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Showing posts with label Truth. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Truth. Show all posts

Monday, June 22, 2020

Jesus Power Helps Us Be Bold


Introducion
Yesterday was Fathers Day and I am thankful for my dad, Jerry Mullis, and the relationship we've built.  I also thankful for many other men who have been father figures to me throughout my life.  One father figure was my Grandpa who fought in WWII in the battle of the bulge.  I asked him once if he  was ever shot at and he said yes.  Grandpa Wingo was an engineer in the army and his job was to build and repair things.  He told me a story of building a bridge while German soldiers were shooting at him.  He said, you could hear bullets whizzing by and ricocheting around you.  I have built things where you apply all you thoughts to taking measurements and making sure everything is level ans square.  It takes a lot of thought and concentration.  I can't imagine trying to build while also being shot at by people who want you dead!  He was a bold, brave man.

As we prepare for Vacation Bible School—July 12-16—we are studying the themes and passages from each day of VBS. The title of our VBS is the Rocky Railway. And our theme is “Jesus’ Power Pulls Us Through!”

So far, we’ve learned:  
Jesus Power Helps Us Do Hard Things and 
Jesus Power Gives Us Hope.
Today, we learn:  
Jesus Power Helps Us Be Bold!

Isaiah 40:29 says, “He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.”

One of the things about the New Testament Church that always impresses me is their boldness.  There were only a small number of Christians when the New Testament was written.  People thought they were crazy outlaws who believed a dead man was alive.  The ruling powers wanted Christians silenced.  The world around them was dark and full of sin.

Those early Christians were not intimidated by an evil world, because Jesus power helped them be bold.  A perfect example is in the 3rd and 4th chapters of Acts.  Let me summarize the story.

Peter and John were on the way to the Temple for a prayer service.  This is a clue for you if you ever feel feel outnumbered by a world who rejects your values.  You need to pray fervently.

On the way to the prayer meeting, Peter and John see a crippled beggar asking for money.  Now, Peter and John are Christians so they don't have any money.  You see, at the time Christians had no power or influence and most everyone around them though they were crazy.  It's not like they were doing "well" in society.  They were just getting by.  But the crippled beggar thinks they are baout to give him some money when they say, "We don't have any silver or gold, but we will give you what we can offer."  And with that, they grabbed the man by the hands and lifted him to his feet and his crippled legs were immediately healed!  

Here's another clue for us.  The problem you see may not really be the problem.  So this guy's problem was he needed money.  That's why he was begging.  But that wasn't the real problem, right?  The real problem was his legs were crippled so he couldn't earn a living.  If Peter and John gave him some money, it might solve the problem for today, but tomorrow he'd have the same problem again.  So the surface problem wasn't the real problem.  And the power of God enabled Peter and John to reach beyond the surface issue and solve the main problem--the disability.  When you look at teh problems around you in your life and in the world, always remember, the problem you see may not be the real problem.

Well, this miracle got everyone's attention. The power of God had obviously healed the man.  And people starting gathering around in the Temple.  Peter see's the opportunity; he has everyone's attention.  So, he begins to preach. What did he preach?

Acts 3:17-19“Friends, I realize that what you and your leaders did to Jesus was done in ignorance. 18 But God was fulfilling what all the prophets had foretold about the Messiah—that he must suffer these things. 19 Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away.”

Peter preached and called out everyone's sin. He didn’t call for riots or a revolution to overthrow the government. He called for repentance and offered God’s forgiveness to the very people who helped crucify his Lord.  This is the Christian message. It’s bold and it has changed the world for 2,000 years.  It addressed the core problem in the human heart--the problem that leads to all the other dysfunctions in our life and in society.

Change doesn't happen overnight. Sometimes one human heart can be changed overnight, but it usually takes time for the world’s systems to change. The Temple authorities arrested Peter and John and threw them in jail. The next day, they were taken before the council.

Acts 4:8-13 - Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of our people, are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man? Do you want to know how he was healed? 10 Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene,[a] the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. 11 For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says,
‘The stone that you builders rejected
    has now become the cornerstone.’
12 There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”
13 The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.

Being Bold Made Us Great
These early Christians were bold and it made them great.  They were persecuted, had their property seized, were arrested, sometimes tortured, and even killed.  However, they would not back down.  They continued to preach the Truth—that Jesus was rejected and murdered by the authorities, but that God raised him from the dead.  They called people to repent of their sin, turn from rejecting Christ, and worship Jesus as Lord.  This is our heritage as Christians.  It is full of bold, brave people who spoke the Truth and live for Jesus.  It takes being bold to be great.

I believe America is the greatest nation on earth right now. I'm proud to be an American. America was made great by bold, brave people.  Our nation was settled by bold, brave people who left the old world behind to come start a new life in a new and unknown world.  Our founding Fathers boldly fought a war to win independence from the most power army in the world at the time.  Pioneers boldly traveled west to settle new lands—facing hardships and disease and danger and death.  The greatest generation storming the beaches of Normandy against a hail of bullets to help defeat the evil of Nazi Germany.  In the 1960s, astronauts risked their lives to take America to the moon—many lost their lives in the quest.  At the same time, people were fighting for civil rights for black people and the end to segregation. These were costly, dangerous battles. People lost were beaten, thrown into prison, and others lost life and limb in the fight for equality.

These struggles required people to be bold and brave. And as they were it changed our world and helped make us great. I'm so grateful because their boldness helped me be a better person today.
Being bold made us great!

Boldness In Our Time 
I see signs of boldness today as well.  I see it in my wife as she goes to the hospital every day.  I have known many people right now who are avoiding going to doctors and hospitals.  Even if they have an illness or injury, they say, "I'm not going to the hospital!  I might catch the virus!"  Meanwhile, my wife puts her scrubs on every day to go to work at the hospital as a nurse.  That's bold and brave.

I see boldness in in my daughter too when she goes to work at Taco bell. She comes into contact with hundreds (if not thousands) of different people each day.  And so many other young people, working mostly for minimum wage, are doing these jobs right now risking exposure at—grocery stores, restaurants, and other retail jobs because it's essential.  I'm so proud of them.  Aren't you glad our younger generation is being bold and brave?  I am.

I see boldness in police officers risking their lives every day to protect and serve.  99% of cops took their job because they care about our community and want to keep everyone safe.  They are there to protect and serve.  But they also must put themselves in harms way to do it.  They never know if they will encounter someone who will do something stupid and they won't be able to go home to their husband or wife and kids.  But they care and so the are bold and brave.  And this is especially tru right now because in our current climate because of what we saw happen to George Floyd, everyone is suspicious of the police.  However, these officers still go out and are bold and brave and work to keep our communities safe.

I can think of others too-firefighters, soldiers, and others that would be too many to list.  What about you?  Are you willing to be bold and brave?

We Need to Keep Being Bold and Brave
Unfortunately, right I also see a lot of fear in our community.  This virus has got us all on edge.  And the Word for you today is this:  Jesus Power Helps You Be Bold.  Jesus said in Luke 9:24, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”  If you hide in your homes for the rest of your life trying to avoid COVID 19, is that really living anyway?  That’s a kind of living that’s not really living at all. 

Where would we be today if all our ancestors ever did was play it safe and stay at home?

Fear is a kind of thing that, if you’re not careful, will grow and grow and grow until it takes over your whole life.  Yes, there is risk.  There is risk in everything in life.  Just waking up and getting out of bed holds risks.  Staying in bed and hiding from everyone is even more risky.  When you worry and fret and let your fear control you, then you see a demon under every rock and death in every breath.  Fear paralyzes you and make you it's prisoner.

We've got to be bold and brave.

If my grandpa could build a bridge on a battlefield in WWII while German soldiers shot at him, then I guess I can manage to leave my house and face whatever dangers are out there today.  Peter and John faced the council after being arrested and told them boldly to their face, “You murdered the Son of God and you need to repent.”  I guess I can also be bold and tell people about Jesus today and say, “You aren’t living right and you need to repent.”  Perhaps we can all be bold enough to say things like:
If you are doing something the Word of God calls sin, you need to stop arguing and pretending it’s OK.  You need to repent.  

If you are judging someone by the color of their skin, you need to repent. There is no ifs, ands, or buts about this—all people are created equal and deserve to be treated fairly.  And if you find anything in your heart that makes you treat someone differently just because they don't look or sound like you, then you need to repent.

If you are a police officer that’s abusing your power, you need to repent and do better.  If you are a good cop, but you see something going on in your police department that isn't right, you need to step up and say something and work for change.

If you are angry because you saw George Floyd murdered by and police oficer while people stood by unwilling or unable to help, I get it.  But if you also are so angry that you want to pick up a rock and throw it through someone's window, or set a fire, or cause a riot you need to repent.  If your anger makes you hating the police or white people or anyone you need to repent.  Two wrongs will never ever make this thing right.

The love and grace and forgiveness Jesus is the answer to the real problem in the human heart.  And His power is more than enough to change us, heal us, and bring His mighty Kingdom on earth.  Is that what you really want?  I hope so.

Be bold and brave.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life

Introduction
The glorious Good News of Easter is that Jesus rose from the grave.  The evil powers of the world threw everything they had at Jesus.  The arrested him, tried him in the middle of the night before a kangaroo court, tortured him, and crucified him.  Judas betrayed him.  His disciples deserted him. Peter denied him.  They threw him in a tomb and thought it was over.  The darkness came.  It lasted all through Saturday and into the early hours of Sunday morning.  But then, then the Light of the World rose up out of the grave!  The shadows were shot through with Light.  Darkness can never over come the Light!  Jesus said, I AM the resurrection and the Life. And he proved it.  Lots of people talk a big talk, but Jesus is the only one who said the big words, "I am the resurrection and the life..." and then also backed those words up with action.

Christians are an Easter people.   Just as Jesus overcame the grave, Christians find hope and resurrection in all circumstances (with God’s help). Though this is not the way we would choose to celebrate Easter, we celebrate it anyway.  And it is a celebration!  Jesus is alive!  Christians are an Easter people and we always find a way to have hope, and life, and joy and peace when none of these things should be possible.  And it drives the Devil crazy!

For nearly 2,000 years, people have speculated about Jesus.  Who was he?  How did he have such a tremendous impact on our world?  How can the people who call themselves by His name be so determined and so able to rise up above the disasters of this life?  How can following this man--a man who was not educated or powerful or wealthy or of a high standing--lead people to find light in the darkest times?  Who is this man and how is he still relevant today?

And so people in our world, non-believers--have try to rationalize it or explain Jesus and the Christian movement away.  They have speculated this or that about Jesus.  However, if we really want to know about Jesus, perhaps we should listen to what he said about himself.  He told us exactly who he is and why he came and why it matters.  Using seven statements in the Gospel of John, Jesus said:

I AM the bread of life.  In other words, I am the only one who truly satisfies our soul.
I AM the light of the world, the one who overcomes darkness.
I AM the gate, the only way into God’s sheltering presence.
I AM the good shepherd, the one who knows everything about us and takes care of us and even lays              down his life for us.
I AM the true vine, the One who makes our life fruitful and sweet.
I AM the resurrection and the life, the one who rises from the grave and gives us eternal life.

Today, I want to share the last “I Am” statement Jesus made.  And this is a very important message to which you need to listen and take to heart.

John 14:6
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me."

Living in a Pluralistic Society
First, I want to look at the last part of Jesus’ statement, because we must come to grips with this first.  It is very important.  Jesus said, “No one can come to the Father except thought me.”  That is a hard statement for many to accept. 

America is very diverse and that can be a very good thing.  I love food, all kinds of food, and I am grateful in America I can enjoy Mexican food, Italian food, Chinese food, Japanese food, and many other varieties as well.  (You can tell I love to eat!)  And it's not just food.  We have benefited greatly in our country from a variety of ideas, points of view, backgrounds and histories, and philosophies.  And since there is so much variety, we have learned to be a tolerant people who are gracious and allow people the freedom to think and act and even worship in a variety of ways.  This is all good and we should cherish it.
However, along with diversity there comes a danger.  There is the danger that we begin to think, in our quest for tolerance, that all ways are equal and that truth is relative.  In our quest to to get along with everyone, we may begin to believe that everyone is right about everything (for to say someone is wrong would be to offend them or to say some ideas are wrong would be "intolerant").  Is the truth relative?  Does every individual get to decide for themselves what is truly true?  Can my Truth be different from your truth?

In his classic distopian book 1984, George Orwell’s tackled this question when the lead character, Winston Smith, is arrested for thought crimes by the thought police.  The interrogate, O'Brien, tells Wintson Big Brother controls what is true.  Winston argues that 2+2=4.  This is true.  It cannot change.  O'Brien says disagrees.  He argues that if Big Brother says 2+2=5 and society gets enough people to believe it then that becomes the truth.  What do you think?  Does can the truth be changed?  Can 2+2 eve equal 5?

With some things there are is more than one way to skin a cat.  However, not with your soul, not with God, not with the purpose of life, and not with eternity.  Jesus is either the only way, the only truth, and the only life or he is not.  You must decide.  Regardless of whether you accept it or not, Jesus is still the way, the truth, and the life.  Your assent or disagreement to this truth does not change the truth of it in any way.  You do not determine the truth about Jesus.  He is the Great I Am.  He is who He is regardless of what you believe.

Jesus is The Way
You cannot be a Christian by default.  What I mean is, you are not a Christian merely because you were born into to a Christian family or live in a Christian community.  Nor is being a Christian simply adhering to a certain set of beliefs.  Following Jesus is a lifestyle. 

In the very beginning, Christians were not even called Christians.  The term “Christian” was not used until later.  At first, people who followed Jesus and believed he rose from the grave were called members of “The Way” because Jesus said, “I Am the Way…”

The Christian life is a life of action.  Jesus and His disciples lived the Kingdom of God.  Everywhere they went, the brought healing and hope and love.  This is what it means to be a Christian.  We live the way Jesus lived.  We love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and we love our neighbor as our selves.  We listen to guidance of God’s Holy Spirit and do and say as He leads.  Just as Jesus only did what the Father told him to do, so we seek only to follow God’s will for us as well.

And this is the way it is supposed to be.  It brings God’s perfect Kingdom to earth, more and more.  And as we live this way we find healing and hope and incredible fulfillment because it is the very purpose for which we were created.  There cannot be another way.  Jesus is the way.

Jesus is The Truth
Now it could be possible to do all the right things, but to do them for the wrong reasons.  There are many in our world today who have accepted that you are to be kind and loving and a good neighbor and a good citizen.  There are many who even volunteer or give generously to charity.  Some do all these things without believing in Jesus.  (Every person—whether Christian or not—should be eternally grateful that Jesus so fully ushered in the principle of “Love Thy Neighbor” that even those who are not Christian still accept this beautiful Christian principle as true.)

However, it is a dangerous thing to divorce the Way of Christian living from the Truth of Christian living.  For when you separate the Way from the Truth (the way you live from the reason why you live that way), your best virtues slowly erode away.  It is not long before you start asking, “Well, why should I care if COVID 19 kills some old person or someone with asthma or diabetes? I am young and healthy and the coronavirus won’t hurt me.  Why do I need to practice social distancing?”  Or you might think, “Why should I obey the law if I’m cunning enough to break the law and get away with it and not get caught, I will have an advantage over everyone else and I will get ahead.”  I mean, if there is no God and we are just animals and it’s just survival of the fittest, why should a person accept the foolish notions Jesus taught—things like “love your neighbor as yourself” and “the greatest love is shown when someone lays down their life for someone else”.  If you don’t accept that Jesus is the Truth, then why would you follow Jesus' way?  It might all start to look like just a bunch of foolish nonsense.

Jesus is the Truth!  His truths have been admired by people from all religions throughout all time.  These are not the words of a madman or liar.  They are the words of someone more divinely inspired than any  spiritual leader who ever lived.  Could it be, they are the words of the Son of God himself.  That is what Jesus claimed.  He said, "The Father and I are one." (John 10:30)

So if you accept that Jesus us the way, you must also search to know the Truth He taught and the Truth He still want to teach you today.  “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32), for it is a tremendously powerful force when you live the right way and you know why you are living that way.

Jesus is The Life
For those who follow the way of Jesus because of the Truth of Jesus, Jesus is also the life.   He is eternal life, for when these bodies we inhabit eventually wear out, we will be given a new body and live in a new heaven and a new earth God will create.  Just as Jesus rose from the grave, we will rise too!  It is an amazing and liberating understanding that there is more to life than just the few years we live in this world.  There is life after death!  And the promise of God is that all the wrongs and decay and suffering and sickness and sorrow of life in this broken world will be wiped away.  What a wonderful, glorious hope we have!

However, we are not just waiting to die so we can go to heaven and start real life. No. When Jesus is the way and the truth to us, he is also the life right now.  We begin the new life as soon as we start tof follow the way and truth of Christ.  And to the extend we surrender to His Truth and live out HIs Way, we begin to experience the abundant life He has planned, right now.  There is nothing more fulfilling in this life than living out the ways and truths of Jesus, for that is the purpose for which our Creator designed us.

Invitation
I want to invite you to claim Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life for you right now.  Would you allow me to pray for you?

Dear Father in Heaven, please help the person reading this today to claim Jesus as their Way, their Truth, and their Life right now.  Help them to surrender all that they are and all that they have to You right now.  Forgive them of their sins.  Save their soul.  Renew a right heart with in them--one that truly desires to follow You completely and obediently.  Help them to know how much You love them so they will love You completely and seek to love their neighbor.  For I ask these things in Jesus name. Amen.

Closing
Cling to the hope of the resurrection.  Even in darkness, even in social isolation, even with fears and anxiety looming around, even in sickness, even in the face of death itself, the glorious hope of Easter is that Jesus rose from the grave and we will rise with Him!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Living Christian in a Gay World, part 4 - Coming Out of the Closet

Part 4 – Coming Out of the Closet
Galatians 6:1-3

Introduction
            Four Sundays is not nearly enough time to say all that could be said on the subject of homosexuality.  If you would like more, I recommend the book by Sam Alberry, Is God anti-gay? Allberry is an Anglican pastor who struggles with same-sex attraction and has chosen to remain single and celibate in obedience to the Gospel.  Allberry’s book is written from a unique perspective.  The book is easy to read and offers an easy to understand examination of homosexuality from a Christian perspective.  I highly recommend it and have a few free copies if you are interested.
The goal of this blog is to encourage everyone to break the silence about their personal struggles.  Whether it is homosexuality or divorce or substance abuse or anything else, we are called to love, pray for, and support one another in our struggles instead of hiding them and pretending we are perfect. 

Galatians 6:1-3
1Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. 

Coming Out of the Closet
Most people who struggle with homosexuality keep their struggle secret.  They don’t tell anyone for fear of how they will react.  In this secretive stage, they are said to be “in the closet.”  In other words, they are keeping their struggle secret as if hiding in a closet.  Once a gay person finally decides to reveal their homosexual feelings to others, they are said have “come out of the closet.” 
Coming out of the closet can be very scary.  One doesn’t know how their family and friends will react to the revelation about their sexuality.  Will they be angry or disappointed?  Will they reject?  Will they be understanding, kind, or supportive?  It takes great courage for someone struggling with something as sensitive as homosexuality to make their struggle known to others.
You may not know this, but there is a strong parallel between homosexuals who “come out of the closet” and the journey of the Christian faith.  For the Christian is also called to “come out of the closet” (i.e. reveal to others the secrets about that with which they struggle).  1 John 1:9 says “confess our sins to [Jesus]” and James 5:16 says “confess your sins to each other”.  Galatians 6:2 says we should “share one another’s burdens,” meaning we should share our most difficult struggles with each other.  Homosexual temptations might be one of those struggles, but it is not the only one or even the toughest one.  We are all burdened with sin and temptation and we usually want to keep our secret struggles locked away in the closet.  Christ calls us to “come out of the closet” in order to let the light of His love heal and help us.  

We’re Not Perfect
Somewhere along the way, many people got it into their heads that Christians are always supposed to live happy, perfect little lives and never struggle.  Christians often try very hard to keep up this fa├žade.  We smile, hide our struggles, and pretend to be the perfect people we’re expected to be.  This is not the reality the Bible teaches.  And in all honesty, it hinders our witness.  People need to know Christians are real people with real struggles.  We are not perfect, but we serve a perfect Savior who promised to help us through our struggles.  Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
We should expect that Christians will struggle with many kinds of temptation, sin, illnesses, tragedies, and other problems.  We should expect that some Christians will struggle with homosexuality.  Struggling does not mean one is not a Christian or is somehow weak or lacking in faith.  It simply means you are human. 
When we “come out of the closet” about our struggles—whatever they may be—we open ourselves up to healing and other Christians are able to help us.  Furthermore, our lives become a powerful witness—not that we are perfect people (we never are), but—that Christ took our brokenness and didn’t give up on us.  People cannot see the power of Christ overcoming your brokenness if you always wear a mask pretending to be just fine. 
 
 
Advice for Coming Out
In his book Is God anti-gay, Sam Allberry offers some helpful advice to those struggling with same-sex attraction.  This is good advice for dealing with any kind of problem, not just homosexuality.  I offer the following suggestions for everyone, regardless of the secret problem with which you struggle. 

Pray about your struggles.
            You can talk to Jesus about any struggle you face—whether it is homosexuality or anything else.  There is nothing off limits with Him.  Jesus said in John 3:17, “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”  You can talk to Jesus about anything and know that He will love you unconditionally.  Furthermore, there is no one who can keep a confidence better than Jesus!
            When you pray, you don’t have to use fancy language.  Just be honest and authentic.  Talk to Jesus about your confusions.  Share with Him your distress.  Ask him to help you with your temptations.  Seek forgiveness for times you feel you failed.  Jesus “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (1 John 1:9).  Jesus “understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15).  Talk to Jesus in prayer and tap into the unlimited power of God to deal with your struggles.

Think about your struggles in the right way.
            Sometimes we struggle with something so hard it starts to look like an insurmountable problem.  Some people here might be thinking, “You know, I’ve struggled with this for so long and failed so many time, God has probably given up on me.  I’m just too far gone.” Or you might think, “My temptation, my sin is just too big, too dark, too unspeakable, to despicable, God would never want to have anything to do with me.” 
Sin has a way of twisting our perspective that way, but don’t you believe the Devil’s lies.  God loves you no matter what and He will never give up on you.  You are never too far gone, out of reach, too dirty, too lost, or too wicked to be saved by God through Jesus.  God would save the Devil himself if only he would turn from his sins and turn to God through Jesus Christ.  Surely, you are not that far gone.
Regardless of whether you struggle with homosexuality or something else, something big or something small, keep it in perspective.  Your struggles don’t disqualify you and they define you.  You are not a homosexual.  You are not a pervert or a thief or a drunk or a liar.  You are a child of God and Jesus would go to the ends of the earth to seek and save you.  In fact, he went all the way to the cross for you.  So when your problem seems too big, you just remember how much bigger God is and you let Him define you instead. 

Seek support from others.
            Galatians 6:2 says, “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.”  A burden is something you were not meant to carry all by yourself.  Everyone has to carry their own load, but a burden is heavier than one person can safely carry by themselves.  So we should share our burdens. 
            In our context today, this means we should share our struggles with each other.  Now, you might not want to run around telling your deepest, darkest secrets to every person you meet—not even within the church.  But you should find a trusted, Christian friend—someone who will listen and not judge you and not go around talking behind your back.  If you don’t have someone like that, you can come talk to me.  That’s my job as a pastor.
            Galatians 6:2 also says that when we share each other’s burdens, we “obey the law of Christ.”  So it would seem that sharing our struggles with each other—both opening up to others and helping others with their struggles—is the law of Christ (which is love).
            Sharing our struggles with others and seeking support can yield tremendous results.  Sometimes, just talking about our problems brings marvelous relief.  It relieves built up pressure and anxiety and helps put our troubles in proper perspective.
            I have seen amazing results and personal growth when people “came out of the closet” about their secret battles.  I am bound to keep names and specific details confidential, but I can tell you that right here in this church, I have seen racism overcome and family bonds healed.  I have seen drug and alcohol addictions conquered.  I have witnessed broken marriages made whole.  I have watched out of control tempers brought under control.  I have seen friendships restored, shame and guilt released, and lives put back on track.  And in each case, it was possible because people courageously opened up about their struggles and sought the support of others. 

Conclusion
It takes courage and faith to “come out of the closet” about our problems with each other in the church because it seems like everyone else is perfectly happy.  What we don’t realize is that everyone struggles with something and often the smiles we see are only the masks people wear.  We all need to remove our masks and live more authentically.  It is the only way we can grow in Christ.  And who knows, when you are honest and come out of the closet, it might not only help you.  It might just help someone else who is secretly struggling too.  So what are you waiting for?

 

 

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Ninth Commandment

Exodus 20:16

Introduction
            We only have two more commandments to look at in this series on the Ten Commandments.  I want to start today by giving you a little background on the list I challenged you to memorize.  The list of the Ten Commandments I've used in this blog for the past 9 weeks is a paraphrase I developed back in 2003 as part of a Christian martial arts program I taught.  At the beginning of each class, students would bow in, have a moment for silent prayer, and we would recite the Ten Commandments.  Each student was required to memorize the commandments as part of our curriculum.  Usually, my martial arts students would have the commandments memorized within a month.  In this way, I have probably helped hundreds of students memorize the Ten Commandments—even if they didn’t stick with the Karate class for more than a couple months.
            The list I used is a paraphrase of the 10 Commandments found in Exodus 20:1-17.  I wanted my list to use simple language that was easy to understand and got straight to the point.  I struggled a bit with the Ninth Commandment and I didn’t really know why until this week when I studied it to prepare for this message. 
            Before we look at the 9th commandment, let’s recite the whole list together.  There are some blanks to fill in.  Let’s see how you are coming on memorizing the Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments:
1.     Do not _______ any God except the Lord.
2.     Do not ____ _____ of any kind.
3.     Do not ______ the ____of the Lord.
4.     Remember to _______ the _______ ___ and keep it holy.
5.     Honor your ______ and _______.
6.     Do not ______.
7.     Do not commit ________
8.     Do not _____.
9.     Do not _______ _______against your neighbor.
10.  Do not _____.

Good!  Keep working on it until you have all 10 memorized.

Today we will look at the Ninth Commandment as found in Exodus 20:16
16 “You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.

As I said before, I struggled with how to word the ninth commandment in my list.  Here’s why.  I wanted to simplify the wording and just say, “You must not lie.”  But as I prayed about it, I felt the Lord was leading me to keep the words “testify falsely” instead of “lie.”  That phrasing is a little more awkward and complicated, but something told me it was there for a reason.
I know now why after studying for this message.  You see, the Ninth Commandment wasn’t originally concerned with ordinary, everyday types of lies.  The Ninth Commandment deals with the justice system of the community.  It’s about the court system.  That’s why it uses the term “testify.”  When a judge hears a legal case, he will call witnesses to testify.  Suppose someone has been accused of stealing.  The judge will ask if anyone saw the accused person steal or has any other information that will determine if the accused did or did not steal.  The integrity of the justice system depends on the honesty of the witnesses.  God wants His people to live in a just society.  For that to happen, the court system must be reliable.  For that to happen, witnesses must be honest. 
Justice is sometimes personified and depicted as a person holding a set of scales and wearing a blindfold.  The scales represent weighing the evidence.  The blindfold represents objectivity; i.e. it doesn’t matter if the person is a friend or an enemy, rich or poor, a citizen or a foreigner; justice is blind so everyone is treated fairly and impartially.  Therefore, witnesses must not twist the truth to sway justice one way or another.  

Institutional Lies
The language of the Ninth Commandment identifies it with the court system, but it applies to broader settings than that.  Remember, the Ten Commandments were written for the newly formed Israelite community after they left slavery in Egypt to teach them to live together as civilized people.  A civilized people must be able to trust their leaders to tell them the truth.
We have seen many instances throughout history where governments have lied to their people and led them astray.  Nazi Germany comes to mind as a particularly heinous example.  First, the government used propaganda to turn public opinion against the Jews--even convincing them that Jews were less than human and deserved whatever persecution and mistreatment the Germans dished out.  Near the end of WWII, as the Allies were closing in on Berlin, Hitler and his henchmen were still sending out propaganda saying they were winning the war even as their capital was crumbling around them.  They’re lies had turned into madness and a complete distortion of reality.
When leaders bear false witness, it erodes the bedrock on which society is founded.  We see the effects of this in our own nation.  Back in the 50s and 60s, most people trusted the government.  According to the Pew Research Center[1], public trust in the government was 74% under Lyndon Johnson in 1964.  But over the years as numerous scandals, lies, and coverups have come to light about leaders in various segments, the faith of the American people in their government has eroded.  In February of 2014, it was just 24%.  This is the effect falsehood has on society.
The Church is no exception either.  The year I was born, 1974, between 66-68% of Americans said they had great confidence in the Church.  Over the years, that number has gradually dropped to a low of 42% in 2015.[2]  As a 13 or 14 year old kid, I used to sometimes watch Jimmy Swaggart on the TV in the morning as I got ready for school.  Now this was unusual for me.  I wasn’t a very devoted Christian at that age, but something about Jimmy Swaggart grabbed my attention and I would watch.  I remember very vividly the footage of him crying and admitting he had “sinned against You, my Lord.”  It soon came out that he had been with a prostitute.  Such scandals make it hard for the public to trust the Church is telling the Truth.
But it’s not just the scandals of televangelists or catholic priests that damage the influence of the church.  Every Christian is an ambassador for Christ.  You are an ambassador for Christ.  The reality is, there are people who look up to you as an example of what it means to be a Christian that will never look at me.  I may be a pastor, but you are the person they know and value.  Does your life and your actions tell the truth about Christ or bear a false witness?
We can bare false witness in two ways as ordinary Christians.  First off, we could act in ungodly ways that do not set a good example for others.  But perhaps there is an even more sinister way we bear false witness with our actions.  It is when we pretend to be better than we are.  You see, no man is perfect.  We all have many, many flaws.  Just because we follow Jesus does not mean we do not make mistakes or have bad habits.  And yet, sometimes there is tremendous pressure within Christian social circles hide our flaws and weaknesses.  Looking around the church, one might think everyone is happy all the time.  All you see is smiling faces and most people keep their struggles and failings hidden.  We present ourselves as perfect (or nearly perfect).  But the reality is, the church is full of broken, fallen people.  We don’t have to be perfect; God accepts us as we are and just wants us to be honest about the good the bad and the ugly of our lives.  Anything less is to bear false witness and it erodes faith in the Church and hinders our own healing. 

Jesus and Lying
Ephesians 4:25 says, “So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.”  We need to tell the truth--in both big and small things, and in our actions.  Christians should be known as the most honest people on the planet.
The people who lived in Jesus’ day struggled to know who they could trust.  The custom arose of using vows to guarantee a person was telling the truth.  So a person might say, “I swear upon my mother’s grave,” as a way of proving they spoke the truth.  In Matthew 5:34 and 37, Jesus said, “But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne...”  “Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.”
In his blog called “9 Sins the Church is OK With,” Frank Powell writes, “Here’s what Jesus is saying. You should live with such high integrity that your word doesn’t need attachments to make it legitimate... So, typical phrases like, “I promise,” “I swear,” and “I put it on my mom’s grave” shouldn’t be necessary.”[3]   

Conclusion
Christians should be the most honest people on the planet.  And yet the honest truth is, we have all been a false witness at some point in word or deed.  James 2:10 says, “10 For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws.”  And one day, we will all stand before the Great Judge who will determine our fate.  The Ten Commandments testify against us that we have broken God's Law in many ways.
 Romans 6:23 says “The consequences of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Although we deserve death for our sin, God offers a pardon to all who trust in Christ’s death and resurrection.  For his death paid the penalty for our sin and his resurrection won the victory over death.  Like him, we too can be raised to new life--one free of sin and death--where we live at peace with God.
Would you like to take hold of this new life Jesus offers?  Then, pray to Jesus today and ask for forgiveness, ask him to save you, and decide to follow him from now on.


[1] http://www.people-press.org/2014/11/13/public-trust-in-government/
[2] http://www.gallup.com/poll/183674/confidence-religion-new-low-not-among-catholics.aspx
[3] http://www.faithit.com/9-sins-the-church-is-okay-with/