Sunday, September 18, 2011

He Must Increase and We Must Decrease

Today was a significant service one several levels. It was the official kickoff of our fall schedule so that our services will return to their standard 10:15 a.m. starting time. And second, the Shannons preached the most powerful sermon in their lives by the manner in which they responded to the total loss of their home by fire 16 hours previous.

The service began with a greeting, and then remarks about the experience of losing one's home by fire. He noted that there seems to be a fraternity of people who have similarly lost their homes and that there were many emotions associated with the experience. Ultimately Brad stated that he felt a deep sense of gratitude for his family and our church family. Their loss was simply a loss of stuff, and at worst its a terrible inconvenience, but nothing like a death in the family. The Shannons were grateful for the outpouring of concern and the willingness of so many to help.

Announcements included the following. (1) There is still a need for assistants on Wednesday night, which is now to be a family night that will include meals for all in addition to the children's programs and youth group. (2) There will be some adult small groups this fall and we are in need of facilitators who will help lead. (3) There is also a sign up sheet for nursery, and the more who help will ease the burden for those who are already signed up.

We transitioned into the service by singing together "Worthy of Worship."

Gwen Cressman and Chuck Vandercheuren then re-enacted the parable of the sower for us. Actually Gwen read the parable as Chuck planted seeds in the various soils represented at the front of the sanctuary. Gwen shared again the GROW acronym (God's Word, Relationship with God and each other, Obedience, and Worship) and shared flowers with all the young people. When they come up to receive their flowers, Brad prayed for the children of the church.

We took an offering, prayed for the many needs we share, and then Brad took the pulpit.

He Must Increase & We Must Decrease

We've just finished a series of messages here at New Life on the theme that God is greater than. We learned that God is greater than our failures, greater than our hurts, greater than our disappointments and our confusion. That's what he is and that's why we worship him.

In the Old Testament the Hebrew word for greatness carries the notion of towering. In other words when it says God is great, it's saying that God towers over everything including anything else that tries to control your life.

Brad illustrated just how much God towers over everything by citing the story of Moses, who asked God what he was to say to pharaoh to make him listen. God said, "Tell him 'I am' sent you." The eternal, never tired, totally self-sufficient 'I am' who towers over all is the God we worship and serve.

They say that human knowledge is now doubling every two years, yet this is a fragment of what God knows and He already knows what's next to be known in our small realm of knowledge.

When I recognize that I am "less than," then I can begin to understand how truly great He is.

Today's sermon focused on a story from the book of Daniel, chapter 4, the story of King Nebuchadnezzar and how he learned about how great God was. The conclusion of the matter is found in verse 37 where the kind declares, "Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble."

This verse carries the nut of it... Pride is a dangerous weapon of mass destruction. But those who walk in pride, God is able to humble.

Someone once stated that Ego was an acronym for Edging God Out.

Scripture has plenty to say about God and pride. Brad noted several verses to illustrate including Psalm 18:27, "You rescue the humble but humiliate the proud," and Proverbs 29:23, "A man's pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor." James 4:6 states directly, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

So why does God make such a big deal about pride? Brad said, "Because our world doesn't."

God detests pride, opposes the proud, and the story of Nebuchadnezzar reveals how God removes a man's blinders and bring him low. Nebuchadnezzar, like all who are caught up in this condition, could not see himself as he was.

The Babylon Nebuchadnezzar built was a remarkable feat in the ancient world. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon have been labelled one of the seven wonders of the world. The city itself was an achievement with 56 miles of walls, but the hanging gardens that he created for his wife exceeded everything. He took great pride in all this splendor.

Then one day the kind had a dream which greatly disturbed him. First he called his court magicians and enchanters to explain the meaning of the dream, but they failed, and so he called upon Daniel, who now bore the name of Belteshazzar. Daniel himself was troubled by the king's dream, and the king could tell that Daniel did not want to say what it meant. He cared about this man and did not wish to hurt him. But to the king's credit he requested that Daniel be straight with him. "I need you to tell the truth about me." And so Daniel explained the meaning of the dream.

Brad here inserted that pride comes with tunnel vision, and each of us sometimes needs a Daniel to speak truth to us.

In this case, the dream was about a great tree that was cut down. Daniel had to say, "You are that tree. You will be living in the wilderness eating grass like an animal until you acknowledge God, the most high."

Nebuchadnezzar is not unlike the modern self-made man and serves as a symbol as such. Pride creates a dangerous illusion of self-sufficiency. Did Nebuchadnezzar realize he had a problem? No. This is one of the dangers of pride.

Do you ever forget that your abilities are a gift of God? Do you always have to be right? Do you always have to make people feel that you're in control?

Brad asked another hard question. How do you handle interruptions? Do you get irritated when things interfere with your schedule. Getting irritated over interruptions is a pretty good indication that we have an overweening sense of our own importance.

According to Bonhoffer, interruptions are a part of Christian service. In Christian community active helpfulness is a principal characteristic, and this often comes in the form of unplanned interruptions, often in trifling and small matters but important. Jesus' entire minitstry could almost be considered a series of interruptions as he went on his way to speak to a crowd and was grabbed at, or requested to attend to a Centurion's servant. Even on the cross in the midst of His suffering he was interrupted by a man who pleaded, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom." That's what life really is... a ministry of interruptions.

Back to our story... Nebuchadnezzar asks Daniel to be straight with him, and Daniel replies, "You need to renounce your sins and start doing what is right." But nothing changes in Nebuchadnezzar's life and it's still twelve months later before his judgment arrives, revealing the patience of God, giving the king time to choose.

But no, one evening as he stands upon his roof and looks over his kingdom he says to himself, "Isn't this great what I have done? At that very moment, God brings down His judgment.

God is opposed to pride, is against any pride in your life, not out of meanness but out of love. Selfish pride is incompatible with selfless love. For this reason, everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.

Brad cited Larry Giglio who said, "If God is the great I am, then I am not." He then compared us to to the goods in an outlet mall, slightly irregular, nothing perfect. We ought to be wearing nametags that say, "I am not." The smaller I make myself, the bigger God gets.

Brad ended the sermon with these important words. When you hit your knees tonight, acknowledge your complete dependence on a greater God. Find a Daniel who can point ou your blind spots. Be interrupted so you can love and serve like we were made to do. It's true God opposes the proud but He gives grace and peace to the humble. Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up.

Below: the remains of a home where many precious memories were created.

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