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

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.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Have You Heard


Introduction
We’ve been following the story of the very first Christians for several weeks.  We are tremendously indebted to their faith and their faithfulness.  We might could understand if they’d just given up and thrown in the towel.  They were outnumbered and subjected to severe persecution.  They never knew from day to day what would happen next.  One day, they enjoyed the favor of the people.  The next, soldiers were coming to take away their property and arrest them or chase them out of town.  Through it all, they were dependent on the guidance of the Holy Spirit while praying that Jesus would come back soon.

I want to re-visit the story from the second chapter of Acts, verses 14-24.  This was the Apostle Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost.  All the believers were gathered in one place (there were so few of them, they could still all fit in one place).  The Holy Spirit fell upon them in a mighty rush of wind and it appeared as if flaming tongues of fire danced above each person’s head.  And all the Christians began talking in different languages—languages they had not previously known—about he wonderful things God had done through Jesus Christ.  And all the Jews from around the world who were gathered in Jerusalem for the celebration of Pentecost came running to see the commotion and they heard the Good News about Jesus in their own languages.  Some of the people who listened were amazed, but others thought the Christians were drunk.

Acts 2:14-24
14 Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this. 15 Some of you are saying these people are drunk. It isn’t true! It’s much too early for that. People don’t get drunk by nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, what you see this morning was predicted centuries ago by the prophet Joel:
18‘In the last days, God said,
I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
and your old men will dream dreams.
19In those days I will pour out my Spirit
upon all my servants, men and women alike,
and they will prophesy.
And I will cause wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below—
blood and fire and clouds of smoke.
20The sun will be turned into darkness,
and the moon will turn bloodred,
before that great and glorious day of the Lord arrives.
21And anyone who calls on the name of the Lord
will be saved.’
22“People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus of Nazareth by doing wonderful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. 23 But you followed God’s prearranged plan. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to the cross and murdered him. 24 However, God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life again, for death could not keep him in its grip.

Reflect
These are the powerful words Peter preached to the people of Israel. The people who in their time, were supposed to be the true worshipers of the one true God. Yes, of all the people in the world, the Israelites were supposed to know God the best. Yet when God sent His one and only Son to redeem the world, they led the fight to have him murdered.

In our time, we Christians are supposed to be the true worshipers of the one true God—the ones who know Him and love Him the best.  Yet how many times do we nail him to the cross again and again by sinning and doing things we know we ought not.  Lying, stealing, cheating, bickering, gossiping, lusting, drunkenness, adultery, giving more priority to the things and people of this world than to the one true God who made them all.

Acts 2:22-24
22 “People of Israel [that’s you and me], listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus of Nazareth by doing wonderful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. 23 But you followed God’s prearranged plan. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to the cross and murdered him. 24 However, God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life again, for death could not keep him in its grip.”

Have You Heard?
Have you heard about my Lord?  Have you heard about my Jesus?  He wasn’t born as some high and mighty king.  No!  He was born as poor peasant to a family who couldn’t even find him a room to be born in.  He ended up being born in a stable with a bunch of farm animals.

Have you heard the story of my Lord?  Have you heard the story of my Jesus?  He grew up poor, working with his hands.  His family couldn’t afford to send him college.  But he grew both in height and in wisdom, and he was loved by God and by all who knew him.” [i]

His name is Jesus!  When he turned thirty, he was baptized by his cousin John and the Spirit of God descended upon him like a dove.  And God spoke from heaven with a thundering voice of authority and said, ““You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.” [ii]

His name is Jesus!  When He gathered together his disciples and followers, he didn’t choose people because of how much money they had.  He didn’t choose people because of their status.  He didn’t choose people because they were good enough or because they were well educated.  Instead he chose fishermen, tax collectors, zealots, outcasts, and ordinary people like you and me. 


Have you heard about Jesus my Lord? 
1.              He spoke to one man who was paralyzed and told him to get up and walk because he was healed, he said your sins are forgiven—and the man got up and walked! 
2.              Once he was sailing with his disciples across the Sea of Galilee when a fierce storm came up and huge waves began to crash against the boat, breaking over the bow until the boat was nearly full of water.  And though his disciples were frozen with fear, Jesus calmly commanded the wind and the water to “Quiet down!” and suddenly the wind stopped and the sea was calm. 
3.              One time, a wild eyed man, foaming at the mouth, possessed by a legion of demons came running out of a cemetery, falling before my Lord Jesus screaming, “Why are you bothering me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? For God’s sake, don’t torture me!”[iii]  And Jesus commanded the demons to come out of the poor retched man and he sent them into a heard of pigs and sent the pigs running down into the sea where they drowned. 
4.              He made the blind to see and the deaf to hear and the mute to speak and the lame to walk.
5.              He fed 4,000 people with 7 loaves of bread and a few small fish. 
6.              He comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable. 
7.              He said You are not defiled by what you eat; you are defiled by what you say and do!” [iv]
8.              On top of the mountain, he was transfigured and his clothing became dazzling white, and he stood and talked with Moses and Elijah, even though they’d been dead for hundreds of years.  And even though Peter and James and John were so blown away by the whole experience that they wanted to build 3 shrines and stay on the mountaintop worshiping forever, Jesus wouldn’t allow it because he knew his place was back down in the valley suffering for the people.
9.              He stood in front of Lazarus’ tomb, and though the body’d already been dead and buried for so long it’d begun to smell, he commanded, “Lazarus, come out!”  And a dead man obeyed and came back to life so that they had to unwrap the grave clothes and let Lazarus go free.
10.          Speaking of his own body he said, “Destroy this temple, and I will rebuild it again in 3 days!”

Have you heard about my Lord?  Have you heard about My Jesus?  He looked at me, a young man lost in sin, a adolescent who came from a broken home, a young teenager who wanted to have sex and get drunk and act stupid all the time, a kid who hated his father, a youth who thought it was cool to vandalize and destroy property, a 16 year old reckless driver who should’ve gotten himself or someone else killed—he looked at me and he saved me from the path to destruction down which I was heading.  And he snatched me up from the fires of hell over which I was dangling.  And he set my feet upon the rock and gave me a new life of abundance.

Have you heard about Jesus my Lord?  He looks at you, the man who is cheating on his wife.  He looks you, the kid who is getting high on drugs.  He looks you, the girl who is having sex with her boyfriend because she doesn’t want him to leave her all alone.  He looks at you, the workaholic who is neglecting your family, wasting your life climbing the corporate ladder while your family is going down the tubes.  He looks at you, the teenager who is so disillusioned with the vanity of life that you would contemplate going on a shooting spree or even taking your own life.  He looks at us all, who are dying of spiritual thirst in this dry and weary land where there’s no hope, and he says, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who I am, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”[v]

Have you heard what they did to my Lord?  They arrested him in the middle of the night.  And they falsely accused him.  And they paid some worthless people to lie about the things he had said and done.  And they put him through a fraudulent trial in the middle of the night.  And they convicted him before the sun came up.  And they tricked a mob into trading the life of the sinless, spotless Son of God for the life of the murderous Barabbas.  And they spat on him, and they mocked him, and they beat him within an inch of his life, and they put a crown of thorns on his head, and then they nailed his hands and feet to a cross and hung him there until he died.  And then they chunked him in a cave and rolled a big, fat stone in front of it and thought they had seen the last of the Son of God. 

Oh, but have you heard the good news about Jesus my Lord?  Acts 2:24, However, God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life again, for death could not keep him in its grip.  After three days, the stone was rolled away and Jesus got up and walked out of that tomb.  And he appeared to many of his followers, both men and women, and he proved to them that he was really alive.  And he’s proven it to me too, time and time again, that he is indeed alive even today. 

Acts 2:36, “So let it be clearly known by everyone in Israel [and by you and me too] that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified to be both Lord and Messiah!”

“Brothers and sisters, what should we do?”

“Each of us must turn from our sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. Then we will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This promise is to us and to our children, and everyone in every part of the world.

Brothers and sisters, I urge you, as strongly as I know how, save yourselves from this generation that has gone astray!” 
           
Prayer of Repentance
Oh God, we have heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Have mercy on us, O God, because of your unfailing love.  Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of our sins.  Wash us clean from our guilt.  Purify us of our sin.  For we recognize our shameful deeds—they haunt us day and night.  Against you, and you alone, have we sinned; we have done what is evil in your sight.

You will be proved right in what You say, and Your judgment against us is just.  For we were born sinners—yes, from the moment we were conceived.  But You desire honesty from the heart, so You can teach us to be wise in our inmost being.  Purify us from our sins, and we will be clean; wash us, and we will be whiter than snow.  Oh, give us back our joy again; You have broken us—now let us rejoice.  Don’t keep looking at our sins.  Remove the stain of our guilt.  Create in us a clean heart, O God.  Renew a right spirit within us.  Do not banish us from Your presence, and don’t take Your Holy Spirit from us.  Restore to us again the joy of Your salvation, and make us willing to obey You.  Then we will teach Your ways to sinners, and they will return to You.  Forgive us for shedding the blood of your Son, O God who saves; then we will joyfully sing of Your forgiveness.  Unseal our lips, O Lord, that we may praise You.  You would not be pleased with anything we could try to do to earn your forgiveness, or we would do them.  Even if we spent our whole lives trying to earn Your acceptance, You would not accept us.  The only sacrifice You want from us is a broken spirit.  A broken and repentant heart, O God, You will not despise.  Look at us with favor and help us; reconstruct Your holy dwelling place within our hearts.  Then You will be pleased with the things we do and our whole way of living will be pleasant in Your sight.

In the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen.


[i] Paraphrase Luke 2:52
[ii] Luke 3:22b
[iii] Paraphrase Mark 5:7
[iv] Paraphrase Matthew 15:11
[v] Paraphrase John 4:10

Monday, June 29, 2020

Jesus' Power Helps Us Live Forever


We are studying the daily themes and passages from the Rocky Railway VBS curriculum from Group Publishers.  The theme is “Jesus’ Power Pulls Us Through!”  So far, we’ve learned:  
Jesus Power Helps Us Do Hard Things
Jesus Power Gives Us Hope 
Jesus Power Helps Us Be Bold
Today, we learn:  Jesus Power Helps Us Live Forever! 

Romans 8:11 says, “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.

Today’s message is the most important one of this whole series.  It is the very cornerstone of everything Christians believe and do.  It is the Good News that Jesus died, but that he also rose from the grave.  The full story of Jesus death and resurrection is found in the Gospel of Matthew in chapters 26-28.  I will highlight a few passages from those chaoters.

An Uncomfortable Truth
Does death make you uncomfortable?  Does it scare you?  Many people don’t like to talk about death.  I get it.  Death is scary.  Death is sad.  Death is something we all want to avoid, but none of us will be able to avoid it forever.  Death is part of life—at least it is part of life in a broken world. 

Romans 3:23, 3:10, & 6:23
You see, Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard.”  There is no one alive who hasn’t sinned.  We are broken, corrupt, sinful people.  Name one person you know who never sinned.  You may name some really good people, maybe even a “saint”, but even they have done things they shouldn’t.  And the problem with labeling a person “good” or “saintly” is that we use human standards.  (Maybe someone says you are really good at basketball.  But if they put you on the court against Michael Jordan, they would see you are really terrible. Right?)  Well, when we view people next to the holiness of God, we see we are terribly flawed.  Romans 3:10 says, “No one is righteous—not even one.”


And Romans 6:23a says, “For the wages of sin is death…”  Death is the consequence of sin.  This was not God’s original plan.  However, humanity is consumed with the selfish desire to be independent of God and in control of our own destiny.  We don't want God's Kingdom to come.  We want our own personal kingdoms to persist.  Our selfish insistence to be independent of God leads to all kinds of hurt and pain and evil and suffering; and ultimately it leads to death.

Jesus' disciples didn’t want to talk about death either.  Every time he brought it up, they wanted to change the subject.  So he used the Jewish Passover celebration to illustrate it for them. 

Matthew 26:26-30
26 As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.”

27 And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, 28 for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many. 29 Mark my words—I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.”

30 Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.

The Old Rugged Cross
There’s an old hymn we sing called “The Old Rugged Cross”.
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross
The emblem of suffering and shame

“You see, not everyone believed that Jesus was God’s Son.  Some people thought he was a liar.  They got so angry that they arrested Jesus.”[i]  They put him on trial, but it was not really a fair trial.  They tortured him and sentenced him to death. “They forced him to carry a rough wooden cross to a hill called Golgatha.  There, they nailed his hands and feet to that cross and left him to die.  In that time, only criminals were put to death on a cross.  But Jesus never sinned—he was God’s pure and perfect Son!”

The hymn “tells us the cross was an emblem—a picture—of suffering and shame.  Jesus suffered for our shame.  We may feel ashamed of the wrong things we do, the bad choices we all make.  Even though we do a lot of great things, we all have sin."

The old hymn goes on…
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain

“Slain means that someone was killed.  Jesus was the dearest and best.  1 Peter 2:22 says, “He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone.”  When we do something wrong, there’s usually a punishment, a consequence.  When we sin, the ultimate consequence is separation from God.  Forever.  Imagine being separated from God’s love, forgiveness, goodness, power, and joy forever.”

“Even though Jesus never sinned, he willingly dies for you.  He loves you so much that he took the punishment for your wrongs.  It was the only way to heal our friendship with God.  Jesus took your punishment.” 

So I'll cherish the old rugged cross
Till my trophies at last I lay down

"Sometimes we value or treasure or cherish our accomplishments.  A thousand ribbons and awards or good deeds can’t wash away our wrongs.  We can never do enough good things to earn our way into heaven.  The Bible says it this way.  Ephesians 2:8, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.”  We are powerless to save ourselves.  Only Jesus can save us.  So, we have to lay down all our pride, our treasures, everything at the foot of the cross  Because Jesus is the one who’s really important."

And I will cling to the old rugged cross
And exchange it some day for a crown

The Resurrection
Thankfully, “Jesus story didn’t end at the cross.  Remember, Jesus is God’s Son, with God’s power!  And that power is stronger than death!  Three days after Jesus died, something incredible happened."

Matthew 28:2-6
2 Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. 4 The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint.

5 Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying.

"Jesus power beat death—on that day, for Jesus.  And today, for you and me.  The Bible promises this:  For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Because of Jesus, we can cling to the cross—the promise, hope, love, and power it represent.  The last line of the old hymn says we’ll exchange our trophies for a crown."


Revelation 21:3-4 give us a vision of the eternal life we’ll have when trust Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  It says, “3 Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

Conclusion
As we close, I ask you: do you trust Jesus?  Will you lay down all your trophies?  Will you cling to the old rugged cross and put all your hopes in the man who died f  If so, then he will raise you to new life too.
or you there and rose to new life?



[i] Rocky Railway Bible Adventures Leaders Manuel, page 30