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Monday, August 10, 2020

The Last Days

Introduction
2020 may go down as the worst year in the last century! 2020 will always be remembered as a unique leap year. It had 29 days in February. 300 days in March. Five years in April. (And we stopped keeping count after that.) 

It’s been bad y’all.  I cannot believe that “Tiger King” was the most normal part of 2020 so far.  If 2020 was made into a drink, it would be a colonoscopy prep.

There have been a lot of jokes made about 2020 being a bad year.  But “the year 2020” is the worst joke

of them all.  Can we just skip to 2021 and start over? (But then, how do we know if 2021 will be any better?) 

With all that’s been going on, I’ve been getting a lot of questions from people like this: “Pastor, is this the end of the world?  Do you think Jesus is coming back soon?”

It’s on everybody’s mind—especially

if you grew up with a Christian background.

Jesus said he would come back one day and create a new heaven and a new earth and the world we live in now will be destroyed and replaced (see Revelation 21). 

So I want talk about the last days and get to this question:  Are we living in the Last Days?

 The Apostle Paul wrote about the

“End Times” to a young man named Timothy.  Paul perceived the end was near for him and he wanted to giv some advice to the next generation of Christian leaders.  Paul knew, as we all do, that the next generation will not do things exactly the way we do them.  That's as it should be; they will live in different times and must adapt to their times.  Even so, we hope the next generation will hold fast to the essential values we've help dear, even as they adapt for their context.  Paul wrote to advice Timothy to be true to the essential elements of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be ware of those who would try to lead people astray by changing the message and living in ungodly ways in the last days. 

2 Timothy 3:1-5
1 You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!

Does It Seem Like the End is Near?
With all that’s going on, it’s no wonder that people are asking if the end is near.  And when we read what Paul wrote to Timothy here, it may sound very familiar.  And other places in Scripture teach similar themes about the “Last Days”.

Paul wrote Timothy: in the last days there will be very difficult times.  These are some of the most difficult times we have faced in a long time.  And we definitely see a lot of selfishness and greed all around.  So much of the public discourse, business practices, and even personal behavior of people today is saturated with selfishness and greed.  And Paul told Timothy in the last days, people will be puffed up with pride and scoff at God.  That's a very accurate description of the way people act these days.  Scoffing means to make fun of or ridicule someone so as to discredit them.  People don't even listen to each other anymore and they certainly don't listen to God.  Instead, they write God and others off as stupid and not even worthy of giving the time of day.

And Paul told Timothy when the end is near, people will love pleasure rather than God.  I see this so clearly right now.  I always knew the attitude was there, but I see it so clearly during this pandemic.  People are "afraid" to come to worship God in a public gathering.  And I get that it is risky and some people because of health issues or other legitimate reasons do indeed need to avoid public gatherings like a church worship service.  However, I see some of the same people who are avoiding church because it is too risky also quite willing to go to entertainment venues for pleasure.  It's to "unsafe" to worship God but "worth the risk" for the sake of pleasure.  Really?  It seems we have our priorities all out of wack!

Paul writes, in the last days, people "...will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly."  You can see this clearly in America today.  While church attendance has been declining for decades, we actualy see a surge of interest in spirituality among the population.  People are intrigued by things like new age religious philosophy, eastern religious techniques, yoga, and self help.  There have been television series made about spiritual mediums who contact the dead and talk to them.  So it's not that people aren't "religious"; it's just that people prefer to dabble in religion as an intriguing hobby.  They will try a little religion they way they will try a fad diet.  They take a little bit of Christianity and a little bit of Buddhism and a little bit of this or that and blend in all up into a cool little cocktail they can sip and and show to their friends like the latest, hippest craft beer.  And if their "religion" or "spirituality" ever comes into conflict with something they want ro like, they can always just set their cocktail aside and grab something new that's more pleasant.  Hardly anyone is ever deeply committed.  Few ever turn to Christ and fall on their knees and completely surrender and say, "Jesus, You are Lord!"  Your Lord is the absolute sovereign of your life.  You do what your Lord says, even if you don't want to, even if it challenges you or changes you. And so, may people today act religious, but they reject the power that could make them godly.

These are all characteristics of the “End Times” and we see them clearly in our world right now.

And I pray that everyone reading this will repent of any of these attitudes and actions, immediately, because we do not know how much time we have left.  Jesus promised he would return.  And he will return in your lifetime.  Either he will will return for the whole world or he will return for you.  One thing is certain, you will come before Jesus at the end of your life.  The question is:  will that be a very good thing or a very bad thing?

Are we living in the Last Days?  Yes!  But so was Paul when he wrote these words to Timothy nearly 2,000 years ago.  God has been working for a long, long time to save the world from the devastation and death humanity’s sin brought on Creation.  The plan God details in Scripture goes all the way back to Genesis—some four or five thousand years ago.  The most important aspect of God salvation plan was for His Son, Jesus, to come preach the Good News of God’s salvation, to give His life on the cross for our sins, and to rise from the grave.  Jesus did all these things.  We are in the last stage of God’s plan.  But God is being patient.  2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” 

We are living in the last days, but no one knows when the end will come.  Jesus is full of wisdom and power.  If people knew the day and hour Jesus was coming back, they would procrastinate.  Probably, mo people would get worse before they thought about getting better.  If they knew they had two years left, they would think, 'Why worry about that now?  Let's have some fun before we need to get serious."  They would be even more selfish and greedy and prideful.  They would live sinful lives for as long as they could—turning their backs on God—and then, at the last minute, they would turn to God and beg for forgiveness.  That’s why Jesus said, “No one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself.” (Matthew 24:36).  And he warned, “You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” (Matthew 24:44)

How Bad Are Things Right Now, Really?
I know when we look around at the world today, it seems like it may all be unraveling and the world is coming to an end. I get that.  I understand that feeling.  However, as bad as 2020 has been for us, I want to help you keep things in perspective.  According to Google, there have been 727 thousand deaths worldwide from COVID-19.  That's awful.  Every one of those deaths represents someone's mother or father, sister or brother, son or daughter.  My heart goes out to them.

At the same time, let's compare the difficulties in our times to those of other eras.  50 Million people died worldwide from Spanish flu in 1918.  And near the same time 40 Million people--soldiers and civilians--died around the worldwide during WWI.  And between 1941-1945, six million Jews died in the holocaust (nearly six times as many as have died so far from COVID-19.)  These are staggering figures.  I'm sure many people living through those tragedies looked around and thought, "These must be the last days."  Maybe they were even praying for it so God would come and get them out of that mess.  

And of course, right now, things are for people financially in our country.  The economy is suffering from months of shutdown and disruption.  Many people have lost jobs.  And I know it's a struggle.  At the same time, again, let's keep it in perspective.  Do you realize that Americans--even in financial difficulties--have it way better than most of the rest of the world?  I googled this and found out that the average annual income for Sierra Leon (where our church sponsors Nick and Heidi Griffiths as missionaries) is only $504.  (That's not a typo. That $504 per year, not per month).  And this is not just the case for Sierra Leone.  Similar poverty for the average person exists in Kenya, Guatemala, El Salvador... and the list goes on and on and on.  And People in third world countries have been living that way for decades.  Don't you know someone living in those conditions would look at us in our country and think, 'So you think the end of the world is coming because you lost your job and you're on unemployment?"  Meanwhile, they're digging through trash at the city dump trying to figure out how they can get they next meal.

Or what about the young boy in our own country who lives in an abusive home and has for years?  Or what of the teenage girl in Atlanta who is being trafficked for sex?  Do you think a year ago they were thinking everything was fine, but know because of COVID-19 it must be the end of the world is coming?  It's all about perspective.

Paul, writing to Timothy nearly 2,000 years ago, thought the end was eminent.  He wrote his letter with that perspective.  Interestingly, most church historians believe Paul lived for several more yers, even traveling to Spain to preach the Gospel of Christ. So even Paul was a bit misled in his perspective in regard to when the end would come.  However, Paul was martyred--along with thousands of other Christians in the first century.  Some of them were were even fed to lions in the Roman coliseum.  Don't you think that kind of cruelty made them wonder if they were living in the Last Days?

We don’t know if the signs of the times mean that Jesus is coming back today, tomorrow, or even this year. What we do know is: His return is closer today than it was yesterday.  And we don't know how much time we have left.

Conclusion
Well then, what difference does it make?  
Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:15) It was his first sermon recorded in the Scripture and it was His message throughout his ministry. And we need to take it to heart, because we do not know how much time we have.

If you feel nervous because of all the bad stuff happening, good! You need realize how vulnerable you are and how important it is that you repent and turn to God through Jesus Christ. This is the whole point of the Bible’s warnings about the last days.  You need to get your heart right with God.

If you are not a Christian, you need to recognize that Jesus is Lord. Turn to Him. Follow Him. Live the way He said we should live. Trust Him. You will find salvation. You will also find peace—even in the midst of bad times.  And if you are already a Christian, times like these ought to remind you and motivate you to get busy doing the things Jesus told us to do—loving God, loving our neighbors, making disciples, praying and working for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in Heaven.

What do you need to do today?  What commitment are you going to make?

 

 

Thursday, August 6, 2020

A Blessing for Teachers During COVID-19

A Blessing for Teachers (during COVID-19)

Lord God, Your spirit of wisdom fills the earth and teaches us your ways.

Look upon our teachers.  
Protect them during these unprecedented times.
Grant them patience among new rules, constant policy changes, and deep uncertainty.
May the students they serve, and their student's parents, be gracious and cooperative.
May their administrators be supportive and helpful.
And grant our teachers protection and patience when any of these are not.
Let our teachers strive to share their knowledge with gentle patience
and endeavor always to bring the truth to eager minds.
Grant that they may follow Jesus Christ--the way, the truth, and the life--forever and ever.
Amen.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Holy (COVID) Communion

Introduction
One of the most influential events in my life was the "Walk to Emmaus" spiritual retreat.  I attended in 1996 when I was only 21 years old.  This was before I was a preacher (or even knew I was going to be a preacher), back when I was still in college trying to figure things out.  I had heard of the Walk to Emmaus from others at church.  Then my friend asked if he could sponsor me to attend.  I agreed and it was so powerful it helped shape everything that's happened in my life since then.

After attending "the walk", I served on many teams--right up until this year.  Unfortunately, all future Walk to Emmaus retreats are on hold indefinitely because of COVID-19.  It's just not safe to gather a hundred people into a small conference center where social distancing is not possible.  So many of our usual activities are disrupted right now—school, church, sports, etc.  How do we find the inspiration, encouragement, and release that we need? 

I want to talk about that today.  But first, let's read the story of the original "Walk to Emmaus" together from the Gospel of Luke.

Luke 24:13-34

13 That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. 16 But God kept them from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. 18 Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”

19 “What things?” Jesus asked.

“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. 20 But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. 21 We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.

22 “Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. 23 They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! 24 Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.”

25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. 26 Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” 27 Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

28 By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, 29 but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. 30 As they sat down to eat,[d] he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. 31 Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!

32 They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” 33 And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, 34 who said, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter.”

Two Disciples Living in Dark Times
Often when I tell people about the spiritual retreat called “The Walk to Emmaus”, they think it is some kind of hike or walking trip.  It is not.  It is based off this passage from Luke.  Two disciples are walking on the road to a town called Emmaus when Jesus comes up along side them, but they don’t recognize him.  He walks with them and explains how the Old Testament Scriptures said that the Messiah would come and be crucified and rise from the grave.  Then, the two disciples recognize Jesus when he breaks bread for Holy Communion.  

One of the two disciples was a man named Cleopas.   The other disciple isn’t named.  If he was one of the 12 disciples, Luke probably would have told us his name.  So I think it’s safe to assume it wasn’t Peter, James, John, or any of the other “famous twelve” men we know as the Apostles.  I don’t know about you, but it encourages me to think Cleopas and the other disciple were a couple of the lesser known followers of Jesus. (You see Jesus had many followers and we only hear the names of a few of them.)  I like that, because I’ve never thought of myself as anyone special—not someone worthy of my name going down in history for people to remember thousands of years from now.  I’m just a regular guy trying to follow Jesus through this messed up world.  How about you?  And the fact that Jesus appears to these two obscure guys on the road to Emmaus speaks to me.  That’s my story.  Maybe that's your story too.

And why do we assume these two disciples are guys at all? I mean, as far as I can tell, it never says they were guys.  Does it?  We just assume they were men.  And whenever this story has been told for two thousand years, or whenever someone painted a picture of “The Walk to Emmaus”, they painted the two disciples as men.  I guess that says more about us and our preconceived notions than it does about the actual story.  There’s no reason I can see that this couldn’t have been two women walking along (or a man and a woman).  Cleopas was probably a man—it’s a man’s name.  But etymologists also speculate Cleopas could be the shortened form of Cleopatra (and as far as I can remember, Cleopatra was typically a girls name).  I don’t know, it can get confusing—kinda of like my name could be male or female.  (My wife and I once attended a party where know one knew us and we said we were "Chris and Kelly", but they didn't know which one of us was the husband and which was the wife, because both our names can be used for either gender).

It could have been a married couple—Cleopas and his wife.  A lot of scholars think that was the situation.  I guess that makes sense to me, but we can’t know for sure.  The truth is, we know one was Cleopas and one was unnamed.  We don’t know their genders.  We do know they were two of Jesus followers, and they were confused and probably frightened.  Their master had been arrested and crucified.  And know some of their fellow disciples were claiming Jesus alive again.

This is an important story for the dark times in which we live.  Many are wondering who they can trust. We feel like the world we know and love is coming to an end.  You may feel like society has changed so much that you no longer fit in.  Well, consider Cleopas and his companion in this story.  They were living in dark times too—much darker than ours.  While we’re arguing about whether we should wear masks or send our kids back to school, these disciples lived in a time when the government very clearly could not be trusted and had just definitively confirmed they were out to get Jesus and all his followers.  They arrested Jesus in the middle of the night, convicted him in a kangaroo court, and sentenced him to death.  The very next day, the nailed him to a cross and threw his dead body in a tomb.  You can’t make it more clear than that.  Now Cleopas and the other disciple are walking away from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  (I’m tempted to re-translate that “They were getting the heck outa dodge!” because their afraid the soldiers would be breaking down their doors next and dragging htem off to be nailed to a cross.) 

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were sad.  They were afraid.  They were on edge. They were amazed at the crazy story they’d heard that Jesus' body was missing from the tomb and he was alive.  I can’t blame them for not recognizing Jesus when he walked right up beside them.  We miss some pretty obvious stuff all the time—especially when we’re worn out, scared, and/or overwhelmed. One time I grew out a beard for the winter and then shaved it off on Easter morning.  Then my wife had a cup of coffee with me and didn't even notice until hours later when she saw my at church.  Haha!  I've done a similar thing to her after she came home from the hair salon with her hair colored and styled and, like an idiot, I said, "So what'd you do today?"  We miss stuff all the time.


Jesus Reveals Himself
Thankfully, Jesus revealed himself to the two disciples when he broke the bread.  They must have been present at the last supper when Jesus broke bread and said, “This is my body, which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19)  When the risen Jesus breaks bread with them on the way to Emmaus, they realize it's Jesus! He is alive!

Holy Communion is a very special sacrament Christ has given us as sacred way to know his presence with us.  It helps open our eyes.  As we break the bread and drink the juice, we see Christ with us.  We also remember how Jesus' love lead him to die on the cross for our sins.  We are called to repent of our sins and return to Christ so that His blood washes away our sins. Holy Communion also reminds us, in a special way, that Christ is with us, strengthening us to face whatever darkness surround us.  Jesus is the light of the world and His Holy Spirit lives inside all who believe; and the darkness shall not over come the Light.  Therefore, we can shine brightly for all the world to see.  The light of a candle is the most noticeable when it lights a dark room.  The light of Christ in our life is most noticeable when we shine in a dark world.

However, as special as Holy Communion is, don’t ever forget Jesus is always with you if He is your Lord.  He was walking with the two disciples the whole time they were on the road to Emmaus.  They didn’t recognize him, but he was there the whole time.  Don’t you know that—if you are a believer—Jesus is with you the whole time too?  Not just when you are taking Holy Communion, but all the time.  

We haven’t celebrated Holy Communion at Pleasant Grove since the beginning of March (for obvious reasons).  Four months.  Yet Jesus has been with us the whole time.  His presence is not the issue.  It’s our recognition of his presence.  Do you recognize he is walking beside you?  How can you remind yourself daily that he is there?

Let me summarize a short list of things—besides Holy Communion—that help Christians remain aware that Jesus is with us always. 


Habits to Help Remember Jesus is With Us 
Here are some things that have helped me and others see Christ's presence.  First there is prayer.  I'm not talking about the eloquent prayers of a church service that use fancy words.  I'm referring to the honest, straight-forward heart prayer that we can all pray.  Things like, "Lord, I don't know who to trust anymore.  Show me the way."  Prayer is essential to a real life relationship with Jesus.  Do you pray like that?

Then there is reading Scripture.  The Bible is the Word of God and we need a word of God right now in these crazy times.  Where else can we hear a word from God if not fromthe Pages of His Word?  Are you reading it?

You can also remember Jesus is with you by reading other material too.  I often hear a word from God while reading a good book.  Maybe you can too.  But please, pick good stuff.  What you read becomes part of your spirit.  If you read a lot of trash, soon you will be full of trash.  So read good stuff so you will be full of good thoughts and ideas.

Preaching has often reminded me of Jesus presence.  It was preaching that helped me hear God's call to repent of my sins and follow Jesus as my Lord.  It was in sermons of good preachers where I heard God calling me to be a pastor.  Preaching has inspired, challenged, convicted, and motivated me.  Make it a regular habit to listen to good, biblical based preaching.

Music can also be a special grace to help us recognize Jesus presence with us.  Does the music you listen to turn your eyes toward Jesus?  you don't have to listen exclusively to Gospel or Christian music.  (Everyone enjoys a piece of cake now and then, but it's not healthy to eat cake for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.)  So be sure to listen to music that turns your heart to God, because what you consume with your ears can either build up or destroy your heart.

There is also contemplation.  What do you think about while you are going about your day or while you are out in the world.  When you are at the beach on vacation, do you see and hear the waves of the ocean as the majesty of God' creation or are you too busy looking at the pretty girls in bikinis?  What you think about habitually altars the shape of your mind.  So let your thoughts shape your mid positively.

There is one more thing I want to mention.  What were the two disciples doing on the road to Emmaus?  They were talking to each other about their thoughts and concerns and hopes and dreams about Jesus.  And it was as they were walking and talking that Jesus showed up.  Do you have a friend to talk to?  Do you always, only talk about sports or the latest TV shows or gossip?  Do you ever talk about more important things like your faith in Jesus?  I hope so. For when we talk with our friends about Christ, he appears and we begin to understand.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Don't Be a Grinch


Introduction
Every summer, my church has a tradition to celebrate Christmas in July one summer in the middle of the month.  We sing Christmas songs and hear the Christmas message.  It's just a fun thing to do to break up the monotony of summer.  Plus, Christmas is such a busy time of year full of rushing around in December; so we thought it would be nice to remember the true many of Christmas at a less hectic time of year.

One of my favorite Christmas movies is "The Grinch" from 2000.  I'll talk about that in a minute, but first, let's hear God's Word.

Mark 11:22-25
22 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. 24 I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. 25 But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”

The Grinch and Cindy Lou Who
In the movie "The Grinch", there is an interesting contrast between two characters--Cindy Lou Who and the Grinch.  Jim Carey plays the part of the Grinch who every one is afraid of.  Local Whoville legend is the Grinch is a monster who will rip to shreds anyone who dares disturb him.  Ironically, though he's thought to be string, the Grinch actually represents the weakness of all those who hold a grudge in their heart.  In contrast, Cindy Lou Who in only a small child who is physically weak. However, Cindy Lou is brave enough to approach the Grinch because she has compassion in her heart and wants to include someone who is an outcast.  Cindy Lou represents the power of those with a pure heart.  I pray we can be like Cindy Lou and not the Grinch.

Forgiveness
There is great power in a Christian's prayer.  Jesus said you can move mountains if you believe.  I have no doubt that we can.  I have seen amazing things accomplished through prayer.  Unfortunately, quite often, our prayers are weak and ineffective because our hearts aren’t pure like Cindy Lou’s.  Jesus said when we pray we should first forgive anyone against whom we have a grudge.  The title of this message is, “Don’t Be A Grinch” and we will explore three important questions about forgiveness:
1.     What is forgiveness?
2.     Why should we forgive?
3.     How do you forgive?

Then we will end with an opportunity for you to forgive any grudges you hold in your heart.

What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is giving up your claim to repayment from someone who owes you. 
We want to be repaid what we're owed, but sometimes it is impossible.  People can replace a broken window, or a dented fender, but many offences are deeper than damage to material things.  Trying to take back the pain caused by hurtful words is like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube—it just doesn't work.  Emotional and spiritual wounds can't be fixed by the people who hurt us (or any other person for that matter). Only God can bring real healing.

But we are not hopeless in our pain.  We can forgive.  (And sometimes, forgiveness is not only the best option; it may be the only option.)

Why forgive?
Grudges don't fix anything.  They hurt us more than the people against whom we have the grudge.  Grudges twist you up inside and make you ugly, like the Grinch.  They are like poison.  They fester and infect us and ruin our character.  Our spirit rots and gets moldy, like the Grinch of whom they said, "Your heart is full of unwashed socks! Your soul is full of gunk!  Mr. Grinch!  Three words that best describe are as follows and I quote, 'Stink! Stank! Stunk!'"

Sometimes, grudges even make you hurt innocent people and people you love.  A grudge caused the Grinch to try to steal Christmas.  He stole the presents of everyone in town.  This included the people who once bullied him, but also other innocent people like Cindy Lou Who (who had only ever shown kindness and compassion to the Grinch).

The Grinch became "The Grinch" because of a grudge.  He was hurt by some mean people when he young and he never let it go. He held a grudge until it poisoned his soul and made him an outcast from society—trapped in a prison of his own choosing.  I've known real life people like that.  Haven't you?

Many of us have received hurts somewhere in life (maybe even as a child) that have left scars that still hinder us.  You don't want to become like the Grinch.  So be quick to forgive.  And if you’ve been holding onto a grudge that’s become moldy in your soul—let it go!  Colossians 3:13, “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”

So forgive anyone you have a grudge against.  Forgive so God will forgive you.  Every week in many churches, people pray The Lord’s Prayer.  In it, they pray as Jesus taught “...Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…”  Are you really willing to ask God to withhold His mercy from you just so you can remain angry at someone?  For how long?

How Do You Forgive?
It's not easy to forgive.  I remember the first time I preached about forgiveness about 20 years ago.  I had two dramatic and completely opposite reactions.  One gentleman came to me after and explained that my message had really impacted him.  He said, "You see, I have a grudge against my ex-wife.  She cheated on me and left me for another man.  I did nothing wrong, but she really hurt me and I have hated her every since.  I feel like your message is telling me I need to forgive her, but I don't know how or if I can."  We talked for a while and prayed together and he said, "I'm going to forgive my ex-wife and trust God to begin to heal me." It was so encouraging to see this man coming to church every week after that and see him growing in Christ and healing.

Another man had quite a different reaction to my message.  He had been attending our church for a couple of years and was growing and getting involved; he sang in our praise band.  He came up to me after the message and was very angry.  He said, "You don't understand.  My dad was a real &*^(& when I was a kid.  He doesn't deserve to be forgiven.  I don't want to forgive him and I won't forgive him.  And if God thinks I'm supposed to forgive my dad, then I don't want anything else to do with God." And I tried to talk with him and share my own experience about the hard work of forgiving my dad, but he didn't want to have anything to do with forgiving his dad.  And I never saw that man again.  He stopped coming to church and I don't know if he ever go his heart right with God or his father.  I pray he did, but I don't know.  His grudge poisoned not only his relationship with his father--but also with his friends at church and his Creator.

Forgiveness can be really hard--especially if you've been hurt very deeply. I want to give you four steps that may help you move along the path of forgiveness.  They may not make forgiveness easy, but they will at least give you a path to follow.  God will give you the strength and courage to forgive.

The first step of forgiveness is recognition.  You must realize you’ve been hurt.  There are two common misconceptions about forgiveness.  The first misconception is that forgiveness is pretending like an offense didn't happen or wasn't that bad.  This is common in Christians circles because we are constantly told we should gracious and forgiving.  And it is true that we should quickly and easily let small offenses go.  We should make allowances for each other.  But it sometimes gets to where many Christians feel like they must just brush off serious offences and pretend like they are no big deal.  

True forgiveness can't happen until we recognize there really is something that needs to be forgiven.  When someone hurts you, that's a real offence.  You don't have to pretend like it's no big deal.  In fact, realizing the pain and hurt is the first step in offering true forgiveness.

Another misconception I hear very often is the expression "You just need to forgive and forget."  When I study the Bible, it teaches we should forgive, but it never says we must forget.  Forgive is sound biblical teaching.  Forgive and forget is not biblical; nor is it wise to forget.  If someone shows a pattern of offense--whether they are abusive or a thief or something else--we need to remember that characteristic about them so that we can protect ourselves and others from their bad behavior.  We don't have to hold a grudge against them, but we do need to use sound judgment when we deal with them in the future.

When we forgive, we refuse to remain a victim—trapped by our desire to chase down and exact repayment from the ones who hurt us (a payment we can never really get back).  You see, forgiveness is really what you do for yourself.  Holding a grudge hurts you more than it hurts the person you have a grudge against.  In the same way, forgiveness helps you more than it helps the person you forgive.

Once you accept that you’ve been hurt, you choose to forgive.  When we forgive, we make a choice to let go.  It's not a feeling. It's a choice.  You probably don't feel like forgiving (just like you don't feel like getting a shot from the doctor or swallowing a bitter pill, even though you know it will make you better).  But Jesus says it's the right thing to do.  Do you believe Him or not?  "...whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16b).

Next, you pray to God and tell Him you forgive the one who hurt you and you are no longer going to look to them to make things right.  It's not necessary to tell the person who hurt you that you forgive them--though sometimes you may do that as well depending on the situation and whether person is receptive.  However, the most important thing is to pray and tell God you forgive someone.

Then, you keep praying to ask God to heal you.  This could take time, because healing takes time.  God has the power to heal your wound and He will if You trust Him, but it takes time.  Some hurts even require professional help.  That's why God has given us counselors and mental health specialists.  Don't be afraid to use them to work through your forgiveness and pain.  I'm also here as a pastor.  Come talk to me or send me an email or message.  Sometimes it's helpful just to have someone listen.  I'm a good listener.

Invitation
There is tremendous power in prayer.  You can move mountains! But Jesus said, "When you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too." 

Do you have a grudge you need to let go of? Why not let go of that grudge today? How long are you going to force God to withhold His mercy from you because you are withholding it from someone else?  It's time to let go.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Have You Heard


Introduction
We’ve been following the story of the very first Christians for several weeks.  We are tremendously indebted to their faith and their faithfulness.  We might could understand if they’d just given up and thrown in the towel.  They were outnumbered and subjected to severe persecution.  They never knew from day to day what would happen next.  One day, they enjoyed the favor of the people.  The next, soldiers were coming to take away their property and arrest them or chase them out of town.  Through it all, they were dependent on the guidance of the Holy Spirit while praying that Jesus would come back soon.

I want to re-visit the story from the second chapter of Acts, verses 14-24.  This was the Apostle Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost.  All the believers were gathered in one place (there were so few of them, they could still all fit in one place).  The Holy Spirit fell upon them in a mighty rush of wind and it appeared as if flaming tongues of fire danced above each person’s head.  And all the Christians began talking in different languages—languages they had not previously known—about he wonderful things God had done through Jesus Christ.  And all the Jews from around the world who were gathered in Jerusalem for the celebration of Pentecost came running to see the commotion and they heard the Good News about Jesus in their own languages.  Some of the people who listened were amazed, but others thought the Christians were drunk.

Acts 2:14-24
14 Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this. 15 Some of you are saying these people are drunk. It isn’t true! It’s much too early for that. People don’t get drunk by nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, what you see this morning was predicted centuries ago by the prophet Joel:
18‘In the last days, God said,
I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
and your old men will dream dreams.
19In those days I will pour out my Spirit
upon all my servants, men and women alike,
and they will prophesy.
And I will cause wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below—
blood and fire and clouds of smoke.
20The sun will be turned into darkness,
and the moon will turn bloodred,
before that great and glorious day of the Lord arrives.
21And anyone who calls on the name of the Lord
will be saved.’
22“People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus of Nazareth by doing wonderful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. 23 But you followed God’s prearranged plan. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to the cross and murdered him. 24 However, God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life again, for death could not keep him in its grip.

Reflect
These are the powerful words Peter preached to the people of Israel. The people who in their time, were supposed to be the true worshipers of the one true God. Yes, of all the people in the world, the Israelites were supposed to know God the best. Yet when God sent His one and only Son to redeem the world, they led the fight to have him murdered.

In our time, we Christians are supposed to be the true worshipers of the one true God—the ones who know Him and love Him the best.  Yet how many times do we nail him to the cross again and again by sinning and doing things we know we ought not.  Lying, stealing, cheating, bickering, gossiping, lusting, drunkenness, adultery, giving more priority to the things and people of this world than to the one true God who made them all.

Acts 2:22-24
22 “People of Israel [that’s you and me], listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus of Nazareth by doing wonderful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. 23 But you followed God’s prearranged plan. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to the cross and murdered him. 24 However, God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life again, for death could not keep him in its grip.”

Have You Heard?
Have you heard about my Lord?  Have you heard about my Jesus?  He wasn’t born as some high and mighty king.  No!  He was born as poor peasant to a family who couldn’t even find him a room to be born in.  He ended up being born in a stable with a bunch of farm animals.

Have you heard the story of my Lord?  Have you heard the story of my Jesus?  He grew up poor, working with his hands.  His family couldn’t afford to send him college.  But he grew both in height and in wisdom, and he was loved by God and by all who knew him.” [i]

His name is Jesus!  When he turned thirty, he was baptized by his cousin John and the Spirit of God descended upon him like a dove.  And God spoke from heaven with a thundering voice of authority and said, ““You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.” [ii]

His name is Jesus!  When He gathered together his disciples and followers, he didn’t choose people because of how much money they had.  He didn’t choose people because of their status.  He didn’t choose people because they were good enough or because they were well educated.  Instead he chose fishermen, tax collectors, zealots, outcasts, and ordinary people like you and me. 


Have you heard about Jesus my Lord? 
1.              He spoke to one man who was paralyzed and told him to get up and walk because he was healed, he said your sins are forgiven—and the man got up and walked! 
2.              Once he was sailing with his disciples across the Sea of Galilee when a fierce storm came up and huge waves began to crash against the boat, breaking over the bow until the boat was nearly full of water.  And though his disciples were frozen with fear, Jesus calmly commanded the wind and the water to “Quiet down!” and suddenly the wind stopped and the sea was calm. 
3.              One time, a wild eyed man, foaming at the mouth, possessed by a legion of demons came running out of a cemetery, falling before my Lord Jesus screaming, “Why are you bothering me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? For God’s sake, don’t torture me!”[iii]  And Jesus commanded the demons to come out of the poor retched man and he sent them into a heard of pigs and sent the pigs running down into the sea where they drowned. 
4.              He made the blind to see and the deaf to hear and the mute to speak and the lame to walk.
5.              He fed 4,000 people with 7 loaves of bread and a few small fish. 
6.              He comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable. 
7.              He said You are not defiled by what you eat; you are defiled by what you say and do!” [iv]
8.              On top of the mountain, he was transfigured and his clothing became dazzling white, and he stood and talked with Moses and Elijah, even though they’d been dead for hundreds of years.  And even though Peter and James and John were so blown away by the whole experience that they wanted to build 3 shrines and stay on the mountaintop worshiping forever, Jesus wouldn’t allow it because he knew his place was back down in the valley suffering for the people.
9.              He stood in front of Lazarus’ tomb, and though the body’d already been dead and buried for so long it’d begun to smell, he commanded, “Lazarus, come out!”  And a dead man obeyed and came back to life so that they had to unwrap the grave clothes and let Lazarus go free.
10.          Speaking of his own body he said, “Destroy this temple, and I will rebuild it again in 3 days!”

Have you heard about my Lord?  Have you heard about My Jesus?  He looked at me, a young man lost in sin, a adolescent who came from a broken home, a young teenager who wanted to have sex and get drunk and act stupid all the time, a kid who hated his father, a youth who thought it was cool to vandalize and destroy property, a 16 year old reckless driver who should’ve gotten himself or someone else killed—he looked at me and he saved me from the path to destruction down which I was heading.  And he snatched me up from the fires of hell over which I was dangling.  And he set my feet upon the rock and gave me a new life of abundance.

Have you heard about Jesus my Lord?  He looks at you, the man who is cheating on his wife.  He looks you, the kid who is getting high on drugs.  He looks you, the girl who is having sex with her boyfriend because she doesn’t want him to leave her all alone.  He looks at you, the workaholic who is neglecting your family, wasting your life climbing the corporate ladder while your family is going down the tubes.  He looks at you, the teenager who is so disillusioned with the vanity of life that you would contemplate going on a shooting spree or even taking your own life.  He looks at us all, who are dying of spiritual thirst in this dry and weary land where there’s no hope, and he says, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who I am, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”[v]

Have you heard what they did to my Lord?  They arrested him in the middle of the night.  And they falsely accused him.  And they paid some worthless people to lie about the things he had said and done.  And they put him through a fraudulent trial in the middle of the night.  And they convicted him before the sun came up.  And they tricked a mob into trading the life of the sinless, spotless Son of God for the life of the murderous Barabbas.  And they spat on him, and they mocked him, and they beat him within an inch of his life, and they put a crown of thorns on his head, and then they nailed his hands and feet to a cross and hung him there until he died.  And then they chunked him in a cave and rolled a big, fat stone in front of it and thought they had seen the last of the Son of God. 

Oh, but have you heard the good news about Jesus my Lord?  Acts 2:24, However, God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life again, for death could not keep him in its grip.  After three days, the stone was rolled away and Jesus got up and walked out of that tomb.  And he appeared to many of his followers, both men and women, and he proved to them that he was really alive.  And he’s proven it to me too, time and time again, that he is indeed alive even today. 

Acts 2:36, “So let it be clearly known by everyone in Israel [and by you and me too] that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified to be both Lord and Messiah!”

“Brothers and sisters, what should we do?”

“Each of us must turn from our sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. Then we will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This promise is to us and to our children, and everyone in every part of the world.

Brothers and sisters, I urge you, as strongly as I know how, save yourselves from this generation that has gone astray!” 
           
Prayer of Repentance
Oh God, we have heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Have mercy on us, O God, because of your unfailing love.  Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of our sins.  Wash us clean from our guilt.  Purify us of our sin.  For we recognize our shameful deeds—they haunt us day and night.  Against you, and you alone, have we sinned; we have done what is evil in your sight.

You will be proved right in what You say, and Your judgment against us is just.  For we were born sinners—yes, from the moment we were conceived.  But You desire honesty from the heart, so You can teach us to be wise in our inmost being.  Purify us from our sins, and we will be clean; wash us, and we will be whiter than snow.  Oh, give us back our joy again; You have broken us—now let us rejoice.  Don’t keep looking at our sins.  Remove the stain of our guilt.  Create in us a clean heart, O God.  Renew a right spirit within us.  Do not banish us from Your presence, and don’t take Your Holy Spirit from us.  Restore to us again the joy of Your salvation, and make us willing to obey You.  Then we will teach Your ways to sinners, and they will return to You.  Forgive us for shedding the blood of your Son, O God who saves; then we will joyfully sing of Your forgiveness.  Unseal our lips, O Lord, that we may praise You.  You would not be pleased with anything we could try to do to earn your forgiveness, or we would do them.  Even if we spent our whole lives trying to earn Your acceptance, You would not accept us.  The only sacrifice You want from us is a broken spirit.  A broken and repentant heart, O God, You will not despise.  Look at us with favor and help us; reconstruct Your holy dwelling place within our hearts.  Then You will be pleased with the things we do and our whole way of living will be pleasant in Your sight.

In the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen.


[i] Paraphrase Luke 2:52
[ii] Luke 3:22b
[iii] Paraphrase Mark 5:7
[iv] Paraphrase Matthew 15:11
[v] Paraphrase John 4:10