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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Jonah's Really Short Sermon


Introduction
One of the shortest books in the Bible is Jonah—only 4 chapters.  You can read the whole story in less than 10 minutes.  And within the short book of Jonah, is one of the shortest sermons I’ve ever heard.  In fact, it’s only 8 words.  And yet the message was so powerful it caused an entire city to repent and turn to God.  Maybe you think, “Well then, Jonah must have been a very good man!”  You might think that, but you’d be wrong.  Jonah was quite flawed; there was hate in his heart.  And so we see in this story, something I have found to be so true in my own life and ministry.  God is often working just as hard to reform the preacher and He is the congregation who hears the message.

Since the book of Jonah is so short, I’ve invite you to read through the the entire story below and I will add a few comments in italics.  Let me begin by saying Jonah lived in the mid-700s BC (about 2,700 years ago).  He was a prophet from Israel during a time when a city called Nineveh was a great threat to Israel.  

Jonah Chapter One
The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”
But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish.
Joppa is the exact opposite direction from Ninevah and Tarshish is all the way over in Spain!  Jonah really did not want to go to Nineveh!  But why?  Many people run away from God.  When He tells them to do something and they don’t want to, they try to run.  Maybe because they’re afraid, or they just don’t want to do it.  When God first called me to be a preacher, I didn’t want to.  It wasn’t part of my plans or my wife’s plans.  But I’m so glad God woke us both up and we answered His call together.  Are you running from the Lord?  Why? We’ll hear why Jonah ran from God in a minute.  But first, let’s see what exactly happened to this run-away prophet.
But the Lord hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart. Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship.
But all this time Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold. So the captain went down after him. “How can you sleep at a time like this?” he shouted. “Get up and pray to your god! Maybe he will pay attention to us and spare our lives.” 
This sounds like the story of Jesus from Luke 8.  Jesus and the disciples were in a boat out on the sea of Galilee when a severe storm arose that threatened to sink the boat.  And like Jonah, Jesus was asleep in the boat.  The disciples exclaimed, "How can you sleep at a time like this? Get up and do something!"  Now Jesus got up and said peace be still and the storm obeyed.  Let's see what happened in Jonah's story.
Then the crew cast lots to see which of them had offended the gods and caused the terrible storm. When they did this, the lots identified Jonah as the culprit. “Why has this awful storm come down on us?” they demanded. “Who are you? What is your line of work? What country are you from? What is your nationality?”
Jonah answered, “I am a Hebrew, and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”
10 The sailors were terrified when they heard this, for he had already told them he was running away from the Lord. “Oh, why did you do it?” they groaned. 11 And since the storm was getting worse all the time, they asked him, “What should we do to you to stop this storm?”
12 “Throw me into the sea,” Jonah said, “and it will become calm again. I know that this terrible storm is all my fault.”
I used to think this Jonah was noble to sacrifice his life to save the others.  But now I'm thinking Jonah wasn't being noble.  Maybe he was thinking, “If I’m dead, I won’t have to go to Nineveh to preach!”  But God wasn’t going to let Jonah off the hook.  
13 Instead, the sailors rowed even harder to get the ship to the land. But the stormy sea was too violent for them, and they couldn’t make it.14 Then they cried out to the Lord, Jonah’s God. “O Lord,” they pleaded, “don’t make us die for this man’s sin. And don’t hold us responsible for his death. O Lord, you have sent this storm upon him for your own good reasons.”
15 Then the sailors picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea, and the storm stopped at once! 16 The sailors were awestruck by the Lord’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.
Even through Jonah’s disobedience, God is accomplished great things.  All the sailors, who formerly did not believe and worship God, now were “awestruck by the Lord’s power and offered sacrifices to Him and vowed to serve Him.” 
Only God has the power to command the see and save the sailors.  God made the sea.  He can certainly tell the sea what to do.  When Jesus and the disciples were on a boat in the middle of a storm, Jesus calmed the waves.  Do you see how this shows that Jesus is God?  
Now, what to do with this unfaithful prophet Jonah.
17 Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.
Three days and three nights.  This reminds us of Jesus, who was also enclosed inside a dark, dark place until the third day.  Jonah's time in the belly of the fish foreshadows Christ's burial inside the tomb.  When Jesus predicted his death and resurrection on the third day, he called it "the sign of Jonah."  
Jonah Chapter Two
Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from inside the fish. He said,
“I cried out to the Lord in my great trouble,
    and he answered me.
I called to you from the land of the dead,[b]
    and Lord, you heard me!
You threw me into the ocean depths,

    and I sank down to the heart of the sea.
The mighty waters engulfed me;
    I was buried beneath your wild and stormy waves.
Then I said, ‘O Lord, you have driven me from your presence.
    Yet I will look once more toward your holy Temple.’
“I sank beneath the waves,
    and the waters closed over me.
    Seaweed wrapped itself around my head.
I sank down to the very roots of the mountains.

    I was imprisoned in the earth,
    whose gates lock shut forever.
But you, O Lord my God,
    snatched me from the jaws of death!
As my life was slipping away,
    I remembered the Lord.
And my earnest prayer went out to you
    in your holy Temple.
Those who worship false gods
    turn their backs on all God’s mercies.
But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise,
    and I will fulfill all my vows.
    For my salvation comes from the Lord alone.”
10 Then the Lord ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach.

Jonah Chapter Three
Then the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.”
This time Jonah obeyed the Lord’s command and went to Nineveh, a city so large that it took three days to see it all. On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow.
When the king of Nineveh heard what Jonah was saying, he stepped down from his throne and took off his royal robes. He dressed himself in burlap and sat on a heap of ashes. Then the king and his nobles sent this decree throughout the city:
“No one, not even the animals from your herds and flocks, may eat or drink anything at all. People and animals alike must wear garments of mourning, and everyone must pray earnestly to God. They must turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence. Who can tell? Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us.”
10 When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.
Jonah’s eight-word sermon had a powerful effect.  It wasn’t the beauty of his words or the way he put the words together in a well-crafted sermon with excellent illustrations.  There wasn't an amazing praise band to drive home the closing points and draw people down to the altar for prayer.  What was it that made his eight-word message so effective?  Two things: 1) The Word of God spoke through Jonah.  Remember, God spoke the universe into existence.  God's Word is powerful!  People often wonder, "Why doesn't God just speak to us in an audible voice?"  Have you thought what you are asking?  God doesn't speak idle words.  When He speaks, a hundred billion galaxies are formed by the vapor of His voice.  And you want Him to speak to you?  Be careful what you ask for.  You are just a speck of dust on a speck of dust, orbiting around a sun that is just a speck of dust in a galaxy that is just a speak of dust in the universe.  A whisper (nay, just a thought) from God might just obliterate you if not perfectly controlled.  That is why God took the form of Jesus Christ--the Word made flesh--in order to speak to you.  And His Word is contained in the Scriptures of the Holy Bible.  Read it and God will speak to you so powerfully it will change you forever, without utterly destroying you,  However, you must be willing to listen.  
And that's the second reason Jonah's sermon was so powerful.  It says in verse 5, “The people believed God’s message…” and they repented.  From the King all the way down to the lowest, they believed and repented.  They set aside their pride, repented, and turned from their evil ways.

Jonah Chapter Four
This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry.So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.”
So now we see the real reason why Jonah tried to run away.  He wasn’t scared.  It was much worse.  He hated Nineveh.  He would rather see all the people in that city die than have them repent.  That’s not a very holy attitude; it's awful.  Jonah was just as broken as the Ninevites.  The human heart is full of evil.  God is constantly reaching out to us (even preachers and prophets) and calling us to repent and let Him fill us with His love.
The Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?”
Then Jonah went out to the east side of the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see what would happen to the city. And the Lord God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there, and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from the sun. This eased his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant.
But God also arranged for a worm! The next morning at dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant so that it withered away. And as the sun grew hot, God arranged for a scorching east wind to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew faint and wished to die. “Death is certainly better than living like this!” he exclaimed.
Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”
“Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!”
10 Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. 11 But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness,[a] not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”
Man, Jonah’s got some real issues.  Bipolar?  Depression?  Anger issues?  Suicidal?  However, God loved Jonah and even used him and to this day Jonah’s story is in the Holy Bible.  I guess maybe there’s still hope for me and you.
But what about all the other people out in your community?  What about your neighbor?  The person ringing up your groceries in the checkout line?  The police officer who pulled you over and gave you a ticket?  The mechanic who cheated you?  That guy in church who really annoys you?  Is there any hope for them?  Does God love them too?  Maybe, just maybe, God’ is calling you to love them enough to “Get up and go to” them and preach His message of love.  What is God calling you to do?  Will you listen?  Will you obey?

Monday, July 22, 2019

Glory in the Heavens


Introduction
When I think of July, I think of fireworks.  Most people probably don't think of Christmas in July.  But it's not a bad idea.  December is such a busy month and the holiday season is so commercialized; the true meaning of Christmas can get lost amidst all the hype and Christmas lights. So today, let's keep our thoughts firmly focused on the Christ Christmas celebrates. 

Slides – Luke 2:6-15
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

Pointing People to God
Listen to that...  Do you hear it?  Silence is never really silent, is it?  There's always some sound in the background.  People coughing and shuffling their feet; the sound of the air conditioner running.  I wonder what sounds the shepherds heard that night as they were watching their sheep in the dead of the night outside Bethlehem. A fire crackling or sheep noises.  You only hear those kinds of sounds if you're quiet and paying attention. And so it was for the shepherds that night in Bethlehem when an angel appeared among them.  It was quiet and they were listening for any sounds that seemed out of the ordinary--a wild animal or some other danger.  That made the approach of the angel all that more obvious as the glory of God shown around them.  They came to point people to Jesus.

Jesus came to point people to God.   For years, God had sent signs to point people to God, but they were always missed or ignored. We’re usually too busy or self-absorbed to notice; and so God came Himself in the person of Jesus.  God really didn't want us to miss Him this time.  So God also sent angels to point the shepherds to the baby Jesus lying in a manger in Bethlehem.

The Angels
The angels came to point people to Jesus.  I have never seen an angel, let alone a whole host of them as the Christmas story describes. Have you? I've heard stories of other who've seen angels.  And the Bible tells many stories of their appearance.  The book of Hebrews in the New Testament advises that we should always be kind to strangers, because you never know if it might be an angel in disguise.  I have never seen and angel (at least that I was aware of).  However, I have seen many other glorious wonders in Heaven that have pointed me toward Jesus and God.

Fireworks
Many people have seen fireworks blasting away in the sky this month.  Did you?  Do you remember the first time you saw fireworks?  I do.  What a glorious sight to see the colorful, sparkling lights fanning out like giant fiery hydrangeas in the sky!  To a young child, these are fascinating and captivating and beautiful.  As an adult, now more aware of the meaning of the Fourth of July as the celebration of our nation’s independence, the fireworks are even more magnificent because they represent to me how God set our nation free from the tyranny of Great Britain, against all odds.  And I can see God’s hand at work in the development of our nation as I remember how many have sacrificed throughout the years.

Lightning
But there is another light show in the sky that points me to God—lightening.  Many are afraid of thunderstorms.  I was too when I was a young child.  To help, my mom would take me out on our screened-in front porch and hold me while we watched the storm together.  It is one of my fondest early memories—sitting in my mother’s lap in a rocking chair and her soothing voice, feeling the hot summer air quickly cooled by the wet rain falling as a misty breeze filtered through the screens.  And up in the sky, you can see the lightning flicker across the clouds away in the distance, like fire flickering in a giant, Japanese lantern floating across the sky.  And the deep rolling of the thunder that speaks of a tremendous underlying power in this world.  How glorious!  If there is a Creator who made it all, how glorious and beautiful and powerful must He be.

Stars
Do you ever go out at night, in the quiet, and just stare up at the stars?  I admit, I used to do it a lot more than I do now.  There is too much to distract me these days.  But as a child, we didn’t have air conditioning in our home and it was quite hot in the house by evening.  So, I often stayed outside in the summer for as long as I could.  And up in the sky you can see the same stars the shepherds saw in Bethlehem.  Throughout the ages, people have speculated as to what are these mysterious lights in the night sky.  Some have thought them to be gods or the spirits of their ancestors.  In modern times, science has shown they are giant balls of burning gas thousands of times a big as the earth and trillions of miles away.  The closest stars are around 4 light years away (i.e. it would take 4 years to get to them if you could travel at the speed of light).  The farthest stars are 5 billion light years away!  And there are about a billion trillion stars in the universe!  Some think science has disproved the existence of God.  But I look up at the glorious  stars in the heavens and see that God is more magnificent than we ever realized before!

Birds
I see living things in the heavens that point me to God too.  For instance, what a glorious thing it is to see a flock of pelicans soaring across the waves over the ocean.  How graceful they are—flying in perfect formation, making minute adjustments to the wind, barely needing to flap their wings, spotting a school of fish swimming in the water below, and then circling around to dive at breakneck speed and splash into the water to catch their meal.  We sometimes refer to an unintelligent person as a “bird-brain”.  That's ironic because with all our human intelligence and ingenuity, we only figured out how to fly relatively recently.  And now that we’ve had a little over a hundred years to practice, we still don’t even come close to the grace and beauty of a bird in flight.  If God created the birds that soar above, He is truly magnificent indeed.

People
And yet, He created people too.  And look at us!  We are amazing!  Of all the creatures in God’s green earth, we are unique and special!  There is no other animal like us.  The closest, scientists say, are chimpanzees.  And, yes, they are amazing too.  But there is no animal who can talk like us, write words on paper (and now type on a computer screen).  There is no animal that has looked at a bird and dreamed of being able to fly and then figured out how to do it.  There is no animal who has looked up at the stars in the night sky and wanted to go there and then built a rocket-ship to fly to the moon.  Some say that humans acquired these abilities by chance.  I say that makes no sense; I say the hand of God must have been involved for people to be so incredibly different from all the other creatures on the planet and to have learned all that we have and gained mastery of all others animals. 

Romans 1:20 All these things—fireworks, lightning, stars birds, people (and many more) point me to God.  It is absolutely true what Romans 1:20 says, “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”

If we just look around, the evidence it there.  The existence and nature of God should be obvious to anyone who is honestly searching for answers.

Jesus
But the glory of Christmas is that God didn't want to leave anything to chance.  Yes, we should know about God just by looking at all the glorious things He made.  But God wants to be absolutely sure you know Him.  And if you want a job done right, you do it yourself.  So God came Himself in the flesh.  Jesus is God. 

Matthew 1:23 - “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!  She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”
John 1:1 - "In the beginning the Word already existed.  The Word was with God, and the Word was God." [Jesus is the Word.]
Hebrews 1:3 - "The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God..."
Colossians 1:15 - "Christ is the visible image of the invisible God."

Jesus is God.  He was God when the whole world was created.  He designed the birds and the clouds, and lightning and thunder.  He flung the stars across the universe with a word.  And He created you and me.   And yet, mysteriously, Jesus is also human.  He was human in every aspect: born as a baby, had to learn how to walk, grew up in a village, went to school, dealt with bullies and chores and being hungry and hot in the summertime and cold in the winter.  He knew about the yearnings of an adolescent heart, that wants to find their one true love and get married.  But Jesus, God in human flesh, came to our world for a special purpose.  He came to show us what God is like, how God loves us beyond all measure.  We are God’s one true love.  And He was willing to die for us.  And He did die for us on the cross at Calvary.

When we look at Jesus, we see God--the most perfect representation and proof of God.  We see God’s incredible love—to leave the glory of heaven to come live in our broken world and ultimately to die for us on a cross, to pay the price of our sin.  And now everything that could be done to point you back to God has been done.  All that’s left is a choice—your choice. 

Will you choose to follow God through Jesus Christ?
Or will you choose to continue to follow something or someone else?
I pray you choose Jesus.


Monday, July 8, 2019

The Truth Shall Set You Free


John 8:31-37
31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
33 “But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?”
34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. 35 A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever.36 So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. 37 Yes, I realize that you are descendants of Abraham. And yet some of you are trying to kill me because there’s no room in your hearts for my message.

Are You Really Free?
In this passage, Jesus had a conversation with some Jews living in Judea who were descendants of the Israelites who were led out of slavery in Egypt in Exodus.  The Israelites were proud to be descendants of Abraham and the story of how Moses lead them through the Red Sea and out of slavery in Egypt was an essential part of the nation, ethnic, and religious identity.  They were proud to be a “free” people.  And even though the Roman Empire was the real authority in the Judea, the Romans had allowed the Judea to remain autonomous in deference to their national pride as a free people (so long as the Judeans promised to remain loyal to Rome and not cause trouble).  But Jesus explains that true freedom is more than national or ethnic identity or a political matter.  True freedom is a spiritual matter.

I have always known we are blessed to live in this country—the land of the free and the home of the brave.  I came to appreciate those blessings in a new way the first time I traveled to Guatemala in 2006.  For one thing, the poverty I saw in Guatemala reminded how fortunate we are to enjoy so many comforts in the United States.  Everyone in Guatemala looked up to us—literally… 

I will never forget returning to the United States after a week in Guatemala.  Now, I love Guatemala.  It is a beautiful country filled with amazing people (and we could learn a lot of things from the people there), but I was so glad to come back to my homeland and I was so proud to be an American. 

I will never forget arriving at the airport in Atlanta and going through customs.  There was a line of people a mile long waiting to go through customs and “enter” the United States.  My mission team was tired and homesick and ready to see our families and the thought of waiting in another long line was a bleak prospect.  Just then, a customs agent came walking down the line asking, “Are you a US citizen?  Are you a US Citizen?”  And all who answered yes were ushered to the front of a much shorter line.  I could see the weariness on the faces of all the non-citizens waiting in that long line as we walked passed them and I thought, “I am truly blessed to be a citizen on the United States of America.”  We enjoy so many privileges we take for granted.
Just a few days ago, we celebrated Independence Day on July the Fourth.  Independence Day is a holiday commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence—declaring our independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain.  In it, our forefathers proclaimed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  It was the belief of our nation’s founders that Freedom was a God-given right that should never be violated. 

If ever there was a national ideal that came straight from the pages of the Bible, it is this—humanity was created by God to be free.  “In the beginning,” (Genesis 1), “God created the Heavens and the Earth.”  And God created humanity to be free—free to think, free to make choices, free to love.  God did not create us as animals chained to follow our basic instincts. God created us to be free!

Yet today, the vast majority of humanity is not free.  Even here in this great Nation where freedom is the hallmark of our national identity, the vast majority are not free.  People are enslaved to a cruel master, Sin. 

You might have a hard time thinking of yourself—an American citizen—as a slave.  We live in the land of the free, but that doesn’t automatically make you free, not any more than standing inside a gym automatically makes you fit and muscular.  You are not truly free unless the Son of God sets you free.

Sin keeps us from being free.
Romans 6:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  And Romans 6:23 says, “The wages [or consequences] of sin is death…”  So we all have a big problem.  We are all guilty of sin—which is turning away from God and doing things our own way—and we will all reap the penalty of sin—which is death. 

But the death Romans talks about is far worse than just passing away into oblivion and ceasing to exist.  The death we face because of sin is a spiritual death.  Sin separates us from God.  Our spirits suffocate in the absence of God’s presence.  In Luke 16, Jesus described the eternal destiny of sinners as a place of fiery torment.  The 20th chapter of the book Revelation describes the place as a lake of fire.  I don’t know for sure what that place is like, but I know it is something worse than death.  It is spiritual death.  (If God is like the air we breathe, you could imagine hell like suffocating without air for eternity.)

Jesus came to set us free from the spiritual death that sin brings into our life.  The great Christian evangelist of the first century—St. Paul—epitomizes to me a man who is truly free.  Death held no power over his freedom.  He boldly traveled wherever the Lord led him to spread the Gospel unhindered by persecution, hardship, or even the fear of death.  He was beaten, imprisoned, stoned, shipwrecked, and eventually executed.  Yet he was not afraid.  Paul said in Philippians 1:21, For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.  And he penned those famous words that have comforted so many at funerals, O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?(1 Corinthians 15:55)

When the Son of God sets you free, you no longer have to fear death.  I tell people (and myself), “What is there to be afraid of?  The worst thing that can happen is death.  And to die means to go home to glory—no more suffering or pain or sickness or grief.  It’s like the ultimate retirement!”  And to live with no fear of death out on the edge with God holding your hand—now that’s freedom!

It’s not just a fear of death that enslaves people.  Because of Sin, some people are bound by chains of guilt.  Ironically, the church is often a place where people feel the most guilt. I have known people who avoid church altogether because it makes them feel so guilty.  They walk into a beautiful sanctuary like this and instead of inspiring them it just reminds them how far short they have fallen from God’s glory.  They see everyone dressed up for church and smiling like they don’t have any problems and the preacher is standing up on stage peering down over the pulpit at them.  And all these things remind them of how unworthy they feel.  They don’t like that feeling so they just stay away. 

Ironically, I have found that sometimes the people in church with the biggest smiles are the ones with the most heartache and guilt. 

Jesus Sets Us Free
Maybe you feel that way, but Jesus doesn’t want church to be a place that overwhelms us with guilt.  Jesus came to set us free from sin.  He said, God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17).  And 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”  Because of Jesus Christ, those who confess there sins and believe in Jesus Christ can trust Psalm 103:12 which says, “[God] has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.”  When we come to church (or wherever we are), God does not looking down on us as He looks down on us.  He looks at us and smiles the way a loving father smiles at their children.

And so we are free to live!  We are not bound by a guilt that causes us to hide from God in shame or try to impress Him or somehow try to work our way back into His favor.  We don’t have to bow our heads in shame.  We don’t have to carry a load of constant apologies.  As Ephesians 3:12 says, “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.”  Now that is truly free!

But the freedom we have in Christ goes even further.  We are also free from the power of sin.  This is the glorious Good News of Christ’s message that—frankly—doesn’t get preached enough.  The salvation we have in Christ is not just forgiveness; it is also healing.  We are on the road to recovery.  Gradually, with God’s help, we are getting over this sinful nature that plagues us. So we don’t have to dread a life of constant mistakes and sinful living while we throw our hands up in the air and say, “I can’t help it.  I’m a sinner by nature.”  Romans 6:6 says, “We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.”  And Romans 6:22 says, “Now you are free from the power of sin…  So, we don’t have to go through life thinking we are bound to sin.  If we slip up, we can be forgiven.  But we don’t have to sin.  We are free!   Because God loves us so much, we are now empowered to love others!  We are free to share the love of Christ with everyone!

Closing
Jesus said, “The truth shall set your free.” He said that to the Israelites and they had a hard time seeing that they were enslaved.  Can you sense their national pride when they said, “We are descendants of Abraham.  We have never been slaves to anyone.”  I wonder how many of us here today have a similar notion.  We think, “I live in the United States of America.  I am not a slave.  I am free.” 

Jesus would say the same thing to you today that he said 2,000 years ago.  “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin.”  When we humble ourselves and recognize we are enslaved, Jesus is there to set us free.  But if our pride makes us hang on to the false notion that simply being an American makes us free, we will remain enslaved.  Exercising freedom takes wisdom and courage and determination.  It takes the Son to set you free and keep you free.

As we give thanks for the independence of our great nation, what better way to honor freedom than to truly live out our freedom.  I hope today you will humble yourself and ask Jesus to help you.  And then I pray you will go out of this place and live the free life you were created to live!