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Monday, April 15, 2019

Whose Side are You On? part 2 - Jesus


Introduction
When life is hard, we long for a Savior to come and rescue us.  We hold out hope amidst the darkness that somehow, someday our Savior will come.  But when He comes, will we recognize Him?  Will we receive Him?  Will we truly trust Him?  Will we know that He is not only our Savior, but our Lord?  Will we see He doesn’t come to be on our side, but rather, to invite us to be on His side?

Last week, we met a man from the Old Testament named Joshua who encountered the commander of the Lord’s army as Joshua and the Israelites prepared to attack the fortress, Jericho.  Joshua asked, “Are you on our side or on their side?”  The angel answered simply, “No.”  As if to say, “You aren’t even asking the right question.”  It is not that God is on our side or on someone else’s.  God is Yahweh, the great I AM.  He is who He is and we were made to worship and adore Him.  We are called to be on His side, for His side is always right and His side always wins in the end.

The name Joshua means, “God Saves”.  Today, we hear the story of another man poised to enter a different city.  This story is from the New Testament.  It is Jesus as he prepares to enter Jerusalem on the day we’ve come to call Palm Sunday.  Jesus is another way Jews said the name Joshua (kind of like we call some people John and other people Juan and others Jan).  But like Joshua, Jesus also means “God Saves”.  Listen to the story.


Matthew 21:1-13
As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.”
This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,
“Tell the people of Jerusalem,
    ‘Look, your King is coming to you.
He is humble, riding on a donkey—
    riding on a donkey’s colt.’”
The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it.
Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,
“Praise God for the Son of David!
    Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
    Praise God in highest heaven!
10 The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.
11 And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
12 Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. 13 He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”

The Donkey
Just prior to entering Jerusalem, the Gospels tell the odd story of how Jesus sends his disciples to confiscate a donkey and it’s colt to ride into Jerusalem.  When bystanders see them untying the young donkey, they understandably concerned.  “Hey, why are you stealing that donkey?  That’s not yours!”  But the disciples say what Jesus told them to say, “The Lord needs it.”  Jesus is not just a prophet.  He is not just a Rabi or a preacher.  He is not just a healer or a kind man or an advocate for justice.  Jesus is not just a king.  Jesus is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  He is the Son of God come to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.  When your Lord comes and says He needs your donkey, you yield.  And that’s what the bystanders did. 

The Gospels of Mark and Luke tell us the colt had never been ridden before.  Now think about that for a minute.  If someone brought you a donkey and told you it had never, ever been ridden before, and then I said, “Alright, hop up on there and take him for a ride…”  I’d say, “You’re crazy.  I ain’t stupid.”  Unless you’re a rodeo cowboy, I don’t think most people would want to break their neck on some wild, untrained donkey.  But Jesus hops right up on it and the thing doesn’t buck and fight and kick.  Why?  Because John 1:1 says, “In the beginning the Word [Jesus] already existed.  The Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  When the Creator of the universe decides to ride into Jerusalem on an untrained donkey, one that's never been ridden before, even the dumb donkey knows you say, “Yes sir!” and give him the best ride he can give.

The People
And off Jesus goes, riding into Jerusalem.  And everyone is excited and cheering.  They’re waving palm branches, which was a sign of victory and peace.  They’re also spreading their clothes out across the road, which was a symbolic way of saying, “We submit to be ruled by you! Even if you walk all over us, we are your subjects and you are our king!  We'll do whatever you say!”  Everyone’s praising God and singing hosannas.  They’re Savior had come!  And they even called him king, but were they really willing to follow Jesus as their Lord? 

Apparently not. Their actions over the next week show they didn't t really submit to the Son of God.  They wanted the Messiah to come be on their side.  They wanted Jesus to drive out the Romans and restore their glory so they could live their lives the way they wanted to live.  But Jesus comes in and starts by—not driving out the Romans—but cleanses Jerusalem’s own Temple--flipping over the money changers tables, driving out all the buyers and sellers, disrupting their way of life, saying "My Father's house is supposed to be a house of prayer,but you've turned it into a den of thieves!"

And then, through the whole next week, Jesus doesn’t do what the people wanted him to do.  They want a Savior to save them from the Romans.  But Jesus didn’t come to do what they want him to do.  Jesus came to do the will of God the Father, maker of heaven and earth.

The leading priests and elders starts asking, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right?” (Matthew 21:23)  Jesus finds the sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors are more willing to accept his authority than the religious leaders.  Jesus says, the Kingdom of God is being taken away from the ruling authorities in Jerusalem and given to the weirdos, outcasts, and sinners who repent and accept the Savior as Lord.

The Pharisees and good people of Jerusalem want Jesus to defeat the heathen Romans so they don’t have to pay taxes and tributes to them anymore.  But instead, Jesus keeps showing the good people in Jerusalem they're not really any better than the heathen Romans.  In fact, in a lot of ways, the heathen Romans and the hated Samaritans are actually closer to the Kingdom of God than the good people of Jerusalem.  He preaches, “Everything [the religious leaders and Pharisees] do is for show.” (Matthew 23:5)  He says they are blind hypocrites heading for destruction and anyone who follows them will end up being destroyed with them.

Rather than rallying the troops to fight for Jerusalem, Jesus actually grieves over the city.  O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.” (Matthew 23:37)

When the disciples marvel at all the incredible buildings and architecture in Jerusalem, Jesus tells them it’s all going to be destroyed.  “Not one stone will be left on top of another!” (Matthew 24:2)  And in the end, the Messiah would judge people not according to their position or possessions or power or where they live, but according to three things:
  1. Whether they truly have to the Spirit of God in them (Matthew 25:1-13)
  2. How they used the blessings God gave them to be fruitful (Matthew 25:14-30)
  3. And whether they cared for people who were in need (Matthew 25:31-46)

Jesus came to Jerusalem, riding on a donkey.  The people called him their messiah and king, but it was only lip service.  When he proved he would not do things their way, they turned their backs.  You see, for the people of Jerusalem, it was never really about following God.  God was a just a means to an end--their end.  They were never on God’s side.  They just wanted God to come be on their side so they could get what they want.

Jesus comes to each of us just like He came to Jerusalem.  We have the same decision to make.  Do want want Him to be on our side?  Or are we truly ready to be on His side?  Sure we all say we want to be on Jesus side, but then He starts tearing down the idols in our hearts and flipping over our way of living.  He challenges our sins and then I’m not so sure we might not want start crying out with everyone else in crowd on Good Friday, shouting “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Or we might be like his disciples who all abandoned him in fear and ran away.  Or we might be like Peter who boasted he would die for Jesus, but then denied even knowing him three times.  Or we might be like Judas who agreed to betray Jesus, hoping to get a better deal from someone else. We might do all these things.  We have done all these things at one time or another.  But who will truly recognize Jesus as Lord?

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

9 Acts of Service


Service is an attitude of the heart, but it is an attitude that's lived out through tangible acts.  Here are nine practical kinds of service you can give throughout life. (These are based on Richard Foster's book, The Celebration of Discipline.)


  1. Secret service. We are all given many opportunities to serve in ways that no one else sees. There is great blessing in secret acts of service, whether large or small.
  2. Small acts of kindness. We don’t always have to do big, important stuff. Bringing someone a drink, cleaning up a spill, giving someone a ride, stopping by the store to pick up some milk for your spouse. Nobody is too important to do the menial tasks of life. And those who think their time is too important to be wasted on small acts of kindness may think too highly of themselves. 
  3. Guarding someone’s reputation. There is real wisdom in the old adage: “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” Be someone who builds up others instead of tearing them down. Don’t participate in gossip and urge others to stop as well. 
  4. The service of being served. Many people are like Peter, who didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet. Don’t steal someone else’s blessing by refusing to let others serve you. 
  5. The service of common courtesy. In our fast-paced, socially disconnected age of technology, common social customs are even more important. Be polite. Remember to say “please” and “thank you”. Hold the door open for ladies and your elders. Be sure to RSVP promptly when requested. Don’t be rude by neglecting common courtesies as outdated. 
  6. The service of hospitality. Hospitality is making people feel welcome and comfortable and seeing that their basic needs are met—especially when they are away from their home. Don’t get so caught up in the details of hospitality that you lose sight of making people feel loved. 
  7. The service of listening. One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is just to listen. Give people your undivided attention. Put down your phone, turn off the TV, and focus. You don’t have to have the right answers. Just listen and care. Listening to others also quiets and disciplines the mind to listen to God. 
  8. Bearing one another’s burdens. It is a great act of service to
    offer care and compassion when others are going through troubles. Send a sympathy card. Offer a meal. Sometimes we don’t know what to say. That’s ok. Just say you don’t know what to say, but that you care. Sometimes, I’ll that’s needed is to be there and say nothing at all. 
  9. Sharing the Word of God with one another. We are all part of the Body of Christ. It’s not just pastors and Sunday school teachers who hear from God. God speaks to us all and moves in all our lives. When we keep it to ourselves, we cheat the rest of the world. One of the greatest gifts of service can be simply to share what God is doing in you or saying to you with others. 

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Whose Side are You On? part 1 - Joshua and Jericho

Introduction
When we go through tough times, we want to know God is on our side.  Whether we’ve lost our job, are facing a serious illness, have a financial problem, or a spiritual crisis, whatever the problem is, we want to know God’s got our back.  That’s why people are more likely to pray when they face serious troubles.  And they ask others to pray for them.  Even self-proclaimed atheists start praying when they’re in a serious crisis.

Over the next two weeks, I want to show that we’ve got it all wrong.  We’re looking at life, our problems, and our relationship with God all wrong when we go begging Him to fight our battles.  Now stick with me on this.  Don’t tune me out just yet.  You’ll see what I’m saying if you hear me out.  And maybe, just maybe, it could completely change the course of your life, for the better—maybe even your eternity.

This will be a two part series.  We will look at two different stories about two different men getting ready to enter two different cities.  One story is from the Old Testament—Joshua and the city of Jericho.  The other one is from the New Testament—Jesus and the city Jerusalem.  Today, we will look at the Old Testament story of Joshua and the city of Jericho.

Background
·       Joshua took over leadership of the Israelites after Moses died.  You may remember the Israelites (AKA the Hebrews) were slaves in Egypt.  They cried out to God to save them, and God who had promised their ancestor Abraham He would bring Abraham's descendants into a land "flowing with milk and honey" heard their cry.  God sent Moses to lead them out of slavery in Egypt into the Promised Land.  God chose the Israelites to be is special people--a royal and holy priesthood designed to lead all the people of the world toward God.  However, the Israelites were a stubborn, rebellious, and faithless people.  They constantly complained and they did not trust God could defeat their enemies (the Canaanites who inhabited the Promised Land).  Even Moses got frustrated with God.  Therefore, God decreed that no one from that first generation of Israelites would enter the Promised Land, except for Joshua and Caleb (who were the only one's who proved they had faith in God).  The first generation of Israelites left Egypt and wandered in the desert for forty years until everyone except Caleb and Joshua died.  Then, Joshua took over leadership of the Israelites.

Now, there are some interesting facts you need to know about Joshua’s name.  The Jewish way to pronounce Joshua is Jeshua.  And Jeshua is another way to pronounce the name Jesus.  Joshua means Yahweh saves (I.E. it means God Saves).  Jesus also means Yahweh saves (IE Jesus means God Saves).  (Yahweh is the name God gave when Moses asked for His name.  It means simply, I Am.)  So Joshua and Jesus are the same name (sort of like Elizabeth and Lisa and Liza and Beth are all really the same name in English, just said differently).

Joshua is leading the Israelites into the Promise land, but the Canaanite fortress of Jericho stands in the way.  God promised the Israelites He would destroy the Canaanites because of their sin and give their land to the Israelites.  That sounds pretty harsh to us today.  We wonder, "Is that really the way God is?"  We have to have faith God is holy and righteous and just and merciful and good.  And when we understand some things about the Canaanites, we begin to see God was right to destroy the Canaanites.  Let's consider the character of the Canaanites.

First of all, the Canaanites knew about the God of the Bible but rejected Him in favor of false gods.  As Romans 1:21 says, “Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God…”  When they didn't like living the way God commanded, they rejected God and invented their own pretend gods that would only tell them things with which they agreed.  We see this kind of attitude in our day and age all the time.  You ask someone today, "What is God like?"  They will say, "I think God is like..." and they will give you their opinion about their version of what God is like. Now, nine times out of ten, their opinion of God is not based on Scripture.  It's only based on their own ideas or the ideas they've heard from others that they like.  People who base their ideas about God on their own ideas or public opinion generally dismiss stuff that doesn't fit with their ideas about God.  In essence, this is just inventing a god according to your own imagination.  And if you go down that road long enough, you end up with some truly crazy and sinful and perverted ideas.  But God said His name is Yahweh.  As He told Moses, "I Am Who I Am".  We don't get to decide who God is.  Our opinions about Him don't change who He really is.  He just is.

The Canaanites tried to make God into who they wanted Him to be and it led them into all kinds of terribly sinful behavior.  Specifically, they worshipped false gods and idols.  Adultery and sexual promiscuity was rampant in their society.  The gods they invented actually encouraged sexual promiscuity as part of their worship.  They hired prostitutes to have sex with worshipers in their temples as part of the worship service (now there's a perverted way to increase worship attendance!).  This is how perverse their view of holiness had become!  It went further.  They accepted homosexuality and even incest and bestiality!  Now you may wonder how anyone can think having sex with animals (beastiality) is acceptable.  That's just gross!  Well, guess what: fifty years ago people in America thought homosexuality was evil and disgusting; however today, homosexuality is increasingly accepted in our own society.  When you start going down the road to making god and morals according to your own designs, you end up with incredibly wicked behavior and people think it is normal and good and even holy.  The Canaanites were sexually immoral and they raped and murdered.  They even sacrificed children as part of their worship because they thought that's their gods wanted.

But Yahweh is good and holy and righteous and just and patient and merciful.  He is not quick to dish out punishment by destroying a whole people.  The Canaanites' sins had continued for nearly 700 years--from the time of Abraham all the way through to Joshua.  And in 700 years, you know God sent many people to call the Canaanites to repentance, but they would not.  So you see, God would absolutely have redeemed them if only they would have surrendered and turned from their sins and turned to God, but they would not.

Furthermore, the Canaanites knew what God could do and that His people were coming to bring
judgment for their sins. In Judges 2:11, we read about some spies Joshua sent into Jericho.  While there, the spies met a  Canaanite prostitute named Rahab who explains, “We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites...”).  So, the Canaanites in Jericho knew God was powerful and He was sending His people to destroy them, but they still would not surrender.  God was willing to save those who surrendered and repented, but most would not (except for a few exceptions like Rahab).  And it's quite revealing to see that God would save a person like Rahab.  Rahab was a prostitute.  So it's not like God was saying, "They are too far gone, what they've done is just too bad and unforgivable."  No.  God was willing to save Rahab.  And the fact that Rahab's great, great, great, great... grandson is Jesus tells us God was willing to save and honor anyone who turns to Him.  Unfortunately, few of the Canaanites did.

Joshua faced formidable resistance.  Jericho was a fortress with walls six feet thick and as tall as ten stories! And it was full of armed soldiers who would rather fight to the death than surrender and give up their sinful lifestyle.  Think about the obstacles in your life that seem like an impenetrable fortress as you read the interesting thing that happened to Joshua as he face Jericho.

Joshua 5:13-15
13 When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and demanded, “Are you friend or foe?”
14 “Neither one,” he replied. “I am the commander of the Lord’s army.”

Actually, the original Hebrew (according to Rev. James Michael Smith) is actually just “No.”  Joshua says, "Are you friend or foe?" and the commander of the Lord's army simply replies, "No."  It's like the commander of the Lord's army is saying, "You aren't even asking the right question.  No."

At this, Joshua fell with his face to the ground in reverence. “I am at your command,” Joshua said. “What do you want your servant to do?”

Joshua is a man of God.  He knows his place.  “I am at your command.  What do you want me to do?”  This is the right attitude when you come face to face with the commander of the Lord’s Army or any true representative of God.

15 The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did as he was told.

Facing Jericho
Joshua had a monumental task ahead of him. Jericho was not just a city. It was a fortress. When you find yourself facing your own Jericho, what do you do?  Most of us want to make sure God's on our side.  Abraham Lincoln was a truly godly man--perhaps one of the godliest presidents America has ever had in one of the most difficult times in the nation's history.  The northern states and the southern states were at war over the issues of slavery and states rights.  The southern states were praying, "Lord, help us defeat our enemies in the south!"  The southern states were praying, "Lord, help us defeat our enemies in the north!"  It is reported that Abraham Lincoln once said, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right.”

We want to make sure God is on our side. Maybe that’s the wrong attitude. Maybe, we ought to make sure we are on God’s side, because God’s side is always right and will always achieve victory in the end.

Make Sure You’re On God’s Side
Well then, how do you make sure you are on God's side?  First of all, you have to surrender.  Notice what Joshua did when he recognized he was face to face with the commander of the Lord's armies.  He immediately surrendered.  He went from a demanding attitude to falling on his face in reverence and saying, "I am at your command.  What do you want your servant to do?"  When we come to the realization that God truly is Lord and He made us for His purposes, the very first act should be our unconditional surrender.  We must fall on our face before Him and say, "I am at Your command.  What do you want Your servant to do?"

Second, we must walk humbly with our God every day so we stay in tune with His ongoing commands and will for our lives.  How do we do that?  First, we go off by ourselves to be alone; and then we realize, we are not really alone at all.  God is with us.  Perhaps that is how Joshua was able to notice the commander of the Lord's army in his midst.  Joshua was a man with the tremendous responsibility of leading thousands of people.  He was under tremendous stress.  Perhaps he stepped away for a moment to be by himself and in doing so realized he was not alone at all.  How about you?  Do you ever step away from the hussle and bussle of life long enough to be alone and realize you are not really alone at all?  God is with you, right there.  And then we begin to know what He wants of us.  We can all find a little time to be alone--even if it's just a few minutes while we drive alone in the car and we turn off the radio and just drive in silence.  Or maybe it is when you are alone in the bath or in the shower.  Make that intentional time with God.

And if we are going to stay in tune with God so we make sure we are always on His side, we need to rediscover the spiritual disciplines our culture has so often forgot--prayer, fasting, meditation.  You know, Jesus said, "When you fast..."  He didn't say, if you fast; Jesus assumed His followers would fast.  But how many people in our day and age fast as a regular spiritual exercise?  We need to rediscover this discipline.

And we must immerse ourselves in God’s Word.  We must stop basing our ideas about God on our own personal opinions and the things we heard from others.  God has told us who He is and what He's done and what He wants us to do.  It's all right there in the Holy Bible.  Most people in America own multiple copies of the Bible, but they do not read them.  We are biblically illiterate.  We must read, study, and obey God's Word in the Bible.  This should be a regular part of our daily habits.  It must be if we are to stay in tune with God and make sure we are always on His side.

And when we know we are on God's side (not that He is on our side), we will worship and serve Him.  We will make the Kingdom of God our first priority and we will live and die for God, however He commands.  We will join with Joshua who said, "I am at Your command.  What do you want Your servant to do?"

We must change our whole perspective on life.  Jesus said, “You cannot serve two masters.  For you will either love the one and hate the other or you will hate the one and love the other."  So we must ask the question in every area of our life.  Is God my Lord or not?  Is He first?  We often say He is Lord and He is first, but then we find we are really serving some other lord or some other god or some other thing or ourself, and God is only tagged on as something extra.  He is not really our master.  We only want God to be on our side.  And He says, "No.  I am Yahweh.  I Am Who I Am."  

What’s Your Jericho?
From time to time in life, we all come up against a Jericho and we want to know, "Is God on our side?"  It's time we stop thinking that way.  It's the wrong question.  Instead, we must strive to be on God's side.  For God is always right and good and holy and just.  And in the end, God's side always wins.  I want to be on God's side.  Don't you?

Check back with me next week as we look at another story about another man in another time who was about to enter another city--Jesus and the city of Jerusalem on the day Christians celebrate as Palm Sunday.

Monday, April 1, 2019

The Madness of Lust


Introduction
The definition of madness:  the state of being mentally ill, especially severely.  Another definition is: extremely foolish behavior.  Or it could be defined as:  a state of frenzied or chaotic activity.  Some synonyms for madness are:  insanity, mental illness, derangement, stupidity, lunacy, irrationality, bedlam, mayhem, chaos, pandemonium, and turmoil.

Sin is madness.  God created a perfect world and He said it was good. Then, as the crown jewel of all creation, God create people.  He created them male and female and He said they were very good.  In the beginning, there was no sin in the world.  Everything was good and perfect and in harmony with God.  But then, Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and taste the forbidden fruit and sin entered into the world.  Paradise was lost.  Darkness befell the earth.  Evil and disorder and death became rampant.  And all creation groaned.

The world we live in is not what God intended.  Every one of us has a spiritual illness, a form of madness, the madness of sin.  Over the last two months, I’ve shared about some of the basic forms of sin that plague humanity:  gluttony, pride, greed, sloth, wrath, and envy.  These basic sins are the root causes of all the evil we see in the world. They lead to disorder and darkness we know all too well in our world today.

I have one more basic sin to share with you today:  lust.  Lust is a psychological force producing intense longing for an object or circumstance.  Lust can take any form such as the lust for sexuality, love, money, or power.  There is a scene in the classic movie, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” where Willy Wonka invites everyone indulges in their candy coated fantasies as he sings about "pure imagination".  You can see expressions on each characters face that look a lot like lust.  Is it coincidence or intentional that the song is about using your imagination to intensify your longing for the good things in life?  That is much of what lust is: using your imagination to idolize the object for which you lust.

Matthew 5:27-30
27 “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

Come On Jesus, Is Lust Really that Bad?
Do we literally have to cut out our eyes or cut off our hands if we lust?  Thank God, no!  Jesus is speaking in hyperbole.  Hyperbole is a technique of speech whereby the speaker over exaggerates to make a point.  However, Jesus is serious that lust is a very serious sin.  Our thoughts lead to actions.  When we lust, it changes our thought patterns, which science shows can actually change your brain chemistry.  And your brain chemistry can change your behaviors.  Our thoughts lead our actions.  When we look at someone differently, we treat them differently--even if it's only in our subconscious.

The sexual revolution of the 1960s changed our priorities about sex.  I am a child of that sexual revolution.  I did not live through the 1960s, but my parents did and I was born in 1974.  Over the last 45 years of my life, I have seen the world's ideas about sex change drastically.  Some of those changes have been positive, but many have not.  One consequence has been that our culture now places sex up on a high pedestal.  Sex has become a sort of idol.  The popular mindset is that sex is regarded as one of the chief aims of life.  Our movies, our music, our television shows, and commercials lead us to believe that the norm should be that everyone is having sex all the time and in all places.  Something must be seriously wrong with us if we are not having lots of incredible sex all the time.  And for anyone to deny themselves or anyone else sex would be the worst kind of atrocity.  This is the common popular view of sex in our culture and it is a lie.  The Truth in God's Word is that sex is good and important, but it is not everything (like the world tried to say).  

Given our cultures fixation on sex, it is no wonder that lust has become rampant in our society.  We think about sex all the time.  Men and women lust after each other.  55% of married men and 25% of married women say they watch porn at least once a month.  The porn industry’s annual revenue is more than the NFL, NBA, and MLB combined. It is also more than the combined revenues of ABC, CBS, and NBC.  Lust is a huge problem in our society and it is destroying us.

So if  lust is such a serious problem, what must we do?

Accept God’s Grace for Your Past
The very first step with any sin is to repent as soon as we recognize it is a problem within us.  If you struggle with lust, turn to good, ask for forgiveness, and ask Him to help you be rid of it.  When it comes to lust, people often feel great shame.  They might feel, “God could never forgive me for this…”   

But the Word of God tells us God can and will forgive any sin.  We know how serious God is about wanting to forgive our sins because Romans 5:8 says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  God is personally invested in your struggle with sin and that includes all sins, even lust or sexual sin.  Through faith and repentance, we can be forgiven. You don’t have to live with shame, guilt, and fear because of your sexual sin. Turn to God and allow Him to cleanse you of your sin.

There are some things the people of this age need to know--things you need to know. First of all, lust is a terrible sin, but it is no more terrible than any other sin. It is the Enemy, Satan that evil villain, who sneaks up and whispers lies in our ears so that we get so mixed up about sex.  One lie that Satan has told many over the ages is that sex is bad and shameful.  This became the prevailing opinion in society during the Victorian period and it lingered into the first half of the 20th century.  People saw sex as dirty and unspeakable.  It was only to be used as an unfortunate means to make children.  It was a lie that even the church accepted and promulgated.  However, it was a lie.  It is not found in Scripture.  (This is why is is so imperative that the Church base it's teachings upon the Holy Bible and not human opinion!)  Scripture says God created sex and that it is good and beautiful and holy and sacred and powerful.  Really?  In the Bible?  Yes!  There is a whole book dedicated to sexuality--the Song of Solomon (AKA the Song of Songs).

And what I believe happened is there were many people who knew somehow in their heart that sex couldn't be so bad; they knew this because God created us and He created sex good and it's in our DNA.  And so the Devil slips in and whispers, "You know sex isn't bad.  The church is lying to you."  And finally enough people get fed up with the half truth of society and start believing the half truth of the Devil and they have a "revolution" that now says sex is good, but they go too far and we get what we have today which says something like, "Sex is more important than everything else."

So now people have to possible problems they may find in their hearts.  On the one hand, there are many people who struggle with lust who feel so ashamed, they can't tell anyone and they may even fear God can never forgive them.  They struggle with their lust in secret, afraid someone might find out and that God hates them.  Some find their situation so dark, they contemplate suicide--some even do commit suicide--because Satan is always whispering in their ear, "God could never love you; no one can."  Others, fed up with their feelings of guilt and shame and inability to break free from their lust,believe a different kind of lie.  Satan sneaks up to them (often through a world that idolizes sin and sexuality) and whispers, "You've been lied to.  There's nothing wrong with lust.  You just need to come out of the shadows and proudly own your sexuality.  Be loud and proud!"  And so many in our day and age come to the conclusion they must violently reject any teaching or teacher who says lust is bad.  They embrace their sin.  And to be sure, there is a great feeling of relief in this.  It is liberating as they come out of hiding for the first time and find that there is a world of people willing to embrace them.

God is something so much better!  God embraces us just as we are--sin and warts and all--but He also brings healing and wholeness.  We don't have to settle for the half truths and lies of the Devil that says revel in your sin.  God says, I will restore you to the wonder of my original sacred design.  It is a more difficult path to follow, but it is infinitely better and leads to eternal life.  Embracing our sin leads to death and destruction.  And Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14, "“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."  Choose the narrow way.

Live by God’s Grace Today through the Power of the Holy Spirit
When we repent, God forgives us immediately.  However, the path to healing takes time.  I currently have a broken bone in my foot.  It only took a single moment to break the bone.  And I went to the doctor the same day.  However, the healing will take many weeks, maybe months.  I have to follow the doctors orders in order to get well.  The same is true of our spiritual brokenness.  It takes time to heal, but God does heal it as we follow His treatment plan.  Through the spiritual disciplines of prayer, study, meditation, fasting, silence and solitude, etc., God begins to change us.  As we commit daily to be nourished by God’s Word, as read, study, spend time with God in the Bible, the HOly Spirit begins to sanctify us.  As we serve others, we begin to turn away from our selfish lustful pursuits and get out of ourselves by serving others.  

But there is one more thing that is essential in dealing with the sin of lust.  You must seek accountability from the community of faith.  Secrecy breeds sin; transparency fosters healing.  This is especially true when it comes to lust.  Lust makes us want to hide our sin in the shadows, because the light eats it away.  So we have to bring it out into the light.  Now, I understand you don't want the whole church knowing your embarrassing sin, so I don't recommend you tell just anyone who might go blabbing your business all about town and on social media.  However, you should find a pastor or trusted Christian friend or mentor who can pray with you and talk with you on a regular basis and hold you accountable.  We often fail to make progress with lust (or any sin really) because we try to handle it all on our own.  But sin and temptation are too heavy for us to carry all by ourselves.  That's why we need the Church; there is more strength when we work together as the Body of Christ.

And for some, lust and pornography, sexual addictions are every bit as strong as a drug addiction.  And there are groups like celebrate recovery and Sex Anonymous (that operate just like Alcoholics Anonymous) that are effective in helping sex addicts find sobriety from their sexual addictions.

Invitation 
I invite you to taste the sweet life in God’s Kingdom.  The Kingdom of God is neither sexual repression nor promiscuous indulgence.  It is so much more.  It is right down the middle of God's Truth.  It is Good.  It is Holy.  It is Sacred.  It is True.  It is living life through all eternity just the way God made us to be, in His wonderful presence, the Source of Life and True Love and Joy and Peace.



Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Lost Books of the Bible???


 My weekly Bible study asked me to teach about the "Lost Books" of the Bible.  Since this is something many people seem interested in, I thought I'd share my thoughts.  Seedbed put out a helpful 7 minute video that touches on the subject.  You can watch it here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYsNRHSSG9U.  Here are my thoughts on the subject.



Lost Books?
The term “Lost Books” is really inaccurate.  It implies that some books were not included in the Bible because they were lost (maybe even intentionally).  This is not true.  There were many books, scrolls, letters, and other writings floating around the ancient world when the early Christian church formed—just as there are numerous books floating around in our world today.  Some books were good and helpful for early Christians and others were not.  Some writings stood the test of time, others did not.  Only certain books, the ones God wanted, made it into the Bible.  We have known about most of the other so called "lost books" throughout the centuries and they have been available for people to read, though few had much interest.  Some books were indeed lost, simply because books eventually degrade and fall apart if not reproduced.  How many modern books printed in the last 100 years do you suppose have been “lost” in this way simply because no one cares to read them?  The term “Lost Books” is really more of a marketing ploy.  It grabs people’s attention—especially in an age when many are looking for salacious conspiracy theories about how a supposedly “evil church” has tried to suppress the supposed “real” truth about Jesus.  This is all nonsense.  If you want to know the real Truth about Jesus and God and how we are to live, it is right there in the Bible—the same one that often sits forgotten and unread on the bookshelf in many people’s homes.  In an age where few people actually read the Bible, one could argue the real lost books of the Bible are actually the very ones listed in your Bible’s table of contents, because if you don’t read them they are indeed lost to you.

The Bible.  The Canon.
When we talk about the Bible, we are really talking about an authorized collection of books and letters that have been preserved through the ages and are considered inspired by God and authoritative for Christian belief and practice.  The authorized list of books is called the canon.  No, we’re not talking about a big gun that shoots cannonballs.  Canon is an old word that means “ruler,” like a measuring ruler.  The books we have in our Bible today were “measured” by God through the use of the early Church Christians and found to be inspired and authoritative to be included with the Jewish Bible (the Old Testament) to serve as God’s written Word.


How did they measure which books should be included in the Bible?
Great question!  This was determined by 3 measures:
Measure #1 is Authorship. Who wrote it?  All the books early Christians included in the Bible were written by the Apostles or someone close to them.

Measure #2 is Harmony.  Does the book agree with the doctrine of what other accepted books teach and what Jesus and the Apostles said? 

Measure #3 is Acceptance.  Was the book widely used by the early Church as a whole?  The books that made it into the Bible were only the ones that had gained wide acceptance by the whole church that was spread out across the Mediterranean world during the first few centuries of the Christian era.

[Note:  Historical records show that by 180 AD Irenaeus says that the 4 Gospels had become authoritative (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).  By 325 AD, Eusibius shared a list of 20 books that are in our New Testament.  By 362 AD, Bishop Athanasius lists all 27 New Testament books that we now have in our New Testament.  And of course, the Christian Bible always included the books of the Old Testament (the Jewish Bible Jesus read).

Why were the so called “Lost Books” not included in the Bible?
The “so called lost books” weren’t included in the Bible for good reasons.  They didn’t measure up.  They were not written by the Apostles or those close to them (although they sometimes falsely claimed to be).  They were not in harmony with the plain teachings of Jesus and his early followers.  They were not widely accepted by the whole Church.  There were sometimes other reasons too.  When heretical groups tried to corrupt or change the true message of Christ, they often discarded books that contradicted their teachings and/or substitute their own writings, which were forgeries written to support their false teachings.  For example, one corrupted group led by a man named Marcian created their own Bible.  The Marcian Bible rejected the entire OT, used only parts of the Gospel of Luke, and some of Paul’s letters.  (They only allowed the parts of the Bible that didn’t refute Marcian’s heretical religious ideas.)  Marcian and his sect's ideas were strange and vastly different from what Jesus and his Apostles taught and what the Christian Church as a whole believed.  Their ideas and their books were rejected.  Heretical groups like the Marcians eventually lead Christians to establish an authorized canon of books that the church was already using that did "measure up".  These are the 27 books we now have in the Christian New Testament, plus the Jewish Bible that Christians call the Old Testament.

Conclusion
The Canonical Bible that we use is the Inspired Word of God.  The writers were inspired but also the collectors were inspired so that the Bible we have today is the Inspired Written Word of God that has the authority to guide all Christian beliefs and practices.  John 21:25 actually says, “Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.”  We don't claim that the Bible tells us absolutely everything that happened, only that it teaches everything the Christian needs to know for salvation and to live a Christian life.  Furthermore, the Bible can be trusted as the inspired Word of God.  Those other so call "Lost Books" are not trustworthy and are not the Word of God.  At best, they may be interesting and helpful (though they are mostly weird and boring).  At the worst, they are false teachings designed to lead people astray.  

It doesn't make much sense to waste much time reading so called "lost books" of the Bible.  The real Bible, which is the authorized Word of God, has plenty of challenging truths to digest.  You will never exhaust the Bible's resources.  It will change your life and continue to help you grow from day to day as you listen and obey.  Therefore, I recommend you not waste time wading through other ancient writings unless you have a really good reason.  They will not give you some mind-blowing new revelation.  The Bible can, but they can't.  Therefore, devote your time and energy to studying something with true power and authority--The Holy Bible.  And I invite you to join me for Bible Study on Thursdays at 10:30 AM at Pleasant Grove UMC to really get the most out of God's Holy Word.  We will have a discussion about the "So Called Lost Books" April 4th and then start a new series called "Scripture and the Wesleyan Way" on April 11th.  God Bless!



Monday, March 25, 2019

The Madness of Envy


Introduction
Basketball fans are caught up in March Madness, but we’ve been studying a different kind of madness this March at my church:  The Madness of Sin.  We’ve been using the characters of the classic movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” to draw our attention to the basics sins that plague humanity.  Many people think the worst sins are terrible things like rape and murder or rooting for the Duke Blue Devils…

Actually, all sin is an abomination to God.  And the basic sins of gluttony, pride, greed, sloth, anger, envy, and lust lead people to do the more terrible sins like rape, murder, and sexual immorality.  The first sin recorded in the Bible was when Adam and Eve at a fruit God told them not to eat.  They disobeyed God and it broke their perfect relationship with Him, led to spiritual death, and the downfall of all humanity and creation.  It seems like such a small thing to eat a piece of fruit, but even small disobedience to God’s Word leads to terrible results.  Adam and Even ate forbidden fruit; their son Cain murdered his brother Abel.

Romans explains the progression of sin in humanity:

Romans 1:28-32
28 Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. 29 Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. 30 They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. 31 They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. 32 They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.

Sin is madness.  It is an evil cancer that starts small and then grows out of control until it consumes everything in its path.  That’s why Jesus came and died on the cross and was raised from the grave.  Now we must heed Jesus’ command and the preaching of his disciples in Acts 3:19, “Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away.”

The first step in repentance is to recognize the sin within us.  Today, we will consider the sin of envy.  There's a scene from “Willy Wonk and the Chocolate Factory” where Charlie Bucket finds the last golden ticket--something everybody wants.  A lady grabs him by the wrist and drags him into a mob who nearly crush him for a chance to see the golden ticket.  It's a awonder someone doesn't steal it from him, because they want it so badly.  Fortunately, one good samaritan rescues Charlie and tells him to run straight home and don't talk to anyone until he gets there.  Charlie runs home safety.

The Madness of Envy
Most people have some understanding of envy, because we’ve all envied someone at some point in our life.  However, envy goes deeper than just longing for something someone has.  Envy makes you discontent with your own blessings and even leads you to resent others for the good things they have.  Thomas Aquinas defined envy as: “Sorrow for another’s good.” So you are actually sad that other people might be happier than you.  Here are some symptoms you might suffer from envy.

Symptoms of Envy
Do you compare yourself to others? God has already blessed you with thousands upon thousands of gifts.  But if you are constantly looking to see what others have—their possessions, their looks, their personality, their talents, their wealth, their friends, their health, etc.—then you are doing much the same as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden.  The first few chapters of Genesis tell us Adam and Eve lived in paradise.  Life was absolutely perfect and they had everything they needed and wanted.  They were perfectly happy, until Satan tempted them to look at the forbidden fruit.  Suddenly, all the other blessings in the Garden of Eden were forgotten.  They wanted the forbidden fruit.  Do you compare yourself to others?

Do you criticize and complain? Sometimes when we criticize and complain about others, it’s because we are really jealous.  Maybe we are jealous and wish we had a house like them, so we criticize them for spending so much on such a luxurious house. “I would never do the things they did to get the money to get a house like theirs,” we say with disgust.  When really, we’re just envious and we can’t be happy they are blessed with a house bigger than our own.  Subconsciously, we wish our house was bigger and better instead of being grateful for our own blessing.  And that leads us to a third symptom of envy.

Are you ungrateful for your own blessings?  If we were to truly count all our many blessings, count them one by one, it would take up almost all our time.  We wouldn’t have time to envy anyone else.  But most of us, most of the time take our many blessings for granted.  We wish we had nicer clothes, rather than thanking God that we have decent clothes to wear.  We want a newer car, rather than being grateful we have a way to get to work every day.  We wish our health were better, rather than praising God we are still healthy enough to get out of bed and come to church to hear a fabulous sermon!

If we envy someone long enough or deep enough, it can lead to hatred.  If there’s someone in your life that really irks you or that you truly hate, there’s a good chance it may have started with some form of envy.  Often we harbor hatred to cover up our envy.  Envy is a terrible sin that starts out small, but can lead to terrible darkness.  Cain murdered his brother because he envied him.  Envy is a dangerous sin we need to get rid of quickly.

Repenting of Envy
Jesus loved us so much he left the glory of Heaven to come to our world and save us from sin.  He preached, “Repent of your sin for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”  And he willingly gave his life on the cross of Calvary to pay the price for our sins.  Now, each of us needs to turn away from our sins—including envy—and turn to God so our sins may be wiped away.  But how do we do it?
The first step is to recognize the problem.  We can’t let God help us change until we realize we need to change.  We need to prayerfully examine our heart, our relationships, our feelings about others.  Do we exhibit the symptoms of envy?  If so, we need to pray to God and Him to forgive us and help us change.

Second, don’t compare yourself to others; connect with others!  Romans 12:12 says, “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.  Realize this life is not a competition.  We are all in this together.  We are all sinners in desperate need of God’s grace.  God so loved the whole world that He sent his one and only Son that whoever believes in him would not perish but have everlasting life.  Jesus taught you are to love your neighbor as yourself and that everyone who walks upon the earth is your neighbor.  The best way to guard against envy is to truly connect with others—to feel with them, to learn to be happy for them and with them, to share in their celebrations and also to share in their sorrows.  Stop focusing so much on yourself and love your neighbor.  When you learn to rejoice at the blessings of others, you will learn to rejoice all the time because someone somewhere always has something to rejoice about.

Finally, view all of life from a Gospel perspective.  Consider what Jesus has done to save us.  We were lost and imprisoned by sin.  We had no hope and Jesus came to set us captives free.  He bought our freedom at the price of His blood on the cross—His life for ours.  He opened the door to our prison cell.  Through repentance, we walk out of our cell into the glorious light of His love and grace.  We take off our prison chains and put on the royal robes of kings and queens in the Kingdom of God.  Some of us have already realized this freedom.  We have walked out into the light.  Others are still huddled fearfully in their dark cells, waiting for someone to tell them they are free to leave or to realize the door is standing wide open and find the courage to walk on through to a new and better life.  Why should we spend one more second envying what someone else has?  We’ve already been given everything and eternal life awaits us in the glorious presence of God.  When we envy, it’s as if we’re looking back through the bars of the jail and longing for what’s back inside.  That’s insane!  That’s madness!  That’s envy!  And we’re not going to do it anymore.  Are we?

Invitation
Our God, through Jesus Christ, is a magnanimous God.  Do you know what magnanimous means?  It means generous and forgiving—especially toward someone less powerful.  God is magnanimous with us.  So we can come to Him in prayer and our magnanimous God loves us and blesses us with infinite love and grace.  So, we don’t have to envy anyone anymore.  In Christ, we have all we need.  Amen.