Donate to Support

Support the church that supports this blog. Donate at - www.PleasantGrove.cc Click the donate button in the upper righthand corner.
Showing posts with label Love. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Love. Show all posts

Monday, March 22, 2021

Revenge

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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


Disclaimer

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


Closing Meditation

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

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


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


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

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



Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Follow Your Heart?

Introduction
I hope you had a happy Valentines day.  I think I am the luckiest guy in the world to be blessed with my wife, Kelly, as my sweet valentine.  We started dating when I was 18 and she was 16, but I first noticed Kelly when I was only 13 or 14 years old.  I okayed in a rock and roll band with her dad.  We used to rehearse at his house and I would see Kelly's picture on the wall.  I though, "Man, she's pretty!"  Sometimes, she would come in through the front door and walk through the house passed where the band rehearsed and I would think, "Man, she sure is pretty!"  She never seemed to notice me.

I had my very first girlfriend when I was  in pre-K.  How does a kid have a girlfriend in Pre-K?  I don't know.  All I know is my parents and older siblings used to tease me because, apparently, I had befriended a girl in my pre-K class and they thought it was cute.  I don't even remember her; all I knew was that the important people in my life were thrilled I had a "girlfriend".  Their interest in my "love life" was re-enforced throughout my childhood as they would often ask, "So, who's your girlfriend?"  When we would take trips to see my grandparents or aunts and uncles, they also would ask, "Got any girlfriends?"  

Now, these older people loved me and probably just thought it was a nice thing to ask and it was cute to think of a young boy with a girlfriend.  What was impressed upon my young mind from a very early age was that having a girlfriend was very important, maybe the most important thing.  It came to be one of the most important goals in my life.  Every new school year, the exciting question in my mind was, "What girls will be in my class?  Will one of them be my girlfriend?"  

Be careful how you talk to kids about girlfriends/boyfriends.  You may just think it's cute and harmless.  But what message are you subconsciously sending  with your interest?

Well, when I was 17, I did find a girlfriend and we got pretty serious.  We spent so much time together, I neglected my other friendships.  Then, when our relationship ended in a breakup--as most high school romances end--I was lonely with a broken heart and fewer friends.  Thankfully, God used that time in my life to help me re-prioritize my life and start seeking the Lord.

After I turned 18, I was no longer that interested in romance.  I knew I was about to graduate high school and go away to college.  Why start a relationship only to have to break it off when I left town to pursue an education?  But my sister was interested in Diego, one of my friends.  We had a rule that we didn't date each other's friends.  My sister came to me and said, "How about we set that rule aside so I can date Diego and I have a friend you can date?"  

She told me her friend was Kelly Hendrick.  She was the girl I used to see while our band rehearsed (and I remembered how pretty she was!)  I wasn't really interested in a serious relationship right before I graduated, but I thought it might be fun to have someone to hang out with for a few months (and did I mention, she was really pretty?).

Well, it's funny how God works.  When I finally stopped worrying so much about finding "the one", God sent "the one" for me.  Kelly and I hit it off well and soon fell deeply in love.  We dated for 2 and a half years and then we married when she finished high school.  We've been together ever since and we're very happy.

The world has its way of doing things.  The world constantly bombards us with its “wisdom” through TV, music, movies, commercials.  One of the messages the world impresses on us is the paramount importance of finding true love.  Whether it is through music, television, or movies (or even the well-meaning people in your life), the idea is passed on that one of the ultimate goals in life is to find a mate.  We usually accept this and many other worldly ideas without much thought.  It seems like everyone believes these things and so we do too--that is, until Jesus comes along and challenges our way of thinking.

“Follow Your Heart”
For instance: The world says: “Follow your heart.”  The call to “follow your heart” is a warning not to overthink your decision.  The idea is that your heart (or your emotions or your inner voice) knows what you really need to do.  And so, many people believe you should “just follow your heart and it will lead you the right way.”  Many have made this their life motto and even tattooed on their body. 

Is "just follow your heart" really advice?  Is it really a bad thing to use your brain to intelligently weigh your decisions and your path in life?  Should you really “just let your heart lead you?”  

Well, if we pause for just a moment to think about it, it doesn’t take much intelligence to realize, “just follow your heart” is really bad advice—even though so much of the world believes this maxim.  (I suppose, though, if we “just follow our heart” our heart might tell us to “just follow our heart”, but can we really trust our heart when it says this?) 

As a pastor, people often come to me looking for help with all kinds of problems--relationship problems, marital problems, financial and spiritual problems.  What I have observed through many years of pastoral experience in actual real life situations is that when people “follow their heart” it usually leads them into a big ole mess! I've lost count of how many people I've known who married the wrong person because they were “following their heart…”  How many have gotten divorced because they followed their heart?  Hw many have cheated on their spouse, chosen the wrong career, parented their kids badly, made a bad financial investment, or wasted their money on a bad purchase simply because they were "following their heart"?

The evidence I have seen through many years of observation is that “follow your heart” is very bad advice.

What did Jesus Say?
If we want some truly trustworthy advice, we should turn to Jesus.  He was with God when God created the world, and Jesus is God (see John 1).  Jesus created us, and he knows the inner workings of our heart and our whole being.  What advice does Jesus give about “following your heart?” 

In Matthew 15:19, Jesus said, “For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.”

And Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked.  Who really knows how bad it is?” 

That's pretty strong language!  Is the heart really all that bad? Yes, I believe it is. I believe it is because Jesus said it.  But I also believe it because I have a heart and I've seen how dark my own heart can be at times.  Don't get me wrong. I have a good heart.  It's compassionate. It cares about people.  It's generous. I have a giving heart. I have a good heart—that is, until it's not a good heart.  And then you better watch out! I also realize, my heart is a tricky heart. When it wants something, my heart is very persuasive. It can figure out how to make almost anything seem right. 

And it's not just my heart. It's your heart too. You may think you have a good heart.  Maybe you do, that is, until it's not a good heart.  Then you have a wicked heart, just like the Word of God says.  And if you don't think so, it's probably because you're still under your deceptive heart's spell. You better watch out! You better to listen to Jesus! You better listen to the Word of God!  “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked.  Who really knows how bad it is?”  “For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.”

The heart is not an organ that can be trusted to lead you to make good and right decisions. 

That’s why God said in Ezekiel 36:26-27, “I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.  And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.”

God knows how deceitful is the human heart.  That’s why Jesus came and died on the cross to atone for our sins.  Not only did Christ’s sacrifice pay for our sins, it also makes it possible for God to give us a new heart.  When we trust in Jesus, God begins healing our broken, deceitful hearts.  And as we wait for our new and perfect heart to be fully restored (a process that will take the rest o four life on earth), God sends His Holy Spirit to live inside us and guide us.  However, we have to listen to the Holy Spirit (and not our old broken hearts). 

How Do You Listen to the Spirit?
We have to learn how to follow the Holy Spirit and not our heart.  It can be confusing, because both require us to use a similar, intangible intuition that is a lot like "feeing our way through".  Many people, thinking they are following the Holy Spirit, are really just following their hearts (or their emotions).  So how do you tell the difference?  Let me give you a little guidance that will help. 

Look to the Bible.  The clearest instruction from God comes to us in His Holy Word, the Bible.  The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the foundation for everything we believe and do as Christians.  If you think the Holy Spirit is telling you to do something that goes against  what the Bible clearly says, you better check yourself.  It’s probably not the Holy Spirit.  More likely, it’s your heart trying to deceive you.  Why would God’s Holy Spirit lead you to disobey what He already said in His Holy Word in the Bible? 

Ask the Church.  The Christian faith is not a private matter and a private fait is not really faith in Jesus at all.  Look, even Jesus’ religion when he walked this earth was not lived privately.  He called together 12 disciples to live out his religion with him in community.  And Jesus always meant for his way of living to be lived with other people.  The Church is the gathering of Jesus’ people.  And we are called to help each other and depend on each other.  We need each other.  And when we are trying to discern what the Holy Spirit is saying—especially if it is a very important decision—we need to check in with the community of faith.  You need a few trustworthy Christian friends you can talk with about your decisions.  As you listen for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, you listen with Your Christian brothers and sisters.  Your heart may try to deceive you, but a good Christian friend will tell you the truth.  They will help you tell the difference between your emotions and the true leading of God’s Holy Spirit.  You are called to do this for your Christian friends as well.

Develop a Life of Prayer. Last, but certainly not least, develop a life of prayer.  Don't just pray; develop a life a prayer.  Most people pray every now and then--especially when they are faced with a big problem and they need God's help.  However, if you want to develop your ability to sense how the Holy Spirit is guiding you, you need to pray constantly.  Develop the habit of praying every day.  Pray every hour.  In fact, pray throughout the day.  It doesn't have to be long, drawn out prayers.  Simply talk to God throughout your day.  His Holy Spirit is walking beside you anyway; don't give Him the silent treatment.  Talk to Him.  Include Him in everything you are doing throughout your day.  As you do this, you will become more sensitive to how the Holy Spirit is trying to lead you.  Now, follow.

Closing
I want to invite you today to receive a new heart from the Lord.  You’re old one is broken.  It doesn’t really care about you.  It just wants to satisfy itself and it doesn’t really care if you get hurt along the way.  But God loves your deeply and unconditionally.  He really does want what’s best for you.  He will always look after your best interests, even if it means withholding something you think you really want if it’s not really good for you.  Ultimately, God wants to spend eternity wit you.  Won’t you surrender your heart to Him today so He can give you a new and better one--a heart that will last for all eternity? 

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Ten Plagues fo Egypt, Plague 6 - Boils

Exodus 9:8-12
8 Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from a brick kiln, and have Moses toss it into the air while Pharaoh watches. 9 The ashes will spread like fine dust over the whole land of Egypt, causing festering boils to break out on people and animals throughout the land.”

10 So they took soot from a brick kiln and went and stood before Pharaoh. As Pharaoh watched, Moses threw the soot into the air, and boils broke out on people and animals alike. 11 Even the magicians were unable to stand before Moses, because the boils had broken out on them and all the Egyptians. 12 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and just as the Lord had predicted to Moses, Pharaoh refused to listen.

Introduction
Can you name the plagues so far? Blood, frogs, gnats, flies, the death of Egypt’s livestock, and boils.  Can you name the ones still to come?  Hail, locust, darkness, and the death of the first born son.

God used all these plagues to prove to Pharaoh and Egypt and everyone there is only one God, Yahweh, the Great I Am, Lord of all.  For He said in Exodus 12:12, “I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord.” And in Exodus 17:17 He said, “By this you will know that I am the Lord…”

Ancient Egypt was a great civilization that lasted some 3,000 years.  One of the ways they demonstrated their greatness was by building impressive monuments.  Each successive Pharaoh was pressured to build bigger and better structures to demonstrate they were greater than the Pharaoh’s who came before them.  This heavy burden forced Pharaoh’s to marshal all the empire's resources and tens of thousands of laborers and slaves to construct remarkable tombs to glorify their legacy. 

In order for build the Great Pyramid of Giza, it took about 30,000 people 20 years at a cost of $1.2 billion dollars (by today's standards).  Do you know which Pharaoh built the Great Pyramid of Giza?  Me either.  You would think for $1.2 billion we would know.  But the vast majority of the world doesn’t really care.  (By the way, I Googled it and it was Pharaoh Hemiunu.)  

An Empire of Idols
Egypt believed in thousands of gods and goddesses, of which Pharaoh was the earthly representative.  I can't imagine the pressure it puts on a person live up to people's expectations that you are a god.  I can't imagine the pressure Pharaoh felt because he actually believed he was a god, knowing all his own flaws.  That was the lie with which they deluded themselves.  

And because life is unpredictable—and life in the ancient world was incredibly unpredictable—the Egyptians believed gods could bless them one day and curse them the next.  And so, the Egyptians sought to appease and control their deities through sacrifices and magical incantations. Much of the mysterious writing with which the Egyptians decorated their buildings were magical spells intended to ward off evil spirits and enlist the help of benevolent ones. 

Among the thousands of Egyptian Gods, one important goddess was Sekhmet, the goddess of war and healing.  “She is depicted as a lioness. She was seen as the protector of the pharaohs and led them in warfare. Upon death, Sekhmet continued to protect them, bearing them to the afterlife.”[i]  But Sekhmet was powerless to help when Moses reached into the brick kiln for a handful of dust.  

Do you remember how Pharaoh forced the Israelites to make bricks to build his temples and tombs?  Now God has Moses use the ashes from the brick kilns to afflict the Egyptians with festering boils.  Boils broke out all over the Egyptians, but not a single Israelite was affected.  Can you imagine the horror and humiliation for Egyptians as they suffered while they saw their slaves--the Hebrews the viewed as less than human--being spared.  Even Pharaoh's magicians were covered from head to foot with the awful misery.  And where was the protection and healing of the Egyptian goddess?  She has no power to stop Yahweh.

What are our gods today?  According to Timothy Keller in his book, Counterfeit Gods, an idol is “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, and anything that you seek to give you what only God can give.”   

The Love Idol
According to the Beatles, “All you need is love.”  God made us for love and to love and there is a deep longing for it in every human heart.  Unfortunately, instead of finding love in God and healthy human relationships, we usually turn love into an idol where sex and romance takes the place of God in our hearts.  These are such important idols in our culture we don’t even see them as idols.  In fact, I may get in trouble just for trying to expose them as a myth.  (Nobody likes it when you smash their idol.)

The general myth of love in our culture right now is portrayed in a thousand movies and love songs.  It’s a powerful myth.  We sing the love songs and believe the lies, even though we know they’re unrealistic.  We watch the movies with teary eyes and a yearning in our soul.  The myth is imbedded in our worldview.  The details for each story are different, but it generally goes something like this. 

A little girl begins dreaming from an early age that, one day, she will have a beautiful wedding to celebrate her ultimate achievement—finding true love.  For out there, somewhere, is the man created just for her—her soulmate—the one who will fulfill her deepest needs.  He will be tall, dark, and handsome. (Ladies, you can insert whatever physical traits you prefer here because they aren’t as important as what how the man acts.)  The girls greatest dream is that she will find her one true love and he will fall madly in love with her.  He will get down on one knee and propose ini the most romantic way.  They will have the beautiful wedding of her dreams and spend the rest of their lives together.  He will cherish her and give her everything she needs.  They will have kids and he will take care of her and their family.  And they will live happily ever after.  Now all you have to do is fill in the details a bit and expand the story and you have the makings for a romantic comedy that could make millions on the silver screen.  You’re welcome.

Men have a slightly different love myth, but it pairs well with the feminine myth.  Men grow up believing that somewhere, there is a woman so incredibly attractive he will know “she’s the one” as soon as he sees her.  He will be so smitten he will do anything to win her love.  She will be everything he’s ever wanted in a girl.  Because of her, he won’t even want to look at another woman.  Sex with her will be so amazing he will be in heaven!  Therefore, he will gladly dedicate his life to making her happy and she will cherish him as her provider and protector and hero.  He will sacrifice anything for her because life without her would be meaningless.

It’s just harmless stuff right?  Except, that somewhere deep down we believe this stuff.  The fact is, there is no man or woman out there that can live up to the myth we’ve made up in our minds.  Tragically, this kind of thinking actually hinders true love.  Love is not what another person does for you.  Love is what you do for others.  Love is sacrificial.  It’s not about how the other person makes you feel or what they do for you.  Love is giving without expecting anything.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 tells us the characteristics of true love.  "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."  Real love is Jesus dying on the cross for sinful humanity.  In fact, the Bible says Jesus dying on the cross is the example of love between a husband and wife.  Which image do you trust?  The popular image of love portrayed in our society or the image of love God give us in His Word?

Conclusion
The very first of the 10 commandments from Exodus 20 says, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.  You shall have no other gods before me.”

This commandment lays the ground work for all the other laws and commandments God gave us.  Why is it so important that we worship only God?  Some complain God is jealous and egotistical.  That's not true.  God is actually selfless.  He is thinking of us as He gives these commands.  If you have any other gods, you will not be able to love God and you will not be able to experience God's love for you in its fullness.  

When we cut God out of first place in our heart, we create a huge hole that nothing else can fill.  Our deepest desire is love—and it’s the only kind of love God is able to give. So many of the love songs and love stories we cherish, we cherish because they portray an idealized love that only God can give.  Unfortunately, when we seek that love from mere mortals, they will not be up to the task and we will be woefully disappointed.  Meanwhile expecting that love from people cuts us off from the true source of perfect love—Almighty God.

It is not that God is spiteful and refuses to love us if we don’t love someone else besides Him. No.  It's amazing that He still loves us despite our unfaithfulness.  Perhaps an illustration will help.  Suppose you are married and you cheat on your spouse.  You have damaged the relationship terribly.  Even if your spouse stays with you, there will be an offense in your psyche that hinders your relationship.  This illustrates our condition with God.  We have broken that relationship with our sin.  Every time we turn to an idol, we are cheating on God—chasing after fulfilment in some fantasy that can never deliver what it promises.  We chase this fantasy until discover it is an illusion.  Then we either settle for the disappointing illusion or we chase after a new fantasy, ending with the same results again.  All the while, our One True Love is watching, heart breaking, as He see--not only our betrayal and unfaithfulness, but also knows with His all-knowing wisdom that--we are inflicting wound upon wound on our own souls.

And so, God came as Jesus came and lived among us.  He is the perfect representation of true love.  It is not that we love him, but He loved us.  While we were still sinners, Christ came and died for us.  He has made a way for us to come back to God. 

Won’t you repent of your sins and turn to God?

Stop believing the lie that there is some person out there who's love is going to "complete you".  Only God, thru Christ, can complete you.  And when you trust Him, He will save you and teach you to love others--maybe even someone you could marry and spend the rest of your life with.  Even if you remain single your whole life, you will still be completely complete because in Christ you have everything you truly need.




Monday, July 6, 2020

Jesus’ Power Helps Us Be Good Friends


Today, I'll finish studying the themes and passages from each day of VBS. 
So far, we’ve learned:  
Jesus Power Helps Us Do Hard Things.
Jesus Power Gives Us Hope.
Jesus Power Helps Us Live Forever.  
Today, we learn:  Jesus Power Helps Us Be Good Friends.

John 15:12 says, “This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.

Jesus also said that everyone would know we are Christians by our love.  He didn't say they would know we are Christians by the way we dress or how we speak or where we go to church or even by the stances we take on political issues.  He said, they will know we are Christians by the way we love each other.

It is essential that Christians love each other and stick together.  You cannot live out your faith in  People were created to be together.  One of the hardest things during this pandemic is the isolation.  We were not meant to be stuck at home all by ourselves.  We were not meant to be unable to hug or even shake hands. (That's why it is so awkward when we get together and we don't know whether we should or not.  We need some form of social greeting that doesn't require physical contact, but we also need physical contact.)  God designed us to be together.
Jesus all by yourself.

Think about it.  When Jesus came as the Son of God, filled with the power of God, he didn't need any help to fix the problems of the world.  He could have snapped his fingers and fixed them all by himself.  But he didn't.  Instead, he chose 12 disciples to work with him. It would have been easier to do it alone.  Why get 12 people together with all their problems and personality conflicts.  You know, James and John were brothers; you know how siblings can be.  One time I was driving with my two daughters when they were younger and the older one screams, "Dad!  She breathing!"  And I said, "Thank God!  That means she's alive!"  (What she meant was, she's breathing too loud and it's getting on my nerves!")  Don't you know James and John were probably always getting on each others nerves--not to mention the 10 other disciples.  Why would Jesus put himself through all that?  Why not save the world all by himself?  I guess it was essential for the work to be done together as a group effort.

Jesus established the Church to be a family of believers united to support one another with friendship as we tell the world about Jesus.  We see several pictures of the church working and living together in divine unity--especially in the book of Acts.   

Acts 2:42-47
42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

Acts 4:32-35
32 All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. 33 The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. 34 There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them 35 and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.

Light in the Darkness
The early Christians were vastly outnumbered.  Most of the people around them did not believe in Jesus or even care to show love, kindness, or goodness.  This small group of Christians—only about 5,000 people in a city of over 200,000 was a bright light in a dark, dark world.  “This small band of believers needed to stick together and support each other.”[i]

Maybe it was easier for there earliest Christians to stick together than it is for us.  There wasn’t a pandemic on the loose.  Or was there?  COVID-19 isn't the first pandemic the world has faced.  There have been many plagues that have ravaged the world in former times--bubonic plague, the black death, and others that we can't even name.  Many of these were far deadlier to humanity than COVID-19.  I was watching a documentary the other day and they said the black death killed as much as 80-90% of many of the community it struck.  Can you imagine?  That would be horrible!

The early Christians had deal with these devastation.  They stuck together through them.  In fact, many scholars believe that the way they stuck together through the various plagues contributed to the rise of Christianity throughout the world.  It contributed in two ways.  First of all, Christians survived the plagues at higher rates than non-Christians.  Think about it. when everyone around you is dying and people were frightened, they would hide in their homes and abandon their friends and family.  Christians didn't abandon each other.  And because they cared for one another--even being willing to die for each other--they had a better chance of surviving sickness than others who had no on to care for them.  A second reason plagues helped Christianity become more prominent is because non-believers saw how the CHristians love one another, and even how they reached out to care for and love non-Christians.  In the face of death, when everyone was abandoning each other, Christians stuck together and even cared for others who were not Christians.  And this showed non-believers the Christians faith was authentic; and many non-believer began to believe.

Today, Christians have many more tools to help us stick together.  Even though we have been told to isolate ourselves, we have phones.  We can so easily call one another to check on each other.  We also have text and email.  In a few seconds, we can send a message to someone.  We have programs like Zoom, where we can all gather in a virtual room for a video conference where we can see and hear each other.  And this is not even mention social media and how it can be used to help us stay connected.

Are we using our technology to stay connected?  Is sticking together as the family of Christ a top priority in our lives?  What are you doing to stay connected?  What will you do in the days ahead?

Alone, Christians are vulnerable.  When Christians stick together, we are unbreakable.

Jesus’ Power Helps Us Be Good Friends
Since Jesus wants us to be good friends, His Holy Spirit helps us to be good friends.  If we are willing to follow the Spirit’s guidance, we can make friends, be friends, and bring our friends to Jesus.  Let me give you 5 simple tips about how to make good Christian friends.[ii]

First of all, pray about it.   Pray for God to show you who should be your friends.  Yo never know whom God may place in your path today who needs a friend.  And you never know how that friendship may grow and bless you.  Pray that God would send you people to befriend.  And also pray about the depth of the friendship. Not all friends are created equal.  Some will be more casual and some will be deeper relationships.  And you need to know the difference and know that it's alright to have different kind of friends.  Pray for the wisdom to know what kind of friends you have.  And of course, pray for your friends.  Pray God will bless them and care for them.  And pray that your friendship will grow.

Second, be honest. Don't try to pretend to be someone you are not.  Just be yourself.  Your true friends will accept you for who you are.  Be authentic and have integrity.  And tell your friends the truth, even if it is a hard truth.  They might not like it at first, but--if they are a true friend--they will appreciate your honesty and see that you offer it in love.  My friendship with my best friend began 24 years ago when we worked together in a youth program.  He was the youth director and I was a volunteer in the program.  He asked for feedback from all his volunteers about his job performance.  I thought he was doing a terrific job, but also saw a few things he could do better.  I praised him, but also offered my constructive criticism.  Eddie really appreciated my honesty and told me some time later that it showed him I was a true friend.  That friendship grew from that point on and has lasted through many good times and hard times until we are now more like brothers than friends.  Honesty is the foundation of the best friendships.

Third, be selfless.  It’s not about you. We tend to befriend people we enjoy being around, but it would be self-centered if that were the only thing that made up our friendship.  Ultimately, friendship is about selflessly giving to your friends.  Jesus said, "There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." (John 15:13)  Great friendships are build when both friends give selflessly expecting nothing in return.

Tip number four:  be vulnerable.  Vulnerability creates an instant connection. When we open up with our friends, we put ourselves in their hands and a true friend takes that responsibility seriously.  They appreciate that we have trusted them and they will also trust us.  Being vulnerable helps weave your life into your friend's life.  Now, it is important to remember tip number one when you begin to open up to your friends.  Remember, friendships come in different levels.  Friends must earn each other's trust to go to deeper levels of vulnerability.  Pray to know your friendships.  Don't be completely vulnerable with someone who hasn't earned your trust.  That isn't wise.  But then only way to earn trust is to be given a chance. So, start opening up slowly and move to deeper levels as a friend earns your rust.

Lastly, have fun!  Fun is more than entertainment.  We bond with our friends as we have fun together.  It helps to weave the chords of our lives together.  You don't have to be having fun all the time.  But having fund together has to be part of the equation.  It is something that makes friends truly friends.  That's one of the reasons why it is so essential that church members get together regularly for fun and fellowship.  It's not just something extra we do--like being in a social club.  Fun and fellowship weaves together our lives and bonds us as one body--the body of Christ.

Make a Friend.  Be a Friend.  Bring a Friend to Christ.
Now when it comes to making friends,  you must both reach in and reach out.  I suggest that most of your friends should be people who have the same deep core values as you.  Therefore, if you are a Christian, seek strong Christian friends; they will help encourage you to follow Christ and grow in His love (and you will do this for them too).  Your Christian friends will be the people you can count on the most.

However, we should also reach outward to non-believers.  Jesus gave us a mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  We can only do this as we reach out to be friends to non-Christians.  When we have a solid foundation of Christians friends to keep us strong and on the right path, we can be confident to be friends to even those who don't share our same values.  In doing so, we can grow and learn and we can help our new non-believing friend grow and learn too.  And perhaps our friends may see the special faith we have and desire to pursue it as well.  Then they will grow to a deeper level of friendship as they learn to share our faith.

So, make a friend. Be a friend.  And bring a friend to Christ.  How will you be a friend this week?




Monday, November 11, 2019

Questions about Forgiveness


1 John 1:9
But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

People were designed to live in harmony with God and each other.  Unfortunately, sin destroys these relationships.  Sin separates us from God and each other.  Sin tears our world apart.  It corrupts everything—from our relationships to the very nature of the world around us.  The glorious Good News of Jesus Christ is that the blood He shed on the cross atones for our sin.  We can be forgiven and reconciled to God through Jesus.  As 1 John 1:9 says, if we confess our sins to Jesus, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us of all unrighteousness.

I've been asking people to submit questions about Christianity.  A couple questions came in about forgiveness.  And I want to address those today.

First Question:  If you are asking for forgiveness, can you only go to God or do you need to go to the other person and say out loud what your sin is?
This is a great question.  We know from Scripture that God is merciful and quick to forgive.  Jesus’ death on the cross assures our forgiveness by God.  But what about people?  Will they forgive us too?  Should we seek to be forgiven by the people we offend?  Many might like to avoid seeking forgiveness from people as that could be very awkward and painful.  Can't we just ask God to forgive us and be done with it?

Let me start this answer with a parable.  Suppose you are backing out of the driveway from your friend’s house and you accidentally run over his mailbox.  You didn’t mean to.  It was an accident.  But still, your friend’s mailbox is ruined and it was your fault.  What should you do?  Should you:
a. Feel guilty and beat yourself up about it for the rest of your life. 
b. Ask God to forgive you and then forget about it. (If your friend ever asks you about it, just say, “Oh yeah, I ran over your mailbox. But it’s OK because I asked God to forgive me and He did.”)
c. Make a donation to to your church for the amount it would have cost to fix your friend’s mailbox.
d. Apologize to your friend and pay to have a new mailbox put in.

I hope it's obvious to everyone that the answer is "d".  

I know. This is a very simple situation and issues about forgiveness and relationships are often far more complex.  I could write a whole series about issues related to confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation (and maybe I will one day).  

Jesus said in Matthew 5:23-24, “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God."

Jesus taught it’s very important to be reconciled with the people we’ve wronged.  Jesus also said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (The Golden Rule, Matthew 7:12).  If someone had sinned against you the way you sinned against this other person, what would you want them to do to you?  Would you want them to come confess their sin and seek your forgiveness and make it right?  If so, then that’s a strong indication you should also go to the person against whom you’ve sinned and confess your sin and ask forgiveness and seek to make it right.

Jesus said the most important commandments are to love God and love our neighbor.  If asking forgiveness will help the person you wronged, then you should go to them and confess and seek forgiveness and try to make it right.  However, you should only do this after much prayer and reflection; perhaps you should speak with a wise counselor or pastor first.  Ask God whether this is really going to help the other person.  Remember, this is about doing the right thing or the other person.  It’s not about assuaging your own guilt or winning some reward for yourself.  It’s about helping the other person and making it right.  And sometimes, going to ask forgiveness from someone you’ve wronged will do the more harm than good.  If this is the case, you should not go to the person for forgiveness.  If asking forgiveness would bring more harm than good, it may be better to pray for them and hope they forgive you in their own time because it might make them less unhappy, not because it does anything to help you.

As for how all this affects your relationship with God, God has already forgiven you through Jesus Christ.  God still loves you even if you are unable to be forgiven by those you’ve wronged in this life.  However, don’t let God’s forgiveness and grace be an excuse to selfishly avoid doing the right thing for the people you’ve wronged in this life when it’s in your power to do better.

God’s Question for You – Is there anyone to whom you need to apologize?  Is there anything you can do to make right a wrong you’ve done?

Next Question:  We get forgiveness when we ask for it.  Will our sins be hashed out again when we get to heaven?  Is there an actual judgment day?
Another great question.  The Bible teaches that one day everyone will have to make an account for the way they’ve lived in this life.  Everyone—Christians and non-Christians—will face this judgment.  Let me share what Scripture teaches.
Revelation 20:12 gives a vision of the final judgment before God.  It says, “I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books.” And verse 13 says, “And all were judged according to their deeds.”  And verse 15 says, “And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire.”

You want to make sure your name is in the Book of Life.  How do you make sure your name is in the Book of Life?  This is part the glorious Good News of Jesus Christ.  Jesus death on the cross opens a way for us to be forgiven of all our sins and have our name recorded in the Book of Life.  For everyone who surrenders to God, repents of their sin, and follows Jesus Christ as Lord shall be saved.  Their names are recorded in the Book of Life.  And at the final judgment, when God judges the living and the dead, He will find all your sins have been washed away.  Your sins will be no more because Jesus Christ already paid the price for all your sins.  You will be washed and clean and spotless before the Lord.

Now, that doesn't mean you should live however you want in this life and sin as much as you like because you know all your sins will be forgiven in the end.  No!  That is not the way people who follow Jesus as Lord ought to live (or want to live)!  We should follow the Lord and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us more and more into His likeness, so we treat people the way Jesus treats people, so that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our mid, and all our strength, and love our neighbor as our self.

Furthermore, I want to tell you, Christians will face a kind of judgment too.  In 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, the Apostle Paul explained how Christians will be judged in the final days.  You can think of this judgment for Christians as a performance review at work.  We will be evaluated for the work we've done for God’s Kingdom in this life.  This will help determine how we will be rewarded in eternity.  The work we've done in this life will be presented to God.  Any work that was frivolous and useless will be burned up like straw or wood in a fire. Those deeds that were pure and worthwhile (whether in whole or in part) will pass through the fire like gold, silver, and precious stones.  The impurities will be removed and the good of all our deeds will be refined like gold in a furnace. 

Scripture names some of the rewards that await people who serve the Lord faithfully in this life:
  • The Soul Winners crown for leading people to Jesus.  
  • The Victors Crown for those who persevere and refuse to give up during persecution.  
  • The Crown of Glory for those who pastor well Christ's "flock". 
  • The Crown of Life for martyrs who were killed for their faith.  
  • The Crown of Righteousness for looking with anticipation for the Second Coming.

And so, Scripture teaches that everyone will be judged on the Last Day.  Those who rejected Christ will go to eternal punishment.  Those who followed Christ as Lord will enters into eternal life with Jesus where their will be no more suffering or pain or sorrow or death.  And Christians will be rewarded for every faithful deed.

God’s questions for you – Is your name written in the Book of Life?  (In other words:  Have you surrendered to God, repented of your sins, and chosen to follow Jesus as your Lord?)  How will the things you do in this life be judged by the Lord on at the Last Judgment?  Will they be found useless like hay burned up in a fire?  Or will He find gold and silver because you were faithful in this life and worked hard to show the love of Christ to everyone around you and you lead people to Jesus?