Donate to Support

Support the church that supports this blog. Donate at - www.LoveLivesAtPGUMC.org Click the donate button in the upper righthand corner.

Monday, February 17, 2020

He Saves the Animals Too - God's Green Earth, part 2

Introduction
Although modern Evangelical Christians are sometimes accused of shying away from teaching and preaching about environmentalism,  creation care has been part of the Christian faith for a long, long time.  Environmental themes and theology saturate the great hymns of the Church in songs like "For the Beauty of the Earth", "This is My Father's World", "How Great Thou Art", and "All Creature of Our God and King" (the words of which were written in 1225 by Saint Francis of Assisi).  Though the theology is deeply embedded in our faith, we don't always give creation care the attention it deserves.

Last week I shared how God created the green earth and we are supposed to take care of it as good stewards.  The earth is the Lords and all that’s in it.  You may make use of it in your need, but you shall not abuse it in your greed.  And in order to be good stewards who take care of the environment, you must get to the core of the problem.  You must repent of your sin and turn to Jesus as Lord so that he can restore you to a right relationship with God. Then you will recognize the earth is the Lord’s and you will begin to treat the earth with the care it desires as one of God cherished creations. 

Last week, I didn’t talk much about animals; and that’s what I want to concentrate on today.  What about the animals?  The title of the message is, “He Saves the Animals Too.”  The title is inspired by the story of Noah.  You know this story, but have you ever thought of why God saved the animals on Noah’s Ark?
 
Genesis 6:17-19
17 “Look! I am about to cover the earth with a flood that will destroy every living thing that breathes. Everything on earth will die. 18 But I will confirm my covenant with you. So enter the boat—you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 19 Bring a pair of every kind of animal—a male and a female—into the boat with you to keep them alive during the flood.

Why Did God Save the Animals?
Have you ever thought about why God saved the animals? I mean, if they’re not important (as some people seem to think), why didn’t God go to the trouble of gathering all the animals onto the Ark? They are important to God.
All creation suffers because humanity’s sinfulness.  When Adam and Eve sinned, they brought a curse on all creation, including the animals.  Even though the animals did nothing wrong, they were under the authority of people and so they suffer the curse right along with us.  The way God created the world reveals a hierarchy among creation and the animals.  As God's creating progresses, things move from more and more complex elements.  First God creates light, then  water, then sky, then land.  And now the life forms become more and more sentient:  plants then fish then birds then land animals and finally people.  We see in this a general hierarchy of sentience (the capacity to think, feel, perceive, and experience life). Plants are the least sentient, unable to think, feel, and perceive (except maybe at the most basic levels). Then there are fish, birds, land animals, followed by people, who are the most sentient of all animals.

As the most capable of reason and reflection and understanding, people are to govern everything God
created as faithful stewards.  Unfortunately, humans rebel against God and choose to do things their own way and sin enters the world. The curse of sin invades humanity and all creation suffers alongside people.  And so, God, in His mercy, saves the animals along with Noah.  God will save the animals and all creation in the end too.  Listen to what Paul said in the New Testament.

Romans 8:20-21
20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. 

2 Points
So far, we’ve established two points. Let me review them:  First, God saved animals in the Old Testament, in the story of Noah.  Second, in the New Testament, we see that God will save all creation in the end (which includes animals). Romans 8:21 says creation "will join God’s children in glorious freedom form death and decay."  Animals have always been and will be part of God’s great salvation plan. Salvation is not just about people. Salvation is about all creation – the people, the animals, and the land.

Animals Have Souls
This may seem odd.  Because if you’re like me, you may have heard that animals don’t have souls; that only people have souls.  This is what I was taught growing up, but it’s not what the Bible teaches.  Listen to Proverbs 12:10.  "A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal, But even the compassion of the wicked is cruel." (NASB)  

Just at face value, this Proverb teaches a great principle.  Humans should treat animals well and not misuse, abuse, or exploit them without proper care and dignity.  But if you understand a little about the original Hebrew of the Proverb, you can understand even more.  

The Hebrew word translated as "life" is Nepes and it means "soul".  So, in other words, the righteous man cares about his animal’s soul.  That doesn’t mean we bring them to church and preach to them.  It means we recognize that an animal is a living thing with a soul just like you and me.  And we must treat them with the respect and dignity of a living, soul-filled being.  

Nepes, or soul, is what Genesis 2:7 says God breathed into Adam when he formed Adam from the dust of the ground.  It is the same word God uses to describe the insects, fish, birds, and cows and dogs and cats He created as well.  Nepes is the same Hebrew word the Bible uses throughout the Old Testament to refer to the souls of people and animals who are alive because God imparted a soul to them.

Nepes is the soul word used to describe animals when God put the rainbow in the sky and made a covenant with Noah and all living creatures in Genesis 9:9-10 saying, “I hereby confirm my covenant with you and your descendants, and with all the animals that were on the boat with you—the birds, the livestock, and all the wild animals—every living creature on earth.” Normally, God makes covenants with people; but, in this case, God makes a covenant with the animals and all creation.

Nepes is the same word God uses to describe the lifeblood that pumps through all living creatures.  This is lifeblood, the soul, which people are forbidden to eat.  Genesis 9:4, “You must never eat any meat that still has the lifeblood in it.”  In other words, don’t eat animals while they are still alive and their soul is still there.  Not only would this be cruel, it’s evil! It’s like eating the animal’s soul and God forbids it.  If anyone eats an animal that’s still alive (or drinks its blood), God says that person must be kicked out of the community! (Leviticus 7:27)  God says, people must first end the animal’s life by letting their lifeblood cease to flow.  God says we can still eat animals (we don’t have to be vegetarians). An animal’s soul departs when their lifeblood ceases to flow.  God gives us permission to eat animals properly and humanely slaughtered.

Animal Souls & God’s Plan
So yes, animals do have souls. And animal souls are sacred to God, just as the souls within you and me are sacred to God. I don’t understand everything about how animal souls work, but I do understand this:
Animals have souls,
Animal souls are sacred to God, and
God’s plan of salvation includes the souls of animals too.


Visions of Eternal Life Include Animals
We know animals will be among us in the Afterlife.  The Bible includes animals in many visions of eternity.  Such as:

Isaiah 11:6-7 - In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together;
    the leopard will lie down with the baby goat.
The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion,
    and a little child will lead them all.
The cow will graze near the bear.
    The cub and the calf will lie down together.
    The lion will eat hay like a cow.

Revelation 19:11Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.

Revelation 5:13 - And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

Practical Application
"Well, that's all great, Preacher, and way out there.  But what does this all mean for me?"  Treat animals as the sacred, soul-filled, living creatures loved by God that they are.  They are not disposable commodities that can be thrown away like trash.  There is a hierarchy in the animal kingdom. An insect is not the same as a bird. A bird is not the same as a dog or cat.  A dog or cat is not the same as a person.  However, they are all worthy of care, dignity, and respect.  Care for them as God's creatures.  And don't think so highly of yourself that you disregard the feelings of lower creatures.  

Furthermore, I suggest we not take for granted the food we consume.  It’s OK to eat meat. God gave us permission. However, we should never disregard or disrespect or take for granted the life of the animals we eat. In our modern world have lost touch with the sacredness of the food we consume. I'm a hunter; I sometimes kill animals.  Some may think that's cruel, but I don't.  I think it puts me more in touch with the sacredness of life, including the food we eat.  A few years ago, I was turkey hunting.  [Click here to read a poem I wrote about the experience.] I wasn't having any luck and had seen nothing all morning.  So I decided to just walk around the hunting property because it was a beautiful day.  Up ahead along the path, I heard some crows calling and thought it was odd they were being so noisy.  I just had a feeling maybe there were some turkeys gathered. So I put my shotgun to my shoulder and eased around the trees to see an open clearing where several turkey's we grazing.  I picked the one I wanted and pulled the trigger.  Boom! One of the turkeys was down and flopping around in its death throws as the rest ran off for the trees.  I walked up and stood over the turkey as its flapping wings slowed and became still as the lifeblood of the animal ceased to flow.  It was one of the most sacred moments I've experienced in life--to be with an animal as its soul departed from the justified actions of my hands.  Latter, as I ate the turkey for dinner, I had a truly spiritual understanding of the sacrifice it takes to consume the food we eat.  Some might think hunting and killing an animal is cruel.  However, you did the same thing if you ate turkey last thanksgiving.  The only difference is you were not present when the animal you ate lost its life to provide your turkey dinner.

Do you think about the sacred sacrifice that must be made anytime you eat meet.  Even if you are vegetarian, a plant likely lost its life to provide your meal.  We need to rediscover the sacredness of life and death that's played out every time we consume our food.  Never take this for granted.

The Most Important Thing – Repent
In order to make things right, to take care of the world and all the animals in it, we’ve got to go deep down to the core of the problem.  It won't do to only treat the symptoms.  What really needed it deep repentance.  We’ve got to turn away from our own sinful, selfish ambitions that thinks we are the center of everything and we've got to turn back to God through Jesus Christ.  We must recognize that Jesus is Lord.  If Jesus is your Lord, then we recognize that our Biblical mandate is to be good stewards of His creation.  Creation is sacred to God.  He loves the land and all the animals.  And our Lord has commanded us to be good stewards of it all.  It is not optional.  It is our Lord’s command.
Are you going to obey?
Is Jesus your Lord?



Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Stewards of the Land - God's Green Earth, part 1


Grace’s Question
[Click here to listen to the podcast.]
My teenage daughter asked a simple question that sparked this blog.  She asked, “Why don’t preachers ever preach about taking care of the environment?  Why don't Christians talk about it more?”  Her question really got under my skin.  It bugged, because she’s right.  We don’t talk about the environment very much--at least not in the moderately conservative churches I've served.  We mention it and it's part of our social principles (and we recycle), but we don't dwell on it much.  I don't know if many people in my church would label themselves "environmentalist".

Environmentalism is a huge political issue in our times.  Politicians use the subject to garner votes because they either "care for the environment" or they are "not one of those radical tree huggers".  However,  I’m not interested in what politicians or people have to say about the environment.  I want to turn to God’s Word in the Bible.  The Bible is the unchanging Divine Truth of God.  It is the Christian’s foundation for how to believe and live.  What does God’s Word say about taking care of the Earth?  God’s charge to humanity to take care of His creation goes all the way back to the beginning of time.

Genesis 1:26-28
26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”
27 So God created human beings in his own image.
    In the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.
28 Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”

Stewards of the Land
God’s charge to humanity to take care of His creation goes all the way back to the beginning of time.  Some people zero in on the phrase in verse 26 that says people will "reign over" the rest of creation.  And some have used this as an excuse for people to do whatever they please to the earth.  But a more accurate understanding is reflected by the phrase, "Fill the earth and govern it."  A good governor does not use the governed for their own selfish benefit.  A good governor does what is best for the governed--protecting and caring for them.  God charged humanity to be stewards of the earth.  What is a steward?

A steward is a person who manages or looks after another person’s property.  This is the core of what a Christian must understand when it comes to how we treat the earth.  Actually, it’s at the core of every part of life, not just the environment.  It is the recognition that the earth does not belong to us.  It belongs to God!  Psalm 24:1 – “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him.”

Suppose a friend owns a mansion on the beach and says, “I want you to go down to Florida and enjoy a week’s vacation—free of charge—in my mansion on the beach!”  And they hand you the keys. Hopefully, you would be very grateful and you would go have a good time, but wouldn’t you also be very careful to take care of your friend’s house?  You wouldn't want to disrespect their property or damage it in any way so as damage your relationship with your friend.  Well, God has handed us the keys to His earth.  And He’s not just a friend.  He’s God.  He wants us to enjoy His earth, but we shouldn't do anything to damage His earth in a way that damages our relationship with God.

Avatar
After playing in the snow yesterday, my kids came inside to get warm and they watched the movie, “Avatar”.  Have you seen this movie?  It’s a spectacular 3D movie directed by James Cameron.  "Avatar" was noted at it’s release for the whopping $237 million it cost to make (which I think was a record at the time).  The story-line is a stereotypical summary of the modern, secular (NOT Christian) worldview of environmentalism.  (And this may be why evangelical preachers don’t preach about environmentalism very much).  In the movie, an evil alliance between the military and a big business corporation is stripping the resources of a futuristic planet, Pandora.  The a group of environmental friendly scientist are studyong the planet and oppose military/industrialists who are greedy and ignorant.  The even purer native Pandoran aliens are idealized as they worship nature as their god.  The trees and plants and animals are sacred and the planet is alive.  And it's no coincidence the story is portrayed this way; it's basically the underlying worldview pop-environmentalists of our age.  It's mysterious, intriguing, simplistic, and it attracts a large following in our age.

The modern, secular environmentalist movement often treats nature as if it were divine.  They sometimes even call her “Mother Earth”.  Environmentalists wrap their arm around science and say, “See!  Science is on our side too!”  Meanwhile, they simplistically romanticize Mother Nature and turn her into their goddess.  The plants and birds and trees are all interconnected and spiritual and we need to love nature (or some would even say worship her).  This is what turns many Christians and more rationally minded people off to the label “environmentalist”.

God Cares About the Earth
If we truly care about God’s Green Earth and want to take care of the environment, we’ve got to get back to God’s plan!  The earth is very important, but it is not god.  Tree frogs in the Amazon rain forest are very important, but they are not as important as people.  We’ve got to be very, very careful that we don’t make nature into an idol we bow down to worship in our hearts and through our worldly philosophies.

At the same time, we’ve got to recognize that humanity is full of sin.  It is part of humanity's fallen, sinful nature that we selfishly think we are the only things that matter on this Earth.  Our selfish greed leads us to think we can use the earth’s resources however we want, even if it destroys the environment.  But the earth is not ours to use and abuse however we want.  The earth belong to God and the Lord allows us to use and enjoy His earth, but we must take care of it.

"But what can we do?"  Taking care of the earth is more than a philosophical debate.  What are some practical things you can undertake to do your part in taking care of the environment?  Perhaps you think I might say, "Reduce, reuse, and recycle!"  (That's a popular slogan these days for people who want to take care of the environment.)  And there's nothing wrong with those actions in and of themselves; they can be helpful.  But if we really want to make a difference, we've got to go deeper--all the way to the core.

The Most Important Thing – Repent
The most important thing you can do:  You must ask God’s forgiveness for rejecting His Lordship, repent of your sin, and follow Jesus Christ.  Please don't think these cliches that a preacher must say.  It is the very core of the what we must do.  You see, it's all about who's Lord.  If Jesus (God) is Lord and the earth belongs to Him, we must use it in ways of which He approves.  Jesus must be Lord of your life.  If you really want to make a real difference, you’ve got to change your worldview.  Recycling cans or protesting to save the whales just won’t cut it.  If humanity comes before God, then all is lost.  We will always do what we selfishly want to do regardless of what's best for the earth.  And if you treat nature as if it is god, it cannot deliver and you will be spiritually bankrupt.

When we accept the Jesus is Lord, and seek to worship and serve him, we find that middle road that leads us to truly love and care for all creation.  We will resist the extreme that worships nature and created things, elevating them to a status they were never designed to hold (and are not able to hold).  Neither will we abuse nature , thinking we can use it however we please, because we will strive to be the good stewards God created us to be.  We will know that God loves His creation and we will love it too, but love it for what it really is and not some romantic fantasy we've created in our own mind. 

Now what should you do to take care of God’s world?
Once you've got your heart right with God, is there anything else you can do to help others take care of the world?  Yes!  What did Jesus tell us to do?  He said, "Reduce, reuse, and recycle!" Wait? What? No! No!  He didn't say that!  Jesus said, "Go and make disciples of Jesus Christ, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."  You see, you’ve got to change people’s hearts and minds.  Isn't it interesting, with all the problems we face in our world--poverty, slavery, racism, sexism, addiction, trashing the environment, and so much more, Jesus never instructed his disciples to go stamp out these problems?  He said, "Make disciples..." because he knew something we're so slow to understand.  If you only attack the symptoms of brokenness in our world, you will never really solve them because the real problem is deeper.  It's in our hearts.  We are rebels. We've turned our back on God.  We want things our own way.  And our own way leads to all these issues--slavery, racism, sexism, addiction, trashing the environment, etc.  Win people's hearts for God and it will lead true healing.

Save the Planet
God’s ultimate goal is to redeem and restore all of creation.  People get saved, but so does the whole planet.  God’s green earth will be perfect once more, as it was in the beginning.  This is the whole message of the Bible!  There will be a New Heaven and a New Earth!  So, God’s Green Earth is not disposable and it’s not something we are allowed to misuse and abuse for our own selfish pleasure.  If you've been doing that, it's a symptom you're heart is still not really right with God.  It's time to wake up and make a change.  We are to be good stewards who care for God’s land.  “The Earth is the Lord’s and all there in.  You may make use of it in your need, but you shall not abuse it in your greed.” (Sandra Richter, “Christians and Creation Care: Seven Minute Seminary”)  

Perhaps today is the day you bow your head in prayer and ask for God's forgiveness.  Perhaps today is the day you decide to follow Jesus as your true Lord, to let Him truly be in charge of your life.  Perhaps you've already done that before, maybe many years ago; but today, you realize you have not been a very faithful steward of the earth.  Then now is the time to repent and let the Jesus be the Lord of your life in this area too.  Christ came to save you as a whole person and that includes every area of your life.  When you realize any area out of accord with his will, you must turn it over to him and seek the Holy Spirit's help in following Him.  I invite you to do so right now.


Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Conquering Excuses


Introduction 
[CLICK HERE to listen to the podcast.]
Imagine how awesome Heaven will be.  We will live with God forever, surrounded by perfect love.  There will be no more pain or sorrow or suffering or sickness or death.  All that was broken will be made whole.  Our affirmatives and shortcomings will all be healed and forgiven.  We will know each other perfectly--including our loved ones who died in Christ.  It is a beautiful vision and it will be glorious!

Luke 14:15-24
15 Hearing this, a man sitting at the table with Jesus exclaimed, “What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet in the Kingdom of God!”
16 Jesus replied with this story: “A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. 17 When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the banquet is ready.’ 18 But they all began making excuses. One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.’ 20 Another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

21 “The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ 23 So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. 24 For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.’”

Explain the Parable 
Some of Jesus' parables are hard to understand. This one is pretty straightforward. God has prepared a feast of all good things and He invites everyone to come enjoy with Him. But when the call comes, people make excuses. They are too wrapped up in the things of this world to accept God's invitation. 

But here's the thing. Few would actually reject God's invitation to the Kingdom Feast if it was obvious it was God inviting them to feast in His Kingdom. People miss out because God's invitation comes every day in a thousand small ways.  I commend you all for getting up this morning to come to church.  This morning, you accepted the invitation to feast in God’s Kingdom in one small way.  Many people choose to do something else on Sundays besides worship the Lord.  They make excuses for not going to church.  They don’t realize they are excusing themselves from a feast with the King of kings.  People make excuses for other things too—for not praying, not reading the Bible, not helping their neighbor.

In a thousand small ways, God invites us to feast in His Kingdom.  And each time the invitation comes, we have a choice to make. Do we accept the invitation or make an excuse.  Your life is a collection of millions of these small choices.  And they add up.  You might not notice the effect your excuses have at the time you offer them.  But one day you will stand before God and look back and you will see the sum of all you did.  I hope you won’t see a mountain of excuses has piled up when it should be a multitude of blessings from God.
 
What Do You Need to Do?
Many of you know it’s time to make a change in your life, but you're stuck. You're making excuses and it's killing you.  What do you need to work on?  Do you need to?  Change your spiritual habits? Ask for forgiveness? Repent of sin? Exercise more? Change your eating habits? Changing careers? 

Excuses are Lies
You know what you need to do.  But you keep making excuses.  I’m here to tell you today, all your excuses are lies.  It’s the Enemy of God whispering in your ear:
  • “I don’t have time.” That’s a lie. you always have time for what's really important to you.
  • “I just can’t do it.” That’s a lie. With God, all things are possible.
  • “I tried before and failed.” That doesn’t mean you won’t eventually succeed.  Don't give up!
  • “I can’t afford it.” If it’s a worthwhile goal, it’s worth spending the money. You just have to decide what’s really important to you.
  • “I’m to old to start."  You're never too old.  There was a man at a church I once served who learned to snow ski at the age of 70 and he volunteered as a chaperone for the church's youth ski trip every winter.  How old were Abraham and Sara when they had Isaac, the child God promised to give them?

Your excuses aren’t valid.  It’s time to throw away all your excuses and just be honest.  The Truth shall set you free—free to be all that God wants you to be, to be your very best self, to be part of God's glorious Kingdom! 

Fear lies beneath many of our excuses.  We lack of faith that change is really possible. Fear makes you freeze, but faith forces you to move.  Have faith!  Perhaps it is impossible for you, but all things are possible with God. If it looks too hard, ask God for help and He will give you someone to help.  He is the God who raised Lazarus from the dead after his body had already started to decay.  And He is the God who died on a cross and rose from the grave on the third day.  God can do anything!

Sometimes, the obstacles to change are more than mental; they are real. That doesn't mean we can't change. We just have to find a way around the obstacle.  Don’t believe the lie that it’s impossible.

If anyone has a reason to make excuses about why it's impossible to do something, it's Nick Vujicic.  Nick was born without arms or legs.  Doctors said Nick would never walk, yet, Nick taught himself to walk using only his hips.  He went further, learning how to swim without arms or legs.  Then he taught himself how to surf and went skydiving.  Nick speaks in front of thousands of people every year, inspiring them to stop making excuses.  Nick has learned that nothing is impossible if you apply yourself, don't give up, ask for help, and find a way around the obstacles in front of you.  [Click here to watch a video of Nici Vujicic.] 

Impossible is Nothing
Don’t make excuses.  Find a way forward.  Go over, under, or around the obstacles in your life.

Do a mental exercise:  What would you do to change your life if you believed that you are able to overcome this excuse you’re making? Don’t have time? What would you do if you had all the time in the world? No money?  What would you do if money wasn’t important? And if you had all the money you needed? Feeling unconfident? What would you do if you were as confident as the most positively confident person you know?break through your excuses. 
Look at the facts. How much time, money, etc. would it really take to make a change? Is it really put your reach, or does it just feel out of reach?

"I don't feel like it…"  Do it anyway. Your feelings come and go. Your excited and pumped one day and then you're tired and unmotivated the next. Keep doing it anyway. You made a commitment. Keep it simply for the sake of being a man (or woman) of your word.  Do it, even if you don't feel like it, even if you're just going through the motions. Guess what, 9 times out of 10, the motivation and feelings come back.  Now, 1 time out of 10, there might be something to that feeling, but don't give up today. Wait till tomorrow to give up.  And after that, wait another day.  Keep putting off giving up.  Chances are, you will find the motivation you need to keep going and you'lee be glad you procrastinated giving up.

"I'm too old," you say.  "It's just too late for me.  I've lived my whole life like this. I just don't have enough time left to change."  Don't say that.  You may indeed be near the end of your life, but with Our God's grace, it's never to late.  In God's grace, the past is the past. God forgives. God gives new life. You can start over today. It's never too late.  I know this is true because when Jesus was dying on the cross, there was a criminal crucified next to him.  As the thief was receiving the punishment he deserved, he turned to Jesus and said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."  And you know what Jesus said?  He said, "Today, you will be in Paradise with me."  The thief had only hours (or minutes left to live) and it still wasn't too late.  It's not too late for you either.

Conclusion 
Living as a Christian takes discipline.  It’s a daily discipline of worship, prayer, service, study.
Jesus gives you a tool to motivate you and help you stay disciplined.

It's the vision of the Kingdom feast.  We are all gathered together around the table of the Lord.  A feast of all good things is set before us.  All our loved ones who died in Christ are there.  Every sickness is healed.  Ever broken relationship is mended.  Every life is whole.  There is no more death or darkness or shame or misery.  All is perfect and right and at peace.  And this goes on for eternity!  Hallelujah!

Imagine, everyday, what it will be like when your faithful discipline pays off as we gather around the Lord's table.  This grand vision is the result of the faithful Christian life lived everyday in a thousand small ways.  Now, live your life doing the right thing in all those thousands of ways.  What are the changes you need to make to accept the invitation to God’s Heavenly banquet?  Live your life day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment working toward the grand vision.

[CLICK HERE to listen to the podcast.]

Monday, January 13, 2020

Bearing God's Name


It's the second Sunday of the New Year.  Many are still thinking about goals for 2020 so I asked Terry Teasley to put two ideas from the Bible on our church sign that would make great goals for 2020:
DON’T BEAR GOD’S NAME IN VAIN 
(which comes from the Old Testament) 
and 
TAKE UP YOUR CROSS AND FOLLOW ME (which comes from the New Testament).
The two terms are closely related.  The Phrase from the Old Testament comes from Exodus 20:7 and is part of the Ten Commandments.

Exodus 20:7
You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.

The New Living Translation says do not misuse the name of the Lord; the King James Version says do not take.  The old ways of saying this I head as a kid was, “Thou shalt not bear the Lord’s name in vain.” As I was telling Terry what to put on the sign at church, I had to think for a minute on how to spell the word bear.  You can spell it bare, but that means unclothe.  Of course, bear is an animal that could rip you to shreds.  But bear also means to lift or carry.  And that is what the original Hebrew word in the third commandment means: nawsaw - to lift, to carry, to bear.  

As a child, I was taught this commandment means you shouldn’t  use God’s name to cuss (or even to say, "Oh my God!") Although using foul language is not good and using God’s name as part of your cursing is even worse, that is not what the command “Do not take the Lord's name in vain” means.  What it really means is don't misrepresent God.

The Israelites Were God’s People
God chose the Israelites to be His people.  They were His representatives to the whole world.  Everything about them was to be distinctive and different from all the other nations around them.  They were to eat different food.  They were to treat people differently.  It was common in the ancient world to seek violent retribution.  If you attacked my son and poked his eye out, I might get revenge by killing your whole family.  God commanded the Israelites not to be like that, but to offer restraint.  He said, only take and eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth.  The were to live justly, love mercy, walk humbly with their God.

The Israelites worshiped differently than all the other nations around them.. All the other religions had idols to look at when they worshiped.  Or they worshiped things they could see in nature like the sun, the moon, animals, etc.  The Israelite’s God was invisible and they were forbidden to make any image or statue to represent Him. The only authorized image for God is people! Genesis 1:26 says, "God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us." So ironically, we are to be the "idols" who represent God, even though because of sin we fail miserably.  All the Law of the Old Testament was God's instructions on how the ancient Israelites were supposed to take up the name of God and represent Him to the world properly. 

The way the Israelites worshiped was one way they represented the name of God.  Exodus 13:16, “This ceremony will be like a mark branded on your hand or your forehead. It is a reminder that the power of the Lord’s mighty hand brought us out of Egypt.”  That's powerful language; worship is like having God's name branded on your forehead!  If you worship at church on Sunday, it tells people you belong o God.  It's one way we bear His name.  But what about when you are eating lunch at the restaurant after church.  Does how you treat the wait staff bear proper witness to God's name?

The Israelites were to dress differently. They weren't supposed to wear clothing made of two different kinds of fibers, say cotton and wool (see Leviticus 19:19).  So many of the rules in the Old Testament seem unnecessary!  However, God was making a point.  The Israelites were set apart as distinct from all other people.  They were His people.  They were to be His representatives to the world.  They were to Bear His Name.  And for that purpose, God even gave the Israelite specific commands to carry His name on their foreheads.

Israelites were to wear scriptures in a small box on their forehead.   Deuteronomy 6:8 instructs the Israelites to tie Scripture proclaiming their devotion to the One True God to their foreheads.  And according to Exodus 28:36-38, the Israelite high priest was to wear a gold medallion on his forehead on which were inscribed the words HOLY TO THE LORD.  Holy means set apart.  And the word we translate as “The Lord” is actually God’s proper name in Hebrew--Yahweh.  So the priest was literally bearing God’s name on his forehead.

So, when the Third Commandment says, "Do not bear the Lord's name in vain," it literally meant, "Do not put this name on your forehead if you don't really mean it. Otherwise, you will misrepresent me and you will be punished!"

Sports Teams and Misbehavior
I'll never forget something my football coach taught when I was just a kid. We had just gotten our uniforms and I was so excited!  The fresh smell of brand new jerseys filled the air as coach passed them around.  He said, "Remember, whenever you put on this uniform, you represent our whole team. It's not just about how well you play football.  If you misbehave while wearing this uniform, it reflects on the whole team.  You must represent us well.”

The Atlanta Falcons saw firsthand how damaging it can be when one team member misbehaves.  In 2007, Falcons star quarterback, Michael Vick, was accused of involvement with an illegal dog fighting ring.  Vick's bad behavior tarnished the whole team's name.  Nobody wants their brand associated with that kind of cruelty.  The Falcons lost fans and sponsors and their star quarterback.  Vick was suspended from the NFL and the Falcons sued to recover $20 million of Vick’s signing bonus.  It took years for the team to recover.  And to this day, many people still remember this awful shame.

Many people would never in a million years use God's name as a curse word, but the same people might misrepresent God's name by the way they misbehave.  God doesn’t want His Holy Name to be shamed.  So He commanded the Israelites (and us), “Do not bear the Lord's name in vain.”  

Bearing God's Name in the New Testament 
We aren't ancient Israelites. We don't have to tie scripture verses to our foreheads. We don't have priests who wear gold medallions on their foreheads that bear the words Holy to Yahweh.  But Christians are still God's representatives. And we ought to be the most faithful representatives He has because we follow Jesus Jesus Christ.  Jesus showed us how to live as God's redeemed holy people.  And that brings me to Christ's statement in the New Testament. 

Matthew 16:24
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.

Jesus names the Christian uniform.  It is a cross.  But the cross Jesus identifies is more than a symbol we wear on a necklace.  He identifies it this way:  You must give up your own way.  

In our natural, sinful state, we each have our own selfish way we want to go.  Perhaps we want to indulge our selfish desires for food, sex, or pleasure.  All of these are good things when done the right way, but we want to gorge ourselves beyond God’s natural design.  Maybe we struggle with greed.  We cannot be happy with what God wants to give.  We want more, more, more (and more is never enough). Or maybe we cling to our pride and refuse to be like a humble child.  All of these are our ways of living and Jesus says, “You must give up your own way and take up your cross follow me.”

Jesus has a right to demand we take up our cross because it’s what he did.  The Gospel of John says Jesus is God in the flesh; He created us.  If anyone has a right to demand His own way, it is Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords.  Instead, Jesus humbled himself, “...gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave, and was born as a human being… and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”  (Philippians 2:7-8, adapted)

Christ calls all His followers to do the same.  And though our cross may not mean dying on a literal cross, it always means denying our self as we follow Christ--at least until what we want is perfectly aligned with what God wants.  

What God wants from us is love--love for God and our neighbor.  In fact, Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:55)

A few months ago I was at ACE Hardware and another customer started asking me where she could find a certain product.  I was a little confused as to why she was asking me, but I told her where I thought they might be.  Then, she said, “You don’t work here do you?”  She had thought I was an employee!  I don’t know why she thought that.  Maybe I just had that ACE Hardware kind of style going on that day.  (I do often wear slacks and a golf shirt with my church logo on it.  I like to represent God and  my church whenever I can.)  The lady apologized and I didn’t mind.  I hope she found what she was looking for (or else a real employee who could help her.) Has that ever happened to you?

If you are a Christian, you are to bear the name of God everywhere you go (even if you are not wearing a cross or Christian logo).  You represent Christ.  You bear a figurative cross.  To bear a cross means to forsake your own selfish ambitions. It means to deny yourself (if your own desires are contrary to God's will). Just as Jesus was willing to lay down his life on the cross in order to do God's will and save the world from sin, we are to sacrifice our own plans for the sake of God's. This is how Christians represent God, our Creator.  

Conclusion
So as you live into this new year, this new decade, how will you bear the name of God?  I pray you will not bear the name of God in vain, for we are commanded, “You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God.”  Therefore, confess your sins and forgive others that the Lord may forgive you.  Keep your promises.  Love the Lord your God with all you heart, and all your mind, and all your strength.  And love your neighbor as yourself. Take up your cross and follow Jesus.  Seek always, to represent our Lord the way He deserves to be represented.  Amen?  Amen!