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

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Fight Fire with Fire?

Introduction
Today is Palm Sunday—the day we commemorate Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem where he was hailed by crowds of people from the city as the King of the Jews.  As we remember this remarkable occasion, I want to continue with our series that compares conventional wisdom with what Jesus actually said. 

Today, we consider the popular expression: “You’ve got to fight fire with fire.”  When someone says you have to fight fire with fire, it means to fight against an opponent by using the same methods or weapons that they use.  Fighting fire with fire is an actual fire fighting technique that started in the 19th century to combat forest fires.  A controlled burn of a strip of forest will create a barrier to an oncoming forest fire because it uses up all the available fuel. There is, however, always the risk that the "controlled burn" goes out of control and starts a new inferno. The technique works for forest fires and is still used to this day.  It has its place. 

Usually when people say, “You’ve got to fight fire with fire,” they’re not talking about forest fires.  What they mean is if someone is rude to you, you be rude right back to them.  If someone starts a nasty rumor about you, you start a nasty rumor about them.  In a larger communal context it means if another nation sinks one of your ships, you sink one of theirs (better yet, sink 3!).  If they drop a bomb on your territory, you drop a bomb on them? 

Fighting fire with fire in these contexts seems natural.  “Do unto others what they have done to you.”  But what did Jesus say?  Quoting Leviticus 19:18 (and what has become known as the “Golden Rule”), Jesus said: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  It’s a subtle difference that makes a world of difference.  The world says treat others the way they have treated you, but Jesus says treat people the way your want them to treat you.  That’s the way he lived. 

Jesus had the opportunity to fight fire with fire.  As He entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, crowds of people were shouting his praises.  They’d heard of his wonderful miracles and powerful teaching.  They were looking for a king who would free them from Roman oppression and restore the power and dignity of Israel’s glory days.  Could this Jesus who did so many wonderful things—driving out demons, healing the blind, feeding the multitudes, and even raising Lazarus from the dead—could Jesus be the long-awaited Messiah who would fight fire with fire for Israel against her enemies?  

Jesus had the popular support of the people.  He could have used it to start an uprising, but he didn't.  Let’s look at the story. 

Luke 19:36-44

36 As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. 37 When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.

38 “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!
    Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”

39 But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”

40 He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

41 But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. 42 “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. 43 Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. 44 They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.”

Palm Sunday – A Patriotic Scene
This is a patriotic scene.  The people of Jerusalem loved their country—just like many people love America.  They were waving their palm branches like many Americans wave the American flag at a Fourth of July parade.  Palm branches were a national symbol for Israel and were carved on Jerusalem’s Temple walls and doors. Kings and conquerors were welcomed home with palm branches strewn before them and waved in the air.  So as people waved their palm branches for Jesus, they were waving their national symbol of victory.    They were saying, “He’s the one!  He’s the one who will save us from the Romans!”  And they even shouted Hosanna, which originally translated something like: “Please!  Save us now!”

 

How does one save a nation like Israel?  Well, one way would be to fight fire with fire.  You could raise an army to fight the Romans in open battle.  This was nearly impossible.  Rome was the most powerful empire in the world.  They always won their wars.  They were too powerful, too well organized, and too learned in the strategies of war.  No one could defeat them.  Even if they lost a battle, they would eventually win the war.  Israel was a small territory with no organized army and no allies to help fight against Rome.  And outright war would be suicide.

There was always the possibility of guerrilla warfare, where individuals or small cells of freedom fighters ambushed Roman soldiers or assassinated pro-Roman leaders.  There were many who were already doing this in Jesus' day.  One person mentioned in the Bible--Barabbas--many scholars believe was a freedom fighter.  You may recall that when Jesus was on trial, Pilate tried to release Jesus but the crowd chose Barabbas instead of Jesus.  Guerrilla warfare is brutal and takes a long, long time to wear down the enemy.

Many of the political leaders in Jerusalem--like the Pharisees and Sadducees--begrudgingly worked with the Romans and bided their time until the day they felt it was possible to break free.  These were the people who felt especially threatened by Jesus' popularity and wanted him killed.  They were afraid he would upset the delicate balance of power in their world.

Jesus had a different plan.  He said, "My Kingdom is not of this world."  Even though Jesus had the unlimited power and resources of God at his disposal, he chose not to fight the Romans. He could have defeated them, but what would that accomplish? It would just set up another earthly kingdom by earthly means with all the same problems that plague all the earth.  There would still be corruption, abuse of power, injustice and oppression, and we would still have the core problem of sin that separates us from God.  

Jesus wanted something better and He offered Jerusalem a better choice.  He said, "Repent of your sin and turn to God because the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!"  He said, "Deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me!" because chasing after our own selfish ambitions is what leads to all the world's problems.  He preached, "Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you!" because His Kingdom is not just for the Israelites, it's for the Romans too (and for Americans and Russians and Egyptians and Koreans and everybody everywhere).  Jesus said, "If a Roman soldier demands you carry his pack one mile, carry it a second mile without even being asked.  And if someone demands you coat from you, give them your shirt too."  And then Jesus commissioned all His followers to "Go into all the world and encourage everyone to live this way."  For when the whole world finally lives by Jesus' principles, their peaceful Kingdom of Heaven will finally come upon the earth.


Jerusalem’s Brief Independence
Even as Jesus gave Jerusalem the option, He knew the tragic choice they would make.  They would choose to fight fire with fire instead of love and they would reap the consequences.

I want to share with you the story of how Jerusalem won independence from the Roman empire.  You probably don’t know this story, but it’s true.  In 66 AD (about 30 years after Christ came to Jerusalem and was crucified), religious tensions worsened in Jerusalem and lead to open rebellion.  After Jewish worshippers witnessed Greek civilians sacrificing birds in front of a local synagogue, they were incensed and complain to the Roman authorities.  Their complaints were ignored, which led to am uprising.  Roman soldiers tried to put down the riot, but there were too many people.  Civillians joined with the rioters and attacked and killed the soldiers.  Surviving soldiers fled the city along with the pro-Roman King Agrippa II.

 

Jerusalem was free!  But for how long?  A Roman legion soon arrived from Syria to restore order, but was somehow defeated and Jerusalem remained free!  Jerusalem’s success inspired many other towns in Judea to throw their lot in with the rebels.  There was growing sense that finally the Jewish people would restore their nation to its former glory.

 

In 66 AD, the Judean Provisional Government was formed and  Ananus ben Ananus, the former High Priest of Israel, was appointed one of the heads of the government.  They even minted their own coins, an important symbol of freedom because the money no longer bore the image of a Roman emperor. On the coins were inscribed in Hebrew “the Shekel of Israel” and “the Freedom of Zion”.

 

Jerusalem was ruled by the Judean Provisional Government from 66 – 68 AD.  Unfortunately, infighting led to the killing of most of its members as all the different factions fought against each other and vied for power.  From 68-70 AD, various despots rose to power, but there was no attempt to restore civil government.

 

On April 14 in 70 AD, three days before the beginning of Passover, the Roman army arrived and laid siege to Jerusalem.  The city was bloated with Jews from all over who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  Three Roman legions surrounded the city—allowing no one in or out.

 

The Jerusalem defenders, made up of vicious gangs and factions who had been at war with each other for years, now found themselves surrounded by an overwhelming and organized Roman force.  They had no idea how to work together to defend Jerusalem.  Among one of their ludicrous plans was to destroy all the food stored in the city, "a drastic measure thought to have been undertaken perhaps in order to enlist a merciful God's intervention on behalf of the besieged Jews, or as a stratagem to make the defenders more desperate, supposing that was necessary in order to repel the Roman army.”[i]

 

The Romans lay siege to Jerusalem for 5 months, hoping to starve the inhabitants of Jerusalem into submission.  Inevitably, the Romans built siege works and breached the city walls.  Soldiers swarmed the city and destroyed everything—included the sacred Temple--fulfilling Jesus' prophecy, in Luke 19:44, "They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.”  


Jewish historian, Josephus, claimed that 1.1 million people died in the siege—either by famine, disease, or sword.  After the Romans killed all the armed men, they also murdered the elderly becuase they had no use for them.  Jerusalem’s remaining citizens--91,000 people--became Roman slaves.  Thousands were forced to become gladiators and eventually expired in the arena.  The Romans celebrated by parading the sacred Menorah and Table of the Bread of God's Presence through the streets of Rome. Up until then, these items had only ever been seen by Jerusalem's High Priest in the Holy Temple.

 

Conclusion
Abigail Van Buren (who started the “Dear Abby” column in 1956) once said, “People who fight fire with fire usually end up with ashes.” 

 

Jesus has a better way.  He offered Jerusalem his better way.  They refused it.  Instead, they chose Barabbas and crucified Jesus.  History shows what came of their decision to try and fight fire with fire.

 

How about you?  What will you choose?  Will you choose what seems most natural to sinful human nature—to fight fire with fire?  Or would you instead choose the narrow path—the one few take, but the only one that leads to life, to healing, to peace, and to eternal salvation?

 

Jesus pleads for you today as he pleaded for Jerusalem on Palm Sunday 2,000 years ago.  Luke 19:41 – “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace.

 

You can.  You can turn away from the fire to Jesus today.  You can choose His way over the ways of the world. 

 

Will you? 

Monday, March 22, 2021

Revenge

Introduction I’m was so glad to have my mom at church with me Sunday.  It’s been over a year since she’s been able to come visit with us because of COVID.  But she’s been vaccinated and she’s here today (along with my mother-in-law and my daughter who is home from college).  Actually, Mom has been worshipping with us almost every week.  Since COVID forced us to innovate and ramp up or online worship experience, she has been able to join us for worship online—even though she lives all the way down in Hawkinsville, GA—4 hours away.  We’ve had other worship with us like this, who are too far away to join us. That's one of the blessings the pandemic has brought to our church. We now have a good online broadcasting capability.

My mom was a great mom.  She was my primary care giver, nurturer, teacher, and disciplinarian.  One of her rules was not to fight at school.  In fact, I can remember several times I refused to fight someone simply because my mom told me not to.  I was too afraid of the consequences I would face when I got home if I fought while I was a school.


But sometimes, not often, but sometimes, my mom would decide not punish me herself.  Instead, she would say something that I would dread.  She would pull out the ultimate punishment card when she said, “You just wait until your dad gets home and I tell him what you did.”  That was enough to send ice through your veins!  You didn’t want Dad to punish you.  That was the worst!


Parents are responsible for disciplining their kids.  It’s a heavy burden.  As a parent, those times when I had to discipline my own children were some of the most difficult, heart-breaking moments of parenting.  You have to set aside your anger and disappointment and try to teach and “encourage” your kids to do better, even if it “hurts you worse than it hurts them”.  That’s why I’m so thankful I am NOT responsible for disciplining everyone.  Taking care of my own kids is enough responsibility for me.


In this series, we’re comparing the world’s conventional wisdom to what Jesus said.  One thing the world says is: “Revenge is sweet!”  Along those lines, people say things like, “When someone does you wrong, don’t get mad; get even!”  It seems like the most natural thing in the world.  If someone pushes you, you push them back. Right?  You don’t even think about it.  If you don’t get back at them right away, you might wait for bit until they forget about it because another thing people say is: “Revenge is a dish best served cold!”


We’ve heard these expressions, but what does Jesus say?

Matthew 5:43-48
43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends,[c] how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.


God and Revenge
People today expect to hear Jesus say something like this.  We know Jesus is supposed to be merciful and forgiving.  However, Jesus message was revolutionary to the people of his day.  They;d never heard anything like it. People want revenge.  They want to get even with those who’ve wrong them.  

Most primitive societies were very vengeful.  Every wrong had to be avenged.  In fact, the biblical command to take “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was originally given to calm people down.  In the ancient middle east, if you attacked my son and poked out his eye, I might come after you and take revenge by killing you and your whole family.  That was the world’s type of “justice”; really it was just evil vengeance.  So God said, “Only take and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. That's fair. That's justice."


Left to our own devices, people are incredibly vengeful and vindictive.  In fact, have you ever thought maybe we think God is vengeful because we are so vengeful? The fact that we see God as being an angry, vengeful God may be more of a reflection of our own attitudes than the attitude of God Himself.  Think about it.  If there’s anyone in the universe who has a right to be angry and seek revenge, it’s God.  He created this beautiful world where everything was absolutely perfect and then he made human beings as the crown jewel of His creation.  Then God put people in charge of it all and we screwed the whole thing up!  No matter what God has done to fix it, His rebellious human creatures disobey Him time and time again and have turned the world into an incredibly ugly place full of evil.  If anyone has a right to be angry and vengeful it is God.


However, when God comes down to the earth and puts on human flesh as Jesus Christ, instead of being vengeful, He is incredibly merciful!  In fact, he’s patient with our sin—even though so many misunderstood or rejected Him.  Even through all his suffering and people disrespecting him or cursing him, Jesus does nothing but good to people while He’s on earth.  And ultimately, Jesus doesn’t even resist when they falsely accuse Him and crucify Him.  As he is hanging on the cross, this God everyone thought was so “vengeful” prays, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)


Jesus on the Cross
I think so much of the blood lust for vengeance we perceive in God may actually be our own sinful attitudes we transfer onto God.  Because throughout the Bible, God speaks out against taking revenge.  Leviticus 19:18 - “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”  Romans 12:19 – “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 1 Peter 3:9 – “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”  

Is it possible to give up on revenge?  There is something in us—a divine spark—that cries out for justice.  We know in our heart of hearts that wrongs need to be made right.  Justice is required.  That’s not a bad thing.  Justice is part of God’s original design and ultimately justice must be served.


The issue is, we are not the ones to bring Ultimate Justice.  God is responsible for seeing that true Justice is served.  Too often, our judgment is clouded—especially if we or someone we really care about has been wronged.  Our anger and resentments, our hurts distort our view of Justice.  Furthermore, we don’t see the big picture.  Things may be at play behind the scenes that we don’t understand (or even care about if we’re the one who’s been wronged).  God is the only one who has the wisdom to institute the right kind of justice.  Furthermore, He’s the only innocent party beyond reproach who has the right to pass ultimate judgment, because we're all guilty of something.  Lastly, God is the only one with the unlimited power necessary to bring true evil to justice.


Let me share a little secret with you.  It is a great relief to let go of revenge.  You don’t have to carry the burden of exacting revenge anymore.  It’s almost like what my mom used to say to me when I was a kid and I got in really bad trouble.  She would say, “You just wait until your Father gets home!”  Can you look at the person who wronged you and say, “I’m done with this.  It’s not my job to get you back.  This is in God’s hands.  Just wait until your Heavenly Father comes back!”  Can you trust in your heart of hearts that vengeance is indeed the Lord’s?  Let me tell you something, God can punish people in ways you can’t even imagine.  Think about that for a minute…  

(Also know, God will never punish someone in ways they don’t deserve, but you might…)


Love Your Enemies
Jesus goes even further.  Not only does he tell us not to seek revenge.  He says, “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.”  As followers of Christ, we follow His example.  Jesus was merciful and forgiving.  Even when people crucified Him, He forgave.  We should too.  

I understand that is incredibly hard to do.  In fact, we can't do it by ourselves.  We need God’s Holy Spirit to help us.  As the Holy Spirit helps us love people who have done us wrong, the Holy Spirit heals us.  So when you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, it actually helps you.  You’re opening up your wounded heart to the healing touch of God.  And He will heal you and make you stronger and better.


Disclaimer

Now, forgiveness doesn’t mean you pretend the way someone hurt you is no big deal.  It is.  You’ve been hurt.  It may even be necessary to hold someone accountable.  They may need to be legally prosecuted and face human justice though our legal system. That in itself can be a loving thing to do—to hold someone accountable.  (The most unloving thing to do might be to just let them keep on running wild). So don't confuse forgiveness with a lack of accountability. Forgiveness simply frees you from the burden of expecting payback when payback can never or will never be made.


Closing Meditation

As I close, I would like to guide you in a meditation. Open your heart to the Holy Spirit and consider:

Who has wronged you and how? Thin about that for a minute...


Have you forgiven them? Why or why not? Can you forgive them? Are you still expecting payback? Can they make it right? Will they? Talk to God about this...


Finally, how could you actually love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?

"Father, help the person reading this to understand Your wisdom and love.  Help them to have a breakthrough today.  Take away all vengeful spirits from them.  Fill them with the compassion of Christ.  Release them from the burden of needing payback.  Help them to trust You to take care of justice and to be thankful for the mercy you offer them in Christ for their own sins.  I ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen."



Monday, March 1, 2021

What Happens in Vegas

Introduction
In February of 2003, an ad campaign began that USA Today named the most effective of the year.[i]  “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”  Since then, the slogan has become a mainstay pop culture, inspiring two Hollywood movies, a song by Usher, and even First Lady, Laura Bush got in on the action, using the tagline in a discussion with Jay Leno on The Tonight Show in 2005. 

“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”  I guess that’s a good thing.  Vegas has made a name for itself as an immensely popular getaway destination.  You can eat, party, gamble, see the sights, see the lights (and see some things you shouldn’t see!).  There are concerts, magic shows, and entertainment of all sort—both of the wholesome and unwholesome kind.  All this entertainment draws nearly 50 million people to “Sin City” every year.  People come from all over to forget about the worries of life for a little while, let their hair down, and have a good time. 

Vegas also hosts around 20,000 meetings and conventions annually.  It was just such a convention that attracted my wife and I to Vegas a few years ago.  Kelly attended a Neonatal nursing convention and we decided to extend the trip a few days and make it a nice getaway.  However, we were much more interested in the sights outside of Los Vegas in the surrounding dessert.  We went hiking in Red Rock Canyon.  We drove over to see the Grand Canyon.  While Kelly was attending her conference, I drove out and saw the Valley of Fire State Park and also part of Death Valley (one of the hottest places on earth that is 282 feet below sea level).  We did walk around the city together one night.  It was interesting to see the neon lights, the crowds, the architecture, the water fountains.  But to be honest, Kelly and I are not huge fans crowded cities.  We like peace and quiet. 

Well, the slogan “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” is quite popular.  People like to have a place where they can do whatever they want without anyone else know about it.  And who hasn’t done something at one time or another they would prefer to keep secret?   

The truth is you don’t have to go to Vegas to live out a secret life.  In the internet age, all you need is a few clicks and you can find almost anything you want and no one has to know about it. Maybe we should change the slogan to: “What happens on the internet, stays on the internet.” 

The internet is the default place now where people go to live a secret life.  You don’t have to get on a plane and fly to Vegas.  You don’t have to spring for an expensive hotel room.  All you need is Google.  Stats from my Google search this morning revealed 35% of off all downloads from the internet are pornographic.  Who knew?  “What happens in Vegas (or on the internet) stays in Vegas.” 

In this series, we take what the world says and compare it to what Jesus said.  So, what did Jesus say?

Luke 12:2
The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all.

Human nature hasn’t changed much in 2,000 years.  In Jesus day, the Pharisees were the most popular, well-respected religious/political groups in Israel.  Pharisees were known for their religious devotion.  They believed in God and taught people to follow God with extreme devotion.  They tried to lead by example.  They studied the Bible “religiously”—many having memorized the first five books of the Bible by age 12![ii]  Can you imagine?  (And that includes Leviticus and Deuteronomy, what many consider two of the dullest books in the Bible!) 

Pharisees believed the way to earned God’s blessing and inherit eternal life was to live the Torah perfectly--only then did a person deserve the right to be called God’s chosen.  So, the Pharisees tried to live holy lives.  They tried hard.  By outward appearances, the Pharisees it appeared to many they were perfect. 

Romans 3:23
Unfortunately, there is a dark truth about human nature that no one can escape.  Romans 3:23 spells it out in the New Testament.  “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” 

It doesn’t matter how hard we try to live a perfect life, we all fail.  You fail.  I fail.  Even the pope fails.  (And that’s if we are really, really trying!  A lot of people aren’t even trying to be good!)  The Pharisees did try.  They tried really hard, but even the Pharisees failed.  However, they had an image to uphold.  Their reputation ensured they stayed in power.  Even thought they knew themselves well enough to know they were not perfect, they had to keep up appearances to maintain their position in society. 

So, Pharisees did a lot of things to support the image of being religious and devout.  They would gather a crowd on a street corner and pray long, religious prayers for everyone to see.  They would go through town and ring a bell as they handed out money to the poor.  They would wear long, flowing religious robes that made them stand out as holy. They sat in the places of highest honor in the synagogues and at religious festivals.  All these things Jesus pointed out and condemned because they were only for show—to make people think the Pharisees were more perfect than they were. 

Of course, a lot of people already knew the Pharisees weren’t so perfect.  No one can maintain a façade of perfection.  There’s always someone, somewhere who knows the truth.  And ultimately, God knows the truth.  Nothing is kept hidden from Him—even what you do in Vegas

The Pharisees couldn’t fool God and neither can you.  One day, Jesus said, everything “that is secret will be made known to all.”  What you did in Vegas, what you did on the internet, even your deepest secret thoughts that no one else knows about will be revealed. 

Closing
But there is Good News.  You don’t have to be perfect in order to earn God’s love, forgiveness, and salvation.  God already loves you!  God loves you so much, He came down to our broken world and laid down His own life for us on the cross.  This proves that God doesn’t want to condemn us, but to save us.  For while we were still sinners, Christ came and died for us. (Romans 5:8)

And as 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”

And so, God says to us all, “Come now, let’s settle this. Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow.”   (Isaiah 1:18) 

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) 

Won’t you turn from your sins and turn to God today and let Him wash you clean.  What happened in Vegas (or whatever) doesn’t have to stay in Vegas.  It can be forgiven and washed away completely, forever! 

So “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.”  Live for God from this day forward.  Leave the past behind and press on toward the future God has for you, and the eternal life that is the hope and reward of all who follow Christ as Lord.

  

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Things Fall Apart, Ep. 2 - Lonely and Forgotten

Introduction
A long time ago, in a land far away…
Joseph, a bright young man with the incredible ability 
to dream about the future, believed everyone would one day bow down before him. 
However, his plans for future dominance fell apart 
when his jealous brothers overpowered him and sold into slavery. 
Joseph found himself at the very bottom, serving as a slave 
in an Egyptian commander’s house. 
But God did not forget Joseph. 
His master, Potiphar, recognize Joseph’s special abilities 
and put him in charge of the whole estate. 
All was going well, until Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph. 
Joseph would not sin by committing adultery 
so Potiphar’s wife accused him of trying to rape her. 
Once again, Joseph’s hopes for fame and fortune fell apart... 
In today’s episode, we find Joseph rotting in the royal dungeon 
with two of Pharaoh’s former servants: a baker and a cup bearer. 
And yet, because God’s blessing rests on Joseph, 
everywhere he goes, he rises to the top. 
But what good is it to be at the top if you’re in chains, 
lonely and forgotten…

Genesis 40:5-23

While they were in prison, Pharaoh’s cup-bearer and baker each had a dream one night, and each dream had its own meaning. When Joseph saw them the next morning, he noticed that they both looked upset. “Why do you look so worried today?” he asked them.

And they replied, “We both had dreams last night, but no one can tell us what they mean.”

“Interpreting dreams is God’s business,” Joseph replied. “Go ahead and tell me your dreams.”

So the chief cup-bearer told Joseph his dream first. “In my dream,” he said, “I saw a grapevine in front of me. 10 The vine had three branches that began to bud and blossom, and soon it produced clusters of ripe grapes. 11 I was holding Pharaoh’s wine cup in my hand, so I took a cluster of grapes and squeezed the juice into the cup. Then I placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.”

12 “This is what the dream means,” Joseph said. “The three branches represent three days. 13 Within three days Pharaoh will lift you up and restore you to your position as his chief cup-bearer. 14 And please remember me and do me a favor when things go well for you. Mention me to Pharaoh, so he might let me out of this place. 15 For I was kidnapped from my homeland, the land of the Hebrews, and now I’m here in prison, but I did nothing to deserve it.”

16 When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given the first dream such a positive interpretation, he said to Joseph, “I had a dream, too. In my dream there were three baskets of white pastries stacked on my head. 17 The top basket contained all kinds of pastries for Pharaoh, but the birds came and ate them from the basket on my head.”

18 “This is what the dream means,” Joseph told him. “The three baskets also represent three days. 19 Three days from now Pharaoh will lift you up and impale your body on a pole. Then birds will come and peck away at your flesh.”

20 Pharaoh’s birthday came three days later, and he prepared a banquet for all his officials and staff. He summoned his chief cup-bearer and chief baker to join the other officials. 21 He then restored the chief cup-bearer to his former position, so he could again hand Pharaoh his cup. 22 But Pharaoh impaled the chief baker, just as Joseph had predicted when he interpreted his dream. 23 Pharaoh’s chief cup-bearer, however, forgot all about Joseph, never giving him another thought.

Loneliness
Poor Joseph. Every time he starts to rise like a star, someone does him wrong and it costs him.
First his brothers assaulted him and sold him into slavery.
Then Potiphar’s wife accused him of rape and Joseph ends up end prison--back in chains again only worse.  (How can anything be worse than being a slave?  Oh, being in a dungeon!)
Now the chief cup-bearer—a man with the influence to rescue Joseph—forgets him.
But God didn’t forget about Joseph and we will hear more about that story next Sunday, but today I want to talk about loneliness.

Have you ever felt lonely or forgotten, like no one cares about you?
Loneliness is a plague in our times. We are more connected than ever through technology. However, people seem lonelier than ever.  And currently, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, so many people are struggling with loneliness because we're trying to be more socially isolated for the sake of public health.  It's a real problem, because thing we're asked to do to keep people safe is the very thing that also fuels loneliness, which is a detriment to our mental/emotional health.

Loneliness can strike at any age of life. Your child might feel lonely if they struggle to make friends. They may be in a classroom full of other kids, but they feel lonely because they cannot connect. A college student who moves away from home for the first time may feel lonely and homesick because everything they are used to has changed. People often struggle with loneliness when things in their life fall apart: a child grows up and leaves home, someone is betrayed by a friend, a marriage ends in divorce, a loving spouse dies, etc.  You may also feel very lonely if you face a chronic debilitating illness; even if you have many people supporting you, no one really understands what you are going through and that makes you feel lonely. You would think that celebrities would be imune from feeling lonely, right?  I mean, they have thousands of people who love and adore them.  Surely they wouldn't fell lonely.  Unfortunately, people with a lot of fame often feel very lonely, because no one really knows them; people only know their persona and that itself can be very isolating.  Perhaps that is why we often hear of very famous celebrities committing suicide.  There are many things in life that can make you feel lonely. Have you ever struggled with loneliness? Are you struggling with loneliness now? 

Loneliness is often misunderstood. Loneliness is not  a state of being alone.
Loneliness is a state of feeling alone. A person can be in a crowd of people and still feel alone.
On the other hand, some people can be happy all by themselves for a long time and not feel lonely.
A person who is lonely may feel like no one listens to them. They feel isolated, forgotten, empty, incomplete, unloved, abandoned, unimportant. Loneliness is a dark, depressing place.

The Cure for Loneliness
God doesn’t want us to feel lonely. When God made us, “He said, It is not good for man [or woman] to be alone. I will make a helper that for him.” (Genesis 2:18). God created us for relationships—relationships with God and with each other. We’re designed to be social creatures. That’s why loneliness leads to health problems, substance abuse, antisocial behavior, heart disease and stroke, decreased memory and learning, depression and suicide, and poor decision-making. It’s important to deal with loneliness, but where do we begin?

What I’m about to say may sound like a church cliché, but it really is true. Hear me out.  

The cure for loneliness is Jesus. You were deigned from the very beginning to be in a relationship with God. That is why God made people. Tragically, sin separates us from God and breaks our our relationship with Him.  There's a deep void in our soul that only God can fill, but we can't be filled because sin is in the way.  And this makes our souls desperately hungry and thirsty.  So many times, people feel lonely and they try to address loneliness in all the wrong ways. 

People often try to solve loneliness by acquiring material things.  They think if they have the latest gadget or the nicest car in town everyone will love them and they won't be lonely anymore.  Or they reason, "If I have a really nice house with all the amenities, I will be comfortable and happy.  And I could even invite people over to visit. Then I won't be lonely."  It never works.  There are many people who have all these things and are still lonely. "Well," you say, "Of course that won't work.  Loneliness is about relationships."  And that's true.

That's why many people try to cure loneliness by building relationships with people.  And that may address half of the problem, but it doesn't really get to the heart of the matter.  The problem is, we were made for a relationship with people and God.  But when we turn to people to address the yearning we have for God, they cannot fill that void.  If they love us and truly care about us, they may try, but they will always fail.  We will be left disappointed and they will be upset that they let us down.  And this type of heartbreak happens all the time, because people who are lonely try to fill the longing for God in their soul with the love of people and it just won't work.  It's not fair to expect mortals to satisfy us in way that only the Divine can satisfy us.  Unfortunately, there are also many, many people in this world who do not love you or have your best interest in mind.  Because they are lonely and broken too and desperately trying to fill the hole in their soul, they will abuse you and use you.  And because you are lonely and desperate, you will allow them in the vain hope that a relationship with them will satisfy your deep yearning.  I see it happen so often that many people will submit themselves to bad relationship after bad relationship seeking a cure for loneliness that people cannot give.

And some will get so hurt by people they give up and decide to just build walls to keep people out.  They don't want to be hurt anymore so they just won't let anyone in any more.  Walls work well to keep people out, but they also keep you in.  Soon you find you are trapped in a prison even worse than the dungeon in which Joseph found himself.  That's not what you need.

Others will try to numb the pain of loneliness with drugs or alcohol.  And that may make you feel better---at first.  If you're drunk or high you may not feel the pain for a time.  But then you sober up and you feel it again.  And you have to get drunk or high again and each new cycle require more and more to make the pain go away.  Soon, you build up such a tolerance it doesn't work anymore.  And now you're in an even worse state because you broken and lonely and hurting and drunk or high.

Jesus is the only cure, because Jesus can to address our sin.  Jesus went to the cross on Calvary to pay the price of our sin.  His blood shed there washes away our sin so nothing separates us from God.  Now we can have a relationship with God when we repent and turn to Jesus as our Lord and allow Him to save us.  Then we begin to enjoy a fresh relationship with the God who created us for that very purpose!  Now we are free to also have healthy relationships with people because we don't expect them to give us what only God can give.  Now they are free to give us what people were suppose to give.

“But I have Jesus and I still feel lonely!”  You may still feel lonely at times after you become a Christian and begin a real relationship with Jesus. This can happen because our thinking is sometimes still immature  or because God allows lonely feelings in order to helps us grow our faith. 

Loneliness is a kind of separation anxiety. Small children feel separation anxiety when their parents leave them with a babysitter. They may cry as if their precious little hearts have been broken in pieces! They may feel abandoned and lonely. (And in a few minutes, hopefully, the get over it, right?) Of course (even though it breaks a parent’s heart to see this), we know the child is not abandoned. Right? As mature adults, we know, but the child is still immature and is still learning. They will grow up and eventually be able to be separate from their parents for longer and longer without feeling abandoned or lonely.

Similarly, overcoming loneliness for Christians is a natural part of growing in spiritual maturity. So don’t feel guilty or ashamed if you are a Christian and you still feel lonely. This is part of growing up in the faith and we all grow and mature in different ways at different times.  You may even struggle with loneliness as a Christian after you are quite spiritually mature, because God sometimes allows it in order to strengthen your faith and teach you endurance.  We must practice knowing that we are not alone—even if we at times feel alone. If Jesus is your Lord, His Holy Spirit is with you always—as close as your own heart. Cling to that Truth, especially in your loneliest times.

Find an End to Loneliness Through Jesus
Are you feeling lonely and forgotten?
I want to tell you today that the cure is found only through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
No one knows about loneliness better than Jesus. 
He left the glory of His Home in Heaven to come to our dark and broken world.
(Don't you know he must have been Homesick quite often?)
Jesus lived among people who didn’t understand him, were afraid of him and felt threatened.
Even His friends didn’t always get Him. In the end, those closest to him literally betrayed Him, abandoned Him, and denied HIm. He was tortured and nailed to a cross. And as Jesus was dying a horrible death, he cried out from Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (This is the prayer of someone who feels abandoned.) So when you feel lonely and forgotten, abandoned, unloved, unimportant, isolated, Who better to turn to than Jesus who came specifically to save you and went through all those feelings to do it? 

Material things won’t fill the void in your life.  People, friendships, romantic relationships, sex, none of these things will fill the emptiness inside you either.  Only Jesus, the Son of God, sent to save you and restore your relationship with God, the source of life and love, can help you with your loneliness.  Won’t you turn to Jesus today and be saved?  You can do that today.  I pray you will.  What’s stopping you?

And Christians, you who already follow Christ as your Lord.  Are you still struggling with loneliness too?  Why is that?  Is it because you are still looking for love and fulfillment in the wrong places?  Sometimes—even after we turn to Christ—we keep looking for joy and peace and love in the things of this world and the people of this world.  It’s an old habit that’s tough to break.  We have to look to Jesus first.  We have to practice finding our first and best relationship in Him.  Until Jesus is your all, everything else will suffer.  “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, he will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:33)

Won’t you decided to put Jesus first in your life today?  Won’t you choose this day to find your greatest relationship needs fulfilled by your relationship with the King?  Because when you do, all your other relationships will grow deeper and more fulfilling.  And the one’s that don’t grow (or come to an end) won’t bother you nearly as much because you are grounded in the infinite, perfect love of Christ.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Don't Be a Grinch


Introduction
Every summer, my church has a tradition to celebrate Christmas in July one summer in the middle of the month.  We sing Christmas songs and hear the Christmas message.  It's just a fun thing to do to break up the monotony of summer.  Plus, Christmas is such a busy time of year full of rushing around in December; so we thought it would be nice to remember the true many of Christmas at a less hectic time of year.

One of my favorite Christmas movies is "The Grinch" from 2000.  I'll talk about that in a minute, but first, let's hear God's Word.

Mark 11:22-25
22 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. 24 I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. 25 But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”

The Grinch and Cindy Lou Who
In the movie "The Grinch", there is an interesting contrast between two characters--Cindy Lou Who and the Grinch.  Jim Carey plays the part of the Grinch who every one is afraid of.  Local Whoville legend is the Grinch is a monster who will rip to shreds anyone who dares disturb him.  Ironically, though he's thought to be string, the Grinch actually represents the weakness of all those who hold a grudge in their heart.  In contrast, Cindy Lou Who in only a small child who is physically weak. However, Cindy Lou is brave enough to approach the Grinch because she has compassion in her heart and wants to include someone who is an outcast.  Cindy Lou represents the power of those with a pure heart.  I pray we can be like Cindy Lou and not the Grinch.

Forgiveness
There is great power in a Christian's prayer.  Jesus said you can move mountains if you believe.  I have no doubt that we can.  I have seen amazing things accomplished through prayer.  Unfortunately, quite often, our prayers are weak and ineffective because our hearts aren’t pure like Cindy Lou’s.  Jesus said when we pray we should first forgive anyone against whom we have a grudge.  The title of this message is, “Don’t Be A Grinch” and we will explore three important questions about forgiveness:
1.     What is forgiveness?
2.     Why should we forgive?
3.     How do you forgive?

Then we will end with an opportunity for you to forgive any grudges you hold in your heart.

What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is giving up your claim to repayment from someone who owes you. 
We want to be repaid what we're owed, but sometimes it is impossible.  People can replace a broken window, or a dented fender, but many offences are deeper than damage to material things.  Trying to take back the pain caused by hurtful words is like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube—it just doesn't work.  Emotional and spiritual wounds can't be fixed by the people who hurt us (or any other person for that matter). Only God can bring real healing.

But we are not hopeless in our pain.  We can forgive.  (And sometimes, forgiveness is not only the best option; it may be the only option.)

Why forgive?
Grudges don't fix anything.  They hurt us more than the people against whom we have the grudge.  Grudges twist you up inside and make you ugly, like the Grinch.  They are like poison.  They fester and infect us and ruin our character.  Our spirit rots and gets moldy, like the Grinch of whom they said, "Your heart is full of unwashed socks! Your soul is full of gunk!  Mr. Grinch!  Three words that best describe are as follows and I quote, 'Stink! Stank! Stunk!'"

Sometimes, grudges even make you hurt innocent people and people you love.  A grudge caused the Grinch to try to steal Christmas.  He stole the presents of everyone in town.  This included the people who once bullied him, but also other innocent people like Cindy Lou Who (who had only ever shown kindness and compassion to the Grinch).

The Grinch became "The Grinch" because of a grudge.  He was hurt by some mean people when he young and he never let it go. He held a grudge until it poisoned his soul and made him an outcast from society—trapped in a prison of his own choosing.  I've known real life people like that.  Haven't you?

Many of us have received hurts somewhere in life (maybe even as a child) that have left scars that still hinder us.  You don't want to become like the Grinch.  So be quick to forgive.  And if you’ve been holding onto a grudge that’s become moldy in your soul—let it go!  Colossians 3:13, “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”

So forgive anyone you have a grudge against.  Forgive so God will forgive you.  Every week in many churches, people pray The Lord’s Prayer.  In it, they pray as Jesus taught “...Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…”  Are you really willing to ask God to withhold His mercy from you just so you can remain angry at someone?  For how long?

How Do You Forgive?
It's not easy to forgive.  I remember the first time I preached about forgiveness about 20 years ago.  I had two dramatic and completely opposite reactions.  One gentleman came to me after and explained that my message had really impacted him.  He said, "You see, I have a grudge against my ex-wife.  She cheated on me and left me for another man.  I did nothing wrong, but she really hurt me and I have hated her every since.  I feel like your message is telling me I need to forgive her, but I don't know how or if I can."  We talked for a while and prayed together and he said, "I'm going to forgive my ex-wife and trust God to begin to heal me." It was so encouraging to see this man coming to church every week after that and see him growing in Christ and healing.

Another man had quite a different reaction to my message.  He had been attending our church for a couple of years and was growing and getting involved; he sang in our praise band.  He came up to me after the message and was very angry.  He said, "You don't understand.  My dad was a real &*^(& when I was a kid.  He doesn't deserve to be forgiven.  I don't want to forgive him and I won't forgive him.  And if God thinks I'm supposed to forgive my dad, then I don't want anything else to do with God." And I tried to talk with him and share my own experience about the hard work of forgiving my dad, but he didn't want to have anything to do with forgiving his dad.  And I never saw that man again.  He stopped coming to church and I don't know if he ever go his heart right with God or his father.  I pray he did, but I don't know.  His grudge poisoned not only his relationship with his father--but also with his friends at church and his Creator.

Forgiveness can be really hard--especially if you've been hurt very deeply. I want to give you four steps that may help you move along the path of forgiveness.  They may not make forgiveness easy, but they will at least give you a path to follow.  God will give you the strength and courage to forgive.

The first step of forgiveness is recognition.  You must realize you’ve been hurt.  There are two common misconceptions about forgiveness.  The first misconception is that forgiveness is pretending like an offense didn't happen or wasn't that bad.  This is common in Christians circles because we are constantly told we should gracious and forgiving.  And it is true that we should quickly and easily let small offenses go.  We should make allowances for each other.  But it sometimes gets to where many Christians feel like they must just brush off serious offences and pretend like they are no big deal.  

True forgiveness can't happen until we recognize there really is something that needs to be forgiven.  When someone hurts you, that's a real offence.  You don't have to pretend like it's no big deal.  In fact, realizing the pain and hurt is the first step in offering true forgiveness.

Another misconception I hear very often is the expression "You just need to forgive and forget."  When I study the Bible, it teaches we should forgive, but it never says we must forget.  Forgive is sound biblical teaching.  Forgive and forget is not biblical; nor is it wise to forget.  If someone shows a pattern of offense--whether they are abusive or a thief or something else--we need to remember that characteristic about them so that we can protect ourselves and others from their bad behavior.  We don't have to hold a grudge against them, but we do need to use sound judgment when we deal with them in the future.

When we forgive, we refuse to remain a victim—trapped by our desire to chase down and exact repayment from the ones who hurt us (a payment we can never really get back).  You see, forgiveness is really what you do for yourself.  Holding a grudge hurts you more than it hurts the person you have a grudge against.  In the same way, forgiveness helps you more than it helps the person you forgive.

Once you accept that you’ve been hurt, you choose to forgive.  When we forgive, we make a choice to let go.  It's not a feeling. It's a choice.  You probably don't feel like forgiving (just like you don't feel like getting a shot from the doctor or swallowing a bitter pill, even though you know it will make you better).  But Jesus says it's the right thing to do.  Do you believe Him or not?  "...whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16b).

Next, you pray to God and tell Him you forgive the one who hurt you and you are no longer going to look to them to make things right.  It's not necessary to tell the person who hurt you that you forgive them--though sometimes you may do that as well depending on the situation and whether person is receptive.  However, the most important thing is to pray and tell God you forgive someone.

Then, you keep praying to ask God to heal you.  This could take time, because healing takes time.  God has the power to heal your wound and He will if You trust Him, but it takes time.  Some hurts even require professional help.  That's why God has given us counselors and mental health specialists.  Don't be afraid to use them to work through your forgiveness and pain.  I'm also here as a pastor.  Come talk to me or send me an email or message.  Sometimes it's helpful just to have someone listen.  I'm a good listener.

Invitation
There is tremendous power in prayer.  You can move mountains! But Jesus said, "When you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too." 

Do you have a grudge you need to let go of? Why not let go of that grudge today? How long are you going to force God to withhold His mercy from you because you are withholding it from someone else?  It's time to let go.