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Showing posts with label Repentance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Repentance. 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, August 24, 2021

The Names of God - Advocate

Introduction
So far, we’ve covered quite a few names for God in the Bible.  I hope this series has helped you know God better—not just know about Him, but actually know Him.  It is never enough to know about Him.  God wants you to know Him, personally.  It is one thing for you to know about a person; we know about many people.  But when you know a person, it’s like you have dinner with them and sit around the living room talking about their life until late in the night.  You tell them all about your life and they tell you about there’s.  Even more than that, you really get to know a person when they come rescue you when your car breaks down, or when you are sick in the hospital and they take your children to school for you while you’re having surgery.  When you live life with someone—when they are at your wedding and the birth of your child and in the good times and the bad times and everything in between, then you really know them.  And this is the kind of relationship God wants with us all.  He knows us and He wants us to know Him.  And the names for God, which He reveals in Scripture, show us different ways He is there with us and who He is to us.  And I hope this series has helped you see some of the ways God is there.

Our name for God today is Advocate.

John 14:15-17a
15 
“If you love me, obey my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. 17 He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.


1 John 2:1
1 My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous.  2 He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.

Paraclete
Who would you call to help you if you were in really big trouble?  Imagine something terrible happens.  I mean, suppose you are driving through the Kroger parking lot and a 4-year-old kid dashes out in front of your car before you even have a chance to react.  And you hear that awful sound—kadunk…  You immediately stop and get out of the car and see the horrible sight of a mangled child.  It wasn’t your fault.  You had no chance to stop.  There was nothing you could do, but none of that matters to the crowd gathering around.  You mind is swirling and the mother is screaming.  The crowd is angy.  All they see is broken child, a devastated mother, and you and your car.  Someone yells “He was probably texting and driving!”  You weren’t. Your phone was in your pocket, but it doesn’t matter.  The mob wants someone to blame for this senseless tragedy.  They blame you.  The police arrive.  They take you to jail…  Who would you call?  Who would be on your side and fight for you no matter what?

I hope you never get in a situation like that.  But if you do, you will need friends who love you unconditionally.  You will need a good lawyer who will fight for you.

I say all this because it steers our thinking towards one of God’s most beautiful names—Advocate.  In John 14:16, Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you.  The Greek word for Advocate is Paraclete.  It literally means, “Called to one’s side.” 

In the ancient world, a paraclete (advocate) was the person you would call to defend you before a judge. They would plead your case and fight for you with every means possible.  In our day, you would hire the best lawyer you can afford.  We have seen in our time the difference between having a high paid lawyer as opposed to a public defender (that the court appoints for those who can’t afford a lawyer). 

Public defenders are notorious for providing bad defense.  It’s not necessarily that they are bad lawyers.  It’s just they are overworked, underpaid, and understaffed.  You are just another name on a long list of clients they have to defend.  On the other hand, we have seen how a really rich person might hire a brilliant lawyer who’s only job is to defend their one high-paying client, and they do it so well their client might even get away with murder.  Having the right advocate can make all the difference.

And Jesus says, “I will ask my Father (God) and He will give you an Advocate.”  The God of the Universe gives us an Advocate.  The Advocate is the Third Person of the Trinity—God the Holy Spirit.
When we decide to follow Jesus as our Lord, the Holy Spirit comes to live in our hearts.  He is there fighting for you, encouraging you, defending you, advising you, guiding you every step of the way.  Isn't it good to know that even if the whole world is against you, God the Holy Spirit is on your side?

Prevenient Grace
The Holy Spirit was there fighting for you before you even know He was there.  We celebrate the prevenient grace of God whenever we baptize and infant.  Sometimes people think the practice of infant baptism is peculiar.  They wonder why we would baptize a person before they can consciously understand what Jesus has done for them.  One reason we do infant baptism is specifically because represents how the Holy Spirit is working on our behalf before we even know or understand.  Parents present their child to God for baptism and ask the Holy Spirit to pour grace into the child and the parents and the church to help raise the child until they are old enough to accept Christ for themself and complete the baptism at confirmation.  Then they will recognize all that God has done for them through so many people and in so many ways.

All of my children were baptized as infants.  They will never know all the people who prayed for them, helped them, babysat them, and blessed them through the years.  All these people were instruments of the Holy Spirit to help them and give them every possible chance to grow up know CHrist and His love so that they were able to accept Jesus for themselves when they were old enough to understand what it means to be a Christian.

But suppose you were an orphan and didn't have a family or a church showing you the Holy Spirit's grace all through your childhood.  I want you to know that when no one else is there for you, God is the for you personally.  Deuteronomy 10:18 says, "[God] ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing."  Psalm 10:14 says, "The helpless put their trust in [God]. You defend the orphans."

When you are helpless and you have no one fighting for you, God is fighting for you personally as the Holy Spirit--opening doors, providing for needs, bringing people into your life to help.  God makes this happen, because God has a deep compassionate heart for the least, the last, the forgotten, and the lost. Read the stories of the Scripture and you will see Him there time and time again for the widow, the orphan, the foreigner, the leper, the lame, and the social outcast.

The Holy Spirit is there fighting for us to bring us to know God—even before we are thinking of God.

Justifying Grace
And then one day, we realize all that God has done for us, even though we haven’t been living for Him.  We see how Jesus died on the cross to save us from our own selfishness and when we cry out, “Lord, forgive me!  I want to start following You know. Come, take control of my life!”  

In the moment, the Devil is there prosecuting you before God.  The Devil lays out all the charges against you about all the ways you’ve sinned and hurt people and turned your back on God.  Thankfully, the Holy Spirit steps in on your behalf and defends/justifies you.  This is called the justifying grace of God.  The Holy Spirit says, “All these sins have been paid for by the blood of Christ shed on the cross.”

However, the Devil is relentless.  He doesn't give up.  The Devil says, “Yes! But she’s not going to be true.  She’s a sinful human!  She will say she’s gonna follow you today, but tomorrow or the next day or the day after that, she will sin again!”

So, the Holy Spirit says, “ALL of her sins are paid in full—her sins from the past; her sins today; and every sin she might do in the future.  ALL her sins are swallowed up by Christ’s death on the cross.  They are atoned.  They are forgiven.  They are washed away by the blood fo Christ, forever!”

Then God will look at you and pronounce: “You is innocent.  I see no sin in you.  I see only Christ in you.  You are completely justified, forever!"

Sanctifying Grace
It doesn't stop there.  Now, the new Christian has to rebuild their life as a new creation patterned after Jesus their Lord.  God has proclaimed them innocent, but now they have to live a new way—for the old has passed and the new has begin.  How will a person know how to live as a Christian?  Howe will they actually do it if they know how?  Jesus was there showing his 12 disciples and helping them every day.  Who is walking with us today showing us how to live?

Jesus told His disciples how this would work.  In John 14:26, He said, “When the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.” 

So this is another function of the Holy Spirit, our Advocate.  The Holy Spirit shows us how to live for God and the Holy Spirit empowers us to live holy lives.  If we listen with sensitive spiritual ears, the Holy Spirit is there to guide us and show us what to do, how to live, which way to go.  Our Advocate not only helps us understand what the Bible says, He also empowers us to live it out in every day life, in every situation.  The Advocate is Wisdom that knows the right thing to do, in the right way, at the right time, for the right reasons.  If you will respond to the Holy Spirit's guidance, you will live the way God wants you to and you will be more like Christ and you will bring glory to God thorugh the power of the Holy Spirit.

It’s Time to Follow Jesus
And so today, I offer you a chance to make a choice to become a follower of Christ—a true Christian.  I want you to realize the God was there with you—in the Holy Spirit—the whole time. Even if you couldn’t see Him.  Even if there was no one to tell you about Him or show Him to you, He was there opening doors, guiding your steps, using your decisions and the people in your life and every  circumstance (both good and bad) to lead you to know Him and His love.  Now, it is time to trust Him, to proclaim Jesus the Lord of your life.  It is time to choose to follow Christ.

If you would like to become a Christian today, I invite you to pray this prayer:

"Lord, come in and take control of my life.  I surrender to You.  I recognize that You are the true Lord of all and You deserve my full allegiance.  I want to give my allegiance to you from this day forward.  Lord, please forgive me for my sins.  Wash me clean and give me a fresh start so that I can live for You from this day forward, with the help of Your Holy Spirit.  I know that Jesus is Your precious Son who died on the cross for my sins.  I trust Him to forgive me.  Thank you for giving me eternal Christ, for His names sake.  Now, let me live all my days as Your precious child. Amen."

Monday, August 16, 2021

The Names of God - Adonai

Introduction
John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist movement and is credited as one of England’s greatest spiritual leaders.  John was a godly man who spent his life serving and making the world a much better place.  Many churches are named after this great spiritual leader.  Kelly and I were married in a church called Wesley United Methodist.  We are sitting here today in Pleasant Grove Methodist Church because of John Wesley's influence on the world.

Many people have named their children after John Wesley.  One family that followed this custom was
James and Mary Hardin.  James was a Methodist minister in Texas who named his son after the founder of the Methodist movement.  Unfortunately, their son, John Wesley Hardin, didn’t live up to his name sakes reputation for Christian love and charity.  John Wesley Hardin became a notorious murderer who killed his first victim when he was only 15 years old.  John Wesley Hardin murdered 21 men during his treacherous life.  Yet despite this, people still name their children “John” or “Wesley”, and even “John Wesley”.

We have been studying the names of God to learn about His character.  Today we come to a name that may seem natural for some but may trigger very negative feelings in others.  One might be tempted to discard the name altogether, base merely on the negative connotation associated with it.  However, we must not blame God for the sinful actions of people--anymore than we should blame John Wesley for John Wesley Hardin's evil actions..

The name of God we study today is Adonai.  The Hebrew word Adonai may not seem controversial until we learn the English translation.  Adonai means Master.

Master was a common word used in the ancient world.  Both paid servants and unpaid slaves referred to their lord as master.  In fact, calling someone master was a polite way for anyone to show humility and respect to someone of higher rank.  A student called their teacher master—a tradition carried on today in some schools where the principle is called the headmaster.

Unfortunately, what comes to mind for many Americans when we hear the term “Master” is the terrible era of slavery in our country where people bought and sold other human beings as if they were only animals.  The term master may bring to mind the terrible way slave master's treated their slaves in this country.  however, this is not at all what we mean when we call God Adonai/Master. 

God is not like sinful people any more than John Wesley (the founder of Methodism) is like the murderer John Wesley Hardin.  In fact, it is precisely because God is our True Master that the world finally concluded slavery is evil.  Christian abolitionists diligently argued and convinced the world that it is not right that one human being should own another human being.  Their Christian belief that slavery is evil was based largely on their Christian belief that God is already our true master and a man cannot serve two masters (as Jesus said in Matthew 6:24).  Many scholars and historians (including non-Christians) argue that slavery could not and would not have been abolished without Christianity. 

Isaiah 61:1a
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,
    for the Lord has anointed me
    to bring good news to the poor.

There are two things about this passage so far.  First, you may recognize this as the words Jesus used in Luke chapter 4.  You are absolutely right. Jesus once visited a worship service in his own hometown of Nazareth.  He was invited to read the Scripture and preach.  Jesus read this very passage from Isaiah 61.  Then he preached a sermon saying, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”  His sermon made his hometown so furious they tried to throw him off a cliff!  (I hope my message today doesn’t have the same effect!)

Second, notice where is says Sovereign Lord (I’ve highlighted it for you in the passage above).  This is the English translation of the Hebrew Yahweh Adonai.  Yahweh is God’s holy name.  It means something like "I am who I am and you can’t control me." Adonai means master.

What has this uncontrollable sovereign master done?  He has anointed or chosen Jesus for a special purpose: to bring good news to the poor.  Going on there’s more…

Isaiah 61:1b
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
    and to proclaim that captives will be released
    and prisoners will be freed.

Are you brokenhearted?  Are you trapped by someone or something?  Are you imprisoned—literally or figuratively?  The Master has Good News for you.

These words of Isaiah were written over 500 years before Christ was born. Originally, they were intended to comfort and console the Israelites who, because of their sin, had been dragged away as captives to Babylon when Jerusalem was conquered and destroyed by the Babylonians.  Those captives longed for a Messiah who would save them.  Jesus, the long awaited Messiah, came preaching these words and giving them new meaning.  We are all in need of a Savior chosen to comfort our broken hearts and set us free from captivity.  And Jesus goes on sharing His beautiful purpose for being born on earth as God’s Messiah:

Isaiah 61:2-3
He has sent me to tell those who mourn
    that the time of the Lord’s favor has come,
    and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.
To all who mourn in Israel,
    he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
    festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
    that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

Do You Want A Master?
Jesus came preaching this Good News, but not everyone wanted to hear it.  Some thought He did not have the right to speak these words.  He was just the son of a carpenter.  Others wanted to cling to their power and position.  They didn’t want the world to change—even if it was changing for the better—because it might threaten the life they’d eked out at the expense of others.

Do you want God to be your master?  That’s a question we all need to honestly think about.  It goes to the very heart of the human condition of sin and rebellion.  Most of us do not want anyone to be our master—not even God.  We prefer names for God like Savior, Redeemer, and Father.  But Master?  Not so much.

It is interesting that in the New Testament, Jesus is referred to as Master over 700 times.[i]  Jesus is only referred to as Savior 26 times[ii] (the specific original Greek word for “Savior” is actually only used once, by the Samaritans in John 4:42[iii]).  Master takes precedence over savior in the New Testament.

We want someone to save us.  We don’t want someone to master us.

We are far too much like the younger son in Jesus’ famous parable of the Prodigal Son (see Luke 15:11-31).  Like that rebellious younger son in His story, we chaff against the restraints of God on our life.   Who is God that He should tell us how we should live—what we can and can’t do with our own life?  Are we not free people?  Can we not live however we please (so long as we aren’t hurting anyone else)?  It is precisely this attitude that leads so many people to a place where they need someone to save them.  The prodigal son in Jesus' story took all his money and went away to a foregn land to live however he pleased.  He spent all his money on wild living.  When it was all gone, he was destitute and forced to work for a pig farmer.  He was starving to death and it was so bad he wished he could eat the slop he was feeding the pigs.  That's what "living however we please" often leads to.  Look at some of the results of people living however they please in America today.  It often leads to financial debt. The average credit card debt in America is $6,000[iv]; the average household debt is $90,000[v].  The total national debt is $28 trillion and is projected to rise to $89 Trillion by the end of the decade[vi].  Living however we please can often lead to poverty, substance abuse, depression, heartache, and even suicide.  Ultimately, it leads us to hell. When you won’t let God be your master, by default you invite someone or something else to be your master--and these other things are never kind masters who have your best interest at heart.  They will use you up and discard you.

Even good people who work hard, live wisely, and do the right thing are in trouble if they refuse to let God be their master.  This is an even more dangerous road to take.  For the “good” people of our planet often become self-righteous and say, “I have earned the right to be my own master.  I have my life together.  I deserve the rewards of my good living.  I’m not like those lazy, undisciplined, self-indulgent people. I work hard for everything I’ve got.  I don’t owe anyone anything.”  People who think like this are the blindest people of all because they think the God who created them owes them.  They cannot see God has already given them more than they deserve, and they owe Him everything.

Conclusion
I pray that everyone would come to have the attitude where they can come to God and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”

An interesting thing happens when we ask God to be our Master.  Instead of treating us as slaves, or even servants, the Master--Adonai--treats us as beloved sons and daughters.  Some of the ways the Bible portrays this is that God heals all our hurts and fills us with His Holy Spirit.  God gives us royal robe and honors us with a heavenly feast.  God makes us co-heirs with His son Jesus.  God blesses us with eternal life where their will be no more sin or sickness or suffering.

Jesus showed us the Master’s attitude most vividly in one of his final acts of love for his disciples before he was arrested and crucified.  Jesus, the Master, who was with God in the beginning when the world was created and who is God, knelt down like a slave and washed His disciples feet.  And he said, whoever among you wants to be the greatest must become the least.  And he told them (and us) go and do likewise.



[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_and_titles_of_Jesus_in_the_New_Testament

[ii] www.BibleGateway.com

[iii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_and_titles_of_Jesus_in_the_New_Testament

[iv] https://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/credit-card-debt-statistics-1276/

[v] https://www.debt.org/faqs/americans-in-debt/demographics/

[vi] https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikepatton/2021/05/03/us-national-debt-expected-to-approach-89-trillion-by-2029/?sh=65c92af35f13

Monday, May 24, 2021

Cursing

Introduction
If you’ve missed any of the messages in this series, I invite you to go to our church website—www.pleasantgrove.cc—and scroll down toward the bottom of the page where you will see links to all our past sermons.  You can listen to them on our podcast or read them on our blog.

Throughout this series, I’ve been telling you that our words matter.  We were made in the image of the God who created the entire universe with words.  God said, “Let there be light.”  And there was light.  “Let there be land and water and plants and animals.”  And there was land and water and plants and animals.”  And God made us in His image—to be like Him.  That means our words are powerful too.

 

But a terrible thing happened.  Humanity turned their backs on God.  We walked away from the One who is the source of life and love and goodness.  We chose our own path—and it has become a path of darkness and death and selfishness and hate.  And so everything in our life has become rotten and corrupt.  Even the good things in our life—like love and joy and pleasure—have soured until they taste like a grape that looks and smells good in your hand but is rotten and sour when your put it in your mouth to chew.

 

And so, the words we speak—which should bring blessings and life—often brings curses and death instead.

James 3:6-12
And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.

People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. 10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! 11 Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? 12 Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.

The Powerful But Uncontrollably Tongue

As a kid, I loved to read my older brothers collection of X-Men comic books.  One of the X-Men was a character named Cyclops.  Cyclops shoots a concussive force that looks like lasers from his eyes.  The force is about two Gigawatts of power (or the energy of a large nuclear powerplant). The drawback is, Cyclops can’t control his optic blast.  He must wear special glasses to contain his power vision.  (In the picture, you can see Cyclops touching his visor to release his optic blast against a villain.)  


I saw an X-Men movie once where all the heroes were fighting the villains and one of the bad guys knocked Cyclops' visor off.  His optic blast began spraying out, indiscriminately destroying everything in its path.  Cyclops had to close his eyes to turn it off, but then of course he couldn't see, which was a terrible handicap in the fight.


What do comic book heroes have to do with Christianity?  Well, Cyclops’ uncontrollable optic blast is an image of the uncontrollable human tongue.  Our words are incredibly powerful, but also so hard to control.  Sometimes I feel like the only way I can keep my tongue from destroying is to keep my mouth shut!

 

The Apostle James says people can tame all kinds of animals, but who can tame the tongue?  And it’s true.  People are amazing.  We’ve figured out ways to tame and train horses, lions, tigers, and elephants.  You can even go to Sea World and watch trainers directing Killer Whales. (Now think about that.  They’re not just whales; they’re killer whales! And people have them jumping through hoops and riding on their backs through the water!)

 

But when it comes to the human tongue, people can’t keep their own words under control. 


I was never one to use a lot of foul language while I was growing up.  My mother taught me better. However, when I was in college, I worked the graveyard shift stocking shelves at a grocery store for a time.  There were few customers  in the store during those hours and guys on the stock crew had a habit of using terrible language.  Though I wasn't given to cussin', I found their language was rubbing off on me.  Soon, I was cussin' too.  Even after I left the store, I had developed a habit that took effort to curtail that bad habit.

 

Cussin' is quite common in America in 2021.  Think for a minute what we are doing.  In the south, we call it cussin’ when people use foul language.  Cussin’ is slang for cursing.  What is a curse?  According to the dictionary, a curse is “a solemn utterance intended to invoke a supernatural power to inflict harm or punishment on someone or something.”  Cursing is what witches do, using black magic to invoke evil power to hurt people.

People often think about all the evil and darkness in our world and wonder, "Why is there so much suffering and death? Why do little kids get cancer and die before they've even have a chance to live? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is our world so screwed up?" When I stop and listen to the careless curses flying freely people’s mouths all day long, I can’t help but think it must have a very negative effect on our world.

Words are powerful.  God created the world with words and we are created in God’s image—patterned after Him.  Our words matter too.  They can create or they can destroy.  So many times we are uttering curses, without even paying attention to the words we say.  I know these negative words have a tangible effect on people’s attitudes.  Offensive words and profanities are strong language designed to pack a verbal punch.  They get people’s attention and put them on edge.  I also wonder how all these curses invite dark spiritual forces into our world and into our lives—even if unintentionally.

We know air pollution and water pollution can have ill effects on our spiritual health.  What about spiritual pollution?  We can't study it with science like we can study other physical forms of pollution, but could polluting the spiritual realm with so many curses have ill effects our our spiritual health?  I can't help think it must.

Meanwhile, prayer and blessings are on the decline.  How many people still pray every day? How many say a blessing before their meal?  And we are so quick to criticize and slow to offer encouragment.  Our words tear down and curse when they ought build up and bless.

 

Jesus Saves
Christians have a saying, “Jesus saves.”  He saves us from sin and death.  John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”  But Jesus saves us for more than just heaven.  Jesus saves us for this life too.  Jesus can change the way you act and even how you speak.  He can make you a blessing instead of a curse.

 

The Xman, Cyclops, wears a visor to control and contain his incredibly powerful optic blast.  Christians welcome Jesus in their heart to tame their uncontrollable behavior and their tongue.

 

Jesus said in Mark 7:20-22, “20 And then he added, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. 21 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness.”

 

The human heart is full of disgusting wickedness and from the human heart flows all kinds of filthy behavior and language.  When Jesus comes to live in our heart, he begins cleaning us up from the inside out.  If we will allow him, Jesus will throw out all the evil desires and thoughts.  He will disinfect all the filth that coats the walls of our heart.  It’s a process that takes time—maybe even a whole lifetime.  Eventually, what flows out from our hearts becomes more and more godly—like Jesus.  Since he is living in us, our actions become more Christlike.

 

But we have to cooperate.  Jesus won’t force us to change.  We have to be willing.  We have to take our spiritual medicine and do the spiritual exercise that nurtures the change Jesus brings.

 

Tips to Quite Cussin’
Many of our spiritual habits that need to change are centered around our language. We cannot control our tongues, but Jesus can.

1. Ask Jesus to help you.  We can't fix our own problem, but Jesus can and he wants to .  If you ask Him, Jesus will help you control your tonge.

2. Ask a friend to hold you accountable. There few things more effective in helping change yhour behavior than having a good friend hold you to your commitments.  If you are tryien to clean up your language, tell a friend and ask them to hold you accountable.  Of course, sometimes our friends also use bad language.  Be honest with your friends and tel them you are trying to change the way you speak.  Ask them to honor your choice by refraining from bad language as well.  In doing so , you may bring new life to them as well.  If they refuse to honor your decision, it may be time to change your friends.  Do you really need friends who don't respect your choices or wish to help you grow as a person?  Are they really good friends?

3. Find some replacement words. I know this sounds silly, but say "shoot", "dagnabit", of "frick" instead of those curse words you shouldn't say.  Yes, you’ll sound ridiculous. But better to sound ridiculous than to spray out curses.  And the fact you sound ridiculous may help you with the next tip, because our ultimate goal is to change the whole way we think and speak.

4. Think differently. The goal is for curses to not even come to mind.  There will always be times when you pinch a finger in  a door or stub your toe.  But those don't have to be times when you spew curses.  Wouldn't it be great if a curse didn't even come to mind in those moments.  Ask Jesus to help you change the whole way you think so you're more and more like Him.
 

Conclusion

The ungodly bring curses and death.  But 1 Peter 2:9 reminds us, “But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.”

 

Christians have the incredible power to bring goodness and light.  We are blessed to be a blessing.  All the families of the earth will be blessed through us.  And God’s Kingdom will come upon the earth.  Therefore, let us surrender control of our hearts and our tongues to the Lord Jesus Christ that He may use them to speak life into our world.

 

Prayer of Confession and Pardon (adapted from the Prayer of Confession UMH 890)

I invite you to use this prayer (or your own) to confess your sins to the Lord and make a commitment to let Him lead you to be more and more like Christ.


Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved You with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbors as myself. I am truly sorry and I humbly repent. For the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on me and forgive me; that I may delight in Your will, and walk in Your ways, to the glory of Your name. Amen


And now, I would like to offer God's pardon with my own prayer for you.


Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life. Amen.