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Showing posts with label United Methodist. Show all posts
Showing posts with label United Methodist. Show all posts

Monday, April 15, 2019

Whose Side are You On? part 2 - Jesus


Introduction
When life is hard, we long for a Savior to come and rescue us.  We hold out hope amidst the darkness that somehow, someday our Savior will come.  But when He comes, will we recognize Him?  Will we receive Him?  Will we truly trust Him?  Will we know that He is not only our Savior, but our Lord?  Will we see He doesn’t come to be on our side, but rather, to invite us to be on His side?

Last week, we met a man from the Old Testament named Joshua who encountered the commander of the Lord’s army as Joshua and the Israelites prepared to attack the fortress, Jericho.  Joshua asked, “Are you on our side or on their side?”  The angel answered simply, “No.”  As if to say, “You aren’t even asking the right question.”  It is not that God is on our side or on someone else’s.  God is Yahweh, the great I AM.  He is who He is and we were made to worship and adore Him.  We are called to be on His side, for His side is always right and His side always wins in the end.

The name Joshua means, “God Saves”.  Today, we hear the story of another man poised to enter a different city.  This story is from the New Testament.  It is Jesus as he prepares to enter Jerusalem on the day we’ve come to call Palm Sunday.  Jesus is another way Jews said the name Joshua (kind of like we call some people John and other people Juan and others Jan).  But like Joshua, Jesus also means “God Saves”.  Listen to the story.


Matthew 21:1-13
As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.”
This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,
“Tell the people of Jerusalem,
    ‘Look, your King is coming to you.
He is humble, riding on a donkey—
    riding on a donkey’s colt.’”
The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it.
Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,
“Praise God for the Son of David!
    Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
    Praise God in highest heaven!
10 The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.
11 And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
12 Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. 13 He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”

The Donkey
Just prior to entering Jerusalem, the Gospels tell the odd story of how Jesus sends his disciples to confiscate a donkey and it’s colt to ride into Jerusalem.  When bystanders see them untying the young donkey, they understandably concerned.  “Hey, why are you stealing that donkey?  That’s not yours!”  But the disciples say what Jesus told them to say, “The Lord needs it.”  Jesus is not just a prophet.  He is not just a Rabi or a preacher.  He is not just a healer or a kind man or an advocate for justice.  Jesus is not just a king.  Jesus is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  He is the Son of God come to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.  When your Lord comes and says He needs your donkey, you yield.  And that’s what the bystanders did. 

The Gospels of Mark and Luke tell us the colt had never been ridden before.  Now think about that for a minute.  If someone brought you a donkey and told you it had never, ever been ridden before, and then I said, “Alright, hop up on there and take him for a ride…”  I’d say, “You’re crazy.  I ain’t stupid.”  Unless you’re a rodeo cowboy, I don’t think most people would want to break their neck on some wild, untrained donkey.  But Jesus hops right up on it and the thing doesn’t buck and fight and kick.  Why?  Because John 1:1 says, “In the beginning the Word [Jesus] already existed.  The Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  When the Creator of the universe decides to ride into Jerusalem on an untrained donkey, one that's never been ridden before, even the dumb donkey knows you say, “Yes sir!” and give him the best ride he can give.

The People
And off Jesus goes, riding into Jerusalem.  And everyone is excited and cheering.  They’re waving palm branches, which was a sign of victory and peace.  They’re also spreading their clothes out across the road, which was a symbolic way of saying, “We submit to be ruled by you! Even if you walk all over us, we are your subjects and you are our king!  We'll do whatever you say!”  Everyone’s praising God and singing hosannas.  They’re Savior had come!  And they even called him king, but were they really willing to follow Jesus as their Lord? 

Apparently not. Their actions over the next week show they didn't t really submit to the Son of God.  They wanted the Messiah to come be on their side.  They wanted Jesus to drive out the Romans and restore their glory so they could live their lives the way they wanted to live.  But Jesus comes in and starts by—not driving out the Romans—but cleanses Jerusalem’s own Temple--flipping over the money changers tables, driving out all the buyers and sellers, disrupting their way of life, saying "My Father's house is supposed to be a house of prayer,but you've turned it into a den of thieves!"

And then, through the whole next week, Jesus doesn’t do what the people wanted him to do.  They want a Savior to save them from the Romans.  But Jesus didn’t come to do what they want him to do.  Jesus came to do the will of God the Father, maker of heaven and earth.

The leading priests and elders starts asking, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right?” (Matthew 21:23)  Jesus finds the sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors are more willing to accept his authority than the religious leaders.  Jesus says, the Kingdom of God is being taken away from the ruling authorities in Jerusalem and given to the weirdos, outcasts, and sinners who repent and accept the Savior as Lord.

The Pharisees and good people of Jerusalem want Jesus to defeat the heathen Romans so they don’t have to pay taxes and tributes to them anymore.  But instead, Jesus keeps showing the good people in Jerusalem they're not really any better than the heathen Romans.  In fact, in a lot of ways, the heathen Romans and the hated Samaritans are actually closer to the Kingdom of God than the good people of Jerusalem.  He preaches, “Everything [the religious leaders and Pharisees] do is for show.” (Matthew 23:5)  He says they are blind hypocrites heading for destruction and anyone who follows them will end up being destroyed with them.

Rather than rallying the troops to fight for Jerusalem, Jesus actually grieves over the city.  O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.” (Matthew 23:37)

When the disciples marvel at all the incredible buildings and architecture in Jerusalem, Jesus tells them it’s all going to be destroyed.  “Not one stone will be left on top of another!” (Matthew 24:2)  And in the end, the Messiah would judge people not according to their position or possessions or power or where they live, but according to three things:
  1. Whether they truly have to the Spirit of God in them (Matthew 25:1-13)
  2. How they used the blessings God gave them to be fruitful (Matthew 25:14-30)
  3. And whether they cared for people who were in need (Matthew 25:31-46)

Jesus came to Jerusalem, riding on a donkey.  The people called him their messiah and king, but it was only lip service.  When he proved he would not do things their way, they turned their backs.  You see, for the people of Jerusalem, it was never really about following God.  God was a just a means to an end--their end.  They were never on God’s side.  They just wanted God to come be on their side so they could get what they want.

Jesus comes to each of us just like He came to Jerusalem.  We have the same decision to make.  Do want want Him to be on our side?  Or are we truly ready to be on His side?  Sure we all say we want to be on Jesus side, but then He starts tearing down the idols in our hearts and flipping over our way of living.  He challenges our sins and then I’m not so sure we might not want start crying out with everyone else in crowd on Good Friday, shouting “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Or we might be like his disciples who all abandoned him in fear and ran away.  Or we might be like Peter who boasted he would die for Jesus, but then denied even knowing him three times.  Or we might be like Judas who agreed to betray Jesus, hoping to get a better deal from someone else. We might do all these things.  We have done all these things at one time or another.  But who will truly recognize Jesus as Lord?

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Whose Side are You On? part 1 - Joshua and Jericho

Introduction
When we go through tough times, we want to know God is on our side.  Whether we’ve lost our job, are facing a serious illness, have a financial problem, or a spiritual crisis, whatever the problem is, we want to know God’s got our back.  That’s why people are more likely to pray when they face serious troubles.  And they ask others to pray for them.  Even self-proclaimed atheists start praying when they’re in a serious crisis.

Over the next two weeks, I want to show that we’ve got it all wrong.  We’re looking at life, our problems, and our relationship with God all wrong when we go begging Him to fight our battles.  Now stick with me on this.  Don’t tune me out just yet.  You’ll see what I’m saying if you hear me out.  And maybe, just maybe, it could completely change the course of your life, for the better—maybe even your eternity.

This will be a two part series.  We will look at two different stories about two different men getting ready to enter two different cities.  One story is from the Old Testament—Joshua and the city of Jericho.  The other one is from the New Testament—Jesus and the city Jerusalem.  Today, we will look at the Old Testament story of Joshua and the city of Jericho.

Background
·       Joshua took over leadership of the Israelites after Moses died.  You may remember the Israelites (AKA the Hebrews) were slaves in Egypt.  They cried out to God to save them, and God who had promised their ancestor Abraham He would bring Abraham's descendants into a land "flowing with milk and honey" heard their cry.  God sent Moses to lead them out of slavery in Egypt into the Promised Land.  God chose the Israelites to be is special people--a royal and holy priesthood designed to lead all the people of the world toward God.  However, the Israelites were a stubborn, rebellious, and faithless people.  They constantly complained and they did not trust God could defeat their enemies (the Canaanites who inhabited the Promised Land).  Even Moses got frustrated with God.  Therefore, God decreed that no one from that first generation of Israelites would enter the Promised Land, except for Joshua and Caleb (who were the only one's who proved they had faith in God).  The first generation of Israelites left Egypt and wandered in the desert for forty years until everyone except Caleb and Joshua died.  Then, Joshua took over leadership of the Israelites.

Now, there are some interesting facts you need to know about Joshua’s name.  The Jewish way to pronounce Joshua is Jeshua.  And Jeshua is another way to pronounce the name Jesus.  Joshua means Yahweh saves (I.E. it means God Saves).  Jesus also means Yahweh saves (IE Jesus means God Saves).  (Yahweh is the name God gave when Moses asked for His name.  It means simply, I Am.)  So Joshua and Jesus are the same name (sort of like Elizabeth and Lisa and Liza and Beth are all really the same name in English, just said differently).

Joshua is leading the Israelites into the Promise land, but the Canaanite fortress of Jericho stands in the way.  God promised the Israelites He would destroy the Canaanites because of their sin and give their land to the Israelites.  That sounds pretty harsh to us today.  We wonder, "Is that really the way God is?"  We have to have faith God is holy and righteous and just and merciful and good.  And when we understand some things about the Canaanites, we begin to see God was right to destroy the Canaanites.  Let's consider the character of the Canaanites.

First of all, the Canaanites knew about the God of the Bible but rejected Him in favor of false gods.  As Romans 1:21 says, “Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God…”  When they didn't like living the way God commanded, they rejected God and invented their own pretend gods that would only tell them things with which they agreed.  We see this kind of attitude in our day and age all the time.  You ask someone today, "What is God like?"  They will say, "I think God is like..." and they will give you their opinion about their version of what God is like. Now, nine times out of ten, their opinion of God is not based on Scripture.  It's only based on their own ideas or the ideas they've heard from others that they like.  People who base their ideas about God on their own ideas or public opinion generally dismiss stuff that doesn't fit with their ideas about God.  In essence, this is just inventing a god according to your own imagination.  And if you go down that road long enough, you end up with some truly crazy and sinful and perverted ideas.  But God said His name is Yahweh.  As He told Moses, "I Am Who I Am".  We don't get to decide who God is.  Our opinions about Him don't change who He really is.  He just is.

The Canaanites tried to make God into who they wanted Him to be and it led them into all kinds of terribly sinful behavior.  Specifically, they worshipped false gods and idols.  Adultery and sexual promiscuity was rampant in their society.  The gods they invented actually encouraged sexual promiscuity as part of their worship.  They hired prostitutes to have sex with worshipers in their temples as part of the worship service (now there's a perverted way to increase worship attendance!).  This is how perverse their view of holiness had become!  It went further.  They accepted homosexuality and even incest and bestiality!  Now you may wonder how anyone can think having sex with animals (beastiality) is acceptable.  That's just gross!  Well, guess what: fifty years ago people in America thought homosexuality was evil and disgusting; however today, homosexuality is increasingly accepted in our own society.  When you start going down the road to making god and morals according to your own designs, you end up with incredibly wicked behavior and people think it is normal and good and even holy.  The Canaanites were sexually immoral and they raped and murdered.  They even sacrificed children as part of their worship because they thought that's their gods wanted.

But Yahweh is good and holy and righteous and just and patient and merciful.  He is not quick to dish out punishment by destroying a whole people.  The Canaanites' sins had continued for nearly 700 years--from the time of Abraham all the way through to Joshua.  And in 700 years, you know God sent many people to call the Canaanites to repentance, but they would not.  So you see, God would absolutely have redeemed them if only they would have surrendered and turned from their sins and turned to God, but they would not.

Furthermore, the Canaanites knew what God could do and that His people were coming to bring
judgment for their sins. In Judges 2:11, we read about some spies Joshua sent into Jericho.  While there, the spies met a  Canaanite prostitute named Rahab who explains, “We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites...”).  So, the Canaanites in Jericho knew God was powerful and He was sending His people to destroy them, but they still would not surrender.  God was willing to save those who surrendered and repented, but most would not (except for a few exceptions like Rahab).  And it's quite revealing to see that God would save a person like Rahab.  Rahab was a prostitute.  So it's not like God was saying, "They are too far gone, what they've done is just too bad and unforgivable."  No.  God was willing to save Rahab.  And the fact that Rahab's great, great, great, great... grandson is Jesus tells us God was willing to save and honor anyone who turns to Him.  Unfortunately, few of the Canaanites did.

Joshua faced formidable resistance.  Jericho was a fortress with walls six feet thick and as tall as ten stories! And it was full of armed soldiers who would rather fight to the death than surrender and give up their sinful lifestyle.  Think about the obstacles in your life that seem like an impenetrable fortress as you read the interesting thing that happened to Joshua as he face Jericho.

Joshua 5:13-15
13 When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and demanded, “Are you friend or foe?”
14 “Neither one,” he replied. “I am the commander of the Lord’s army.”

Actually, the original Hebrew (according to Rev. James Michael Smith) is actually just “No.”  Joshua says, "Are you friend or foe?" and the commander of the Lord's army simply replies, "No."  It's like the commander of the Lord's army is saying, "You aren't even asking the right question.  No."

At this, Joshua fell with his face to the ground in reverence. “I am at your command,” Joshua said. “What do you want your servant to do?”

Joshua is a man of God.  He knows his place.  “I am at your command.  What do you want me to do?”  This is the right attitude when you come face to face with the commander of the Lord’s Army or any true representative of God.

15 The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did as he was told.

Facing Jericho
Joshua had a monumental task ahead of him. Jericho was not just a city. It was a fortress. When you find yourself facing your own Jericho, what do you do?  Most of us want to make sure God's on our side.  Abraham Lincoln was a truly godly man--perhaps one of the godliest presidents America has ever had in one of the most difficult times in the nation's history.  The northern states and the southern states were at war over the issues of slavery and states rights.  The southern states were praying, "Lord, help us defeat our enemies in the south!"  The southern states were praying, "Lord, help us defeat our enemies in the north!"  It is reported that Abraham Lincoln once said, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right.”

We want to make sure God is on our side. Maybe that’s the wrong attitude. Maybe, we ought to make sure we are on God’s side, because God’s side is always right and will always achieve victory in the end.

Make Sure You’re On God’s Side
Well then, how do you make sure you are on God's side?  First of all, you have to surrender.  Notice what Joshua did when he recognized he was face to face with the commander of the Lord's armies.  He immediately surrendered.  He went from a demanding attitude to falling on his face in reverence and saying, "I am at your command.  What do you want your servant to do?"  When we come to the realization that God truly is Lord and He made us for His purposes, the very first act should be our unconditional surrender.  We must fall on our face before Him and say, "I am at Your command.  What do you want Your servant to do?"

Second, we must walk humbly with our God every day so we stay in tune with His ongoing commands and will for our lives.  How do we do that?  First, we go off by ourselves to be alone; and then we realize, we are not really alone at all.  God is with us.  Perhaps that is how Joshua was able to notice the commander of the Lord's army in his midst.  Joshua was a man with the tremendous responsibility of leading thousands of people.  He was under tremendous stress.  Perhaps he stepped away for a moment to be by himself and in doing so realized he was not alone at all.  How about you?  Do you ever step away from the hussle and bussle of life long enough to be alone and realize you are not really alone at all?  God is with you, right there.  And then we begin to know what He wants of us.  We can all find a little time to be alone--even if it's just a few minutes while we drive alone in the car and we turn off the radio and just drive in silence.  Or maybe it is when you are alone in the bath or in the shower.  Make that intentional time with God.

And if we are going to stay in tune with God so we make sure we are always on His side, we need to rediscover the spiritual disciplines our culture has so often forgot--prayer, fasting, meditation.  You know, Jesus said, "When you fast..."  He didn't say, if you fast; Jesus assumed His followers would fast.  But how many people in our day and age fast as a regular spiritual exercise?  We need to rediscover this discipline.

And we must immerse ourselves in God’s Word.  We must stop basing our ideas about God on our own personal opinions and the things we heard from others.  God has told us who He is and what He's done and what He wants us to do.  It's all right there in the Holy Bible.  Most people in America own multiple copies of the Bible, but they do not read them.  We are biblically illiterate.  We must read, study, and obey God's Word in the Bible.  This should be a regular part of our daily habits.  It must be if we are to stay in tune with God and make sure we are always on His side.

And when we know we are on God's side (not that He is on our side), we will worship and serve Him.  We will make the Kingdom of God our first priority and we will live and die for God, however He commands.  We will join with Joshua who said, "I am at Your command.  What do you want Your servant to do?"

We must change our whole perspective on life.  Jesus said, “You cannot serve two masters.  For you will either love the one and hate the other or you will hate the one and love the other."  So we must ask the question in every area of our life.  Is God my Lord or not?  Is He first?  We often say He is Lord and He is first, but then we find we are really serving some other lord or some other god or some other thing or ourself, and God is only tagged on as something extra.  He is not really our master.  We only want God to be on our side.  And He says, "No.  I am Yahweh.  I Am Who I Am."  

What’s Your Jericho?
From time to time in life, we all come up against a Jericho and we want to know, "Is God on our side?"  It's time we stop thinking that way.  It's the wrong question.  Instead, we must strive to be on God's side.  For God is always right and good and holy and just.  And in the end, God's side always wins.  I want to be on God's side.  Don't you?

Check back with me next week as we look at another story about another man in another time who was about to enter another city--Jesus and the city of Jerusalem on the day Christians celebrate as Palm Sunday.

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Madness of Envy


Introduction
Basketball fans are caught up in March Madness, but we’ve been studying a different kind of madness this March at my church:  The Madness of Sin.  We’ve been using the characters of the classic movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” to draw our attention to the basics sins that plague humanity.  Many people think the worst sins are terrible things like rape and murder or rooting for the Duke Blue Devils…

Actually, all sin is an abomination to God.  And the basic sins of gluttony, pride, greed, sloth, anger, envy, and lust lead people to do the more terrible sins like rape, murder, and sexual immorality.  The first sin recorded in the Bible was when Adam and Eve at a fruit God told them not to eat.  They disobeyed God and it broke their perfect relationship with Him, led to spiritual death, and the downfall of all humanity and creation.  It seems like such a small thing to eat a piece of fruit, but even small disobedience to God’s Word leads to terrible results.  Adam and Even ate forbidden fruit; their son Cain murdered his brother Abel.

Romans explains the progression of sin in humanity:

Romans 1:28-32
28 Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. 29 Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. 30 They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. 31 They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. 32 They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.

Sin is madness.  It is an evil cancer that starts small and then grows out of control until it consumes everything in its path.  That’s why Jesus came and died on the cross and was raised from the grave.  Now we must heed Jesus’ command and the preaching of his disciples in Acts 3:19, “Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away.”

The first step in repentance is to recognize the sin within us.  Today, we will consider the sin of envy.  There's a scene from “Willy Wonk and the Chocolate Factory” where Charlie Bucket finds the last golden ticket--something everybody wants.  A lady grabs him by the wrist and drags him into a mob who nearly crush him for a chance to see the golden ticket.  It's a awonder someone doesn't steal it from him, because they want it so badly.  Fortunately, one good samaritan rescues Charlie and tells him to run straight home and don't talk to anyone until he gets there.  Charlie runs home safety.

The Madness of Envy
Most people have some understanding of envy, because we’ve all envied someone at some point in our life.  However, envy goes deeper than just longing for something someone has.  Envy makes you discontent with your own blessings and even leads you to resent others for the good things they have.  Thomas Aquinas defined envy as: “Sorrow for another’s good.” So you are actually sad that other people might be happier than you.  Here are some symptoms you might suffer from envy.

Symptoms of Envy
Do you compare yourself to others? God has already blessed you with thousands upon thousands of gifts.  But if you are constantly looking to see what others have—their possessions, their looks, their personality, their talents, their wealth, their friends, their health, etc.—then you are doing much the same as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden.  The first few chapters of Genesis tell us Adam and Eve lived in paradise.  Life was absolutely perfect and they had everything they needed and wanted.  They were perfectly happy, until Satan tempted them to look at the forbidden fruit.  Suddenly, all the other blessings in the Garden of Eden were forgotten.  They wanted the forbidden fruit.  Do you compare yourself to others?

Do you criticize and complain? Sometimes when we criticize and complain about others, it’s because we are really jealous.  Maybe we are jealous and wish we had a house like them, so we criticize them for spending so much on such a luxurious house. “I would never do the things they did to get the money to get a house like theirs,” we say with disgust.  When really, we’re just envious and we can’t be happy they are blessed with a house bigger than our own.  Subconsciously, we wish our house was bigger and better instead of being grateful for our own blessing.  And that leads us to a third symptom of envy.

Are you ungrateful for your own blessings?  If we were to truly count all our many blessings, count them one by one, it would take up almost all our time.  We wouldn’t have time to envy anyone else.  But most of us, most of the time take our many blessings for granted.  We wish we had nicer clothes, rather than thanking God that we have decent clothes to wear.  We want a newer car, rather than being grateful we have a way to get to work every day.  We wish our health were better, rather than praising God we are still healthy enough to get out of bed and come to church to hear a fabulous sermon!

If we envy someone long enough or deep enough, it can lead to hatred.  If there’s someone in your life that really irks you or that you truly hate, there’s a good chance it may have started with some form of envy.  Often we harbor hatred to cover up our envy.  Envy is a terrible sin that starts out small, but can lead to terrible darkness.  Cain murdered his brother because he envied him.  Envy is a dangerous sin we need to get rid of quickly.

Repenting of Envy
Jesus loved us so much he left the glory of Heaven to come to our world and save us from sin.  He preached, “Repent of your sin for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”  And he willingly gave his life on the cross of Calvary to pay the price for our sins.  Now, each of us needs to turn away from our sins—including envy—and turn to God so our sins may be wiped away.  But how do we do it?
The first step is to recognize the problem.  We can’t let God help us change until we realize we need to change.  We need to prayerfully examine our heart, our relationships, our feelings about others.  Do we exhibit the symptoms of envy?  If so, we need to pray to God and Him to forgive us and help us change.

Second, don’t compare yourself to others; connect with others!  Romans 12:12 says, “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.  Realize this life is not a competition.  We are all in this together.  We are all sinners in desperate need of God’s grace.  God so loved the whole world that He sent his one and only Son that whoever believes in him would not perish but have everlasting life.  Jesus taught you are to love your neighbor as yourself and that everyone who walks upon the earth is your neighbor.  The best way to guard against envy is to truly connect with others—to feel with them, to learn to be happy for them and with them, to share in their celebrations and also to share in their sorrows.  Stop focusing so much on yourself and love your neighbor.  When you learn to rejoice at the blessings of others, you will learn to rejoice all the time because someone somewhere always has something to rejoice about.

Finally, view all of life from a Gospel perspective.  Consider what Jesus has done to save us.  We were lost and imprisoned by sin.  We had no hope and Jesus came to set us captives free.  He bought our freedom at the price of His blood on the cross—His life for ours.  He opened the door to our prison cell.  Through repentance, we walk out of our cell into the glorious light of His love and grace.  We take off our prison chains and put on the royal robes of kings and queens in the Kingdom of God.  Some of us have already realized this freedom.  We have walked out into the light.  Others are still huddled fearfully in their dark cells, waiting for someone to tell them they are free to leave or to realize the door is standing wide open and find the courage to walk on through to a new and better life.  Why should we spend one more second envying what someone else has?  We’ve already been given everything and eternal life awaits us in the glorious presence of God.  When we envy, it’s as if we’re looking back through the bars of the jail and longing for what’s back inside.  That’s insane!  That’s madness!  That’s envy!  And we’re not going to do it anymore.  Are we?

Invitation
Our God, through Jesus Christ, is a magnanimous God.  Do you know what magnanimous means?  It means generous and forgiving—especially toward someone less powerful.  God is magnanimous with us.  So we can come to Him in prayer and our magnanimous God loves us and blesses us with infinite love and grace.  So, we don’t have to envy anyone anymore.  In Christ, we have all we need.  Amen.

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.