Saturday, July 28, 2007

Dealing with bitterness

Dealing with bitterness
Matthew 18:21 – 35


Last week we started a series on bitterness.  If you miss a Sunday, make sure you go to lastsermon.blogspot.com because each week we are learning something new and important about this subject.

Bitterness is one of the most important issues an individual or a church faces because it causes so many types of problems both to the individual and to the church.  In 1970 David Belgum proposed that 75% of all physical illness are rooted in emotional causes.  I would guess that most spiritual and personal problems come from the issue of bitterness.

The trouble is that we tend to deal (comfortably) with symptoms.  The Bible describes bitterness as a root.  When we begin to deal with roots, it is uncomfortable and disturbing.  One way to picture bitterness is:

* The following sermon extensively uses the book “Get the Junk out of your Trunk: Let go of the past to live your best life” by Duane Vander Klok (2005).  For further information visit www.chosenbooks.com.  (Chosen books is a division of Baker Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI)

I.    Bitterness is like a tattoo. [Matthew 18:21 – 35]

      A.    It starts with Peter’s question.

        1.    “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” [v 21]

            a.    This sounds like a good question and Peter pushes the cultural norm of 3 strikes up to 7!

            b.    The problem is that Peter’s suggestion requires a person to count, in other words... remember.

        2.    Jesus’ answer included a story.

            a.    Sometimes we don’t understand a straight answer, they require explanation.

            b.    Jesus set up the explanation with a story.

    B.    “The parable of the unmerciful servant.”

        1.    The unmerciful servant had a problem with PERCEPTION.

            a.    He asked for patience... more time to pay back his debt.

                1.)    This debt was 375 tons of silver or about 10,000 years of an average annual income.

                2.)    What made him think he could pay this back?

            b.    What King gave him was way more than he dared to ask: pity.

                1.)    The King canceled the debt (this was not unconditional).

                2.)    The King let him go.

            c.    The problem with perception was the difference between “mine” and “yours.”

                1.)    Our sin is never as bad as someone else’s sin.  (Faulty perception)

                2.)    Someone else’s sin is always worse than ours.  (Faulty perception)

        2.    The unmerciful servant had a problem with PRIORITIES.

            a.    He valued the mercy he had received but would not extend it to another.

                1.)    The debt owed to him was substantial, about 100 days...

                2.)    The idea was to extract what was owed to him.

            b.    In English the words “ought” and “owe” come from the same root word.

                1.)    When we say we/they “ought” we typically mean that it is a debt.

                2.)    The word “apology” does not appear in the Bible.  The closest we get to the idea is repentance.

                    a.)    Yet we feel the other person “owes” us at least an apology (preferably changed behavior).  BTW, most people we hold resentment towards do not even know they have offended us (nor did they mean to offend us).

                    b.)    The initiative to forgive, according to Jesus is on the offended party... and it is unconditional.

        3.    The unmerciful servant had a problem with the PRICE.

            a.    He was tagged as “wicked” (hurtful in effect or influence not essential character).

                1.)    In other words, “Sick people produce sick theologies” [David Seamands]

                2.)    When we mistake the kindness and mercy of God for licence to be critical or collect a debt owed to us we have missed the point of God’s kindness and mercy.

            b.    Unwillingness to forgive disqualified us from being forgiven.

                1.)    Every agreement between God and people in the Bible is “conditional.”

                2.)    The only condition for us to receive forgiveness is to forgive others.  [Caution: This is not earning our salvation!  The character of being forgiven is forgiving others.]

II.    Bitterness can be turned inward (guilt, shame) or outward (perfectionism, grumbling, gossip, etc...) creating devastating consequences.

    A.    We will live under TORMENTED CONDITIONS.

        1.    We will suffer from “awful memories,” “sinful habits,” and “a passion for revenge.” [Vander Klok]

        2.    We will suffer from developing substitutes [Seamands]

            a.    Depression will replace joy.

            b.    Strife will replace peace.

            c.    Lust will replace love.

            d.    Self-effort (often in the form of perfectionism) will replace grace.

(Ill.) The boy that came home from school excited he got a 99% on an important exam.  Ran to his dad for approval.  The dad said, “Why didn’t you get 100%?”

    B.    We will have TROUBLED HABITS.

        1.    Bitterness is a “root.”

            a.    We cannot always see it but where there is a root, there is a plant.

            b.    We don’t plant weeds or water them... but they grow in drought conditions and kill grass or fruitful plants.

                1.)    CAUTION: the “visible” plant may look different than the root.

                2.)    In other words, the bitter root may not be self evident from the plant (symptoms, behavior, what is seen).

        2.    Often we try to treat the symptoms and leave the root untouched.

            a.    You can kill the plant, but if the root survives then the plant will be back... sooner or later, one way or another.

            b.    Ultimately the effects of bitterness is self-inflicted.

(Ill.)  Mr. Bean goes to a dentist.  As the dentist goes to give him a shot of novocaine something goes terribly wrong and the dentist is knocked unconscious.  Mr. Bean decides to take things into his own hands.  He reads the x-rays, shoots the novocaine, and begins to drill.  A sudden thought hits him, he might have the x-rays up side down... in the end he is feverishly drilling all his teeth.

                1.)    Bitterness tends to make us hyper-sensitive.

                2.)    Bitterness tends to make us imagine things that are not.

    C.    We will live in TORRID SPIRITUALITY

        1.    Torrid means miserable dry, “full of difficulty.” [Oxford]

            a.    Ask yourself if you struggle with basic things like daily devotions, daily prayer, church attendance, getting something out of them...

            b.    Chances are that lack of any real growth or fruit is a result of living in the torrid spirituality of bitterness.

        2.    (Ill) The horrible disease of AIDS breaks down the physical immune system.  Bitterness breaks down the spiritual immune system and will eventually kill us spiritually.

III.    Two case studies.

    A.    Ester 5:7 – 14 = Haman

        1.    Notice that Haman was extremely rich... we might call him a billionaire in today’s society.

        2.    Haman was basically second in command, everyone but the king had to bow down to him.

        3.    Haman had the perfect family times two (10 sons).

        4.    Even though he had “everything” (money, power, family) he was consumed with bitterness.

“But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king's gate.” [v 13]

        5.    Notice he even managed to pull his friends and family into his bitterness. [v 14]

    B.    1 Samuel 18:6 – 10a

        1.    King Saul became jealous over the attention and praise given to David.

        2.    King Saul began to obsess about David. [v 9] (I think this was deliberate choice... a single act of the will... because...)

        3.    “The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul.” [v 10]

            a.    Notice that this occurred “very” quickly as a consequence of his sin.

            b.    Bitterness grows quickly and breaks us down spiritually.

    C.    Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling.

        1.    Jesus said, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” [Mark 11:25]

            a.    Forgiveness is courageous while unforgiveness is cowardly... they are both an act of the will.

            b.    Here’s the rule of thumb: “ANYTHING and ANYONE.”


IV.    Once tattooed, bitterness requires life-long, deliberate discipline, and continuous watch against it.

    A.    What do we need to do?

        1.    Start with accepting the forgiveness God offers to you.  If you do not trust God in such a way that it changes your everyday life... none of this will work.

        2.    “Forgive by faith” [Vander Klok]

            a.    No apology is needed from the other person (remember in all likelihood they did not intend to hurt you, either way it doesn’t matter).

            b.    No confrontation is needed.  (Don’t go them and say, “you really hurt me but I forgive you anyway.”  That’s being self-righteous.)

        3.    Put forgiveness to work.  This is called “love.”

        4.    Pray.

            a.    Pray that God would bless, not curse, the other person.

            b.    Pray for them until the resentment and bitter feelings are gone.

        5.    Develop a continuous watch over your heart.

            a.    Make it a habit to forgive immediately.

            b.    (Ill.) Garden weeds are easier to handle if you deliberately go after them regularly and not wait for them to take over.

        6.    Drop the guilt.

            a.    Missionary and author Amy Carmichael once said that you have not forgiven until you have forgotten.

            b.    That is not scriptural.  In fact it is damaging advice.  Only God can forget, but what you can do is love.

            c.    The rule of thumb should be, you have not forgiven until you truly love.

    B.    Bottom line: Forgiveness is a choice to treat others the way God has treated you.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The anatomy of bitterness

The anatomy of bitterness
Genesis 4:1 – 8

* The following sermon extensively uses the book “Get the Junk out of your Trunk: Let go of the past to live your best life” by Duane Vander Klok (2005).  For further information visit www.chosenbooks.com.  (Chosen books is a division of Baker Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI)


I.    What’s the story?

    A.    Bitterness is the primary issue!

        1.    It is one of the most important spiritual dangers.

            a.    It causes us to live lives below our potential.

            b.    It can rob you of peace.

            c.    It can steal your joy.

            d.    It can keep you helpless.

            e.    It can ruin your relationships.

            f.    It can constantly drain your energy.

        2.    Bitterness keeps you from personal, emotional, and relational fulfillment.

            a.    Typically it is the people closes to you that is your greatest source of pain (and directed resentment).

                1.)    The closer we are the more vulnerable we are to them.

                2.)    The close we are, the more we care and the higher the expectations.

            b.    Bitterness creates trust issues.

                1.)    Bitterness starts when you take offense, and hang on to it.

                2.)    Bitterness can happen when people fail to live up to our expectations.

                3.)    Bitterness is nurtured when you hang on to it.

(Ill.)  It is like picking up rotting garbage, stuffing it into your pocket, and then blaming someone else that your life stinks.

    B.    Bitterness is a universal problem.

        1.    Bitterness is a choice because forgiveness is a choice.

            a.    Jesus example in Luke 23:24.

            b.    The attitude of love: 1 Corinthians 13:5

            c.    Psalm 119:165 KJV “Great peace have they which love thy law; and nothing shall offend them.”

        2.    Bitterness comes from “unforgiveness.”

            a.    “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” [unknown]

            b.    Forgiveness may not ease the pain of the memory, but it takes the stink (sting) out.  (Takes the power to control away from that memory.)

                1.)    Pain creates control.  (When you hurt, it can control your behavior and emotional state.)

                2.)    Bitterness produces a permanent connection between you and the person who offended/hurt you.

                3.)    Bitterness is the way you begin to share that sin.

                4.)    Forgiveness detoxifies you.

            c.    Unforgiveness makes us think we have the right to collect a debt. [David Seamands: Healing for Damaged Emotions]

                1.)    We think “good people go to heaven, bad people go to hell.”

                2.)    By that we mean, we are good and someone else is bad.

                3.)    But the Bible says, “it is by grace you are saved, through faith...” [Ephesians 2:8a]

                    a.)    Not by “goodness” or “badness.”

                    b.)    It is through “grace” or God’s loving-kindness... His “want to.”

(Ill.)  B. T. Roberts noted that unforgiveness is to “indulge in hard feelings.”

II.    What’s What?  A case study from Cain and Able [Genesis 4:1 – 8]

    A.    God’s will was plain and simple.

        1.    God established the blood sacrifice.

        2.    Able followed God’s plan but Cain did not.

        3.    Cain developed an “attitude” (pride, self-deception, bitterness)

    B.    Where did this attitude take Cain?

        1.    Cain developed his own morality (and solution).

        2.    Cain made his own moral judgements, demonstrated by his attitude problem toward Able.

        3.    Cain took offense at Able (face was “downcast”).  His bitterness lead him to murder.

    C.    Murder is serious, we would never commit that crime!

        1.    “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, `Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' [22] But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, `Raca, ' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, `You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell. [23] Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, [24] leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” [Matthew 5:21 – 24]

            a.    The progression from the condition of the heart to the crime is possible.

            b.    Jesus equated murder to anger and a sharp tongue.

            c.    From the heart’s central allegiance comes attitude, emotion, language, and action.

        2.    “We shall reach places in our experience where we shall fail unless we have the God-given charity that beareth all things and endureth all things.” [B. T. Roberts]

            a.    Nagging discontent is a temptation cause by bitterness.

            b.    Blaming others is a temptation cause by bitterness.

            c.    Grumbling is a temptation cause by bitterness.

            d.    We think we are being cheated by others and by God.

            e.    We can end up doubting God’s character.

III.    Yes, but...

    A.    Some have been very badly hurt.

        1.    What do you say to a victim of a crime?

            a.    Bitterness keeps you connected to the criminal and his actions.

            b.    Forgiveness frees you and allows God the freedom of dealing with the criminal.

        2.    What do you say to someone who has been abused or abandoned?

            a.    Not allowing the offense to “stick” means you are not reliving the horror.

            b.    Trust God to take care of business.

    B.    Some would say they have the right to demand justice.

        1.    I have heard people say, “You don’t know how bad it has been...”

            a.    Reality check: allowing the poison does not help you.

            b.    When you “let go” you break the cycle and move on with your life.

        2.    Fact: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. [15] But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  Matthew 6:14 – 15

        3.    Another consideration: “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” [Hebrews 12:15]

Bottom line: “When we think we are so important and the damage done to us is so great that we need not forgive, we make ourselves greater than God, who freely forgives all.” [Vander Klok]

The Bible says, “If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” [1 John 4:20]

IV.    Now what

    A.    At this point we do not know an answer, we must learn more.

        1.    Scripture does not record anyone who has overcome bitterness on their own... every case required direct intervention.

        2.    Scripture does say a lot about the need to prevent bitterness.

    B.    Learning the disciplines to prevent bitterness will give us some tools to give God leverage to push bitterness out of our lives.

        1.    Know Jesus.  Forgiven people are able to forgive.  They go together and can not be separated.

        2.    Find a place (and time) of peace you can operate from in life (Matthew 10:12 – 13) such as a closet or prayer room (Matthew 6:6) where you can be with the one true giver of peace.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Psalm 51:10
“The promise of a new heart.”


Tired of a sin sick heart?

A. The good news is that God promised a new heart.

“They will return to it and remove all its vile images and detestable idols. [19] I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. [20] Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God. [21] But as for those whose hearts are devoted to their vile images and detestable idols, I will bring down on their own heads what they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD.” [Ezekiel 11:18 – 21]

1. God does not want us to have “vile images” and “detestable idols.”

a. In the Old Testament, the God prosecuted Israel for “adultery” when they worship images and idols.

b. An “image” is a picture used to represent God or an object of worship. [Genesis 1:26 – 27, Romans 1:23] It is a “SUBSTITUTE.”

c. An “idol” is a physical (3 dimensional) representation of God or object of worship. [Habakkuk 2:18, Acts 7:41] As a substitute, it becomes a worship of demons, intentional or unintentional. [1 Corinthians 10: 19 – 20]

2. The heart is where we are devoted, the image/idol what we are devoted to.

a. Like the stone of an idol, the heart can be stone.

b. Stone is not living, so it cannot respond, it cannot hear, it cannot obey.

B. The new heart is an undivided heart.

1. The heart of flesh CAN respond, it CAN hear, it CAN obey.

a. The divided heart or mind is unstable. [James 1:8]

b. “So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. [21] Elijah went before the people and said, "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him." But the people said nothing.” [1 Kings 18:20 – 21]

2. The undivided heart has chosen.

a. With a sin sick heart, comes the sin culture.

1.) The sin culture blames instead of taking responsibility.

2.) The sin culture grumbles (low grade rebellion) instead of being thankful.

b. The undivided heart has chosen to reject the sin culture.

1.) The focus is on seeking God and His kingdom. [Matthew 6:33]

2.) Its real strength is its honest dependence on God.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 5:3]

3. Being undivided means “focused.”

a. Bad things happen when we are spiritually unfocused.

1.) We become spiritually undisciplined. (Dissipation.)

Jesus warned us, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap” [Luke 21:34]

2.) Which leads to unhealthy behavior patterns.

3.) Which weakens us and makes us susceptible to falling in times of testing and temptation.

b. Good things happen when we are focused.

1.) “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” [Hebrews 11:6]

2.) “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. [10] For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” [Luke 11:9 – 10]

C. With the new heart comes a new power.

“For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. [25] I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. [26] I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. [27] And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” [Ezekiel 36:24 – 27]

1. The power to follow and keep God’s law comes from the Holy Spirit.

a. “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” [Acts 2:17a]

b. God is the one who removes the heart of stone... in His time.

2. What does this mean?

a. Few have the ability or sense of when it is appropriate to “self-doubt.”

b. We are born helpless, taken care of by others. We become teenagers where our parents seem to be our biggest doubters (in the form of criticism or control). We are trained to have high self-esteem. We enter adult life, sometimes optimistically sure that we are the center of the universe capable of all good things.

c. Repentance is the beginning of the heart beat and it is the very heart beat of the new heart.

1.) As long as we cannot see, or admit that we are not right... then repentance is not possible.

2.) As long as we see our life in context of being for our own use, privilege, and enjoyment... then repentance is not possible.

3.) BUT once we repent, it becomes a way of life AND we learn the appropriate use of (and for) “self-doubt.”

4.) When we develop the sense of “self-doubt” we learn to trust God and believe God (not just believe “in” God).

D. With a new heart comes a new life.

"So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. [17] Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" [2 Corinthians 5:16 – 17]

1. We become a new person as we rethink Christ and ourselves: “culture-shift.”

a. We tend to see things from a “self-centered” point of view. We interpret things from our past experience, traditions, nature, how we reason. It is distinctly unique and very human.

b. When we learn to rethink Christ and ourselves under the influence of the Bible, we become aware of an outside perspective: God’s.

2. Paul can say “he is a new creation” because:

a. We do not see from a “self” perspective.

b. We do not chose from a “selfish” reason.

c. We do are not motivated by naturally sinful point of view.

d. Our attitudes and thoughts are modified to the point where we can see the before and after effect.

3. Thus, “the old has gone, and new has come.”

a. Because of, in, and through Jesus Christ we become “new” (different) people.

b. That’s why we need that “broken spirit” and “contrite heart.”

1.) As long as we are fighting against the good God wants to accomplish... it will be slow and unprofitable (to us).

2.) The challenge is to let go of ourselves (and the idea that we are right) long enough to trust God.

(Ill.) Of a drowning person being rescued. Often, once they panic and start thrashing it is difficult for them to calm down and realize that someone is there to help them.

c. But once we end our self-panic inspired thought patterns and behaviors and see God’s love, He gives us a steadfast spirit.

(Ill.) On man asked a friend, “What are you thinking of? You look so depressed.”
“My future” came the reply.
“Well, what makes it look so hopeless and dismal?” asked the friend.
“My past.”

The Bible says, “the old has gone, the new has come!”

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Matthew 13:1 – 9, 18 – 23

Stories about people and the church

I. The measure of the real is RESULT not response.

***** Jesus told a story with four different responses and four different results.*****

A. Ones who do not understand, the seed is “stolen.”

1. The “hard heart” is a condition ruled in such a way that the devil easily has his way.

2. How does this happen?

a. Maybe it is a practical reason: they don’t see the need or conversion will be too costly.

b. Maybe it is a cultural reason: they are surrounded by people hostile to Jesus (and Christianity).

c. Maybe it is a willful condition: they simple have chosen to deliberately not listen.


(Ill.) A tourist walked down a pier and watched a fisherman pull in a large fish, measure it, and throw it back. He caught a second fish, measured it, and put it in his bucked. Oddly, all the large fish that ht caught he threw back, all the smaller fish he kept. Puzzled, the curious onlooker questioned, “Pardon me, but why do you keep the little ones and throw the big ones away?” The fisherman looked up and without blinking an eye said, “Because my frying pan is only ten inches across. (Rober Schuller’s “You can become the person you want to be.”)

B. Ones who receive with joy but do not endure.

1. The real hardness is hidden.

a. There is a good start but there are things that would sabotage over a long term.

b. We need to understand the difference between a sprint and a marathon. The Christian life is not a sprint!

2. The real problem is there is no root.

a. The ground is shallow so there is nothing to protect and nourish the initial joy for long.

b. These people are for real, but they are “fair weather.”

C. Ones who grow but do not produce fruit.

1. Luke 8:14 “The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.”

2. The people are constantly drained.

a. One drain is “worry.” (“feel troubled over actually or potential difficulties” – Oxford)

1.) In other words, there is energy exerted in persistent thought over real or imagined situations. DISTRACTED!

2.) There is growth but no fruit.

b. Another drain is “wealth.”

1.) Actually it is the illusion that wealth will satisfy and the pursuit of wealth instead of God.


Paul Harvey told the story of a college basketball coach who was shaving when his wife called upstairs to tell him that “Sports Illustrated” was on the phone. The coach was so excited he nicked himself shaving. He was so eager for recognition for himself and his school that rushing to the phone he fell down the stairs. Staggering breathlessly to the phone, he said “hello.”

The voice at the other end said, “Yes, sir. I’m happy to tell you that for only 75 cents per week you can receive a one year’s subscription...”

2.) The pursuit of pleasure drains energy to the point where the prospective fruit is choked.

D. Ones who produce fruit.

1. Notice the conditions are right.

a. The soil is deep and rich.

b. There are the same threats the other soils face but with serious differences.

1.) The seed is absorbed, so the devil cannot steal it.

2.) The soil is deep, so the seed takes good root.

3.) There are no weeds to drain the energy.

2. Luke 8:15, “honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (ESV)

a. The idea of patience (Luke 8:15, NIV “perseverance”) involves time and continual effort.

b. This is PROCESS Christianity, not instant Christianity.

II. The measure of the real is RESULT not appearance.

***** Jesus told another story involving a planted field. [vv 24 – 30, 36 – 43]*****

A. This story is not about successful destruction, it is about successful infiltration.

1. Good seed is planted by the owner but an “enemy” plants weeds.

a. Notice they grew together without distinction [v 26].

b. The distinction occurred after the wheat grew heads (started to produce fruit).

2. General principle: the devil is always there to counter God’s work.

a. It must have been exciting to see so many plants and disappointing to see less than expected results.

b. A bumper crop of plants does not mean a bumper crop of fruit.

(Ill.) Apple trees and vines.

B. What are the weeds?

1. Maybe they are people.

a. Graph: “maintenance” and “results.”

b. Some people are “high maintenance, low results.” They take lots of support but never seem to get anywhere. [Jesus did not spend much time with these people and at times was brutally critical of them.]

c. Because the church offers God’s grace (kindness and love), it attracts these types of people. [Personal theory, they are draw to the church and a generic spirituality, but not to Jesus.]

2. Maybe this is “church culture.”

a. Like the “thorny ground” [vv 7, 22] things happen that siphons energy.

b. Like what kind of things?

1.) Physical things: like basic church maintenance (necessary but should not be the main thought).

2.) Financial things: like a low check book balance.

3.) Personal things: like not getting along with someone one, political struggle, not liking the pastor (or thinking the pastor does not like you).

4.) Perceptual problems*: seeing things from a self-centered or negative point of view. (Taking things personally, in a negative way.)

*A father once bragged so much to his son about what a great hunter he was that the son decided to go hunting with him. They sat in the duck blind for a while when one lonely duck winged its way past the blind. The father took aim, fired, and missed. “Son” said the dad, “you have just witnessed a miracle. There flies a dead duck.”

(Ill.) Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life.” The first sentence of the book? “It’s not about you.”

III. The impression may mask the demonic!

Ronald Reagan once told the story of a newspaper photographer out in Los Angeles who was called in by his editor and told of a fire that was raging out of control. His assignment was to rush down to a small airport, board a waiting plane, get some pictures of the fire, and be back in time for the afternoon edition.

The photographer raced to the airport and drove the care to the end of the runway. Sure enough, there was a plane waiting with the engines all revved up, ready to go. He got aboard, and at about five thousand feet, he began getting his camera out of the bag. He told the person flying the plane to gem him over the fire so he could take his pictures and get back to the paper.From the other side of the cockpit there was a deafening silence. Then he heard, “Ah... Aren’t you the instructor?”

***** Jesus tells two more stories, that are subtle but continue the “enemy interferes” motif. [vv 31 – 33] *****

A. A tiny mustard seed grows into a large “tree.”

1. One summer I grew mustard in my garden... the mustard grew taller than the corn and the sunflowers. So large and strong, birds would land on the mustard plants.

a. The mustard seed produced an impressive plant and results from such a small seed.

b. But like the field, this also has a demonic element.

2. The birds.

a. Notice in this series of stories, v 4 and Jesus explanation in v 19.

b. While the birds (the “evil one”) do not damage the strong mustard plant, they lurk for opportunities to snatch the seed away.

B. The dough and the yeast.

1. Yeast is an impurity that is used to make dough rise (gives texture and fluffiness to the bread).

a. Yeast had to be eliminated from the house before Passover.

Exodus 12:19 – 20, “For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And whoever eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel, whether he is an alien or native-born. [20] Eat nothing made with yeast. Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread.”

b. Yeast was not allowed in ANY sacrifice.

Leviticus 2:11, “Every grain offering you bring to the LORD must be made without yeast, for you are not to burn any yeast or honey in an offering made to the LORD by fire.”

c. Yeast was a symbol of false teaching.

Matthew 16:6, “"Be careful," Jesus said to them. "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

d. Yeast was a symbol of false religion

Luke 12:1, “Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”

e. Yeast was an illustration of the poison of the sinful life.

1 Corinthians 5:6 – 8, “Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? [7] Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast--as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. [8] Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.”

2. Yeast is ALWAYS considered “bad” in the Bible.

a. It may seem small and be unseen, but you can see the results.

b. It grows with serious and spiritually devastating results.

IV. What’s wrong and what is the solution?

A. There are factors that keep us from producing fruit (results).

1. Unwillingness to listen, unwillingness to change, unwillingness to do the work.

2. The inability or unwillingness to make a serious connection with the source of life (Jesus) due to underlying conditions or issues.

3. Becoming distracted by “the tyranny of the urgent” and letting go of the central (important, essential, and critical).

4. Always draining, never contributing.

B. There are factors that naturally produce fruit.

1. Roots: being firmly connected to Jesus.

2. Resources: being firmly taught by the Bible and the Holy Spirit.

3. Redundant energy: fruit is the result of the excess (of good) energy and momentum. It is the overflow of energy that is produced that is not necessary to grow or maintain life.

C. There is one reason for the difference: “He who has ears, let him hear.” [v 9]


This is why I speak to them in parables:

"Though seeing, they do not see;

though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

" `You will be ever hearing but never understanding;

you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.

For this people's heart has become calloused;

they hardly hear with their ears,

and they have closed their eyes.

Otherwise they might see with their eyes,

hear with their ears,

understand with their hearts

and turn, and I would heal them.' [Matthew 13:13 -- 15]

Friday, July 06, 2007

My dad was transfered to a nursing home Monday. Today, Friday, he was able to escape... err... go home with the doctor's blessing. He is happy to be home but there are continuing effects of the stroke.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

There will be no sermon post for 7.2.07.

It was one of those sermons that went a different direction than originally planned. I'm not sure if this was due to the distraction of my dad's stroke (he's now in a nursing home, hopefully for rehab) or something the Holy Spirit wanted to accomplish (or some combination of both).

Preaching, at least for me, is more art than science. By that I mean a science is a precise formula and measurement that can be recreated. Included in that is the crafting of catch phrases, "extreme exegesis," and the turning of words. Anyone who has heard me knows that I am more interested in teaching the process and discovery of meaning. OK, maybe you were not consciously aware, but think about it... you'll get it.

In other words, I think that perception overrides fact. Most preachers preach on the level of fact, emotion, or application (all would be considered "fact" in some way). All of these can be (and have been) points of heresy and evil if volition is ignored (not taught). However, God has created us like Him... with the ability to chose and determine our destiny in response to God's kindness. It is the consistent pattern and process of how we chose (volition) that causes our perceptions to override facts.

Let's be honest. NOBODY remembers a sermon. (All those squishing and splatting noises you are hearing right now are the egos of millions of preachers, who actually attempt to make their sermons memorable because they think its possible, hitting the wall of honest reality.) Some might remember an element of a sermon (usually an illustration). What is remembered is how the preacher teaches the listener to listen, think, and live. It is those things we deeply care about that are passed on to others and become part of the church culture. Sometimes they are good, healthy, and righteous... sometimes not.

And every now and then, God allows the donkey to speak.