Donate to Support

Support the church that supports this blog. Donate at - www.LoveLivesAtPGUMC.org Click the donate button in the upper righthand corner.
Showing posts with label United Methodist. Show all posts
Showing posts with label United Methodist. Show all posts

Monday, June 17, 2019

When Life is Sad, God is Good


Introduction
We've been studying the story of Exodus as we prepare for our July 8-12 Vacation Bible School.  The theme of VBS is God is Good.  We've learned when life is unfair, scary, or changes, God is good.  Today we learn that when life is sad, God is good.

Psalm 34:18
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
    he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

When Life is Sad, God is Good
For this session, our VBS curriculum takes a detour from the Exodus story.  We switch to the New Testament story of Jesus.  The incredibly sad thing that happened to Jesus, for which he is most famous, is the crucifixion.  Though he was perfect in every way and deserved so much better, he was nailed to a cross.  In Exodus, God was delivering the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  However, God's ultimate goal is to deliver all people from slavery--regardless of race or nationality.  He wants to deliver you and me.  You say, "But I'm not a slave!"  Yes you are.  We all are slaves to sin.  Every since humanity first chose to listen to Satan instead of God--trusting the Devil more than God--we've been slaves to sin.  We can't help ourselves; even if we don't want to in, we still do.  And God wants to set us free.  So He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to do for the world what God did for the Israelites at Passover in Exodus.  God set them free from physical slavery, but through Christ He sets us free from spiritual slavery.  Jesus is our Passover Lamb.

It must have been so sad for his disciples to see the man they loved and worshiped crucified.  It was sad for his mother.  It was sad for his Father in heaven to see His perfect sun shamefully and painfully tortured and murdered.  It was sad, most of all, for Jesus to see these people he loved so much he left the glory of heaven to come save them turn on him.  It was sad as his disciples betrayed, abandoned, and denied him.  It broke his heart.  But even when life is sad, God is good.  Jesus became our Passover Lamb.  His blood shed on the cross became the atonement for our sin just as the lambs' blood on the doorposts of the Israelites in Egypt signaled the Angel of Death to spare them.  When we repent and receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we pass from death to new life.  We are set free from slavery to sin.

Let’s listen to the story of Jesus’ arrest.

John 18:1-12
After saying these things, Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley with his disciples and entered a grove of olive trees. Judas, the betrayer, knew this place, because Jesus had often gone there with his disciples. The leading priests and Pharisees had given Judas a contingent of Roman soldiers and Temple guards to accompany him. Now with blazing torches, lanterns, and weapons, they arrived at the olive grove.
Jesus fully realized all that was going to happen to him, so he stepped forward to meet them. “Who are you looking for?” he asked.
“Jesus the Nazarene,” they replied.
I am he,” Jesus said. (Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.) As Jesus said “I am he,” they all drew back and fell to the ground! Once more he asked them, “Who are you looking for?”
And again they replied, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
“I told you that I am he,” Jesus said. “And since I am the one you want, let these others go.” He did this to fulfill his own statement: “I did not lose a single one of those you have given me.”
10 Then Simon Peter drew a sword and slashed off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s slave. 11 But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Shall I not drink from the cup of suffering the Father has given me?”
12 So the soldiers, their commanding officer, and the Temple guards arrested Jesus and tied him up.
Yahweh – I AM
There is a peculiar phrase hidden in the story. Did you notice it? Jesus uses the phrase I AM three times: in verses 5, 6, and again in verse 8.  In fact, when he says it the first time, all the soldiers fall to the ground.  Why is that?  I AM is the name of God.  Remember, when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and Moses asked what His name was, God said, "I AM."  And here, Jesus uses those same words, "I AM."  And there is power in the name of God.  It knocks the soldiers to the ground!  No one took Jesus' life from him.  He chose to give it up for our sake.

In Hebrew, the name I AM is pronounced Yahweh; it is the proper name of God. It is a difficult word to translate, but it is full of meaning. In some sense, it means Lord. But it is more. It means “the eternal one, the existing one.” It means “reality” as in “true reality”. In other words: What you think is reality is not really reality; God is reality. God is Truth. Our notions of reality are always skewed by our fears, our sins, our lack of vision and perception. But God is THE LORD. The Lord made it all. He controls it all. No one perceives the way things really are as accurately and deeply as God.
When you think there is no hope, God says, “There is hope. I AM hope!"
When you think all is lost, God says, “I will save you! I AM salvation!”
When you fear you will never be delivered from your suffering or struggle or whatever in this life enslaves you, God says, “I AM THE LORD. I will deliver you!  I AM deliverance!"

We are learning that God is good all the time. And all the time, God is good.
When life is unfair, God is good.
When life is scary, God is good.
When life changes, God is good.
When life is sad, God is good.

In all these phrases, the one thing that does not change is: God is good.  The goodness of God is not defined by our feelings or experience. God is who He is. He is good. He is always good. God does not change.

We need to trust in the goodness of God—especially when life is sad. When our sadness drives us to despair, we must hold tight to our faith in the goodness of God.  Don't let your perception of God's character be corrupted by your sadness (or anger, or fear, or anything else).  God is good!

The unchangeable, incorruptible, unshakable nature of God is a sure foundation when life is sad. He is the great I AM, Yahweh, the Lord. He does not grow tired or weary. He does not lose hope. He does not give up.

At the same time, God is not insulated from our pain. Jesus is God. He says so right there in John the day he was arrested. He said, “I Am Jesus.” I AM is the eternal name of God and Jesus means “The Lord saves”. But the most amazing thing is how the Lord saves us. He saves us by living our experience.  He allows the forces of darkness to arrest him, beat him, and crucify him to death. So you see, God is not insulated from our pain. He experienced all the painful things we endure: betrayal, fear, unfair treatment, deep sadness, excruciating pain, loneliness, and disappointment.  He absorbed all these things and even death on the cross.

And today, when we are sad or afraid or worried about change (or whatever we are facing), Yahweh (the eternal unchanging Lord of all) is right here with us in the midst of it. He knows what we feel; He has felt it too. And wonder of wonders, God even takes our sadness and uses it for our ultimate good. When life is sad, God is good.

The Best Kind of Sorrow
The best kind of sadness, the sadness God can use for our greatest good, is sorrow over our sin.  You see, we have all done things that we shouldn't do--sometimes by mistake, and sometimes even on purpose.  And it is our sin that nailed Jesus to the cross.  And it can be overwhelmingly sad when you realize your actions are the cause of Jesus' pain.  But that's a good sorrow, because it can drive you to your knees before God to say, "Lord, I am so sorry for my sins.  Please forgive me and help me not to act that way again."  That's what it's all about. God has been longing for the day you would repent of your sin and ask for forgiveness and seek His help to live a new and better life since the day humanity first fell into sin.  God is faithful and just.  When we confess our sin, He is quick to forgive and offer us a fresh start.  And the Holy Spirit will begin to work in you to make you a whole new creation, holy as God is holy.  Would you turn to God and be forgiven today?

Monday, June 10, 2019

When Life Changes, God is Good


Introduction
This is the third blog in a series base on my church's VBS theme for this summer--Life is Wild. God is Good.  It's all about the Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt.  Today, we learn: When life changes, God is good.

Psalm 106:1
Praise the Lord!
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
    His faithful love endures forever.

The Israelites lived in Egypt for over 430 years.  Imagine 400 years!  What was your family doing 430 years ago?  You probably have no idea.  What was America doing 430 years ago?  Well, America didn't even exist as a nation 430 years ago.  Consider this, the King James Version of the Bible--a version we consider very old, so old it is sometimes hard for us to understand it--hadn't yet been written 430 years ago.  And the Egyptians lived in Egypt for 430 years.  That's a long time.

The Egyptians were unfair to the Israelites.  They forced them to work as their slaves.  But when life is unfair, God is good.  God sent Moses to tell Pharaoh to let God’s people go.  Pharaoh said, “No!”  So God sent ten scary plagues to torment the Egyptians and convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go free.  And when life is scary, God is good.  When your life is scary, trust God is working things out for your good.  The last plague was the scariest of all.  The Angel of Death struck the firstborn son of every family in Egypt; every family accept those who heeded God’s warning to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a lamb lost their firstborn son.  The night after Passover, Pharaoh awoke to the sound parents crying all over Egypt and found that even his own son was dead.  Pharaoh finally agreed to let the Israelites go free.

The Israelites packed their things and left Egypt.  The word Exodus literally means “going out.”  The second book of the Bible, Exodus, tells the story of the Israelites going out of Egypt.  They were leaving behind everything they'd known.  Egypt was not their homeland, but the Israelites had lived in Egypt for 430 years.  It was all they had ever known and all their parents and grandparents had known for generations.  It was going to be a huge change.  So the Israelite's needed to learn:  When life changes, God is good.

Pharaoh was a stubborn, arrogant man.  Even though the Lord God, Yahweh, had brought Pharaoh and all Egypt to their knees with the ten terrible plagues, Pharaoh changed his mind.  He wanted the Israelite slaves back.  He decided to chase them and drag them back to Egypt.  After all, he was still Pharaoh—the most powerful man in the world!

Pharaoh’s chariots bore down on the Israelites.  He had them trapped between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea.  Many of the Israelites cried out in fear.  “Why did you bring us out in the dessert to die?  It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than dead in the wilderness!”  This is a common sentiment for people who are struggling through a significant change.  Even when the changes are good, we complain and get stuck in negative thinking.  But God is good and He makes a way when there seems to be no way forward.  We have to trust Him.

Exodus 14:21-22 21 Then Moses raised his hand over the sea, and the Lord opened up a path through the water with a strong east wind. The wind blew all that night, turning the seabed into dry land. 22 So the people of Israel walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on each side!

The Rest of the Story
The Egyptians tried to pursue the Israelites, but God fought for His people.  The Egyptians saw the Israelites crossing the Red Sea on dry ground and followed them, but God cause confusion in their ranks.  Chariots got stuck or their wheels fell off.  The couldn't catch up to the Israelites.  Then, once all the Israelites were safely on the other side of the sea, God caused the waters of the Read Sea to come crashing back together upon the Egyptian army.  The passage says not a single one survived.  

You would think seeing the Lord fight for His people in this way would convince the Israelites to trust God more.  However, we see again and again that they complained.  The first example is when they come to the spring of Marah.  They and their animals are thirsty, but the water of the spring is bitter.  So, the Israelites complained, "Why did you bring us out in the dessert to die of thirst!  Things were so much better when we were slaves in Egypt!"  So God told Moses to throw a piece of wood into the spring and it made the water good to drink.

Then another time, the Israelites were complained they had plenty of food to eat, but they were starving in the wilderness.  So God made manna fall from heaven--a mysterious substance the Israelites could gather and eat.  Soon they complained about this too and said they wanted meat to eat.  So God made flocks of quail descend upon them and they had more meat to eat than they could stand.

Time and time again, God provided and the Israelites still complained.  They struggled as their lives dramatically changed.  In some sense, they longed for the safety and security of Egypt.  Even though they had been slaves, at least they knew what to expect from life.  Wandering in the dessert required them to trust God as their lives changed.

When life changes, God is good.
Often, God initiates change because it's for our own good.  God wanted to deliver the Israelite from Egypt, but His delivery was more than just a change of location.  The Israelites were slaves.  Even after they were free, they were still slaves in their minds.  God wanted to change their minds.  God wanted the Israelites to be His holy people, a Kingdom of priests who would represent Him to the whole world.  They were to be distinct and different from all other people.  They were to be a beautiful, bright light that would draw all people all over the world back to God.  The Israelites were part of God’s grand plan to save the whole world and would eventually usher in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.  So God had to change the Israelites.

Change is hard—especially when it alters the very identity of who you are.  No wonder the Israelites were always complaining in Exodus.  We look back and we think, “Man, what a bunch of whiners!”  But understand this:  God wants to change you too.  He wants to change your fundamental identity.

Who are you?  What's your identity?  I mean, how would you describe yourself?  These are hard questions if you've ever really tried to answer them.  You might identify as a man or a woman (or something else).  Maybe you would say:  "I am a husband or a wife,  a parent, a child, a college student or retired."  You might choose your occupation as your identity--banker, farmer, lawyer, pastor, etc.  

God says, “Forget all that.  That's justr what the world says.  That’s not really who you are.  I’m going to give you a whole new identity--an eternal identity.  I made you and I know why. I'm going to help you realize who you really are according to My master plan.” 

A lot of people only become Christians because they want to go to heaven. Someone told them that they would go to Hell and suffer torment for eternity unless they accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. And they want to go to heaven instead, so they become a Christian. And to be sure, the Bible does say, "The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ." (Romans 6:23) But God says, “That’s not big enough. You need a whole new identity.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!" And Galatians 6:15b says, "What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation."

And so, after we start following Christ, God begins to change our identity.  Once we were slaves, but God set us free.  But it takes a long time for the Holy Spirit to convince us we are really free so we start thinking like free people instead of people who are still slaves to sin.  God is changing our identity from sinner to saint.  He is changing you from a child of the Devil to a child of God.  He is changing you from someone who worships all the wrong things--material possessions, your family, a romantic relationship, the esteem of people, pleasure, or your own selfish desires--to someone who worships only God (as you were originally create to).

These are some of your eternal identities:  Free, Saint, Child of God, Worshiper of the One True God.  These are eternal.  They will never change.  Ten thousand million years from know, no one will even care that you were a lawyer or a doctor or even a parent.  All that will matter and remain is your identity in Christ.

The Exodus is a picture of the Christian life.   The Christian life is a process of surrendering to God each new day and allowing Him change our identity and make us His people.  It’s a life long journey as we walk through the wilderness of this life toward the Promised Land of Eternal Life with God.

Closing
Proverbs 3:5-6 says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take."

Change is inevitable.  We face many changes in this life.  Ultimately, God is changing us; and that’s a good thing!  Because, when life changes, God is good. 

When my son was a little child, he had a baby blanket.  He carried it everywhere with him and whenever life was too much for him, he'd stick the corner of that blanket in his mouth and suck.  As you can imagine that blanket would get really nasty and we had to wash it often.  Well, after a few years it was really work out, but he just wouldn't give it up.  So as he was getting ready to go to preschool, my wife and I came up with a plan.  We cut the blanket in half.  The a few days later, we cut the half blanket in half.  We kept this up until Gavin only had a small square left.  Then we finally convinced him to give it up.  We promised to keep it safe for him.  (We still have the remains of that  blanket packed away somewhere in a memory box.)

Blankets wear out, but God stays the same.  So cling to God in the midst of change, because God never changes.  Malachi 3:6a - “I am the Lord, and I do not change.” God is Yahweh – The Great I Am (Exodus 3:14).  He is The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end… (Revelation 1:8).  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)  The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end (Lamentations 3:22) The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8) 

So when life changes, remember:  God is good.  Trust Him.  Cling to Him.  And be transformed.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

When Life is Unfair, God is Good


Introduction
We're going to have a great Vacation Bible School this summer--July 8-12.  The theme of our curriculum from Group Publishers is Life is Wild, God is Good.  Over the next few weeks, I'm going to share a a 5 part series based off the 5 days of VBS.  God is Good! Even when life is unfair, or is scary, or when life changes, or is sad, God is good! And when life if good, God is good.  Throughout the series, we will learn about the Exodus, when God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Today, we learn how the Israelites became slaves; and we learn that even when life is unfair, God is good!  That’s not just something we say.  That’s what Scripture teaches.

Scriptures
Nahum 1:7 – The Lord is good, a strong refuge when trouble comes.  He is close to those who trust in him.

Exodus 1:11 – So the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. They appointed brutal slave drivers over them, hoping to wear them down with crushing labor. They forced them to build the cities of Pithom and Rameses as supply centers for the king.

Background
God is deeply and personally involved in our lives.  The Bible is full of stories of how God is personally involved in people’s lives.  So don’t ever think God doesn’t care about you or that He has more important things to do than worry about your life and your struggles.  God is all powerful, all loving, and present everywhere.  He is more than capable of being personally involved in your life (and mine and everyone else’s life on the planet).  There is no limit to God’s involvement and He cares deeply about all of us.

However, we must also understand that God’s story is infinitely greater than just our lives.  The beautiful tapestry of God’s master plan weaves through everyone’s lives and it spans across many generations.  The story of the Exodus is a brilliant example of God working out His plans in individual lives as well as across many generations of people.

Exodus is the second book of the Bible.  But perhaps you remember the story of Joseph from the first book, Genesis.  Joseph’s brothers were jealous and so they sold him into slavery in Egypt.  It wasn't fair, but God was still good to Joseph.  He gained favor in Egypt and eventually rose to be the second in command to Pharaoh.  God helped Joseph interpret a dream that prophesied Egypt would have 7 years of surplus harvest followed by seven years of famine.  And so Joseph led the Egyptians to store up extra food during the 7 good years so they would have enough for the 7 bad years.  His efforts saved thousands of Egyptians from starvation, including many of the people leaving around Egypt--even Joseph's brothers and their families who came to live in Egypt.  Life us unfair, but God was good.

The Israelites were in Egypt for 400 years.  Sometimes, the numbers in the Bible get lost on us.  Think about the magnitude of 400 years for a minute.  What does 400 years mean in the timeline of American history?  400 years ago, America didn’t even exist as a nation.  The Israelites were in Egypt for 400 years.  Let that sink in for a minute. 

The story of Exodus really showcases how God’s plans involve individuals as well as spanning across many generations.  God was intimately involved in Joseph’s life, but his plans weren’t just for Joseph, the spanned across 400 years and many generations right down to the Israelite slaves in Egypt.  God is at work in our lives in much the same way.  God is intimately interested in you and He is working out His plans for your life right now.  However, His plans are grander than just you.  In fact, God was at work 400 years ago in your ancestors lives, and His plans for them were setting things up for you today!  You probably don’t even know the names of your ancestors from 400 years ago, let alone their struggles, problems, suffering, and victories.  But God is good and He used even their suffering to be a blessing for them and for you today.

When Life is Unfair… God is Good!
Life was unfair for the Israelites in Egypt.  Their ancestor, Joseph, was a brilliant, godly man who saved everyone in Egypt from starving to death.  But his noble actions and the favor it imparted to his people were soon forgotten.  New Pharaohs came to power who didn’t care and they became suspicious of the Israelites.  And they imposed harsher and harsher treatments.  Soon they forced the Israelites to work as their slaves.  It wasn’t fair.  But guess what:  life ain’t always fair, is it?

But guess what else:  When life is unfair, God is good!  The more the Egyptians persecuted the Israelites, the more God made them prosper.  They kept having children and growing families.  They continue to thrive, despite the harsher and harsher conditions.  They grew to be so many, the Egyptians were paranoid the Israelites would overpower them.  So Pharaoh decided to hatch one of the most evil plans you can imagine:  Every time a baby boy was born to the Israelites, they were to be drowned in the river.

But still, God was good.  God helped the Israelite midwives and the parents to find ways around Pharaoh’s horrible plans.  And Exodus 1:20-21 says, “God was good to the midwives, and the Israelites continued to multiply, growing more and more powerful. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.”

Principle – When life is truly unfair to you, understand it may be an opportunity for God to work tremendous good for you in hidden ways.  Difficulties make you stronger.  Trials make you wiser.  Suffering can draw you closer to God.  And remember, it is not just for you.  God is working out plans that span across generations.  Do you know that the trials and tribulations your parents and grandparents and great grandparents endured for generations, have brought you many of the blessings you enjoy in this life?  Memorial Day reminds us all of the sacrifices so many in our country made to guarantee the blessings we enjoy in the United States.  Was it fair that they should die so that we can celebrate and enjoy the blessings of God?  Still, God was good to them in ways we may never understand.  And God is good to us because of what they endured.  Life is unfair, but God is good!

Things Often Get Worse Before They Get Better
When the time was right and God was ready to rescue the Israelites from the Egyptians, he chose a man named Moses.  In Exodus chapter 5 we read that God sent Moses and his brother to demand that Pharaoh set the Israelites free.  Do you think Pharaoh listened and let the Israelites free?  Of course not!  Not at first.  In fact, he did the opposite.  He made conditions even worse for the Israelites.  Pharaoh said they had to continue slaving away to make bricks, but he was going to provide the straw they needed; they would have to collect it themselves and still turn out the same number of bricks.  So the Israelites suffered even worse and they were really angry at Moses for stirring up trouble for them.

And this is another important principle for you to understand.  Sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better. When you are struggling and God comes to deliver you, sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. And when things get worse before they get better, you have to check our faith and ask:  do I really trust God? Do I really believe the Lord when He says He’s gonna set me free?

God is Lord
One of the great themes of the Exodus story is the Lordship of God.  In fact, the book of Exodus is really when God reveals Himself as “the Lord”.  When God first appeared to Moses in a burning bush in Exodus 3:15 He tells Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.  This is my eternal name, my name to remember for all generations.” 

Yahweh is the proper name of God.  It is a difficult word to translate, but it is full of meaning.  In some sense, it means Lord.  But it is more.  It means “the eternal one, the existing one.”  It means “reality” as in “true reality”.  In other words:  What you think is reality is not really reality; God is reality.  God is Truth.  Our notions of reality are always skewed my our fears, our sins, our lack of vision and perception.  But God is THE LORD.  The Lord made it all.  He controls it all.  No one perceives the way things are as accurately as God. 
When you think there is no hope, God says, “There is hope.” 
When you think all is lost, God says, “I will save you!”
When you fear you will never be delivered from your suffering or struggle or whatever in this life enslaves you, God says, “I AM THE LORD.  I will deliver you!”

In Egypt, Pharoah was considered lord, like a god.  He said to Moses and the Israelites, “Who is you’re god?  He’s nothing!  You’re nothing.  I’m Pharaoh!  I’m like a god!  I have the power to enslave you or destroy you!  I even have the power to make you drown your baby boys in the river!” 

And so, the stage is set.  A great conflict is coming between God and Pharoah to prove who really is the Lord?  Check back next week to hear more of the story.

Closing
But today, you have some questions to answer in your own heart: 
Do you really believe God when He says He’s gonna set you free?
Do you believe God  is THE LORD and has the power to deliver you?
Do you believe and will you trust THE LORD, even if things get worse before they get better?

Life is wild.  God is Good.  Even when life is unfair, God is good.



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, May 6, 2019

"I'm on Fire!" - Things You Can't Say in Church (but you should)


Introduction
I’m preaching a series of sermons called, “Things you can’t say in church (but you should)”.  And I want to emphasize that last little part that’s in parentheses – (But You Should).  You see these are things that a lot of people think or feel you shouldn’t say in church, but you absolutely should.  Don’t ever let someone convince you not to say these things in church.  You must say them.  Even more, you must live them out.  They must be a core part of who you are.  Genuine Christianity is not about being respectable or dignified.  Do you think if the trumpets of Heaven blew with a mighty blast and the roof of this sanctuary were ripped away and the Holy Presence of God descended upon us that anyone would remain dignified, reserved, and respectable?  No.  You would probably turn into a blubbering idiot either fearing for your miserable life or else be overcome with immense love and admiration for your God.  But none of us would be respectable or dignified.  But there are still many who feel going to church means you must be respectable and dignified and that you can’t say certain things in church.  And I say that’s ridiculous. 

Last week, I shared how a lot of people think you can't say, "I'm broken" in church.  But I say, you you should; you absolutely should.  It's essential, because Jesus came to heal the broken.  And if you ain't broken, Jesus can't fix you.  The truth is, we're all broken.  We just need to admit it, repent, and let Jesus heal us.

I’ve got another one today:  “I’m on fire!”  Now what does it mean to be on fire in the church?  I’m talking about people who are full of passion and fire for the Lord.  A lot people are annoyed or afraid of people who are on fire for the Lord.  They just want everyone to come to church and sit down and be quiet—to be dignified and respectable and not stir up any controversy.  Just be a good boy or girl.  But Jesus wants us all to be on fire.  I know this because it’s foretold throughout the Bible.

John the Baptist foretold it in Matthew 3:11.  He said, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  And Jesus said in Luke 12:49 - “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!"  And then, in Acts 2:1-4 we see how the Church was filled with the Holy Spirit’s fire.

Acts 2:1-4
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

The Church on Fire
Pentecost is an annual Jewish festival.  It is also the day Christians celebrate the birth of the Christian Church.  This year, Pentecost falls on June 9.  In this story, the faithful followers of the resurrected Jesus (which is the Church) were all gathered in the Temple in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit set them on fire.  I don’t mean that they were literally set ablaze.  What I mean is the Holy Spirit filled them with passion and power to serve the Lord.  The passion and power were so vibrant it even looked as if tongues of fire were dancing above their heads.  And these people began speaking in other languages so that anyone who was gathered in the Temple from all over the world could hear these “on fire” Christians sharing the Good News about Jesus Christ in their very own language. 

Acts 2:13 says, “Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”  Isn’t that a typical response of many religious people who are frightened or annoyed when they see someone else in worship who has a little too much passion for God?  They start scoffing and say, “They’re just showing off,” or “They’re mentally unbalanced,” or “They’re just a religious fanatic.”  Some people think you can’t say “I’m on fire!” in church.  But I say, you should; you must!  Because the Church Jesus established is filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit!

“Awe come on, preacher!”  You say, “That’s just stuff that happened in the Bible.  That don’t happen anymore.”  Is that so?  Are we not the same Church today as they were then?  Is not the same Jesus still our Lord?  Are not those who trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior still filled with the Holy Spirit?  Is not the Holy Spirit that fills us the same Holy Spirit that filled these believers in Acts Chapter 2 on the Day of Pentecost?  I say it is.  God has not changed.  The only thing that’s changed is your belief. 

Some think God and power and miracles and real faith was something that happened long ago.  Some think God is some distant deity who lives far away and is not actively involved in our world anymore.  I say, "No sir!  He is here, right here, right now." I say God still pours out His Holy Spirit fire on anyone who does not pretend to be too dignified and respectable or uninterested to receive Him.  We are called to be a Church full of people who gladly proclaim, “I’m on fire!”

What Does It Mean to Be On Fire?
We can see what if means to be on fire in the church.  All we have to do is look at these believers in Act 2.  There are three main things we see.  

First of all, these “on fire” Christians loved God with all their heart, all their mind, all their soul, and all their strength.  They were wholeheartedly and completely committed to Jesus Christ.  And why shouldn’t they be?  The religious leaders in Jerusalem arrested their Jesus, brutally beat him, crucified him, and buried him.  But on the Third Day, Jesus Christ rose from the grave!  And everyone who truly believes Jesus Christ is no longer dead, realizes there is nothing in this world more important than following Jesus Christ with your whole heart.  These believers may have been afraid the religious leaders who killed Jesus would try to kill them.  But they didn’t let that fear keep them away.  Their faith in Jesus Christ was more important than anything else.

Second, we see that these “on fire” Christians in Acts loved their neighbor as themselvesFor as soon as the Holy Spirit set them on fire, they began to preach the Good News about Jesus Christ to everyone around them.  Some might think they would be angry and retaliate.  Some might wonder that they didn’t scream, “You killed my Lord Jesus and you’re gonna pay!”  Some might think they would use the fire of the Holy Spirit to burn up the wicked religious leaders of Jerusalem for their terrible rebellion against God.  But they didn’t do any of that.  Instead, they realized we are all broken sinners who deserved to be burned up by the fire of God, but instead God loves us and sent His Son to save us, not destroy us.  And so these on fire Christians in Acts 2 use the power of the Holy Spirit to speak in all the languages of the people gathered for worship in Jerusalem so that everyone can hear and understand that Jesus offers forgiveness and salvation.  They speak, because they know God has loved them and they offer the same love to everyone—even their enemies—hoping that all will repent of their sins and turn to God and be forgiven and become “on fire” Christians just like them.  And many of them repent and turn to Jesus.  Acts 2:41 says 3,000 new people repented of their sins and started following Jesus Christ that day.  It is incredible what happens when a few Christians get set on fire!

And there is a third thing we see.  Slide – These “on fire” Christians became a family.  Acts 2:42-47 says:
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

You see, their fellowship—their being together, learning together, praying together, working together, worshiping together, eating together—became the most important thing in their life.  And their love for one another was proof to everyone, everywhere that there was something special and powerful happening.  And more and more people started turning to Jesus Christ to be saved.

Say "I'm on Fire!"
So don’t ever let anyone discourage you from saying “I’m on fire!” in Church.  Pray that the Holy Spirit would set you on fire—set us all on fire—that we might be filled with passion and power to be true believers of Jesus Christ—the continuation of the Church described in the book of Acts.