2011 10 02
Reverend Anthony R. Locke
October 2nd, 2011 www.FirstPresTucker.org
at the First Presbyterian Church of Tucker
Sermon # 11 and Pulpit Freedom Sunday
Zephaniah 3:16 Sermon Series in Zephaniah # 11 English Standard Version
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak.”
American politicians are getting nervous that their supporters are unmotivated. Leaders are encouraging their followers to become more aggressive as the 2012 race takes shape. Union leaders are using incendiary speech threatening to take out the competition.
The candidates are demanding more from their bundlers. Community organizers are being told to get in the face of the opposition. Obama even suggested that if Republics come to a fight with a knife, that the Democrats should bring a gun.
Assuming the best, this is just motivational rhetoric. The message is that it is time to man up. It’s time to strengthen our hands for the work of the Party. Whining and complaining won’t move the agenda forward.
Last week the President gave his core constituents a tongue lashing for their complaining and whining when he spoke to the CBC. The underlying message is that people are becoming soft. Actually, yesterday our President said that our whole country has gone soft.
I am not going to deal in that kind of speech. Zephaniah spoke that kind of language in the first two chapters of his book. There’s not much left to say once God speaks His mind and takes us to the wood shed for our spiritual apathy. Of course, God’s words were just, not incendiary. His rebuke leads us to repentance.
But God is willing to admonish us to man up. God is encouraging us to strengthen our hands for the work of the ministry.
God will be honored when, (Philippians 3:13-14) forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, we press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
God is calling us to stop feeling helpless because of our struggles, our limited finances and manpower. God is calling the church to work hard for the Kingdom!
1 Corinthians 9:24-25 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
There is only one prize for the politicians running for office. There is only one prize in a boxing matchup. I think our political system is becoming more brutal than the boxing match. =)
And these contestants limit their appetites, tightly control the use of their time and energies to win an earthly crown. The are very committed. This is why Paul uses the sports illustration.
We are striving for a crown of righteousness! Our discipline is for a heavenly prize.
Our fight is noble. It’s not for personal glory. We are not seeking political power for ourselves. We are seeking the glory of Jesus!
We are lifting Jesus up that the world might be drawn to Him. We are unveiling the glorious and beautiful perfections of Jesus that our own children might be drawn to Him and be transformed into His likeness.
The Apostle Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:7-8, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
People who love the appearing of Jesus purify themselves even as Jesus is pure. Persevering in a holy life is a mark of a true believer. God is commanding us to strengthen our hands for that work. For Zion’s sake we must live like Jesus could come back this morning. We need to be holy and righteous in our conduct.
Fear not! Nothing will diminish the value of your work for Zion.
If you work hard at VBS, yet your church doesn’t get any new members, does that mean your work wasn’t valuable? Who sets the value of our work here?
If we try a new idea, and put some sweat equity and a little capital in a project, but then we never see fruit from our efforts, was our work a waste of time?
Who do we think is setting the value of the work that happens in this space? God does!
God sets the value of our labor for the Lord. God promises heavenly rewards. God seeks our faithfulness, not a bigger bottom line.
So the world can’t diminish the significance of our labor for Zion. The Devil can’t change God’s favorable opinion. Jesus Himself poured out His soul for the Church. We are entering into His work which already has eternal value.
Say to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak.”
I suppose most people don’t know this, but American Christian leaders have labeled October 2nd Pulpit Freedom Sunday. Today is Pulpit Freedom Sunday. All over our country there are ministers preaching on politics today.
Specifically, many ministers are telling their congregation that it is a moral hazard to vote for politicians who support abortion, bigger debt and less God given liberty. I don’t know how you feel about that, but I support this agenda.
The Supreme Court in 1943 said, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in … religion.”
Yet in today’s cultural climate, 86% of pastors are scared to let the IRS read their sermons.
Currently, the Internal Revenue Service has placed itself in the role of evaluating the content of sermons to determine if the message is “political.”
Why are pastors the only people who have allowed the IRS to censor their First Amendment rights? The IRS threatens to rescind our tax exemption if they don’t like the content of our sermons.
Since the founding of our nation pulpits were allowed to speak without government interference. They were never taxed. Being tax exempt is not a recent phenomenon.
Churches are tax-exempt because they are churches, not because the government decided to bless them with a “subsidy.” The church is not getting a pass on taxes; it is simply outside the government’s appropriate tax base.
God intends for pulpits to bring kingdom principles and solutions to bear on contemporary social problems. If the Bible speaks to a contemporary issue like abortion or homosexuality, then the church should not muzzle God for fear of loosing their tax exempt status.
Further, if the government is speaking lies, peddling falsehoods and half truths, then the church should be free to call those politicians to repentance. It’s a basic liberty issue. Freedom of speech.
Martin Luther King, Jr., said that if the church failed to speak to political issues, that it would be nothing but an “irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”
God says to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. It is past time to defend our freedom to preach the Good News of the whole gospel without fear of IRS censorship. The world is desperately searching for answers to our national problems. The Bible could provide those answers if we would man up and proclaim God’s Eternal Word.
Simply put, it’s time for the church to be the church.
It was the church that set the stage for independence from Britain. James Otis called ministers the “black regiment” for preaching against the tyranny of taxation without just representation.
A few decades later, the churches, acting corporately, brought an end to the practices of dueling by getting prohibitions against it written into the constitutions of twenty-one states, and no one conceived that this legislative activism had any bearing on their tax exemption.
Churches were active in the effort to abolish slavery. Churches pressed for laws against gambling, Sabbath-breaking, alcoholic beverages, prostitution, and child labor. They have worked for laws advancing labor organizing, woman suffrage, civil rights, and family welfare.
Pastors stopped preaching sermons that touched on issues of our culture after the Johnson Amendment was added to the tax code in 1954. The liberty of the pulpit was silenced, and freedom of speech was diminished through fear and intimidation from the IRS.
It is time to turn back the page of history to restore the constitutional rights of pastors and churches as active participants in our culture.
God’s word must be allowed free expression into the public discourse, and the church needs to become active in pursuing, from the pulpit, the evil that comes out of Washington.
Pulpit Freedom Sunday is a commitment I embrace. We must not let ourselves be intimidated by the IRS. The word of God must speak to the cultural issues of our times.
Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The work and labor of this church will not have it’s value determined by the world. Jesus set the value very high when He engaged in the building of the church with His own body and blood. We join in the work of Jesus.
But there are others who watch our work with great interest.
Hebrews 12:1-3 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
Previous generations of believers watch this congregation with focused attention. They gather at the edge of heaven to peer into our work for Jesus’ sake.
We must not be deterred from our purpose because there is resistance. We should not let our zeal be diminished by the opposition party.
And if the work of Zion brings us into suffering, then so be it. The heavenly victorious church is cheering us on in our struggle for Zion.
We should drop the activities in our life that waste our time. Even the good things in life that slow us down. We need to think like a contestant. We must run with endurance the race that is set before us.
There is a winner. There is a prize, a crown and heavenly treasure that awaits.
We are to Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
What did Jesus suffer that we might be saved?
He went to the cross. Jesus paid our penalty for sin. He suffered our death, our curse, our judgment and our wrath.
And the work of Jesus will not be diminished by the world.
The Father has already determined that the sweat, blood and tears of Jesus will have eternal value.
This week a Pastor in Iran rightly valued the work of Jesus. Iranian Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani has appeared in court three times this week and each time has refused to renounce his faith when asked to do so by the court.
The Court has determined that Nadarkhani has Islamic ancestry and therefore must recant his faith in Jesus Christ. When asked to “repent” by the judges, Youcef stated, “Repent means to return. What should I return to? To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?” The judges replied , “To the religion of your ancestors, Islam.” To which he replied, “I cannot.”
Are you acting strong in your labor for the Kingdom? Are you feeling strong or weak?
Acts 20:24 I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.
(Service of the Lord’s Supper followed this sermon)
That’s what we are doing this morning. We are testifying to the work of Jesus by considering His suffering and His death on our behalf when He hung for our sins on the cross. As long as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we testify, we proclaim His death until He comes again.
May we not grow weak in this high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us strengthen our hands.
 The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.