July 5, 2015
I have stood behind this pulpit before. I have preached sermons to you before. But this is my very first sermon to you as your pastor; an honor and a responsibility I do not take lightly.
I love this church. I have worshipped the Lord here for the past 5 years, as God groomed me for this day. I am not here by accident. From the very first time I set foot in this church, God had a plan.
As the verse in Jeremiah says, "For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." And no, I am NOT referencing that verse to apply to me, as an individual. That is for YOU, as a church, as members of the Body of Christ.
I am here to lead you, to teach you, to renew your hope and your faith, to guide your walk with the Lord, to pray with you and for you, to comfort you, and to inspire you. That this church might not only find God's favor and blessing upon itself, but overflow with it into our community; leading others first of all to Christ, and then to join the community of saints gathered here today.
And so my first sermon as your pastor is on truth; for without truth, everything is a lie, and without meaning or purpose. And we as a church must stand on the truth of God's Word, or we WILL fail. Fail in God's mission for us, fail in our personal lives, and fail those who depend on us.
And what is Truth? God's Word is Truth, because as we heard in our Epistle reading, God CANNOT lie. And as we heard in our Gospel reading, Jesus is Truth, and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth.
The Bible makes many promises in regards to truth, such as "The truth will set you free". And it also says that we are called to "speak the truth in love". In fact the word "Truth appears" over 230 times in the Bible.
And what is a Lie? It is the opposite of truth, just as Satan, the Father of lies, is the opposite of God. Jesus brings life, Satan brings death. The truth gives life, and lies ultimately bring death.
Sometimes, though, it may appear on the surface that it is just the opposite. The truth can hurt. And lies can sound, oh so good.
So quite often we purposely choose to tell a lie, or believe a lie.
Let's take a classic example¦
"Honey, does this outfit make me look fat?" (Ed answers, "You can't handle the truth!")
"Yes honey, it does", said no man ever - and lived to tell about it!
And so as not to single out the ladies, men how about this one... (Ed speaks) "Is my bald spot noticeable?" (Me) "Wait, let me put my sunglasses on to reduce the glare." (I put on sunglasses) "Here you go." (hands Ed a hat) Hmmm, maybe this is why the Bible said we are to "speak the truth - in love"? So instead we might answer, "You look great to me", which if we love the person who asked would actually be the truth. Just as God knows we are sinners, but because He sees us through Christ's blood and we look pure to Him.
But on a more serious note, when it comes to spiritual truth, we cannot afford to believe a lie. As your new pastor, I promise that I will always be truthful, for if I lead you astray in regards to God's Word, I will be held accountable when I stand before the throne of God. So if you ask me a question, I will answer it honestly to the best of my knowledge. And if I do not know the answer, I will say so, and also do my best to find the answer for you.
There are many spiritual leaders today, who preach what their congregations want to hear, and not what God would have them to hear. They may fill the pews to overflowing by making promises they cannot deliver: promises of God's forgiveness without repentance, promises of God's blessings without godly living, and so on and so on. But they will have to answer for these souls someday. And I would not want to face the Lord, and these people, as God tells them, "I'm sorry, but your name is not in the Lamb's Book of Life".
I take the responsibility the Lord has given me very seriously. Just as the apostle Paul said to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:1-5, "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry."
So if you ask me, "Do I really have to repent of my sins, and ask Jesus to be my Savior - and Lord - in order to go to heaven; or can I just come to church once in a while and throw some money in the offering plate and be good to go?" I am going to give you an honest answer. No white lies, no sugar-coating - "YES, you absolutely have to be born again by truly feeling remorseful for your sins and wanting to turn from them, and asking Jesus to be your Savior and Lord, and trusting in Him, his atoning death and resurrection, and not your own works for salvation."
Or how about this one, "Pastor, do I really have to forgive that person that hurt me?" Again, the answer is "YES". And let me give you something to really think about in that respect¦ Every Sunday we pray the Lord's Prayer together. When we do, we say "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us". Now think about that. IF you are withholding forgiveness, what are you really praying there? You are actually asking God to NOT forgive you! Do you really want to pray that? I suggest if you refuse to forgive your brother or sister, that you do NOT pray the Lord's prayer!
Like Satan, quite often people will ask questions that they phrase in such a way to make us question God's Word, or His goodness and mercy, such as, "How can a good God condemn anyone to Hell?" And as the Bible commands me to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks of the hope within me, I must be able to answer such a question. What would be my response? God does not condemn ANYONE to hell. Oh, so Pastor Karen, you are saying we all go to heaven? No. Unfortunately, as much as God would love nothing more than for everyone to live with Him forever, it is US that make the final decision as to where we spend eternity. If we choose not to live with God forever, He will not force us. That is free will. If we reject God's promises, if we reject Jesus' love for us and His gift of salvation through His death and resurrection, we are telling God we do not want to spend eternity with Him. We are telling Him that we choose Hell, for that is what hell is - total separation from God.
So, for better or worse, I am now your pastor. I won't promise I can always make everyone happy. But I can promise that I will be truthful and honest - out of love for you and for the Lord. I want you to be able to come to me in all confidence that I will provide you with spiritual guidance that totally conforms to God's Word.
Therefore, I also want to address the issues that are the most relevant to each of you. That is why in today's bulletin you will find a sheet titled, "Your concerns matter! asking what you would like to hear a sermon about, along with a few other questions. You do not have to put your name on them, and even if you do, I will not mention it. Obviously I can't do them all in one Sunday, but instead of following the lectionary word for word every week, I want the Holy Spirit to really move in this church, and reach out to the needs of this congregation. So please pray about it, and let me know what is foremost on your hearts.