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Showing posts with label Sermons. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sermons. Show all posts

Monday, May 13, 2019

"You've Sinned, but I Still Love You" - Things You Can't Say in Church (but you should)

Introduction
This is the third in a series called, “Things you can’t say in church (but you should).”  And I want to emphasis that last part in parenthesis “(but you should)”.  You see, some people think you can’t say certain things in church, but these are things you absolutely should say, you must say, if you are to be the Church that Jesus Christ established.

You see Church is a funny thing.  On the one hand, the Church was established by Jesus Christ in the Bible as the gathering of all who believe in Him, who are wholeheartedly committed to the great commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ throughout the entire world.  On the other hand, church is also a cultural phenomenon…  White, southern church culture…

Many in the world today are sick and tired of the church, by which they are (not necessarily) talking about the Church Jesus Christ established in the New Testament; they are usually talking about the church culture that (often) has little or nothing to do with the Church Jesus Christ established.  There are often a lot of weeds mixed in with the wheat of the Church and it can be really hard to tell the difference. 

I’ve mentioned two things already that some people think you can’t say in church, but you really should—“I’m broken,” and “I’m on fire!”  I want to add one more today.  Some people think you can’t say, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you.”  Some people think you can’t say that in church, but you really should.  I think you absolutely must, because it is an essential part of being the Church Jesus Christ established in the New Testament.  It follows the example of Christ.

Luke 15:1-7
1 Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach.This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!
So Jesus told them this story: “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!
Explain
The religious leaders of Jesus day didn’t like that Jesus quite often hung around with people they deemed sinners.  They believed sin was like a contagious disease, that just being in the presence of a sinner you could catch the disease of sin.  Jesus, who was the Son of God, tells a parable (actually three parable, because the whole the chapter is) about how God sent him to save a world full of sinners.  Jesus came to save the people the religious leaders deemed sinners who were unworthy and that no respectable person would associate with.  Jesus even came to save the religious leaders who are sinners too (but are blind because think they aren’t sinners).  The point of all this for our purposes today is this:  Jesus came to save sinners because He loves us. You see, Jesus was basically saying to the whole world, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you!”  

You migt think it strange in the parable that the shepherd would leave the 99 good sheep to search after just one sheep.  But Jesus is saying we are all sheep who have strayed off the path of righteousness.  If the shepherd (Jesus) didn't come and find us, there would be no 99 good sheep.  Every sheep has wandered off the path at some point, and the shepherd brought them back.  How hypocritical, then, for the 99 to complain if the shepherd goes off searching for another lost sheep.

Everything Jesus said and did—including how he died on the cross—was a way of saying, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you!”  Romans 5:8 sums it up for us, “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”

But many people today think you can’t say that in church, but you absolutely should; you must if we are to be the Church Jesus Christ wants us to be. 

Why Do People Think You Can’t Say It?
Some people today are just like the Pharisees and religious leaders in Jesus day.  They think going to church is all about being a good, respectable person and following all the rules.  They always try to do the right thing (even if doing the right thing is sometimes more about keeping up appearances than pleasing God) Furthermore, they often confuse God’s rules for holy living with what society says is the right way to live.  So they can often do some very terrible things—segregation, neglecting the poor, etc.—all in the name of being a good person who follows the rules.  So they think you can’t say, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you.”  They don’t love people who have sinned.  They’re ok with being judgmental and pointing out how people sin, but they don’t love sinners (they may say it with their lips, but they don’t really love them in their heart).  There have always been self-righteous judgmental people in church—all the way back to Jesus time.  And Jesus came and pointed those Pharisees out.  He told them, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you.”  Unfortunately, the religious leaders didn't want to hear that and so they crucified him.

But because the church throughout history has so often been full of self-righteous, judgmental people, we’ve come to a place today where there are so many people in our world (and even in the church) who err in a whole different way.  There are many who have concluded that you can’t even say, “You’ve sinned” anymore.  There are so many people who say, “The Bible says ‘judge not, lest ye be judged.’”  And so they’ve concluded that Jesus doesn’t even want us to tell people they’ve sin (because that would be judging).  A lot of people say nowadays, Jesus just wants us to love people (and leave the whole part about sin out).

And so it’s come to a place where the world we live in just says you should welcome everyone and just accept them for who they are.  We’re not allowed to tell people, “You’ve sinned” anymore.  And we see all kinds of behaviors accepted by our culture that the Bible deems unacceptable and even repulsive to God.  Is that how Jesus treated people? (pause…)

How Jesus Loved People
There should be no doubt that Jesus loved people.  He proved his love by dying for us on the cross; not because we deserved it, but because we desperately needed it and Jesus loved us.  So his example is worth following.  Here’s how Jesus loved people.  He loved people enough to go be with sinners-even eat with them.  He did this, even though it put him at odds with the self-righteous religious leaders.  He was willing to leave 99 “good” sheep to go find the one foolish sheep that got himself lost.  At the same time, he never pretended the sinners he sought were not lost, were not sinners.  For example, once a woman was caught in the very act of adultery.  They dragged her int the city square and asked Jesus, "The Law of Moses says we should stone her.  What do you say?"  Jesus said, "He who is without sin, cast the first stone."  Then he stopped and began writing in the dirt.  We don't know what he wrote, the Bible doesn't say.  Some have speculated he began writing out all the sins the people in the crowd had committed.  At any rate, everyone in the crowd began to drop their stones and walk away.  When everyone was gone, Jesus asked, "Woman, has no one condemned you?"  "No, my Lord," she said. "Then neither do I.  Go and sin no more."  (John 8)

Recently, the local news showed some surveillance video of a vigilant school bus driver who saved a child from a terrible accident.  The bus had stopped to let a child off and the video shows the bus doors opening and the child is about to run down the steps out the door.  But the bus driver suddenly slammed the doors shut and grabbed the child's shoulder and yanked him away from the door just as a speeding car wooshed by the bus doors.  Apparently, the car driver got impatient with the bus driver and sped around the right side of the bus just as the doors of the bus were about to open.  If the bus driver had not been paying attention and stopped the child, the child would have certainly been killed or terribly maimed.  What would you have done?  I think we would have all screamed and reached out to stop the child if we were in that situation.  That is, in a sense, what we are doing when we tell someone they've sinned (or their about to sin).

The Bible teaches us that sin is terrible.  It destroys your life.  It destroys other people’s lives.  It destroys the world.  And God hates sin, so it destroys a sinners relationship with God, who is the source of life and love and peace and hope.  To refuse to tell someone, “You’ve sinned” is not much different from refusing to scream, “Watch out! You’re about to walk out in front of a speeding car!”  It’s actually worse, because the consequences of sin are eternal.  So if we truly do love someone, we must say, “You’ve sinned.”  To do otherwise is not loving at all, but terrible and hateful.

At the same time, we must never forget the last part of the statement:  “You’ve sinned, but I still love you.”  We must never forget we’ve all sinned.  We’ve all fallen short of the glory of God.  You’ve sinned.  I’ve sinned. And your sins are no worse than mine.  I have no reason to think myself better than you and you’ve no reason to think yourself better than me or anyone else. 

Conclusion
So don’t ever neglect to say, “You’ve sinned, but I still love you.”  That’s who were are—the Church—and that’s what we say and how we live.  It’s not optional.  It’s what Jesus does for us and what we are called to do for the world.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Continual Prayer


Preface - I highly recommend Richard Foster's book, Prayer, as a resource as you study prayer.  Foster's book has been a valuable resource to me as I've developed this series on prayer and in my own efforts to deepen my prayer life.

Introduction and Definition
I love the lyrics in the song “Let Us Pray” by Steven Curtis Chapman when it says, “And just because we say the word, "Amen", it doesn't mean this conversation needs to end.  Let us pray, let us pray, everywhere in every way.  Every moment of the day, it is the right time.  Let us pray without end and when we finish start again.  Like breathing out and breathing in, let us pray.

There are so many ways to pray and today I want to talk about continual prayer (AKA Unceasing Prayer).  If prayer, at its heart, is really communion with God, shouldn’t prayer be something we do every minute of every day?  Why do we say “amen” and go on with our life—as if prayer were something we paused to do apart from everything else.  Don’t we want to walk with God all the time, to be in constant communion with Him?  Is that even possible?  It is possible and it’s called continual prayer and Scripture commends it to us.

Ephesians 6:18 – Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

Romans 12:12 – Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 - Never stop praying.

Now continual prayer doesn’t mean walking around all day with our heads bowed, hands folded, and eyes closed in prayer.  There are other ways to work towards a constant state of prayer throughout the day.  I want to share some exercises that can help you be in more constant prayerful communion with the Lord.

Breathe Prayer
One spiritual exercise is known as breath prayer.  A breath prayer is a short prayer you can pray in one breath.  An example of a breath prayer from Scripture is the prayer of the tax collector from Luke 18:13, “O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.”  Perhaps you remember the story…

The idea behind a breath prayer is to choose one breath prayer to focus on for an entire day.  Then, you say your breath prayer throughout the day as you are driving, working, cooking dinner, cleaning up, or whatever you are doing.  You don’t say the words of your prayer continuously; rather you say it whenever you think about it and try to reflect on it all day.  You make the prayer the focus of your thinking throughout the day.  In doing so, you stay in a prayerful attitude and open your heart to whatever the Lord might speak on the subject.  You can make up your own breath prayer or try one from Scripture, such as:
“Speak Lord, for your servant hears…” (1 Samuel 3:9 & 10, NKJV).

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1, KJV).

“Know that Jesus is Lord… Cease striving” (Based on Psalm 46:10, NASB).

“In Christ alone my soul finds rest…” (Based on Psalm 62:1).

"My help comes from the Lord…" (Psalm 121:2)

"Here I am." (Isaiah 6:8)

"Show your power." (Based on Psalm 80:2)

"Not my will, but yours." (based on Matthew 26:39)

"Come, Lord Jesus." (Revelation 22:20)

Practicing the Presence of God
Another way we can move toward the continual prayer of constant communion with God is an exercise called practicing the presence of God.  Psalm 13:8 says, “If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there.”  We may know in our mind that God is everywhere, all the time, but our heart does not always feel God’s presence in every place, all the time.  It takes practice to help our heart feel what our mind already knows.  Christians throughout the ages have developed techniques to open the awareness of our heart to God’s presence with us all the time.

Few people jump straight into full awareness of God’s presence with us everywhere and all of the time.  We have to take baby steps to progress toward that goal.  You can think of it like learning to writing.  When you are a child—maybe five or six-years-old—you don’t jump from being illiterate straight to writing a long essays.  No.  First, you have to learn the alphabet—A, B, C, D…  Then you have to learn the sounds they make and how letters form together to make words.  And then, you have to learn how to hold a pencil and how to form certain pen-strokes that form letters and learn how to keep the words you write neat and all on the same line.  It takes years of practice to learn to write well.  In the beginning, you struggle because you have to think about every letter and every word you form.  Then, you learn to make coherent sentences.  Then, after a time, it starts to become more natural and you begin to write without having to think about it all that much.  It’s just natural.

The same is true when we practice the presence of God.  We take small steps that move us from the very beginning stages to more advanced stages where our awareness of God’s presence with us all the time is something we don’t have to think about; we just know it to be true and we feel Him and know Him all of the time.  Here are some steps that can help you grow as you practice the presence of God.

The first step feels a little artificial.  It is an exercise that takes practice and work.  You have to rehearse it again and again before it starts to be natural and you can move on to more advanced stages.  In the first step, we look for ordinary everyday reminders to call us to prayer.    Teachers could learn to say a quick prayer every time they hear the school bell ring.  Or maybe it could be a reminder to pray every time you see your favorite color.  Doctors, nurses, and surgeons might say a prayer every time they scrub up or wash their hands.  You could even set an alarm on your phone or your wrist watch to go off every hour to remind you to pray.  Your prayers need not be long.  They could be a simple breath prayer.

The second step in practicing the presence of God starts when our prayers begin to happen subconsciously.  After a while, our short, regular prayers start to become so habitual we don’t need the reminders anymore.  We don’t even think about it; we just automatically pray because our prayer habits have become so engrained into our daily life.  At this stage, you may start to see some practical changes in your attitudes and behavior.  You may be less agitated in traffic; you may worry less; you may treat people with more kindness.  You are beginning to feel that God is with you even in those moments you used to exclude Him from before.  Knowing He is with you changes how you act and empowers you to be more like Christ in every moment.

The third stage occurs as prayer moves into the heart.  Our prayer has become more of an attitude of the heart than of just words we say.  We may not even articulate a prayer, but our thoughts, feelings, and behavior now express the sentiments we formerly spoke in prayer.  We are walking in close communion with the Lord.  He is in us and part of us and our lives become a continual pray of God’s love.  We also begin to see others the way God sees them.  Richard Foster writes in his book Prayer, “We walk into a room and quickly know who is sad or lonely or dealing with a deep, inexpressible sorrow.  In such cases, we are able to slip over beside them and sit in silence, bringing comfort and understanding and healing, knowing that “deep calls to deep” (Psalm 42:7).

Answers to Objections
Some may have concerns about continual prayer.  In Matthew 6:7, Jesus warned, “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again.  Some have argued the kinds of continual prayers I’ve mentioned are like the repetitive babbling of the Gentiles that Jesus condemned.  But I don’t think so.  What Jesus was dealing with was religious leaders who liked to make a public spectacle out of the prayers in order to impress people and pagans who thought prayer was some kind of magical incantation they could use to control God. 

The kind of continual prayers we want to practice are secret prayers.  We aren’t doing them as a way of showing off for others.  In fact, if you do them right, you could go through your entire day without anyone even knowing you were praying.  It is a practice between you and God alone.  Furthermore, you are not trying to manipulate God by repeating your prayers over and over as some magical incantation.  The point of your repetition is to affect your own behaviors and attitudes, not God’s.  There’s nothing wrong with repetition.  In Matthew 26: 36-44, Jesus repeated his prayers about his cup of suffering three times in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Lord, if it is possible, take this cup from me!”  Furthermore, he said we should, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7).
  
Some people may be afraid of constant communion with God.  What if you are angry or having an argument with your wife or are angry at your kids?  While some might want Jesus to be very close to them in those moments, others might feel awkward thinking of God seeing them in those unflattering times.  It’s ok.  God is patient with us.  Richard Foster puts it this way in his book:

“Frankly, beyond the desperation prayers… (“O God, help!”), I have found that I cannot pray during these times.  So rather than try to fool myself by piously pretending constant communion, what I do in such situations is to ask God for a timeout.  He is gracious as always and understands our frailty.  In time we can come back and try again.  The question is not whether we fail again and again—that is a given; the question is whether over a period of time we are developing a practiced habit of divine fellowship.”

Conclusion
So, know that you’ve heard about continual prayer, how might you put it into practice in your life.  We need to pray faithfully.  We also need to pray deeply.  Prayer is the life blood of our relationship with God.  It is why we were put here on earth.  So how might you use the techniques of continual prayer to help you be in more constant fellowship with God through prayer?

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Fruit of the Spirit - Goodness


Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ has the Holy Spirit of God living inside them. 
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul said the Holy Spirit produces Christian virtues within everyone who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and follows him day by day.  These fruits don’t appear overnight.  But like a garden—when tended and nurtured—they grow within us over time until we reap a bountiful harvest.

Galatians 5:22-23
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

I hope you will memorize these 9 fruits of the Spirit.  Better yet, I pray you will cooperate with the Holy Spirit that He may grow them more abundantly in your life.

Goodness
Today, I will discuss goodness.  We need more goodness in our world.  Galatians 6:9 says, "So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up."  Don't wear yourself out with all the volunteering, giving, and serving you do.  There is always more good to be done.  If you try to do good from your own limited supply of goodness, even the best will soon be exhausted.  However, God's goodness never runs dry.  We need to share goodness with others from the unlimited source of God's goodness.

Goodness is a fruit of the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit wants to grow more goodness in our lives.  And if we cooperate, the Spirit will.  Since you and I are in the world (though not of it), we can be and instrument of God to bring more goodness into our world.  Will you cooperate with the Spirit in this noble task?  Will you fertilize your spiritual garden with the Word of God and listen to the Holy Spirit so you will know how to be good and then do the right thing at the right time in the right way?

The great shepherd, king, and psalm writer—David—wrote that famous 23rd Psalm that has brought comfort and hope to so many throughout the ages.  “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside still waters…”  And he ends his beautiful passage with this promise of hope.  “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…”  There’s one thing my faith has always helped me to believe:  God is good!   My faith helps me to believe that God is good even when things go badly.  I believe that God is on my side.  

God is good and He wants goodness for you and me.  A lot of people get Christianity all mixed up.  They think it's all about rules.  They say, "If you're a Christian, you can't do this and you can't do that and you have to do this."  That's not it at all.  There are rules, but the rules are there for our benefit because God is good and He wants good for us.  He knows that we can avoid so much trouble and suffering and that's why He gives us some rules to steer us in the best direction.

Our Good God Created a Good World
Genesis 1:31 says, "Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!"  Created a good world.  Unfortunately, the world we see has a lot of sin and suffering and darkness.  A lot in this world is not good.  So what happened?  

It's not God's fault that the world is broken.  He didn't break it.  We did.  In the beginning, the world was perfect and people were perfect and our relationship with God was perfect.  In order to make love possible, God gave the first humans--Adam and Eve--a simple test of faithfulness.  He told them you can eat anything you want from the garden, but don't eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Unfortunately, they chose to disobey God. Their sin violated love and broke their perfect relationship with their Creator.  The results were catastrophic.  Paradise fell apart and the world became a place were darkness and suffering and death are as much a part of our experience as goodness and love and light.  

The miracle is that God still didn't abandon us.  He has been working to clean up our mess since the very day humanity messed it all up.  We don't deserve it, but God has always been good to our world.  In the story, when Adam and Eve sinned, they realized they were naked and ashamed and afraid and vulnerable.  What did God do?  He could have abandoned them, but He didn't.  He protected them by making clothes for them--even though they didn't deserve it.  And throughout the ages since, God has been working out our salvation by:
  • Saving Noah and the animals on the ark through the flood
  • Calling Father Abraham to leave his homeland and go start a new people in the Promised land
  • Paving a way to redemption through Moses, King David, and the prophets
  • And He fulfilled His plan of salvation through His Son, Jesus
I don't just know God is good because of stories I've read in the Bible.  I know because God has been so good to me, personally.  He saved me at the age of 8; when I had no father in my home, God adopted me as His own son and He became my perfect Father.  He changed the course of my life from a very bad path to a path of light and love and eternal life.  He has been good to me by leading me down a path of life-long spiritual growth.  Thankfully, I am not the same immature Christian I was when I was 8 (or 16 or 25 or 35).  God was good to me by giving me a wonderful wife.  I don't know why Kelly agreed to marry me.  All I can say is it was the goodness of God that encouraged her to agree.  And God has given me three awesome children.  Each one is special in their own way.  And I cannot take credit for how good they are--I can only praise God for His goodness in the matter.  And God was so good to me to give me a gift for speaking and a love for serving in the church and the ability to make a living for myself and my family as a pastor.  I am blessed beyond all measure, because God has been good to me.  Has He been good to you?


God has Been Good to Us.  Let’s be Good to Him.  But How?
Micah 6:7-8 tells us how.  It says, "Should we offer him thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil?  Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins?  No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you:  to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God."

So here we have in verse 8 a simple explanation of the good we are to do.   

First, It Says Do What is Right
The Word of God and the Holy Spirit work in concert to show you the right thing to do, at the right time, and in the right way.  It is not good to just following the shifting trends of a fickle society.  For in one decade they say one thing is bad and in the next they say, "Oh, that's okay now," and some other behavior becomes the unpardonable sin that will ruin  your career and make you an oucast from society.  Neither is it good to take the Bible out of context and use it as a tool to prove you are right (as many southerners did in the 1800s to prove that their slave trade was justifiable in the eyes of God).  The Bible is not a tool we use to justify our misbehavior.  The Bible is the Word of God the Holy Spirit uses to challenge us to be more like Christ.  Goodness is humbling yourself before God, listening obediently to His Word in Scripture, and relying on the Holy Spirit to lead you to do the right thing, at the right time, in the right way.

Second, It Says Love Mercy
God has been so merciful to you and to me. We also, ought to show mercy. Be merciful. No, that’s not enough! It say, love mercy. That's much stronger, isn't it? Look for ways to be merciful. Let your first thought not be how to punish or get back at soemone, but be: "How can I apply mercy in this circumstance?" Ere on the side of mercy. Now, I must say, mercy is not pretending there isn’t a fault. It means, there is a fault but you will forgive the fault anyway. In order for the to be real forgiveness and mercy, you must recognize that an offence has occurred--sometimes a very devastating and despicable sin--but you are going to show mercy and forgive anyway. So, do what is right, love mercy, and...

Walk Humbly with God
Remember who’s in charge. This life is not about you. You were created to worship God, not the other way around.  Society tells us in so many ways that this life is about us and our wants and our happiness.  But where did God ever say that in His Holy Bible?  Life is not about you.  We were made to worship God.  Also, if you are going to walk humbly with God, you need to stay close to Him. It says walk humbly with God. That means He isn’t standing still. He’s moving and you should be too. If you’re in the same spot spiritually you were five years ago, you might not be walking with God. Maybe you were five years ago, but He’s moved since then. Have you moved with Him? Maybe it’s time to catch up. The Good News is, the Holy Spirit can show you the way!  Devote yourself to prayer, which is rubbing up against God, and you will find you are walking humbly with Him day by day.

Sara Brooker’s Letter
I want to share a good word from a lady I know who is filled with incredible goodness.  She is a matriarch of my church and her godly reputation has spread throughout our community and far beyond by the many people who have come to know and love her.  At the age of 92, her health has declined until she is not able to attend church regularly anymore.  However, she is still a joy to visit and she blesses everyone she meets.  This letter is an open letter she wrote to her grandchildren (and she has more than I can list) to give them a good word of wisdom to bless their lives.  May these words she wrote to her grandchildren inspire you to goodness as well.
09/05/2018
Sara Brooker
My Dear Grandchildren 
As I reflect over the 92 plus years of my life, I vividly see God's hand shaping and guiding my life to the present day. All of you are gifts created by God and deeply loved by me. You are a constant in my prayers as you grow and assume responsibility for the decisions in your lives. My most fervent prayer is each will chose a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This is the most important and wisest choice you can and will ever make in your lifetime. 
l Timothy- 1:19 
Cling tightly to your faith in Christ and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences, as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked. 
A live and growing faith is the legacy I wish to leave you. A faith that grows through life, daily trials and struggles, with the knowledge that our God will never forsake us. His love is steadfast and everlasting. 
It is not only a Grandmother's love that I leave to you, but foremost the love of Jesus Christ. 
My prayer is each one of my beloved accepts "His" love personally and fully. That you live and grow in that love. For even before I knew or loved you, God did. 
Loving you always, 
Mammaw Sara

Monday, March 26, 2018

As Sheep Among Wolves, part 4 - Listening vs. Scoffing

Introduction
            On Sunday, we had a confirmation ceremony at my church.  Three young "confirmands" completed a six-week course on the basics of Christianity and then chose to publicly confirm their faith in Jesus Christ in front of our congregation on Palm Sunday.  I was so proud of these three young people between the ages of 11 and 12.  They were very attentive throughout the course--listening and learning. 
            Jesus said we should emulate the faith of a child (like my confirmands who were so attentive to learn and accept Jesus by faith).  Their attitudes are quite a contrast to the religious leaders when Jesus rode into Jerusalem the week before Passover.  You can read the full Palm Sunday story here in John 12:12-19.  Although crowds of children and ordinary people were amazed by Jesus' teachings and the miracles (even raising Lazarus from the dead after he'd been in a tomb for four days), the religious leaders scoffed.  They couldn't or wouldn't believe in Jesus.  Even though they espoused to worship and serve God, they dismissed God's Son as a fraud.
            Jesus knew there would be many who scoff at our faith. It doesn't matter to them that we have experienced the life changing power of God or that our faith in Jesus has changed our lives forever for the better.  They will still scoff and dismiss us and our beliefs.  Many will even labor to destroy us because they feel threatened by how we live and what we teach.  Always remember what Jesus said in Matthew 10:16-20; we are sheep living among wolves.

Matthew 10:16-20
16 “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. 17 But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. 18 You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me.[a] 19 When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. 20 For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

The Amazing Rise of Christianity and the Scoffers Who Dismiss It
            Though the religious leaders of Jesus day tried to get rid of Jesus and then his followers, Christianity grew exponentially.  The persecutions, arrests, and murder of early Christians only caused believers to move to new cities where they persisted in teaching people about Jesus Christ and more and more people became followers.  The Christian faith would have died with it's leader Jesus if it was only of human origins.  Since, however, it was God's plan for His people, the Christian faith endured and today more people follow Jesus than any other religious leader.
            There always have been and always will be those who feel threatened by true Christian faith and just want to explain it away.  Even today, when a passionate church or Christian movement grows rapidly, there are scoffers who try to blow it off saying, "There's nothing to it.  It's just a fad and it will fade away."  When John Wesley led a revival of the Church of England in the 1700s, people dismissed the early Methodist movement as a bunch of religious fanatics.  However, people's lives were truly changed.  Drunks put away their liquor, thieves became honest men, Christians gave to the poor, visited the sick and dying and those who were in prison.  The whole fabric of society in England and America was changed for the better as Christians took their faith in Jesus seriously and loved God and their neighbor with their whole hearts.  Yet even then, there were people who scoffed; and there are people who scoff at vital Christianity today too.  "There's nothing to it," they say.  "They're just a bunch of religious fanatics and hypocrites."
            Proverbs, the book of God's wisdom, teaches again and again that scoffing is the enemy of true wisdom.  We must guard ourselves and maintain a childlike faith and not become scoffers like the religious leaders of Jesus day.  So in this blog, I want to examine the difference between scoffing and listening.

Pastor Chris’ Paraphrase of Proverbs 13:1 – A wise child accepts a parent’s discipline; a scoffer doesn’t even hear it.

Scoffing - Lus לוּץ or Liys - לִיץ
            No, I'm not talking about scoffing down your food!  The Hebrew word for scoffing (Lus or Liys) literally means “to make mouths at.”  Scoffing is to speak with a sarcastic tone, to deride, mock, or scorn.  Scoffing is like the stereotypical teenager rolling their eyes when their parents give a lecture because, you know, "my parents are dumb and know absolutely nothing."  When we scoff, we don't listen.  We've decided a person is not even worth listening to.  And so, we can't learn from them because we've already decided they have nothing worthwhile to offer.

Listening - Šâma' - שָׁמַע
            The opposite of scoffing in Hebrew is Sama.  It means to hear.  However, it's more than just detecting sound.  Sama means to hear intelligently, carefully consider, and to listen and obey.  The only way to learn is to listen, deeply contemplate what you've heard, and put it into practice.
            If we are to be truly wise in this wolf infested world, we've got to stop scoffing and start listening.  So I want to give you some practical advise on how to avoid being a scoffer.  Listen to these principles.  Remember and put them into practice in your life.

Practical Application
            First, always try to think the best of others and be respectful.  When you mock someone, you dehumanize them.  When you look at someone on the other end of the political spectrum and say (or think in your heart), "They're just a bleeding heart 'libtard' who doesn't know anything!", you are no longer thinking of them as a person.  They aren't a child of God to you anymore; they're just a label, an enemy on the wrong side of a war.  You do the same if you say (or think), "They're just a backwards thinking conservative clinging to their guns and religion."  You are scoffing at someone's deeply held beliefs and writing them off as unworthy of your mental attention and respect.  And if we go down that road too far, it doesn't take long before we arrive at genocide and holocaust. Once you stop seeing people as worthy of love and respect, it's a lot easier to just see them as problems to be eliminated.
            And here's the thing, mocking people will affect all your relationships negatively—even unintended ones.  When you mock your boss, your employees, your co-workers, or anyone you dislike or disagree with, it bleeds over into your relationships with people you really care about.  Soon you'll find you're being sarcastically disrespectful with your spouse, your children, and your friends.  You just can't seem to help it and you don't know why.  When a scornful spirit takes residence in your heart, it poisons everything that comes out even when you don't want it to.
            So be humble and empathetic.  Try to understand how others feel and why they think the way they do.  You don't have to agree with them or condone their actions, but you do have to care about them and love them.  You have to respect others if you want others to respect you and take you seriously.  People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.

            Second, keep an open mind.  You can learn from anyone—even those you disagree with and those who are just plain wrong.  You don't have to agree with a person or point of view to learn it and understand it better.  And if you have learned an idea you disagree with, you have still learned something.  I have often found listening to someone I disagree with helps me better understand why I believe what I do.  Usually, I learn more from those I disagree with than those I do.
            There is a way you can be right and still be wrong.  Does that seem like a contradiction?  It's true, you can be right and still be wrong.  How?  Well, how you disagree is as important as why you disagree.  If you disagree and do so by belittling, disrespecting, or scoffing, you actions are wrong even if your ideas are right.  God doesn't want us to be scoffers--even if we believe the right things.
            One example of the right way to disagree is a time Rev. Billy Graham (a Christian evangelist) met with Woody Allen (a self-professed agnostic).  They had a delightful conversation about their opposing views on television several decades ago.  Graham disagreed quite frankly with Allen and clearly articulates his position and yet also does it with grace and love.  Graham makes it very clear that he loves and respects Woody Allen even though they disagree.  Allen obviously appreciates and respects Graham for his attitude.  You can watch the exchange on video here.
 
            Third, listen more and talk less.  Remember God gave you two ears and only one mouth, so you ought to listen twice as much as you talk.  Pastor Chris’ Paraphrase of Proverbs 13:10 says, "People too proud to listen always get into drama, but those who listen to counsel wisely avoid it."  And Pastor Chris’ Paraphrase of Proverbs 18:13 says, "Speaking about something before fully listening is just stupid and brings humiliation."
            You already know your point of view, but you only “think” you know someone else’s.  It’s not going to hurt you to set your own point of view aside for a few moments so you can really listen and understand someone else’s.  Just listening and truly understanding another's opinion (even if you deeply disagree) is an act of respect and grace that ought always to be part of the character of godly people.  And if it is, people are more likely to respect and listen to you.
            Pastor Chris’ Paraphrase of Proverbs 15:5 says, "A fool rolls their eyes when their parent tries to teach them, but a smart person is careful to listen and learn."  Sometimes, when our heart is not right--when a sarcastic, mocking spirit is deeply imbedded in us (because of the topic or the relationship or our stage of life (teenager!!!  parents!!!))--it’s best for us to just keep silent.  If our heart's not right, no matter what we say, it’s gonna come out wrong.  Our tone will be wrong.  Our body language will betray a mocking spirit even if we aren’t aware of it.  So, just keep silent. Pray about it.  Ask God to help you give the Holy Spirit time to change your heart so your words (when you finally do speak) will flow from a pure heart and not a scoffing spirit.
 
Let's Change Our World by Letting God Change Our Hearts
            Our world is full of mockers, scoffers, and sarcastic, scornful attitudes.  The last thing we need is for Christians to be the same way.  Perhaps, Jesus is calling you to repent of your scoffing, so you can listen and learn and become more Christ-like than you are today.  I know He's calling me.