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Showing posts with label Gospel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gospel. Show all posts

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, January 25, 2016

Living Christian in a Gay World, part 3 - Living Out the Gospel

Part 3 – Living Out the Gospel
Luke 4:14-19

Introduction
            This is the third of four messages on homosexuality.  All the previous messages for this series are posted here on my blog.  You can look at previous posts if you missed a message or if you would like to share it with someone else.  It has been very challenging to preach this series, because it’s a very sensitive subject for many people.  My sincerest hope is to speak the Truth in Love.
            My message last week was especially difficult for some to hear because it points out the ways the Bible clearly marks the practice of homosexuality as a sin.  The Gospel (or Good News) of Jesus is sometimes hard to hear.  However, never forget that it is indeed Good News.
            The goal of my message today is to explain how Christians should live out the Gospel in a world with mixed up views about homosexuality.  Let’s start by reading Jesus’ calling to bring Good News to all humanity. 

Luke 4:14-19
14 Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. 15 He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 

16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. 17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

Good News
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus’ message is called the Gospel, which translates “Good News.”  The very names of the four books about Jesus’ life are called the Gospels.  The Gospel of Matthew tells us Jesus traveled around “…announcing the Good News about the Kingdom.” (Matthew 4:23)  The book of Mark begins by saying, “This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.”  We just read in Luke 4:18 that Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.”
It is indeed Good News that Jesus came to save the world.  For when we were yet sinners, Jesus came to forgive us and lift us out of our sin.  Sam Allberry, an ordained pastor in the Anglican Church who struggles with same-sex attraction, put it this way in his book Is God anti-gay?  He said, “The Christian message is the best news anyone can ever hope to hear.  It’s all about a God who is more forgiving and loving than we could possibly imagine.”  And yet, Allberry understands the Good News of Jesus Christ compels him to refrain from acting upon his attraction to people of the same-sex.  [Click Here to find out more about Sam AllberryClick Here to find out about his book Is God anti-gay?]

The Bad News
The Good News of Christ inevitable reveals there is also some bad news.  If Jesus came to save us, he must have come to save us from something.  Our Luke passage said Jesus came to bring Good News to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, etc.  The bad news is poverty, captivity, blindness, and many other troubles caused by sin are part of the human condition. 
            The corrupted nature of humanity reveals itself in numerous ways and everyone is affected. We lie. We cheat. We steal.  We may also experience physical malfunctions.  I have a tendency to eat too much and that tendency can have dire consequences for my health.  Others have trouble controlling their tongue or are prone to addiction or suffer from mental illness or emotional troubles.
Sometimes the consequences of sin in our world are completely out of our control.  For instance, a child is born blind.  Neither the child nor his parents did anything wrong to cause the blindness, yet the child is born blind because sin has corrupted the very nature of our world.  This was not God’s will.  God’s will is for everyone to be perfect and whole.  Yet sin has distorted God’s original plan.
People argue about whether homosexuality is a choice or whether people are born that way.  In the context of the Gospel, it doesn’t matter.  We know that we are all born with many kinds of troubles.  I want to eat too much.  Another is born blind.  Yet another is born with an attraction to people of the same sex.  One is not worse than the other in God’s eyes.  They are all consequences of the same sin-sickness that infects our world.
The consequences of sin are very serious when we consider it in these broader terms.  And our horrible, hopeless situation reveals how desperately we need salvation.  That is why it is such incredibly Good News that Jesus came to save us.
            When we read the 4 Gospels, we see sickness, sin, demons, ignorance and walls of division being destroyed as a sign of God’s Kingdom breaking into our world.  And Jesus invites all who will to come be part of the Kingdom.  His message was and is "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."[i]
            He said repent, because we cannot bring our sin with us into God’s Kingdom. It doesn't matter what the sin is: whether it be hypocrisy or homosexuality, lying or lusting, gossip or greed, we must die to these and all selfishness with the help of Christ. Sometimes we will find complete healing from our sins in our lifetime. Sometimes we will continue to struggle for a long time, but the Good News is there is forgiveness and grace in Christ Jesus. He understands our weakness and his strength is sufficient to help us endure.  Ultimately, we will be made perfect. 

It’s Not Picking and Choosing
Some argue Christians just pick and choose which sins in the Old Testament Law apply today.  A couple friends of mine commented on Facebook about my message last week.  They rightly pointed out that the same Old Testament that forbids homosexuality, forbids eating pork, also endorses slavery, and stipulates many other disturbing regulations.  Are we just picking and choosing what we want to believe?
Definitely not.  This line of reasoning misunderstands the power of the Gospel.  Christ’s life, death, and resurrection fulfilled the law and ushered in a new era of God’s grace, changing the way we apply the laws of the Old Testament[ii]The Old Testament laws break down into certain categories and we can see how the Gospel affected each category: 
Cleanliness laws. (Don’t touch lepers or eat pork, etc.)   Jesus declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19) and also touched lepers and dead bodies, and was not made unclean by doing so.  Thus, Jesus ended the cleanliness and food laws of the Old Testament.  (Yeah!  We can all enjoy our pork BBQ and bacon!)
Worship/Sacrificial Laws.  (Sacrifices, circumcision, etc.)  Jesus taught his body was the true Temple and his death was the ultimate sacrifice for sin (John 2:21, Mark 14:36). Thus, his death opened the way for us to approach God, making Old Testament regulations concerning the Temple and its sacrificial system obsolete. 
Civil Laws. (Laws about slavery and stoning, etc.)  In the Old Testament, the people of God were the nation-state of Israel.  In the New Testament, Jesus reconstituted the people of God so they are a universal Church embodied in numerous local gatherings around the world and subject to the laws of secular governments. The Old Testament laws relating to the civic life of Israel (such as requiring the death penalty for grave sins) no longer apply to believers today in the same way as they did in the Old Testament.
Moral Laws.  (The 10 Commandments, sexual ethics, etc.)  The purpose of the moral laws is to show us our sins so we know how much we need Christ.  Also, they teach us how to act in love towards our neighbors.  Jesus fulfilled the moral requirements of the Law to perfection since we couldn’t, but he also restated many of the moral laws and said we should follow them—including the sexual ethic of the Old Testament.  These moral laws are also restated by other New Testament writers so they still apply to us today.[iii]
So if you look closely, you will see we are not being inconsistent—picking and choosing which laws we like and don’t like.  We are simply living out a new reality brought on by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 
[Click Here for a blog by Rev. Brent White with more about the "picking and choosing" debate.]

Reaching Out
            The Good News is for everybody.  The church is called to be in ministry to all people.  Jesus didn’t come to save people who are already OK (or think they are already holy).  Jesus came to seek and save the lost.  He came to heal those who are spiritually sick; this includes people who struggle with all kinds of sin—including homosexuality.  But how do we reach out to people struggling with homosexuality? 

First of all make it easy to talk about.
Keeping quiet about a taboo subject like homosexuality (or any sexual sin) only promotes secrets, isolation, and darkness where sin and suffering grow and fester.  Sadly, sometimes the last person someone struggling with homosexuality feels comfortable talking to is a Christian.  There are plenty of people in our world today who will tell them there is nothing wrong with practicing homosexuality, but it is not helpful just to be told what you want to hear or what sounds good.  What we all need is unconditional love and biblical truth. 
People struggling with same-sex attraction (or any kind of sin) need to know it is safe and encouraged to talk about our problems and struggles with loving Christians.  Therefore, live the kind of life that lets people know they can come and talk to you about anything, knowing you will be honest and caring, and will still love them no matter what. 
Along with this, you need to be careful how you talk about homosexuality.  Realize that people are listening to everything you say and the way you say it.  The careless things we say can have unintended consequences.  How would it sound to a teenage boy who is struggling with homosexuality if he hears his football coach joking about gay people or telling another player he tackles “like a girl”?  How would the angry, politically charged article condemning “gay rights” you share on Facebook be perceived by someone who is struggling with homosexuality?  How would someone feel if they overhear you talking about homosexuality as if it were the worst possible sin anyone could commit (which it isn’t)?  They’re probably not going to trust you with their struggle.  That doesn’t mean we disengage on the issue, but it does mean we must be thoughtful and loving and careful in how we engage.
If someone opens up to you about their struggles, recognize how much courage it took them to speak up.  Be sure to thank them for trusting you.  It is truly an honor for someone to open up to you about something so sensitive.  Be sure to protect their trust by keeping a confidence.  Pray with them.  Be truthful (as best you understand truth), but always be loving. 

Get rid of unhealthy stereotypes.
If you want to be helpful on the issue of homosexuality, try to deal with biblical models of masculinity and femininity, rather than cultural stereotypes.  Be considerate in how you talk about others.  Learn to recognize and promote true, biblical values about what it means to be a man or a woman.  Discard the false images that the non-Christian world promotes and that sometimes creep into our churches.  What does it really mean to be a man?  What does it really mean to be a woman?  The type of person we are sexually attracted to has very little to do with our masculinity or femininity in a biblical sense. 

Honor Singleness.
Jesus offered an alternative to heterosexual marriage—singleness.  Therefore, people struggling with same-sex attraction may need to spend long years or even their whole life as single persons.  This can be difficult and requires the support of the church.  Don’t forget special efforts to minister to singles in the midst of all the couples and family ministries in the life of the church.  This is helpful for all single persons, regardless of why they are single—whether because they have not married yet, are divorced or widowed, or have chosen not to marry.  Always remember that people who remain single are as important as those who marry and singleness is a highly honorable condition in the eyes of God.
“But isn’t it unrealistic and unloving to expect someone to remain single just because they are attracted to people of the same sex?”  No.  That is a message our culture tells us—that you are not healthy or whole unless you are sexually active and eventually married.  But this was not Jesus’s opinion and other New Testament writers also offered singleness as an honorable and desirable condition for people to choose.  Centuries of devoted Christians have chosen singleness.  Some famous Christians who remained single were:  Jesus, St. Paul, Joan of Arc, Mother Theresa, George Handel, Leonardo de Vinci, Susan B. Anthony, and Isaac Newton.  But it’s not just famous people.  We have people in our own churches who have chosen to be single and have been blessed by it as they have been a blessing to many others.  And while singleness has its struggles (so does marriage by the way), singleness offers great rewards as well.  So let us support those who choose to be single.  It is a practical and godly alternative to marriage.

Be the Family of God.
Remember that the Church is a family.  Be sure to adopt people who struggle with homosexuality into your church.  You—as their church family—may be the only family they have.  You are a precious gift to them.  Make the most of it.  Invite them to be with you—especially in those times when a person normally gathers with family.  Sometimes the holidays can be the loneliest times for single adults.  Your friendship can make all the difference. 

Be a Welcoming Church for Everyone.
People need to know that the church offers support for those struggling with homosexuality.  They should feel comfortable coming to the church, knowing they can find help with their questions and struggles.  They need to know the church wants to and can help.  They need to hear the Good News that Jesus forgives and loves us no matter what we struggle with. 

Conclusion
            The Good News is for you!  We all have sin.  We all struggle.  Your sin—whatever it is—is no worse than mine or anyone else’s.  We are all in desperate need of Jesus’ saving love.  The Good News is Jesus freely offers salvation to anyone who sincerely wishes to take hold of it.  So there is no need to be trapped by your guilt.  There is no need to pretend like nothing is wrong.  The first step in healing is admitting the problem.  So I invite you to come to Jesus and cry out for help.  What he wants more than anything is to reach out and take your hand and lift you out of whatever sins you struggle with.  Won’t you come to him?  Won’t you trust him?  Won’t you let him save you?
 
 





[i] Matthew 3:2 NET
[ii] http://www.livingout.org/arent-we-just-picking-which-bits-of-the-old-testament-law-apply-today
[iii] Examples Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Corinthians 6:9-20; 1 Timothy 1:8-11