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Saturday, March 31, 2018

Good Friday & Holy Saturday - Between Two Theives

Everybody Has Trash
            I had the privileged of visiting many unique places--Guatemala, El Salvador, and even Israel. When you travel, you usually want to visit the most interesting, notable places in a region--the Grand Canyon, the Eiffel Tower, etc. Nobody I know makes a point to visit the cities landfill. And yet, every place in the world--and this is true for people from all places and times--have a place where people take their trash. Even archaeologists studying pre-historic people often find the villages trash pile (which can be quite a find, with significant historic value). It doesn't matter who you are or where you live, we all have trash we just want to get rid of.
            And it is in just such a place that the religious leaders of Jesus' day, with the help of the Romans, took Jesus, the Son of God, the savior of the world, the Lord of lords and king of kings, to be crucified--discarded as unwanted, useless junk. They just wanted to get rid of him. And this was the ultimate insult. It was as if they said, you are no more to us than useless waste, trash to be thrown away on the garbage heap. And he was crucified between 2 criminals.

Luke 23:32-43
32 Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him. 33 When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left.
34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.

35 The crowd watched and the leaders scoffed. “He saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers mocked him, too, by offering him a drink of sour wine. 37 They called out to him, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 A sign was fastened above him with these words: “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

40 But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? 41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”


Joseph, the Old Testament Connection
            There is another story from way back in Genesis that has some striking parallels to the crucifixion of Christ. The whole story is in Genesis 40.  Let me summarize it.  There was a Hebrew man named Jacob who had twelve sons.  His favorite was named Joseph and his favoritism made all his other sons extremely jealous.  When he gave his son a very nice, multi-colored coat, it was the last straw for Joseph's brothers.  When they got the chance, they beat him up, stole his coat, and sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt.  Joseph became a slave in a man named Potiphar's house.  And since Joseph was a bright young man and had the favor of God, Joseph did well in Potiphar's house and soon earned his trust and a high position in the household.  But Potiphar's wife was very attracted to Joseph.  She kept hitting on him, even though Joseph--because of his integrity--never gave into her advances.  One day, frustrated yet again by Joseph's refusing to sleep with her, Potiphar's wife accused Joseph of trying to rape her.  Potiphar was livid and had Joseph thrown in the dungeon.
            In prison, Joseph lived with two criminals.  One was Pharaoh's former cupbearer.  The other was Pharaoh's former chief baker.  The baker and the cupbearer was very disturbed one morning because they'd both had weird dreams.  Since Joseph had the gift of God to interpret dreams he listened and then explained what they meant.  To the cupbearer he said, "In three days, you will be brought before Pharaoh and he will forgive you and restore you to your former position."  To the baker he said, "You will also be brought before Pharaoh on the third day, but he will condemn and execute you."  And it happened just as Joseph predicted.
            Is there some connection here between the bread and the wine of holy communion (Jesus body and blood) and these two figures from the Joseph story in Genesis chapter 40?  A cup bearer carries a cup of wine and the chief Baker makes bread?
            There are many similarities between these two stories.  Joseph lived in prison with these two criminals. Jesus hung on a cross between two criminals.  Joseph was to become the savior of Egypt saving them from a devastating famine.  Jesus was the Savior of the world. saving us from sin and death for eternal life.  Joseph is famous for his fabulous coat of many colors.  Jesus also had a famous robe that had no seams, but was one continues piece of fabric.  It was so precious, the soldiers didn't want to cut it in pieces, so they gambled to see who would win the whole thing in one piece.  Perhaps most striking:  both the cup bearer and the chief baker found out their fates on the third day.  Jesus also rose from the grave on the third day.            One of the criminals on the cross beside Jesus mocks him.  We never sense any remorse for his crimes.  On the contrary, he wants to make a bargain to manipulate the Son of God (if that is indeed what Jesus is) to get him out of facing the consequences of his sins.  Presumably, this unrepentant criminal reaped the eternal punishment he deserved--similar to the fate of the chief baker in Joseph's story.  The other criminal on a cross beside Jesus was remorseful.  He didn't try to get out of his fate--as terrible and painful as it was.  Instead, he simply said to Jesus in verse 42, “...remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”  And Jesus replied (in verse 43), “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” 

Will Jesus Really Remember?
            It is this last exchange that really caught my attention the most.  “Jesus, remember me…”  That’s exactly what Joseph said to the cup bearer when he was released from prison:  “Please remember me and mention me to Pharaoh…”  You will remember that the cupbearer in Joseph's story forgot all about Joseph.  For two years, he forgot about Joseph until Pharaoh had a strange dream and needed someone to interpret it.            Well, these are all fascinating connections, but I'm a pastor and I love studying God's Word. You can call me a Bible nerd or a church nerd.  Of course I love these neat little tidbits.  But do they make any difference at all to you, to your life? Is there any significance for practical life? Yes! I think there's quite a bit of significance.  You see, we are very much like the criminals on the cross!
            Some among us want to make a bargain with Jesus.   If he is who he really says he is, why doesn’t he do something? I mean there are things in this life that just plain suck. Please forgive my language.  There is suffering and death.  People get depressed and kill themselves (or they go crazy and shoot up some school full of kids).
            A good friend of mine, only 56, a United Methodist pastor, Gene Sheffield, got cancer four years ago.  He died last Sunday.  He leaves behind a wife, a daughter, a son, a mother, and many friends and people like me who loved him.  What's worse, I can't be at his funeral because it's at the exact same time as my church's Easter Egg hunt (of which I'm in charge).  And it's not that I don't want to be at the Easter Egg hunt; I do.  I love seeing all the kids have fun and learn about Jesus.  And I love that it's one of the big outreach events we do for our community.  But I'd also like to be at Gene's memorial service--to remember and honor him and be there for his family and my other friends who knew and loved Gene.  But I can't be in two places at once.  So I had to choose.  And I chose the Easter Egg hunt.  And I wish I didn't have to choose.  Really, I wish friends and fathers and husbands didn't have to die too early because of cancer.  But that's the messed up world we live in.
            In a figurative way, we're all hanging on a cross suffering.  And sometimes I want to look over at Jesus cry out, "So you're the Son of God right? You have the power to save us and yourself. Why don't you do something?"             Or maybe, with God's help, we realize it's not his fault.  All this mess is our fault.   Jesus is innocent.  It's not God's fault this mess we're in.  God created the world perfect and us in it.  And in the Garden of Eden, Genesis tells us we walked and talked with God in perfect harmony.  And God gave us only one rule to prove our love was true--don't eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  And Adam and Eve ate it.  And we are all guilty.  For if we're honest, we've all done things we should not do or we have not done things we should.  That is sin.  And that is what makes our world broken.  We’re the ones who sinned and Jesus is innocent.  And maybe, with God's help, were able to say, “Your innocent and we're guilty and just getting what we deserve…”  And maybe, with God's help, we fall on her knees before God and say, “Lord forgive me! Jesus please remember me when you come into your Kingdom!”            This is what the remorseful criminal did as he cried out to Jesus from his cross. “Jesus remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”  It wasn't long after that that Jesus died.   It doesn't tell us how much longer the thieves lived, but we know they lived on after Jesus died because the story says the soldiers cam to break the condemned legs so they would die faster.  They found Jesus was already dead.  They drove a spear in his side to make sure.  They found he was dead and they didn't need to break his legs.  But then they broke the other criminal's legs because they were still alive.  Breaking their legs prevented them from being able to push up on their nail pierced feet so as to pull more air into their lungs.  And so they would suffocate from the weight of their bodies hanging on the cross faster.  Death (mercifully, I suppose) would come faster.
            This is the situation we find ourselves in, most of us, if we believe in Jesus Christ. He promised he would remember us before his father, but we're still here hanging on a cross waiting… (OK, maybe that's a little dramatic, but do you see the figurative connection?)
            And we sometimes wonder, is Jesus like the cupbearer from Joseph's story?  Will he forget us when he comes into his Kingdom
 
There is Hope on Good Friday

            When you feel like you're in prison, alone and forgotten, remember:  Jesus hasn't forgotten!  When your sin makes you feel like you’re hanging on a cross and everyone’s mocking you, remember:  Jesus hasn't forgotten!  He is before the throne of God, pleading your case!  When you feel like all that’s left for you is a grave, remember: Jesus hasen't forgotten you.  Jesus rose on the Third Day, the first fruit of the resurrection.  He's the first fruit.  That means there's a second and a third and a fourth...  And we are the fruits yet to spring forth!
            Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Son of God, and he died on the cross for youHe’s not like the cup bearer who forgot Joseph in the Old Testament.  Jesus would never forget you.  He’s in his Kingdom right now, thinking of you, telling His father how much He loves you and forgives you.  

            Good Friday is for all of us who are still hanging on the cross dying and wondering if Jesus will indeed remember us. It's a test of our faith as we wait for Easter Sunday.  What situation, what problem, what agony are you suffering right now?  You've begged Jesus to remember you and you're trusting that he will, but in the meantime you still have to hang out here and wait. Will Easter Sunday indeed come? Will the tomb really open? Will you come up out of it into glory as Christ promised?
What do you think?

Yes. You. Will!
Yes!  It’s dark right now.  Yes! The light is fading.Yes!  We blow out the Christ candle at the end of our Good Friday service.
But that’s where faith kicks in! 
That’s where we begin to walk by faith and not by sight!
That’s where we find God’s strength is sufficient in our weakness!
That’s why we call this Friday “Good”!  Because Death cannot conquer our Savior!
“Where, O Death, is your victory?  Where, O Death, is your sting?”
Jesus is going into the grave this Friday, but He’s coming out on Sunday.

 
You’ll go into “graves” in this life too,
      you might hang on some crosses,
             you might even get locked in some prisons                    BUT LET ME TELL YOU SOMETHING:
                        This very day, Jesus remembers you in His Kingdom!

And when the Day of the Lord comes,
        Just like Jesus,
                Your’re gonna get up out of that grave!
                       You’re gonna come down off of your cross!
                               You’re gonna walk right out of that prison!
                                        And you’re gonna be with the Lord in Paradise!
 
Amen?  Amen!


 

Monday, March 26, 2018

As Sheep Among Wolves, part 4 - Listening vs. Scoffing

Introduction
            On Sunday, we had a confirmation ceremony at my church.  Three young "confirmands" completed a six-week course on the basics of Christianity and then chose to publicly confirm their faith in Jesus Christ in front of our congregation on Palm Sunday.  I was so proud of these three young people between the ages of 11 and 12.  They were very attentive throughout the course--listening and learning. 
            Jesus said we should emulate the faith of a child (like my confirmands who were so attentive to learn and accept Jesus by faith).  Their attitudes are quite a contrast to the religious leaders when Jesus rode into Jerusalem the week before Passover.  You can read the full Palm Sunday story here in John 12:12-19.  Although crowds of children and ordinary people were amazed by Jesus' teachings and the miracles (even raising Lazarus from the dead after he'd been in a tomb for four days), the religious leaders scoffed.  They couldn't or wouldn't believe in Jesus.  Even though they espoused to worship and serve God, they dismissed God's Son as a fraud.
            Jesus knew there would be many who scoff at our faith. It doesn't matter to them that we have experienced the life changing power of God or that our faith in Jesus has changed our lives forever for the better.  They will still scoff and dismiss us and our beliefs.  Many will even labor to destroy us because they feel threatened by how we live and what we teach.  Always remember what Jesus said in Matthew 10:16-20; we are sheep living among wolves.

Matthew 10:16-20
16 “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. 17 But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. 18 You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me.[a] 19 When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. 20 For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

The Amazing Rise of Christianity and the Scoffers Who Dismiss It
            Though the religious leaders of Jesus day tried to get rid of Jesus and then his followers, Christianity grew exponentially.  The persecutions, arrests, and murder of early Christians only caused believers to move to new cities where they persisted in teaching people about Jesus Christ and more and more people became followers.  The Christian faith would have died with it's leader Jesus if it was only of human origins.  Since, however, it was God's plan for His people, the Christian faith endured and today more people follow Jesus than any other religious leader.
            There always have been and always will be those who feel threatened by true Christian faith and just want to explain it away.  Even today, when a passionate church or Christian movement grows rapidly, there are scoffers who try to blow it off saying, "There's nothing to it.  It's just a fad and it will fade away."  When John Wesley led a revival of the Church of England in the 1700s, people dismissed the early Methodist movement as a bunch of religious fanatics.  However, people's lives were truly changed.  Drunks put away their liquor, thieves became honest men, Christians gave to the poor, visited the sick and dying and those who were in prison.  The whole fabric of society in England and America was changed for the better as Christians took their faith in Jesus seriously and loved God and their neighbor with their whole hearts.  Yet even then, there were people who scoffed; and there are people who scoff at vital Christianity today too.  "There's nothing to it," they say.  "They're just a bunch of religious fanatics and hypocrites."
            Proverbs, the book of God's wisdom, teaches again and again that scoffing is the enemy of true wisdom.  We must guard ourselves and maintain a childlike faith and not become scoffers like the religious leaders of Jesus day.  So in this blog, I want to examine the difference between scoffing and listening.

Pastor Chris’ Paraphrase of Proverbs 13:1 – A wise child accepts a parent’s discipline; a scoffer doesn’t even hear it.

Scoffing - Lus לוּץ or Liys - לִיץ
            No, I'm not talking about scoffing down your food!  The Hebrew word for scoffing (Lus or Liys) literally means “to make mouths at.”  Scoffing is to speak with a sarcastic tone, to deride, mock, or scorn.  Scoffing is like the stereotypical teenager rolling their eyes when their parents give a lecture because, you know, "my parents are dumb and know absolutely nothing."  When we scoff, we don't listen.  We've decided a person is not even worth listening to.  And so, we can't learn from them because we've already decided they have nothing worthwhile to offer.

Listening - Šâma' - שָׁמַע
            The opposite of scoffing in Hebrew is Sama.  It means to hear.  However, it's more than just detecting sound.  Sama means to hear intelligently, carefully consider, and to listen and obey.  The only way to learn is to listen, deeply contemplate what you've heard, and put it into practice.
            If we are to be truly wise in this wolf infested world, we've got to stop scoffing and start listening.  So I want to give you some practical advise on how to avoid being a scoffer.  Listen to these principles.  Remember and put them into practice in your life.

Practical Application
            First, always try to think the best of others and be respectful.  When you mock someone, you dehumanize them.  When you look at someone on the other end of the political spectrum and say (or think in your heart), "They're just a bleeding heart 'libtard' who doesn't know anything!", you are no longer thinking of them as a person.  They aren't a child of God to you anymore; they're just a label, an enemy on the wrong side of a war.  You do the same if you say (or think), "They're just a backwards thinking conservative clinging to their guns and religion."  You are scoffing at someone's deeply held beliefs and writing them off as unworthy of your mental attention and respect.  And if we go down that road too far, it doesn't take long before we arrive at genocide and holocaust. Once you stop seeing people as worthy of love and respect, it's a lot easier to just see them as problems to be eliminated.
            And here's the thing, mocking people will affect all your relationships negatively—even unintended ones.  When you mock your boss, your employees, your co-workers, or anyone you dislike or disagree with, it bleeds over into your relationships with people you really care about.  Soon you'll find you're being sarcastically disrespectful with your spouse, your children, and your friends.  You just can't seem to help it and you don't know why.  When a scornful spirit takes residence in your heart, it poisons everything that comes out even when you don't want it to.
            So be humble and empathetic.  Try to understand how others feel and why they think the way they do.  You don't have to agree with them or condone their actions, but you do have to care about them and love them.  You have to respect others if you want others to respect you and take you seriously.  People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.

            Second, keep an open mind.  You can learn from anyone—even those you disagree with and those who are just plain wrong.  You don't have to agree with a person or point of view to learn it and understand it better.  And if you have learned an idea you disagree with, you have still learned something.  I have often found listening to someone I disagree with helps me better understand why I believe what I do.  Usually, I learn more from those I disagree with than those I do.
            There is a way you can be right and still be wrong.  Does that seem like a contradiction?  It's true, you can be right and still be wrong.  How?  Well, how you disagree is as important as why you disagree.  If you disagree and do so by belittling, disrespecting, or scoffing, you actions are wrong even if your ideas are right.  God doesn't want us to be scoffers--even if we believe the right things.
            One example of the right way to disagree is a time Rev. Billy Graham (a Christian evangelist) met with Woody Allen (a self-professed agnostic).  They had a delightful conversation about their opposing views on television several decades ago.  Graham disagreed quite frankly with Allen and clearly articulates his position and yet also does it with grace and love.  Graham makes it very clear that he loves and respects Woody Allen even though they disagree.  Allen obviously appreciates and respects Graham for his attitude.  You can watch the exchange on video here.
 
            Third, listen more and talk less.  Remember God gave you two ears and only one mouth, so you ought to listen twice as much as you talk.  Pastor Chris’ Paraphrase of Proverbs 13:10 says, "People too proud to listen always get into drama, but those who listen to counsel wisely avoid it."  And Pastor Chris’ Paraphrase of Proverbs 18:13 says, "Speaking about something before fully listening is just stupid and brings humiliation."
            You already know your point of view, but you only “think” you know someone else’s.  It’s not going to hurt you to set your own point of view aside for a few moments so you can really listen and understand someone else’s.  Just listening and truly understanding another's opinion (even if you deeply disagree) is an act of respect and grace that ought always to be part of the character of godly people.  And if it is, people are more likely to respect and listen to you.
            Pastor Chris’ Paraphrase of Proverbs 15:5 says, "A fool rolls their eyes when their parent tries to teach them, but a smart person is careful to listen and learn."  Sometimes, when our heart is not right--when a sarcastic, mocking spirit is deeply imbedded in us (because of the topic or the relationship or our stage of life (teenager!!!  parents!!!))--it’s best for us to just keep silent.  If our heart's not right, no matter what we say, it’s gonna come out wrong.  Our tone will be wrong.  Our body language will betray a mocking spirit even if we aren’t aware of it.  So, just keep silent. Pray about it.  Ask God to help you give the Holy Spirit time to change your heart so your words (when you finally do speak) will flow from a pure heart and not a scoffing spirit.
 
Let's Change Our World by Letting God Change Our Hearts
            Our world is full of mockers, scoffers, and sarcastic, scornful attitudes.  The last thing we need is for Christians to be the same way.  Perhaps, Jesus is calling you to repent of your scoffing, so you can listen and learn and become more Christ-like than you are today.  I know He's calling me.

Monday, March 19, 2018

As Sheep Among Wolves, part 3 - Vindicated vs. Ungodly

Introduction
            My family jokes we live at "Mullis Farm".  This is partially due to the fact we live way out in the country around a bunch of other farms and we have had (or still have) a number of farm animals as pets--chickens, goats, pigs, and turkeys.  It's also because we have so many other animals--three dogs, four cats, and some pet fish! It's quite the farm at "Mullis Farm."
            One of the animals at Mullis Farm is a big black dog we call Cookie.  Cookie showed up on our doorstep as a stray puppy needing a home.  We took her in and she grew to 70 pounds!  She has a deep, scary bark, but she's a harmless scaredee-cat most of the time.  That is, most of the time...
            We usually keep our chickens locked up in a pen to keep them safe from the wild predators that roam around Cohutta like coyotes, owls, and hawks.  We have to keep the chickens safe, because they are more like pets to us than farm animals.  However, we do like to let the chickens out to scratch around for bugs on pretty days when we can keep an eye on them. 
            The first summer we had chickens, we made a grizzly discovery one afternoon while the chickens were out grazing.  Cookie grabbed one and carried it off to the bushes!  We found her chewing on it's dead carcass!  We were devastated.  Since our pets are like family, it was as if on of our family members murdered another family member! 
            Over the years, we've learned Cookie cannot control herself when it comes to the chickens.  If she has the opportunity, she will kill.  When she sees a chicken wandering around the yard, she will even look at us with mournful eyes as if to say, "Please help me!  I don't want to kill that chicken, but if you don't do something to stop me, I know I will."  It's not all Cookie's fault if a chicken dies.  As a natural predator, she has an instinct to kill that she can't overcome.  In the wild that instinct would help her survive, but as a house pet it's a real weakness.  So, when the chickens are out roaming the yard, we either put Cookie in the house or hook her to a chain so she can't get the chickens.  And as long as we do, the chickens are safe.

Matthew 10:16-20 16 “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. 17 But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. 18 You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me.[a] 19 When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. 20 For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

Key Verse – Matthew 10:16 - 16 “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves.
            We haven't had sheep at Mullis Farm (yet!).  However, we’ve had goats.  Baby goats are so cute and innocent.  The first time a held a baby goat, I was struck by the difference between baby goats and puppies or kittens.  Puppies and kittens are cute too--little fur balls who love to play.  If you've ever see one, you know what I mean.  They will chase a ball or wrestle or bat around a wad of paper and it's a joy to behold.  What they are really doing, though, is practicing.  As puppies and kittens chase and pounce, they are honing the hunting and killing skills of a predator.  Puppies and kittens have fangs and claws--tools designed for catching and killing other animals.  That's just a fact of nature.  That's the way they were designed. 
            Now contrast that to a baby goat (and this would be true of a lamb too).  Goats aren't predators; they're omnivores and eat only grass or leaves.  They have no claws, no fangs.  Their simple teeth are designed only for chewing vegetation.  A baby goat or lamb is the most harmless animal.  When it plays, it's full of joy!  It jumps and bounds and runs and prances as playfully as any puppy or kitten.  The difference is it has no predatory instincts at all.  It doesn't grab you or wrestle  or bite.  Those behaviors aren't part of their psychology at all.  They will never grow up to hunt or kill another animal.  That's just the way sheep and goats are designed.
            Now, do you think sheep are good because they never kill?  No.  Sheep are neither good nor bad.  They are merely sheep.  They are just living out the design God gave them.  Do you think wolves are bad because they kill?  No.  Wolves are neither good nor bad.  They are merely wolves.  They're just living out the design God gave them.  You can't really fault these different types of animals for acting on they're natural design.  It's just who they are.
            In Matthew 10:16-20, Jesus uses sheep and wolves as symbols to describe two kinds of people in our world.  The sheep are Christ’s godly followers who go out into the world and face the ungodly people (the wolves) of the world—governors, kings, rulers, and other unbelievers.  The sheep aren't going out to fight the wolves, but to tell them about Jesus.  
            The "sheep" are not necessarily good people; they are godly people because they follow God and have been forgiven and justified by God.  Godly people, saints, are just sinners who’ve been saved by God’s amazing grace and love.  The "wolves" of our world are not necessarily bad people; some of them may be really good people.  They are only ungodly because they don’t yet follow God, but they’re not necessarily bad people.  It’s important to know good people can be ungodly and someone you think is particularly bad might just be one of God’s chosen people.
            Proverbs shares a lot of wisdom about both godly and ungodly people.  As I've been paraphrasing Proverbs, (putting the scriptures in my own words), I came up with the following: Pastor Chris’ Paraphrase of Proverbs 4:18-19 - "Those who are vindicated by God walk a path with a beautiful sunrise--full of hope for the future and increasing each moment until it’s fully realized.  Ungodly people walk blindly down a dark, dark path and don’t even know what trips them up."

Ungodly - Râšâ' - רָשָׁע

            The Hebrew word in Proverbs 4:19 that scholars translate as wicked or evil is rasa.  It means morally wrong, criminal, guilty of sin, and condemned.   Ultimately, it means ungodly and ungodly literally means "without God".  According to Christian doctrine, anyone who is without God is guilty and condemned.  Now Hebrews 13:5 tells us God will never leave us or forsake us.  And since God never leaves us, if we are without God, it is because we walked away from God.  This is the condition of humanity.  We have walked away from God.
             The primary thing that makes a wicked person evil isn’t the bad things they’ve done. The primary thing that makes a person evil is living without God.  Remember, a wolf isn’t good or bad because it kills a lamb.  That’s just what wolves do.  And an ungodly person isn’t good or bad because of the bad things they do.  They’re just living out their nature.  An ungodly person is evil because they are without God. 

Vindicated - Saḏiyq - צַדִּיק
             The Hebrew word in Proverbs 4:18 for vindicated is sadiyq.  It means just, lawful, righteous.  You might look at a person who always does the right thing, a “law-abiding citizen”, and say they righteous.  However, sadiyq means a person is righteousness because of what God says.  God has justified or vindicated someone who is sadiyq.  There can be no question of the goodness of their character because God is the one who said they are righteous.  (And who’s gonna argue with God?)
            So, it is God who makes a person righteous.  We see this in Abraham, the father of the Jewish and Christian faiths.  Abraham was considered righteous because he trusted God.  Genesis 15:6, "[Abraham] believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith."  The idea that people's faith makes them righteous is confirmed in the New Testament.  Romans 4:5, "People are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners."  So, even though we have all sinned (Romans 3:23) and the consequences of sin is death (Romans 6:23), we are saved for eternal life and made righteous when we believe in Jesus Christ.
            Godly people will do good things, but that's not what makes them righteous.  They do good because God did such great things for them.  God loved us even though we didn't deserve it and saved humanity from sin.  Godly people love God because God first loved them.  And if they love God, they will also love the people God loves; and God loves everyone.  Therefore, godly people love even those who seem the most unlovable because it is a a way to love and honor God.


The Fate of Godly vs. Ungodly People
            Proverbs makes quite a lot of distinctions between godly and ungodly people.  Here are a few examples:
·       Proverbs 10:7 – Godly people are remembered fondly as a blessing, but the ungodly fade into oblivion.
·       Proverbs 10:11 – Godly people say things that give life to everyone, but ungodly people lie to cover up the bad things they’ve done.
·       Proverbs 10:20 – The things a godly person says are worth more than silver.  Even the ideas of the ungodly are worthless.
·       Proverbs 11:7 – An ungodly person’s hope is lost when they finally die; their lives come to nothing.
·       Proverbs 14:19 – Evil people are ashamed in the presence of the good.  The ungodly are locked outside and long for the goodness of those who live right.
·       Proverbs 14:32 – The ungodly are cast out because of their own crimes, but those who live right trust God even in death.

            It’s pretty clear from Proverbs that godly people have a much better fate than the ungodly.  Jesus is even more explicit in the Gospels.  He warned that when he comes to judge the world, everyone who ever lived will be brought before him and he will separate the godly from the ungodly.  Then he will say to the godly:  “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.”  And he will say to the ungodly:  “Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.”  (Matthew 25:31-46)

How Can I Be Godly?
            A wise person would take these warnings to heart.  You need to be sure you are in the godly category as opposed to ungodly.  So, how do you ensure you are counted among the godly and not the ungodly?  Here's how. 

First, repent of your sin and turn to God. 
            You have to recognize you have sinned and ask for forgiveness.  Even if you’ve never done anything that might be considered “really bad”, you have still sinned.  Surely you can see you have not always trusted Jesus completely, not lived your life completely for God, done some things you shouldn’t have done, and not done some things you should have done.  Have you ever told lie (even a small one)? Have you ever stolen something (maybe taken a pen home from work)? Have you ever lusted in your heart? Have you ever wanted what someone else had (that's called coveting and it's one of the attitudes prohibited by the ten commandments)?  If you've broken any rule or made any mistake, you have sinned and need to ask God for forgiveness.  The good news is, God will forgive you for every sin--even if it's too terrible to mention--because of what Jesus Christ has done for us.
            John 3:16 tells us, "God loved the world so much that he sent his son, Jesus, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life."  Christ came to earth and lived as one of us.  He lived a perfect and holy life.  He was innocent, but he was arrested and put to death to pay for price for our sins.  He was willing to make this sacrifice because he loves us so much.  And if you trust what Jesus did for you, God will forgive you and vindicate you and call you righteous.  You will be numbered among the godly.  So ask for forgiveness and choose to follow Jesus from this day forward. 

Second, live a godly life.
            If you have real faith in Jesus, you will trust him and do the things he asks you to do.  Faith is not a light thing.  It is serious and it changes everything about your life.  Once there was a man hiking on a beautiful but isolated mountain trail.  As he was admiring a breathtaking overlook, he slipped and fell from the precipice.  However as he fell, he managed to grasp a small branch growing from the side of the cliff.  There he clung for dear life as he desperately called for help.  No one answered and he was unable to pull himself to safety.  The man began to pray, "Lord!  Save me!  I don't want to die!"  To his surprise, God answered--not from above but from below.  And the Lord said, "I am here, even though you can't see me.  Just let go of the branch and I will catch you."  And the man said... "Is there anyone else who can help me?"
            Jesus wants you to let go of the things you were clinging to before for meaning, happiness, and value.  He wants you to cling to him instead.  He is your only hope, but do you really trust him?  When you trust Jesus, you will let go of the past (even if it’s frightening) and trust him to lead you into a better future.  When you really trust Jesus, you will obey his teachings in the Bible, you will let him guide you day by day, and allow his Holy Spirit to gradually change the attitudes and behaviors in you that do not properly reflect the love of Christ.  So truly trust Christ and you will begin to actually live a godly life. 

Last, persevere to the end.             The Christian life is a marathon not a sprint.  Although none of us know how much time we have to live this life, most people will become a Christian and then live another forty to eighty years.  The time after you first become a Christian can be exciting and energetic.  It's like falling in love, but what do you do when the "newness" wears off and the "honeymoon" is over.  Will you continue to be faithful and follow Jesus?  There will be times of excitement and renewed passion, but there will also be times of trials and difficulties.  Sometimes the journey of a disciple is easy and other times it feels like it's all uphill.  Don't give up!  Persevere.  God uses the journey to shape you and build your faith.  Never go back to the ungodly person you were before.  You've chosen to be godly so stay on the path Jesus set before you.
            It has been said that every person has two wolves living inside them--one is evil and one is good.  The bad and good wolf are locked in a vicious battle--biting and clawing, wrestling and rolling in a bloody fight to the death. The wolf that wins the fight for your soul will be the one you feed the most.