Category Archives: Sermon Exerpts

Imagine an Angel on a Mission to Nazareth (Sermon Excerpt)

I want to challenge us to use our imaginations for a good and holy purpose. I want the Holy Spirit of God to transport us to a world beyond our wildest dreams—the full color world of the presence of God in the heavens. I want to take you to a courtyard just outside the throne room of God Himself where the highest ranking angels in the Kingdom wait orders from on high.

Let’s go back say some two thousand years, just months before the deployment of Jesus to planet earth. Yes, you heard me right, I believe the Bible teaches that Jesus was “deployed”—He was sent into battle—when He was conceived in the womb of Mary—God invaded His own creation to take it back. Jesus came on a rescue mission—if they entitled them back in those days in the war room of heaven I suspect it was called “Operation Christmas Hope”—this suicide mission was the last hope of the world and God knew it—and Jesus willingly chose to do it.

Back to the courtyard, Gabriel has just stepped out of the throne room with an ashen look on his face. Michael, one of the mightiest and fiercest angelic warriors of all, sees him and begins walking with him. Michael opens the conversation saying, “Hey Gab, what wrong? You look like you just wrestled with death itself.”

Gabriel shook his head, and said, “It’s happening, Jesus is being deployed.” Michael smiled and clapped his hands exclaiming: “Finally, how many squadrons of angels are we deploying—do I need to go call together the commanders?” “No” Gabriel shouted, “He is going alone.” “What do you mean it is going alone?” inquired Michael adding “He cannot take that risk—he cannot go down there by himself. Does he not understand how evil those people are—does he not realize they will kill him.”

Gabriel stops with a stunned look on his face, “That’s exactly it…Jesus is going down there to be killed—murdered—executed–on  a cross as a human being.” There is a long silence, Michael scratches and head and then his chin, “I don’t understand. Does the Father know this? There has to be something wrong.”

“Yes, He knows—the Father is the one sending him, and Jesus volunteered to go” replied Gabriel. “The only hope for the salvation of the planet and the people rides on this mission” he continues. “So where are you going now?” inquires Michael.

“I am going to Nazareth?” answers Gabriel. “Where in the world is Nazareth?” quizzes Michael. “Nazareth sits out in the middle of nowhere in the backwaters of Galilee” answered Gabriel. “Why Nazareth?” asked Michael. “Jesus’ mother will be from there?” Gabriel responded. “Jesus’ mother?” interjected Michael—at this point Gabriel put his arm around Michael and said, “Walk with me—I’m in a hurry, but I will give you the details on the way.” Two stunned and amazed angel walk away together trying to get their minds around the impossible—God sending His one and only Son into the world to save us from ourselves—to save us from our sins.

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Imagine the First Christmas Day in Heaven (Sermon Excerpt)

Let’s break out our Christmas imaginations again this morning. Go with me to the court rooms of heaven on Christmas Day. As Mary labors to bring Jesus safely into the world nestled on a blanket in the hay, the herald angels blow the trumpet calling together the celestial hosts for a final briefing before deploying the angels on their part of “Operation Christmas Hope.”

Let’s imagine Gabriel calls the angel host to order, as Michael scans the rolls and rolls of angels making sure all the commanders are in their place. Once silence falls on the multitude of angels, Gabriel speaks:

“Merry Christmas! (Of course merry Christmas was first shouted in heaven!) This is the day we have all been waiting for. Today Jesus will be born in Bethlehem and the Father will be sending us to announce His arrival on planet earth in style! Now I want the herald angel to step forward so I can give you the message from on high. I don’t want any slip ups. I want the message delivered word for word from the throne of God to His creation.”

A herald angels steps forward and Gabriel hands him the message. The angel opens the document and begins to read it out loud for all to hear.

He reads: “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

The herald angel looks up and says, “Sir there must be a mistake.” Gabriel replies “What do you mean son?” “Are you sure the last line reads properly…it says ‘this will be a sign to you—you will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in manger. Sir that must be a mistake is Jesus really going to be place in the feeding troth for animals?”

Gabriel nods saying, “I know son, that is unbelievable, but that was the only place available for him. I was watching when they arrived in Bethlehem and there was no place for them in the inn—they could only find shelter in the stable.” The herald angel shakes his head, and requests permission to speak. “Sir, do they not realize who He is…do they not realize Jesus is the Son of God?” Gabriel pats him on the shoulder and says, “Not yet, son, not yet.”

Then He turns his attention to the host of angels, and announces that as soon as the herald finishes his announcement he says, “I want you to light up the night sky with the glory of God and I want you to shout at the top of your lungs ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace goodwill to men!’ Rock their world I want this to be a night the world will never forget…there will never again be a night like tonight, and do it right….glorify God with all your being.” With one voice the host of angels shouted, “Yes, sir…Glory to God in the highest!”

 

Gabriel was about to walk away when the herald angel inquired, “Sir, you forgot to tell me where are we going…I assume you want us to go to the Temple in Jerusalem. You want us to announce it to the high priests and all the priests worshipping in the courts of the Temple right?” Gabriel shook his head, “No, son, go to Bethlehem—look at the bottom of your orders—you are suppose to go to a band of shepherds just outside of the city keeping watch over the flocks tonight.”

Again the herald angel asks permission to speak and Gabriel nods. “Sir, I don’t want to speak out of turn and I know this high above my pay grade, but that does not make sense. I can see sending us to Rome and putting Caesar in his place and Jerusalem makes sense, but shepherds…common ordinary shepherds. Sir, why shepherds? What can they do and besides who would ever believe them?” Gabriel again pats the young angel on the shoulder and says, “Son, trust God…He always knows what He is doing. You just go follow orders, and I promise you that you will be amazed.” “Yes, sir” the angel answers and with a salute and he turns and departs in a flash of light with the entire heavenly host following behind him.

For those of us who are lovers of Christmas we have read this story over and over. I wonder if it has gotten to be old hat for us. Have we lost some of the mystery and the wonder of the story because we believe we know it so well? This week as I reflected on the impact of Christmas on the heavenly courts it struck me how they must have been just as much in shock as we were the first time we grasp the nature of this amazing story of Christmas hope.

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Sermon Excerpt: Story of Grace Baylor Style

Do you remember the last time you felt guilt and shame? Do you remember the last time the 280 pound gorilla of guilt climbed on your back and made your life miserable? Guilt and shame have a terrible way of ruining one’s life.

Many years ago when I was a sophomore at Baylor I experienced a horrible attack of guilt of my own doing. It felt like a gorilla of guilt had climbed on my back, wrapped his arms around my chest, and was going to be a part of my existence for the rest of my life. Of course, this mess was of my own making.

That year I was taking Greek with Dr. Cutter. Dr. Cutter stood out as one of those bigger than life characters at Baylor. His persona stood out as loud, gruff, tough and demanding. He had a number of odd ways. In fact, I have never had another professor just like him.

If you fell asleep in one of his classes, he would throw of stick of chalk as hard as he could at you. Of course like a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs he rarely hit his target, so if you were sitting nearby minding your own business and paying attention, you might be hit by the chalk yourself so we all tried to keep each other awake.

 

At other times if he taught we were not paying attention or getting his point, he would climb up on top of his desk and shout at us as he loomed ominously above us snarly out his Greek words and tenses. He was always in a good mood when the Bears won on the weekend, but if we lost, you better watch out and you knew for sure the pop test was going to be hard, and his grading even harder.

Let’s just say, that we respected Dr. Cutter, and most of us were just a tad bit afraid of him, and I think that is the way he liked it. His intimidation pulled the best out of us, and probably made us better students, or at least he had our full attention most of the time.

Midterms rolled around and I will never forget that test. I had studied hard for the test, which literally meant I had tried to “cram” the night before. I don’t remember if I pulled an “all-nighter” but I know that I had stayed up too late studying. The test considered of several sentences we need to translate and a long list of vocabulary words. Since my strategy for studying involved last minute stuffing as much as I could possible stuff into my short term memory, I often raced through the test answering as many questions as possible before I forgot the answers. If I did not know the answer I skipped it and moved on in fear that I would forget and answer before I got to the question.

 

On this particular day things were going better than I expected. I knew much more of the material than I had anticipated, and when I finished my first pass through the test I felt pretty good. At least I knew in my heart that I was going to pass the test and possibly even make an A or B. Now it was time for divine intervention. On my second pass through the test, this is where pray came in. I would pray God would bring to my mind answer to questions I had both studied and forgotten, or answers that would miraculously appear from above. Side note, God never whispered an answer into my ear that I had not already studied.

I chuckle under my breath at those who suggest there is no prayer in schools. As long as there are tests there will be prayer! But for those of you who are still in school, I must confess God never whispered an answer into my ear that I had not already studied!

Like I said earlier I was on my final pass through the test and racking my brain over the last handful of vocabulary words. I was staring off into the distance hoping and praying the answers would appear, but to no avail. At one point, as I was staring off into the distance my glance observed my neighbor’s paper. He happened to be on the same page as I was and I noticed one of his answers to the vocabulary. When I saw the answer I immediately remembered studying that word and trying to memorize it. Instinctively without thinking I wrote down the answer and moved on. At the moment it felt good to get the answer right, but trouble would hit in just a few moments.

Dr. Cutter announced that we had five more minutes. I scanned the test and had an answer in every blank so I went to his test and turned in the test. The moment I stepped out of the class room my friend the gorilla of guilt climbed on my back. In a moment in time I realized I had cheated on the test. I had stolen an answer from my neighbor and I was a cheater.

At Baylor we had an honor code against cheating. In fact, if you were caught cheating you could be expelled from the university. To make matters worse I was a ministerial student. I was going to Baylor on scholarships provided to me because I was going to be a pastor. In addition, my dad was the president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and a pastor of the largest church in Lubbock. By the time I made it back to my dorm room I was sick and scared.

“What if someone caught me cheating?” I thought to myself. “What if Dr. Cutter saw we look on the paper next to me?” I could already read the headlines in the Baylor Lariat, “Son of the President of the Convention kicked out for cheating!” Or “Ministerial student caught red-handed.”  I lost my appetite. I felt all alone. I did not know what to do.

I wrestled through the night trying to convince myself that it wasn’t all that bad. Let’s face it, it was only one answer. How much difference could that make? I will make up for it at the final, I will just skip on answer that I know and give the points back in the end. I rationalized it away by reminding myself how hard I had studied and that I actually knew the answer all along. Let’s face it I did the work, so what was the harm. Needless to say, my gorilla of guilt began to get heavier and heavier. Besides the Holy Spirit kept convicting me saying “You need to make this right.”

I knew in my heart what I needed to do, but I could not force myself to do it. I needed to go to Dr. Cutter and confess my sin and take my punishment. This scared me to death. If I confessed it, at best, I would flunk the test and who knows at worse what could happen to me. I could still see those headlines, and my reputation and my father’s reputation ruined by my stupid act. Of course, you know if you were in your right mind you would not sin. Doing the wrong thing is always wrong, and never makes things better in the end.

My struggle with guilt lasted as I remember a day and a half. Finally I could not carry that gorilla round anymore and I determined I would confess my sin. So the next morning I got up early and headed over to Dr. Cutter’s office. On the way I practiced my confession, and prepared myself for the worse. I knew I was doing the right thing, but I was also scared to death.

When I arrived at his office, I took a deep breath, and knocked on his door. No answer. I knocked again, lighter not harder, and still no answer. I stepped back and thought to myself maybe I had just dodged a bullet. Maybe God just wanted to see if I was willing to confess but he was not going to make me go through with it. It was obvious I was willing. Don’t you love how we can rationalize ourselves out of jam.

I turned to walk away thinking that the worse was over, when my old friend the gorilla of guilt grabbed on tighter. I realized if I walked away he would be my partner for life—talk about a marriage made in hell. Just as I was turning to walk away I heard Dr. Cutter’s booming voice in the distance as he was talking to someone down the hallway. When I heard his voice my heart stopped and I knew I had to go through with my confession. When he rounded the corner, he spotted me at the door, and I could tell he was racking his brain trying to remember my name. You see I was one of those quiet students who tried to fly under the radar. Most of my professors did not know my name and that was the way I like it.

 

He said, “You are in one of my Greek classes, right?” “Yes, sir, “ I sheepishly replied. “I am David Lowrie.” He nodded, and said, “That’s right. How can I help you?” I said, “Dr. Cutter I need to talk to you for a moment.” “Come in” he replied, and he unlocked his door and we stepped into his little office lined with book shelves and his desk as I remember was rather clean and with neatly stacks of folders—probably folders of the midterm exams.

 

He invited me to sit down, and I was sick to my stomach. I desperately wanted to get up and leave, but I knew I had to do what I had come to do. Dr. Cutter peered out over his glasses and said, “So what do we need to talk about?” I paused for a moment, and then I blurted out. “Dr. Cutter, I am here to confess that I cheated on my midterm exam.” His face darkened as I continued. “I had nearly finished the test when I was trying to remember the vocabulary words I had studied. At this point I looked at my neighbor’s paper and saw the right answer to one of the questions and I copied it on my test. I cheated and I am sorry. I am willing to take whatever punishment you deem is appropriate. If you want to flunk me on the test or turn me into the honor council I will accept my punishment.”

 

I sat there for what seemed like an eternity. I could tell he was trying to take it all in. I don’t remember exactly his words, but I remember him saying, “Thank you for confessing what you did.” At this point he rummaged through a folder on his desk and pulled out my exam. He glanced over it and then looked up saying, “So you cheated on one of the vocabulary words”  “Yes, sir” I replied. He paused, and then looked up, and said, “You did the right thing telling me. I forgive you.” I was shocked. I said, “What do you mean sir?” He replied, “I forgive you. I am not going to turn you in or flunk you.” “You mean you are not going to flunk me?” I replied in shock. “Yes, I am not going to flunk you…in fact I am not going to change your grade—who knows maybe your neighbor had the wrong answer” he said with a smile. He went on to tell me about a time in his academic career when as a student he made a similar mistake. He prayed over me and sent me on my way ALONE—I left the 280 pound gorilla of guilt in his office and I practically floated back to my dorm room. Words cannot express the sense of joy, relief, and grace I felt that day.

In the letter to his friends at Colossi Paul spoke of the forgiveness of our LORD and he chose a word whose room means “pure joy.” You see that is the impact of grace and forgiveness. It brings great abiding joy in its wake—joy for the forgiven one and for the forgiver. I have been on both sides of the grace equation and it is true joy waits at both ends. I wonder why so many of us live in the bitter bistro of resentment, anger, and hatred eating out our hearts and souls with the poison of our own passions. We need to learn from our LORD the amazing scope and reach of forgiveness and grace.

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Sermon Excerpt: Friend of Sinners

I am huge baseball fan as many of you are aware. When I lived in Milwaukee our home sat nestled into a cozy little neighborhood less than four miles from the historic old County Stadium that housed the likes of Warren Spawn, Hank Aaron and Robin Yount. While we lived there the Brew Crew built a new state of the art stadium complete with a retractable roof named Miller Park. One of the challenges of both stadiums revolved around parking, so a number of local restaurants and taverns on Blue Mound road provide free shuttle vans to and from the game for their faith.

 

There was a young lawyer in our church who often invited me to the games and we made it a habit of grabbing lunch or supper before the game at one of the restaurants on Blue Mound road and then catching the shuttle to and from the game. On this particular afternoon both of us were running a bit late, and the Brewers had schedule an early afternoon tilt, so we met at the restaurant/tavern and caught the van to the game.

 

After the game, my friend suggested that since we ridden the shuttle we needed to at least go in and have some appetizers before we headed home for supper. I agree, and that is where the fun began. We walked into the tavern and he went straight to the bar and sat down. By the way did I mention to you that I have never had a beer in my life? In fact, Nyquil stands out as the strongest substance I have ever consumed. Being a good Baptist, and especially a Baptist preacher from the South I knew better than to go to a bar, but here I was in quite a dilemma.

 

Not wanting to make a scene for my friend and church member, I just followed him and pulled up a stool at the bar thinking to myself, “What would Jesus do?” So far so good, but now came the tricky part. What was I going to drink? Being a grown man I did not want to order a “Shirley Temple” but at the same time, my convictions would not allow me to order a beer even for a sip. Thankfully, I remembered that a local brewery produced a rather full bodied root beer, so when the young bartender asked me what I wanted to drink I told her, “Give me a root beer in a dirty glass”…I just added the dirty glass part.

 

In a matter of seconds there I sat at the bar with a mug of root beer in front of me, and I was doing my best to just blend into the scenery. I sat there thinking to myself, if only my dad an ol’ time Baptist preacher could see me now. The last place I ever expected to be was at the bar drinking root beer with my buddy. At this point the situation took a turn toward the bizarre. Apparently my buddy was a regular and sitting around the bar were a number of his friends and colleagues. Once we had our drinks one of his buddies asked “hey, who is your friend?” My friend and church member in a loud voice fit for the court room declared to one and all. “Hey guys, this is David—MY PASTOR.”

 

I can still remember the chill down my spine when he announced to one and all his pastor was sitting at the bar. The funny thing was no one was shocked or even surprised. One and all said hi and introduced themselves to me. They asked about what church I was the pastor of. They could tell from my accent I was not from Wisconsin, so we talked about moving from Texas. Over the course of the next thirty to forty-five minutes I fit in rather nicely at the bar talking to a group of new found friends.

 

To be honest that was the last time I sat at a bar, but I must admit I would not be afraid to go back. However, if I did, I know I might get a reputation in town that could be cause for a special called deacon’s meeting. However, if that happened I think I would find myself in good company with my Lord Jesus who often was accused of being a “friend of tax-collectors and sinners.” Yes, you heard me right, when Jesus was nicknamed the “friend of tax-collectors and sinners” it was not a complement, it was an accusation. The Pharisees criticized him over and over again for being too soft on sin and sinners.

Luke 15

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

In essence Jesus was saying, “You want to criticize me for loving sinners, you need to take a good long look into the face of God. God rejoices when one sinner repents.” When one sinner repents there is joy in heaven—great joy!

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Repentance Missing in Message of Grace: “Sermon Notes”

And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:9-10 NIV

As in the previous story Jesus stresses the joy of heaven over ONE sinner who repents. As Jesus stared in the faces of countless critics and seekers, he points out again how valuable one life is to God Himself.

Once again Jesus reminds his listeners that the love of God for sinners urges them to “repent”—to change the way they think and live so they can experience life as it was meant to be. God loves sinners, but He rejoices when even one sinner repents and turns away from the sinner and turns to the Savior.

I believe repentance is what is missing in much of the preaching and teaching about grace today. We have so stressed the grace and love of God that we have overshadowed the critical importance of repentance. I fear part of the reason revolves around the reality that we have a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature and consequences of sin.

In the text when Jesus speaks of the “one sinner” he uses the Greek word which literally means “to miss the mark” like shooting at a target with a rifle or bow and arrow and to miss the intended target or it meant “to err or to wander” like one who is lost or has lost their way.

To put it another way sin leads to death—or as Paul put it so succinctly “the wages of sin is death.” When God gave us the Ten Commandments and all the other laws and directives in the Bible it was not that He was trying to rob us of a good time or be the ultimate party popper. No, His commandments represented his love for us. He knew all too well that our sinful choices would only hurt and harm us. Sin by its very nature destroys health, happiness, and life. Sin robs us of life as it as it was meant to be. So you can see why God celebrates and rejoices when a sinners repents or changes the way he or she thinks and lives.

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Worth Dying For: “Exerpt from Sermon”

Challenge to the high school graduates of 2013:

Many of you will be entering college next year. I suspect most of you have already applied and have been accepted to the college of your choice. I also suspect some of you received that dreaded “rejection” letter. As examples the acceptance rate at Harvard this year was 5.72%, Yale 6.72%, Columbia 6.89%, and Princeton 7.29%. If you wanted stay in Texas the acceptance rate at Texas A&M was 68%, UT was 46.6%, or UTEP with a 99.8% rolling acceptance rate. I must admit I would like to meet the ones who make up the 0.2% rejected by UTEP but of course I doubt I could meet them since they forgot to put their name on the application!

I believe UTEP is a great deal like Jesus who invites anyone and everyone to come and follow Him.

Don’t get me wrong following Jesus will not be easy, but it is open to anyone and everyone willing to pay the price. So what does it cost to follow Jesus? I suspect most of you always thought it was “cheap” or “free.” It is true that Jesus paid in full the price of our salvation, but to cost of following Jesus is high for those willing to step out and follow Him.

Jesus cuts to the chase when he demands “Let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Yes, you heard him right. To follow Jesus will cost you your life. I believe Dietrich Bonheoffer said it best when he wrote in his classic book “The Cost of Discipleship”:

“When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”

Too often when one looks at this invitation we try to divide into three parts, denying, taking up the cross, and following, but I believe in a real sense it is one fluid motion. In many ways, it reminds me of the Marine recruiting slogan that states:

“We don’t take applications—only commitments!”

Jesus too is looking only for a few good men and women willing to sell out and follow Him no matter where He leads or where the road might take them.

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