Below you will find AGAPE sermons you can read and watch to help reinforce your learning of this very effective preaching method. To learn more about the AGAPE method of preaching you can purchase my book That’ll Preach! 5 Simple Steps to Your Best Sermon Ever from Abingdon Press.
Why Give Money to the Church?
1st Corinthians 12:27
Sermon by Rev. Dr. Charley Reeb
On August 28th, 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr. led the march on Washington and delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. It was a defining moment in our nation’s history. 250,000 people gathered in Washington that day. Keep in mind that no invitations were given out and there was no web-site to check the date and time of the event. And, of course, no one had a smart phone in their pocket! Yet, 250,000 people showed up on the right day at the right time to make history.
How did that happen? How did King do it? He wasn’t the only civil rights leader at the time. He wasn’t the only great preacher at the time, either. How did he do it? A better question is why?
Simon Sinek reminds us that King had a gift for sharing what he believed and why he believed it. He knew if enough people understood why he was doing what he was doing they would join him in his cause. King was right. 250,000 people did not show up for King; they showed up for themselves because they believed what King believed. In fact, about 25 percent of the audience was white.
Sinek reminds us that MLK gave his “I have a dream” speech not his “I have a plan” speech! He didn’t share the “what” or the “how” of his movement; he shared the why. Sinek says all great leaders who inspire action know they must start with why before people will be motivated to act on what they believe. Why is a question of the heart. When people know why and believe in why they will do anything for why.
I have come to the place in my ministry where I have learned this lesson. People don’t commit to anything until they know why they should commit. What people do reflects what they believe. I have learned that people don’t commit to what you do; they commit to why you do it.
This is why we this year’s stewardship campaign is called “Saints Alive! – Living Generously!” When we as the church know why we should give we will come alive and give generously. We will give from the heart. Watch out! When you discover why, your generosity may even surprise you!
This morning I want to tell you why you should give generously to the church. I am willing to bet that no one has really answered that question for you. Sure, you’ve heard preachers raise money for this building project or that program or ministry. And I am sure you have heard sermons on generosity – how it is better to give than to your receive. Some of you have been through your fair share of slick stewardship campaigns with letters and goals and slogans. And some of you have grown up learning biblical concepts of giving and tithing. But I bet no one has really given you a good reason why you should invest your hard earned money in the church. Why?
It is a great question. You get letters and emails from colleges asking for money. Non -profits are always asking for donations. Your kid’s school is asking for money. The Girl Scouts are always selling those delicious cookies. You have kids selling chocolate bars for worthy projects. On and on it goes. And then you get a letter from the church asking for you to pledge money. And then the preacher gets up on Sunday morning and asks for money.
Really? You can’t possibly give money to every worthy organization. There are lots of good ones out there, but you can’t give to every one of them. You would go broke!
So why, in the midst of all the requests for financial support, should you pledge your financial support to the church? Why should you invest your money and time in the church? Is there a good reason why? Well, this morning I am going to tell you why you should invest your money in Pasadena Community Church. The reason why is really quite simple but for some reason you don’t often hear why. Why often gets lost in the midst of details, plans and budgets. But why is the most important question because people don’t give to what; they give to why!
When you hear why this morning you will never think twice about giving to the church again. When you hear why you should give your money to the church you may wonder why you didn’t give sooner – you may wonder why you have not invested more! When you hear why you may think, “I wonder why I didn’t get this before. It is so simple, so true, so powerful – why don’t more people know this?” Hearing why just may change how you view the church.
The Apostle Paul would underscore the powerful role of the church by making a simple but profound statement about the church. It appears in 1st Corinthians 12:27: All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. This means we are the hands and feet of Christ in this world! The Spirit of Christ works through us to do ministry. Christ is the head and we are the body.
When we fully understand Paul’s words we come to the realization that Pasadena Community Church is not a charity organization or an event center or a concert hall or a recreational center. We are the body of Christ! We are living saints! We are God’s chosen vessel in the world! God has chosen the church to be his change agent in the world.
So I am going to make it very clear and simple this morning. Why should you fill out a pledge card and give to the church? The Church is God’s best hope for the world! (Point)
Christ died for the church, so we should be shepherds of the church and take care of the church. We should never neglect it. God created the church to be His vessel in the world.
A close reading of history shows that when God does anything significant in this world, it is not done through politics, talk radio, fads, or through secular institutions; it is done through the church! Through the Saints! We must come alive!
I know what some people are thinking. “What about all the bad things the church has done over the years?” Maybe you have a neighbor or relative that comes over to your house every holiday and criticizes the church. Perhaps they bring up the same litany every year – the Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, the corruption and abuse of clergy, etc. Maybe some of them tell you they used to go to church but they got their finger caught in the machinery of the church and have never been back. Someone got mad at them or they got mad at someone and, to their surprise, they discovered that the church is made up of imperfect people!
Allow me to let the cat out of the bag for you this morning. The church is made up of imperfect people because, as the old saying goes, the church “is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” There is no such thing as the perfect church. I often find people who are searching for the perfect church. My response is always the same: “There is no such thing as the perfect church. But if you find the perfect church and join it, it will not be perfect anymore!”
The church is not perfect because it is made up of human beings. However, the church is still the greatest thing God has going for Him in this world and if God is going to do something profound in this world He will do it through His church.
I love the church. I love the Church universal and the church local. This is why I give generously to the church. I love walking into the sanctuary on Sunday mornings and seeing the joy on people’s faces. I love listening to the choir and praise band sing. I love watching the ushers and greeters greet visitors with warmth and friendliness. I love walking around this church property at night looking at our cross shine its light in the darkness. It reminds me we are a beacon in this community. Are we perfect? No. But we know the one who is perfect and we know that He can be trusted. We point the way to Him.
I love the church. This is why when people talk bad about the church, I take it personally. I feel like they are criticizing my own family. Don’t mess with my family! Everything I am I owe to God and His church. The church raised me through the nursery and Sunday school. The church nurtured me as a teenager. The church supported me and encouraged me when God called me to preach. The church supported me financially through college, seminary and through my doctoral work. I stand here before you today because of the church and because people were willing to give generously to the church.
You see, the gospel is not something that just floats around on its own. It is rooted, sustained, supported and organized by the church through the power of Holy Spirit. It is easy to get people saved, but the church keeps people saved. Don’t let that mess up your theology. What I am saying is that there is no such thing as an isolated Christian.
I don’t know any Christian who is growing and serving effectively who is not active in a local church. Sometimes I come across people who think they can grow as a Christian without being part of a church. They claim to love Jesus, but they say they don’t need to be active in a church. This is biblically impossible! Once you receive Christ as Savior you are grafted into the body of Christ. Paul addresses this issue in 1st Corinthians 12 when he tells us the church is like a body and the ear never says to the foot that it has no need for it. No, we all play a key role in the body of Christ and we need each other. Together, by the power of God, we achieve more for God. This is why the church is God’s best hope for the world!
Bill Self reminds us that the church was in the inner cities long before the activists were. The church was into education before the government. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton were originally started for the purpose of educating clergy. “The church has been feeding the hungry and creating community while general culture was debating political agendas and power. It was the church that broke down the Berlin Wall, led the March on Selma, produced Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement, and it was the church that led the War on Poverty” (Bill Self, “Surviving the Stained Glass Jungle,” p.79).
The church has been able to move mountains despite opposition, attacks, and the work of evil. Paul tells us in our text for today that savage wolves will try to come in and destroy the church. But all these attacks will never overcome the church because God created the church and His power works through us. Remember Jesus said the gates of hell will not prevail against the church.
The church is infinitely stronger than most people understand. Self reminds us again that “the church has survived Roman Imperialism…pagan optimism, medieval institutionalism…wars and rumors of wars. The church has survived modern skepticism, Southern provincialism, fundamentalism, post-modernism, and heresies in every generation….the church has survived incompetent clergy, tone deaf musicians, manipulative members, argumentative leaders, demanding denominations, unloving reformers, and greedy politicians” (“Surviving the Stained Glass Jungle,” p.80). It can withstand anything the world throws at it because it is sustained and empowered by God! Still, the church thrives and provides love, affirmation and community to the left out, down and out, thrown out and the bruised, broken, and beaten. It changes lives with the gospel of Jesus Christ!
I must confess a sin to you. When I get around the community and hear people talk about the great things our church is doing I am guilty of the sin of pride. I am so proud of this church. I think God makes allowances for that kind of pride. Our church is changing lives with the gospel! Whenever I see hungry people take food home from our food pantry, I want to shout, “This is why we give!”
When I meet a waitress who tells me she learned to speak English at our church and it has made such a difference to her life, I want to shout, “This is why we give!”
When I speak with couples who tell me that their marriage was saved by the ministries of our church, I want to shout, “This is why we give!”
When I see people come down this aisle to receive Christ as Lord and Savior, I want to shout, “This is why we give!”
When I see a young child at Gulfport Elementary light up when they see one of our mentors, I want to shout, “This is why we give!”
When I see our children singing about the love of Jesus in their hearts, I want to shout, “This is why we give!”
To critics of the church I ask, “What other institution in the world can change lives like the church can? What other body of people can make a difference for eternity like the church can?” Why do we give? Because the church is God’s best hope for the world!
The church is not about you or about me. The church is not about your agenda or my agenda. It is about the communication of the gospel to the next generation. It is about the people who aren’t yet here who need Jesus. The church is about the little children who run around here who one day will have families of their own.
I saw tomorrow in our children today. Maybe one of these kids will discover the cure to cancer. Maybe one of these kids will be a preacher or missionary. Maybe one of these kids will be the President of the United States. Who knows? But one thing we do know is that they will need the church!
Why do we give? Because the church is God’s best hope for the world!
There is an old legend told about Zacchaeus. You remember Zacchaeus. He was short so he climbed a tree to see Jesus in a crowd. Jesus told him to get down from the tree because he was coming over to his house. Jesus transformed his heart and he was never the same again.
The legend goes that after his conversion it was Zacchaeus’ habit to rise early and leave home for a while with a rake and shovel. Mrs. Zacchaeus noticed this one day and asked, “Where are you going?” Zacchaeus replied, “Do you remember that old sycamore tree I was in when Jesus found me? Well, I’m going to take care of it. It has been neglected by the city fathers and needs my care. You see, it held me so Jesus could find me” (Self, p.79).
I know that for many of you the church has been the tree that held you so Jesus could find you and love you. The church was there for you because people were willing to give generously. Now, it is our turn. Why should we give? Because the church holds people so Jesus can find them. The church loves people so Jesus can save them. The church cares for people so Jesus can empower them. The church supports people so Jesus can call them.
When you fill out your pledge card, remember WHY: the church is God’s best hope for the world! So give generously and live generously. Come alive in Christ! Amen.
Sermon by Rev. Dr. Charley Reeb
Today I continue our series “Pop Verses.” We are taking a closer look at some of the most popular Bible verses. We are going to find out why they are so popular and how they apply to our lives.
What you might discover is that some of these verses don’t mean what you think they mean or they mean a lot more than you think they mean. You see, quite often our favorites verses are just that – they’re verses. They’re not read in light of the passage in which they appear. This can lead to a misunderstanding about the true meaning of the verse. I believe this series is going to give you a lot of food for thought about these popular verses.
Today we are going to focus on what is probably the most well known Bible verse of all time. Let’s say it together:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” –John 3:16
Martin Luther called this verse, “The gospel in miniature.” In just 27 words it sums up the gospel. It has become the mantra of our faith.
But this verse has a problem. It suffers from overexposure. It has been read and quoted so often that many of us no longer feel the power of it. For some of us, its luster has faded. Perhaps for some of you this verse is connected to bad evangelism. Some obnoxious fire breathing preacher or arrogant friend quoted it trying to cajole you into becoming a Christian. Ever since then you see this verse saying, “Turn or burn!” Or you see a well meaning but tacky guy holding up John 3:16 behind a golfer on television. You may have even seen John 3:16 on Tim Tebow’s shadow stickers below his eyes!
Again, this verse suffers from exposure. As a result, its impact and meaning is diminished. So my goal in preparing this sermon this week was to feel the power of it again – to push aside all the baggage attached to it and experience the verse anew. I prayed that God would penetrate my heart with the message of John 3:16 so I could then share with all of you.
God answered my prayer. I experienced the penetrating power of this verse again. When I did I got in touch again with something so simple yet so profound that it healed me of old hurts and wounds. It gave me peace again – peace with myself, peace with God and peace with others. It set me free from heavy things holding me back.
I believe if you allow yourself to experience its truth today it can set you free too! Whether you are a Christian seeking renewal or a skeptic seeing something more in life the truth of today’s verse can you set you free from whatever is holding you back in life. It can give you the peace you are craving.
Jesus spoke about the freedom we crave in the 8th chapter of John. Let’s take a look:
Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” –John 8:31-32
I don’t know what you need to be set free from today but I do know that Jesus can set you free from it. Maybe it is shame. Maybe it’s guilt. Maybe it’s resentment and bitterness. Maybe it’s a bad habit. Maybe it’s hatred. Maybe it’s anxiety. Maybe it’s some heavy burden that you have been carrying. Whatever it is, the truth of Jesus can set you free.
Underneath all of our cravings and trivial pursuits and unrest is a longing for a truth that will set us free.
And oh I how our world needs to be set free! The world needs to be set free from hateful political rhetoric – set free from evil ideologies – set free from prejudice, anger and violence – set free from greed – set free from the oppression of the least, the last and the lost! If you have something you want to be set free from, can I get an amen?
But what is that truth that will set us free? Jesus said we will know the truth and once we know the truth it will set us free. What is it?
I believe John 3:16 contains the truth that will set us free. I want us to take a closer look at this verse so we can expose ourselves to this truth. You see, the context of this verse is all about someone seeking to be free. His name was Nicodemus. He was a Pharisee and a leader of the Jews. He was a religious man who followed the law rigorously. His whole life he sought to earn God’s love and grace through following a bunch of religious rules. 619 of them to be exact.
Maybe you can relate to Nicodemus. Perhaps you’ve always seen faith and religion as a bunch of rules and “thou shalt nots.” Maybe you grew up in a religious home or school that beat that idea into you and it is hard to break free from it.
Nicodemus was tired of religion as rule following and wanted to be set free too. He heard Jesus teach and preach and his heart was warmed. He sensed something different about Jesus. He was unlike any other rabbi he had ever known or heard. He had this overwhelming love about him. Jesus talked about love and faith in a way that moved him.
Nicodemus had to experience the truth Jesus was preaching about. He wanted to be set free from all the rules, laws, shame and judgment. But it was tricky because Nicodemaus was part of a group that hated Jesus. Jesus swallowed up all their religious rules with the greatest commandment and they were not too pleased with that. So Nicodemus met Jesus at night so no one would see him.
In the third chapter of John Nicodemus asked Jesus some questions about how to be set free. Jesus told him he needed to be born from above. This confused Nicodemus, so Jesus told him that he was going to be lifted up for all the world to see and then he would understand. Jesus was referring to his crucifixion. Jesus believed that once Nicodemus saw him on that cross and opened his heart he would experience the truth that would set him free.
It is then that the gospel of John reveals the truth that would sets us free:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” –John 3:16
Let’s break down this powerful verse. As we do we will experience the freedom we crave.
“For God so LOVED”
Hear this word! See this word! Experience this word! God loves you. So many people see God as a power hungry deity who demands obedience and submission. Some think God is not satisfied until we are groveling and feel terrible about ourselves and beg and crawl our way to him. That is not the God revealed in Jesus Christ. And that is not the God revealed in John 3:16. God loves you. You are his child. He created you. He wants you to be happy and whole. How much does God love you exactly? Take a look:
“For God SO loved”
To me this is one of the most overlooked words of this verse. Go SO! God SO loved. God so loved the world. Not just America. Not just Britain. Not just Mexico. God SO loves. God yearns for us. He loves us SO much! My mom used to say, “Charley, I love you so.”
I like what Max Lucado says. God loves us so much that if “he had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it.”
But for God it wasn’t just lip service. God showed that deep love for us.
God held nothing back in demonstrating his love for us. God wooed us back to him by giving us his son. Now this is when this verse gets tricky for some of us. “Okay, first I hear that Jesus is God. Now this verse tells me that Jesus is God’s son and God sent him to die for us. Which is it?” If you have ever felt that way you are not alone.
I am going to make it plain and easy to understand. It’s all about the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We don’t believe in three gods. The Trinity is a way of expressing the three predominant ways God expresses himself in the world. God is defined by what God does. God is the Father who creates, the Holy Spirit who guides and sustains and the Son who is with us and loves us intimately. So one way to understand this verse is that on the cross we see God giving the most vulnerable part of himself to us. As Philippians says, God “emptied himself” to us in Christ. It was the ultimate display of love.
In this way the cross is God’s poetry of love. See the cross as poetry, not as a legal event. On the cross God in Christ is saying, “You want to know how much I love you? I love you this much.”
The verse says “everyone who believes in him.” God so loved the “world.” It doesn’t say “God so loved the perfect people” or “God so loved the religious people.” It doesn’t say “God so loved the United Methodists,” as wonderful as we are. It doesn’t say “God so loved the bold and the beautiful.” God loves everyone, the entire world he created.
God loves and reaches out to everyone. This flies in the face of many who believe they have a monopoly on God. So many Christians want to put a limit on God’s love. They claim that God’s love only goes so far for people. No, God’s love is limitless. His grace is within everyone, and that grace calls everyone to be in relationship with him.
“BELIEVES in him”
This is probably the most misunderstood word in this verse. Believe does not mean intellectual assent. It doesn’t mean you have done a bunch of mental gymnastics and rationally believe there is a God. Jesus said that even demons believe in God. Besides, there is a mystery to God that we could never wrap our finites minds around. See “believe” in this verse as “invest.” Whenever you invest your heart, life and actions in God and his love you will experience life as you were destined to live it. Take a look:
“Will not perish, but have ETERNAL LIFE.”
When you invest your life into God and his love you will not perish, which means you will not live a meaningless and purposeless existence. You will live an “eternal life.” That literally translates “life of God.” It is a life filled with joy, hope, peace, strength, meaning, purpose and adventure. It is eternal in its duration but it begins now!
So I believe John 3:16 can be summed up in five words. This is the truth that will set you free today!
God is crazy about you.
Turn to your neighbor and say, “God is crazy about you.” Augustine said, “God loves each one of us as if there is only one of us to love.” God held nothing back to show you how much he loves you and that he wants you whole. He wants you to live life with purpose and meaning.
Believe it or not, convincing people of this is one of my toughest jobs as a pastor. Sometimes it feels as if I cannot preach on the love of God enough! There are so many voices out in the world tearing people down. There are so many people with toxic faith presenting God as an angry judge. So I will preach in season and out of season about the love of God!
That is my goal as a preacher – that people would experience the transforming love of God wherever they are in their journey. I don’t want people to hear my voice speaking, but the voice of God speaking his love into them. That is what motivates me as a preacher. That is all I ever want to do.
We need to get back to experiencing God and his love. We need to get back to feeling how crazy God is about us. It strikes me that in the church we spend a lot of time talking about what we think about God, about what we understand about God. We meet in small groups and discuss what we think and understand about the Bible and our faith. And this is great. We must have a thinking faith. Without it we are doomed to have a destructive theology. But what I don’t hear often enough in the church is people talking about their experience of God. A big part of our tradition as Wesleyans is talking about experiencing God. After all, Wesley’s pivotal experience of faith is feeling his heart “strangely warmed” by the love and grace of God. Early Methodists got together and asked, “How is it with your soul?” (I am grateful to Bob Farr for helping me to see this reality).
We need to get back in touch with our personal experiences of God. Find a person or group to talk to about your experience of the love, grace and power of God. The more you do this, the more you will be aware of how much God loves you. This awareness and experience will empower you and set you free.
I know some of you need to experience God’s love in the worst way. You have been beat up, put down, knocked out, and push aside by people in life. Perhaps you are thinking, “Does anyone love me? Does anyone care? Does anyone understand? Does anyone know how I feel?” And Christ reaches out to you with nail scarred hands and says, “Oh, I do. I love you. I understand you. I care about you. I am crazy about you. I am here to love and empower you.” “For God SO love the world…”
I remember preaching at a youth camp several years ago. The worship service went really late. I didn’t get up to preach until about 11p.m. It didn’t help that I had the flu but it was the last service of the week and I had to finish. I don’t know what I said. I was so sick. I was just trying to get through it. I thought it was the worst sermon I ever delivered.
After the service a teenage girl approached me. She looked very angry. She said, “I have to find out if something is true.” I replied, “What’s that?” She said, “You mentioned tonight that God loves me. Do you believe that? I don’t believe anyone has ever loved me. My dad left me and my mother abused me, and I moved from one institution to another. I’ve been sexually abused, neglected, and you are telling me that God loves me?”
I looked into her eyes and said, “That’s right. I know this for certain. God loves you. You want to know how I know? God got up on a cross and said, ‘This is how much I love you.’” She paused for a moment and tears began rolling down her cheeks. Then she said, “Well, if God loves me, then nothing else matters. If God loves me, that’s all that matters.” I said, “Sweetheart, you have just learned something it takes most people a lifetime to learn.”
God is crazy about you. Open your heart to his love. It will set you free.
The Greatest Compliment Jesus Ever Gave
Sermon by Rev. Dr. Charley Reeb
Today I continue our series, “Who are you trying to impress?” If we are honest, we all have the desire to impress people. We want to be like, accepted, recognized and so we often spend a lot of time and energy trying to impress others. But a life spent impressing people is exhausting and miserable because we often compromise who God created us to be. We have two choices: we can spend our lives impressing others or impressing Jesus. But we can’t do both. Real life is found when we spend our lives impressing Jesus.
At the end of our lives we are not going to be thinking about all the ways we succeeded or failed at impressing others. We will be thinking about all the ways we succeeded or failed at impressing Jesus. Those will be the moments that matter. Those will be the moments that count.
So what exactly impresses Jesus? Do we really know? What are the things he really loves and admirers? What really pleases him? Well fortunately, the gospels make that clear. The gospels provide several fascinating accounts of Jesus encountering people who really impressed and amazed him. So for the next several weeks we are going to take a look at these encounters and learn from them. I hope this series motivates all of us to dedicate our lives to impressing Jesus because that is the only life worth living.
Last week we discovered that Jesus was very impressed with a poor widow who gave everything she had to God. Jesus observed a woman give her last two dollars to the temple. Unlike the wealthy people who gave out of their abundance, the women gave everything. We learned that Jesus is impressed with those who take great risks for God. With that in mind we learned that we will never know how much the Lord can do through us until we are willing to take a great risk for him.
Today we turn our attention to another person Jesus was extremely impressed with. In fact, he impressed Jesus so much that he received what is perhaps the greatest compliment Jesus ever gave anyone. Yeah, I know! Pretty impressive, huh? Imagine getting a huge compliment from Jesus! That’s worth living for, isn’t it? Funny thing is the person who received the greatest compliment from Jesus was the most unlikely person in the world. And therein lies the lesson for us today.
Before I introduce you to this unlikely person and why and how he impressed Jesus so much, I want to tell you how important today’s message could be for you. Today’s message has the power to help you overcome your doubts. I imagine there is a lot of doubt in the sanctuary today. None of us are immune to doubt. As humans, it is often natural to doubt. We doubt our faith. We doubt God. We doubt the people we are supposed to trust. We doubt ourselves. To a certain point, doubt is healthy and normal. It leads to greater truth and answers.
But doubt can easily turn into a dark diabolical demon in our minds and hearts. We can get stuck in our doubts. Instead of being a motivating tool for deeper answers, doubt can pull us down into the pit of sadness, discouragement, bitterness and cynicism. Ever been there? You may be there right now. Maybe you have doubted your faith and God for so long that it has been forever since you were hopeful about anything. Maybe an experience of betrayal has caused you to doubt people when they get close to you and it’s hard for you to have healthy relationships. Perhaps you have been suffering so long with an illness that you doubt you will ever find relief and healing. Maybe a shattered dream has caused you to doubt new dreams. Or maybe all the pain, war and violence in the world has caused you to doubt humanity.
I get it. I certainly have gone through periods of great doubt and darkness. I know what it is like to feel stuck in the darkness of doubt. It is a very hopeless and helpless feeling. If you are there today, you are not alone.
However, I want to share with you today how I have learned to doubt my doubts and live with confidence in God. I want to share with you how you can experience the hope and power of God again in your life. And that lesson comes from the most unlikely person in the gospels. His story appears in both Matthew and Luke.
Today we are going to look at his story from Matthew. We find it in Matthew 8, beginning with verse 5. Let’s take a look. It is a powerful story that just may turn your life around:
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him seeking help. –Matthew 8:5
We find Jesus at the height of his ministry. He is going to town to town teaching and healing people. Word about him is spreading like crazy. Everyone is starting to hear about this Jesus of Nazareth. So when he enters this town of Capernaum everyone in the town finds out about it. And the first person who approaches Jesus is not a devout Jew or someone who followed Jesus, but a Roman centurion! A Roman Centurion was a high ranking officer in the Roman army. Only the strongest, loyal, and most disciplined men became centurions. This man had command over hundreds of men who followed every order he gave.
What I want you to know about centurions is that they were considered pagans by Jews. They worshipped other gods and did terrible things. And yet here was this centurion asking Jesus for help. What did he need help with? Let’s take a look:
“Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.” –Matthew 8:6
The centurion had a servant. Shows you how important he was in that society. But this centurion was not like other centurions. He had compassion on his servants. Most misused and abused their servants. If servants disobeyed them or were not useful, they would kill them or sell them off to another abusive centurion. But this Centurion cared about his servant. His servant was suffering terribly, unable to move. Who knows what his malady was. All we know is that the centurion cared enough about this man that he sought help from Jesus of Nazareth. This was a very odd move for a Roman centurion who worshipped other gods and lived a pagan lifestyle.
But I want you to notice something about what the centurion said to Jesus and what he didn’t say. Notice that the centurion simply stated his problem to Jesus. He didn’t make any request. He didn’t cry out, “Lord you’ve got to do something….you’ve got to heal him….you’ve got to….. .” That’s what most of us do isn’t it? When we pray to Jesus, we make it plain what we want and what we need, don’t we?
That’s not what the centurion did. All he said to Jesus was, “My servant is at home suffering terribly.” Why didn’t he make a request? We are going to find out why in a second and the why is huge.
So how did Jesus respond to the centurion? What did Jesus do? Did he say, “Away with you wicked centurion! Away with you, you pagan violent man!” No. This was Jesus who had great love for everyone, especially outsiders. Look at Jesus’ response:
Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?” –Matthew 8:7
Jesus response was, “Okay your servant is suffering….and……..what? Do you want me to come to your home and heal him? Is that what you want? Everyone tells me what they want me to do….you just stated your problem….just tell me what you want…you want me to come to your house, just tell me where you live and I will come over and heal him.” Watch what happens next:
The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.” –Matthew 8:8
What? Why would the centurion seek Jesus out for help if he thought he was too unworthy for Jesus to enter his home? You see, the centurion was knowledgeable of the Jewish faith. He knew no self respecting practicing Jew would enter the home of a pagan centurion. Their homes were unclean to Jews. Centurions were vile characters to Jews and they would not dream of entering their home. The centurion knew this and he probably thought Jesus wouldn’t go near his home. But this is Jesus we are talking about and he never let rules stop him from loving and helping people.
Still, the centurion did not want Jesus to come to his house. This is strange, isn’t it? He stated his problem to Jesus. His servant was suffering and yet he did not want Jesus to come to his home to heal him. Jesus must have said, “So you tell me your servant is suffering but you don’t want me to come to your house and heal him? Well then, what do you want me to do exactly?” Look at what he says to Jesus. It is astounding:
Just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” –Matthew 8:8-9
Amazing! He said, “You don’t need to come to my house to heal him. Just say the word. You can do it right now, right here. Just say he’s healed, and he will be healed. I mean, that’s how it works in my world. I command a huge army. I follow orders and many men follow my orders. If I want something done, it’s done. Period. Isn’t this how this works? I’ve heard you have great power. You can just heal him right now. Just say the word.” Wow!
Now, understand, this centurion still has not made any request of Jesus. He has simply stated his problem and said to Jesus, “Just say the word.” Simple, confident and clear. No begging. No bargaining. Well Jesus was wowed. Look at what Jesus said next. It is the greatest compliment Jesus ever gave anyone:
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” –Matthew 8:10
This is unbelievable. Jesus said this centurion had greater faith than all the amazing characters in the Bible – Abraham, Moses, Jacob, David, the Prophets, etc. Jesus said this centurion had greater faith than all the heroes of the Bible who did amazing things for God! That’s huge! Think about it! That is a grand statement! And it wasn’t as if Jesus was saying this about a devout Jew. That would have been astonishing enough. He said it about an unclean, pagan man who the Jewish leaders hated and avoided! What does that tell you? Human beings judge people by their outward appearance but God looks on the heart. And when Jesus saw this centurion’s heart and heard what he said, he was so impressed, so amazed, that he basically said, “The faith of this centurion is the greatest faith I have ever seen.”
Only twice in the gospels do we find Jesus amazed at anyone or anything. First, Jesus was amazed at the lack of faith of his own people. Second, we find in our text for today that Jesus was amazed at the great faith of a man who was considered an outsider.
What was it about the great faith of the centurion that amazed Jesus? What moved Jesus so much that he gave him the greatest compliment in the world? Well, we find the answer to that in the last thing Jesus said to the centurion:
Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment. –Matthew 8:13
“Let it be done just as you believed it would.” What was it about the faith of the centurion that amazed Jesus and impressed him so much? He expected Jesus to act. “Okay, it’s done, just as you expected it to be done.” The centurion didn’t hope or wish or beg or plea or bargain or doubt when he approached Jesus that day. He simply expected Jesus to do something. He expected Jesus to respond to his problem. He expected Jesus to help. He never made a request. He never even said, “Please heal him.” He simply heard Jesus had the greatest power in the world, simply stated his problem and simply expected Jesus to respond with his power at that very moment. And Jesus did, just as the centurion expected.
So what is the lesson for us today? What impresses the heck out of Jesus? The more we expect Jesus to act the more reasons he will give us to believe. The key word there is expect. Jesus is impressed when we expect him to act in our lives. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It is. Too simple for most of us. When was the last time you were so confident in God that you expected him to act in your life? Has the ever been a time you were expectant about God doing anything in your life? Do you have a problem in your life today? Do you expect God to respond to it or do you wish or hope he will? Do you have an issue in your life today that you can’t solve on your own? Do you expect God to help you solve it or do you bargain with God about it?
You see, for most of us, our faith often takes the form of wishing or bargaining with God. Some of us just wish and hope and cross our fingers to God. And some of us bargain with God, “I’ve been good, Lord….remember when I did that nice thing the other day….throw me a bone, God.” And while we are bargaining with God we forget we have a God of grace who has graciously loved us, saved us, and forgiven us. We don’t have to bargain with a gracious God.
When was the last time you expected God to act in your life? For example, when you got up, got dressed and came to worship today, were you expecting to hear or experiencing something from God that would make a difference in your life or did you wish that the preacher wouldn’t go long today so you could beat the Baptists to Waffle House? When you read your Bible and pray, do you expect to be inspired by God? Do you expect to be moved by God? When you get up in the morning do you expect to experience God during the day? Do we as PCC expect God to do great things through our church or do we simply expect to pay the bills and be a religious shop?
Perhaps you are thinking, “I would love to have that kind of confidence but my doubts are so heavy and strong.” Well let me proclaim boldly today: It’s time to start doubting your doubts and expecting God to act in your life! It’s time to doubt your doubts and expecting God’s power in your life! It’s time to doubt your doubts and experience the hope of God in your life!
If you are someone struggling with doubt today, here is your homework: Pick one thing you have doubts about or are struggling with today. Just pick one thing. Give it to God and pray, “Lord, I’m expecting you to act on this. I expect it.” Just give it to God with an expectant faith and watch what happens. He may not act or answer in the way you want him to, but he will act. I promise you that!
I will give you one of the greatest examples of expectant faith in my life. Ever since I was in junior high I prayed and expected God to provide a wonderful woman for me to marry. I got started early because I knew I would be a challenge! In high school I dated a few girls. They were nice but none of them were “the one.” Then I got to college and I surely expected God to provide the right woman there. I dated a couple of strange girls and became friends with many wonderful girls but still did not find the one. I saw my buddies finding the right women and was jealous but I kept expecting God to provide. Then when I went off to seminary I definitely expected God to provide the right woman for me there. I dated couple of girls in seminary who were stranger than the ones in college! I didn’t expect some of the women in seminary to be that strange, but they were! Wow! I was disappointed but I kept expecting God to provide.
In my second year of seminary I got a job as Minister of Evangelism at Northside UMC near downtown Atlanta. One of my roles was to help new people join the church. I heard that there was a woman named Brandy working in our recreation department who was interested in joining. So one afternoon I went to look for her in the gym. When I walked in the gym I noticed a beautiful woman in a red dress. I found out it was Brandy. I thought, “It would be my honor and privilege to speak with her about joining the church. I’m just a humble servant and this is my job.” Needless to say, there was immediate chemistry. The second time we talked we talked for over three hours. We were engaged in three months! She swept me off my feet. I often joke that Brandy wanted to join the church and when she met me she got a lot more church than she bargained for! I’m so blessed to call Brandy my wife. What a woman!
Jesus is impressed when we expect him to act in our lives. When we expect the Lord to act in our lives, our confidence in him moves him and he responds.
David understood this well. That’s why the Bible calls David a man “after God’s own heart.” David’s verses throughout the Bible are filled with expectation. Take a look:
“In the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.” (Psalm 5:3 NIV)
Psalm 130:5 (TLB) says, “I wait expectantly, trusting God to help, for He has promised.”
I can’t guarantee that every time you give something to God expecting him to act that you’ll always get what you are expecting. But I can tell you this: If you expect Jesus to act in your life, you can expect two things – Jesus will act and respond in some way and your percentage of answered prayer will increase dramatically. I have seen it in my own life as well as in the lives of others. Maybe most of all when we have an attitude of expectancy about the Lord there will be a peace and joy in our hearts that we can’t find anywhere else.
Repeat this Psalm with me:
“I will keep expecting you to help me. I praise you more and more”! (Psalm 71:14 TLB)
The more we expect Jesus to act the more reasons he will give us to believe. Amen.
Sermon by Rev. Dr. Charley Reeb
Good morning! It is great to see everyone. I am excited because I begin a new message series today! It’s called “Pop Verses!” meaning “popular’ verses of scripture. It was tough for me to whittle down this list to seven. There are several popular Bible verses. However, I think I picked the ones that most people are very familiar with. And some of these may be your most favorite of all.
In this series we are going to take a closer look at these pop verses and the context in which they appear. We are going to find out why they are so popular and how they apply to our lives. What you might discover is that some of these verses don’t mean what you think they mean. Or you may discover these verses mean a lot more than you think they mean. You see, quite often our favorites verses, are just that – they’re verses. They’re not read in light of the passage in which they appear. This can lead to a misunderstanding about the true meaning of the verse. I believe this series is going to give you a lot of food for thought about the meaning of these popular verses.
The one I begin with today is my wife Brandy’s favorite. It is Philippians 4:13. Let’s say it together:
I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. –Philippians 4:13
How many of you have heard this verse before? Now raise your hand if this verse is one of your favorites. We see this verse connected a lot with athletics and sports. I remember a poster that showed a sprinter stretching across the finish line. Below him was Philippians 4:13. That’s not bad, but the verse means so much more than that. There is a depth of meaning in this verse that could change your life. Seen in its larger context this verse is even more powerful than we think.
I believe all of us want this verse to be true. I think all of us want strength for living. All of us want to feel empowered in life. I know many of you are worn out, burned out, and about to pass out! A little bit of strength would be good, amen? Maybe you come to worship today exhausted by life. Maybe you have a tough decision to make and you don’t know if you have the strength to make it. Perhaps you have so many things on your plate that you would love an escape button. You want off this train! The pressures of work, family, and business and life have you at your wits end. I just spoke to a lady the other day who said, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired!”
It seems pretty clear from the verse today that we find the strength we need in Christ. For most of us here that is not a difficult concept to understand. Christ is our rock and our redeemer. But notice the verse expresses that Paul had found strength in Christ. He doesn’t say, “You will find your strength in Christ to do all things.” I am sure Paul believed that but he was giving testimony. He was testifying that he had found all the strength he needed in Christ. The question is how can we find it?
How can we go about our day to day lives with the strength of Christ – in the board room, in the waiting room, and in the emergency room? If we are honest, there are days when we don’t really feel that strong. We have prayed. We have been to church. We have maybe even read our Bible daily. But the strength is not there. We go on vacations. We read self help books. We listen to Oprah and the strength we need is still not there. Why is that? How can we get the strength we need?
Wouldn’t you love to have Paul’s confidence? Wouldn’t you love to feel the strength of Christ like Paul – to face life with power and wisdom and confidence – to experience strength beyond you? I think this is one of the reasons why this is a favorite verse for many people. It expresses a deep hope and desire to find strength. We like the verse because we hope for strength. We yearn for it. We long for it but many of us don’t experience it.
Well, you have come to the right place today. I am going to share with you how you can find the strength in Christ you need to do all things. I am going to share with you how you can tap into the power of Christ and have the same confidence as Paul. It is not that I have some secret knowledge or understanding. Some people think we pastors do. They will say, “Pray for me. I know you have a good connection to God.” Well, everyone has that connection! We believe in the priesthood of all believers. That is what the Protestant Reformation was all about! You have a connection with Christ too! You can pray to him anytime you want. He hears you the same way he hears me. So no, I don’t have some special knowledge. I have simply studied and prayed over this verse and read the verses that come before it.
You see, that is the key. Most people just read this verse alone, out of its context and think, “Okay, Christ gives me strength too.” In fact, if I took a poll of how many know Philippians 4:12, most people would not know it. But you can’t understand Philippians 4:13 unless you understand Philippians 4:12, and 11 and 10. We must see this popular verse in light of its context. It is then and only then that we discover how to have what Paul had, that strength in Christ to do all things. So if you want that strength today let’s take a closer look at the verses that come before this “Pop” verse.
Most scholars believe that Paul was in a Roman prison when he wrote the letter to the Philippians. It was his favorite church. He founded it. He loved the people and they loved him. He had a special relationship with them. Philippians 4:13 appears as Paul is wrapping up the letter. He is thanking the Philippians for sending him a gift, probably money to help his ministry. Paul had good etiquette. He knew it was important to send a thank you note! Take a look:
I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. –Philippians 4:10
Paul is expressing how happy he was to receive their big check to help with his ministry. As Paul was preaching the gospel everywhere, there were no cell phones, emails, or texts. There was just snail mail. And so Paul’s special friends mailed Paul a gift to help him and this warmed Paul’s heart. It was the only way they could show Paul they loved him and believed in him. This made Paul very happy.
But Paul was very quick to point out something. Take a look:
I am not saying this because I am in need… –Philippians 4:11
Paul was quick to tell his special friends that he wasn’t thankful and happy because he was desperate and in great need for the money. Paul was not like a preacher on a stewardship Sunday. He was happy for the love and kindness behind the gift. Paul’s love language was probably “gift giving.” He appreciated the thought behind the gift.
And then Paul expresses something that is the beginning of understanding the power of Philippians 4:13:
…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. –Philippians 4:11
You see, this is Paul’s wisdom shining through. Paul was an older man by the time he wrote these words. He had been through life’s battles. He had survived countless bouts of persecution. He sat in a Roman prison cell awaiting death at any moment. He knew what was most important in life. He knew what counted. Life and faith had taught him to be self sufficient regardless of his circumstances. That is what content means, to be self sufficient. He didn’t rely on the circumstances of life to determine his happiness because he knew circumstances are always changing.
Most of us are quite the opposite. We are only happy and self sufficient when circumstances are just how we want them. We feel good when life lines up just like we want it. We put ourselves at the mercy of circumstances, but Paul didn’t. Paul continues:
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. –Philippians 4:12
Paul was basically saying, “Been there. Done that.” I have faced sad and desperate times. And I have face wonderful and glorious times. Each has something to teach us. I have lived life and have been through it. I know what I am talking about.” If Paul were living today he might have a tee shirt that says, “Getting Old is Not for Sissies!”
In essence Paul was confessing that when he was young he made the mistake of relying on circumstances for happiness and contentment. But then he realized that life is a series of ups and downs. If you rely on circumstances you are going to be disappointed.
So then Paul throws in a phrase that blows my mind. We don’t find anything like it anywhere in scripture really. It’s amazing. Take a look:
I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. –Philippians 4:12
Now, how about that! Paul said he had learned the secret of being content no matter what life threw at him. Whether he was hungry in a prison cell or comfortable in his bed with a full stomach, he knew the secret – the secret to being content! I don’t know about you but I want that secret!
It does seem like a secret doesn’t it? Everywhere you look folks are unhappy. They have everything they want and they are still not happy or content. Everywhere you look folks are relying on circumstances to bring them strength and contentment and it always disappoints. It does seem like a secret.
Maybe the secret has eluded you. You would love to know that secret! You want the secret Paul learned? You really want the secret. Well, the truth is the secret is found in Philippians 4:13. Paul revealed it in this pop verse. He wasn’t trying to keep it hidden. The problem is we just miss it. Here is the verse again. See if you can spot the secret:
I can do all things through him who gives me strength. –Philippians 4:13
We always focus on the wrong word in this verse. This is why we miss the secret. Whenever we read this verse most of us underline in our minds the word “strength.” It is an important word but it is the byproduct of what I believe is the most important word in this verse. It is only two letters, but it leads us to the secret. The word is “Do.” I can DO all things through Christ, the one who gives me strength.
Paul’s secret to strength and contentment lied in learning to focus on what he was supposed to do, not what he felt he should have. It was not the money, the things, the power, the gifts, the prestige, that spurred him on; it was his relationship with Christ and what Christ had called him to DO.
Paul detached himself from the non-essentials of life so he could focus on what really mattered for eternity. So, in a nut shell, what is the secret to finding contentment and strength for living?
Let go of what you should have and grab hold of what you should do.
You see it is all about HAVE vs. DO. That is always our struggle in life and faith. That is where we get tripped up! We have it backwards. We think once we have what we want we will be free to do what needs to be done. You will never have all that you want. But you will always have the strength to do what Christ calls you to do, no matter your circumstances.
Many of us don’t have the strength we need because of where we put our energy. Truth be told, we often put our energy in what we should have and that will always suck the strength, joy and power right out of us.
For much of the world this verse is changed to, “I can do all things through money that will strengthen me, but I need more of it.” “I can do all things through the right relationship that will strengthen me, but all the good ones seem to be taken.” “I can do all things through position that will strengthen me and my self esteem, but I am not the boss yet.”
Maybe that is the story of your life. If it is, have you found the strength you need? I am betting not. Perhaps all you have to show for your pursuit of content and strength is a depleted soul and discouraged spirit.
You want power? Change your perspective. Do what Paul did. Take your mind and heart off the non-essentials and focus on the eternal. Let go of what you should have and grab hold of what you should do. Get to work on following Jesus in the world and everything else will take care of itself. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you.”
The richest people are those with the fewest needs. The richest people are those whose only desire is to please Christ and live for him.
So many think this verse is about super human power. “I can do all things, like swim the English Channel or win a Green Jacket!” I had to give up my dream of a Green Jacket a long time ago! For Paul “all things” meant all the work and ministry Christ had called him to do. Paul didn’t say, “I can HAVE all things through Christ who strengthens me!” He said, “I can DO all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It was about Christ giving Paul all the strength he needed to do what Christ had called him to do.
When we don’t have strength and contentment it is not because Christ is absent. Oh, Christ is there. He is alive and well. We don’t have strength and contentment because we don’t make room for Christ and what he calls us to do. We spend our time and energy on the non-essentials of life.
Just think of how much time and energy we spend worrying about non essentials. The happiest, most energetic people I know are those who faithfully serve Christ and his church. Why is that? Christ loves giving strength to those who want to be involved with what he is doing in the world. People who are out doing for Christ never complain of not having enough strength. They may complain of not having enough time or resources, but not strength. The Bible says, “He who began a good work in you will see it to you completion.”
I have discovered that I find rest when I have worked. I find strength when I am doing for others. I find joy when I am serving. The more I bless, the more I am blessed. That’s how it works! I can DO all things through Christ who strengthens me!
Many folks don’t have strength for anything because they are not doing anything productive for Christ. They are focused on having instead of doing. This is why self-centered churches die! This is why inward focused churches die and outwardly focused churches thrive! Christ is not going to bless a church whose only desire is to be catered to. Christ is not going to strengthen a church whose only mission is to keep up traditions or be entertained. Christ is not going to bless a church that just stuffs itself with Bible study and never goes out to burn those spiritual calories by serving.
You will HAVE when you DO. You want fulfillment? Give a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. You want joy? Join us in serving the homeless at Pinellas Hope. You want meaning? Talk to another person about your relationship with Christ. You want purpose? Tell God you will do anything for him and watch your life transform. You will be so busy and so alive you won’t care anymore about getting everything you want. You will have found the secret to contentment.
One of my favorite movies is The Shawshank Redemption. It stars Morgan Freeman as “Red” and Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne. They are both prisoners and become good friends in prison. Andy is sentenced to two consecutive life terms for a double murder he did not commit. He experiences the brutality of prison life and works for a cruel and disturbed warden. He longs to be free from prison so he begins to plan his escape without telling a soul.
There is great scene in the movie when Andy and Red are sitting against a wall in the prison yard. Andy keeps talking and day dreaming about the life he would live if he were free. He says he would go to Mexico and live on the Pacific. He would run at hotel and run on the beach. He would buy an old boat and go fishing. Red, unaware of Andy’s plan to escape, tries to talk him back to reality: “Why are you wasting time with these pipe dreams. All that stuff is out there and you are in here.” Andy replies, “Well, life comes down to a simple choice. Get busy living or get busy dying.”
When I read Philippians 4:13, I don’t see a Green Jacket: I hear a challenge: “Charley, get busy living for Christ or get busy dying in trivial pursuits.” I choose Christ. Which do you choose? Let go of what you should have and grab hold of what you should do. Get busy living or get busy dying. Amen.