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Showing posts with label Sin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sin. Show all posts

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Truth Shall Set You Free


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.

Monday, April 1, 2019

The Madness of Lust


Introduction
The definition of madness:  the state of being mentally ill, especially severely.  Another definition is: extremely foolish behavior.  Or it could be defined as:  a state of frenzied or chaotic activity.  Some synonyms for madness are:  insanity, mental illness, derangement, stupidity, lunacy, irrationality, bedlam, mayhem, chaos, pandemonium, and turmoil.

Sin is madness.  God created a perfect world and He said it was good. Then, as the crown jewel of all creation, God create people.  He created them male and female and He said they were very good.  In the beginning, there was no sin in the world.  Everything was good and perfect and in harmony with God.  But then, Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and taste the forbidden fruit and sin entered into the world.  Paradise was lost.  Darkness befell the earth.  Evil and disorder and death became rampant.  And all creation groaned.

The world we live in is not what God intended.  Every one of us has a spiritual illness, a form of madness, the madness of sin.  Over the last two months, I’ve shared about some of the basic forms of sin that plague humanity:  gluttony, pride, greed, sloth, wrath, and envy.  These basic sins are the root causes of all the evil we see in the world. They lead to disorder and darkness we know all too well in our world today.

I have one more basic sin to share with you today:  lust.  Lust is a psychological force producing intense longing for an object or circumstance.  Lust can take any form such as the lust for sexuality, love, money, or power.  There is a scene in the classic movie, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” where Willy Wonka invites everyone indulges in their candy coated fantasies as he sings about "pure imagination".  You can see expressions on each characters face that look a lot like lust.  Is it coincidence or intentional that the song is about using your imagination to intensify your longing for the good things in life?  That is much of what lust is: using your imagination to idolize the object for which you lust.

Matthew 5:27-30
27 “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

Come On Jesus, Is Lust Really that Bad?
Do we literally have to cut out our eyes or cut off our hands if we lust?  Thank God, no!  Jesus is speaking in hyperbole.  Hyperbole is a technique of speech whereby the speaker over exaggerates to make a point.  However, Jesus is serious that lust is a very serious sin.  Our thoughts lead to actions.  When we lust, it changes our thought patterns, which science shows can actually change your brain chemistry.  And your brain chemistry can change your behaviors.  Our thoughts lead our actions.  When we look at someone differently, we treat them differently--even if it's only in our subconscious.

The sexual revolution of the 1960s changed our priorities about sex.  I am a child of that sexual revolution.  I did not live through the 1960s, but my parents did and I was born in 1974.  Over the last 45 years of my life, I have seen the world's ideas about sex change drastically.  Some of those changes have been positive, but many have not.  One consequence has been that our culture now places sex up on a high pedestal.  Sex has become a sort of idol.  The popular mindset is that sex is regarded as one of the chief aims of life.  Our movies, our music, our television shows, and commercials lead us to believe that the norm should be that everyone is having sex all the time and in all places.  Something must be seriously wrong with us if we are not having lots of incredible sex all the time.  And for anyone to deny themselves or anyone else sex would be the worst kind of atrocity.  This is the common popular view of sex in our culture and it is a lie.  The Truth in God's Word is that sex is good and important, but it is not everything (like the world tried to say).  

Given our cultures fixation on sex, it is no wonder that lust has become rampant in our society.  We think about sex all the time.  Men and women lust after each other.  55% of married men and 25% of married women say they watch porn at least once a month.  The porn industry’s annual revenue is more than the NFL, NBA, and MLB combined. It is also more than the combined revenues of ABC, CBS, and NBC.  Lust is a huge problem in our society and it is destroying us.

So if  lust is such a serious problem, what must we do?

Accept God’s Grace for Your Past
The very first step with any sin is to repent as soon as we recognize it is a problem within us.  If you struggle with lust, turn to good, ask for forgiveness, and ask Him to help you be rid of it.  When it comes to lust, people often feel great shame.  They might feel, “God could never forgive me for this…”   

But the Word of God tells us God can and will forgive any sin.  We know how serious God is about wanting to forgive our sins because Romans 5:8 says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  God is personally invested in your struggle with sin and that includes all sins, even lust or sexual sin.  Through faith and repentance, we can be forgiven. You don’t have to live with shame, guilt, and fear because of your sexual sin. Turn to God and allow Him to cleanse you of your sin.

There are some things the people of this age need to know--things you need to know. First of all, lust is a terrible sin, but it is no more terrible than any other sin. It is the Enemy, Satan that evil villain, who sneaks up and whispers lies in our ears so that we get so mixed up about sex.  One lie that Satan has told many over the ages is that sex is bad and shameful.  This became the prevailing opinion in society during the Victorian period and it lingered into the first half of the 20th century.  People saw sex as dirty and unspeakable.  It was only to be used as an unfortunate means to make children.  It was a lie that even the church accepted and promulgated.  However, it was a lie.  It is not found in Scripture.  (This is why is is so imperative that the Church base it's teachings upon the Holy Bible and not human opinion!)  Scripture says God created sex and that it is good and beautiful and holy and sacred and powerful.  Really?  In the Bible?  Yes!  There is a whole book dedicated to sexuality--the Song of Solomon (AKA the Song of Songs).

And what I believe happened is there were many people who knew somehow in their heart that sex couldn't be so bad; they knew this because God created us and He created sex good and it's in our DNA.  And so the Devil slips in and whispers, "You know sex isn't bad.  The church is lying to you."  And finally enough people get fed up with the half truth of society and start believing the half truth of the Devil and they have a "revolution" that now says sex is good, but they go too far and we get what we have today which says something like, "Sex is more important than everything else."

So now people have to possible problems they may find in their hearts.  On the one hand, there are many people who struggle with lust who feel so ashamed, they can't tell anyone and they may even fear God can never forgive them.  They struggle with their lust in secret, afraid someone might find out and that God hates them.  Some find their situation so dark, they contemplate suicide--some even do commit suicide--because Satan is always whispering in their ear, "God could never love you; no one can."  Others, fed up with their feelings of guilt and shame and inability to break free from their lust,believe a different kind of lie.  Satan sneaks up to them (often through a world that idolizes sin and sexuality) and whispers, "You've been lied to.  There's nothing wrong with lust.  You just need to come out of the shadows and proudly own your sexuality.  Be loud and proud!"  And so many in our day and age come to the conclusion they must violently reject any teaching or teacher who says lust is bad.  They embrace their sin.  And to be sure, there is a great feeling of relief in this.  It is liberating as they come out of hiding for the first time and find that there is a world of people willing to embrace them.

God is something so much better!  God embraces us just as we are--sin and warts and all--but He also brings healing and wholeness.  We don't have to settle for the half truths and lies of the Devil that says revel in your sin.  God says, I will restore you to the wonder of my original sacred design.  It is a more difficult path to follow, but it is infinitely better and leads to eternal life.  Embracing our sin leads to death and destruction.  And Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14, "“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."  Choose the narrow way.

Live by God’s Grace Today through the Power of the Holy Spirit
When we repent, God forgives us immediately.  However, the path to healing takes time.  I currently have a broken bone in my foot.  It only took a single moment to break the bone.  And I went to the doctor the same day.  However, the healing will take many weeks, maybe months.  I have to follow the doctors orders in order to get well.  The same is true of our spiritual brokenness.  It takes time to heal, but God does heal it as we follow His treatment plan.  Through the spiritual disciplines of prayer, study, meditation, fasting, silence and solitude, etc., God begins to change us.  As we commit daily to be nourished by God’s Word, as read, study, spend time with God in the Bible, the HOly Spirit begins to sanctify us.  As we serve others, we begin to turn away from our selfish lustful pursuits and get out of ourselves by serving others.  

But there is one more thing that is essential in dealing with the sin of lust.  You must seek accountability from the community of faith.  Secrecy breeds sin; transparency fosters healing.  This is especially true when it comes to lust.  Lust makes us want to hide our sin in the shadows, because the light eats it away.  So we have to bring it out into the light.  Now, I understand you don't want the whole church knowing your embarrassing sin, so I don't recommend you tell just anyone who might go blabbing your business all about town and on social media.  However, you should find a pastor or trusted Christian friend or mentor who can pray with you and talk with you on a regular basis and hold you accountable.  We often fail to make progress with lust (or any sin really) because we try to handle it all on our own.  But sin and temptation are too heavy for us to carry all by ourselves.  That's why we need the Church; there is more strength when we work together as the Body of Christ.

And for some, lust and pornography, sexual addictions are every bit as strong as a drug addiction.  And there are groups like celebrate recovery and Sex Anonymous (that operate just like Alcoholics Anonymous) that are effective in helping sex addicts find sobriety from their sexual addictions.

Invitation 
I invite you to taste the sweet life in God’s Kingdom.  The Kingdom of God is neither sexual repression nor promiscuous indulgence.  It is so much more.  It is right down the middle of God's Truth.  It is Good.  It is Holy.  It is Sacred.  It is True.  It is living life through all eternity just the way God made us to be, in His wonderful presence, the Source of Life and True Love and Joy and Peace.



Monday, March 18, 2019

The Madness of Wrath


Introduction
Sin is madness.  It’s insanity.  Sin is a poison that we inflict upon ourselves.  It hurts everyone and everything.  Our sin hurts people we love—even if we don’t intend it.  Sin breaks all of creation.  It is the reason nature sometimes runs wild with tornadoes ripping through a community and killing people and destroying property.  Sin is the reason cancer ends people’s lives when they are still young.  (Not necessarily the person's sin, but the fact that sin permeates our world corrupts the nature of everything.)  Worst of all, sin wounds the heart of a loving God who only wants the best for us; it drives a wedge between us, separating us from the source of love, joy, peace, and hope.  Sin is madness.

And it’s not just the big sins like rape and murder.  All sin is despicably evil by the glorious standard of God.  In the past few blogs, I considered the deadly sins of gluttony, pride, greed, and sloth.  Perhaps they seem like minor infractions.  But they are terrible and evil and we should recognize them for the darkness they are, fall on our knees before God and repent lest we be consumed by the wrath of God.  For as we partake in the sins of gluttony, pride, greed, or sloth, we become partners with the armies of the Devil who oppose the Kingdom of God and seek to destroy the world and all that are in it.  It is that serious.

That is why Jesus came and preached, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)  We must recognize our sins—small as much as big—and repent.  Furthermore, we must give up every notion that we are better than anyone else because their sins are supposedly “worse” than ours.  That doesn’t mean we excuse the sins of others any more than we can excuse our own.  No.  Instead we repent of our own sin and we join in the saving work of God’s Kingdom, proclaiming to the world, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”  We must work tirelessly, until all the world comes to Christ willingly, or until Christ comes to judge on the Last Day.

The characters from the classic movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” each represent a different sin.  Little Charlie Bucket and his grandpa take a tour of the chocolate factory and sneak a taste of Wonka’s fizzy lifting drinks even thought it was against the rules.  Furthermore, Charlie stole one of Wonka’s Amazing Gobstoppers thinking one of Willy Wonka’s business competitors would pay him a huge amount of money for it.  Wonka is livid and angrily informs Charlie and his grandpa they have broken the rules and forfeited the lifetime supply of chocolate they were expecting.  

The Madness of Wrath Title
Let us consider wrath or anger.  (Wrath and anger are the same thing.)  Willy Wonka was angry and his wrath poured out against Chalrie and his grandpa.  Wonka has been betrayed before and it always hurts to be betrayed.  Wonka is the leading candy manufacturer in the world and his competitors are always trying to steal his ideas and formulas.  They will do anything to get his secrets—even bribe his employees to betray Wonka.  Betrayal hurts and it sparks Willy Wonka’s wrath. 

Charlie’s grandpa gets mad too.  He’s angry because Wonka won’t give Charlie a lifetime supply of chocolate.  Even though Wonka’s actions were justified because Charlie broke the rules, Charlie’s grandpa can’t stand to see his grandson suffer.  He takes it as a personal offence and vows “I’ll get even with him if it’s the last thing I ever do!”  So we see Charlie’s grandpa is already, in his anger, plotting vengeance (and he’ll do whatever it takes to see it through).

Anger (also called wrath) is a tricky emotion.  It’s not a happy emotion.  We might wish anger didn’t exist.  And perhaps, if there were no sin in the world, everyone could be happy all the time and there would be no need for anger.  I believe when the Kingdom of God finally comes on earth in the Last Day there will be no more anger.  But that’s not the world we live in now; is it?  Anger is sometimes necessary in our broken world.  And there is a kind of anger that is not sinful.  We call this righteous anger. 

We see examples of the righteous anger of God in the Bible.  God is angry at the Israelites for breaking the Ten Commandments.  We even see Jesus get angry.  One time, the disciples wouldn’t let some little children come to Jesus.  They thought Jesus was too important to be bothered by a bunch of kids they thought were unimportant.  Mark 10:14 says, “When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.”  And of course the story most people think of is in Matthew 21 when Jesus flipped over the money changers tables and drove everyone out of the Temple with a whip.  And we know God is Holy and Jesus never sinned.  So these episodes of righteous anger must be justified.

Ephesians 4:26-27 says:
26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

Notice the New Living Translation doesn’t say, “Don’t get angry.”  It says, “don’t sin by letting anger control you.  The New American Standard Bible translates the verse this way:  “Be angry, and yet do not sin.”

So there is in Scripture the idea that you can be angry and not sin or you can be angry and sin.  What’s the difference?  Here's a list of the differences: 

Righteous Anger
Sinful Anger
·       Has holy desires because you are aiming for the glory & justice  & righteousness of God
·       Leaves room for God’s vengeance
·       Never leads you to say or do things you will regret or for which you will have apologize
·       Is long suffering and quick to forgive
·       Gets angry at evil, but cares about the offender
·    Has selfish motivations and points to your own glorification
·    Is vindictive; you want to get even at any cost
·    Makes you say and do things you will regret latter and the need to apologize
·    Is short fused and holds a grudge
·    Gets angry at people and makes you cut people out of your life forever

Anger is an important emotion.  It can motivate you to fight against injustice when you would otherwise say or do nothing.  I saw a surveillance tape once of a McDonald's dining room.  A group of teenagers were picking on and bullying another kid in the restaurant.  Non of the other patrons or employees said or did anything to stop the bullying.  Thankfully, one brave lady was angered by the injustice and should stood up to the defence.  She scolded the bullies and told them to leave.  After they left, she said down with the one kid and told him that she had been bullied when she was in high school too.  Her anger drove her to protect a the innocent.

Anger is part of our DNA because we are made in the image of God.  God gets angry when He sees the rich oppressing the poor, the arrogant mistreating the humble, the strong beating up on the weak.  God gets angry when He sees sin destroying the world and people’s lives.  And we should get angry about these things too.

However, we have to be very careful, because the Devil likes to corrupt righteous anger and use it to worm his way into our life and bring destruction.  When we start to take an offense personally or start to derive pleasure from our angry feeling or let our anger make us vindictive, we will say and do things we regret latter and the Devil will have a field day in your life.

Important Advice about Anger
Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry for anger gives a foothold to the devil.”  That means we need to deal with anger quickly.  Here are some tips about how to deal with anger:
  • Remember, we're fighting a spiritual battle.  Ephesians 6:12 – "For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places."  So don't be angry at a person who has offended you or someone you love.  Imagine the the dark powers behind what you can see that are manipulating the people who do wrong.  Reserve the bulk of your anger for the Dark Spiritual Forces that are twisting people's actions.  That is the real Enemy.  Directing your anger at Evil can help be angry in the right way and not sin.
  • Repent of any sinful anger in your life.  Don’t wait.  Deal with it ASAP.  It gives the Devil a foothold in your life.  Have you ever seen a castle wall?  A good castle wall is high and strong.  If the surface is smooth, an enemy cannot get inside the fortress.  The Bible says the Lord is a mighty fortress.  That means He protects us from evil like a castle wall protects those inside.  The Enemy can't get over the Lord's wall to harm you, unless you harbor anger in your life.  Holding on to anger puts cracks in your wall and gives the Enemy a place to put his feet and hands to climb up over the wall and cause all kinds of problems in your spirit.  I don't want the Enemy inside my fortress; do you?  Then, let's repent of the sinful anger in our lives ASAP.
  • Deal also with your righteous anger every day and be done with it.  Don’t hold on to it.
      Righteous anger is like milk
    ; it has an expiration date.  Even holy, righteous, godly anger can turn sour in your soul if you wait too long to deal with it.  Then, just like good wholesome milk will sour if it goes beyond its expiration date, righteous anger can sour into sinful anger if we don't use it up in time.  What action is the Lord's righteous anger in your heart calling you to do?  You better pray about it and talk to a wise friend and then get to work.
Closing
Christians are not meant to be angry people.  God wants us primarily to be filled with love, joy, peace, and hope.  There are times when sin and evil and injustice should make us angry.  However, when it does, we need to deal with it in the right way so that we can resume the love, joy, peace, and hope that are more fitting attitudes for God's children.  How is God calling you to deal with anger today?




Monday, March 11, 2019

The Madness of Sloth


Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. 11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

Introduction
In this series, we’re using the characters from the classic movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” to basic sins that plague humanity.  We’ve already explored what the Bible says about gluttony, pride, and greed.  Today, we consider sloth.  The image for sloth is that of a couch potato who does nothing but sit on the coach and watch TV all day long.  Willy Wonka has a character that’s perfect for that.  His name, in fact, is Mike Teavee and all he ever wants to do is watch TV.

The Madness of Sloth
Mike Teavee almost seems a bit too energetic to nrepresent sloth to me, though.  Perhaps the animal we actually call a sloth is a better caricature for this sin.

What is sloth?  Well, I could tell you, but I just don’t have the energy this morning…  It’s kid of a challenge to define the sin of sloth.  Most people think of laziness.  Romans 12:11, “Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.  Laziness is part of it, but sloth is more than just being lazy.  I can think of four ways we fall into sin through sloth.

The first kind of sloth is negligence.
We all need to rest.  However, sometimes there’s the temptation to indulge in rest at the expense of other important matters.  We are often tempted to skip worship and spend a little more time sleeping.  However, regular, weekly worship is important. We all need to tend our soul and God deserves our worship and praise.  We have to make the effort.

Pastor Chris’ Paraphrase of Proverbs 24:30-34 says:  “I walked passed a lazy person’s farm, and the vineyard of someone who has no sense.  Briars had taken over everything and the ground was full of weeds. The stone wall was broken down.  So I reflected on this sad sight and learned an important lesson:  A little more sleep, a little extra snoozing, a little more time in the recliner with your hands folded across your chest, and poverty will sneak up on you like a bandit, and hardship will invade your life.

This life and everything in it are gifts from God.  Our times of rest and even our work are gifts and a blessing.  Don’t take God’s gifts for granted.  There is a time and a purpose for everything.  So rest when it is time to rest and work when it is time to work.  Don’t be careless about how you spend your time.  

The second way to fall into sloth is procrastination.
Do you procrastinate?  Do you put things off?  Are you afraid to get started?  This is actually a form of sloth.  It is madness.  Understand, sin is not just something that offends God.  (I think that is so often the way most people view sin…)  Sin is insanity because it hurts you.  It’s a self-inflicted wound.  People who procrastinate hurt themselves.  It can damage your reputation.  It can hurt your career.  It can harm your family.  It keeps you from being effective and all that you can be.

Sometimes, the hardest part of any task is just getting started.  The best advice I can give to the sloth who procrastinates is the slogan for Nike, “Just do it.”  If you’re waiting for all the details to be worked out and everything to be in place before you start, you’ll probably never going to get going.  If you’re waiting to feel like doing it, you’re probably won’t ever feel like it and so you won’t ever get going.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed, like the job is just too big, that’s always the way a big job feels at the beginning.  However, once you get started, you are more likely to preserver through it.  And it may not be perfect to start with, but you can always adjust as you go.  I feel like most of the time it’s better to have an imperfect start and fix things as you go than to never get started in the first place.  So just jump in there and get to it.

A third kind of sloth is when you put forth half-hearted effort.
Some people don’t procrastinate, but the work they do is never their best effort.  They work, but they only do the minimum.  Now, I understand that no one is perfect.  I also understand that you can’t give everything you have to do in life equal effort.  That’s why it’s very important to know what’s most important in your life.  You’ve got to have your priorities in proper order.  What is a priority?  A priority is something to which you devote most of your time, energy, and money.  If you’re not spending most of your time, energy, and money on something, it’s not really a priority.  Bill Caylor’s Sunday school class is the J.O.Y. class.  JOY is an acronym to remind them of their priorities:  Jesus first, Others second, and You third.  For me, serving God is my first priority.  Second is loving my wife. Third is raising my kids.  Therefore, I try to devote my time, energy, and money accordingly. 

Once you know your priorities, you’ve got to devote yourself to them with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  In Revelation 3:16, Jesus lamented that the Church in Laodicea was full of half-hearted sloths.  He said, “Since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!”  We should devote ourselves to our top priorities as if we were working directly for Christ.  Don’t be a sloth.  Give it your all to what’s really important in your life.

A fourth way we commit the sin of sloth is when we become easily discouraged by any possible difficulty.
Life is full of difficult challenges. Sometimes the difficulties can cause to freeze up or give up.  However, that’s not what Jesus wants for us.  Some of the greatest blessings come when we have the faith to keep going when it seems we just can’t.  For then we realize the wonder of seeing the Holy Spirit at work through us.  How can you ever experience the supernatural power of God if you never attempt something that is beyond your ability?

Jesus said in Matthew 17:20, “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”  And the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who give me the strength I need from day to day.”  If God has given you a task, He will supply the help, the resources, the ability, whatever is needed to see it through.  Your job is to get up off the couch and get to work.

Life is Sweet When We Give It All to Jesus
Jesus calls us all to go out from the church to fulfill the great mission of His church.  He calls us to go out and serve in His name.  Romans 12:11 says, “Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 

I invite you to come spend a moment in prayer.  Have you been negligent in your work—neglecting to do what’s really important?  Do you procrastinate?  Have you been putting off something important you need to do?  Are you guilty of half-hearted living?  Have you been afraid to do something you know God wants you to do?  Now is the time to repent and live in the power of God’s Holy Spirit.