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Weekend thoughts

Saturday, October 17th, 2009 Posted in essentials, Pastor's corner, sermons, travel | 4 Comments »

Are these the end times? Are we seeing Bible prophecies fullfilled before our very eyes? Are we close to the return of Jesus Christ?

The short answer to those questions, in my opinion, is “Yes!”

This Sunday, I am starting a new series on this very topic. It’s part of our Essentials series, and we’ll start by taking a “big picture” look at the order of events in the last days.

I hope you can join us, as I believe it is information you need to hear.

Back from Chicago

I just got back yesterday from Chicago, where we had a great time. I was able to hang with my buddy James McDonald, and sample some killer
Chicagoland cuisine. That would be deep dish pizza and the very unusual but delicious Chicago hot dog.

But the real reason I was there (besides getting heartburn) was to speak to a group of more than 400 Chicagoland pastors. I’ll be making more trips to the “Windy City” in the months ahead as we prepare for our first Harvest Crusades event in Chicago.

This and that

You may want to check out my column at WorldNetDaily, as well as my long-form weekend devotion.

Can good come out of bad?

Monday, October 12th, 2009 Posted in encouragement, essentials, Pastor's corner, sermons | 2 Comments »

We sometimes wonder, “Can good ever come out of bad?”

The answer is yes; and to make my point, consider the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. What was more tragic than that?

However, we have to acknowledge that God allowed it. He not only allowed Satan’s rebellion, but He allowed Satan’s orchestration of Jesus’ death!

What could seem more tragic and inexplicable than when Jesus Christ was crucified? The disciples were devastated by it, having no idea how it could possibly bring good.

And yet, this greatest of tragedies turned into the greatest of victories. For it was not only Satan’s plan, it was the Father’s plan as well. It was one of the rare occurrences when both God and Satan desired the same thing (for different purposes, of course).

We know that it was the will of God for Jesus to die on the cross. Scripture tells us, “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer” (Isaiah 53:10 NIV). This was because there was no other way for mankind to be saved.

Satan and God moved toward the same event

Satan wanted Jesus killed in order to humiliate Him and stop His powerful ministry. Blinded by his own rage and hatred for Christ, Satan unwittingly played into God’s plan when he inspired Judas to betray Jesus and got the religious leaders to push for death.

Even the fact that they wanted the Romans to execute Jesus was a fulfillment of God’s plan. Psalm 22 speaks of the Messiah being crucified, a Roman form of punishment.

God wanted the Son to die for the sin of the world and then rise from the dead.

Satan can serve God’s purposes

So, ironic as it may seem, even as Satan opposes God, he works for Him at the same time, accomplishing His divine purposes.

Did you know that even in our daily lives, Satan accomplishes God’s purposes? It is through the trials, temptations, and afflictions Satan sends us that we become stronger spiritually.

Trials are hard, but they produce good things. The Bible says, “No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it is painful! But afterward there will be a quiet harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way” (Hebrews 12:11 NLT).

There’s a good quote in Randy Alcorn’s new book, If God Is Good:

If God brought eternal joy through the suffering of Jesus, can He bring eternal joy through my personal suffering, and yours? If Jesus endured His suffering through anticipating the reward of unending joy, can He empower you and me to do the same?

The answer to the problem of evil and suffering is not a philosophy, but a Person; not words, but the Word.

A grieving father once asked, “Where was God when my son died?” His friend answered, “The same place He was when His Son died!”

When we feel upset with God and tempted to blame him, we should look at the outstretched arms of Jesus and focus on His wounds, not ours.

Joy instead of mourning

Saturday, October 10th, 2009 Posted in essentials, Pastor's corner, sermons | 3 Comments »

This Sunday at Harvest, I will respond to the question, “Can God bring good out of bad?”

I believe the answer is a resounding yes! That is not to stay that bad things become good, but rather that God can bring good despite the bad.

We have all had bad things happen to us–for some of us, really bad things. Yet Scripture promises that God can work all things together for good (Romans 8:28).

Here is a verse specifically written to people who are suffering and mourning. Though originally given to Israel, it certainly pertains to all of us as well.

To all who mourn in Israel, he will give beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, praise instead of despair. For the LORD has planted them like strong and graceful oaks for his own glory. (Isaiah 61:3)

Six reasons why God allows suffering

The title of my message is “Why Does God Allow Suffering?” It is primarily based on Job 2 as we finish up his amazing story. I will also give six reasons why God allows suffering in the life of a believer.

You can come to our service at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, or watch online at 7:45 A.M., 9:45 A.M., and 11:45 A.M. The 9:45 A.M. service is also broadcast live in all of Southern California on KWVE (107.9 FM).

Devos and more

I have an article at WorldNetDaily this weekend on the topic of prayer. Click here to check that out.

Also, here is my long-form devo that we prepare especially for the weekend.

Long lines

Friday, October 9th, 2009 Posted in encouragement, essentials, Pastor's corner, sermons | 2 Comments »

I don’t know about you, but I am not a fan of long lines.

When I am at the supermarket, I will even go to the 12-items-or-less line, so I don’t have to wait. The problem is that I usually need to get more than 12 items, but I do it anyway, just so I don’t have to wait in another line!

Of course, I will still count the number of items the person in front of me is buying too!

And when a new lane opens and they say, “Next in line,” I’m a happy camper.

Getting into Disneyland

Imagine that you are standing in the hot blistering sun, waiting for Disneyland to open. You are far back in line, and it seems to be taking forever.

Suddenly, a man comes to you and identifies himself as the CEO of Disney. He invites you to step ahead of the line and get in the park before everyone else.

Would you be happy about that? Of course you would, though I’m sure the other people waiting might resent that a bit.

An early crown

That’s how it is when a Christian dies young or unexpectedly. They get to go ahead of the rest of us, not to Disneyland but to heaven!

Getting into heaven early is a privilege , not a punishment. It’s a promotion, not a termination. An early death means an early crown.

Our deepest regret is we didn’t get to go with them.

Gone for now

We should not think of our loved ones in heaven as being gone. That word is taken from the vocabulary of death, and it implies that the loved one no longer exists, which could not be more false.

The Bible says that they have departed to be with Christ, which is far better (Philippians 1:23).

If you must use the word “gone,” then you should say, “They are gone from me now, but I will see them again.” This is the great hope of the Christian!

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

Can God bring good out of bad?

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009 Posted in essentials, Pastor's corner, sermons | 3 Comments »

Tonight I am speaking in Orange County on the topic of suffering. This will be the second part of my message on the topic.

I am going to deal with the question, can God bring good out of bad? I believe the answer is “Yes!”

Look, suffering is inevitable. No one gets a free pass. The fact of the matter is that you are either coming out of a storm or headed into another. It’s just a matter of time.

In this life, the only way to avoid suffering is to die.

What you want to do is get ready now, so you will have a proper biblical foundation and can properly process and react as these challenges come into your life.

Prepare ahead of time

As Randy Alcorn says in his book If God is Good, “Most of us don’t give focused thought to evil and suffering until we experience them. This forces us to formulate perspective on the fly, at a time when our thinking is muddled and we’re exhausted and consumed by pressing issues. People who have ‘been there’ will attest that it’s far better to think through suffering in advance.”

In other words, be prepared ahead of time!

Avoiding storms

Paul reminds us that we are to “Let the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in your hearts, and make you wise. Use his words to teach and counsel each other” (Colossians 3:16).

But we would rather not do that, because the topic of suffering is difficult and uncomfortable.

Suffering is one of those things we all want to avoid if at all possible. If you are flying and you see a storm, you try to fly around it, not into it.

But here’s the reality—sometimes you simply cannot do that. Your life can be going reasonably well one moment, and then it changes in a flash.

That certainly happened for our family.

Good things out of suffering?

Here is one of the “good things” that come out of crisis and suffering. You turn to God with a dependence like you have never had before, like a child running to their mom or dad and burying their face in their shoulder.

And you know what? God is there waiting for you with the strength, peace, and love you need. Not necessarily with all the answers you may want, but He is there.

One of the things you “treasure” in suffering is knowing God’s presence as you do. Your faith begins to grow stronger.

Use it or lose it!

Faith does not grow through ease and comfort. It grows through challenge, conflict, and difficulty.

Faith is like a muscle in that it gets stronger through use, not neglect. If you do not use your muscle, it can atrophy.

We have a choice in life—use it or lose it!

The Bible reminds us, “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way” (James 1:2-4 THE MESSAGE).

Some thoughts on ministering to people who are suffering

Monday, October 5th, 2009 Posted in encouragement, essentials, family, Pastor's corner, sermons | 10 Comments »

It has been said that if you preach to suffering people, you will never lack for an audience.

Over the years, I have taught extensively on the topics of suffering and evil. I am happy to say that what I have taught in the past is true. Though my understanding of suffering has deepened of late, I still quote the same Scriptures and rely on the same truths.

When I was called on to minister to a person who found out they were going to die, or who had lost a loved one, I would try to be as compassionate as I could be. Having two close friends whose children have died, I felt I had come as close to that flame as one could without personally experiencing it.

But now, I realize I was not even close. I had no idea what it was like. I see it differently now.

Suffering is messy

Randy Alcorn, in his excellent new book If God Is Good, talked with Joni Eareckson Tada. Reflecting on 40 years in a wheelchair, she said to him, “I’ve learned that suffering is messier than I once thought.”

That is so true.

Sometimes, when people come with their “Gospel Guns” loaded for bear to “help us,” they actually instead hurt us instead. It’s not what they say that is necessarily wrong (though sometimes it is). More often, it’s in the way they say it. They’re just a bit too quick on the draw.

Time to get on with our lives?

Since our son went to heaven, I have spoken with many, many people who have also had loved ones die, especially children. What they have told me was, “Thank you for being honest about it all.” Many have told me that it gives them hope.

I never asked for, nor did I desire, a ministry to people who had lost loved ones, but I have it now. I will do what I can do, though it will never be enough.

One lady wrote me and told me that my book Hope for Hurting Hearts, written in the aftermath of my son’s death, “saved her life” (her words not mine). But really, I am just a fellow-sufferer on this road of pain, pointing you to the One who I depend on each and every day–Jesus Christ.

Here is what I would say to you who have lost a loved one or if you are ministering to someone who has had someone close to them die.

Be patient.

Do not say to them, “It’s time to get on with your life!” That is like salt in a wound.

If someone is not able to “get on with their lives”  too quickly, as people think they should, they feel like they are spiritually deficient or weak.

Listen, you are simply human! Your depth of sorrow and loss is simply an indication of the depth of your love.

There is a place for deep sorrow

When David’s son Absalom died, David wept and said,  “I wish it had been me instead of him!” (2 Samuel 18:33), even though Absalom was a wicked son in many ways. When Steven was stoned to death, “godly men wept over him” (Acts 8:2).

You cannot rush this process nor should you. As Scripture says, “There is a time to weep, and and a time to laugh. There is a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4).

These things take time and lots of it.

Weep more, speak less

Coming back to the way that I try to minister to someone who has lost a loved one, I still quote Scripture, but not quite in the same way. I say it with more tenderness, understanding, and compassion.

I don’t have to “muster that up” because I feel what they are feeling, in a way.

I listen more, and say less. Scripture reminds us, “Let every man be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger” (James 1:19).

I am not suggesting that you not try to minister in word to someone who is hurting, but try to show compassion. Don’t be flippant.

As Scripture says, “Weep with those weep” (Romans 12:15). Sometimes that is the most effective thing you can do.

Eyes wide open

Thursday, October 1st, 2009 Posted in essentials, Pastor's corner, sermons | 2 Comments »

Tonight, I am speaking in Orange County, California, on the topic of suffering. We will deal with the oft-asked question, “How can a God of love allow suffering?”

I hope you can join us. I will preach the same message this coming Sunday at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, where it will also be webcast.

Now, back to our topic for this week–discipleship.

Jesus said that we are to go into all the world and make disciples. But before I can make one, I have to first be certain that I am one myself.
After all, it takes one to make one.

We have been looking at the requirements of Discipleship from Luke 14. So far, we have discovered that . . .

  1. The disciple must love God more then anyone or anything else (Luke 14:26).
  2. The disciple must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Jesus (Luke 14:27).

Now, for the third thing . . .

We must count the cost

Luke 14:28-30 tells us: “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it–lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.'”

Being a true follower of Jesus Christ is not easy.

If you are a spiritual baby, then just go home to Mommy! But if you want to be a real man or woman of God and you want your life to matter, then come on!

It costs to follow Jesus

This passage is a reminder that the Christian life is not a playground but a battleground!

I won’t lie to you. It costs to follow Jesus, especially in this day and age. If you are a true Christian, you will be branded as intolerent, narrow-minded, a fanatic, Bible-thumper, and a Jesus Freak.

Jesus told us this would happen. He said that if they hated Him, they would hate us too (John 15:18). But He also promised us that He would bless those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matthew 5:10).

Impulse purchases

This is why Jesus tells us we must count the cost to follow Him.

There are people who will make impulse purchases. Thats why they offer you free credit cards, even though you do not qualify. They are banking on the fact that you will tempted to buy something now, and then spend the rest of your life paying off the high interest charges.

Many people get married before counting the cost, rushing through without really getting to know each other. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Keep your eyes wide open before marriage and half shut after.”

In the same way, some will make commitments to follow Jesus without counting the cost.

It’s more than worth the cost, but don’t make an impulsive commitment to do this. Don’t follow Jesus just because your friends do. Count the cost and make your own commitment.

Yes, it costs to follow Jesus. But you know what? It costs a whole lot more not to.

Whatever you give up to follow Him will be more than made up to you. It’s God’s trade-in deal.

Jesus said, “Mark my words, no one who sacrifices house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, land–whatever–because of me and the Message will lose out. They’ll get it all back, but multiplied many times in homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land–but also in troubles. And then the bonus of eternal life! This is once again the Great Reversal: Many who are first will end up last, and the last first” (Mark 10:29-31 THE MESSAGE).

The paradox of the cross

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009 Posted in essentials, Pastor's corner, sermons | 6 Comments »

Jesus said that if we are to truly be His disciple we are to “take up our cross daily and follow Him” (Luke 9:23). But what does that mean?

To understand that, we need to understand the meaning of the cross in that time and culture.

The cross has lost most of its original meaning today. It is shrouded in religiousness and mystery. It has become many things, from a religious icon to fashion element.

When we see the cross today, it is a symbol of faith, particularly the Christian faith.

But in the time when Jesus made that statement, He had not yet died on the cross. So, in its original context, the cross was a symbol of death.

In fact, it was the symbol of a very cruel death. The Romans reserved it for the worst criminals. It was a form of torture and humiliation, ultimately leading to a long and painful death.

A radical symbol

Why would He use the cross to illustrate what it meant to follow Him?

Jesus intentionally used a gruesome symbol to get the people’s attention. He did this to say that following Him was not “child’s play.” It is not a game and it is not easy. In fact, it will cost you to follow Him as a disciple.

But, on the other hand, it will cost you more not to follow Him.

What is the cross we are to bear?

What does it mean to “bear the cross” today?

Often, we hear people say that they have a “cross” to bear. They will say, “My cross is my parents!” Their parents would probably say, “Our cross is our children!”

They identify whatever problem or obstacle they have as their “cross to bear.” But that is not what the cross means.

To bear the cross is to die to self

The cross symbolizes one thing: dying to self.

It really is a paradox: by “dying to self,” or “losing your self,” you “find yourself.” Through death, you find real life.

What does it mean to “die to self?” So much could be said, but allow me to give you a few practical examples of how this would work in day-to-day living.

  • To bear the cross means forgiving, instead of harboring that grudge.
  • It means resisting that temptation to do what everybody else does.
  • It means not having sex before marriage, and being faithful to your spouse after.
  • It means putting down the remote control and picking up your Bible.
  • It means praying when you would rather be sleeping.
  • It means “swallowing your pride” and telling someone about Jesus.
  • It means doing what God wants you to do, instead of what you want to do.

Now let me ask you, “Are you dying to yourself and taking up the cross?”

The fact is, when we do this, we experience joy and overflowing life!

Paul summed it up well when he wrote: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Get a life?

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009 Posted in essentials, Pastor's corner, sermons | 4 Comments »

We have all heard the expression, “You need to get a life!”

Well, Jesus would put it another way. He would, in effect say, “You need to lose your life if you want to find it!”

I am talking about the topic of discipleship in my blog this week. So far, we’ve already seen that the disciple must love God more than anyone or anything else.

Here is the second requirement of being disciple.

2. The disciple must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Jesus.

Luke 14:27 says, “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”

Elsewhere in Luke’s Gospel, He says, “If anyone desires to come after Me [that is, if anyone would be His disciple], let him deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).

God’s trade-in plan

I know this can sound pretty unappealing. You imagine yourself living in this miserable, sacrificial, unhappy condition.

But the fact of the matter is that nothing could be further from the truth. Note that Jesus says, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it!”

Think of it as “God’s trade-in plan.”

I’m trying to find myself!

There are people today who say they are trying to find themselves. BTW, I cannot stand that expression.

One makes that statement usually before doing something really selfish, like walking out on a marriage.

They might say, “You are no longer meeting my needs. I am unhappy, so I am going to leave you because I need to find myself!”

Could anything be more cliché, and wrong?

In essence, Jesus says, “You want to find yourself? Then lose yourself.”

Do you want to find life, purpose, and personal happiness? Then say, “Lord, here is my life, my plans, my aspirations, my dreams, as well as my weaknesses, shortcomings, and sins. I believe that Your plans are better than mine in the long run.”

But what does it mean to “take up our cross and follow Him?” This is explained in Luke 13:33: “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.”

Literally, this means: “You must surrender your claim to, or say goodbye to.”

That does not mean that to live as a disciple of Jesus one has to take a vow of poverty and give every possession away. Jesus meant that we are to surrender our claim to our possessions. In other words, we are not to be possessed by possessions.

Our obsession

It’s fine to have clothes, a car, a house, and a career. It’s fine to have friends, hobbies, and interests.

But the true cisciple should not be obsessed with these things. The only obsession a disciple should have is for Jesus Christ. He must be the most important pursuit in our lives. He must be more important than our career or our personal happiness.

The fact is we will find the personal happiness we want not by seeking it, but by seeking Him. Why don’t you do that today?

More on what it means to take up the cross tomorrow.

What is a disciple?

Monday, September 28th, 2009 Posted in essentials, Pastor's corner, sermons | 6 Comments »

I thought I would recap a few things from my message on discipleship this last Sunday, in case you missed it.

In the Great Commission, Jesus told us all to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. But what does that mean to make disciples? And more to the point, what exactly is a disciple?

As I have stated before, every disciple is a Christian, but not every Christian is necessarily a disciple. So, before I can make disciples, I have to be sure that I myself am one, because it takes one to make one.

In Luke 14, Jesus laid out His requirements for discipleship. Let’s look at one of them here.

1. The disciple must love Jesus more than anyone or anything else.

Jesus said, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26).

I know that statement sounds shocking to us today. We ask, “Is Jesus really asking me to hate my family members to follow Him?”

In the light of the New Testament, we see that Jesus was not demanding an unqualified hatred. He could not command us to honor our fathers and mothers and then also demand that we hate them.

He could not command husbands to love their wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her, and then advise them to hate them. He could not tell His followers to love their enemies and hate them at the same time.

The fact is that we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and love one another as Christ has loved us. That is what Scripture teaches.

How can I hate and love at the same time?

So what gives with this statement about hating father, mother, wife, children, etc.?

Jesus was using the method of sharp contrasts, essentially saying that your love for God must be so strong, so intense, that all other loves would be like hatred in comparison.

Another way to say it would be, “If you want to really be My disciple, and live your Christian life to its fullest, you must love Me more than anyone or anything else!”

Again, more than anything or anyone else. You must love God more than your career or your possessions. You must love God more than your friends. You must love God even more than your family!

You might say, “My marriage is the most important thing in my life! My wife/husband is my No. 1 priority!”

As noble as that sounds, it is the wrong No. 1 priority. Marriage is important, but it should not be the most important thing in your life.

Jesus should be.

The fact is that when you make Jesus the center of your life, you will be a better spouse.

Others might say, “Our children are the center of our life!” Listen, Jesus should be the center of your life! In fact, if you want to ruin your children, make them the center of your life.

The best thing we can do for our children is to show them how to make Jesus the Center of their lives because He is the center of yours.

That’s what a disciple does. More on this tomorrow.