Sun, 4 August 2019
Mount Everest is the world’s tallest peak. It is remote, rugged and foreboding. Over three hundred climbers have died in pursuit of its peak and many of their bodies still lie frozen where they fell. Given these facts, something quite surprising happened this summer. There was a traffic jam on Everest!
Due to weather, typically only a few weeks in May are suitable for the ascent. This year, bad conditions reduced that window of time to a few days. For that reason, hundreds of climbers attempted the summit on the same day. Because there is a single rope that lines the last leg of the journey, it became terribly congested and torturously slow. In the so-called “death zone” of altitude, that is a recipe for disaster. Eleven climbers died during this season’s window.
One of the saddest cases in Everest lore is that of a British climber named David Sharpe. He was an experienced mountaineer. He decided that he would try a solo summit without the aid of supplemental oxygen. On his way down he stopped. Not all of the reasons for his pause are known. What is known is that 40 different climbers passed him on the trail. Though they saw his distress, no one rendered aid. All were too focused on their agenda.
Oh, that at least one of the climbers would have known and applied the “Golden Rule” that Jesus gave us! You know it: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Had someone done for David what they surely would have wanted someone else to have done for them, he likely would have lived to climb another day.
Commentator William Barclay long ago said that the Golden Rule is the “Mount Everest” of Jesus’ teachings. It is needed both on the mountain top and in the valleys of life. Join us this Sunday at Istrouma as we unpack its meaning and encourage one another to apply it to life.
“The Golden Rule”
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets”(7:12a).
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets”(7:12b).
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them,for this is the Law and the Prophets”(7:12c).
Sun, 28 July 2019
Two weeks ago Hurricane Barry threatened South Louisiana with the potential for historic floods. The waters in the Gulf of Mexico were unusually warm which typically energizes a storm. The tropical storm was inching northward slowly which meant that any rains would likely be prolonged and drenching. The Mississippi River was already above flood stage even before Barry’s landfall.
Everything was set up for it to be another “perfect” storm that would devastate our area.
But then something really unexpected occurred. A “dry air mass” materialized and covered Louisiana. It became a virtual storm wall that held Hurricane Barry’s torrential rains at bay. The catastrophic floods predicted for our area never arrived.
Meteorologists were left scratching their heads at this unusual phenomenon. What happened?
Let me offer an explanation: God’s people prayed and, in response, God stilled the storm (it wouldn’t be the first time). In anticipation of the storm, one weatherman had tweeted, in effect, that our best hope was prayer—and he was right!
Someone might counter, “But didn’t God’s people pray in 2016 when the flood waters ravaged our area?” Yes. Of course we prayed back then too. And God answered those prayers as well, though not, perhaps, as we expected or hoped. Though he did not hold back the waters, he brought us through them—and he taught us through them! Both experiences worked together for our good and his glory!
The important thing is that, by prayer, we fellowship with God. By prayer we partner with him in the ushering in of his kingdom and are molded more into his image.
More than once in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus impresses on his disciples—upon us—the privilege and power of prayer! This Sunday we’ll look at the “big a.s.k.” that he instructs us to make—ask, seek, knock. Join us!
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you (7:7).
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened (7:7-8).
Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!(7:9-11).
Sun, 21 July 2019
There is a Bible verse that our culture at-large loves! Even folks that may not be committed to Jesus as Lord are likely to embrace it. They may not know a lot of the Bible, but it’s likely that they’ll know this verse and can probably even quote it.
Here it is: “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1).
Why, do you suppose, it’s such a favorite? What about us, what about our culture, and what about that particular verse makes it so popular?
A clue might be found in the results of a survey that was recently conducted. Young adults aged 18 to 40 in the US were asked, “What is the greatest virtue?” You might expect the top answer to be love, or integrity, or humility. But it was none of these.
The number one response was autonomy. Autonomy says, “I will do whatever I want. Nobody can tell me what to do or what not to do.”
Coming in as a close runner-up was tolerance. Tolerance has traditionally said, “Let’s allow for differing opinions or permissible behaviors, even if we disagree.” But now, that traditional definition has morphed to a new stance that says, “Not only must you allow for what I do in my autonomy, you must approve of it.” If you don’t, let’s face it; you’re a hater. You’re intolerant. And, in our day, that just might be the worst sin of all!
These two “virtues” have joined forces. Together they have become a battering ram for behaviors and choices that, frankly, fly in the face of what God has designed and decreed.
Yet this is where Matthew 7:1 comes in so handy. If an action or an attitude is called into question, that particular Bible verse is often trotted out as a foolproof defense: “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
Is that a legitimate use of those words of Jesus? Are we not to “judge” anything, at any time, in any sense? How are we to understand rightly and apply these words of Jesus?
We’ll try to answer those questions this coming Sunday morning at Istrouma. By doing so, we’ll learn how to live better in community with one another under the loving Lordship of Jesus.
If you can’t be with us in person, join us on Istrouma Baptist Church’s Facebook livestream or at www.istrouma.org. Messages are also archived there and can be watched at any time.
“Jesus on Judgment”
Judge not, that you be not judged(7:1).
For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye (7:2-5).
Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you(7:6).
Sun, 14 July 2019
Put on Your Life Preserver
Isaiah 43:1-2 and 21
“Whenyou pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; whenyou walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (43:2).
“When you pass throughthe waters, I will be with you; and throughthe rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk throughfire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (43:2).
“. . . the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise” (43:21).
Sun, 7 July 2019
Stop Worrying Start Living
Is Jesus enough?
Sun, 30 June 2019
Long ago Egypt was a world power. The rulers of that ancient land had immense wealth. At their deaths, every effort was made to take their possessions with them into eternity. Huge pyramids and mausoleums were built and stocked with riches and supplies.
But as the centuries slipped by, grave robbers desecrated these sites. Some 60 years before the time of Christ, a Greek author named Diodorus Siculus visited the tombs of the Valley of the Kings [slide]. He wrote, “We found nothing there except the results of pillage and destruction.” The pharaohs had not taken their riches with them; thieves had broken in and stolen their treasures.
It was then a tremendous surprise when, in 1922, an expedition uncovered the long-lost tomb of a boy ruler—King Tut [slide]. For some 3,000 years his resting place was undisturbed. What did the archeologists discover upon entry? In actuality, Tut had taken nothing with him into eternity. Everything was still there—oils, perfumes, toys from his childhood, precious jewelry, statues of gold and ivory—thousands of items. In all, the appraisal of the treasures of his tomb are at three-quarters of a billion dollars. His solid-gold coffin alone is estimated to be worth $13 million!
One stark lesson we can learn from the pyramids is that you can’t take your treasures with you. Yet, Jesus makes it clear that, while we can’t take our treasures with us, we can send them on ahead! He said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
This will be our focus on Sunday at Istrouma as we continue learning from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Join us!
“Treasure Your Treasure”
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rustdestroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also(6:19-21).
The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness(6:22-23).
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money(6:24).
Sun, 23 June 2019
One of the greatest atrocities of World War II occurred in the Russian metropolis of Leningrad. The Nazi army besieged the massive city cutting off supply routes. “Leningrad must die of starvation,” Hitler declared in a speech at Munich on November 8, 1941. Estimates are that more than 1.5 million people starved to death across the 900 days of the siege for lack of adequate food.
One group of Russians who starved was particularly noteworthy. They were botanists and scientists who worked in a seed bank called the “Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry.” They barricaded themselves in the vaults of that facility with rooms full of rice, corn, oates, and potatoes. They did so to protect the “seeds” from the hungry citizens and marauding Germans. They had the food resources to live at their fingertips but died of starvation.
I suppose you would class it a heroic tragedy. It was heroic that they died to preserve seeds for a better day; but it was tragic that they died unnecessarily. They had untapped resources within reach.
Could it be that we have all the resources that we need within reach, yet suffer for lack of them? Absolutely! Prayer is such a resource! It puts heaven’s supplies at our disposal but so often we do not take advantage of them. We do not pray as we ought! Someone has rightly said, “Nothing is outside the reach of prayer except that which is outside the will of God.”
Jesus wants us to avail ourselves of heaven’s supplies. God forbid that we fail to have what is needed because we have failed to pray. What a tragedy that would be!
This Sunday morning we will look at a “primer on prayer” as Jesus teaches us to pray in Matthew 6:5-15. Join us at Istrouma!
“A Primer on Prayer”
Sun, 16 June 2019
In August of 2013, a zoo in China temporarily closed because of an unusual complaint. Visitors discovered that the zoo's “lion” was, in reality, a dog posing as a lion. According to a report in a Beijing newspaper, the fraud came to light when a mother and her young son visited the zoo and the animal, labeled as an "African lion," starting barking.
Zoo keepers later admitted that the so-called lion was actually a Tibetan mastiff, which is a large dog with a furry, brown coat. The outraged mother said, “The zoo is absolutely cheating us . . . I paid good money for the tickets and I feel defrauded.”
The people were disappointed. They were swindled because things were not as advertised.
It is disappointing when things are not as they appear. That kind of discrepancy can raise its ugly head in our lives and in the church. There’s a name for that. Hypocrisy. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus calls for a halt to the hypocrisy. No more play-acting.
This will be our theme this weekend as we dive into Matthew 6:1-18. Join us Sunday at Istrouma!
Sun, 9 June 2019
Baseball is a game of statistics. Baseball fans love them. They chart everything—batting percentage, home runs, strike outs, and the list goes on.
From this mountain of statistics, we learn that certain achievements are rare. For example, it is rare when a team executes a triple play (718). It is rare when a batter hits for the cycle in a game (325). Those feats are roundly celebrated. But among the rarest of achievements in America’s pastime is when a pitcher throws a “perfect game.” This is when a pitcher is able to get every batter out in a nine-inning game. He faces 27 batters and sits them all down with no hits, no walks, and no errors.
Baseball has been played professionally for about 145 seasons. There have been over 217,000 games contested. Of those, only 23 have been “perfect.” If my calculations are correct, that is 0.0001 percent of the time.
“Perfection” in baseball is rare. Perfection in life is rarer still. Of the billions of people who’ve lived on earth, only one has been perfect.
The amazing thing is that the Perfect One—the Lord Jesus—sees all our errors and loves us still. He is willing to go to the record books and blot out our errors and credit his stats to us. Now that is something to celebrate!
Join us Sunday at Istrouma to do just that as we continue our walk through the Sermon on the Mount!
Sun, 2 June 2019
Melissa Brunning was on a multi-day cruise off the coast of western Australia. One day several participants on the cruise decided to hand-feed some sharks that were spotted in the waters near their boat.
Video footage shows her offering bait to a passing tawny nurse shark (which looks to be about 7 feet long). The shark ends up taking the bait--and her hand with it. It actually pulls her in the water which is croc-infested!
Thankfully, her friends are able pull her back to safety. After medical treatment, including surgery, she is expected to fully recover.
To her credit she points the finger of blame at herself. She says that she didn’t respect the shark sufficiently and will never again be guilty of that. When fully grown nurse sharks have about 30 rows of teeth in the upper jaw and nearly that many in the lower jaw.
There are some things with which you shouldn’t toy. Sharks belong on that list. Snakes belong on that list. Sin belongs on that list. There are passing temptations that will, if you reach out to them, drag you into infested waters.
Jesus knew this full well. He addressed this in a pointed way in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:27-32 Jesus points out the seriousness of sexual sin and ways to combat it. Join us this Sunday at Istrouma as we dive into this topic.
“Don’t Feed the Sharks!”
You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery”(5:27).
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart (5:28).
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. 31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (5:29-32).
Sun, 26 May 2019
A lawyer was talking with a woman who had just lost her husband. He said to her, “Your husband did not leave a will, so we need to know the last words he ever said to you.”
She replied, “I don't want to tell you.”
The attorney said, “I am sorry for your loss, but he did not leave a will. We need to know his final words.”
But the woman refused. “I don't want to tell you,” she said. “It was something between the two of us.”
The attorney decided to try one last time. “Please, ma’am. Won’t you tell me your husband’s last words?”
Finally, the woman relented. “Okay, I'll tell you. The last thing he ever said to me was, ‘You don't scare me, woman. You couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with that old gun.’”
I trust that our relationships with others would never disintegrate to the point where we would actually shoot someone! But, as Jesus points out in the Sermon on the Mount, uncontrolled anger is just as deadly (and sinful) a force. We will take a look this Sunday at the danger of anger and how to be reconciled both with one another and God.
You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment”(5:21).
But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire(5:22).
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly(5:23-25a).
Sun, 19 May 2019
Harvard is the oldest and, arguably, the most prestigious university in America. Not surprisingly, the competition for admission is stiff. Only about 5% of those who apply are actually accepted. Listen to these academic credentials for incoming freshmen:
To get into Harvard, you have to be nearly perfect academically. Truth is, it is hard to get into Harvard.
Let me pivot and ask you: “Is it hard to get into heaven?” Let me offer an answer: No, it is not hard; it is impossible--based on your own qualifications (and mark those final words well).
Listen to Jesus give the admission guidelines for heaven: “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Were that standard not sufficiently high, he adds: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). What Jesus is saying is that you don’t have to be nearly perfect; you have to be perfect.
Perhaps you’ve been tempted to take solace in the hope that God might grade us on a curve. We just have to be better than the scoundrel scribes and Pharisees. Piece of cake, right? Not so fast.
There’s no curve in God’s grading scale. The passing grade is 4.0. 36. 1260. Perfection.
If this prompts a rising sense of alarm in you, good. The Sermon on the Mount, with its remarkably high moral demands, is not primarily given to tell us how we ought to live (though it does that). It is instead given chiefly to awaken us to the fact that we are dead in our trespasses and sins and that we don’t (and can’t) measure up left to ourselves.
It is given, first, to drive us to our knees in brokenness for our shortcomings, and, second, to lift our eyes heavenward in hope of mercy.
Join us this Sunday as we continue our walk through the Sermon on the Mount in our series called, “Culture Flip.”
“How to Get in to Heaven”
Sun, 12 May 2019
Culture Flip Week 2
Sun, 5 May 2019
Every year the Gallup organization releases a “World Happiness Report.” It ranks the countries of the world as to their happiness. Happiness is measured, in part, with survey questions such as, “Are [you] very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?” “Very happy” responses are worth three points. “Pretty happy” is worth two points and “not too happy” is worth one point.
You might be interested to know where the United States ranks in the 2019 report. Let me go ahead and break the suspense: we are not #1. Despite our relative affluence and power, we don’t even make the top five or top ten. We barely squeak inside the top 20 at the #19 position. That’s ironic, isn’t it?
There’s an entire chapter in the “World Happiness Report” that explores this disconnect. Chapter five’s title begins, “The Sad State of Happiness in the United States.” Here’s a paragraph from that chapter:
“This decline in happiness and mental health seems paradoxical. By most accounts, Americans should be happier now than ever. The violent crime rate is low, as is the unemployment rate. Income per capita has steadily grown over the last few decades. This is the Easterlin paradox: As the standard of living improves, so should happiness – but it has not.”
We all want to be happy, but many of us are not. To make matters worse, we may not even know how to be happy.
But here’s the good news--there is a king who knows how to be happy—truly happy. It’s written into the very constitution of his kingdom. That King is Jesus and his constitution is outlined in the Sermon on the Mount.
Our U.S. constitution guarantees the right to the “pursuit of happiness.” And, to be sure, we’re all frantically pursuing it, but Jesus’ “constitution” guarantees the “possession of happiness.”
This Sunday we begin a study of that unparalleled teaching. It show the way to a happiness that is soul-deep and abiding, no matter what turn life takes.
“How to Be (Truly) Happy”