some examples of good things in life that can become idols.
  6. What idols do you currently struggle with?
  7. How can personal success and achievement lead to a sense that we ourselves are god?
  8. What are possible signs in an individual’s life that point to the fact that success is an idol?

Why Read the Word?

In 2017, let’s consume the Word and diet everything else

The average American spends 50 minutes of their time each day on Facebook’s platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Messenger). That is one-sixteenth of the average American’s waking time.

Facebook, the web, ESPN, and news networks are built to engage and grab us (except perhaps CSPAN). There is a lot riding on whether or not we spend five or fifty minutes on Facebook. There is a lot invested to make us scroll, click, share… There are people fighting for our fascination and time. There are specialists employed and there are algorithms designed to grab our attention.

Of course, I am not the social media police, this is not 1984 or Fahrenheit 451. You can be on social media. I am. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Messenger… However, let’s consider the way we plan to spend our time in 2017. 

D.A. Carson has said,

“The challenge [to reading Scripture] has become increasingly severe in recent years, owing to several factors. All of us must confront the regular sins of laziness… The sheer pace of life… The constant sensory input from all sides is gently addictive—we become used to being entertained and diverted, and it is difficult to carve out the space and silence necessary for serious and thoughtful reading of Scripture.”[1]

Carson said that in a book published in 1998—18 years ago!—before the iPhone and before dial-up was replaced! Things have changed since 1998. Read More…

“Treasure in the Right Place” sermon on Matthew 6:19-34

Below are some follow up questions for you consider related to my message “Treasure in the Right Place” from Matthew 6:19-34.

Discussion/Application Questions:

  1. Is it true that worry often tells us what we worship?

  2. Is it true that we can be orthodox and even astute theologically and actually have our heart somewhere else entirely?

  3. Is it true that social media and shopping malls shape us and our views of significance and security subtly but substantially?

  4. Materialism may be the single greatest pull away from authentic Christianity (cf. Deut. 6 esp. v.10-13). What do you think?

  5. What does it mean to “lay up treasures in heaven”? What are “treasures” in heaven?
  6. How do vv. 25-34 relate to the previous verses (vv. 19-24)? How do we apply these verses to our context in Fairfax?
  7. How can we purposely invest in heaven and not drift to the service of other gods?
  8. Daily and seriously ask yourself, “Is life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”
  9. Ask yourself if what you’re focused on and are worried about will stand the test of eternity.
  10. In chapter 6:1-18 we see the word “reward” 6 times (ESV) and then in vv. 19-21 we see “treasure” used 3 times (ESV). Do we very often think about the “reward” and “treasure” that awaits us in heaven? Remember, anxiety produces nothing; except perhaps ulcers. And remember, anxiety isn’t inevitable. What can help us loosen the grip of anxiety upon our life?

Quote from the Message:

“In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship…” and the thing is “If you worship money and things—if they are where you tap real meaning in life—then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already… The whole trick is keeping the truth up- front in daily consciousness. Worship power—you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart—you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.” And so on.

He goes on to say, “Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day… And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default- settings, because the so-called world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. ” – From a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace to the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College

Recommended Resources:

A 20 Day Study in Stewardship by Redeemer Presbyterian Church

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