Changing our Habits

This sermon is based on a book by Charles Duhigg, entitled, “The Power of Habit.” Having read it, I would not want to be without it.  It is available from many sources. I did not base this sermon on any one text from the Bible. If you are a believer, as you read through it, you will think of many Biblical texts that apply. I will mention several of them in the final paragraph. Finally, as a result of dialogues I had with the congregation after delivering this sermon for the first time, I changed some of the wording slightly, notably abandoning the misleading “Rational Behaviors,” for the less demanding “Unique Behaviors.”  WNG

This morning we are talking about behavior. We are constantly acting out at least two kinds of behaviors in our lives, Unique Behaviors and Habitual Behaviors.

Unique behaviors require a decision on our part, and make up about 60 percent of all behaviors. Suppose you like Willie Nelson, and Willie is going to try another concert in Winston-Salem. Suppose your friend also likes Willie Nelson. You talk it over with them, and you make a rational decision to attend the concert. You get on line and buy tickets and go. Or suppose you have a friend in the hospital.  You don’t like hospitals because they remind you of your own fragility and mortality. Never the less you screw your courage to the sticking place, and make a decision to visit your friend in the hospital, because that is what friends do. Every day we make a number of decisions and act out a number of Unique Behaviors.

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John Hus Communion

There is a song that goes: 

Jesus love the little children,
All the children of the World.
Red and Yellow, black and white,
They are precious in His Sight.
Jesus loves the children of the world.

All little children belong to God, they are His by birth and by nature. Unfortunately, we all grow up, and the tendency to sin that we inherited from our parents and the whole human race flourishes, and we trade our innocence for guilt. We know that we have sinned and broken God’s law.  We know that we have failed to do the good that we might have done.

Jesus has a remedy for us. In Matthew 18:2 , he says that “unless (we) turn and become like children (again), (we) will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” That is negative. To put it positively, “if we turn and become like children (again) we will enter the kingdom of heaven,” which is Matthew’s way of saying “the kingdom of God.” Continue reading

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Disarming the Powers

Colossians 2:5-15 is wonderfully rich.  Let me quickly mention three important facets of the text.  We will spend time on the third.

First, this passage is the text that Moravians and other paedobaptists use to justify the baptism of our children. In verses 11 and 12 the apostle identifies baptism with circumcision which, in Jewish communities,  was always performed on the 8th day!  Baptism is the sign of the New Covenant, and the promise is to us and to our children.

Second, this text is one of the most powerful descriptions of what Christ accomplished on the cross on behalf of sinners. In verses 13 and 14 the apostle writes that God “erased the record that stood against us with its legal demands.This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”  One scholar suggest a more up-to-date translation. He writes that God “took the rap sheet which listed all of our crimes against God, against one another, and against ourselves, folded it over so that it cannot be read, and then nailed it to the cross.” I love that image! It makes me feel innocent.

Third—and this is what I want to talk about at length, the apostle writes that God “disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it,” meaning  “in the cross of Jesus Christ.” Continue reading

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Is Anything too Wonderful for the Lord?

This morning I want us to reflect on the Watchword for the Week.  In Genesis 18:14 we read, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”  That is the New Revised Standard Version. The Revised Standard Version translates, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” It is, of course, a rhetorical question, asked by the LORD himself. The point of the question is that God can do things that we consider too hard for anyone but God; and when God does those things, it is absolutely wonderful in our eyes.

Now a text without a context is a pretext, so we must begin our reflection with the situation in which this rhetorical question is asked. In Genesis 12 we read that when Abram was 75 years old God called him to leave his country, his kindred and his father’s house, promising him a land, a seed and a blessing.  Abram went out in faith—and he had a series of adventures, and misadventures as God tested him, tried and taught him. Then in Genesis 18, we read that when Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless; and I will establish my covenant between me and you, and multiply you greatly.” And Abram did what anyone would do in the presence of the Almighty; he fell on his face. And God said to him,  “No longer shall your name be Abram—which means “exalted father,” but your name is going to be Abraham which means, “…the father of a multitude.” Continue reading

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Can We Handle the Truth?

This written sermon has had additional information of interest added to illustrate the points made in the oral version.  WNG

This morning I am going to attempt a short sermon.  The late Peter Marshall, who was once chaplain of the United States Senate said, “No short sermon is a bad sermon.”  Well, from one perspective that is true! Short is short. A short sermon gets you out of church on time! To quote Monroe Bowles, “The Preacher quits talking before the people quit listening.” From another perspective Marshall’s statement may not be true. The fact that a sermon is short does not guarantee it is worthy to be heard.  Short sermons and speeches require more careful preparation than longer ones. President Woodrow Wilson was know for his speeches. A member of his cabinet asked him how long he needed to prepare a speech. He said,  “It depends. If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.”

A short sermon requires focus!  So, I want to focus on just two verses in Psalm 25. In verses 4 and 5 we the Psalmist addresses his savior God, saying:

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me, for thou art the God of my
salvation; for thee I wait all the day long.

I want to lift up the word truth, for truth is the key word in our text.  The Psalmist rightly assumes that it is not possible for him to know God’s ways and follow God’s paths unless he learns the truth that God want to teach him—and us. Continue reading

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