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Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Rare Sermon, by Me

Recently I found myself under my house sorting through boxes of accumulated paraphernalia, separating the treasure from the junk and I stumbled upon a sermon that I wrote for one of those rare occasions when a Pastor had allowed me occupy their pulpit.

The theme was on Making a Lasting Difference, and here is what I said:

I want you to imagine that you are a creature not just from another planet but from another dimension where there is no light. No one living in this place has ever seen a single thing. No one has any idea where they are or where they are going, they have no idea about who is who or what is what, they just spend every day of their lives stubbing their toes and bumping into things. This wouldn’t be so bad if they had a good sense of touch but the truth is that they don’t, and they all have this one intrinsic problem - they all have this sense of there being something more to their existence, like they know they’re meant to see with their eyes but because of this intense thick darkness that covers their world they can’t see a thing...

So this makes them all incredibly ridiculously depressed. One day someone decides to cheer things up a little so he threw a party, but no one could read the invitations so no one came and he partied alone all night until he cried, because his idea didn’t make a difference to his dull existence, or anyone else’s.

Someone else tried to make a difference by inventing a car, but after driving for five minutes and hitting what he thought might have been a few people, he couldn’t tell because he couldn’t see, he realized he hadn’t really made a difference.

Someone else decided to build a city, but during construction people kept hitting their thumbs with hammers and nailing their hands to walls before realizing they had no idea what they were building in the first place because they had never actually seen the plans anyway. And just when things were looking completely hopeless, someone from another world came along and turned on a light – and what a difference it made!

This month we are talking about making a difference.

Most people, when they think of making a difference, think of Bill Gates giving away 90 percent of his income to support medical research and public schools… or they think of Oprah Winfrey giving a few random people some cars or those guys on TV who give away new houses to people in need…

…you know, those things are all good, but in terms of making a real difference we need to put our “Eternity Shoes” on and run with the knowledge that to make a real lasting difference you have to think about the long term and that’s whether or not the people affected by the changes are ready for eternity.

You see if I had AIDS and was given a miracle cure but never knew the Lord then no difference has really been made to my life except my appointment with eternity has been postponed. If the school I went to was financed enough, with the best facilities and teachers which led to me becoming a doctor or a podiatrist, so I in turn went on to heal the sick and cure people of bad feet – if I didn’t know Jesus Christ then when facing eternity no difference was really made. Even if I gave 1000 homeless people 1000 homes, if I didn’t tell them about Christ and they died – I still haven’t made a difference.

Let’s turn to Ecclesiastes Chapter One. This is one of my favourite books in the Bible, mot because its devastatingly depressing but because it is the mindset of a man who threw away his faith and lived for himself until he finally realized in his old age just how brainless he was…
Check out what he had to say about his life:

"Meaningless meaningless says the teacher, utterly meaningless, everything is meaningless… what does man gain from his labor at which he toils under the sun, generations come and generations go but the earth remains forever, the sun rises and the sun sets and hurries back to where it rises, the wind blows to the south and turns to the north, round and round it goes ever returning on its course, all streams flow into the sea yet the sea is never full, to the place the streams come from there they return again, all things are wearisome, more than one can say, the eye never has enough of seeing nor the ear its full of hearing, what has been will be again, what has been done will be done again – there is nothing new under the sun…”

Those words were written by King Solomon who the Bible describes as being the wisest man who ever lived, only he backslid, married a few too many women, about 900 or so… worshipped some of their idols. He chose to live in darkness and in the darkness all the wisdom in the world accounts for nothing when you can’t see where you are going.

Listen to what Solomon had to say about all his pursuits:

“I undertook great projects; I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I amassed silver and gold for myself and the treasure of kings and provinces. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my household. I acquired men and women singers and a harem as well – the delights of the heart of man. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me.”

Was he happy? Did he make a real difference? Listen to what he had to say about all these amazing things he did, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done, and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”

Here’s a man whose annual income was 666 talents of gold a year, that’s more than 22,000 kilograms of gold per year and yet at the end of his life he knew that none of it accounted for anything, none of it made the slightest bit of difference – why? He summed it up perfectly when he said, “The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun…”

I like to think of it another way… when I was as kid I used to dream about candy. I would have this reoccurring dream where I found a great big bag of lilies and at first I would get super excited about being the wealthiest candy merchant on the block. But then suddenly I would realize that I was dreaming! So I would try frantically to do something to save my candy from vanishing when I woke up. Sometimes I would hide them under my pillow, other times I would find some other “Safe place” to put them but each time I wok e up to my great dismay my beautiful bag of candy was gone.

Who’s had dream like that? Ecclesiastes also says that God has set eternity in the hearts of men, and I believe that when you dream about candy that vanish when you wake up, you are getting a glimpse of Reality - that sooner or later you will wake up from this life on the other side of eternity and discover that all the things you did to cling on to this world amounted to nothing.
Is anyone depressed yet? Well, praise God there’s a lot of light at the end of the tunnel. Jesus said to his disciples that the “prophets longed to see what you see but did not see it and to hear what you hear but did not hear it!” (Matt 13:17)

Solomon knew that by itself life is a dark miserable pointless thing. Life without Christ is as pointless and painful as running through a busy crowd with a spade and wearing a blindfold.
The only way to make a difference in a dark world is by turning on a light. When people have the light they can see where they’re going. In this dark world the only way to make a real lasting difference is by showing people Jesus Christ; when people have Christ they can see where they are going.

Jesus said in Matt 5:14, “You are the light of the Word. A city on a hill cannot be hidden, neither do men light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

This is an important scripture because what Jesus is saying here is that the only people capable of making the slightest bit of difference in this world are you and me and the rest of the believers in Christ. If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior then his light shines within you, and as a temple of the Holy Spirit you suddenly become a light house, a beacon, a city on a hill.
The analogy is lost a little on us because we live in the time of big bright light polluted cities but back then if you were a guy walking in the dark in the middle of nowhere you didn’t have endless rows of traffic lights and street lamps or high beams. In those days, when you saw a city glittering on a hill at midnight you would have jumped for joy because you could finally get away from the spooky rocks and trees and wild animals.

Here Jesus is describing each one of us as one of those glorious cities where people should flock to when seeking the light in the darkness… someone at work might be struggling in the darkness with a death in their family, suddenly you walk in the room carrying the light of Christ, are you going to be their city on a hill? Someone else is stuck in the darkness, struggling with domestic violence, are they going to see a city on a hill when you ask them how they are? Another person is alone in the dark begging for cash on the street are they going to find refuge in the city on a hill that walks past them everyday?

No, let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven.

Now don’t freak out at this point. I’m not telling you to get out there, buy a club shaped Bible and start banging a few heads with it. Have you ever seen anyone hit someone with a light bulb and say, “Can you see what you’re doing now?” If you have then please put it on YouTube!
But seriously, the key to making a lasting difference is, “that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven.” People love to make associations, it’s how our brains are wired. For example if I think of Star Wars I associate that with the fact that when I was 5 years old I was playing a make-believe game of Star Wars, I was Luke Skywalker and I was being carried off to prison by some “badies”, which never actually happened in the movie but never the less these “baddies” weren’t very good at carrying prisoners so they dropped me onto a concrete pipe, splitting open the back of my head, I needed five stitches. When I think of stitches I think of the time I dropped a pair of scissors onto my mother’s rebounder, when I think of that stupid rebounder I’m reminded of the one time at school when I was sitting on the trampoline and my shorts got caught in the springs, so when I jumped off they ripped open and suddenly all my school mates new more about me than I would have liked them too…

When you’re non-Christian boss thinks of you do they make associations about you? When they think of what a great job you are doing do they think, “That’s right he’s a Christian, my old Gran was a Christian, what was the Bible verse she always used to tell me? For God so loved the World, that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have ever lasting life…”

People make these associations… if every one of us is shining the light of Christ exactly the way God intends us to , through being honest in our day to day lives, not conforming to the pressures of modern living then we end up with a string of street lamps lighting the way to Jesus.
That’s how we make a difference.

No one lights a lamp an puts it under a bowl. When I was 15 there were a bunch of big storm drains somewhere in Howick, I won’t tell you where in case you go looking for them. Anyway, two mates and I got this idea that maybe there were people living in them so we did the smartest thing we could think of and decided to explore them. We must have been walking down this dark tunnel for 5-10 minutes when suddenly we heard a loud bang reverberating through the tunnel, followed by some very quick footsteps heading right for us. We were terrified. We thought the drain pipe people were coming to get us so we ran into the darkness as fast as our little legs could take us. The stupid thing was we only had one torch and the guy who was meant to be shining the way was also the least fit, he ran behind us and suddenly decided to turn around and see who or what was coming at us. The moment he turned around I was plunged into darkness but fear kept me running until BANG my head bounced off an overhanging concrete pipe!

There is one thing that has to be said and that is that the opposite of what I have been saying is also true – the removal of light also makes a difference; a difference which has disastrous eternal ramifications.

In 1963 the US Supreme Court voted to remove prayer from public schools – three years later in 1966 the United States experienced its first High School Shooting. The New Zealand Herald this week (2009) stated that Police made an average of 32 apprehensions a week at schools and universities last year!

Why? What’s different? The Bible says the darkness hates the light and we can see in the World today that much is being done to extinguish it. Which is why we need, no which is why the World needs us, to shine brighter than ever, and the only way we can do that is by drawing near the Lord and the Lord will draw near to us. God isn’t a nine vault battery that powers a small torch, no he’s brighter and infinitely more powerful than all the suns in the Universe put together! He is the power source we need in order to shine the light of Christ and to make a real lasting difference.

Psalm 119:105 “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” Plug prayerfully into the Bible and burn brighter.

1 John 1:5 “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” Plug into the Lord and shine like a billion nuclear blasts!

Jesus said in Matt 6:22, “If your eyes are good your whole body will be full of light, but if your eyes are bad your whole body will be full of darkness…” I could be wrong but when I read this verse I think that your eyes are a symbol of wisdom; the only way to get wisdom is from the source of wisdom, the Creator of wisdom who put his wisdom in this book – The Bible!

The kings in the Old Testament were commanded to write down a copy of the law and the priests were called to study the law, as Christians we are called to be a Kingdom of Kings and Priests so what’s our excuse? I’m not trying to instigate Bible study as a legalistic activity here but let me put it this way…

I remember when I was a kid there were still a lot of places around that had long drops. Does anyone here not know what a long drop is? Well, it’s one of those toilets you had outside in a small tin shed. I think in America they are called “Out Houses”. I have vague memories of having to use one of these things late at night which at that age was sometime after 8.30, it’s a frightening thing to walk outside in the dark when you’re 5 or 6 years old, so frightening that let me tell you – there is nothing religious about taking a torch with you!

The Bible is our torch and we are passing through a very dark world, thankfully we are not on our way to a long drop, but the rest of the World who don’t have that light are!

But back to the Kings and Priests – they were the most powerful most influential people in the Kingdom of Israel – yet they were required to learn the law because no matter how Kingly or Priestly they were they could not really make a lasting eternal difference without it!

The Bible is full of people who made a difference. They were the ones who had faith in the Lord. Joseph had faith that one day his dream of being a great leader would come true. After spending most of his 20’s in prison he became Ruler over Egypt. How? By shining his light in prison and exercising the gifts God gave him with which to shine. Daniel made a difference by refusing to eat bad food; he shone his light by studying the language and literature of the Babylonians and by being dedicated to God in prayer, even when his life was threatened because of it. More than once he became a great ruler in Babylon just by shining the light. The apostle Paul could have used his incredible knowledge to write a bestselling self-help book and appear once a week on the Roman equivalent of Oprah – but no, instead he obeyed Jesus and suffered imprisonment, chains, and persecution while making tents and penning most of the New Testament. Peter could have gone out and caught the world’s biggest fish but instead he caught men and discipled them into a relationship with Jesus Christ, a fisherman who could hardly write a decent sentence in Greek, and yet filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, he led 3000 people to Christ!
“You are the light of the World, a city on a hill cannot be hidden, neither do men light a lamp and hide it under a bowl, instead they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house, in the same way let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven!”

Before I wrap up…

The first thing God did at the beginning of Creation was say, “Let there be light!” An interesting thing is he didn’t actually create the Sun, moon or stars until the fourth day, so where did the light come from? In Revelations 21:22 we read that in Heaven “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the lamb is its lamp” – The lamb of God, Jesus Christ is the light of Heaven and I think he was the first light this world ever saw before we even had a sun! In the beginning the earth was formless and empty and darkness was over the surface of the deep… and God said, “Let there be light!” And THAT made all the difference. It was the light of Christ that cut through the darkness then and it is the light of Christ that cuts through the darkness now.

It is the light of Christ that makes a difference. And if you are here tonight and you know you are walking about in darkness, groping about in darkness… you have darkness in your heart where the light of Christ needs to be. If you have never accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior then you need him right now and I promise you, your life will be filled with light!

Let’s Pray. Lord we acknowledge that you are light and this dark world needs you. The only true way to make a difference that ripples into eternity is by accepting your Son Jesus Christ and by shining that light like a beacon, a city on a hill that cannot be hidden. Lord, we pray that as we leave this place tonight and go out into the world tomorrow, let your light shine through us, and let the world flock to it like moths to a flame. Help us to make a difference Lord, help us to shine. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

If you have read this and would like to meet the Lord Jesus then please sincerely pray this prayer and allow him to bring light into your dark world:

Lord Jesus, I come to you a sinner
Knowing that I need your light and your love.
Please forgive me for breaking your law,
Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins,
and for making it possible for me to be reconciled to God the Father by your precious blood.
I give you my heart, I give you my life.
Make me your faithful servant.
In your Holy Name I pray.

Amen.

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