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Showing posts with label Christianity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christianity. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

The Year of Jubilee - Nothing to Lose

Today, I’m excited to start a new series of sermons about the Year of Jubilee in the Bible.  This series grew out of questions that came up in our Thursday morning Bible study as well as some of my own questions from my person study time in God’s Word.

What is the year of Jubilee?  I’m glad you asked!  In ancient Israel in the Bible, you probably know they had a Sabbath Day. Every seventh day, the people were supposed to rest and worship the Lord—no work.  Most people don’t realize, that is where we get our modern idea of the weekend—thank God! 

Most people know about the Sabbath Day.  Not a as many of people know in ancient Israel they also took a Sabbath Year.  Every seventh year, they were suppose to take a year off—no farming.  Even the livestock and wild animals in Israel got a year off.  It was a year of rest! (Wouldn't that be awesome!)

God took care of His people.  He provided enough harvest in the sixth year to feed them all the way through the seventh year and even until the harvest on the eighth year.  Pretty amazing!  You might say, “That’s impossible!”   But remember, the Bible also says, God fed the Israelites with manna for forty years while they wandered in the desert after they left Egypt. So, providing enough food to get the people through one year was no problem for the God of Israel. 

You might think having a whole year off every 7 years was crazy or impossible (or awesome).  But it gets even better.  And that’s what brings us to the Year of Jubilee we read about in Leviticus 25.

Leviticus 25:8-13
“In addition, you must count off seven Sabbath years, seven sets of seven years, adding up to forty-nine years in all. Then on the Day of Atonement in the fiftieth year, blow the ram’s horn loud and long throughout the land. 10 Set this year apart as holy, a time to proclaim freedom throughout the land for all who live there. It will be a jubilee year for you, when each of you may return to the land that belonged to your ancestors and return to your own clan. 11 This fiftieth year will be a jubilee for you. During that year you must not plant your fields or store away any of the crops that grow on their own, and don’t gather the grapes from your unpruned vines. 12 It will be a jubilee year for you, and you must keep it holy. But you may eat whatever the land produces on its own. 13 In the Year of Jubilee each of you may return to the land that belonged to your ancestors.

The Year of Jubilee
The Year of Jubilee happened every 50 years in ancient Israel.  The name “Jubilee” comes from the Hebrew word for “ram’s horn” because the 50th year was announced by the blowing of a shofar—a ram’s horn trumpet.  Why a ram’s horn?  The Jubilee begins on the Day of Atonement with a call to repentance.  Rams were sacrificial animals in the Old Testament.  Perhaps you remember the story of when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac.  Abraham obeyed and took Isaac up on Mount Moriah.  Just as he was poised to take his son's life, the Angel of the Lord stopped him and showed him ram with its horns caught in a thicket.  The ram became a substitutionary sacrifice for Isaac.  Rams were sacrificial animals to cover the people's sins.

So at the Jubilee, the ram's horn was blows to call people to repent and receive rest, release, and restoration.  The took a year off from work to rest and worship and celebrate the goodness of God with their friends and family.  They were released from all their debts and anyone who was a slave was released from slavery.  Everyone was restored to their original state of fortune.  Slaves were restored to freedom.  Anyone who had sole their family land had it returned to them.  It was as if "control, alt, delete" was performed on the Israelite society and everything was reset to normal again.

Well, what’s this got to do with us today?  I’m glad you asked!  According to the Gospel of Luke,
when Jesus started his ministry, he preached in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth and Jesus announced the greatest Jubilee of all times! 

Luke 4:17-19

17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:  18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, 19 and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

Jesus is the Great Jubilee
Do you hear the Good News words of Jubilee? Rest! Release! Restoration!  Jesus is called the “Lamb of God”.  A male lamb is a ram.  So Jesus is the sacrificial ram.  He is the ram’s horn, the shofar, announcing the greatest year of Jubilee—the year of the Lord—when there will be rest. release, and restoration.

There will be rest.  Remember, Jesus said in Matthew 11:28, "COme to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest..." 

And Jesus came to release all who trust in Him from bondage to sin and to anything else that coptivates us, for no one can serve two masters.  Therefore, all who follow Jesus as Lord must be set free!  If Jesus sets you free, you are free indeed!

And Jesus came to restore us to a right relationship with God and our neighbors.  Those who follo Christ learn to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love their neighbor as themselves.  Our sins are washed away and we are made right with God and nothing stand in the way of our at-one-ment with God.

If you’ve not already done so, I beg you to repent of your sins and turn to Jesus today!  For then you will begin to experience the greatest Jubilee of all time where there is rest, release, and restoration.

Christians Have: Nothing to Lose
To become a Christian, you surrender to Jesus and die to your own selfish desires.  You proclaim:  “I am no longer my own, but yours, Jesus!”  And so, the Christian embodies Galatians 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

If you’ve already died, what do you have left to lose?   What’s the worst that can happen?  If your life on earth ends, you go to be with Jesus in Heaven where there is no more sin or sickness or suffering or death!  We will gather around the throne of God and worship and experience the eternal harmony He promises the faithful who trust Christ as Lord.  

To live on earth is better for the Lord’s Kingdom because you can keep learning the lessons God wants you to learn as you glorify His name and serve Him here on earth.  To die is even better for you, because you go home to the eternal reward that awaits all His faithful.

What a freeing reality—if you think about it.  What have you got to lose?  Nothing! You’ve already won!  Jesus won the victory!  And we are set free!  Hallelujah!

Christians experience so much worry and anxiety in this life when we forget that we've already won.  There's nothing to worry about.  Jesus has already won the victory.  We are on HIs side, so we've won too!  It is only our worldly ways of thinking that make us feel we've something left to worry about.

My Freedom as a Pastor
I’ve served as pastor of Pleasant Grove Methodist in Dalton, GA for 12 years!  That’s amazing!  It's been a great 12 years.  The longer I serve, the more I realize I won’t be at my church forever.  I don't know how long I have left at Pleasant Grove.  I would like to stay on until my daughter graduates high school in 2025, but only if my church feels like I’m the right guy for the job.  

I believe I am the right guy for the job.  We have some important things to do over the next few years.  We are working through disaffiliation for the United Methodist denomination, which will take a year. Then, we will be working through either joining a new affiliation or getting setup as an independent congregation.  Either way, there will be a lot of work to do.  I believe my experience at Pleasant Grove gives me a unique ability to lead the congregation through these important years. 

In whatever time I have left at Pleasant Grove, I feel more and more like I have nothing to lose.  I'm not concerned with making everyone like me.  My number one commitment at Pleasant Grove always has been and always will be the Kingdom of God. Whatever I do, I do it for the Lord.  Why not go for broke?

It's not about me.  It never has been.  It never will be.  Ultimately, it's all about what's best for the Kingdom of God.   So that's always what I'm working for.  Everything else is expendable. Chief among the expendable things is me.  I take the Bible serious when it says in Galatians 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

My faith says, even if I lose my very life for the sake of Christ, Jesus will raise me to new life.  Even if I wear myself out trying to lead my church, God can restore and revive me.  So, I have nothing to lose.

My role here at Pleasant Grove is to be a shepherd.  I try to lead my church in the right direction.  If I think there’s danger around the corner—some cliff they might fall off—I do my best to guide them along a safe path.  If wolves come in to attack , I’m not gonna run away.  I’ll do my best to protect.  All along the way, I’ll be my church's biggest cheerleader because I believe Pleasant Grove is the best church in this whole community and I want everyone to come join us.

So my thinking is, let’s go for broke together.  Let’s give it all we’ve got for the Kingdom of God!

What Do You Have To Lose?
It’s amazingly freeing when you feel like you have anything to lose!  The most powerful people in the world are those who know they have nothing to lose.  That's how Christians were able to transform their world against all odds.

What about you?  What do you have to lose?  Are you still trying to cling to your life?  Jesus said, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”  (Luke 9:24)  

If you keep clinging to your life and the things in your life because you think they are yours and you’ve got to protect them, you’re gonna lose them.  If you cling to your relationships, to your children, to your possessions, your dreams, or anything else, you will lose them.  You will stress yourself out with worry and anxiety, you will sacrifice things you shouldn’t sacrifice, you will cause heartache and disappointment in yourself and others, and at the end of it all, you will lose them anyway.

The alternative is to give all to God through Christ--to die to yourself and trust in Jesus to raise you to a new kind of living.  It is to live in the Year of the Jubilee, where there is rest, release, and restoration.

Don’t you want that peace and freedom in your life where you don’ have anything to lose?  What's stopping you from turning to Jesus and accept His call to repent and believe and experience the rest, release, and restoration He wants to give you today?  Why don't you turn to him right now?

Monday, August 15, 2022

The Division Between David and Saul

It grieves God’s heart when there is disunity among His people.  His desire is that we would all be united in love and obedience to His Word.  But we also see in Scripture that God never sacrifices Truth for the sake of a false unity.  If there is to be unity, it must be a unity where people agree to worship and obey the Lord in Spirit and in Truth.  When obedience and Truth are at stake, God may be the very One who divides people.

Last week we saw how Abram and Lot went their separate ways.  Today, I want to study another division among God’s people in the Holy Bible—the division of David and Saul.

A little background.  Saul was the very first king anointed to rule God’s people in Israel.  The people wanted Saul to be their king because he looked like a king—he was tall, head and shoulders above everyone else.  Saul physic inspired people to follow him into battle to fight Israel’s enemies, but Saul’s heart was not right.  He was more concerned with what the people thought than what God really wanted.  He was always getting caught up in trying to please his constituents, even if it meant disobeying God.

And so, God rejected Saul and chose David to replace him.  David was an unlikely King.  He was the youngest of all his brothers who was always overlooked by his family.  David wasn’t as tall or physically imposing as Saul, but David was “a man after God’s own heart”.  David trusted God with his whole heart and always cared what God wanted more than what anyone else wanted.  David was the kind of man who would obey God even if no one else wanted to, even if it cost him.

So one day, God sent the prophet Samuel to call Saul out for his disobedience, and to tear the kingdom of Israel out of Saul’s hand in a dramatic display.  Saul had just won a battle against the Amalekites.  Saul won the battle but disobeyed a direct order from God afterwards.  Saul kept the spoils of the battle even though God had told him to destroy everything.  Saul’s army was greedy and thought it would be a shame to destroy all the loot they’d just plundered from their enemies.  Saul listened to his army instead of God.  God sent the prophet Samuel who called out Saul’s disobedience.

1 Samuel 15:24-25
Then Saul admitted to Samuel, “Yes, I have sinned. I have disobeyed your instructions and the Lord’s command, for I was afraid of the people and did what they demanded. 25 But now, please forgive my sin and come back with me so that I may worship the Lord.”

King Saul
God is patient and merciful—even in the Old Testament.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time Saul disobeyed God.  Saul had already disobeyed God repeatedly.  This time was the last straw.  To make matters even worse, Saul is not really sorry for what he’s done.  He is still more concerned with what his people will think that what God thinks.  God is in the midst of calling Saul out for disobeying battle orders, and the most important concern in Saul’s mind is saving face in front of his army.  He want’s Sameul to join him in a public worship ceremony—probably something to honor Saul and his army for their victory over the Amalekites.  Saul is not taking his sin seriously and doesn’t even really care that he has already dishonored God by his disobedience.  To Saul, worshipping God is just a show.  He doesn’t even really care about God.  He only cares about public relations and his own position as king.

1 Samuel 15:26-29
But Samuel replied, “I will not go back with you! Since you have rejected the Lord’s command, he has rejected you as king of Israel.”

27 As Samuel turned to go, Saul tried to hold him back and tore the hem of his robe. 28 And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to someone else—one who is better than you. 29 And he who is the Glory of Israel will not lie, nor will he change his mind, for he is not human that he should change his mind!”

1 Samuel 16:7
God tore the kingdom of Israel away from Saul, not just because Saul was disobedient, but because Saul’s heart was not right.  He cared more about pleasing people than pleasing God. 

And so in the next chapter, 1 Samuel 16, we find God sending the prophet to anoint David to be the new king of Israel.  David will be faithful to God.  He won’t always do the right thing.  He made some big mistakes of his own.  But the thing that was different about David is his number one concern was his relationship with God. 

God told the prophet Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

Align Your Heart with God’s
In this world, we will always be tempted to go along with the world’s values. 
We want to belong.  We want to fit in.  But the world is not right.  The world is corrupted by sin.
Part of the healing process for our soul is learning to trust in God more than our own selfish desires to fit in with a fallen world. 

Sometimes our call to keep our hearts aligned with God’s heart means turning away from a from people or groups in this world.  Even Jesus said in Luke 12:51-52, “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other! From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against—or two in favor and three against.  Father will be divided against son and son against father; mother against daughter and daughter against mother; and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’”  Jesus' claim as absolute Lord of all forces people to choose sides.  Jesus doesn't want people to be divided, but inevitably some will receive Jesus as Lord and some will reject Him.  Their rejection divides them from those who accept Him. 

Has your heart been torn in two because someone you care about deeply has turned away from you because you disagree about one of your deeply held core values?  I know that hurts and breaks your heart.  But if your heart is right with God, you’ve done the right thing.

There are many hearts that are breaking in our current divides between the life of faith and the corrupt values of society.  Many of you may be facing these.  I know it’s hard.  I know it’s hard when a family member or a close friend says your religious beliefs are ignorant or outdated or hateful because you believe what the Bible teaches.

I think about so many churches in the United Methodist tradition right now.  Many churches across the state of Georgia are divided—some 70/30, some 60/40, some even 50/50—divided about whether the congregation should disaffiliate from the UMC.  In those churches, no one is going to be totally happy.  Many of those churches will end up being torn apart—whether they stay in the UMC or if they leave.

I don’t want that sort of thing to happen at Pleasant Grove.  And I don’t think it needs to because I think we are more united in our core values than most churches.  We have hearts that want more than anything to be aligned with God and His Word.  But even if we lose one family or one person through this transition, it will hurt.  Yet, we must be faithful to God.  And it is also very important that we strengthen the ties that bind us to other believers who share our values.  What are you doing  to help with that?

Let us be willing to give up any thing, but never let go of God!
Let us walk away from any relationship, but never walk out on God!
Let us be torn apart from any group, political party, denomination, faction,
      but never be torn apart from God!
Let us rend our hearts in sorrow at the loss of friends or family or church members,
      but let us always rejoice that we remain faithful and true to God and His Word.

For in the end, our relationship with God is the only thing that matters. 
It is the only thing that is eternal.  All these other things will soon melt away.

God Shelters Us In Difficult Times
But we can learn yet one more thing from the story of David and Saul.
As you can imagine, it wasn’t an easy life for David to be chosen as Saul’s replacement while Saul was still the King of Israel.  It was a dangerous life for David.
Saul grew more and more jealous of David and paranoid for his own position.
Saul went mad trying to hold onto power and a kingdom God had already torn away from him.
And Saul chased David around the countryside trying to kill him.
David had at least two chances to exact revenge and kill Saul,
but David refused to take matters into his own hands. 
David would let God work out how to finally take the kingdom from Saul and give it to David.
Through all David’s difficult years as a fugitive running for his life from Saul,
God took care of David. 
And so David could write God's sheltering protection in one of his most beautiful psalms:

Psalm 64:10 - The godly will rejoice in the Lord and find shelter in him.  And those who do what is right will praise him.

Close your eyes and consider:
In what ways has your faithfulness to God caused divisions in your life and relationships?
How can you seek shelter to protect you from pain and sorrow and even real harm?
Now imagine that God, our Heavenly Father, is with you right now, sheltering you in His loving arms.  He is pleased with Your faithfulness, despite your suffering.  And He will honor your loyalty.

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.