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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.

Monday, March 18, 2019

The Madness of Wrath


Introduction
Sin is madness.  It’s insanity.  Sin is a poison that we inflict upon ourselves.  It hurts everyone and everything.  Our sin hurts people we love—even if we don’t intend it.  Sin breaks all of creation.  It is the reason nature sometimes runs wild with tornadoes ripping through a community and killing people and destroying property.  Sin is the reason cancer ends people’s lives when they are still young.  (Not necessarily the person's sin, but the fact that sin permeates our world corrupts the nature of everything.)  Worst of all, sin wounds the heart of a loving God who only wants the best for us; it drives a wedge between us, separating us from the source of love, joy, peace, and hope.  Sin is madness.

And it’s not just the big sins like rape and murder.  All sin is despicably evil by the glorious standard of God.  In the past few blogs, I considered the deadly sins of gluttony, pride, greed, and sloth.  Perhaps they seem like minor infractions.  But they are terrible and evil and we should recognize them for the darkness they are, fall on our knees before God and repent lest we be consumed by the wrath of God.  For as we partake in the sins of gluttony, pride, greed, or sloth, we become partners with the armies of the Devil who oppose the Kingdom of God and seek to destroy the world and all that are in it.  It is that serious.

That is why Jesus came and preached, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)  We must recognize our sins—small as much as big—and repent.  Furthermore, we must give up every notion that we are better than anyone else because their sins are supposedly “worse” than ours.  That doesn’t mean we excuse the sins of others any more than we can excuse our own.  No.  Instead we repent of our own sin and we join in the saving work of God’s Kingdom, proclaiming to the world, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”  We must work tirelessly, until all the world comes to Christ willingly, or until Christ comes to judge on the Last Day.

The characters from the classic movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” each represent a different sin.  Little Charlie Bucket and his grandpa take a tour of the chocolate factory and sneak a taste of Wonka’s fizzy lifting drinks even thought it was against the rules.  Furthermore, Charlie stole one of Wonka’s Amazing Gobstoppers thinking one of Willy Wonka’s business competitors would pay him a huge amount of money for it.  Wonka is livid and angrily informs Charlie and his grandpa they have broken the rules and forfeited the lifetime supply of chocolate they were expecting.  

The Madness of Wrath Title
Let us consider wrath or anger.  (Wrath and anger are the same thing.)  Willy Wonka was angry and his wrath poured out against Chalrie and his grandpa.  Wonka has been betrayed before and it always hurts to be betrayed.  Wonka is the leading candy manufacturer in the world and his competitors are always trying to steal his ideas and formulas.  They will do anything to get his secrets—even bribe his employees to betray Wonka.  Betrayal hurts and it sparks Willy Wonka’s wrath. 

Charlie’s grandpa gets mad too.  He’s angry because Wonka won’t give Charlie a lifetime supply of chocolate.  Even though Wonka’s actions were justified because Charlie broke the rules, Charlie’s grandpa can’t stand to see his grandson suffer.  He takes it as a personal offence and vows “I’ll get even with him if it’s the last thing I ever do!”  So we see Charlie’s grandpa is already, in his anger, plotting vengeance (and he’ll do whatever it takes to see it through).

Anger (also called wrath) is a tricky emotion.  It’s not a happy emotion.  We might wish anger didn’t exist.  And perhaps, if there were no sin in the world, everyone could be happy all the time and there would be no need for anger.  I believe when the Kingdom of God finally comes on earth in the Last Day there will be no more anger.  But that’s not the world we live in now; is it?  Anger is sometimes necessary in our broken world.  And there is a kind of anger that is not sinful.  We call this righteous anger. 

We see examples of the righteous anger of God in the Bible.  God is angry at the Israelites for breaking the Ten Commandments.  We even see Jesus get angry.  One time, the disciples wouldn’t let some little children come to Jesus.  They thought Jesus was too important to be bothered by a bunch of kids they thought were unimportant.  Mark 10:14 says, “When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.”  And of course the story most people think of is in Matthew 21 when Jesus flipped over the money changers tables and drove everyone out of the Temple with a whip.  And we know God is Holy and Jesus never sinned.  So these episodes of righteous anger must be justified.

Ephesians 4:26-27 says:
26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

Notice the New Living Translation doesn’t say, “Don’t get angry.”  It says, “don’t sin by letting anger control you.  The New American Standard Bible translates the verse this way:  “Be angry, and yet do not sin.”

So there is in Scripture the idea that you can be angry and not sin or you can be angry and sin.  What’s the difference?  Here's a list of the differences: 

Righteous Anger
Sinful Anger
·       Has holy desires because you are aiming for the glory & justice  & righteousness of God
·       Leaves room for God’s vengeance
·       Never leads you to say or do things you will regret or for which you will have apologize
·       Is long suffering and quick to forgive
·       Gets angry at evil, but cares about the offender
·    Has selfish motivations and points to your own glorification
·    Is vindictive; you want to get even at any cost
·    Makes you say and do things you will regret latter and the need to apologize
·    Is short fused and holds a grudge
·    Gets angry at people and makes you cut people out of your life forever

Anger is an important emotion.  It can motivate you to fight against injustice when you would otherwise say or do nothing.  I saw a surveillance tape once of a McDonald's dining room.  A group of teenagers were picking on and bullying another kid in the restaurant.  Non of the other patrons or employees said or did anything to stop the bullying.  Thankfully, one brave lady was angered by the injustice and should stood up to the defence.  She scolded the bullies and told them to leave.  After they left, she said down with the one kid and told him that she had been bullied when she was in high school too.  Her anger drove her to protect a the innocent.

Anger is part of our DNA because we are made in the image of God.  God gets angry when He sees the rich oppressing the poor, the arrogant mistreating the humble, the strong beating up on the weak.  God gets angry when He sees sin destroying the world and people’s lives.  And we should get angry about these things too.

However, we have to be very careful, because the Devil likes to corrupt righteous anger and use it to worm his way into our life and bring destruction.  When we start to take an offense personally or start to derive pleasure from our angry feeling or let our anger make us vindictive, we will say and do things we regret latter and the Devil will have a field day in your life.

Important Advice about Anger
Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry for anger gives a foothold to the devil.”  That means we need to deal with anger quickly.  Here are some tips about how to deal with anger:
  • Remember, we're fighting a spiritual battle.  Ephesians 6:12 – "For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places."  So don't be angry at a person who has offended you or someone you love.  Imagine the the dark powers behind what you can see that are manipulating the people who do wrong.  Reserve the bulk of your anger for the Dark Spiritual Forces that are twisting people's actions.  That is the real Enemy.  Directing your anger at Evil can help be angry in the right way and not sin.
  • Repent of any sinful anger in your life.  Don’t wait.  Deal with it ASAP.  It gives the Devil a foothold in your life.  Have you ever seen a castle wall?  A good castle wall is high and strong.  If the surface is smooth, an enemy cannot get inside the fortress.  The Bible says the Lord is a mighty fortress.  That means He protects us from evil like a castle wall protects those inside.  The Enemy can't get over the Lord's wall to harm you, unless you harbor anger in your life.  Holding on to anger puts cracks in your wall and gives the Enemy a place to put his feet and hands to climb up over the wall and cause all kinds of problems in your spirit.  I don't want the Enemy inside my fortress; do you?  Then, let's repent of the sinful anger in our lives ASAP.
  • Deal also with your righteous anger every day and be done with it.  Don’t hold on to it.
      Righteous anger is like milk
    ; it has an expiration date.  Even holy, righteous, godly anger can turn sour in your soul if you wait too long to deal with it.  Then, just like good wholesome milk will sour if it goes beyond its expiration date, righteous anger can sour into sinful anger if we don't use it up in time.  What action is the Lord's righteous anger in your heart calling you to do?  You better pray about it and talk to a wise friend and then get to work.
Closing
Christians are not meant to be angry people.  God wants us primarily to be filled with love, joy, peace, and hope.  There are times when sin and evil and injustice should make us angry.  However, when it does, we need to deal with it in the right way so that we can resume the love, joy, peace, and hope that are more fitting attitudes for God's children.  How is God calling you to deal with anger today?




Monday, March 11, 2019

The Madness of Sloth


Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. 11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

Introduction
In this series, we’re using the characters from the classic movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” to basic sins that plague humanity.  We’ve already explored what the Bible says about gluttony, pride, and greed.  Today, we consider sloth.  The image for sloth is that of a couch potato who does nothing but sit on the coach and watch TV all day long.  Willy Wonka has a character that’s perfect for that.  His name, in fact, is Mike Teavee and all he ever wants to do is watch TV.

The Madness of Sloth
Mike Teavee almost seems a bit too energetic to nrepresent sloth to me, though.  Perhaps the animal we actually call a sloth is a better caricature for this sin.

What is sloth?  Well, I could tell you, but I just don’t have the energy this morning…  It’s kid of a challenge to define the sin of sloth.  Most people think of laziness.  Romans 12:11, “Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.  Laziness is part of it, but sloth is more than just being lazy.  I can think of four ways we fall into sin through sloth.

The first kind of sloth is negligence.
We all need to rest.  However, sometimes there’s the temptation to indulge in rest at the expense of other important matters.  We are often tempted to skip worship and spend a little more time sleeping.  However, regular, weekly worship is important. We all need to tend our soul and God deserves our worship and praise.  We have to make the effort.

Pastor Chris’ Paraphrase of Proverbs 24:30-34 says:  “I walked passed a lazy person’s farm, and the vineyard of someone who has no sense.  Briars had taken over everything and the ground was full of weeds. The stone wall was broken down.  So I reflected on this sad sight and learned an important lesson:  A little more sleep, a little extra snoozing, a little more time in the recliner with your hands folded across your chest, and poverty will sneak up on you like a bandit, and hardship will invade your life.

This life and everything in it are gifts from God.  Our times of rest and even our work are gifts and a blessing.  Don’t take God’s gifts for granted.  There is a time and a purpose for everything.  So rest when it is time to rest and work when it is time to work.  Don’t be careless about how you spend your time.  

The second way to fall into sloth is procrastination.
Do you procrastinate?  Do you put things off?  Are you afraid to get started?  This is actually a form of sloth.  It is madness.  Understand, sin is not just something that offends God.  (I think that is so often the way most people view sin…)  Sin is insanity because it hurts you.  It’s a self-inflicted wound.  People who procrastinate hurt themselves.  It can damage your reputation.  It can hurt your career.  It can harm your family.  It keeps you from being effective and all that you can be.

Sometimes, the hardest part of any task is just getting started.  The best advice I can give to the sloth who procrastinates is the slogan for Nike, “Just do it.”  If you’re waiting for all the details to be worked out and everything to be in place before you start, you’ll probably never going to get going.  If you’re waiting to feel like doing it, you’re probably won’t ever feel like it and so you won’t ever get going.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed, like the job is just too big, that’s always the way a big job feels at the beginning.  However, once you get started, you are more likely to preserver through it.  And it may not be perfect to start with, but you can always adjust as you go.  I feel like most of the time it’s better to have an imperfect start and fix things as you go than to never get started in the first place.  So just jump in there and get to it.

A third kind of sloth is when you put forth half-hearted effort.
Some people don’t procrastinate, but the work they do is never their best effort.  They work, but they only do the minimum.  Now, I understand that no one is perfect.  I also understand that you can’t give everything you have to do in life equal effort.  That’s why it’s very important to know what’s most important in your life.  You’ve got to have your priorities in proper order.  What is a priority?  A priority is something to which you devote most of your time, energy, and money.  If you’re not spending most of your time, energy, and money on something, it’s not really a priority.  Bill Caylor’s Sunday school class is the J.O.Y. class.  JOY is an acronym to remind them of their priorities:  Jesus first, Others second, and You third.  For me, serving God is my first priority.  Second is loving my wife. Third is raising my kids.  Therefore, I try to devote my time, energy, and money accordingly. 

Once you know your priorities, you’ve got to devote yourself to them with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  In Revelation 3:16, Jesus lamented that the Church in Laodicea was full of half-hearted sloths.  He said, “Since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!”  We should devote ourselves to our top priorities as if we were working directly for Christ.  Don’t be a sloth.  Give it your all to what’s really important in your life.

A fourth way we commit the sin of sloth is when we become easily discouraged by any possible difficulty.
Life is full of difficult challenges. Sometimes the difficulties can cause to freeze up or give up.  However, that’s not what Jesus wants for us.  Some of the greatest blessings come when we have the faith to keep going when it seems we just can’t.  For then we realize the wonder of seeing the Holy Spirit at work through us.  How can you ever experience the supernatural power of God if you never attempt something that is beyond your ability?

Jesus said in Matthew 17:20, “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”  And the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who give me the strength I need from day to day.”  If God has given you a task, He will supply the help, the resources, the ability, whatever is needed to see it through.  Your job is to get up off the couch and get to work.

Life is Sweet When We Give It All to Jesus
Jesus calls us all to go out from the church to fulfill the great mission of His church.  He calls us to go out and serve in His name.  Romans 12:11 says, “Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 

I invite you to come spend a moment in prayer.  Have you been negligent in your work—neglecting to do what’s really important?  Do you procrastinate?  Have you been putting off something important you need to do?  Are you guilty of half-hearted living?  Have you been afraid to do something you know God wants you to do?  Now is the time to repent and live in the power of God’s Holy Spirit.


Monday, March 4, 2019

The Madness of Greed


Introduction
Each of the characters in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory represent a different sin that plagues humanity.  We started by looking at gluttony.  Then we considered sinful pride.  Our topic today is greed.

Ephesians 5:3-5
3 Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. 4 Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. 5 You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.

The Madness of Greed
Greed is a terrible sin.  We make a big deal out of things like murder and sexual immorality.  But the Word of God says greed is just as bad as being a sexual pervert.  In fact, the Word today says a greedy person is an idolater.  Imagine a person who bows down and worships a statue--thinking it is God.  That person is a fool.  They turn their back on the One True and Living God in favor of an inanimate statue made by human hands.  They reject God for something that cannot help them.  They are evil and the greatest of all fools.

Greed is an inordinate desire to acquire or possess more than one needs.  Our desire can be for more food, money, status, or power.  It may be like Varuca Salt in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who wanted the golden egg and the goose that laid it (and a party and a feast, a bean feast!).  What we want is not the issue; it’s that we greedily want more, more, more!  And no matter how much we get, it is never enough.  The ironic thing about greed is the greedy person is never truly satisfied.  Ecclesiastes 5:10 says, “Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness! “The more they have, they emptier they feel.”

Do you think it is only a coincidence that so many in America feel empty and dissatisfied?  We are one of the wealthiest nations on earth.  We have so much!  A study was done that showed Americans spend more money on trash bags than the combined Gross Domestic Product of the poorest 90 countries in the world.  (I.E., if we take 90 of the poorest countries on the planet and combine the amount of money they spend on everything—food, shelter, clothing, medical care, the basic necessities of life to survive and everything else—it is still less than the amount Americans spend on bags to hold all the stuff we throw away into the garbage heap.)  And yet, Americans, so often, are the ones who feel empty and dissatisfied with life.  We feel like we need more.  Ecclesiastes 5:10 has never been truer.  “Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness! “The more they have, they emptier they feel.” 

Why is Greed So Bad?
Veruca Salt probably didn’t realize how her temper tantrum was so disgusting.  We rarely realize how awful our greed is when we are in the midst of it.  When we are consumed with getting what we want, we don’t realize (or care) how bad we behave or who we hurt; all we care about is getting what we want.  Greed can lead people to the most heinous crimes, because people will do anything (and feel justified in their actions) to get what they want.  Greed (disguised as the harmless idea that “we need it”) becomes the justification to hurt others, to steel, to murder.  Parents, driven by greed to acquire more stuff, neglect or abuse their children.  Greed leads countries to go to war as they vie for power and millions die in the process.  Greed causes one person to gorge themselves while another starves to death. Worst of all, greed drives a wedge between us and God—the source of life and all that is good.  We try to fill the emptiness in our soul with stuff when it is God alone who can satisfy.  Greed drives us away from the only One who can truly satisfy our deepest longings.

How Can We Break Free from the Madness of Greed?
First of all, we must repent.  To repent means to admit you are wrong and stop doing it.  Of course, most people will nod their head in agreement when I say we need to repent of greed.  I don’t think most people understand the full ramification of what I’m saying. So let me try to make it more clear.  Take a moment to think about what kind of sin is the worst imaginable sin of which you could be guilty?  I mean something that in your mind is so terrible, the shame and sorrow of it would almost kill you if you were found to be guilty of it.  For some, maybe this would be some sexual perversion you can imagine--something that if anyone knew about it, you would absolutely die.  If it’s not some sexual sin, maybe you killed someone or abused someone.  Maybe it would be to abandon your family.  I don’t know.  What would it be for you?  Now, I want you to understand, greed is just as horrible and disgusting and shameful in God’s eyes as whatever that other sin you thought of was.  Now, we need to repent of greed knowing it is an abomination to God.  We need to fall on our knees and admit: “I’m so sorry I’m greedy, Lord!  I was wrong!  Help me stop being greedy!”

Now, if we’re truly going to break free from greed, we’ve got to replace the darkness of greed with the light of Christ.  What I mean is, you’ve got to let Christ fill your soul.  Greed is us trying to satisfy with stuff an emptiness that only Christ is capable of filling.  You’ve got to fall in love with Jesus.  Does that sound cheesy?  I’m sorry, but I don’t know how else to describe it.  When you fall in love with someone, you want to spend all your time with them.  You crave their presence, their affection, their time.  You want to be with them more than anything else.  You spend your money to buy them gifts—sometimes even frivolously.  You don’t care because they are the most important thing in your life—more important than anything you have.  A real relationship with God through Jesus Christ is the only thing that can truly satisfy the human soul.  So instead of indulging your deeping cravings by greedily seeking material things, let Christ fill your emptiness instead.

Practice contentment. The Bible tells us again and again to learn to be content with what we have.  Hebrews 13:5, “Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have.  1 Timothy 6:6, “True godliness with contentment is itself great wealth.”  The secret to being happy and satisfied is not getting more.  There is nothing out there that you’re missing that you need to be happy.  Christ has already given you everything you need.  What is needed, is a change in your own attitude.  When you learn to be truly thankful for what you have and content with it, you will be truly happy and at peace.  On the other hand, if you cannot be happy, satisfied and content with what God has given you right now, you will never be able to be content with the things He might give you in the future.  So, work hard to simplify your life.  Get rid of stuff you don’t need rather than trying to get more.  Make it your goal to get by on as little as possible.  The simple life is the contented life; it is the happy life.

Be generous.  The opposite of greed is generosity.  Generosity naturally flows from a person who is filled with the love of God.  Greedy hands are closed; generous hands are open.  In Psalm 23, it says, “You anoint my head with oil.  My cup runs over.”  I love that image.  It’s like a cup that’s filled to the brim and the waiter just keeps pouring and the liquid is running all over the table.  That’s how God blesses His people.  He loves us so much and gives us the things that really matter.  He gives us so much, we can’t hold it all.  The greedy person tries to get another cup (and another and another and another…) so they can catch and save it all up.  The generous person is happy to share the abundance of the Lord.  Generous giving is a powerful antidote to greed.  It massages our stiff, greedy fingers open as we let go of things that do not satisfy.  In giving, we find far more satisfaction than we ever found in the things themselves.

Conclusion
The greatest, most generous gift ever given was the body and blood of Christ our Lord.  Jesus gave His precious life so that we can be forgiven of our greed and every other sin.  Let us then repent and turn to Him for forgiveness and grace and healing.  The life He wishes to give us is so much better than the stuff we greedily hoard.