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Showing posts with label Faith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Faith. Show all posts

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".

Introduction
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.

 

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?

GRACE
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. 


Conclusion
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?

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Creation: Day 2 - Sky


Introduction
The world we live in is breathtaking and complex.  The artistic genius of it points to Something/Someone higher, greater, more wonderful than we can even imagine.  Who is this Creator who set the world in motion?  What does the story of creation in Genesis tell us about the Creator’s character?

Long before science existed, people were already asking questions about how the world began.  We want to know where we came from.  We want to know Who made us.  We want to know why we are here.  Genesis was written to speak to the mysterious longings within our hearts to know the Truth about God.  The creation story reveals the character of God and the life He offers us.  If you want to know God and why we are here, you can find out by studying the story of creation in Genesis.

Genesis 1:6-8
6 Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters,
to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.” 7 And that is what happened. God made this space to separate the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens. 8 God called the space “sky.”

And evening passed and morning came, marking the second day. On the second day, God created the sky. At the time Genesis was written, people observed the world around them and tried to understand. They looked up into the blue sky and it reminded them of a vast ocean of water. *Yet, they could clearly see that the air above them was invisible. So it seemed there was an empty space between the blue “water” above and the water and land upon which we stand here on earth.

How would you describe the sky if you had never been told a scientific description of it?  Suppose you had no way of going up into the sky or into space to look around and measure what you found.  How would you explain this mysterious existence of earth below and blue sky above?

Children are inquisitive.  They want to understand the world around them—even before their minds are capable of grasping it.  Parents often struggle to answer their questions.  One day a 5-year-old boy asked his father if a stick was alive.  “No.  This stick is not alive.”  “But it comes from a tree.  Is a tree alive?” Asked the son.  “Yes, a tree is alive.”  “Then why isn’t this stick alive?”  How would you answer this child’s question in a way that they could understand?  Even more challenging: how would you explain the same thing to a dog or a cat?

How difficult it must be for an infinitely intelligent Creator God to explain the intricate details of His creation to people whose thinking is so limited.  This was especially true thousands of years ago when Genesis was written.  So God used words that made sense to ancient people.  He describes the sky or atmosphere as a “space” between the waters of the sky and the earth below. 

The Hebrew word is translated “firmament” in KJV.  This gives the impression that the sky is firm to hold up the blue expanse that we see above us.  God named the sky Shamaym, “heaven.”  The word means lofty—the home of God. God beckons us to reach for higher ideals. God created within each of us a desire to reach for something higher.  We could not even imagine God if it were not so.  One cannot help but look up at the sky and wonder about it.  We lay in the grass on a pretty summer day and stare up at the mysterious clouds above.  What are they made of?  What do they feel like?  They look like giant cotton balls floating in the sky.  It was not until the 1903 that man successfully built an airplane and soared through the sky.  However, people have watched birds soaring among the clouds since the very beginning, and we have longed to be up there with them.  It took thousands of years of longing, stretching, reaching before humanity was able to achieve our dream of flight.  If we never had the ambition to fly through the magnificent sky, we would never have achieved flight. We don’t just long for a higher altitude. God created us to yearn for higher ideals.  If we were just another one of the animals, we might only care about the basics that all animals need to survive—food, water, shelter, reproduction.  Yet the human spirit longs for higher ideals.  We value faith, hope, and love.  Our greatest joys in life come when we realize these; our greatest sorrows are when they are missing. Faith and Hope are two higher ideals God gives us. Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” (Hebrews 11:1)  Having faith gives you a distinct advantage.  If Orville and Wilbur Wright never had faith that flight was possible, they never would have risked the dangers of flight or the ridicule of those who did not believe it was possible.  The greater rewards in life are rarely within plain sight.  Faith enables you to push yourself beyond the limits of what is immediately visible.  Faith also empowers you to trust others.  Trust is the bond that enables people to work together—as husband and wife, as parents and children, as co-workers, as soldiers in an army, or as a church full of people who can count on each other.  Without trust, we must do everything on our own power—which is very limited.  But when we can trust others, we can work together as a group and accomplish so much more. Ultimately, faith allows us to trust the Creator.  Just because a person believes God created the world does not ensure they trust God.  Many people do NOT trust God.  We see the same mistrust played out in many religions—including biblical Judaism—where sacrifices were made to appease the gods.  Such religious practices reveal a deep mistrust of divine power.  Yet God turns this whole religious practice of sacrifice upside down through Jesus Christ.  Instead of people making a sacrifice for God, God—in Christ—sacrifices Himself for us.  God has done everything possible to show He is trustworthy.  Now it is our choice whether we will take hold of the higher ideals of faith and hope.  Do you have faith in God? Do you have hope? Love is the highest ideal for which God beckons us to reach. 1 Corinthians 13:13 says, “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”  We were created for love. There are 21 definitions for the word love on Dictionary.com.  However, the Greek word 1 Corinthians uses is “Agape,” which is “self-giving love, expressed freely without calculation of cost or gain to the giver or merit on the part of the receiver.”  The clearest demonstration of love is found in the life of Jesus Christ.  By all accounts, Jesus was an extraordinary man.  A man who can heal the blind and walk on water could have gained anything he wanted—power, wealth, prestige.  However, Jesus refused to seek anything for himself.  Instead, he gave up even the basic things most people desire—a way to make a living, a wife, children—and he dedicated his life to helping others.  We have seen a few exceptional people, like Mother Theresa, who lived a life of sacrificial love, but Jesus went even further.  Jesus showed us the greatest love of all when he laid down his life for the world. Jesus didn’t just die for his friends.  He sacrificed his life for people he’d never met—people like you and me.  He died for people most might overlook—the outcast, the forgotten, the neglected.  He died for people most might find despicable—those who have cheated, abused, murdered.  Jesus even died for those who drove the nails through his feet and hands into the cross.  He said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) When Jesus died on the cross, he demonstrated the highest form of love.  We admire his self-sacrificing love.  Somehow, it speaks to our hearts.  We know it is good.  We know it is right.  It awakens a longing within us to reach for this kind of higher love—even when it seems out of reach.  However, just as early people must have thought flight was out of reach, we hope that—with God’s help—we might one day love like Jesus.  The Truth is, we can love like Jesus.  With man it is impossible, but all things are possible with God.  And God beckons us to reach, to stretch, to grow toward love. Closing Whenever you look up at the fluffy white clouds that float high above us in God’s beautiful sky, remember to reach for the higher virtues in life: faith, hope, and love. Pray and ask God to help you. And then, keep reaching for the highest ideals in life.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Ask Pastor Chris - Do You Have to Believe Jesus is God's Son?

Can someone go to heaven if they believe God exists but not believe Jesus is the Son of God?

In this series, I try to answer your questions. So post a question in the comments section so I can try to answer it in a future blog. 


According to orthodox Christian teaching, Jesus is the Son of God. The word orthodox just means the right view. So, according to the right Christian view,

Jesus is the Son of God. This is what the Bible teaches and what all true 

Christian Churches have followed for 2,000 years. But what happens if a person believes that God exists but they don’t believe Jesus is the Son of God? Can they still go to heaven?


I’m going to make a disclaimer here, right up front:

Thankfully, I’m not the one who decides who does and does not go to heaven.

That is God’s decision and He is far wiser than me. He knows every person’s situation and what’s truly in their heart. I do not. So, I want you to know, I’m only approaching this question from a hypothetical point of view because it is an important lesson in the nature of true saving faith.


First of all, let’s understand what it takes to “go to Heaven” (which means to have eternal life). John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” You have to “believe in Jesus” in order to go to heaven.  But what does it mean to “believe in Jesus”?


We find the answer in the example of a man in the Old Testament named Abram (who’s name was later changed to Abraham). You can read about Abram/Abraham in Genesis chapters 11-25. Abraham is also mentioned numerous times in the New Testament because he is the poster child for what the Bible means whenever it says, “Believe in” or “have faith in God.”


For example, Romans 4:3 says, “For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.”

So let’s look at how Abraham “believed God”.


Genesis 12:1-3 says, “The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. 3 I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”


Now even though Abraham was already 75 years old and his wife was really old too, Abram believed in God’s promise and did what God asked him to do. And this is the definition of saving faith or belief. It is believing God’s promise and doing His will.


So now, let’s look back at the famous John 3:16.“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” So we see that word again–believe. Those who believe in Jesus will not perish but have eternal life.


Based on the definition of faith we know from Abraham’s example, what does it mean to believe in Jesus? It means we trust what he says enough to follow Him. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. 

No one can come to the Father [that’s in heaven] except through me.”


So, I hope you’re seeing that the kind of belief or faith that saves a person for eternal life is not merely an intellectual thing where you express your approval or agreement with an idea about God or Jesus. The kind of faith that saves you must be the kind of faith that moves you to action.


It’s kind of like a person who is trapped on the 7th floor of a burning building and the firefighters are on the ground outside shouting, “You have to jump!  We have a safety net that will catch you! Jump!” Well, you can believe what they say is true, you can believe the safety net exists, you can even believe it will save you, but unless you jump, you’re going to be burned to death.


Jesus’ brother, James, put it this way in James 2:17 - “So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” James then goes on to use Abraham from the Old Testament as an illustration to prove his point. James 2:22 - “[Abraham’s] faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete.”


So back to the original question: Can someone go to heaven if they believe God exists but don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God? Do you see the problem with the way this question is stated? It assumes that people go to heaven merely because they agree with a certain set of ideas about God. In other words, if they agree that God exists and that Jesus is His son, then they will go to heaven. But we’ve just seen from Abraham’s example that faith is not just agreeing something is true.  It’s about acting upon your belief.


So then, we should understand a person can believe God exists and that Jesus is His Son and still not go to heaven if their faith does not compel them to action because they trust Jesus. James said as much in James 2:19, “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God.  Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.”


What happens to a person who believes God exists but doesn’t believe Jesus is His Son? Well, I need to know more about the situation.  Is this person’s faith only an intellectual agreement or is their belief in God something that truly moves them to act differently because they believe in God? And how does their belief in the existence of God compel them to act?


There have been many in history who believed in gods and their beliefs compelled them to take horrific actions. The ancient Egyptians believed in gods who justified drowning Hebrew babies in the Nile River. I don’t think that is saving faith that will get you to heaven.


The thing about Jesus is His words and His actions show the clearest representation of God we have ever seen. Jesus revealed who God really is.

I suppose a person could, hypothetically, believe in Jesus’ Father, God, 

and trust God enough to obey Him without ever agreeing “intellectually” 

that Jesus is the Son of God.


That was sort of the case for Abraham in the Old Testament. The Good News about God’s Son had not yet been revealed on earth in Abraham’s day.  Therefore, Abraham did not yet know about Jesus or that Jesus was the Son of God. Abraham’s faith (which the New Testament says made him righteous) was purely in God (the Father) and based on what He did know at the time. Abraham knew and trusted God and and Abraham's faith compelled him to obey. Part of the reason  Abraham’s faith was so amazing is that he acted upon it without having all the details.


Now that we have the Good News about Jesus in the New Testament, we have a much better understanding of God and His plan than Abraham ever did. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, tell us that God said Jesus was His beloved Son (see Matthew 3:17, Mark 9:7, and Luke 9:35). In the Gospel of John , Jesus calls God His Father, and God affirms it (see John 12:28).


People may struggle to accept that Jesus is God’s Son. Perhaps they struggle to understand how God could have a Son or the whole complex trinitarian,

three-in-one nature of God. Regardless, you don’t have to understand something to have faith in it.  (I’m using a computer right now and I don’t really understand how it works, but I trust it to get the job done and even trust my computer enough to keep some of my most important files safe and secure.)


It could be that a person doesn’t yet have enough information to know that Jesus is God’s Son. Maybe they haven’t yet worked it all out or understood how that works or even that God actually called Jesus His son. Maybe they are still like Abraham in the Old Testament, walking by faith with the limited understanding they have right now.  Hopefully, one day, they will come to know the whole story of how John 3:16 tells us, “God so loved the world 

that he gave his one and only Sonthat whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”


God is gracious and patient.  God also wants to be known by His people. That’s why God’s Son said in Matthew 7:7 - “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” So someone who truly believes in God doesn’t have to go on long without discovering Jesus is God’s Son. The resources are there and God wants His people to know about Him and His Son. But if they refuse to accept it because they can’t understand it, then isn’t that the definition of disbelief? Isn’t that the exact opposite of walking by faith?


And if someone refuses to accept that Jesus is God's Son because they don’t like it or they don’t want to accept it, then isn’t that open rejection of God?God doesn’t justify those who reject Him.


Thankfully, God is willing to save those who come to their senses, repent of their sin, and put their faith in the God who sent His Son to save us. 1 John 4:10, “This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.”


My invitation to everyone is this: Turn away from your own selfish ambitions and turn to God. God sent Jesus to save you. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)


Well, that’s my thoughts.  What are yours? Leave a comment and let me know. If you have a question, post that in a comment too and I’ll try to answer it in a future article.


Remember, God loves you and so do I!

Pastor Chris Mullis

Monday, October 18, 2021

Love Never Gives Up

Introduction
If you followed football yesterday, you may know that Ole Miss beat TN.  Alabama beat Mississippi State.  Georgia beat Kentucky. Auburn beat Arkansas. LSU beat Florida. GT beat Duke.

You know, in a football game, there often comes a certain moment in a game where the tide turns for your team and the game is no longer winnable.  You can sometimes gauge when this critical moment comes, because you may see fans start leaving the stadium.  They know their team is beat at this point.  So they start leaving to get ahead of the traffic.

If you’re a true fan, you may hold on to hope.  You may think, “That’s Ok.  We can still get this back.”  And you’re rooting for your team and you’re hoping that they will retake the lead and win the game.  Then, the opposing team get’s another score.  And you’re frustrated.  But it’s still not over. You still believe—because you’re a true believer.  You believe your team can still pull out a win.  But the time is ticking off the clock and soon your down to the final minutes.  And you’re hoping beyond hope that your team can still do it.  Maybe you’re thinking, “If they get the ball back, and this happens and this happens… They could still do it. It’s possible!” You start running through different scenarios in your mind.  “It may take a miracle, but it’s still possible!”  But then the clock is down to the last minute, then the last seconds, and all your timeouts are gone…

I remember watching a few football games with my dad and older brother as a young kid, I would always be the last one to give up hope.  Dad and Nelson were older and knew the game better.  They could read the writing on the wall when the game was lost.  But I was young and na├»ve and I loved our team and was full of hope.  I would hold on till the last seconds.  But then our team would lose.  It was inevitable. 

Well, that’s football.  But love, according the 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, love is another story. Love never gives up.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

The City of Corinth
This passage is from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church.  The Corinthians lived in Corinth, an important port city in Greece.  Corinth was especially important because it was located on the isthmus of Corinth—a narrow strip of land separating the Gulf of Corinth and the Saronic Gulf.  Ships could be carried over land about four miles on a special paved road made just for moving ships.  It saved a tremendous amount of time and money and was much safer than sailing 185 miles around the treacherous Peloponnesian peninsula.  Corinth’s strategic location made it a very wealthy city, and with it’s wealth also came debauchery.

Ancient Corinth was the home of the temple of the goddess, Aphrodite—the Greek goddess of love.  It was said that the temple employed 1,000 professional prostitutes to “help” the people “worship” Aphrodite.  (I guess that's one way to get people to church!)  

By the time Paul wrote his letter, Corinth had been taken over by the Romans, who converted the Temple of Aphrodite to the Temple of Venus (the Romans name for the goddess of love).  Both Aphrodite and Venus “are known for their jealousy, their beauty and for their affairs with both gods and mortals.”[i]

Study notes in the The MacArther Study Bible say, “Even by pagan standards of its own culture, Corinth became so morally corrupt that its very name became synonymous with debauchery and moral depravity. To ‘corinthianize’ came to represent gross immorality and drunken debauchery.”

Despite Corinth’s centuries of sin and debauchery and corruption of the virtue of love, God did not give up on them.  God sent Paul to Corinth in AD 49 or 50.  According to Acts 18:11, Paul spent 18 months discipling a group of new Christians who then formed the Corinthian church.  God is always working to save people and bring them back from the brink of destruction.  And it doesn’t matter how far gone they seem to be, God still cares.  We see this clearly in the Corinthian church.  From a city as wicked as Corinth, God established a group of Christians to be a beacon of God’s light.

But they still had a lot to learn.  The Corinthian church had some severely warped ideas of love—no wonder; they were a product of a city that worshipped the so-called “goddess of love” that taught love was only a carnal, consuming thing.  Paul wrote about the One True God’s love that is demonstrated in Jesus self-sacrificing love on the cross.  And Paul wrote “Love is patient and kind.”  It had to teach the Corinthians that real love is not jealous like the so-called love of Apphrodite or Venus.  And love “is not boastful or proud or rude.” So they shouldn’t fight amongst themselves about who was the most important or who was more spiritual or who was in charge.  And today we’re learning that “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful…” just as God never gave up on the Corinthians, despite their centuries of wickedness and sexual immorality and moral corruption.  God's love neve gives up and it changes people's live and even changes the whole world.

John 3:16
John 3:16 is probably one of the most well-known verses in the whole Bible, and for good reason.  John 3:16 could be a summary of the entire story of the Bible.  “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

The whole story of the Bible—from beginning to end—is the story of God’s love that “never gives up, never loses faith, and is always hopeful” that people will turn from their evil ways and return to a love relationship with God.  Throughout the centuries, while God is reaching out to people to beckon them to come back to Him, God is also setting up His plan to save the whole world.  The ultimate message of God’s love is given through Jesus Christ.  In Jesus, God came in the flesh to show the world His love.  He came teaching people the truth about how to live.  His presence brought healing and life—everywhere he went, the lame were made whole, the blind could see, and the deaf could hear.  Leprosy and deformity and demonic possession were banished.  And so, hoping beyond hope, God reached out to fallen humanity.  There is a way to heal your spirit!  There is a way to be made whole again!  There is a way to be saved!

And there was a tremendous sense of hope.  The Disciples followed Jesus.  And crowds of people heard his teachings and saw his miracles and they believed.  Could this be the Messiah who was sent to save us, even when it seems all hope is lost?

But They Crucified Him
Jesus came in love, but we crucified him.  Can you imagine the disappointment of Jesus’ disciples and followers?  Jesus was love.  He was hope.  They put all their faith in Him.  And then He was brutally murdered on a Roman cross.

Roman crucifixion was the most painful, humiliating, degrading way to kill someone.  It was intentionally designed to make a bold statement to anyone who dared challenge Roman rule.  Crucifixion’s message was: “We own you.  We can do whatever we want to you—any of you.  It doesn’t matter if you are a peasant, a religious leader, a king, or even supposedly a messiah or god, we can strip you naked and beat you to a pulp and nail you to a cross and hang you up to die and agonizing death that will take days while everyone watches in horror—including your mother.”

If ever there was a moment in history when the game was lost, it was on the Friday they nailed Jesus to the cross.  And I don’t care who you were or how much faith you had, everyone who saw Jesus die new the game was over.  Love had lost.

Some cried bitter tears.  Some got angry and cursed Jesus and spat on him.
Some just left, because they knew the game was over. Some ran away in horror and hid in shame.
Some just stared in disbelief.
How could this happen?  How can evil triumph over good?  What do we do now?

There’s a certain point in a football game that’s the point of now return—when the game is lost and there’s no hope to win.  But football’s just a game.  What do you do when it’s real life?

What do you do when the marriage really is over and ends in divorce?
What do you do when your son’s addiction finally takes him?
What do you do when cancer wins?
What do you do when the game clock of real life finally says zero and it really is over?
What do you do when Jesus is really dead?

A Childlike Faith
Jesus was dead and buried in a tomb.  A stone was rolled over the door. 
Soldiers guarded the entrance.  No one was going to get in. 
But Jesus was going to come out!  On the Third Day, Jesus rose from the grave!

With God’s love, true love, divine love, there is always hope.  1 Corinthians 13:7 says, “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful…”  Love never fails.

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15)

Children often have more faith than adults.
Adults know better.  We know how the game of life works.  We know when the game is over—even if the clock hasn’t finished running out.  We think we know when all hope is lost and how it will all end.
But children believe in magic.  They believe in hope.  They still believe in miracles.
And God can work through miracles.  He saved the world through a miracle.
Jesus was dead, but then He was alive!
Jesus can save you with a miracle.  

So, we need to be mature and use our intelligence, but we also need to keep our childlike faith.
“Humanly speaking, it may be impossible.  But with God, everything is possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

Invitation
I want to tell you something though. 
Sometimes you've got to lose before you can win.
Sometimes you've got to die before you can rise to new life.
There may be something you've got to let go of before God can give you something new.
Do you trust Him?
Open your heart. 
Let go. 
Let God do a new thing in you.



[i] http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/culture-miscellaneous/difference-between-aphrodite-and-venus/