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Showing posts with label Forgiveness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Forgiveness. Show all posts

Monday, April 6, 2020

Palm Sunday 2020

Introduction
Palm Sunday is the day Christians have celebrated for nearly 2,000 years.  It is the Sunday before Easter and celebrates the day Jesus entered Jerusalem while the crowds cheered and waved palm branches.  We traditionally remember the occasion by inviting young children to wave palm branches as they process into the sanctuary.  During our social distancing isolation, we showed a video of the children holding homemade palm branches instead.  It was great to see their faces on our video screens, even though we would prefer to see them in person.

The people waving palm branches for Jesus that day didn't know it was "Palm Sunday".  They knew it as another traditional day.  you could call it "Lamb Selection Day."  Exodus 12:3  [On this day] “…each family must choose a lamb or a young goat for a sacrifice, one animal for each household.”  They were choosing the lamb they would roast for the Passover celebration.  

Passover is the most important holiday/religious festival for Jews.  It recalls the day God used Moses to deliver the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt.  To deliver them, God sent several horrible plagues to torment the Egyptians.  The last and most terrible was the Angel of Death.  God warned the Israelites the Angel of Death would take the life of the firstborn child of every household unless they marked the doorpost with the blood of a lamb.  The Angel of Death would "pass over" every house marked by the blood of the lamb. In this way, God saved the lives of the Hebrews firstborn and convinced the Egyptians to let His chosen people go free.

Every year, the Jews commemorated their deliverance from slavery in Egypt with the Passover celebration.  And the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem, was they annual day everyone selected their lamb to be slaughtered for the Passover.  (A modern equivalent might be something like the day your family goes out to choose a Christmas tree for your home.)  

It is no coincidence that Jesus entered Jerusalem to great fanfare on “Lamp Selection Day”.  Though the people did not know what they were doing at the time, Christians soon realized after Jesus rose from the grave that Jesus was the Lamb of God that was chosen as a sacrifice to cover all our sins.  I 1 Corinthians 5:7b, Paul wrote,  “Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us.”  But let's review the Palm Sunday story.

John 12:12-19
12 The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors 13 took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted,
“Praise God!
Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hail to the King of Israel!”
14 Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said:
15 “Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem.
Look, your King is coming,
    riding on a donkey’s colt.”
16 His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him.
17 Many in the crowd had seen Jesus call Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, and they were telling others about it. 18 That was the reason so many went out to meet him—because they had heard about this miraculous sign. 19 Then the Pharisees said to each other, “There’s nothing we can do. Look, everyone has gone after him!”

Palms and Hands
Today is Palm Sunday. Obviously, palms refers to the palm branches the people waved as they praised God and hailed Jesus as the King of Israel. However, the story has me thinking about a different kind of palm that is so important—the palms on our hands. During the COVID 19 epidemic, we know how important hands are. We've been told to ash your hands. Don’t touch our faces or other people. The other day, I delivered something to a church members house wnd their young daughter, Jazmin, came running up wanting a hug. It broke my heart to turn her away saying, "It's not safe to hug right now."

While we've been told not to touch each other with our hands, others must do just that because their hands are deemed essential. Think about doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers. They must use their hands to care for and bring healing to others. First responders are the first ones on the scene when there is an accident or emergency and they must use their hands, regardless of the danger.  And what about the person behind the counter at the grocery store using her hands to ring up your essential groceries or the truck driver using skillful hands to drive the truck delivering supplies to the store.  My daughter works for Taco Bell and uses her hands to pass food through the drive through window to people who need food.  And some jobs that require good hands are not very glamorous, but just as essential--like people collected and disposing of garbage (absolutely essential if we want to stay clean and safe and sanitary).

The hands of all these people are important; they (and others) have been deemed essential workers. While the rest of us are supposed to stay art home, these people are supposed to keep using their hands to serve. 

 It all depends on the set of hands. A basketball in my hands is worth about $19.  A basketball in Michael Jordan's hands is worth about $33 million. Two fish and five loaves of bread in my hands is a couple of fish sandwiches.  Two fish and five loaves of bread in Jesus'hands will feed thousands.  It depends whose hands are holding it.  Put some nails in my hands and I might build a birdhouse.  Put some nails in Jesus Christ's hands and it saves the entire world.  You see, it depends on whose hands you have.   Who holds the world in His hands?  Whose hands are holding you?

Jesus' Hands
I want to tell you a little about Jesus' hands. Jesus' hands were carpenter’s hands. Just an ordinary man. I bet they sometimes were dry and rough (like mine are right now because I've been washing them so much). Jesus was flesh and blood like you and me. He built ordinary things with his hands--houses, furniture. Did he ever mash his thumb with a hammer and bleed?

And yet, this ordinary man's ordinary hands also laid the foundations of the world.  As John 1:1-3 says, “In the beginning the Word [who is Jesus] already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.”  Jesus was a man, but He was also God. He created the world and everything we see. His hands were the hands of God.

Jesus hands were also a healer’s hands.  With his caring hands, he scooped up dirt from the ground and mixed it with his own spit and smeared the mud on a man's eyes to heal him.  The the man had been blind from birth, Jesus' hands made him see!  And Jesus used his healing hands to take another man by the hand, a man who was lame and could not walk, and Jesus lifted him to his feet and he could walk!  And Jesus also used his hand to touch people who were considered untouchable because they had leprosy, which was a contagious disease.  And Jesus touched them with the palms of his hands and they were made clean and healthy and whole!  Jesus hands were healing hands.

And Jesus hands are a Savior’s hands.  Reaching down from heaven into our broken world, Jesus takes hold of us and lifts us out of the miry clay of sin and puts our feet safely on the solid rock again.  Jesus rescues us from all those situations that threaten to destroy us or keep us from being all we were meant to be.

Jesus' hands are nail scared hands, for they were pierced to pay the price for our sins.  On the cross, they were pierced and bled for us that we could be forgive and made clean and restored to a right relationship with God.  Speaking of this hundreds of years before it happened, Isaiah prophesied, “See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:16)  When we look at the palms of Jesus hands, we see nail scars.  When Jesus looks at his palms, he sees you name.

Invitation
Today is Palm Sunday/Lamb Selection Sunday.  As we prepare for Easter, who will you select as your Lamb.  I pray you will select Jesus Christ.  For He is the only Lamb that is worthy.  He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Won't you select Jesus as your Lamb today?

If Jesus is your choice, I would invite you to symbolize this by tying a red ribbon on your door, your mailbox, you porch railing.  The red ribbon symbolizes the power of the blood of Jesus.  Just as the Israelites originally put blood of a lamb on their door post so the Angel of Death would "pass over" their house and leave them unharmed, we put the blood of Christ over our life so the Angel of Death passes over us and we receive eternal life through Christ, the Lamb of God.

Put up a red ribbon to show that Jesus is your lamb.  Take a picture of your red ribbon.  Post it on your Facebook page (share it with me too).  This is a witness to everyone that you trust in the power of Jesus' blood.  You have faith in Jesus & trust that He’s still in control and has the master plan during this worldly chaos.

For more information, join one or both of these Facebook groups:




Monday, November 11, 2019

Questions about Forgiveness


1 John 1:9
But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

People were designed to live in harmony with God and each other.  Unfortunately, sin destroys these relationships.  Sin separates us from God and each other.  Sin tears our world apart.  It corrupts everything—from our relationships to the very nature of the world around us.  The glorious Good News of Jesus Christ is that the blood He shed on the cross atones for our sin.  We can be forgiven and reconciled to God through Jesus.  As 1 John 1:9 says, if we confess our sins to Jesus, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us of all unrighteousness.

I've been asking people to submit questions about Christianity.  A couple questions came in about forgiveness.  And I want to address those today.

First Question:  If you are asking for forgiveness, can you only go to God or do you need to go to the other person and say out loud what your sin is?
This is a great question.  We know from Scripture that God is merciful and quick to forgive.  Jesus’ death on the cross assures our forgiveness by God.  But what about people?  Will they forgive us too?  Should we seek to be forgiven by the people we offend?  Many might like to avoid seeking forgiveness from people as that could be very awkward and painful.  Can't we just ask God to forgive us and be done with it?

Let me start this answer with a parable.  Suppose you are backing out of the driveway from your friend’s house and you accidentally run over his mailbox.  You didn’t mean to.  It was an accident.  But still, your friend’s mailbox is ruined and it was your fault.  What should you do?  Should you:
a. Feel guilty and beat yourself up about it for the rest of your life. 
b. Ask God to forgive you and then forget about it. (If your friend ever asks you about it, just say, “Oh yeah, I ran over your mailbox. But it’s OK because I asked God to forgive me and He did.”)
c. Make a donation to to your church for the amount it would have cost to fix your friend’s mailbox.
d. Apologize to your friend and pay to have a new mailbox put in.

I hope it's obvious to everyone that the answer is "d".  

I know. This is a very simple situation and issues about forgiveness and relationships are often far more complex.  I could write a whole series about issues related to confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation (and maybe I will one day).  

Jesus said in Matthew 5:23-24, “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God."

Jesus taught it’s very important to be reconciled with the people we’ve wronged.  Jesus also said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (The Golden Rule, Matthew 7:12).  If someone had sinned against you the way you sinned against this other person, what would you want them to do to you?  Would you want them to come confess their sin and seek your forgiveness and make it right?  If so, then that’s a strong indication you should also go to the person against whom you’ve sinned and confess your sin and ask forgiveness and seek to make it right.

Jesus said the most important commandments are to love God and love our neighbor.  If asking forgiveness will help the person you wronged, then you should go to them and confess and seek forgiveness and try to make it right.  However, you should only do this after much prayer and reflection; perhaps you should speak with a wise counselor or pastor first.  Ask God whether this is really going to help the other person.  Remember, this is about doing the right thing or the other person.  It’s not about assuaging your own guilt or winning some reward for yourself.  It’s about helping the other person and making it right.  And sometimes, going to ask forgiveness from someone you’ve wronged will do the more harm than good.  If this is the case, you should not go to the person for forgiveness.  If asking forgiveness would bring more harm than good, it may be better to pray for them and hope they forgive you in their own time because it might make them less unhappy, not because it does anything to help you.

As for how all this affects your relationship with God, God has already forgiven you through Jesus Christ.  God still loves you even if you are unable to be forgiven by those you’ve wronged in this life.  However, don’t let God’s forgiveness and grace be an excuse to selfishly avoid doing the right thing for the people you’ve wronged in this life when it’s in your power to do better.

God’s Question for You – Is there anyone to whom you need to apologize?  Is there anything you can do to make right a wrong you’ve done?

Next Question:  We get forgiveness when we ask for it.  Will our sins be hashed out again when we get to heaven?  Is there an actual judgment day?
Another great question.  The Bible teaches that one day everyone will have to make an account for the way they’ve lived in this life.  Everyone—Christians and non-Christians—will face this judgment.  Let me share what Scripture teaches.
Revelation 20:12 gives a vision of the final judgment before God.  It says, “I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books.” And verse 13 says, “And all were judged according to their deeds.”  And verse 15 says, “And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire.”

You want to make sure your name is in the Book of Life.  How do you make sure your name is in the Book of Life?  This is part the glorious Good News of Jesus Christ.  Jesus death on the cross opens a way for us to be forgiven of all our sins and have our name recorded in the Book of Life.  For everyone who surrenders to God, repents of their sin, and follows Jesus Christ as Lord shall be saved.  Their names are recorded in the Book of Life.  And at the final judgment, when God judges the living and the dead, He will find all your sins have been washed away.  Your sins will be no more because Jesus Christ already paid the price for all your sins.  You will be washed and clean and spotless before the Lord.

Now, that doesn't mean you should live however you want in this life and sin as much as you like because you know all your sins will be forgiven in the end.  No!  That is not the way people who follow Jesus as Lord ought to live (or want to live)!  We should follow the Lord and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us more and more into His likeness, so we treat people the way Jesus treats people, so that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our mid, and all our strength, and love our neighbor as our self.

Furthermore, I want to tell you, Christians will face a kind of judgment too.  In 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, the Apostle Paul explained how Christians will be judged in the final days.  You can think of this judgment for Christians as a performance review at work.  We will be evaluated for the work we've done for God’s Kingdom in this life.  This will help determine how we will be rewarded in eternity.  The work we've done in this life will be presented to God.  Any work that was frivolous and useless will be burned up like straw or wood in a fire. Those deeds that were pure and worthwhile (whether in whole or in part) will pass through the fire like gold, silver, and precious stones.  The impurities will be removed and the good of all our deeds will be refined like gold in a furnace. 

Scripture names some of the rewards that await people who serve the Lord faithfully in this life:
  • The Soul Winners crown for leading people to Jesus.  
  • The Victors Crown for those who persevere and refuse to give up during persecution.  
  • The Crown of Glory for those who pastor well Christ's "flock". 
  • The Crown of Life for martyrs who were killed for their faith.  
  • The Crown of Righteousness for looking with anticipation for the Second Coming.

And so, Scripture teaches that everyone will be judged on the Last Day.  Those who rejected Christ will go to eternal punishment.  Those who followed Christ as Lord will enters into eternal life with Jesus where their will be no more suffering or pain or sorrow or death.  And Christians will be rewarded for every faithful deed.

God’s questions for you – Is your name written in the Book of Life?  (In other words:  Have you surrendered to God, repented of your sins, and chosen to follow Jesus as your Lord?)  How will the things you do in this life be judged by the Lord on at the Last Judgment?  Will they be found useless like hay burned up in a fire?  Or will He find gold and silver because you were faithful in this life and worked hard to show the love of Christ to everyone around you and you lead people to Jesus?


Monday, June 17, 2019

When Life is Sad, God is Good


Introduction
We've been studying the story of Exodus as we prepare for our July 8-12 Vacation Bible School.  The theme of VBS is God is Good.  We've learned when life is unfair, scary, or changes, God is good.  Today we learn that when life is sad, God is good.

Psalm 34:18
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
    he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

When Life is Sad, God is Good
For this session, our VBS curriculum takes a detour from the Exodus story.  We switch to the New Testament story of Jesus.  The incredibly sad thing that happened to Jesus, for which he is most famous, is the crucifixion.  Though he was perfect in every way and deserved so much better, he was nailed to a cross.  In Exodus, God was delivering the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  However, God's ultimate goal is to deliver all people from slavery--regardless of race or nationality.  He wants to deliver you and me.  You say, "But I'm not a slave!"  Yes you are.  We all are slaves to sin.  Every since humanity first chose to listen to Satan instead of God--trusting the Devil more than God--we've been slaves to sin.  We can't help ourselves; even if we don't want to in, we still do.  And God wants to set us free.  So He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to do for the world what God did for the Israelites at Passover in Exodus.  God set them free from physical slavery, but through Christ He sets us free from spiritual slavery.  Jesus is our Passover Lamb.

It must have been so sad for his disciples to see the man they loved and worshiped crucified.  It was sad for his mother.  It was sad for his Father in heaven to see His perfect sun shamefully and painfully tortured and murdered.  It was sad, most of all, for Jesus to see these people he loved so much he left the glory of heaven to come save them turn on him.  It was sad as his disciples betrayed, abandoned, and denied him.  It broke his heart.  But even when life is sad, God is good.  Jesus became our Passover Lamb.  His blood shed on the cross became the atonement for our sin just as the lambs' blood on the doorposts of the Israelites in Egypt signaled the Angel of Death to spare them.  When we repent and receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we pass from death to new life.  We are set free from slavery to sin.

Let’s listen to the story of Jesus’ arrest.

John 18:1-12
After saying these things, Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley with his disciples and entered a grove of olive trees. Judas, the betrayer, knew this place, because Jesus had often gone there with his disciples. The leading priests and Pharisees had given Judas a contingent of Roman soldiers and Temple guards to accompany him. Now with blazing torches, lanterns, and weapons, they arrived at the olive grove.
Jesus fully realized all that was going to happen to him, so he stepped forward to meet them. “Who are you looking for?” he asked.
“Jesus the Nazarene,” they replied.
I am he,” Jesus said. (Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.) As Jesus said “I am he,” they all drew back and fell to the ground! Once more he asked them, “Who are you looking for?”
And again they replied, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
“I told you that I am he,” Jesus said. “And since I am the one you want, let these others go.” He did this to fulfill his own statement: “I did not lose a single one of those you have given me.”
10 Then Simon Peter drew a sword and slashed off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s slave. 11 But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Shall I not drink from the cup of suffering the Father has given me?”
12 So the soldiers, their commanding officer, and the Temple guards arrested Jesus and tied him up.
Yahweh – I AM
There is a peculiar phrase hidden in the story. Did you notice it? Jesus uses the phrase I AM three times: in verses 5, 6, and again in verse 8.  In fact, when he says it the first time, all the soldiers fall to the ground.  Why is that?  I AM is the name of God.  Remember, when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and Moses asked what His name was, God said, "I AM."  And here, Jesus uses those same words, "I AM."  And there is power in the name of God.  It knocks the soldiers to the ground!  No one took Jesus' life from him.  He chose to give it up for our sake.

In Hebrew, the name I AM is pronounced Yahweh; it is the proper name of God. It is a difficult word to translate, but it is full of meaning. In some sense, it means Lord. But it is more. It means “the eternal one, the existing one.” It means “reality” as in “true reality”. In other words: What you think is reality is not really reality; God is reality. God is Truth. Our notions of reality are always skewed by our fears, our sins, our lack of vision and perception. But God is THE LORD. The Lord made it all. He controls it all. No one perceives the way things really are as accurately and deeply as God.
When you think there is no hope, God says, “There is hope. I AM hope!"
When you think all is lost, God says, “I will save you! I AM salvation!”
When you fear you will never be delivered from your suffering or struggle or whatever in this life enslaves you, God says, “I AM THE LORD. I will deliver you!  I AM deliverance!"

We are learning that God is good all the time. And all the time, God is good.
When life is unfair, God is good.
When life is scary, God is good.
When life changes, God is good.
When life is sad, God is good.

In all these phrases, the one thing that does not change is: God is good.  The goodness of God is not defined by our feelings or experience. God is who He is. He is good. He is always good. God does not change.

We need to trust in the goodness of God—especially when life is sad. When our sadness drives us to despair, we must hold tight to our faith in the goodness of God.  Don't let your perception of God's character be corrupted by your sadness (or anger, or fear, or anything else).  God is good!

The unchangeable, incorruptible, unshakable nature of God is a sure foundation when life is sad. He is the great I AM, Yahweh, the Lord. He does not grow tired or weary. He does not lose hope. He does not give up.

At the same time, God is not insulated from our pain. Jesus is God. He says so right there in John the day he was arrested. He said, “I Am Jesus.” I AM is the eternal name of God and Jesus means “The Lord saves”. But the most amazing thing is how the Lord saves us. He saves us by living our experience.  He allows the forces of darkness to arrest him, beat him, and crucify him to death. So you see, God is not insulated from our pain. He experienced all the painful things we endure: betrayal, fear, unfair treatment, deep sadness, excruciating pain, loneliness, and disappointment.  He absorbed all these things and even death on the cross.

And today, when we are sad or afraid or worried about change (or whatever we are facing), Yahweh (the eternal unchanging Lord of all) is right here with us in the midst of it. He knows what we feel; He has felt it too. And wonder of wonders, God even takes our sadness and uses it for our ultimate good. When life is sad, God is good.

The Best Kind of Sorrow
The best kind of sadness, the sadness God can use for our greatest good, is sorrow over our sin.  You see, we have all done things that we shouldn't do--sometimes by mistake, and sometimes even on purpose.  And it is our sin that nailed Jesus to the cross.  And it can be overwhelmingly sad when you realize your actions are the cause of Jesus' pain.  But that's a good sorrow, because it can drive you to your knees before God to say, "Lord, I am so sorry for my sins.  Please forgive me and help me not to act that way again."  That's what it's all about. God has been longing for the day you would repent of your sin and ask for forgiveness and seek His help to live a new and better life since the day humanity first fell into sin.  God is faithful and just.  When we confess our sin, He is quick to forgive and offer us a fresh start.  And the Holy Spirit will begin to work in you to make you a whole new creation, holy as God is holy.  Would you turn to God and be forgiven today?

Monday, May 13, 2019

"You've Sinned, but I Still Love You" - Things You Can't Say in Church (but you should)

Introduction
This is the third in a series called, “Things you can’t say in church (but you should).”  And I want to emphasis that last part in parenthesis “(but you should)”.  You see, some people think you can’t say certain things in church, but these are things you absolutely should say, you must say, if you are to be the Church that Jesus Christ established.

You see Church is a funny thing.  On the one hand, the Church was established by Jesus Christ in the Bible as the gathering of all who believe in Him, who are wholeheartedly committed to the great commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ throughout the entire world.  On the other hand, church is also a cultural phenomenon…  White, southern church culture…

Many in the world today are sick and tired of the church, by which they are (not necessarily) talking about the Church Jesus Christ established in the New Testament; they are usually talking about the church culture that (often) has little or nothing to do with the Church Jesus Christ established.  There are often a lot of weeds mixed in with the wheat of the Church and it can be really hard to tell the difference. 

I’ve mentioned two things already that some people think you can’t say in church, but you really should—“I’m broken,” and “I’m on fire!”  I want to add one more today.  Some people think you can’t say, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you.”  Some people think you can’t say that in church, but you really should.  I think you absolutely must, because it is an essential part of being the Church Jesus Christ established in the New Testament.  It follows the example of Christ.

Luke 15:1-7
1 Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach.This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!
So Jesus told them this story: “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!
Explain
The religious leaders of Jesus day didn’t like that Jesus quite often hung around with people they deemed sinners.  They believed sin was like a contagious disease, that just being in the presence of a sinner you could catch the disease of sin.  Jesus, who was the Son of God, tells a parable (actually three parable, because the whole the chapter is) about how God sent him to save a world full of sinners.  Jesus came to save the people the religious leaders deemed sinners who were unworthy and that no respectable person would associate with.  Jesus even came to save the religious leaders who are sinners too (but are blind because think they aren’t sinners).  The point of all this for our purposes today is this:  Jesus came to save sinners because He loves us. You see, Jesus was basically saying to the whole world, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you!”  

You migt think it strange in the parable that the shepherd would leave the 99 good sheep to search after just one sheep.  But Jesus is saying we are all sheep who have strayed off the path of righteousness.  If the shepherd (Jesus) didn't come and find us, there would be no 99 good sheep.  Every sheep has wandered off the path at some point, and the shepherd brought them back.  How hypocritical, then, for the 99 to complain if the shepherd goes off searching for another lost sheep.

Everything Jesus said and did—including how he died on the cross—was a way of saying, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you!”  Romans 5:8 sums it up for us, “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”

But many people today think you can’t say that in church, but you absolutely should; you must if we are to be the Church Jesus Christ wants us to be. 

Why Do People Think You Can’t Say It?
Some people today are just like the Pharisees and religious leaders in Jesus day.  They think going to church is all about being a good, respectable person and following all the rules.  They always try to do the right thing (even if doing the right thing is sometimes more about keeping up appearances than pleasing God) Furthermore, they often confuse God’s rules for holy living with what society says is the right way to live.  So they can often do some very terrible things—segregation, neglecting the poor, etc.—all in the name of being a good person who follows the rules.  So they think you can’t say, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you.”  They don’t love people who have sinned.  They’re ok with being judgmental and pointing out how people sin, but they don’t love sinners (they may say it with their lips, but they don’t really love them in their heart).  There have always been self-righteous judgmental people in church—all the way back to Jesus time.  And Jesus came and pointed those Pharisees out.  He told them, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you.”  Unfortunately, the religious leaders didn't want to hear that and so they crucified him.

But because the church throughout history has so often been full of self-righteous, judgmental people, we’ve come to a place today where there are so many people in our world (and even in the church) who err in a whole different way.  There are many who have concluded that you can’t even say, “You’ve sinned” anymore.  There are so many people who say, “The Bible says ‘judge not, lest ye be judged.’”  And so they’ve concluded that Jesus doesn’t even want us to tell people they’ve sin (because that would be judging).  A lot of people say nowadays, Jesus just wants us to love people (and leave the whole part about sin out).

And so it’s come to a place where the world we live in just says you should welcome everyone and just accept them for who they are.  We’re not allowed to tell people, “You’ve sinned” anymore.  And we see all kinds of behaviors accepted by our culture that the Bible deems unacceptable and even repulsive to God.  Is that how Jesus treated people? (pause…)

How Jesus Loved People
There should be no doubt that Jesus loved people.  He proved his love by dying for us on the cross; not because we deserved it, but because we desperately needed it and Jesus loved us.  So his example is worth following.  Here’s how Jesus loved people.  He loved people enough to go be with sinners-even eat with them.  He did this, even though it put him at odds with the self-righteous religious leaders.  He was willing to leave 99 “good” sheep to go find the one foolish sheep that got himself lost.  At the same time, he never pretended the sinners he sought were not lost, were not sinners.  For example, once a woman was caught in the very act of adultery.  They dragged her int the city square and asked Jesus, "The Law of Moses says we should stone her.  What do you say?"  Jesus said, "He who is without sin, cast the first stone."  Then he stopped and began writing in the dirt.  We don't know what he wrote, the Bible doesn't say.  Some have speculated he began writing out all the sins the people in the crowd had committed.  At any rate, everyone in the crowd began to drop their stones and walk away.  When everyone was gone, Jesus asked, "Woman, has no one condemned you?"  "No, my Lord," she said. "Then neither do I.  Go and sin no more."  (John 8)

Recently, the local news showed some surveillance video of a vigilant school bus driver who saved a child from a terrible accident.  The bus had stopped to let a child off and the video shows the bus doors opening and the child is about to run down the steps out the door.  But the bus driver suddenly slammed the doors shut and grabbed the child's shoulder and yanked him away from the door just as a speeding car wooshed by the bus doors.  Apparently, the car driver got impatient with the bus driver and sped around the right side of the bus just as the doors of the bus were about to open.  If the bus driver had not been paying attention and stopped the child, the child would have certainly been killed or terribly maimed.  What would you have done?  I think we would have all screamed and reached out to stop the child if we were in that situation.  That is, in a sense, what we are doing when we tell someone they've sinned (or their about to sin).

The Bible teaches us that sin is terrible.  It destroys your life.  It destroys other people’s lives.  It destroys the world.  And God hates sin, so it destroys a sinners relationship with God, who is the source of life and love and peace and hope.  To refuse to tell someone, “You’ve sinned” is not much different from refusing to scream, “Watch out! You’re about to walk out in front of a speeding car!”  It’s actually worse, because the consequences of sin are eternal.  So if we truly do love someone, we must say, “You’ve sinned.”  To do otherwise is not loving at all, but terrible and hateful.

At the same time, we must never forget the last part of the statement:  “You’ve sinned, but I still love you.”  We must never forget we’ve all sinned.  We’ve all fallen short of the glory of God.  You’ve sinned.  I’ve sinned. And your sins are no worse than mine.  I have no reason to think myself better than you and you’ve no reason to think yourself better than me or anyone else. 

Conclusion
So don’t ever neglect to say, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you.”  That’s who were are—the Church—and that’s what we say and how we live.  It’s not optional.  It’s what Jesus does for us and what we are called to do for the world.

Monday, April 1, 2019

The Madness of Lust


Introduction
The definition of madness:  the state of being mentally ill, especially severely.  Another definition is: extremely foolish behavior.  Or it could be defined as:  a state of frenzied or chaotic activity.  Some synonyms for madness are:  insanity, mental illness, derangement, stupidity, lunacy, irrationality, bedlam, mayhem, chaos, pandemonium, and turmoil.

Sin is madness.  God created a perfect world and He said it was good. Then, as the crown jewel of all creation, God create people.  He created them male and female and He said they were very good.  In the beginning, there was no sin in the world.  Everything was good and perfect and in harmony with God.  But then, Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and taste the forbidden fruit and sin entered into the world.  Paradise was lost.  Darkness befell the earth.  Evil and disorder and death became rampant.  And all creation groaned.

The world we live in is not what God intended.  Every one of us has a spiritual illness, a form of madness, the madness of sin.  Over the last two months, I’ve shared about some of the basic forms of sin that plague humanity:  gluttony, pride, greed, sloth, wrath, and envy.  These basic sins are the root causes of all the evil we see in the world. They lead to disorder and darkness we know all too well in our world today.

I have one more basic sin to share with you today:  lust.  Lust is a psychological force producing intense longing for an object or circumstance.  Lust can take any form such as the lust for sexuality, love, money, or power.  There is a scene in the classic movie, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” where Willy Wonka invites everyone indulges in their candy coated fantasies as he sings about "pure imagination".  You can see expressions on each characters face that look a lot like lust.  Is it coincidence or intentional that the song is about using your imagination to intensify your longing for the good things in life?  That is much of what lust is: using your imagination to idolize the object for which you lust.

Matthew 5:27-30
27 “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

Come On Jesus, Is Lust Really that Bad?
Do we literally have to cut out our eyes or cut off our hands if we lust?  Thank God, no!  Jesus is speaking in hyperbole.  Hyperbole is a technique of speech whereby the speaker over exaggerates to make a point.  However, Jesus is serious that lust is a very serious sin.  Our thoughts lead to actions.  When we lust, it changes our thought patterns, which science shows can actually change your brain chemistry.  And your brain chemistry can change your behaviors.  Our thoughts lead our actions.  When we look at someone differently, we treat them differently--even if it's only in our subconscious.

The sexual revolution of the 1960s changed our priorities about sex.  I am a child of that sexual revolution.  I did not live through the 1960s, but my parents did and I was born in 1974.  Over the last 45 years of my life, I have seen the world's ideas about sex change drastically.  Some of those changes have been positive, but many have not.  One consequence has been that our culture now places sex up on a high pedestal.  Sex has become a sort of idol.  The popular mindset is that sex is regarded as one of the chief aims of life.  Our movies, our music, our television shows, and commercials lead us to believe that the norm should be that everyone is having sex all the time and in all places.  Something must be seriously wrong with us if we are not having lots of incredible sex all the time.  And for anyone to deny themselves or anyone else sex would be the worst kind of atrocity.  This is the common popular view of sex in our culture and it is a lie.  The Truth in God's Word is that sex is good and important, but it is not everything (like the world tried to say).  

Given our cultures fixation on sex, it is no wonder that lust has become rampant in our society.  We think about sex all the time.  Men and women lust after each other.  55% of married men and 25% of married women say they watch porn at least once a month.  The porn industry’s annual revenue is more than the NFL, NBA, and MLB combined. It is also more than the combined revenues of ABC, CBS, and NBC.  Lust is a huge problem in our society and it is destroying us.

So if  lust is such a serious problem, what must we do?

Accept God’s Grace for Your Past
The very first step with any sin is to repent as soon as we recognize it is a problem within us.  If you struggle with lust, turn to good, ask for forgiveness, and ask Him to help you be rid of it.  When it comes to lust, people often feel great shame.  They might feel, “God could never forgive me for this…”   

But the Word of God tells us God can and will forgive any sin.  We know how serious God is about wanting to forgive our sins because Romans 5:8 says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  God is personally invested in your struggle with sin and that includes all sins, even lust or sexual sin.  Through faith and repentance, we can be forgiven. You don’t have to live with shame, guilt, and fear because of your sexual sin. Turn to God and allow Him to cleanse you of your sin.

There are some things the people of this age need to know--things you need to know. First of all, lust is a terrible sin, but it is no more terrible than any other sin. It is the Enemy, Satan that evil villain, who sneaks up and whispers lies in our ears so that we get so mixed up about sex.  One lie that Satan has told many over the ages is that sex is bad and shameful.  This became the prevailing opinion in society during the Victorian period and it lingered into the first half of the 20th century.  People saw sex as dirty and unspeakable.  It was only to be used as an unfortunate means to make children.  It was a lie that even the church accepted and promulgated.  However, it was a lie.  It is not found in Scripture.  (This is why is is so imperative that the Church base it's teachings upon the Holy Bible and not human opinion!)  Scripture says God created sex and that it is good and beautiful and holy and sacred and powerful.  Really?  In the Bible?  Yes!  There is a whole book dedicated to sexuality--the Song of Solomon (AKA the Song of Songs).

And what I believe happened is there were many people who knew somehow in their heart that sex couldn't be so bad; they knew this because God created us and He created sex good and it's in our DNA.  And so the Devil slips in and whispers, "You know sex isn't bad.  The church is lying to you."  And finally enough people get fed up with the half truth of society and start believing the half truth of the Devil and they have a "revolution" that now says sex is good, but they go too far and we get what we have today which says something like, "Sex is more important than everything else."

So now people have to possible problems they may find in their hearts.  On the one hand, there are many people who struggle with lust who feel so ashamed, they can't tell anyone and they may even fear God can never forgive them.  They struggle with their lust in secret, afraid someone might find out and that God hates them.  Some find their situation so dark, they contemplate suicide--some even do commit suicide--because Satan is always whispering in their ear, "God could never love you; no one can."  Others, fed up with their feelings of guilt and shame and inability to break free from their lust,believe a different kind of lie.  Satan sneaks up to them (often through a world that idolizes sin and sexuality) and whispers, "You've been lied to.  There's nothing wrong with lust.  You just need to come out of the shadows and proudly own your sexuality.  Be loud and proud!"  And so many in our day and age come to the conclusion they must violently reject any teaching or teacher who says lust is bad.  They embrace their sin.  And to be sure, there is a great feeling of relief in this.  It is liberating as they come out of hiding for the first time and find that there is a world of people willing to embrace them.

God is something so much better!  God embraces us just as we are--sin and warts and all--but He also brings healing and wholeness.  We don't have to settle for the half truths and lies of the Devil that says revel in your sin.  God says, I will restore you to the wonder of my original sacred design.  It is a more difficult path to follow, but it is infinitely better and leads to eternal life.  Embracing our sin leads to death and destruction.  And Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14, "“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."  Choose the narrow way.

Live by God’s Grace Today through the Power of the Holy Spirit
When we repent, God forgives us immediately.  However, the path to healing takes time.  I currently have a broken bone in my foot.  It only took a single moment to break the bone.  And I went to the doctor the same day.  However, the healing will take many weeks, maybe months.  I have to follow the doctors orders in order to get well.  The same is true of our spiritual brokenness.  It takes time to heal, but God does heal it as we follow His treatment plan.  Through the spiritual disciplines of prayer, study, meditation, fasting, silence and solitude, etc., God begins to change us.  As we commit daily to be nourished by God’s Word, as read, study, spend time with God in the Bible, the HOly Spirit begins to sanctify us.  As we serve others, we begin to turn away from our selfish lustful pursuits and get out of ourselves by serving others.  

But there is one more thing that is essential in dealing with the sin of lust.  You must seek accountability from the community of faith.  Secrecy breeds sin; transparency fosters healing.  This is especially true when it comes to lust.  Lust makes us want to hide our sin in the shadows, because the light eats it away.  So we have to bring it out into the light.  Now, I understand you don't want the whole church knowing your embarrassing sin, so I don't recommend you tell just anyone who might go blabbing your business all about town and on social media.  However, you should find a pastor or trusted Christian friend or mentor who can pray with you and talk with you on a regular basis and hold you accountable.  We often fail to make progress with lust (or any sin really) because we try to handle it all on our own.  But sin and temptation are too heavy for us to carry all by ourselves.  That's why we need the Church; there is more strength when we work together as the Body of Christ.

And for some, lust and pornography, sexual addictions are every bit as strong as a drug addiction.  And there are groups like celebrate recovery and Sex Anonymous (that operate just like Alcoholics Anonymous) that are effective in helping sex addicts find sobriety from their sexual addictions.

Invitation 
I invite you to taste the sweet life in God’s Kingdom.  The Kingdom of God is neither sexual repression nor promiscuous indulgence.  It is so much more.  It is right down the middle of God's Truth.  It is Good.  It is Holy.  It is Sacred.  It is True.  It is living life through all eternity just the way God made us to be, in His wonderful presence, the Source of Life and True Love and Joy and Peace.



Monday, February 11, 2019

The Madness of Gluttony


Luke 5:29-31
29 Later, Levi held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests also ate with them. 30 But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?”
31 Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.

Introduction
The Pharisees scoffed at Jesus because he ate with sinners collectors.  I guess they didn’t realize they were sinners themselves.  I’m glad Jesus ate with sinners, because it means he will eat with me.  We are all sinners.  Sin is madness.  It is a form of insanity.  It destroys our lives, hurts people we love, a damages the world around us and yet we continue to do it because we are all a little insane.  

My wife and I watch a documentary recently about a serial killer.  Everyone (including us) said, “That person is pure evil!”  Perhaps it is because the madness in a killer is so obviously unnatural. we have no trouble calling them monsters or evil or insane.  Meanwhile, the same madness resides in all of us in a thousand smaller ways that are less obvious.  We are all consumed with the madness of sin.

And you know, most people know they are sinners.  Not many claim to be perfect.  And we don’t have a problem saying we need to be forgiven our ‘sins’.  But often, we use the word sin in a generic, blanket form without much real consideration of what specific sins we struggle with.  The trouble is you can’t address a problem unless you really know what the problem is.

So, in this series of blogs, I want to look at some of the basic sins that plague people.  My hope is we will recognize some of the specific ways we struggle with sin, so that we can repent and ask Jesus to forgive us and begin to heal us.

In the movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, several kids take a tour of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.  Each child's character flaws are revealed.  These character flaws  serve as a jumping off point for us as we consider the fundamental sins all people struggle with.

The Madness of Gluttony
Augustus Gloop wasn’t a bad kid; he was just enslaved by his appetite.  Augustus was a glutton.   Gluttony literally means to "to gulp down or swallow.”  (Just like the sound the word makes…)  Gluttony is over-indulgence and over-consumption of food, drink.  It can also apply to other common forms of over-indulgence too—binge watching netflix, buying too much clothes, or hoarding.

Now, food is not bad.  Jesus ate with sinners.  Many places in the Bible command us to feast.  And eternal life is often described as a great feast.  So the problem is not food or eating or even feasting.  Gluttony is a spiritual problem where we try to substitute food for God.

4 Basic Forms of Gluttony
There are four basic kinds of gluttony. The one we may be most familiar with is the gluttony of quantity. This is where eat too much. Have you ever had a craving for something salty? I have. And I went to look in the pantry to see if there was something there to satisfy it. Victory! There was a bag of Doritos! It was exactly what I was craving. And the first three or four or five doritos were the most heavenly treat. But I didn't stop at five. I kept going even after my craving was fulfilled. Even after my body started to say, "Ok. You really don't need any more." I kept chasing the pleasure the first few Doritos gave me even after they stopped giving pleasure. That is the gluttony of quantity and it is an epidemic in America.

Another form of gluttony is less recognizable. It is the gluttony of quality. It is demanding delicacies instead of being satisfied with what you have. This is like the Israelites when they wandered in the wilderness in the book of Exodus. God delivered them from slavery from Egypt and, even though they had no food of their own as they wandered, God provided manna from heaven so they would have something to eat. But instead of being thankful, the Israelites complained, saying,"We are so tired of eating this manna. We always had plenty to eat, back when were slaves in Egypt..." That's insane!  But people still do this today.  Have you ever known someone who just can't be happy with the food they are served?  They always complain: "This food has too much pepper or not enough pepper... or it's too spicy or it has too many onions or not enough onions." Whatever it is, they act like the food just isn't good enough for them.  They don't realize they are a kind of glutton because they think, “I’m not asking for too much.  All I want is a meal that is properly prepared, properly spiced, properly cooked, and properly presented.”  Then when all care has been made to serve the perfect plate, the quality glutton exclaims in exasperation, “Oh my!  That is far too much food!  I could never eat all that!”  The results are this kind of glutton is a nightmare to hosts and waiters, and furthermore they never really satisfied themselves.  How sad.

The third kind of gluttony is the of when to eat.  It is people who eat before the proper time.  Tehy eat because they may feel, “I can’t wait! I must eat it now!”  Do you remember Esau from the Old Testament.  He returned from a day hunting in the fields and he was very hungry.  He finds his brother cooking a pot of stew and Esau has to have food right away.  He can't wait another minute.  He is so hungry, he trades his inheritance for a bowl of stew!  Some people just can't say no to food.  It is their master and that is a kind of gluttony.

There is also the gluttony of why.  Have you ever found you don't even know why you are eating?  You are just mindlessly eating and you have no good reason.  You not eating because you are hungry and need energy.  You aren't sharing a meal with your friends or family.  It's not even a special occasion and you're celebrating.  You're not even eating to enjoy a good gift from God.  you're just mindlessly putting food into the emptiness of your soul.  This is the gluttony of why.

Gluttony is a terrible problem in America.  It leads to all kinds of health problems like obesity, cholesterol and high blood pressure.  These have become epidemics in our country.  But these are the symptoms.  The root problem is gluttony, which tries to fill a void it cannot fill.  It is a cliche to say, but it's true.  Everyone has a God shaped hole in our soul.  Only God can fill that void and make us whole.  But we try to fill that void with so many other things--including food.  And food brings a certain amount of pleasure, satisfaction, and filling.  However, it is never complete and so we just keep filingoursleves with more and more and find ourselves less and less satisfied with all kinds of terrible side effects.  n the end, food controls the glutton and makes him a slave.

The opposite of gluttony is not abstinence.  It is moderation.  Food is a good gift from God.  He wants us to enjoy it.  But God wants us to enjoy it in the right way.  The things we turn into sin don't usually start out bad.  They start with good wholesome things, but we twist them and misuse them in ways contrary to God's design.

The Solution to Gluttony
First of all repent and seek God’s forgiveness.  The very first step in solving any problem is recognize you have a problem.  We want to crinkle our noses at other forms of sin that society holds in contempt--murder, adultery, drug abuse, etc.  But gluttony is just as bad and can have just as many ill effects on society and individuals as any other sin.  And ultimately, gluttony seperates us from God as much as any other sin.  So we must recognize gluttony as the evil it is, repent, and turn to God for forgiveness and healing

Second, to break the power of gluttony, we have to find nourishment in something greater.  It's not enough to just buckling down and use our will power.  That may work for a time, but it doesn’t address the real problem and it will usually fail at some point.  The problem is, we are trying to fill a void in our life with food (or something else) that only Jesus can fill.  There is a real void there.  But food cannot satisfy it.  Understand this is a spiritual battle, not just a physical one.  This is not just about going on a diet or trying to reach a certain weight.  We have a real void in our life and we need Jesus to fill it.

Isaiah 55:1-2
 “Is anyone thirsty?    Come and drink—even if you have no money!
    Come, take your choice of wine or milk—it’s all free!
Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
    Why pay for food that does you no good?  Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
    You will enjoy the finest food.

When your appetite makes you feel empty inside, seek to fill that emptiness with Jesus instead of food.  Maybe that sounds hokey, but I’m serious.  The truth is, you’re not going to die if you don’t eat right now.  So, let your hunger pains be a reminder to spend time with Jesus.  Go to him in prayer.  Say, “Lord, I feel empty inside.  I’m so hungry.  Fill me Lord.” Meditate on the goodness of God.  Imagine yourself sitting around the table with Jesus, being filled not only with food, but more importantly with His love and goodness. Drink it all in.  Be filled.  Be full.  And wait for the right time to eat and then eat only what is right to eat and with the right attitude.

Third, seek accountability.  We are not meant to fight our battles alone.  We need partners in this.  Having a good friend or a spiritual advisor can be very helpful.  In some cases, a Christian counselor is really what’s needed if gluttony has taken the form of a food addiction.  When we struggle with gluttony, we need someone to hold us accountable.

Fourth, live in God’s grace.  Even if you never overcome this habit, God still loves you.  Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  You don’t have to lose weight in order for God to love you.  You don’t have to do anything for God to love you.  He already does.  Always has.  Always will.  He only wants you to work on your gluttony for your own sake.  He want you to be healthy and happy and as fully alive as you can be.  He wants you to actually enjoy food instead of being a slave to it. So, don’t be so hard on yourself.  God isn’t.

Closing
I invite you to consider your own life.  Do you struggle with gluttony?  Ask the Lord to reveal the truth and turn to Him for forgiveness and help and healing.  Focus on some ways you could allow the Lord to fill the void inside that you've been trying to stuff with food or drink or something else.  How could prayer, study, meditation, or worship be used to help you experience the true presence of Christ that satisfies all our deepest longings?