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Faith to Forgive

Text:  Luke 17:5-6

5The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”  6He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

Introduction

The disciples when confronted with the necessity to forgive in a way that would transform their lives, said to Jesus, “Lord, Increase our faith.”  When God challenges us to do a new thing we often find ourselves believing that the faith we have is incapable of achieving the goals God has set for us.  Nonetheless, God continuously challenges us to reach higher, dig deeper, and go further than we think we can.  It would be unfair of God to ask, if God did not know that we could achieve what God calls us to do. [Let me interject right here that when God asks you to accomplish a goal, he has already calculated his involvement in its completion.]  Lord, have mercy!

Mustard seeds are the small round seeds of various mustard plants. The seeds are typically about 1 or 2 mm in diameter, larger than many plants such as poppy, columbine, potulaca and dandelion while relatively small compared to many others such as pumpkin, watermelon, apples, pine-cone or coconuts. Mustard seeds may be colored from yellowish white to black.

Mulberry trees are famous fruit treats tracing back to ancient civilizations.     The most impressive aspect of the mulberry tree is that is can grow up to ten feet each year.   White mulberries can reach 80 feet, and can also be pyramidal or weeping in form. Red mulberry trees may reach up to 70 feet. The black mulberry is much shorter, reaching only 30 feet, and unless trained tends to grow as a multi-stemmed shrub. The three species differ greatly in longevity.  It is unusual for a red mulberry tree to survive more than 75 years, while a black mulberry may produce fruit for hundreds of years.  In other words, a mulberry tree has deep roots and is not easily moved by humans or destroyed by disaster.

When outwardly compared to a mustard seed, the mulberry tree is much more formidable and awe inspiring.  The mulberry tree relies on its vast network of roots for survival whereas the mustard seed relies on God’s grace to grow.  One is not germinated while the other is fully grown and producing fruit.

Jesus insists that “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”  What an awesome depiction of faith.  If you start where you are, doing the will of God, before you know it, the faith you have will develop in such a way that you will be able to do things you thought impossible.  Jesus says develop your faith by using your faith.  You don’t get more faith by asking; you get more faith by doing.  Lord, have mercy!

 

Move 1

One day the great Michelangelo attracted a crowd of spectators as he worked. One child in particular was fascinated by the sight of chips flying and the sound of mallet on chisel. The master was shaping a large block of white marble. Unable to contain her curiosity, the little girl inquired, “What are you making?” He replied, “There is an angel in there and I must set it free.”
Every Christian begins his/her relationship with Christ with a measure of faith.  This passage introduces us to a clear path to setting this measure of faith free. The faith God put in you is enough for you to enjoy all that God has in store for your life.  Faith does not move your mountains, the God behind your faith moves the mountains.  Faith does not set you free; the God behind your faith sets you free!

 

Move 2

Jesus outlined three simple ways to release your faith. Three small steps to develop your faith.

First, forgiving those who repent.  Christians live knowing that people will offend us.  It is inevitable that somebody is going to offend you.  Saints, you do not prepare to retaliate, Jesus says you prepare to forgive.  Only through forgiveness can those who offend us receive God’s grace.  Jesus says in Luke 17:3-4, “3Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.  4And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.”

 

Dr. F.B. Meyer tells of a meeting of a church which was seeking a revival. During the meeting an elder got up and said to the minister, “I don’t think there is going to be a revival here as long as Brother Jones and I don’t speak to each other.” He went across to Jones and said, “Brother, you and I haven’t spoken to each other in five years. Let’s bury the hatchet. Here’s my hand.” Shortly afterwards another elder got up and said, “Minister, I think there will be no revival here while I say nice things about you to your face and am disloyal to you behind your back. I want you to forgive me.” Soon others were on their feet settling old scores. Then says Meyer, God began to visit them. The meeting was crowded and a revival broke out that swept over the whole district.  There was time for confession and an offer of forgiveness and healing. There could be no forgiveness without repentance and confession; no healing without recognizing the disease.

 

Second, believing God can change those who repent.  Faith is acting on what we believe about God.  Jesus does not ask us to look to our faith to forgive others.  Jesus reminds us that how big or small our faith is does not determine the outcome.  God is able to take those whose offense was huge and transform that person into a servant of his.  God has a way of turning people around when you do what he commands you to do.  In other words, God develops your faith as you exercise your faith.

 

In Luke 17:5-6 the disciples look at their limitations rather than God’s abilities.  It reads, “5And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.  6And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.”

 

We have to believe in God’s ability to respond to the faith he has given us and act on that faith.  Years ago, two young men with a long history of delinquency and crime robbed a YMCA on the lower east side of Manhattan. On their way out of the building, they saw a young man at a telephone switchboard. They were frightened and assumed that he was calling the police. They seized him and beat him savagely with brass knuckles and a black jack. Thinking him to be dead, they hid him behind a radiator near the swimming pool and escaped.

 

Later that evening Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel, was walking by the pool. She slipped in the young man’s blood, screamed and then found Donald Tippet’s body. He was rushed to the hospital where he lingered for days between life and death. Eventually he lived but one eye was so badly damaged it could not be saved.

 

Meanwhile the two young men were apprehended and brought to trial. Their past records assured that they would both get long sentences. However Donald Tippet did an amazing thing. He requested that the judge allow the two young men to be paroled to his charge. He wanted to give the boys a chance to change.

 

One of the boys blew his opportunity. He committed another crime, was caught and sent to jail. The other boy, however, was responsive to Tippet’s kindness. He went to college and eventually to medical school. He became one of our nation’s leading surgeons – an eye surgeon.

When Everett Palmer wrote of Donald Tippet’s amazing story of forgiveness and this surgeon’s accomplishments, he added, “I wonder if he ever performed one of those delicate eye operations without thinking of that night in the YMCA.”

 

Third and finally, Seeing forgiveness as our Christian duty.  Listen to verses 7-10 again.  “7But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat?  8And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink?  9Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not.  10So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.”

 

This parable gives us two types of responses to offense. The first one appears when the disciples come to Jesus and ask him to increase their faith. They give evidence of a church that believes it is their faith that makes the difference in someone’s life. They value church membership and fellowship more than evangelism and outreach.  This church is a little bit like the tavern called “Cheers” where everybody’s knows your name, and everybody’s glad you came, and everyone’s problems are all the same.

 

And this church likes it that way! There is a sense of community, a sense of belonging and caring, and we value it deeply. The prayer in this church is “God, give us greater faith, and greater blessings, and greater fellowship with our friends.”  But God don’t ask us to forgive others as you have forgiven us!  Don’t move us out of our comfort zone.  If you want us to do this, God you have to provide us something that we don’t have because we’re not prepared to do this.  Lord, have mercy!

 

The second response is dutiful forgiveness.  What Jesus tells the disciples is that forgiveness is hard work.  He uses the imagery of a slave serving his master. The servant has no right to demand anything of the master nor to expect to do anything but serve the master.

 

It’s not a comfortable image for Christian people, and perhaps that’s why this is not one of our most loved parables. We don’t like to think of ourselves as “worthless slaves;” we prefer to see ourselves as “special lambs.” But we cannot ignore the obvious expectation of Jesus in this parable; Jesus calls Christians to pack a lunch pail, put on a hardhat, and spend themselves by serving others.

 

Not just exhaust themselves in service, but do so without any recognition.  It is amazing that in the church today, people have to be recognized in order to serve the Lord.  Either pay me, applaud me, give me an award, or make me important.  Servant leadership has taken a back seat to selfless service.

 

Jesus admonishes us not to look for better treatment from those we forgive, nor to look for God to shout our names from his throne.  Jesus admonishes us to consider the act of forgiveness routine and to do so habitually simply because of what God has done for us.  How many do you know that want forgive someone unless that person caters to their every whim or demand?  How many people do you know that put requirements on their forgiveness?

 

Conclusion

I’m glad that God says if you forgive, I can use you to move mountains in people’s lives.  People want somebody to forgive them and to understand them.  People want someone who will offer them the unconditional love of God.  People have made so many mistakes, done so many wrong things in their lives, that when they come to church, they need somebody who will forgive them and offer them God’s grace and mercy to start again.

 

God wants somebody who will forgive the person who offends them.  God wants somebody who will allow him to change that person, and God wants somebody who will do so without any thought to compensation or reward.  Forgiveness given in this fashion can be the one avenue that God can use to transform a sinner’s life.  Forgiveness offered as a pardon for sins and offenses paves the way for “the goodness of God to cause a sinner to repent.

 

If you are here this morning and you stand in need of forgiveness, be bid you come.  If you have offense against someone and would like to repent before God, we bid you come.  If you want God to forgive you and to allow you his grace to begin again, we bid you come.  Jesus died for your sins and he stands ready to forgive you!  Will you come today?

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The God Manifested in Jesus Cares About You!

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” 4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.  Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. [John 2:1-11]

 

Introduction/Anti-Thesis

Tony Kriz asks in his book Aloof, “What are we to do with a God who hides?  He is not alone.  Throughout the ages, men have debated whether God is concerned about his creation.  For example, Deist believe God has left us to our own devices.

Deism is a religion where it is generally believed that God is not (wholly or in part) involved in the affairs of human history.  They do believe that God created the world and everything in it.  They do believe that there is one God, though they reject the trinity.  However, for the most part, the Deists do not believe that God is involved with our lives.  God created the world and basically gave it all that it needed to run itself.  All, to the Deists, is governed by nature and natural laws.  All we can know about God could be found in nature.  They reject the Bible, revelations, and the like because those are man-made things invented through the superstition.

In any case the Deists believe that God is not concerned (though at various levels) with human history.  Therefore, we are all headed towards whatever fate has for us and whatever our greed and superstition may take us.

This general idea about God’s relation to His creation is widespread, though not as popular as it was in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  As a matter of fact, some of the founding fathers of the United States of America were deists.  Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Paine were Deists.[1]

There may be Gods who are unconcerned, aloof, and distant about human affairs but that God is not the God of Jesus Christ.  That God is not the God that we serve.  Can I get a witness?

 

Transition/Thesis

The Bible tells us otherwise in regards to the views of the Deists.  The Bible reveals to us that God is very much involved with the affairs of the human race.  [2]

Foundational to the Christian faith is the belief that the  God manifested in Jesus  is actively involved with His creation?  From Genesis to Revelation, God is revealed as a God that cares about his creation.  In fact at no time does God abandon us; God is always intervening in human affairs, not because he is indifferent but because God cares about our lives here in the earth and because God wants us to have the very best quality of life we can muster.  Lord, have mercy!

Synthesis/Main Points

At the beginning of Epiphany, we have emphasized that God prepared the world to worship Jesus.  God did that in the name he gave Jesus and in the way that the heavens proclaimed his name and the way that the gentiles approached him to worship him.  God prophesized that his name would be called Emmanuel, meaning God with us.  In other words, the epiphany says that God is manifested among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth now known as the Christ after his resurrection and ascension back into heaven.  Jesus the name says “will be great because he will save his people from their sins.”   It is a name that God gave to demonstrate the powerlessness of the devil to triumph over the plan of God for his people and Jesus overcome the devil once and for all on Calvary.  Lord, have mercy!

You will remember that John presents Jesus as God’s Word made flesh, dwelling among us; as being able to be touched, felt, and handled like any other human being.  John says “And we beheld his glory full of grace and truth.”  Jesus is the man that contains the Godhead bodily, the creator of the universe, offered as a ransom for sin in the earth.  Jesus is the one who opened up possibilities for humanity to grow and excel in the earth.  Jesus is the way, the truth and the life that affords those who accept him a way to live the abundant life.

And our text this morning shows the first sign that the God we worship in Jesus, cares.  This text proves without doubt that the mundane affairs of our lives are important to God.  The God manifested in Jesus is concerned not just about our sorrows, but about every facet of our lives. This includes but is not limited to instances of joy such as a wedding, the birth of a child, the party to celebrate a promotion, the cruise to relax and enjoy family and friends, all are equally important to our God manifested in Jesus of Nazareth, now known as Jesus the Christ.  Hallelujah!

That ought to cause you joy to know that God is not aloof, somewhere in the universe unconcerned about your life, but that God as manifested in Jesus is a very present help in time of trouble.  And I don’t know about you but that is music to my ears.  I need to know that God cares, and more specifically God cares for me.

Move 1

This text illustrates four points that I would like to highlight this morning.  Let me give them to you now and elaborate on each of them in due course.  First, the God manifested in Jesus cares about those things that are important to you.  Second, the God manifested in Jesus when you bring your cares to him, will work on your behalf.  Jesus has a solution to every dilemma you face in life. Third, the God manifested in Jesus offers you his very best solution. And finally, the God manifested in Jesus does all that he does to bring glory to his heavenly father, your God and my God.  Amen?

First, the God manifested in Jesus cares about those things that are important to you.  Here is the situation as outlined in verses 1-4, “On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

A wedding is going on.  Guests are enjoying themselves and as the custom is, wine is served at the wedding.  However, as the reception progresses Mary is informed that the wine is about consumed and more will be needed otherwise the groom and the bride will be embarrassed.  Mary is concerned; it is important to her that the wedding party is not embarrassed.

Everyone is having a good time and such humiliation will scar the wedding day for the couple.  And so Mary, knowing that Jesus cares, brings this problem to him.  Jesus not understanding that these types of things are important to God, asks, “Woman, why do you involve me?”  Yet the God manifested in Jesus speaks to Jesus and helps Jesus know that God does indeed care about whether this couple has a beautiful wedding celebration.

Many are the things that we discount God about.  Many are the things we don’t take to Jesus because we don’t believe God cares about them.  However, our text illustrates that what is important to you is important to God.  Never should you be ashamed to bring your cares to Jesus despite how trivial or human they might seem.  The God manifested in Jesus cares about those things that are important to you.  Hallelujah!

Second, the God manifested in Jesus when you bring your cares to him, will work on your behalf.  Listen, I want you to understand this as well:  Jesus has a solution to every dilemma you face in good times and in sullen times.  Listen to what happened in John 2:6-8, “Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

What Jesus did to address this problem was both natural and supernatural.  Jesus used the natural resources available to him to work a miracle for this couple.  The God in Jesus uses those things that are available to us to bless us.  You remember Elijah the prophet asked the widow, “What do you have in your house?”  Well, Jesus saw the water pots as a source of supply rather than as a source of waste.  The water in those posts were used to wash the feet of the guests, but Jesus took what was unclean, made it clean and transformed it into a blessing.

What are you withholding from Jesus because you think it’s not clean enough or appropriate enough to offer Jesus?  Let me tell you this morning that the God manifested in Jesus will work with what you have, not what you don’t have.  Hallelujah!

But let me move on.  Third, the God manifested in Jesus only offers you his very best.  Listen to the response to what the God in Jesus had done.  John 2:8b-10 reads, “They did so,  and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside  and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

Two keys exist in this solution.  First, they did what Jesus asked them to do.  Second, God intervened supernaturally to resolve their problem.  Beloved, when you do what Jesus asks; when you obey Jesus; miracles happen.  And miracles happen that far surpass anything that you could ever ask or think.  Jesus did not give them common wine; Jesus gave them the best wine.  Why?  Because the God manifested in Jesus only offers the very best to his children.  God wants you to have the very best and you need to understand that.  Beloved, God cares about you and wants the best for you.  Can you receive that this morning?  Say this with me: “My God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that I could ever ask or think.”  Hallelujah!

Finally, the God manifested in Jesus does all that he does to bring glory to his heavenly Father, your God and my God.   John 2:11 says, “What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

Listen, the God manifested in Jesus desires for you to worship him.  God desires for you to experience his glory (his power, his presence, his provision, his protection, and his love). When God takes interests in your life, he does so that the world might have a testimony of his goodness and his love.  And that’s why throughout the world men and women have exclaimed God’s goodness; God’s willingness to work in human affairs.  Just as God saved the day at this wedding, God wants you to bring your situations to him today.

Don’t save God for the big things in your life.  Don’t wait on a tragedy to pray and seek the God manifested in Jesus.  Rather, invite God to participate in all the activities of your life that are important to you.  The God manifested in Jesus wants you to be successful in everything you do.

Move 2 (Conclusion)

Epiphany is the sudden realization of something; it’s an unction; it’s a feeling.  When these people saw what Jesus was able to do, even at the wedding, it pointed to God his heavenly Father.  They began to believe what the prophet has spoken: “A virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall call his name Emmanuel, meaning God with us.”  They believed that his name would be called Jesus, “because he would save his people from their sins.”

During this epiphany season, I invite you to get to know Jesus as God manifested in the flesh.  I invite you to stop looking for some abstract, ephemeral God and try Jesus.  Beloved, I offer you the best gift ever given, I offer you Jesus, God manifested in the flesh.  I offer him to you because the God manifested in Jesus cares about your life, all of your life.

And so we don’t worship some distant, unknown Architect of the Universe, some Unmoved Mover. Rather we worship the God manifested in Jesus. God has prepared the entire creation to worship Jesus. For this God cares; this God can be touched by each of us. Touched by faith in Jesus, touched by prayer and supplication. Hallelujah!

[1] Cunningham, W. R. (2006). God’s Involvement in our lives.  Retrieved from http://www.pursuingthetruth.org/sermons/files/godsinvolvement.htm

[2] ibid

 

Come apart and Rest

Psalm 131:1-3

We spend precious time trying to protect ourselves from being wronged by others. We devise plans and take pains to execute our plans to the last detail.  Yet we are still wronged.

We engage in mind-boggling conspiracy theories of which we are useless to defend. The machinations of this world are intertwined and often directed towards our demise. Many of the best and brightest of us are incarcerated unjustly.  We fight, march, and struggle for justice countless hours, months, and years. We become overwhelmed, frustrated, tired, and melancholy. The fight of life steals from us the joy of life. Some fight to live others live to fight.

But who rests?  The psalmist does. The psalmist realizes that struggle is worthwhile yet endless. There is a need for intermission.  She rests!  And while resting replenishes herself with the knowledge that God handles things that seem impossible, things beyond our control or our ability to influence.   She rests as she did upon entering this expansive universe, trusting a mother she had just met, a father she knew little about, a world she had only briefly encountered. 

Like the time spent suckling an unknown mother’s breast, she rests trusting her God of whom she knows little. She curls up quietly and wraps herself in God’s Word. She ceases her struggle and receives restoration, renewal, and strength.  She rests in childlike Faith in the assurance that her God will hold the reigns of her life.  She rests!

Find some time to rest!

The Church:  A Place for Forgiveness and Freedom

Introduction

It is said that one night in a church service, a young woman responded to God’s call and accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior.  The young woman had a very rough past, involving alcohol, drugs, and prostitution. But the change in her was evident. As time went on she became a faithful member of the church.

It was not very long until this faithful young woman had caught the eye and heart of the pastor’s son. The relationship grew and they began to make wedding plans. Problems began.  About one half of the church did not think that a woman with a past such as hers was suitable for a pastor’s son. The church began to argue and fight about the matter. They decided to have a meeting. As the people made their arguments and tensions increased, the meeting became completely out of hand.

The young woman became very upset about all the things being brought up about her past. As she began to cry the pastor’s son stood to speak. He could not bear the pain it was causing his wife to be. He began to speak, “My fiancée’s past is not what is on trial here. What you are questioning is the ability of the blood of Jesus to wash away sin. Today you have put the blood of Jesus on trial. So does it wash away sin or not?”

The whole church began to weep as they realized that they had been slandering the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.  They thought that there harsh, condemning judgments were the judgments of God; how wrong they were.  How misled they had been.

Move 1

For Jesus said, 13-15 “No one has ever gone up into the presence of God except the One who came down from that Presence, the Son of Man. In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.

16-18 “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.

19-21 “This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is.”

Beloved, we need to come to grips with the fact that the church is not a place for condemnation; it is a place for forgiveness and freedom.  How often do our harsh, condemning judgments prevent forgiveness and freedom from being the inheritance of those we feel have lived too sinful a life to be saved by the blood of Jesus Christ.

James Moore tells the story about a young girl named Ellen.  She was a junior In high school, an honor student, a member of the band, and secretary of her class.  Her life was beautiful, her future bright; but then, everything went wrong.  I was called on to conduct her funeral on what would have been her seventeenth birthday.  It was suicide.

In the depths of depression, she had taken an overdose of sleeping pills.  She left a note saying that she couldn’t go on.  She couldn’t fight the rumors and the rejection any longer.  She felt betrayed by her friends and her community.  This tragic teenage suicide was sparked by a misunderstanding, by a false rumor, by people spreading vicious gossip, by ordinary people like you and me passing on a cruel, destructive untruth.

The rumor was that she had come home at daylight in a drunken stupor, her clothes disheveled, delivered to her door by an older man in a fancy sports car.  That was the rumor.  The truth was that she had sat up all night at the hospital with her gravely ill grandmother and had been brought home early the next morning by her uncle.  That was the truth!

A neighbor saw something out her kitchen window and jumped to the wrong conclusions and then started spreading a false rumor.  As a result, an innocent teenager was devastated.  The harsh stares, the cruel jokes, the profane wisecracks, the vicious gossip, the whispering behind her back, the pointed fingers, and the blatant lies became too much for Ellen.  Her fragile, sensitive personality couldn’t take it.  She cracked under the pressure, and in a moment of deep agony and excruciating emotional pain, she took her life. (Moore, 2012, pp. 21-22)    

Move 2

This morning, we must come to learn that Jesus does not support churches which specialize in condemnation of others; for in our text Jesus makes clear his intention for coming to the earth.  Let’s explore them for a few moments.

First, Jesus says, “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.”  In other words Jesus’ vision for humanity is forgiveness and freedom.  Forgiveness from original sin and any wrongdoing we may commit while living on this earth.  Freedom to live the abundant life in God through his sacrifice on Calvary.  You will remember Jesus said, “I came that they might have life and that more abundantly.”  Jesus does not wish any of God’s children to be bound up by sin, weakness, or failure.  Jesus frees us to make mistakes and to grow from those mistakes.

Life gives us ample opportunity to sin.  We fail God in some way each and every day of our lives.  But we need to hear Jesus as he pronounces, “Where sin abounds my grace does much more abound.”  The grace of mercy of Jesus ensures that we are not defeated by sin, but liberated to get up and get back in the race.  

This leads us then to the second thing Jesus says in our text.  Jesus says, “God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.”  

Say this with me:  I am not condemned by God; I am set free by Jesus Christ.  Beloved, you have been acquitted.  You have been set free to live in covenant with our Lord Jesus Christ.

Now we must confess that when we look into the Word of God, the Word of God exposes our sinful condition.  The word exposes our weaknesses, flaws, and imperfections.  And when that happens rather than concentrate on the flaws, weaknesses and imperfections of others; we are to look within our own hearts and confess our sin.  For the bible declares in John 1:7-10, “If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God.”  The Lenten Season affords us an opportunity to deal with the sin in our hearts so that God might wash and cleanse us with God’s Word.  Hallelujah!

But let us move on.  Let us consider next these words of Jesus, “This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure.”

When the church operates through gossip, innuendo, condemnation, and using a person’s past to hold it over their heads, people refuse to attend that kind of church.  So what?  You know my past.  Have you forgotten your own?  Are we not all working out our own soul salvation with fear and trembling?  The church has been called into existence as a way station on a highway filled with traps and snares laid by our enemy the devil.  

We each will get trapped, but Jesus declares he will set each of us free.  The church then has no right to hold someone hostage to past sins, past mistakes; we need to be people who know how to let things go.  Every person who comes to the church with a past, is coming to be forgiven and freed from that past so they can move on with their lives.  Gossipy, tale-bearing Christians are the first line of offense used by the devil to make them run away from the light of God’s Word which is the only thing that can save them.  Lord, have mercy.

Jesus says people love to sin and changing their lives is not something they want to do.  None of us gives up sin willingly.  It’s a fight; it’s a struggle because we enjoy it.  Galatians 5:17 reads, “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.”  Beloved, each of us have selfish tendencies; we enjoy having things done our way.  And because we are selfish, we do not often please God voluntarily.  I agree with the gospel that says, “For it is God who works in you to will and to do of His good pleasure.”  God works a miracle in us when we come to the light of His Word.  And it is at this point that the church is so vital to the transformation of person.

But when we devour one another through harsh, condemning judgments, we circumvent what God is trying to do in the life of that person.  Beloved, these things out not to be.  None of us should condemn any of us; rather we should love, support, and pray for one another that God’s will be done in each of our lives.  The church should do everything in its power to ensure those whose seek to be free from sin, are not tripped up by some harsh words spoken among us.  Hallelujah!  Say this with me:  I am not condemned by God; I am set free by Jesus Christ. 

Move 3

Dr. David Sylvester, of Denton, Texas tells the story of a businessman who constructed a daycare center near a major highway. Due to budget constraints, a fence was deleted from the project. During recess, the children huddled near the steps of the entrance, afraid to venture into the yard toward the busy highway.  After a fence was constructed, the children felt liberated, and romped and played in the entire grassy area. The fence provided freedom, not restriction.

       As we come to Christ and look to His Word, we find true freedom rather than restriction. Freedom is found within the boundary.  That why David could declare, “The Word of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and they are safe.”  Beloved, there is safety in the Church, because the Church is the repository of God’s Word.  Whatever you do, don’t lead people away from the Church, help them run into the Church.  The church is God’s place for forgiveness and freedom.  The Church is the place where people are saved, healed, and delivered from sin.

The Word of God declares, “Thy Word O Lord, have I hid in thine heart that I might not sin against thee.”  Jesus is the Word; bring them to Jesus and let Jesus redeem their lives from destruction.  Put a watch over your mouth; be careful with your words.  Let God be the judge and you be the conduit through which the word of God flows.  This Lenten Season fast from gossip, fast from harsh, condemning judgments and allow God to be God in your life and in the life of others.  Let’s give this bad habit up for Lent and then for the rest of our lives.  Hallelujah!

Conclusion

         Finally, if you’re here today and have been injured harsh, condemning judgments from church members, take heart.  Jesus has come to give you victory over that offense.  Jesus has one objective for your life.  Jesus said “I came to seek and to save them that are lost.”  That’s why we’re here and I invite you to come to the altar this morning and allow Jesus Christ to deliver you from church hurt.  It’s time to let it go and move on with your life free to live, love, and laugh.  Forgive of your sins and redeemed through the one act of sacrifice by Jesus Christ.  I invite you to come; the Spirit and the Bride say come.  Will you come this morning and give your hurt to Jesus?  Will you come and let Jesus become your leader and guide; his Word will transform you and make your life better.  Will you come?  Let us stand.

References

Moore, J. W. (2012). Give Up Something Bad for Lent. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

A Desperate Plea for Restoration

Psalm 80:1-3

Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth 2 before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Awaken your might; come and save us. 3 Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.

Move 1

“Our world is not okay,” these Advent readings declare in stark terms, and God’s apparent absence isn’t okay, either. We are surrounded by evil and suffering, and we’re not sure our faith can endure what our eyes reluctantly witness each day. Though we long for a Savior to rend the heavens and come down, the very ferocity of that longing often wearies our souls.

The first gift of Advent, then, is the permission to tell the truth, even if that truth is laced with sorrow. We are invited to describe life “on earth as it is,” and not as we mistakenly assume our religion requires us to render it.[1]

Cities are exploding over worsening racial injustice and police misconduct. Football players like Ray Rice get a free pass on domestic violence. Colleges shrug off epidemics of rape and cheating.

Banks and the financially independent wage unrelenting war on their fellow Americans. Descendants of immigrants turn against new arrivals and call it patriotism. Large companies like General Motors sell defective products. Lobbyists control our legislators, and they in turn deny votes and basic rights to certain citizens.[2]

The second is the gift — and the discipline — of waiting. During Advent, we live with quiet anticipation in the “not yet.” We stop rushing, and decide to call sacred what is yet in-process and unformed. As Paul puts it in this week’s reading from 1st Corinthians, we “wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This is no easy task in the modern world, which applauds arrivals, finish lines, shortcuts, and end products, far more than it does the meandering journey or odd way station. Eugene Peterson calls the Christian life “a long obedience in the same direction,” and I don’t think we can get more counter-cultural than that. If the secular world speeds past darkness to the safe certainty of light, then Advent reminds us that necessary things — things worth waiting for — happen in the dark. Next spring’s seeds break open in dark winter soil. God’s Spirit hovers over dark water, preparing to create worlds. The child we yearn for grows in the deep darkness of the womb. “Our food is expectation,” writes Nora Gallagher about Advent. In this season, we strive to find, “not perfection, but possibility.”

Thirdly, Advent prepares us for the God who is coming — a God who will turn out to be very different from the one we expect and maybe even hope to find.[3]

The end of all this prayer, all this pleading with God is ‘we want some peace in our lives; we want peace in our world.” But what is peace without God as King and Sovereign. Certainly the bible declares “There is no peace to the wicked.” So if this plea is to be fulfilled, somebody has to invite God into their lives as Lord and King. Indeed, what we need is restoration. Thus we find ourselves waiting and God finds himself waiting. We wait for God and God waits upon us. God waits for us to change our attitudes and lifestyle to that of a worshipper. We wait until we’re so sick and tired of being sick and tired until we are able to change to meet God’s demands. Waiting then is for both God and man. And that is why peace alludes us; Restoration precedes peace!

Move 2

Billy Graham, world famed Evangelist remarked, “We’ve lost sight of the fact that some things are always right and some things are always wrong. We’ve lost our reference point. We don’t have any moral philosophy to undergird our way of life in this country, and our way of life is in serious jeopardy and serious danger unless something happens. And that something must be a spiritual revival.”[4]

The following is a fictitious story but it’s a beautiful way to illustrate God’s work to restore his fallen creation or his power to restore broken people.

Ever since he was a little boy, his parents had been promising that they would give him a beautiful car to drive when he turned 16. He even planned to park it in the family’s barn where it could stay warm and dry. Only first his dad would have to get rid of that old car sitting in the barn. He couldn’t wait for his dad to haul it off to the dump to make way for his dream car.

But when would that day come? When would that new car arrive? And when would his dad get rid of that old junky car under the tarp? Then one evening in early summer he heard strange sounds coming from that old barn. It sounded like power tools … a drill … a hammer. What was going on? Peering into the darkness he saw nothing but the stars overhead. And he noticed that a light was on in the barn. He walked into the warm night air, down the dirt path, and poked his head into the barn door.

When he saw the tarp, rolled up and left against the door, he excitedly thought, Was Dad finally getting rid of that junky old car? But then he suddenly looked and saw one of the most incredible sports cars in automotive history. It was a Corvette, but not just any Corvette. It was the coveted, beautiful, powerful 1963 Corvette 327 V8 with a split window, aluminum knock-off wheels, painted candy apple red.

So that was the car underneath the tarp all those years. He stood there stunned. It was always there, just getting ready for his father’s masterful work of restoration. At that moment his father looked up, his hands deep in the engine bay, and handed his son a socket wrench. With a broad smile, he said, “Come on, son. Grab a tool and let’s get this car ready.”[5]

Move 3

According to George Gallup, Jr. “Any revitalization of faith in this country will have to start with prayer, in which we gain a sense of the living presence of God.”[6]Prayer is our work done in the dark. Revival, restoration and renewal are God’s work revealed in the light. That’s what we need today. That’s the solution for this hour. We need intercessors who will pray under cover of darkness.

God does his best work under cover of darkness. It was in the darkness that God made an everlasting covenant with Abraham saying surely I will be with you wherever I send you and you and your family will be blessed forever.

It was in the darkness that God spoke to Pharaoh saying you’ve kept my firstborn, my people Israel in bondage too long. And about midnight the death angel passed over Egypt and destroyed the Egyptian firstborn. Yet the children of God remained untouched, covered by the blood of Jesus Christ.

It was in darkness that God eradicated sin and its power by hanging on the cross of calvary.   There Jesus destroyed Satan and displayed to the world Satan’s impotence.

Just as that Father restored that old clunker under the tarp, God will restore us. It’s dark for Black people, its darker still for immigrants in America. Black sons and daughters of Abraham are being killed all over the country. Yet, I hear the Lord declare in Isaiah 43:1-7:

“Now this is what the Lord says — the One who created you, Jacob, and the One who formed you, Israel — “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. I will be with you when you pass through the waters, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you. You will not be scorched when you walk through the fire, and the flame will not burn you. For I Yahweh your God, the Holy One of Israel, and your Savior, give Egypt as a ransom for you, Cush and Seba in your place. Because you are precious in My sight and honored, and I love you, I will give people in exchange for you and nations instead of your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your descendants from the east, and gather you from the west. I will say to the north: Give them up! and to the south: Do not hold them back! Bring My sons from far away, and My daughters from the ends of the earth — everyone called by My name and created for My glory. I have formed him; indeed, I have made him. ”

Yes Lord, we cry out to you: “Show us your mighty power. Come to rescue us! Turn us again to yourself, O God. Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved.” (Psalms 80:2b-3) Come Lord, because you know what we need; come Lord, because you created us in your image and in your likeness. Lord, when you come, peace will flow. When you come we will indeed be saved.

Works Cited

[1] Thomas, Debie (November 2014) “Hard Gifts” Retrieved from http://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20141124JJ.shtml

[2] Ehrich, Tom (2014). “Can a nation so wounded by its divisions survive?” Retrieved from http://www.ministrymatters.com/preach/entry/5580/can-a-nation-so-wounded-by-its-divisions-survive.

[3] Thomas, Debie (November 2014) “Hard Gifts” Retrieved from http://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20141124JJ.shtml

[4] Billy Graham in a speech at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Founder’s Day (April 4, 1989). Christianity Today, Vol. 33, no. 9.

[5] Adapted from Randall Rauser, What on Earth Do We Know about Heaven?(Baker Books, 2013), pp. 157-158

[6] George H. Gallup, Jr. Leadership, Vol. 15, no. 4.

The Ocean and the Nat!

sparkling_ocean_waves_207677

A quiet, soft wind gently nestled among the ocean waves
a Nat came and alited on the wave
The ocean did not acknowledge its presence
the Nat pinched, cajoled, dived into it
Still the ocean remained stoic, refusing to acknowledge its presence
the Nat realized it just wasn’t that big a deal to the ocean
Away it flew looking to make a difference elsewhere.

What the Resurrection Means to Me

Image“I wish I could do it all over again;” “I wish I could take it back.”  These phrases depict some of the times in my life when I have hurt, insulted, or denigrated someone.   When I have said or did someone wrong, my heart’s cry is to turn the tables around, push the rewind button, start over.  Often, I can’t. Redemption escapes me. There is no way to make what I did wrong, right. “I’m sorry” does not clear my conscience and alleviate the remorse I feel.

Yet, I have found hope in the resurrection.  The resurrection provides forgiveness, reassurance, and transformation.  The story of the Passion of Christ offers all who have found themselves in situations which are unredeemable, hope and healing.  Through the resurrection story, I realize the great lengths God went through to provide forgiveness in places where forgiveness by people could not penetrate.  In the depth of my soul, the forgiveness found in Jesus travels so that I can once again operate in peace and soundness of mind and spirit.  

This gives me reassurance that all hope is not lost when sins against humanity cannot be repaired.  God reassures me through forgiveness that God is with me and that God still loves me.  I can begin again; even when I deny Christ, desert Christ’s teachings, or distance myself from the Christian faith, I can return to the cross and find forgiveness and reassurance.

Finally, the resurrection provides transformation; I am changed from the inside out.  As John Wesley aptly spoke, “My heart is strangely warmed.”  An encounter with Jesus and his Passion Story opens my heart to God and provides insight I could not have attained otherwise.  I can be changed; I do not have to remain the same.  God is a God of another chance; God’s mercy is limitless and his grace is aboundingly efficacious.

Doors to a new life are opened for me through the resurrection; the resurrection means forgiveness, assurance, and transformation to me.