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Monday, July 25, 2022

5 Steps to Remove Obstacles to Growth In Christ

The following blog is an adaptation of a a talk I gave at a Chrysalis Youth Retreat.  Chrysalis is a ministry of the Upper Room and this blog/sermon was adapted from Talk #10, "God Sustains Us".

As a child I was fascinated with flying.  I loved to watch birds soaring through the air.  I also liked to build models of airplanes and jets.  Sometimes my mom would give me those little Styrofoam trays that come with ground beef in the groceries stores after she washed them out.  I would build little Styrofoam toy airplanes that would fly across the room.  

Part of my fascination with flying was probably due to the rough conditions of my family life.  There was a lot of shouting and sometimes violence.  They idea of birds who could just spread their wings and fly away anytime they wanted was very appealing to me.  

So when I was only about 7 years old, I thought if I can build a model stryrofoam plane that can fly, surely I can build some actual wings fly myself.  I mean, I could see how birds were built and how their wings were shaped.  Why couldn't I fly too?  

So I got som sticks and big sheet of plastic and I build some wings.  And I ran through my house as fast as I could out the front door and jumped off the front porch, which was about 2 feet off the ground.  And... I fell flat on my face, because people can't fly--not even 7-year-old scrawny kids with an great imagination!

People have been fascinated with the idea of flight for thousands of years.  But there were many obstacles to flight.  Even in the early modern ages, when humans started building other amazing gadgets like telephones and light bulbs and automobiles, they still could not fly.  Their flying machines were imaginative, but unsuccessful.  Building materials and engines were too weak and too heavy.  And people didn't really understand the science behind flying.

However, eventually, with time and sacrifice and even many people getting hurt or dying, people worked together sharing their collective knowledge until the Wright Brothers were able to officially get off the ground.  Today, hundreds of thousands of people fly everyday to every corner of the globe.

I want to talk with you today about some of the spiritual obstacles that keep us from being all God wants us to be and how God’s grace can help us overcome them.

Romans 3:23-24
23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.

The world is missing the mark. 
Just as God designed butterflies and birds to fly, God designed people to live together in harmony.  We can do so much more together than we can alone.  Unfortunately, society fails to live up to its potential.  We miss the mark.  Though created for love, society is full of hate, hostility, and fear.  

Society misses the mark because we, as individuals, miss the mark.  Though created in the image of God, Romans 3:23 says we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.  Like a shattered mirror, we reflect God only as a broken and distorted image.  Even Christian leaders in the Bible often failed to live up to God’s perfect standard.

After Jesus was arrested, all the disciples ran away and hid.  They failed Jesus.  Even Peter, who boldly proclaimed he was willing to die for Jesus, denied knowing Him (Mt. 26:34, 74).  The Apostle Paul, who wrote mst of the books of the New Testament, said he often did bad things even though he didn’t want to do. His sinful nature haunted him. (Rom. 7:15, 19-20).

In subtle ways, we all ignore or deny the most important relationship in our life, the root of all other relationships—our relationship with God.  The Greek word for sin, hamartia, is an archery term meaning "to miss the target."  Sin is whatever causes us to miss the target God has given our lives; it is any obstacle that separates us from the love of God and neighbor.

Sin sets up obstacles between us and God, that limit our ability to love, that hinder our growth in the likeness and love of Jesus Christ.  I want to name three specific Obstacles to Grace that keep us from being more like Christ, who reflected God’s love perfectly—three ways we miss the mark.

One obstacle is Not believing in God.  To believe in God is more than believing God exists; even the Devil acknowledges God's existence.  To believe in God is to "live by" God, to trust what God says and who God is.  You know, you can say, “I believe this airplane is safe to fly in.”  But you don’t really believe unless you are willing to personally get in the plane and go for a ride!

Sometimes, we don’t really believe God actually loves us like He says He does.  This is the most common form of unbelief.  We don't like who we are and so we try to hide from God and others.  We're like Adam and Eve who tried to hide from God when they ate the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3:7. 

Sometimes, we don’t really believe God forgives our past.  We condemn ourselves. We let our faults, failures, and bad feelings tell us who we are instead of listening to God’s love.  Whenever your feelings condemn you, remember that God's love is greater than your feelings (1 John 3:19). 

Another obstacle is Idols—believing in false gods.  Idolatry is not necessarily worshipping a statue.  I don’t know anybody who does that in the town where I live, but people still worship idols all the time.  We can make money, drugs, power, or people into idols.  The most dangerous things we turn into idols are not necessarily even bad things.  Sometimes they are good things.  But they become bad for us because we expect them to deliver something that only God can give.

We can turn our family into an idol.  We can turn our dreams into an idol.  We can turn our spouse, our friends, our job into idols.  When we seek the fulfilment from anything (even good things) that only God can give, they will always let us down, because idols are not capable of satisfying the deepest hunger inside.  Only the One, True God can do that. 

The true God is a God of grace and hope, forgiving our faults, redeeming our mistakes, offering a chance to start afresh.   

One more obstacle is Self-centeredness.  When we are self-centered, we try to be God.  We trust ourselves more than God.  We focus our life on our own selfish desires, making God in our own image.  We only see ourselves, our needs, our feelings.  We don’t see other people, their needs and feelings.  We may even feel jealous when others receive affirmation or are rewarded.  This is self-centered behavior.

Everyone is born self-centered, but we shouldn’t stay that way.  We need to grow up!  We must learn that other people have feelings and worth that are just as important as ours.  We are not the center of the universe.

Self-centeredness is when grown people act like big babies.  There is a baby in all of us who never grows up, who tries to make the world revolve around us. The Big Baby comes out in us occasionally in these ways:

Self-pity: When we always think, "Woe is me."  We feel and act like it's never our fault.  Someone or something else is always to blame.  We feel like the victim and take no responsibility.

Self-importance:  We think we’re better or more important or more valuable than everyone else.

Self-righteousness: We think we’re already perfect, like there’s no need for God’s grace.  

Following Jesus involves exchanging a self-centered world for a Christ-centered world.  When we do, we see people with new eyes.  We identify with others’ feelings.  We care about them the same as we care for ourselves.  Our goal is not to be right all the time but to be in right relationship with God and people.  

Not believing in God, Idolatry, and Self-centeredness get in the way of our relationship with God.  The first letter of each obstacle spells N-I-S.  Turn it around and you have SIN.

Sin is putting life together in a way that doesn't work, that stops real growth.  It is a major obstacle to God’s grace.  It misses the mark of what God wants for your life.

Thankfully, there is hope.  God gives us GRACE.


The good news is God sustains us despite our sin. The grace in God is greater than the sin in us. God enables our daily dying with Christ (to unbelief, idolatry, self-centeredness) and daily rising with Christ (to faith, hope, love, life in grace).

Step 1:  Go to God.  
Let go of pride that keeps you from turning to God.  Let go of "I am unworthy" speeches.  Ask God for the help you need. Be honest with God about the obstacles in the way of your relationship with Him.  Admit the ways sin and selfishness take form in you.  God is full of grace to accept, forgive, and heal.


Step 2:  Remember who you really are.
Let go of everybody else's ideas of who you ought to be.  Remember, you are not who others say you are. You are more than your mistakes or successes. You are free of all that. You are who God made you.   Remember, you belong to God. You are God's child.  Let what God already thinks about you guide you.


Step 3:  Accept your acceptance.
Let go of feeling like you are not good enough, that you must prove yourself to somebody, or that you have to find a way to be important.  Accept God's unconditional acceptance of you, not as you think you ought to be but as you are.  Accept God's word to Jesus in Mark 1:11 as God’s word to you.  When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by his cousin, John, and he came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended on his like a dove.  And a voice from Heaven said, "You are my beloved son with whom I am well pleased."  Well, if you put your faith in Jesus, then Jesus lives in you.  And when God looks at you, He sees Jesus.  And God says, You are my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.  Accept God's view of you. 

Step 4:  Connect with Christian community.
Let go of friendships that reinforce the wrong things in you.  Seek friends who share your faith and want to stay centered in God.  Connect with Christ by connecting with church.  Find a community of support, acceptance, and encouragement to grow in Christ.


Step 5:  Embrace the life God is giving you.
Let go of images of yourself that are less than God's plans for you.  Embrace your life as you are, as God made you with your strengths and weaknesses.  Embrace God's beautiful goal for your life in Jesus Christ.  When you fail God, yourself, or others, get up with God's help and press on.  Progress involves falling down and getting back up, dying with Christ to sin and rising with Christ to new life in God, again and again.  Decide your next step. How will you start to do what you need to do?

The first letter of each step spells GRACE.

Go to God.
Remember who you are.
Accept your acceptance.
Connect with Christian Community.
Embrace the life God is Giving you.

Grace overcomes sin and removes the wall of obstacles between you and God. 

SIN and GRACE things we don't like to talk about, but they are two realities with which you must come to grips.  Sin breaks life apart.  Grace gives us life again.  Grace reunites us with God and one another.  With grace through Christ, we can overcome the obstacles of sin.

I want you to understand this:  There is always more grace in God than there is sin in us.  Therefore, no obstacle can separate us from the love of God we fund through in Jesus Christ.  So, what steps do you need to talk today to start allowing God's grace to overcome the sin obstacles in your life today?

Monday, July 18, 2022

Spirit and Truth

Christmas in July
It's July as I write this.  But today, I want to share a little Christmas in July!  Listen to the Christmas story.  Jesus' birth changed everything!

Luke 2:1-20
1 At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5 He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.

6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7 She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

Jesus Divides History’s Timeline
Jesus was born to save the world from sin.  He came to unites all people as one people in the Kingdom of God.  More than any other figure in history, Jesu changed the world.  The world’s transformation by Christ is so great that we split history in half, marking it by whether it happened before or after Christ was born.

After He was born, Jesus grew in wisdom and stature.  He was baptized by his cousin John to mark the beginning of his public ministry.  Then he begam to teach and heal and share the love of God with people.  Jesus also made it clear that His mission was to all people.  Where others in the Bible had only come in ministry to Israel, Jesus even reached out even to gentiles and the despise Samaritans.

Jesus was the son of God, the long awaited Messiah who would save the world. 
The first person to whom Jesus revealed this truth was a Samaritan woman—an outcast in her community.  When everyone else shunned this woman, Jesus met her at Jacob’s well and told her about living water—water that wells up from inside and sustains us spiritually and never runs dry.

And Jesus shared a very important Truth with the Samaritan woman that I want to share with you today. 

John 4:23-24
The time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. 24 For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

Spirit & Truth
Music moves me in worship.  It always has.  When I was a child, church was so boring.  I would just bide my time until we could finally leave.  But I will never forget the first time I truly felt something good in worship.  I was only about 8 years old and a lady (I wish I knew her name) sang a solo during the service.  It gave me chills.  Every Sunday after that, I hoped that someone would sing or do something else in the service that would help me feel something in worship.

God is real and His Son, Jesus, is alive.  The relationship we are to have with the Divine is real and tangible.  It is something you can feel.  We can feel love and comfort and friendship and caring and sadness and anger with the Divine just as we do with our parents or our children or our spouse.  Real relationships involve feeling.

But our relationship with God is not limited only to spirit (feelings).  Christians have often gotten into big trouble when they base their faith in God only on feelings.  Feelings are a good gift from God, but they are quite subjective.  People who base their life and faith and decisions only on feelings, quickly find themselves in trouble because "follow your heart" is not a very wise cliché. 

We are also called to worship in truth.  We need wisdom and knowledge.  So God gave us a brain and He wants us to use it.  We can read the Bible and learn and reason to understand who God is and why He sent Jesus and what are God's expectations and commandments and how we are supposed to live.  It is important that we have a rich intellectual relationship with God as well as a heartfelt one.

Another aspect of worshiping in truth is practical truth.  Knowing something is one part of truth, but doing something is putting our intellect into action.  We are called to act upon what we know.  Christians are called to serve and to sacrifice.

I love the Methodist movement.  It grew our of the renewal efforts of John Wesley and others who wanted to breathe new life into the dead, stagnant religions of the Anglican Church of the 1700s.  At that time, there was no passion in worship in England.  People would come hear a boring lecture at church and leave unmoved and unchanged and did nothing practical with their religion in everyday life.  John Wesley wanted to change that.  He believed in Jesus' admonish that God wanted people to worship Him in spirit and in truth.  And so John set about renewing the church.  He was a highly educated man who understood the deep theology of the Christian faith and he taught it in his sermons.  Wesley was also a man who had experienced his heart being warmed as he understood how Jesus had saved him while he was still a sinner.  Wesley felt God's love and was assured of his salvation.  And Wesley brought this out in his worship services.  That's why a university man like Wesley could preach and teach lower class uneducated coal minors and others about God's love and they responded with great emotion and devotion.  And the truth of the Gospel was practical in the Methodist movement, and they cared for the poor, opened hospitals for the sick, made a place for orphans, and even ministered to criminals in prison.  By worshipping God in spirit and in truth, those early Methodists changed England and made it a better place.

The Church in the 21st century, must be a people who worship God in spirit and in truth--with emotions, with intellect, and with practical application.

Be the Church
If the Church is to be what God wants it to be, then individuals must worship the Father in spirit and in truth because the church is made up of individuals. Therefore, if you are a follower of Christ, a Christian, then you must be a follower of Christ who worships in spirit and in truth.

Is your relationship with Jesus spiritually rich? Do you feel Him and know Him? Is He real to your heart? Or is Jesus only someone or something you know intellectually?  What could you do to practice and grow in knowing Christ with your heart this week?  How can you worship Him in spirit?  One way that helps move me is music.  Could that be something that helps you?  Or could it be something else?

Do you also worship Jesus in Truth? Is your relationship with Jesus only emotional? Do you really know Him in Truth? Do you understand who He is and what He did and what He wants to do in your life and the world today? Do you have an intellectually rich relationship with Jesus?  What could you do this week to know Christ in truth?  Perhaps it's time to join a Bible study or listen to a Christian podcast or read a stimulating religious book to learn about an important aspect of your Christian faith.

Does your relationship with Jesus move you to live for Him? Does His love for you and the Truth about Christ compel you to serve others—to be the hands and feet of Christ?  How will you walk with Christ this week--serving others as Christ calls all HIs followers to serve?

The time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.

Monday, July 11, 2022

Living in Babylon

1 Peter 2:12 says, “Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.”  Today, I want to speak on the subject of how Christians can live in a world hostile to God and God’s people.  The main scripture for this lesson is Daniel 1:1-20.  This story is from the Old Testament and takes place around 605 years before Christ.

Daniel 1:1-20
During the third year of King Jehoiakim’s reign in Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 The Lord gave him victory over King Jehoiakim of Judah and permitted him to take some of the sacred objects from the Temple of God. So Nebuchadnezzar took them back to the land of Babylonia and placed them in the treasure-house of his god.

3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief of staff, to bring to the palace some of the young men of Judah’s royal family and other noble families, who had been brought to Babylon as captives. 4 “Select only strong, healthy, and good-looking young men,” he said. “Make sure they are well versed in every branch of learning, are gifted with knowledge and good judgment, and are suited to serve in the royal palace. Train these young men in the language and literature of Babylon.” 5 The king assigned them a daily ration of food and wine from his own kitchens. They were to be trained for three years, and then they would enter the royal service.

6 Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were four of the young men chosen, all from the tribe of Judah. 7 The chief of staff renamed them with these Babylonian names:

Daniel was called Belteshazzar.
Hananiah was called Shadrach.
Mishael was called Meshach.
Azariah was called Abednego.

8 But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods. 9 Now God had given the chief of staff both respect and affection for Daniel. 10 But he responded, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has ordered that you eat this food and wine. If you become pale and thin compared to the other youths your age, I am afraid the king will have me beheaded.”

11 Daniel spoke with the attendant who had been appointed by the chief of staff to look after Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. 12 “Please test us for ten days on a diet of vegetables and water,” Daniel said. 13 “At the end of the ten days, see how we look compared to the other young men who are eating the king’s food. Then make your decision in light of what you see.” 14 The attendant agreed to Daniel’s suggestion and tested them for ten days.

15 At the end of the ten days, Daniel and his three friends looked healthier and better nourished than the young men who had been eating the food assigned by the king. 16 So after that, the attendant fed them only vegetables instead of the food and wine provided for the others.

17 God gave these four young men an unusual aptitude for understanding every aspect of literature and wisdom. And God gave Daniel the special ability to interpret the meanings of visions and dreams.

18 When the training period ordered by the king was completed, the chief of staff brought all the young men to King Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and no one impressed him as much as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they entered the royal service. 20 Whenever the king consulted them in any matter requiring wisdom and balanced judgment, he found them ten times more capable than any of the magicians and enchanters in his entire kingdom.

Babylon, the Great Empire
The name Babylon is synonymous with decadence and immorality.  Revelation 17:5 says, “Babylon the Great, Mother of All Prostitutes and Obscenities in the World.” 

When we think of an evil city, we think of the name Babylon.  However, Babylon was a great, ancient city and part of a great civilization and empire. In Daniel’s world, Babylon was a superpower that controlled most of the known world. 

If we're honest and historically accurate, ancient Babylon had much in common with modern America.
Babylon gave much to the world.  They brought peace and stability and prosperity—so long as people gave their allegiance to Babylon’s king.  No country in our times has greater in influence than America.  American power and influence brings peace, stability, and prosperity around the globe wherever people are willing to cooperate with this nation.

And so I think Daniel’s story has much to say to Christians in America today.  Therefore, listen carefully. 

Daniel and his friends wanted to be faithful to God.  They were willing to cooperate with Babylon, so long as it didn’t contradict their duty to God.  They didn’t want to eat the meat served in Babylon’s royal palace because it had been sacrificed to Babylonian idols.  Meat in most places in the ancient world was almost always the product of a religious sacrifice.  We see this in the Bible where people were told to take a bull or a goat or a lamb to the Temple to be sacrificed to the God of Israel.  Afterwards, the priest and the people would eat the sacrificial animal.  Well, in Babylon, the animals were sacrificed to Babylonian gods, and Daniel and his friends didn't want to dishonor the God of Israel by eating meet that was a sacrifice to gods they considered false.  Daniel's religion specified that he 
"Should not worship any God but the Lord." (see the 10 commandments in Exodus 20)

Daniel and his friends believed that their God could sustain and prosper them, even if they only ate vegetables and water.  So while all the other royal servants ate the best meat and food of the palace, Daniel and his friends ate only vegetables and water (vegetables were safe because they generally weren't sacrificed as a part of religious ceremonies in Babylon).  And God was good.  After three years of their vegetarian diet, Daniel and his friends were smarter and healthier and better looking than all the other servants in the royal palace who had eaten the normal royal diet.  God is good!  Amen? 

Slide – The Roman Empire
Christians in the early years in the Roman Empire had a similar problem.  Not only with meat, but with other common practices in daily life in a pagan world.  All kinds of evil, detestable behaviors were common in various provinces in the Roman Empire.

·       There was infanticide.  If a baby was born to a family that they didn't want--maybe they wanted a boy and it was a girl or their was some kind of defect or deformity--then people in the Roman Empire would simply discard the child. They would put it out on the street and let nature take it's course and the child would die from exposure.  This is a practice that seems horrific to us today, but it was common practice in the ancient world.  Christians couldn't bare to see children treated this way because they believed every person was sacred to God and bore the image of God.  However, their pagan neighbors thought these Christians had some wacky ideas.  The Roman Empire was also full of idolatry, sorcery, sexual immorality (prostitution, orgies, adultery, polygamy, and homosexuality).  

Christians were a tiny minority in a very pagan Roman world.  Christians constantly had to wrestle with the dilemma of how to get along in a pagan world without condoning or participating in the immoral behaviors of the world that were incompatible with Christian teaching. They had to walk that delicate line between getting along with their pagan neighbors while remaining faithful to Jesus Christ in the hopes their pagan neighbors would also come to know Christ as Savior and Lord.  Furthermore, many of these early Christian followers had friends and family who were still pagan and saw nothing wrong with behavior Christian’s deemed off limits.  To pagans, Christians seemed odd and crazy to reject things everyone else in society considered just a normal part of life.  Christians were often convenient scape goats for anything that wen wrong in society.  If there was a political problem or a bad economy or a plague or something, people in power could just blame he Christians.  They could say, "It's their fault, because they don't worship the Roman gods like they're supposed to like everyone else."

21st Century America
We live in 21st century America.  Though America was overwhelmingly founded by people with deep Christian values, our culture today is increasingly hostile to Christianity.  It takes great wisdom, knowledge of Scripture, and delicacy for Christians to navigate our modern “Babylon”.  It is quite easy today for Christians to falter in 2 opposite directions.

First, there is the error of Christian nationalism, where Christians start to think God's main concern in this world is blessing America.  They start to think God loves American Christians more than Christians anywhere else in the world and so Christians main concern becomes fighting for traditional American values and they start associating America with God.  This is a kind of idolatry where the nation becomes a type of god.  And this can come in many forms.  Sometimes a political figure like Donald Trump can become the focus of a faulty Christian nationalism that can lead people to justify any behavior for the nation or the person.  If they are an agent of God, then they can do anything, no matter how heinous.  This is a very dangerous philosophy and it misses, terribly, the goals of God's Kingdom.

A second error on the other end of the spectrum is secular paganism.  Here, we find a people doing whatever they want without any regard for what God says is immoral behavior. People can live do whatever they think is right in their own eyes.  And we certainly see plenty of this kind of behavior in our modern world.

And so Christians have to learn to walk through all these extremes.  We have friends who are all over the place--some Christian nationalists, some pagans, and some of all kinds of other things that are not pleasing to God.  And Christians have to learn to get along with all these other kind of people while still remaining true to how we believe God is calling us to live.  

I want you to notice something important about Daniel and his friends. They were not mean spirited. They were actually quite cooperative with their Babylonian officials. They served the great king of Babylon as officials. They used their talents to help the Empire succeed.  Yet, they also carefully and tactfully avoided sinning against God by participating in Babylonian behavior that was off limits for God's people. 

Christians in 1st century Roman Empire learned the art of living gracefully among their pagan neighbors.  It was not easy.  Sometimes they were severely persecuted for being so different and refusing to be like everyone else.  Sometimes they were convenient scapegoats when society needed someone to blame.  

And the Apostles and Christian leaders in the New Testament had to constantly call Christians back when they started to drift from God and follow the corrupt practices of people around them.  The pressure from society around them was intense.  The New Testament is full of calls from church leaders to remain faithful and not succumb to the temptation to get ahead in the world by compromising faithfulness to God.  Unfortunately, some early Christians did turn away from Christ in favor of the world—either to avoid persecution or to gain worldly treasures. What a tragedy!  Jesus said in Mark 8:36, “What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” 

Christians today have a similar dilemma.  The temptation to be like everybody else is strong.
There is a lot of social pressure.  No one wants to be disliked because you refuse to act like everyone else.  And remaining true to Christian values can even limit business opportunities.  But what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?

Practical Advise
I wan to share some practical wisdom that can help you be faithful to Jesus while living in our modern day Babylon.  First and foremost, accept that this world is not your home.  We are incredibly blessed to live in 21st century America, which enjoys so many privileges and material blessings.  Yet, we must never ever start to believe these are what life is about.  Don't become so comfortable here that become enamored with them.  And along those lines, don't ever think America is not your home either.  You can be a proud American and even say the pledge of allegiance to the American flag, but don't ever let that allegiance take precedence to your allegiance to God.  It's a hard truth for some to accept, but America will soon be gone and forgotten.  And 1 Peter 2:11 says you [Christians] are “temporary residents and foreigners” living in this land.  Our true citizenship is in God's Kingdom.  So let that be our main focus.

Second, be faithful and obedient to God.  And you must be willing to sacrifice everything in order to remain faithful and obedient to God.   

Third, be gracious to your unbelieving neighbors.  There is a kind of person, especially ones who are so gung ho about my first two pieces of advice above, that they are just mean spirited to people.  They want so badly to fight and be right that they don't love people who believe differently.  So it's so important that we treat people how Jesus would treat them.

Jesus was a master of speaking the truth in love.  You have to love people enough to be honest with them--even if it's an honest truth they don't want to hear.  And yet, it's a truth that is spoken in love because they need to hear it.  Don't even forget it's motivated out of love.  You love them, becaue God loves them, just like God loves you!  And so you speak to the person out of love, not merely to prove you're right.  It's a subtle difference, but it's a world of difference.  So, be gracious and love people as Jesus loves you.  People who are willing to know the difference will see the difference in you, even if they don't agree with you.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

America's Only Hope

Preaching these sermons is not easy.  And today is more challenging than most.  Somehow, I need to tie together several important elements. Monday is the 4th of July.  So there’s a patriotic element.  And we just finished VBS, so I need to touch on that.  Plus, my dad died this week. And in addition to all that, my church's youth director challenged me to work a risqué joke into my sermon.  So in honor of my dad, who was the king of telling inappropriate jokes, here ya go:  “If you drink laxative with holy water, you’ll start a religious movement.”  (That one’s for you, Dad!)

What can I say on this eve of our nation’s Independence Day? I love America.  This is my country.  We enjoy blessings in this nation that people elsewhere dream about.  There is the freedom to pursue the happy life you wish to live.  There is the feeling of security that no nation can invade us the way Russia has brutally invaded Ukraine.  There is the pride that comes from being a nation the whole world looks up to as an example and for leadership.  I believe God has a Word for America today.  And He has a Word for you today.

Psalm 33:12-22
What joy for the nation whose God is the Lord,
    whose people he has chosen as his inheritance.

13 The Lord looks down from heaven
    and sees the whole human race.
14 From his throne he observes
    all who live on the earth.
15 He made their hearts,
    so he understands everything they do.
16 The best-equipped army cannot save a king,
    nor is great strength enough to save a warrior.
17 Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory—
    for all its strength, it cannot save you.

18 But the Lord watches over those who fear him,
    those who rely on his unfailing love.
19 He rescues them from death
    and keeps them alive in times of famine.

20 We put our hope in the Lord.
    He is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord,
    for our hope is in you alone.

Empires Rise and Fall
I heard a cool quote this week:  “Empires rise and fall like the abdomen of God.
There have been many great nations and kingdoms over the millennia.  Egypt, Assyria, The Persian Empire, Greece, Rome.   At its height, the British Empire was the largest empire in history and, for over a century, was the foremost global power. By 1913 the British Empire held sway over 412 million people, 23 per cent of the world population at the time, and by 1920 it covered 24 per cent of the Earth's total land area.[i] And that was just 100 years ago.  My, how things have changed!  When I think of Great Brittain today, I don't think of a vast empire or a major world power.

Today, we would say America is the most powerful and influential nation on earth.  The US has the largest GDP in the world (with 24% of the World).[ii]  We have the world’s largest, best trained and equipped military.[iii] 

Yet God’s Word reminds us today in Psalm 33:16-17 – The best-equipped army cannot save a king, nor is great strength enough to save a warrior.  Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory—for all its strength, it cannot save you.”


Of course, you have to put this in modern terms, right?  We don’t have a king.  And we don’t use warhorses anymore.  We have a president and congress and a supreme court.  We are a democracy and we have tanks and jets and satellites and missiles.  But the principles are the same.  It’s not your mighty military that makes you great.  It’s not all your wealth or privileges either.  These things can evaporate in an instant.

Our Hope is The Lord
Psalm 33:18 says, “But the Lord watches over those who fear him, those who rely on his unfailing love.”
In whom or what do you put your hope? 
I’m proud of our military, but I know that’s not where our hope comes from.
I’m glad we live in a wealthy nation full of resources, but that’s no where our hope come from.
And thank goodness, our hope does not come from our presidents because the last 2 have been awful.  If you are a true Christian, I pray you realize your hope does not come from either Joe Biden or Donald Trump.  (Thank God!)

Psalm 33:20 says, “We put our hope in the Lord.  He is our help and our shield.”
Christians put our hope in the Lord.
Don’t idolize your favorite president.  Don’t demonize your least favorite president. 
Christians should pray for our leaders—whether we like them or not. 
And we should always look to God as our hope, not a president.

Time To Be Responsible
Don’t verbally assault people with whom you disagree.
Pray for them.  Treat them the way Jesus would treat them.

Christians are called to be the light of the world.  In dark times, it’s even more important that Christians shine bright and refuse to act like the darkness around us.

Do not worry.  Worrying doesn’t make anything better.  It only makes it worse.
When you worry, you don’t think clearly.  You get overwhelmed by anger, anxiety, and frustration. 
You say things you shouldn’t say and don’t treat people like Jesus would.

So, instead of worrying, take all you anxieties to the Lord in prayer. 
Remember, your hope is in the Lord.  He’s the One who can fix it. 
Or, He’s the One who chooses not to fix it.
Either way, you trust Him, right?  Don’t you? 
(If not then that’s the real problem you need to work on.)

Jesus said His followers are the salt of the earth.
Salt adds flavor.  It makes things better.
Are you making things better in our country or are you just adding to the bitterness and distress?
Are you building people up or tearing people down?
Are you bringing peace and hope or division and despair?

Salt helps preserve food so it doesn’t spoil.  You are to be the slat of the earth. 
Yes, there are some nasty, ugly things happening, things that threaten to spoil our nation.
But Christians who live righteous, holy loves help to cure and preserve society.
And don’t misunderstand me:  I’m not necessarily talking about fighting for better laws, etc.
The most important thing is Christians who personally do the right thing.
You can’t stop heathens from being heathens. You can't stop evil people from being evil.  Only God can do that.
But Christians who personally live for Christ are a salt that keeps the world from going bad.
Are you doing that?  Are you being salt? 
You can’t do much about what happens in Washington DC,
but you can do A LOT about your own actions.
Are you going to waste your precious time and energy and resources arguing and fussing and fighting about sensational stuff you can’t do anything about or are you going to take responsibility for your own personal actions and make sure you are living the way Jesus wants you to live?
Choose today to follow Jesus and help save America and the world.