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Showing posts with label Grace. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Grace. Show all posts

Monday, May 9, 2022

The prodigal

Introduction
It’s been very touching seeing so many post about mothers over the weekend.  There are all kinds of mothers for all different walks of life.  I've seen sweet mothers who are still actively involved in their young children's lives.  There are mother's who have grown kids in the full swing of life.  There are mothers who have grown old and passed away and also, sadly, mothers who have passed away too soon before they grew old.

I also think of some mothers who have failed.  I listen to the testimony of a prodigal mother this weekend who shared how she failed as a mother because of some of her own shortcomings.  Thankfully, she repented and Jesus turned her life around.  

There are also the many spiritual mothers that bless people who aren't even related to them, but they love and people who need it.  I have had many spiritual mother's in my life who have been so helpful, especially while I have lived so far away from my own mother.

I knew six months ago that God wanted me to read the story of the prodigal son for Mother's Day 2022. God led me to plan for this as I prayed during a planning session.  However, God didn’t tell me what say until the morning of Mother's Day. So I pray His words come through clearly.  So, let’s read through the story and I will make some comments as we go.

Luke 15:11
11 To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. 

It starts, "A man had 2 sons."  But I can't help wonder: where’s the mother in the story?

I should start with this disclaimer:  We don’t know anything about the mother in the story from the Bible.  Jesus doesn't give any information about the mother in the Bible.  So all we can do is speculate about her.  Still, I think Jesus would be fine with us using our imagination and asking some thoughtful questions.

It could be the mother had died.  We know in our day mothers often die and leave a family motherless.  It was even more possible in Jesus' day, as people didn't live as long and something as simple as appendicitis (which we can easily fix with modern medical technology) could kill you in New Testament times.  Could the Prodigal's mother have died sometime prior to this episode?

It is also possible the father had remarried and the mother was a step mother.  And step mother's can have a complicated relationship with their step children.

It is also possible the mother was not mentioned because Jesus lives in a patriarchal societ where women were often overlooked.  However, I don't think that is as likely, because women played a prominently role in Jesus ministry and he never shied away from including women, even if his society didn't.  Jesus was not a male chauvinist. He greatly valued women and treated them with respect.

Luke 15:12
12 The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

This was an incredibly mean thing for the son to say.  He was basically telling his dad, "Look, I have things I want to do in life that I can't do because I'm waiting for you to die so I can get my inheritance.  So why don't you just go ahead and die or give me my inheritance now so I can get on with my life?"  Can you imagine saying something like that to you mom or dad?  Yikes!

I wonder how the mother would have responded (assuming she was alive).  Some mothers might comfort their husbands, put their arms around them, and cry with them.  However, there might have been some mothers fussing and saying, "Why in the world did you go along with this?!”  How would your mother have handled this? How would you handle it if your child said this to you?

Luke 15:13

13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. 

Now, in this story, it was the son who moved away to a distant land.  But I can’t help but think of some mothers who have left.  You might think a mother could never leave her child, but it happens more than you think.  My wife works in a neonatal intensive care unit taking care of critical babies and newborns.  You would not believe how many babies are born already addicted to drugs because their mothers have taken drugs like heroine and meth throughout their pregnancy.  And then the baby is born already addicted with severe health problems and the mother is back out on the street chasing her next high.  Addiction is a terrible problem that enslaves many people--including mothers-- and leads to horrific behavior.

The sinful longings of the human heart that draw us away from God affect all people—even mothers.  They turn our eyes away from the truth and make us think the grass is greener.  What we have to realize is the dark seed of sin is in all our hearts.  That dark seed can grow in anyone and, given the right conditions, can take over your whole life.

Luke 15:14-16
14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

Sin, which seems so attractive at first glance, leads to hardship, poverty, pain, and famine.  It is significant that the Jewish son in this story finds himself feeding pigs.  Jews considered pigs to be unclean.  They didn't eat any kind of pork and they didn't keep pigs on their farms.  So for a Jewish boy to be taking care of pigs means he had sunk pretty low.  

People enslaved by sin will sink lower and lower until they are doing things they never thought in a million years they would do. Maybe that was you once. Maybe that is you today. Is it time for you to come to your senses?

And I can't help but thin of the mother’s anguish at the son’s degradation.  She may not have even known what her son was doing, but that's even worse.  A mother mind can go to a very dark place as when she doesn't know if her children are safe.  She can even torment herself, thinking the worst and worrying herself to death.  Is your mother worrying herself to death today because you are wandering from the right path?

Slide – Luke 15:17-21
17 “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 

18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’

20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’

The prodigal son shows us what true repentance looks like.  He says, "I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son."  It is unconditional surrender, recognizing one's sins, and throwing yourself upon the Father's mercy.

Repentance is crucial.  People remember many things about Jesus--that He was a miracle worker, that he died on a cross and rose from the grave, and people love to remember Jesus was a man who stood for love.  But we must never forget that Jesus consistent message throughout His ministry was, "“The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:15)  

The son shows us what true repentance looks like.  In the father’s response, we see what grace looks like.

Luke 15:22-24
22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

Again, the story focuses on the father, but I wonder how the mother responded?  Was she right there with the father, welcoming her wayward son home?

Anyone who knows the way most marriage works realizes while the father was hugging his son and making grand statements about having a party, the mother was probably thinking, “Oh great! There he goes making all these great plans, but the house is a mess and now I’ve got to go grocery shopping to get food for all these people!”  (That's the way t usually works at my house.  My wife does most of the work behind the scenes.  I make the plans and she has to pick up the pieces.  She's a saint!)

The wife was probably thrilled to have her son home, but it’s also possible the mother like the older brother in the story.  

Luke 15:25-30
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 

30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’

The older son was angry. He felt unappreciated.  He felt superior to his younger brother who had abandoned the family while the older brother had done his duty.  (How many mother's feel unappreciated sometimes?  That's why we need to have a Mother's Day, to remind them we really do appreciate them.)

Maybe the mother was feeling angry and unappreciated.  Or maybe it broke her heart to see the older, more responsible, son refusing to be be happy at the redemption of his brother. It can break a mother’s heart when her family is full of strife.

Luke 15:31-32
31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

We must not forget; this story is an illustration. We don't know if it was based on a true story or not.  However, we know the father represents God.  The Father, God, reasons with the responsible son in the story and God reasons with us.  Do not be angry with the sinner who returns to God.  Do not feel superior.  Maybe you didn’t abandon your family and commit the hideous sins as others have, but you are not perfect either.  We all sin and fall short of God's glorious standard (Romans 3:23).  And God looks into the heart.  He sees the sin seed in each of us and knows that, given the right conditions, it can sprout and grow out of control so that we are just as guilty as the person whose sins are incredibly hideous.

Have you, as a mother, felt yourself superior to others who abandoned their family? Is not that feeling of superiority a sin in and of itself?  Are you like the older brother in the story, standing outside, fuming and refusing to come to the party to celebrate the redemption of a sinner who was lost, but now is found? How long will you wait?

Conclusion
Jesus doesn’t tell us about the mother in the story.  A really gifted great storyteller leaves a few things to the imagination so we can ponder them.  Maybe that’s why we are still retelling and listening to Jesus’ stories 2,000 years later.

Jesus also doesn’t tell us how the story ends.  Did the younger brother remain faithful to the father?  Or did he get bored back at home and run off again?  Some of you are the young, rebellious brother in the story.  Your actions decide how the story ends.

Did the older brother ever get over his anger, forgive his brother, and go in to the party?  Or did he stay outside forever, fuming about how he was right and better than his brother?  Jesus doesn’t say what happened, because some of you are the older brother in the story.  And you are the only one who can determine how your story ends.

As for the fathers and mothers out there whose hearts are breaking because your children, in one way or another, have wandered away from the Truth:
God—the Mother and Father of us all—knows your pain.  He is the Father in the story, whose heart breaks when any of His children goes astray.  Yet He is longing for His children to return and He is quick to forgive and embrace every wayward sinner who comes Home.  

Why don’t you bless God's heart and come Home today?

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Creation: Day 5 - Fish & Birds

Introduction The world we live in is breathtaking and complex.  The glory of it all points to Something/Someone greater than ourselves.  Who is this Creator who swarmed the oceans with fish and sent birds to fill the sky?  What does the story of creation in Genesis tell us about the Creator’s character?

Genesis was written to help us know the Truth about God.  The creation story reveals the character of God and the life He offers us.  If you want to know God and why we are here, you can find out by studying the story of creation in Genesis.


Genesis 1:20-23 20 Then God said, “Let the waters swarm with fish and other life. Let the skies be filled with birds of every kind.” 21 So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that scurries and swarms in the water, and every sort of bird—each producing offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 Then God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply. Let the fish fill the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And evening passed and morning came, marking the fifth day.


On the fifth day, God created swarms of living sea animals and birds.

Both birds and fish are animals that swarm together as one unit in large flocks or schools.  On the fifth day, God concentrated on abundance.  


Notice that Genesis 1:20 specifically commanded the waters to “swarm with fish” and the skies to “be filled with birds.”  It was not enough to create a few fish or birds here and there.  No, God intentionally went overboard with an amazing extravagance.  Birds and fish were to fill the world with an overabundance.  And then, as if to make the point even more clear, God instructs the swarms to “Be fruitful and multiply.”


The fifth day of creation is the first time God said, “Be fruitful and multiply.”  It is a statement God will repeat seven times in the Bible.  It is clear that God desires life to be abundant.


There are over 15,000 known species of fish and some 10,000 species of birds.  Scientists believe there are another 2 million species we haven’t even identified yet.  According to wikianswers.com, it is believed there are somewhere around 500 billion fish swimming in the ocean right now.   That’s enough fish to cover all of Whitfield County with a layer of fish six inches deep!  It is estimated that there are 100 billion birds living on the planet right now.  That’s enough birds for every person in the state of Georgia to have 10,000 pet birds!  This is extravagantly amazing, but even more amazing is Jesus’ statement in Matthew 10:29:  “Not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.”


God Makes Life Abundant

From the very beginning, God intended for life to be abundant.  He intended for us to have everything we need and to be satisfied.  God did not plan for death or disease or disappointment to be part of His creation.  We have seen throughout this series that God most assuredly has the ability to accomplish His plans.  Why is it then that so many in our world do not experience the abundant life God wants us to have?


God is not to blame for this.  We are.  We have gotten off track.  Because we choose not to fully cooperate with God’s plan, we do not experience the fullness of the life God wants for us.  Our choice to stray away from God is called sin.  


The Bible tells us that the consequence of sin is death (Romans 6:23a) and experience proves this is true.  


It is truly amazing that God didn’t just give up on us.  Instead, He actually still wants us to come back alongside Him and experience life in its full abundance.  That is why Jesus came. 


 Jesus said, “I came that [you] may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b).  So it is still possible for us to have an abundant life.  


What is Abundance?

It depends on who you ask.  Every person will have a different answer.  Some would say abundance is all about how much stuff you have.  Another person would say abundance is more about quality than quantity.  Abundance means you have more than enough to satisfy.


It is hard for us to comprehend an unlimited God who can provide more than enough to satisfy.  We grow up thinking there is only so much to go around.  We fight with our siblings for the last cookie because we know there are only so many cookies. When we run out, someone must go without.  


God provides more than enough to satisfy all our wants and needs.  Just when we think we will run out, there is more.  You cannot exhaust God’s resources.  In Matthew 14, Jesus miraculously fed over 5,000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish.  After everyone ate and was satisfied, there were twelve baskets of leftovers—more than what they started with.  


God knows what we really need.  God knows what we really want.  He wants to provide an extravagant abundance.  He can and He does.  Unfortunately, we do not partake because we are usually chasing after the wrong things.


The Truth is we often don’t know what we really want or need.  We may have some things in mind, but we don’t really know if they will really satisfy.  We often find they don’t.  Our disappointments leave us hungrier than before for the next “new” thing that we hope will satisfy.

Life in Christ is Abundant.

Only God knows what abundance is.  Only God knows what you really need.  He is the source of life.  When we abide in Him, life is abundant, the way He intended.  Apart from Him, we merely survive (for a time) desperately clinging to a dwindling life that quickly fades away.  We find abundance, moment by moment, as we live in God through Jesus Christ.

People think Christians live boring lives.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  We are following in the footsteps of Christ.  It is a path that leads us to heal the sick, bring sight to the blind, walk on water, and change the world forever.  We are waking up to realize that we are not here to be amused.  We are here to live.  There is a deep yearning within us for real purpose.  We refuse to pacify our hunger with the sweet lies an evil world tells, because we know how we live really does matter.


So many people miss out on the abundance God wants for them.  Even people who come to church regularly settle for less than God’s abundance.  They are like dogs that only catch the crumbs that fall from the table because they are afraid to surrender their lives to God completely.  Don’t be bashful when it comes to abundance.  God set a place at His table for you.  He invites you to His Feast!  Come, taste and see that the Lord is good!


Responsive Reading from Psalm 36:5-9

Pastor:  Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens;

People:  Your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.


Pastor:  Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,

your justice like the ocean depths.

People:  You care for people and animals alike, O Lord.


Pastor:  How precious is your unfailing love, O God!

People:  All humanity finds shelter in the shadow of your wings.


Pastor:  You feed them from the abundance of your own house,

letting them drink from your river of delights.


People:  For you are the fountain of life, the light by which we see.


Monday, October 11, 2021

Love Rejoices With the the Truth

Introduction
We’ve been studying 1 Corinthians 13.  Last week, Rev. Donna Lucas was gracious to continue the theme of our series while I was away celebrating my son’s marriage, preaching “Love Keeps No Record of Wrongs”.  It was a wonderful weekend celebrating their love.

1 Corinthians 13 is popularly known as the “love chapter”.  It is the number one scripture read at weddings and it certainly does give invaluable advice to a husband and wife about how they should love each other.  However, this chapter was not originally written for weddings or newlyweds.  It isn't specifically about romantic love at all.  1 Corinthians was written to correct a dysfunctional church.

The Corinthian church had a lot of serious problems.  There were power struggles and jealousy among the members. Some were claiming spiritual superiority and expecting special treatment.  Some were abusing the sacrament of Holy Communion and getting drunk on the communion wine while others were being left out of the meal altogether.  In Corinthians 5, we read that one Corinthian man was sleeping with his father’s wife (his stepmother) and the church ignored his sexual immorality.  Paul writes, “You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship.”

Paul wrote the first letter to the Corinthians to reprimand the church and try and bring them back to authentic Christianity.  The letter comes to a climax in the 13th chapter as Paul explains that the most important thing is love.  It all comes down to love.  But the kind of love we’re talking about is not some wishy washy, warm and fuzzy kind of love.  It’s a deep, sacrificial love—the way God loves us, a love demonstrated best by Christ when He died for sinners on the cross.  Let's review 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.


1 Corinthians 13:4-7
1 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.


Love Does Not Rejoice About Injustice
The NLT says, love “does not rejoice about injustice”.  The NIV translates it “Love does not delight in evil…”  The world today has a warped idea about “Love”.  People today value tolerance, so naturally they like the idea of love being patient and kind.  But, most people would prefer to chop off that part that says love does not delight in evil. Biblical love holds people accountable to God’s Holy Truth. 

A big part of the problem is how people define what is evil.  The world has one standard, and that standard changes from generation to generation.  Things that were considered evil when I was a child are accepted and even praised as  good and wholesome today.  However, God’s standards of good and evil never change and they are preserved in God’s Holy Bible. 

Christian love holds people accountable to God’s standards of good and evil.  That is why the Apostle Paul can write to the Corinthian church about love and also say in the same letter: “It isn’t right for a man to sleep with his stepmother.  You need to remove this man from your church if he won’t repent of his sin.”

Real love doesn’t put up with evil and injustice; it holds people accountable.   

We see a lot of evil and injustice in our world today.  And Christians who are loved by God in Christ and who also profess to love God and love our neighbors ought to call out evil and injustice whenever we see it.   

We should start with ourselves--as individuals and then as the Church.  Jesus once said, “Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?” (Matthew 7:3)  So where do we see evil injustice in our own lives?  Don’t let pointing the finger at someone else’s sin be an excuse to ignore your own.  Examine yourself.  Ask the Lord to reveal where you have fallen short.  Repent of your sin and ask the Holy Spirit to reform you. 

On the other hand, don’t let your own imperfection be an excuse to rejoice about evil and injustice in the world either. Some will shy away from calling sin “sin” because they are too ashamed of their own sin to say anything to someone else.  So they keep silent and their silence condones what is evil. 

Love Rejoices Whenever The Truth Wins Out
But love doesn’t only go around telling people how wrong they are.  Love “rejoices” when the truth wins out.  Love is happy when people finally get it.  Love is overjoyed when it sees someone earnestly repent and turn to God.  Love celebrates with a feast when a prodigal son comes home and reconciles with his estranged father.  Love looks for the good and celebrates it every chance it gets!

Jesus is the very best example of true love.  I guess this is because God is love and Jesus is God so Jesus is Love in Love’s purest form.  Jesus never condoned evil.  Yet, in love, Jesus knew how to call out evil and call people to repentance and also to rejoice whenever the Truth won.  

I want to close with a story from Jesus’ life that I think illustrates how love "does not delight in evil but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.”  It comes from Luke 7:36-50. 

Luke 7:36-38

36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. 37 When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. 38 Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.

I learned in Sunday school a couple months ago that this jar of perfume was probably used by the woman as part of her “trade”.  Her trade was probably the oldest profession (prostitution).  If so, she would want to use perfume to make herself more attractive to her clients.  When Matthew and Mark tell this story in their Gospels, they say the woman smashed the jar of perfume—symbolic showing she was never going back to her sinful life.

Luke 7:39-48
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”

40 Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.”

“Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied.

41 Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other. 42 But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”

43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”
“That’s right,” Jesus said. 44 Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.

47 “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” 48 Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”

When we have the privilege of celebrating the sacrament of Holy Communion, we rejoice that the Truth has won.  Jesus, gave His life so that we can repent of our sins and return to God as Lord.  When we accept God as rightful Lord of our life and surrender to His will, we are saved by the sacrificial love of Christ.

Examine yourself now, and ask, “Lord, show me the sin for which I need to repent today so that I may come to Your table and celebrate how Your Truth has won the victory in my life today.”  

May the Lord show you and may you repent and follow Christ. Amen.

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Truth Shall Set You Free


John 8:31-37
31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
33 “But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?”
34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. 35 A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever.36 So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. 37 Yes, I realize that you are descendants of Abraham. And yet some of you are trying to kill me because there’s no room in your hearts for my message.

Are You Really Free?
In this passage, Jesus had a conversation with some Jews living in Judea who were descendants of the Israelites who were led out of slavery in Egypt in Exodus.  The Israelites were proud to be descendants of Abraham and the story of how Moses lead them through the Red Sea and out of slavery in Egypt was an essential part of the nation, ethnic, and religious identity.  They were proud to be a “free” people.  And even though the Roman Empire was the real authority in the Judea, the Romans had allowed the Judea to remain autonomous in deference to their national pride as a free people (so long as the Judeans promised to remain loyal to Rome and not cause trouble).  But Jesus explains that true freedom is more than national or ethnic identity or a political matter.  True freedom is a spiritual matter.

I have always known we are blessed to live in this country—the land of the free and the home of the brave.  I came to appreciate those blessings in a new way the first time I traveled to Guatemala in 2006.  For one thing, the poverty I saw in Guatemala reminded how fortunate we are to enjoy so many comforts in the United States.  Everyone in Guatemala looked up to us—literally… 

I will never forget returning to the United States after a week in Guatemala.  Now, I love Guatemala.  It is a beautiful country filled with amazing people (and we could learn a lot of things from the people there), but I was so glad to come back to my homeland and I was so proud to be an American. 

I will never forget arriving at the airport in Atlanta and going through customs.  There was a line of people a mile long waiting to go through customs and “enter” the United States.  My mission team was tired and homesick and ready to see our families and the thought of waiting in another long line was a bleak prospect.  Just then, a customs agent came walking down the line asking, “Are you a US citizen?  Are you a US Citizen?”  And all who answered yes were ushered to the front of a much shorter line.  I could see the weariness on the faces of all the non-citizens waiting in that long line as we walked passed them and I thought, “I am truly blessed to be a citizen on the United States of America.”  We enjoy so many privileges we take for granted.
Just a few days ago, we celebrated Independence Day on July the Fourth.  Independence Day is a holiday commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence—declaring our independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain.  In it, our forefathers proclaimed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  It was the belief of our nation’s founders that Freedom was a God-given right that should never be violated. 

If ever there was a national ideal that came straight from the pages of the Bible, it is this—humanity was created by God to be free.  “In the beginning,” (Genesis 1), “God created the Heavens and the Earth.”  And God created humanity to be free—free to think, free to make choices, free to love.  God did not create us as animals chained to follow our basic instincts. God created us to be free!

Yet today, the vast majority of humanity is not free.  Even here in this great Nation where freedom is the hallmark of our national identity, the vast majority are not free.  People are enslaved to a cruel master, Sin. 

You might have a hard time thinking of yourself—an American citizen—as a slave.  We live in the land of the free, but that doesn’t automatically make you free, not any more than standing inside a gym automatically makes you fit and muscular.  You are not truly free unless the Son of God sets you free.

Sin keeps us from being free.
Romans 6:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  And Romans 6:23 says, “The wages [or consequences] of sin is death…”  So we all have a big problem.  We are all guilty of sin—which is turning away from God and doing things our own way—and we will all reap the penalty of sin—which is death. 

But the death Romans talks about is far worse than just passing away into oblivion and ceasing to exist.  The death we face because of sin is a spiritual death.  Sin separates us from God.  Our spirits suffocate in the absence of God’s presence.  In Luke 16, Jesus described the eternal destiny of sinners as a place of fiery torment.  The 20th chapter of the book Revelation describes the place as a lake of fire.  I don’t know for sure what that place is like, but I know it is something worse than death.  It is spiritual death.  (If God is like the air we breathe, you could imagine hell like suffocating without air for eternity.)

Jesus came to set us free from the spiritual death that sin brings into our life.  The great Christian evangelist of the first century—St. Paul—epitomizes to me a man who is truly free.  Death held no power over his freedom.  He boldly traveled wherever the Lord led him to spread the Gospel unhindered by persecution, hardship, or even the fear of death.  He was beaten, imprisoned, stoned, shipwrecked, and eventually executed.  Yet he was not afraid.  Paul said in Philippians 1:21, For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.  And he penned those famous words that have comforted so many at funerals, O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?(1 Corinthians 15:55)

When the Son of God sets you free, you no longer have to fear death.  I tell people (and myself), “What is there to be afraid of?  The worst thing that can happen is death.  And to die means to go home to glory—no more suffering or pain or sickness or grief.  It’s like the ultimate retirement!”  And to live with no fear of death out on the edge with God holding your hand—now that’s freedom!

It’s not just a fear of death that enslaves people.  Because of Sin, some people are bound by chains of guilt.  Ironically, the church is often a place where people feel the most guilt. I have known people who avoid church altogether because it makes them feel so guilty.  They walk into a beautiful sanctuary like this and instead of inspiring them it just reminds them how far short they have fallen from God’s glory.  They see everyone dressed up for church and smiling like they don’t have any problems and the preacher is standing up on stage peering down over the pulpit at them.  And all these things remind them of how unworthy they feel.  They don’t like that feeling so they just stay away. 

Ironically, I have found that sometimes the people in church with the biggest smiles are the ones with the most heartache and guilt. 

Jesus Sets Us Free
Maybe you feel that way, but Jesus doesn’t want church to be a place that overwhelms us with guilt.  Jesus came to set us free from sin.  He said, God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17).  And 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”  Because of Jesus Christ, those who confess there sins and believe in Jesus Christ can trust Psalm 103:12 which says, “[God] has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.”  When we come to church (or wherever we are), God does not looking down on us as He looks down on us.  He looks at us and smiles the way a loving father smiles at their children.

And so we are free to live!  We are not bound by a guilt that causes us to hide from God in shame or try to impress Him or somehow try to work our way back into His favor.  We don’t have to bow our heads in shame.  We don’t have to carry a load of constant apologies.  As Ephesians 3:12 says, “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.”  Now that is truly free!

But the freedom we have in Christ goes even further.  We are also free from the power of sin.  This is the glorious Good News of Christ’s message that—frankly—doesn’t get preached enough.  The salvation we have in Christ is not just forgiveness; it is also healing.  We are on the road to recovery.  Gradually, with God’s help, we are getting over this sinful nature that plagues us. So we don’t have to dread a life of constant mistakes and sinful living while we throw our hands up in the air and say, “I can’t help it.  I’m a sinner by nature.”  Romans 6:6 says, “We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.”  And Romans 6:22 says, “Now you are free from the power of sin…  So, we don’t have to go through life thinking we are bound to sin.  If we slip up, we can be forgiven.  But we don’t have to sin.  We are free!   Because God loves us so much, we are now empowered to love others!  We are free to share the love of Christ with everyone!

Closing
Jesus said, “The truth shall set your free.” He said that to the Israelites and they had a hard time seeing that they were enslaved.  Can you sense their national pride when they said, “We are descendants of Abraham.  We have never been slaves to anyone.”  I wonder how many of us here today have a similar notion.  We think, “I live in the United States of America.  I am not a slave.  I am free.” 

Jesus would say the same thing to you today that he said 2,000 years ago.  “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin.”  When we humble ourselves and recognize we are enslaved, Jesus is there to set us free.  But if our pride makes us hang on to the false notion that simply being an American makes us free, we will remain enslaved.  Exercising freedom takes wisdom and courage and determination.  It takes the Son to set you free and keep you free.

As we give thanks for the independence of our great nation, what better way to honor freedom than to truly live out our freedom.  I hope today you will humble yourself and ask Jesus to help you.  And then I pray you will go out of this place and live the free life you were created to live!


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Grace - The Truth As Far As I Can Tell...

John 1:16 – From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
            I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be labeled as “graceful.”  Clumsy?  Yes.  Forgetful?   Sure!  Graceful?  No.  I’m so awkward I can manage to fall up a flight of steps.
Never-the-less, one of my favorite words in the Christian vocabulary is Grace.  Grace is often used to describe the charming way people carry themselves (or the lack thereof as they trip and stumble through life).  However, grace has a more significant meaning for Christians as we walk with Christ.  Grace is the undeserved aid God lends to help us, save us, renew us, and set us apart as His holy servants.  Regardless of how elegant or clumsy we are, the spiritual virtue of grace within comes from the Holy Spirit.  Just as the Father, through Jesus Christ, forgave our sin and continues to forgive our clumsy blunderings through life, the Spirit enables us to offer the same grace to others.  God’s grace encourages and inspires us to never give up, because we know we are loved and that God is on our side. Grace motivates us to do our very best—not because we fear God’s wrath, but—because we love God and want to serve well to show it.  Even if we fail or fall, we believe God still loves us and appreciates the effort.  We believe in grace with our whole heart and believers offer grace to others because we have been given so much ourselves.  It’s amazing to see how grace motivates and inspires and gives birth to more and more grace—and grace is a beautiful thing.  We could all use a little more grace.  We should all offer a little more to others.  Of course, I’m no expert and I certainly don’t claim to know everything, but that’s the Truth as far as I can tell…

Remember, God loves you and so do I!