First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday ~ September 24 2023)
Rev. Wanda Sevey
First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday ~ September 17 2023)
Rev. Robert Reader
The First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday, September 10, 2023)
Rev. Dwayne M. Doyle, Guest Preacher
The Ultimate Goal
Psalm 119:33-40; Matthew 18:15-20; Romans 13:8-14; I John 4:7-8
How do you deal with people? Are you good at confrontation? I’m not. In fact when taking a test on confrontation I found that I am not good at it. This isn’t a good quality for someone in ministry I would say after working in churches for over 16 years. But the bible does give us some tools to help us when needing to confront someone. Matthew 18:15-20 is a basic way to confront a fellow Christian in love when we believe they have done something to knowingly or unknowingly hurt us or someone else.
“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-20.
“First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” Matthew 7:5
“Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” Ephesians 4:15-16
“And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.” Ephesians 4:30-5:2
“Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible. . . .” Ephesians 5:10-14a
“So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. Don’t be drunk with wine because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts and give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Ephesians 5:15-20
“Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.” Galatians 6:1
When I was studying missions I found out that there was a high percentage of attrition among missionaries. It was determined at that time in the 1990’s, that most missionaries returned from the field of service due to their inability to not get along with other fellow missionaries.
Rick Love, the CEO of Frontiers, a mission organization with over 1,000 employees going to the tough places, wrote a book and taught a course on Peacemaking. His purpose was to help missionaries learn how to confront other missionaries in love so that they could deal with their problems and differences. I believe, the same is true for the church today. We need tools to know how to confront one another in Christian love. Too many people get hurt in a church and leave. No one knows why.
When I was studying church growth we were taught that often people who are enjoying church will sit in the front pews. As they are having difficulty at the church they will tend to move farther and farther to the back of the church until one day, they no longer show up at church. We should be looking for the signs that something is wrong as we see such behavior patterns. Even after the fact, we should speak to people who have left the church and ask them why they left. Was it something the pastor said? Was it something that they never expressed to anyone else? Is there any hope of reconciliation? Always bless the person who has made the decision to go to another church. The important thing is that they are going to some church.
Relationships take work. I believe that it is important for people to be in fellowship groups within a church body. It isn’t enough to just come to church on a Sunday morning. You need to be in fellowship with other believers during the week as well. In such fellowship groups you should be sharing your burdens with one another and praying for one another. No one should be a lone Christian. Amen?
Living in Christian community is a way that we can practice our Christianity. Learning to live with each other’s differences may be uncomfortable, but it will help to shape the church into becoming what it needs to be.
So what is the Ultimate Goal? It is to live in harmony with God and with other people and enjoy God’s creation. Well, at least that is my ultimate goal. What about for you? What is your ultimate goal in life?
Being the best person you can be. Being the best spouse, or mother or father. Following God’s commands to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. Being the best you you can be.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. John 3:16-17
Jesus came and told his disciples, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me, Jesus said. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to remember all things that I commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:18-20
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in every nation, and the end will come.
And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations* will hear it; and then the end will come New Living Translation Matthew 24:14 *(nations can be translated ‘all peoples’). Every Man’s Bible New Living Translation: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Carol Stream, Illinois, 2004, p. 1291 footnotes.
I studied the movement of Israel from Canaan to Egypt into bondage for 430 years and then to the wilderness for another forty years. After all of that time of waiting, Moses said this to the people as he was about to die:
Take to heart all the words of warning I have given you today. Pass them on as a command to your children so they will obey every word of these instructions. These instructions are not empty words—they are your life? By obeying them you will enjoy a long life in the land you will occupy when you cross the Jordan River.” Deuteronomy 32:45b.
Solomon concluded after a lifetime of living the good life. All is vanity. Ecclesiastes 1:2
We look forward to heaven where there will be no more sin, no more crying or pain.
“He (God) will live with them and they will be his people . . . He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All things are gone forever. Revelation 21:3b-4
The Death of Moses
“So Moses, the servant of the LORD, died there in the land of Moab, just as the LORD had said. The LORD buried him in a valley near Beth-peor in Moab, but to this day no one knows the exact place. Moses was 120 years old when he died, yet his eyesight was clear, and he was as strong as ever. The people of Israel mourned for Moses on the plains of Moab for thirty days, until the customary period of mourning was over.” Deuteronomy 34:5-8
Louis Zamperini also lived a good long life. Jan. 26, 1917 to July 2, 2014, 97 years old. Perhaps the Ultimate Goal is to have lived a good life pleasing to the Lord so that at the end of it we will hear from the Lord, “well done good and faithful servant.”
A Call to Love and Obedience
“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the LORD your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve him with all your heart and soul And you must always obey the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good.
Look the highest heavens and the earth and everything in it all belong to the LORD and your God. Yet the LORD chose your ancestors as the objects of his love. And he chose you, their descendants, before all other nations as if evident today. Therefore, change your hearts and stop being stubborn. Deuteronomy 10:12-16
The Israelites didn’t have victory over the people of the land of Canaan because of their righteousness. It was because of the wickedness of the nations living there that the LORD conquered them. He did this to “fulfill the oath he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You mut recognize that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land because you are good, for you are not—you are a stubborn people.” Deuteronomy 9:4-6
“The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. But the LORD God warned him, “You may feely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”
“But—When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us thorough Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.” Titus 3:4-7
“Owe nothing to anyone but to love one another.”
“Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27; Mark 12:28-31; Matthew 22:36-40;
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the law and prophets.”
“You shall love the LORD your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your strength.”
12 Day Retreat in the white mountains with fellow seminarians. The teacher did not tell us the purpose of the trip, but that we would have to determine that ourselves. For me it was learning how to confront someone that I was having a hard time with. She was gracious when I confronted her.
Hear O Israel; the lord our God, the Lord is one.
Learning to work things out/ willing to confront.
Willing to take the risk and maybe be rejected by the other person so that you can live in harmony.
Maybe your idea of what someone is doing or saying wrong wasn’t what they really meant.
How are you at receiving criticism?
It is a two-way street.
I am not good at receiving criticism. That is probably why I am not a good pastor. We all should be open to hear what others are saying to us.
A man or woman’s pride brings them low. And Pride commeth before the fall. Proverbs 29:23;16:18
Moses was open to the advice of his father-in-law, Jethro, about appointing other leaders to help him so that he wouldn’t burn out. Exodus 18:1-27
The Ultimate Goal is to know God. By loving our neighbor we will also be showing that we love God.
The two commandments are in a sense in separable according to I John. If you don’t love your neighbor who you can see, how can you say that you love God who you can’t see.
Moses was one example of a person who really go to know God. God said of Moses that he was not like any other prophet who he gave visions to. Instead, God spoke to Moses as a person speaks to another person, ‘face to face’.
Jesus also spoke of his disciples as those who were his friends.
The Ultimate Goal is to get to know God. We have our whole lives to do it.
Each of us has been able to get to know God in our own way. He has been evident in my life through the love of my parents, through many people who have taught and modeled what it means to follow God.
I have learned about God in church, Sunday school and in my Christian studies. I have tried to listen to God and hear his still small voice. He has spoken to me through his word, the Holy Bible. God has gifted the Church with many talented people. I have listened to many sermons from many godly men and women.
The closest experiences that I have had with God were while wrestling when I felt God’s presence with me. The other day I went body surfing in Ocean City, NJ. I must have ridden in about 50 waves. I truly was enjoying God’s creation and felt like a child playing in God’s Ocean.
Sometimes I think that it is just the little things in life that make it what it is.
I spoke to a retired police/fire person the other day after over fifty years of service. He said that he is ready to go home to be with his maker.
Being at peace with the creator of the universe is an important thing. Taking care of unfinished business. Asking for forgiveness to those who have hurt us. Reconciling with those who we may have hurt. These are all a part of being right before people and God.
Jesus came to say that we will never be good enough to earn God’s approval. Jesus had to come to the earth to do that by dying for our sins on the cross. But through God’s sacrificial offering, we are indeed made right with God. If you have never done that, been made right with God. Today is the day to do it.
But, if you have begun that new relationship with God, it is time to start growing in that relationship.
God desires that all people might be saved. I believe that God also desires to have a relationship with you. Like a father who we have never gotten to know. Start getting to know your heavenly Father. He is always there for you 24/7. Amen.
The First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday, September 3, 2023)
Rev. Dr. Cliff Jones
“The Question of Why”
Acts 8:1 - 4
You know, some questions are trivial - they’re just not important.
I was rummaging around our cabinet, looking for a game to take to a picnic. I thought it might be fun to play at some point. I pulled out Monopoly, Checkers, Trivial Pursuit - where you have to answer questions in 6 categories as you move around the board: history, entertainment, sports, science and nature, art and literature, and geography. When that craze died down, they came out with “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?”, another game where you have to answer unimportant questions. We bought that game, too.
So… I brought a few questions with me from that game; unimportant questions, just to see if we are smarter than a 5th grader. Ready? If you know the answer, just shout it out:
The Tropic of Capricorn lies in which hemisphere?
What is the longest river in the United States?
What was the name of the first satellite pulled into orbit by the United States? (Ex)
Which Civil War battle took place the farthest north? (St. Albans Raid, V)
Well, now we can go home, resting in the assurance that none of us is smarter than a 5th grader! Fortunately, those questions are not important.
But, some questions are important - important to us!
Questions like “We’re without a pastor; how long will it take to get someone?
“What are we going to do?” “What’s going to happen to us?”
And, then, of course, the main question: ‘Why?’
“Why is this happening to us?” “Why now?”
Every congregation asks these questions when a pastor leaves. And, these are the same kind of questions we often ask ourselves when we hit tough times personally. When the rent rises, when the divorce is finalized, when we’re worried our money won’t last through retirement, when our grandchild develops a serious condition, when we come down with - you name it - AFib, cancer, COPD, diabetes, long-term COVID, pain that won’t quit…, we ask the questions: “What will happen to me?” “How will I cope?” And the big one: “Why?” “Why me?”
What answers have you come up with to the question of why? Maybe friends have tried to answer it for you. They’ll say, “I’m sure it will be okay.” Or, “I had the same problem…” and then they start talking about their problem. Or, this: “God has something better in mind for you.” Really? You’re telling me, who is going through this pain, that it will all be worth it for something better? Maybe, in the future, but we don’t know, not now.
When tough times come, how do we answer the question, ‘why?’ Let’s take a look at what Scripture says about it. Let’s look at Acts 8:1 - 4.
(Read Acts 8:1 - 4)
Stephen, elected to the first class of Church Deacons, is killed, martyred for his faith. Any deacons here? His death triggers a general persecution of Christians in Jerusalem. That pressure, that devastation with Saul, who we know later as Paul, dragging Christians off to jail, forces believers to leave Jerusalem. Not just leave, but flee for their lives! It’s described as a ‘great’ persecution. The word, ‘great’, here is ‘mega,’ from which we get the word ‘mega.’ We’ve had a couple of mega block-buster movies this summer. There was a mega storm in Florida this week, and Canada is experiencing mega fires with over 400 of them this summer, just to name a few. Mega - not just persecution, but a "great persecution arose against the church.”
Can you imagine leaving everything: house, furniture, possessions, friends…? Can you imagine going into your child’s bedroom at dawn:”Honey, get up, hurry, put a shirt, pants, jacket, and your snuggly in your back pack; we’re leaving in 5 minutes.” And, out the door you go.
Why? Why is this happening to them? Remember, these are the first Christians. They have chosen to follow Jesus as Messiah. They are the righteous ones. Wouldn’t God protect them? And, if God didn’t protect them, what about us?
What about our congregation, our church, our budget, our building, our people?
What about me and what I’m going through? Why is all this happening - to me?
I remember having a meal at a restaurant. I knew the owner, nice guy; I could see how hard he was working - and he was making a success of it. His life was working. He bought a great house and put a lot of money into restoring it. Then, the Pandemic struck and his restaurant dried up, no customers. He had to close it, sell the house he had bought. What do he and his family do? Why is this happening to him, at a time with a new mortgage and business pressures?
I was talking to a friend last month, a good man, with a beautiful family, who told me that he started a new job this May, and was fired 6 weeks later because of what a co-worker said about his management. Six weeks and suddenly no job. Why? Why him? Then, there’s my neighbor’s grandchild who continues to have multiple surgeries to try to correct what isn’t right in her body. How much more can this child take? Why is this happening to her? She’s innocent. Why?
Would you look with me again at verse 3: “Now the Christians who were scattered went about preaching the word.”
Up until this point, Christianity has been a leader-led religious movement centered in Jerusalem. Remember Peter, preaching, standing up on the day of Pentecost, and 5,000 people turn to Jesus. People continue to do so, all in Jerusalem. Then persecution comes and Christians, except the apostles, are forced to flee, and like pea pods that explode scattering their seed, Christians scatter here and there, scattering the seed of the Word of God. They just include talking about Jesus in normal conversations and for the first time, the Jesus movement becomes lay-led.
Ordinary, normal Christian people telling others about Jesus, like two farmers talking. One says,
“Jesus taught that we should be innocent as doves and wise as snakes. Before you try raising a different crop, have you checked with other farmers?” Or, “Jesus said to forgive, or it will eat at your insides, so I forgave someone this week, but boy was it hard.” Or, “I’m learning about Jesus and it’s changing me. Do you want to come with me Sunday and learn, too?” Normal people including Jesus in conversations and the movement multiples! When it was led by the apostles, the Jesus movement grows by addition. Now it grows by multiplication. Because of persecution, Christianity fundamentally changes. We call this a hinge point in history.
Does this answer their question, ‘why’ for them? I’m not sure. What do you think? I mean, they wouldn’t have recognized the significance in that moment of Christianity becoming lay-led. But, rather than remain stuck on the ‘why’ question, they went ahead and had faith. That means they trusted what was happening in their lives to the purposes of God. In essence, they said, “God, I don’t understand what’s going on or why, but I’ve committed myself to You and your will, rather than mine, so I will continue to trust that You are leading me, and will do my best to follow.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, asked Methodists at the beginning of each year to pray together a Covenant Prayer. This prayer is worth hearing:
I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, place me with whom you will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be put to work for you or set aside for you, praised for you or criticized for you. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and fully surrender all things to your glory and service.
How long must we wait for a new pastor? I don’t know. What’s going to happen to us? I don’t know. Why is this happening to us right now? Why am I personally experiencing tough times? Don’t know. The Bible spends little time answering the ‘why’ questions. Instead, it concentrates on the ‘what’ question: “Lord, what do You want me to do to fulfill your will?”
What do we know? We can trust that God is using this time, and our own tough times, for his purposes, whatever they are. Yes, we have confident hope that good will come from our trials, but it is God’s good we seek, not our own. We don’t know the whys but we can figure out what God wants each of us to do, as we ask him; - tell me, Lord - and, as we set aside time to listen.
Who knows, maybe this is a hinge point for this congregation, stepping out in faith, trying new things as you use your gifts and abilities. Maybe this is a hinge point for you personally, as you pursue God’s will for you, trusting that God has the bigger picture in mind, and you can contribute to that bigger picture.
What is required of us is sturdy faith, confident trust, no matter what we face. In tough times, we are not passive by-standers, but active participants with God in fulfilling his will. Or, maybe we can put it more simply: we seek to carry out the prayer that we pray each Sunday: “Thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.”
What does God want? Ask him!
What is God’s word? Explore it!
What is God’s lesson? Learn it!
What is God’s intent? Discover it!
What is God’s will? Find it!
What is God’s purpose? Follow it!
“And the covenant which I have made on earth, Let it also be made in heaven. Amen.”
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.