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

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?

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Fruit of the Spirit - Faithfulness


Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ has the Holy Spirit of God living inside them. 
The Holy Spirit is a powerful force.  It is the very power of God that was with God and was God creating the universe filled with trillions upon trillions of stars and planets and galaxies—so much that it would take you 27.4 billion years to travel from one side of it to the other if you could travel at the speed of light.

And when you have faith in Christ, the power of God’s Spirit takes up residence in your soul and begins to work His creative power in your life.  However, our powerful God is not a monster or a tyrant.  He will not force change upon you—even though He knows it’s for your own good.  He only grows change within you as you cooperate with His love and nurture the spiritual fruit He wishes to give you.  Like a garden—when tended and nurtured—the Fruit of the Spirit grows steadily within you until you reap a bountiful harvest.  The Apostle Paul wrote:

Galatians 5:22-23
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Faithfulness
I want to talk to you about faithfulness today.  According to Wikipedia:  “Faithfulness is the concept of unfailingly remaining loyal to someone or something, and putting that loyalty into consistent practice regardless of extenuating circumstances.  It may be exhibited by a husband or wife who, in a sexually exclusive marriage, does not engage in sexual relationships outside of the marriage.”  However, when we speak of faithfulness—as a fruit of the Holy Spirit—we are speaking of faithfulness in a relationship that is even higher than that of marriage.  We are primarily focused on faithfulness to God through Jesus Christ.  Our faithfulness to God leads us also to be faithful in all our other relationships, because doing so is an expression of our faithfulness to the Highest Power.

Before we were ever faithful, God was faithful to us.  He created us with the purpose of sharing His love—of living a life in loving relationship with God and each other.  Boy have we messed that one up.  The history of humanity has been a continual history of turning our backs on God and each other.  Yet God has been faithful to us, even when we have been totally unfaithful to Him.  Ultimately, God sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, in love to reconcile us to Him.  Yet we were unfaithful and murdered the Son of God on a cross.  Yet still, God didn’t turn His back on us.  Christ rose on the third day and continues to offer God’s love and forgiveness to all who repent of their sin, turn to God, and trust in Christ.  Through faith we have eternal life—but we have something even greater; we have a living, loving relationship with the God of the universe who is always faithful and challenges us to be faithful.

Faithfulness in Uncertainty
God calls us to remain faithful even when we don’t understand.  Faith, almost by definition, implies a degree of uncertainty.  We sometimes use expressions like "taking a leap of faith" to describe faithful obedience.  We even use a simple exercise to demonstrate faith—a trust fall—where you close your eyes and fall backwards into the arms of a colleague you trust (it can be an unnerving experience).  Faith implies that we don’t have all the answers, that sometimes we are walking through life in the dark and cannot see the way, but we are trusting in God’s faithfulness to get us through.  Even when we hurt, even when losses come that are too deep to fathom, even when we don’t understand and just want to give up, faithfulness means we just keep trusting God and walking through the darkness towards His voice.

We don’t have all the answers, but we do have some; we have enough to get started and we will get enough as we walk to continue walking the road of faith.  There are many who read the Bible and lament, "I don’t understand it."  It is true that there are many things in God’s Word that are very hard to understand.  However, there are also many things we read that are very clear and it’s not the things I don’t understand about the Christian life that disturb me most.  I am far more disturbed by the things I do understand.  For then I feel the Holy Spirit convicting me:  “Will you be faithful?  Will you obey?  Will you do what you know you should do?"

The Faithfulness of a Church Member
In the United Methodist Church, we try to spell out the ways we promise to be faithful to God when someone decides to become a member of the church.  Many feel church membership is no longer important.  "Why should I join as a member of a church?" They say, "Isn't that like joining a club?  It sounds so exclusive!"  And our culture reflects this devaluing of church membership more and more.  It mirrors the general aversion to commitment that runs throughout our society.  People ask some of the same kinds of questions about marriage.  "Why should I get married?"  They ask.  And for all practical purposes, it seems they have a point.  In our times, an unmarried couple can do just about everything a married couple can.  They can fall in love, live together, have sex, have and raise children together.  So many ask, why should they bother with marriage?  I would argue marriage is essential.  Here's why.  Through marriage, a man and a woman stand before God and witnesses and promise to love each other for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer, until death.  And until you make those promises to each other, the relationship can only go so far.  Until your partner knows that you are all in, 100%, completely committed to the very end, your relationship cannot go to the deepest levels.

And much the same is true of church membership.  You can attend a church and never become a member.  For most practical purposes, you will look and act just like a member.  You can attend, worship, sing in the choir, volunteer, and even serve in some official positions.  However, your relationship with God and the other members of the church can only go so far until you fully commit.  Until you stand before God and the whole church and promise to be 100%, all in, sold out to the mission of the church, you can only go so deep.  And so, I encourage everyone who really wants to go to the deeper levels in their spiritual journey to prayerfully consider joining a church as a member.

The very first step to becoming a member of my church Pleasant Grove United Methodist church) is to become a Christian.  You cannot be a member of our Church unless you are a Christian—meaning you have repented of your sins and placed your whole faith Jesus Christ, the Son of God, for your salvation.  So we ask potential church members some questions in front of the whole church to help them profess their faith in Christ.  We ask:
  • Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?
  • Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
  • Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?  

Local Church Membership
Having become a member of God’s “Holy Catholic” Church (that is the universal church that is made up of all believers in Christ from all places and in all times), now one makes a commitment to be faithful to a local congregation of the church.  So we ask potential members a few more questions about how they will be faithful to the local congregation.  We ask:  "As members of this congregation, will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness?"

Are you faithful to pray?  I recommend everyone should pray five times a day.  Say a prayer to start your day when you wake up and a prayer before you go to sleep.  That's two prayers.  Add to this a prayer to bless your food before every meal (which for most is three times a day) and you have five prayers.  But don't stop at just five prayers.  Live a live of prayer.  Throughout your day, say a breath prayer whenever you think about it (a breath prayer is a short prayer you can say in one breath).  So as you are sitting in traffic, aggravated by the person in front of you for going too slow, breathe out, "Lord Jesus help me to be patient."  As you pass an accident on the side of the road, pray, "Father, please help that person who is hurt."  When someone asks you to pray for their mother who is having surgery on Tuesday, right then as they are asking in your own mind pray "Holy Spirit, take care of their mother this Tuesday during her surgery."  In this way, you can be more faithful to pray.

Are you faithfully presence at church?  We need to be together with other Christians for worship, study, fellowship, and service.  This is best done in a local congregation.  Do you attend church weekly.  My own practice and what I encourage everyone to adopt is to miss no more than five Sundays of worship per year.  Does that seem excessive?  I don't think it is.  Last week I was talking with a South Korean pastor who explained that Christians in Korea have church 7 days a week.  On work days, thousands of Christians come in to the sanctuary as early as 5:00 AM for an hour long prayer service before they go to work.  It's no wonder that a great revival is taking place in South Korea, home of the largest Christian church in the world--Yoido Full Gospel Church--with 480,000 members.

Are you faithful in your giving?  The biblical standard is to offer 10% of your income God through the local church.  So if you earn $30,000 per year, you would give $3,000 to the church each year.  The church in America struggles to do all the good God calls us to do because we simply don't have the funding we need.  That problem would be instantly solved if every Christian would simply be faithful to give the tithe.  Maybe you are willing to jump straight into tithing.  But could you grow more faithful in your giving?  If you are only giving 1% right now, could you be more faithful to give 2-3%?  make it a goal to grow a little bit every year until you reach 10%.  And if you are already giving 10%, don't just sit back and fold your arms and say, "I've given all I need to give."  What was Jesus' standard for giving?  He said give it all.  Remember, he said if some ask you to carry their back for a mile, go an extra mile with them.  If someone demands your coat, give them your shirt also.  That sounds a lot like 100% giving to me.  Now, what you give is between you and God.  And no one at my church--me or anyone else--is going down the list checking to see who gives what or ranking people by their giving status.  That's between you and God and our church is all about grace.  Jesus doesn't want your money.  He wants your heart.  For where your heart is, there your treasure will be also.  I just want to encourage you to be faithful in your giving.

Are you faithful to serve.  Some people think, "Well I give a lot of money so I don't have to serve."  Members who join Pleasant Grove UMC promise to do both.  It's not either or; it's both and.  Faithful members give and serve.  So remember the words of Galatians 6:9, "So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up."

Are you a faithful witness?  A witness is simply someone who tells what Jesus has done for them.  A witness invites others to come and see what Jesus is doing in there church.  Are you a faithful witness?  How many people have you talked to about Jesus?  How many have you invited to church this year?  If you haven't invited anyone, what does that say about the faithfulness of your witness?

Repentance and Call to Faithfulness
If we are honest, we all see how we have fallen short in many of the areas in which we promise to be faithful.  It breaks my own heart to think of the ways I fall short and fail God who has been so faithful to me.  In particular, I struggle in the area of faithful prayer.  Don't get me wrong, I pray all the time, because I am a pastor.  I pray several times during the Sunday worship service.  I pray to open Bible studies, Sunday school classes, in prayer meetings, and with those who are sick or in the hospital.  Where I struggle is in praying when I am not operating as a pastor.  I think it's because I pray so much on other occasions.  I just get tired.  However, I have asked the Holy Spirit to help me be more faithful in this area of my life and I'm working on it.

How about you?  Can you be honest with yourself and God?  Can you confess where you have not been as faithful as you should?  Do you faithfully renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?  Do you faithfully accept the freedom and power God gives you every day to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves ?  Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and serve him as your Lord? Are you faithful pray, be present at church, to give, serve, and be faithful witness?

Perhaps God is calling you repent today.  Maybe you need to commit your life to Christ and becoming a Christian for the very first time.  Maybe you need to find a local church where you can join and become a faithful member.  Maybe you need to admit that you have not been faithful to the membership promises you’ve already made.

Even when we are unfaithful, God is still faithful.  In 1 John 1:9 it says, “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.”  Perhaps today, you would like to pray the following confession to God and ask the Holy Spirit to help you be more faithful.

Prayer of Confession
"Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved you with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbors as myself. I am truly sorry and I humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on me and forgive me; that I may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your name. Amen."

And now, I offer this prayer on your behalf:
Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life. Amen.