Hope for Our Church – Pt. 2

CORONA VIRUS UPDATE:
All in-person services and gatherings are suspended this week due to public health concerns. But we still would love for you to visit us–online.

We will be live streaming Pastor Ron’s sermon on YouTube this Sunday at 9:30 PST.
Here are the easy steps for you to watch:

1. Go to youtube.com
2. Search: “Frank Burkhardt Jr”
3. A video will appear with the church’s logo
4. Click on that video. The stream will begin at 9:30 PST.

 

Hope for Our Church – Pt. 2

Hebrews 10:19-25

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds…” vs. 24

Name That Accent

I had something interesting happen to me this week; I was speaking to someone and didn’t realize someone was listening. During a pause in our conversation, this person leaned over and said, “I think I know where you’re from, I recognize your accent.” I didn’t realize I had an accent but I played along and said, “OK, where do you think I am from.” They said, “You’re from Iowa, right?” I didn’t know that people from Iowa had a distinct accent. I said, “No, sorry, I am from the Bay Area.” They said, “No, you’re kidding, I would swear you’re from Iowa.”

So that got me thinking about accents and I though we might have a little fun today. I am going to put a sentence on the screen.  I have 5 pieces of paper here with distinct accents.  If I hand you a piece of paper, you say the line on the screen and we will try to guess what accent you are using.

5 Accents

German, French, Scottish, English, Australian

You know we make observations of people every day and we make assumptions about them; where they are from, what they do, their background, ancestry, etc. That’s what that lady did with me thinking I was from Iowa. What about being a Christian or a member of a church. Do you think you can determine that about someone based on their language, actions, mannerisms, etc..? how does this apply to us? Let’s look at this from what the author of Hebrews says in 10:19-25. If you are able, please stand as we read God’s Word.

Read Passage – Hebrews 10:19-25

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Our ________ Mode

Did you know that we all have a default mode? We do. Our culture feeds  it, our society feeds it, we are taught it by others and in our educational system, and it works pretty well in a  lot of people. Our default mode is “Me.” It’s the mode that says I need to take care of myself first, I need to make sure I am always first and always the most important. It is stronger in some people and maybe less strong in others, but really, we all have this default.  We default back to putting our self first, our needs first, and to make sure we are the top priority.

The author of Hebrews challenges this in us.  He talks about our need to have a relationship with God and that our relationship with Him should take top priority and really, we are at our best when God is our default mode. This is true individually, but it is also true of the church as well, our church. If people were able to be identified as a member of a church, how would they identify us?

The Nature of Our Church

This really challenges us to consider who we are as a church and what people see in us when we say we are associated with Antioch Covenant Church. Form Hebrews 1-:19-25, let’s discover what the nature of our church, a church I am calling a church of hope, looks like.  This is a two part series, this week and we will continue it next week.

Now when I say the “nature” of our church, I mean the traits that others see in us. To put this in context, think about our nature, our traits and how we approach life.

Ex. Some of us are positive, some negative; some are loud, some quiet; some are always happy, some more reflective, etc. It’s not that some are right and some are wrong, it’s more about how we are created and what traits we approach life with.

Well, church has traits/nature too. God has melded us together and we bring our nature to the world and to those we serve, those we love, and those we welcome here. The thing is that God, through Hebrews 10, tells us what some of the traits we are to have in order to be an effective witness for him.

  1. ____________

The first trait that we are to have is we are to be considering. Before anything else, we are to think about things, ponder, and work things out in our mind.  The author starts verse 24 this way:

“And let us consider…” vs. 24a

Life is busy, and life is full of things to do, work to be done, places to go, and in our world today, it just seems to keep getting more and more busy. But the author of Hebrews is telling us to slow down, take some time, think things out, and listen. It’s tough for us to be supportive and encouraging and to affirm others if we are moving so fast, responding so quickly, and so busy that we don’t take time to listen and consider what others are saying to us and what they’re going through.

Ex. Counseling. If you have ever been to a counselor, you’ll notice they take notes. Why would they do that? Because they are considering. They are not just listening to spout some response they learned in counseling classes, or so they can tell you their story, or so they can interject their story. They are pondering, considering.  They want to think about what is best to help you. They want to help you get past your anxiety, struggle, or difficulty.  They don’t want to miss what you are going through so they write it down so they don’t forget and so they can consider.

In a healthy Christian community, we’re all supposed to be doing that for each other. Not Taking notes, Ha! That would be weird. But it means when others are talking with us, confiding, and trying to work things through with us we take the time to listen, consider, and only when it is appropriate, we ask ourselves how we can help them grow and work through their struggles. It’s about them not you.  We do that for each other and we do that with God as well.  David says in Psalm 119:59:

“I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes.” Psalm 119:59

In this case David slowed down, considered what God is saying to us, and how we are to move into a deeper relationship with him.

So let’s approach this in two ways:

One, are we being good at considering others.  Are we taking time to listen, consider, and looking for ways to help them.

Two, do you have people in your life that will do that for you?

  1. ____________

The second trait that we are to have as a church is that we are to be “spurring.” Let’s continue with verse 24:

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on…” vs. 24b

Circle the word “spur.” The word for spur here literally means “to irritate.”  So get this, we are literally supposed to, actually commanded to, irritate each other.  Some of you are thinking about someone who really irritates you, aren’t you? J This isn’t meaning we are supposed to bother each other and get others mad at us. It’s the idea that we challenge and push each other and in a good way. Solomon put it this way in Proverbs 27:17:

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Prov. 27:17

The way to help each other is to rub up against.

Ex. When I think about the idea of spurs I think of horses and those little things on the back of boots. Spurs are used to get a horse to move or walk or react a certain way. Here is a picture of one. Would you want to be kicked with that thing? NO! I don’t think horses like them either.  They hurt.

Sometimes when we spur each other on, it might hurt.  It might feel uncomfortable. But realize the goal.  The goal is actually two-fold and it’s to do the things that Jesus commanded us to do.

  • __________

I think the author of Hebrews had first-hand knowledge about Jesus and the things he said. These two things are things Jesus commanded us to do.  The first command is to love. The author says “let us consider how we can spur each other on to love.” 1 John 3:23 says:

“And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” I John 3:23

So where did Jesus give us this command? In John 13:34:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34

The love Jesus is talking about is different than love the world gives.  You can find places that love you or accept you, places like health clubs, bars, other groups, etc. As a church, we are different than those clubs. Why? Because our source of love is different. Our source of love is God. Notice Jesus says in that verse “as I have loved you.” Our love should look different and be different because we have been loved by God and then we understand what real love looks like.  It’s not accepting everything and not having boundaries, because sometimes loving includes confronting. But we do love everyone because God loves them and Jesus loves them and he died for them too. Again, it’s a love that comes from God.

  • _______ ________

Second, verse 24 of Hebrews 10 says “let us consider how we can spur each other on to love and good deeds. The natural response to the love that God give and instills in us is good deeds.

Ex. Claudia and sports

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matt. 5:16

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matt. 5:16

And follow that up with 1 Peter 2:12:

“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” 1 Peter 2:12

Notice the focus of the good deeds, the focus is to glorify God.  We want to be a church who does good things and that needs to be a trait of ours but not so that we get noticed or praised but so that God is glorified. Going back to my example of Claudia, she did those things because I love those things and because they are important to me.  We respond with good deeds, things like helping Mission School, feeding the poor, helping the homeless, etc. because those are things that are important to God.

Living Example

Jesus. He showed us the way in the way he  lived here on earth.  He did everything because of his love for us and to glorify God.  But it didn’t stop there.  He is still living it out today. He sits at the right hand of God interceding for us. He is still setting the example of love.

 

Communion

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Our Community Church of Hope – Pt. 1

Hope for Our Church – Part 1

Hebrews 10:19-25

“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart

and with the full assurance that faith brings…” vs. 22

Make-A-Wish Foundation

A great organization and one I have a lot of respect for is the Make-A-Wish-Foundation. If you go to their website it says this as their mission/vision statement:

“Granting wishes to kids with life-threatening medical conditions gives them more than an amazing experience. A wish come true has the power to make kids feel stronger, more courageous, and more determined to overcome their illnesses.”

Here is one of their stories you may be familiar with:

Miles Scott at 18 months old was diagnosed with leukemia

Miles and his parents live in Tulelake, California near the Oregon border

Miles and his parents were referred to MAW as he turned 5 years old.

He told them his dream was to be batman

The MAW foundation started about a month before the even by the local chapter sending out an email and hoping a couple hundred people would volunteer

It usually takes about $7,500 dollars to MAW dream come true (This wasn’t usual)

The estimated cost of this excursion ended up over $105,000 and was covered by John and Marcia Goldman

Estimates are somewhere between 10,000-12,000 volunteers made it happen and these volunteers transformed part of San Francisco into ‘Gotham City’ Friday.

The event was attended by over 20,000 people

Miles ended up being the sidekick of Batman and took on the name Batkid

He took part in rescuing a damsel in distress tied to the cable car tracks on Russian Hill

He also took part in subduing The Riddler who was robbing a bank

And he helped nab The Penguin who had captured the SF Giants mascot Lou Seal

The chased him to At&T park. Batman and Batkid then climbed through a series of obstacle courses, in hot pursuit of The Penguin. They slid down the park slides, finding The Penguin’s “lair”, and then chasing him down to the mini-Baseball diamond in the stands. Batkid freed Lou Seal and Batman chased The Penguin, ultimately capturing him and handing him over to officers from the S.F. Police Department.

At the end of the day Batkid was taken to SF City Hall where the largest of the crowds gathered in the thousands for a rally. He was given the key to the city by SF mayor Ed Lee.  He also received a video Tweet from President Barack Obama

Some interesting stats from the event

Batkid tweets generated (through Sunday 11/17): 545,576

Number of countries where Batkid was discussed: 117

Number of Instagram photos with #SFBatkid:16,000 reaching approx. 19.5 million

Number of hits per second to all Make-A-Wish websites during peak: 1,400

Many people ask us, “How is Miles doing?” The answer is, he’s doing great! He is now 8 years old and in third grade, he plays little league baseball, and he now has another younger brother! Miles bravely fought leukemia like so many other children do, and a wish can be an important part in their recovery.

I think it’s safe to say that people are able to accomplish a lot by working together and when there is hope. The same is true for the church. Today we are going to look at a passage from Hebrews 10:19-25 and how there is hope for our church. If you are able, please stand as we read God’s Word.

Read Passage – Hebrews 10:19-25

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Not Interested in Church

It’s pretty well documented that church attendance is in decline.  People are not interested in church. Yet…I would say that spirituality is up.  People are interested in spiritual things but the church has lost is credibility and its ability to draw new people. In fact, I would even say that we see people changing churches more often and that makes it seem like churches are growing when in fact it’s just people switching churches. Unfortunately, the church has probably earned that reputation.  We have not been loving and forgiving, we have not been understanding, and we have come across as “better than thou” to many people and have turned them off and turned them away.

Ex. Kicking people out – my grandmother because of divorce.

We have not dealt with sin well and have handled many things in the wrong way.

Brennan Manning in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel tells this story:

The story goes that a public sinner was excommunicated and forbidden entry to the church. He took his woes to God. “They won’t let me in, Lord, because I am a sinner.” “What are you complaining about?” said God. “They won’t let me in either.”

“God said, ‘They won’t let Me in either.’”  ― Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

Brennan knew what he was talking about because many people tried to have him kicked out of the church because of his issues with alcohol.  It really drives us to consider what the church is all about and are we really being the church that God wants us to be?

Our Christian Community of Hope

Hebrews 10 gives us some great insight into what the church is all about and what we want our church to be like.  One thing comes up that we need to be aware fo before we jump into that; it’s verse 25a which says:

“(Let us)…not giving up meeting together…” vs. 25a

The word in the Greek for meeting is episynagoge which is where we get our word synagogue. It means congregation.  So the verse is saying don’t stop congregating. Many pastors and church leaders have misused this verse to guilt or coerce people into coming to church or force them to be at church every Sunday.  Let’s look at what it really implies and how it can learn to be a Christian community of hope.

  • Are We_________ or ___________??

First, this passage is talking about being a congregation. A congregation is a community in which all aspects of the members’ touch lives. Another word is aggregation. An aggregation is a collection of individuals.

Ex. Let’s look at this through an illustration. Are we?

Aggregation – a bag of marbles

Congregation – a cluster of grapes

What is the difference? (Wait for people to respond)

The marbles are individuals and have no connection to each other. You can take one out with no problem.  It’s just a collection of individual things.

The grapes on the other hand are organically related to each other. They are connected to a vine. To get one, you have to pull it off the vine.

So the Bible tells us that we are more like a cluster of grapes because we are connected, and what are we connected to or by? Christ. Here are a few verses tht tell us that.

“Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.” Eph. 5:23

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church…” Col. 1:17-18

We are not really a group of individuals, we are connected because of Chri. We are a congregation. We don’t just come together to hear a speaker or have an experience.  That is a club. We eat together. We pray together. We learn together. We love each other. We confess to each other and we walk with each other through the tough issues.

How? Sunday services, yes. Eating together. (Women’s tea nd men’s breakfast) Potlucks. Prayer meetings. Communion. Small groups. Working together. Playing together (golf tournament, etc.). See we are not just suppose to come and sit here on Sunday and say, “Oh, we are together.” No, we are involved in each others lives, spend time during the week together, and are community

  • A Place of ______ __________ Friendships

A second implication of meeting together is that the church is to be a place of deep friendships. The Bible talks about us as being brothers and sisters. The bond of being together in Christ is supposed to drive us into deeper friendships with each other. The analogy that the bible uses is the body. In Romans 12:5 it says:

“…so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Romans 12:5

We help each other and work together. We are intertwined and linked to form a body. Each part works with the others to accomplish things. We pick each other up when another is down, we assist each other to accomplish tasks, and support one another in the good and the bad.  We let each other into our lives. You open up about your hurts and problems, and needs.  We hold each other accountable. We celebrate together and build each other up.

Two examples:

  • Graduations – attending graduations, parties, etc.
  • My hurt foot – the rest of the body picks up the slack.

So what does being in deep friendships look like? 1 Peter 2:17 gives us a clue when it says:

“Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers…” 1 Peter 2:17

It means everyone belongs, everyone has a place, we respect everyone because we are bound together through Christ who loves each of us and therefore we love and respect one another. Verse 24 tells us how that happens; by spurring one another toward good deeds.

Ex. Helping Mission School with buckets for their music program

  • A Place of _____________

And a third implication of meeting together is that the church should be a place of encouragement.  In the OT the worshippers could not draw near to God. In the tabernacle and in the temple there was a Holy Place. That is the place where God dwelled. Only the high priest could draw near to God and that was one day a year. The temple was a place of confession and sacrifice. The temple was not a place of encouragement but a place only of repentance for sin.  The importance of this is that Jesus changes all that. Verse 19 tells us:

“Since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus…” vs. 19

The work of Jesus allows us to enter the place where God dwells and to be in his presence. The author is saying that because of Christ’s death and resurrection we can come right into the presence of God and in his presence it is no longer about what we have done but what Christ has done. We are transformed and that transformation is we are encouraged by meeting together and we are called to encourage one another. We no longer come with fear but we come with assurance of God’s love and that love is extended to one another. Verse 22 says:

“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance…” vs. 22

CS Lewis  says in Mere Christianity:

“Christ works on all of us in all sorts of ways, but above all he works on us through each other. We are carriers of Christ to each other.”

Ex. Our greeting time, the joy of meeting together, genuinely like and love each other

So the message of meeting together is not one of a demand to come to church but one of the hope the church can be and I believe it’s what we want to be.

A Glimpse of What’s To Come

The bottom line is that it comes down to not what we have now but what we have now being a glimpse of what is to come. This passage ends with these words:

and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

The day being talked about here is the day that Christ returns for his church; us! Christ returns for his church and then we see that all this was just a glimplse of what is to come.

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Life: Blessing or Burden

Life: Blessing or Burden?

Matthew 12:1-8

“If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’…” vs. 7

Never Give Up

It was September 25, 2000 and  Maricel Apatan was an 11-year old girl in Zamboanga, Philippines. On that day, this little girl went with her uncle to draw water. Along the way, four men met them. They were carrying long knives. They told her uncle to face down on the ground, and they hacked him on the neck and killed him. Maricel was in total shock, especially since she recognized the men as their neighbors. She tried to escape, but the men ran after her. She cried, “Kuya, ‘wag po, ‘wag n’yo akong tagain! Maawa po kayo sa akin!” (“Don’t kill me! Have mercy on me!”) But they weren’t listening. With a long knife, a man slashed her on the neck too. Maricel fell to the ground and lost consciousness. When she woke up, she saw a lot of blood. She also saw the feet of the men around her, so she pretended to be dead. When they walked away, Maricel ran back home as best she could. But along the way, she saw that both her hands were falling off and that’s because the men hacked them too. She cried but she kept running. Sometimes she would faint and fall to the ground. But she’d regain consciousness and run again.

When she was near her home, Maricel called her mother. Upon seeing her daughter, her mother screamed in terror. She wrapped her bloodied child in a blanket and carried her to the hospital. Here was the problem: From her house to the highway, it was a 7 ½ mile walk. It took them 4 hours just to reach the highway. When they arrived in the hospital, the doctors thought Maricel was going to die. But for 5 hours, they operated on her. It took 25 stitches to stitch together the long knife wound in her neck and back. Maricel barely survived. And she lost both of her hands. Ironically, the next day was Maricel’s birthday. She was 12 years old.

But the tragedy didn’t end there. When they went home, they saw their home was gone. It was ransacked and burned down by the same men that had killed her uncle and hurt her. Being very poor, Maricel’s family also didn’t have P50,000 for their hospital bills. But God sent many angels along the way to help them. Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, a distant relative, paid for hospital bills and helped them bring the criminals to court. They were sentenced to prison.

It would seem all your dreams and goals for life were completely dashed. But this is the incredible miracle. Instead of staying down, Maricel kept running. What she became will boggle your mind. At one point, Maricel was cited as the most industrious, best in computer, and most courteous in the School for Crippled Children.  In 2008, she graduated from a course in Hotel and Restaurant Management. She even received a Gold medal for Arts and Crafts. In 2011, she finished her education and began to fulfill her dream to be a chef. Yes, a Chef without hands. Nothing can stop this young lady from reaching her dreams.

An amazing story about a young woman who pursued her dreams and was able to overcome many obstacles and yet still see her dreams fulfilled. Are you passionate about something that you would pursue it that vigorously? Well, today we are going to look at a passage of Scripture that will help us understand God’s love for us.  If you are able, please stand as we read God’s word from Matthew 12:1-8.

Read Passage – Matthew 12:1-8

At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

S________: A Blessing or Burden?

Did you know that God designed Sunday to be a blessing? A blessing is meant to be an encouragement or something that is for your welfare. So when God created the world and set aside a day of rest, a Sabbath, it was meant to be a day of encouragement or something to benefit us. In fact, he took a day of rest and his desire is that we do the same thing. But…what happens in the passage we read today is that we see the Pharisee’s lost sight of that.  It says in verse 2:

“When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” vs. 2

What’s happening here is the Pharisee’s have taken what is supposed to be a blessing and made it a burden. Instead of enjoying their Sabbath, day of rest, they came up with a list of “can’t’s” that had to be observed.  Now originally they did it to preserve holiness but it developed over the years to a list of things you couldn’t do on the Sabbath. You can’t carry grain, you can’t walk more than a certain distance, you can’t eat certain things, you can’t clean, you can’ etc. The joy of the day turned to the onus of keeping the law; and they were man’s laws at that. If we are not careful, we can do the same thing, not just with the Sabbath, our Sunday, but with life. God’s desire wasn’t to create a Sabbath to be a burden but a blessing. Jesus says as much in verse 7 when he says:

“If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’…” vs. 7

Jesus is pointing out that the Pharisee’s have missed the point and had lost their way on what God really desired for them.  Mercy is compassion. The Pharisee’s had lost their passion and were focused on following the rules or as Jesus put it, sacrifice.

The Gospel _________ the Way We Think…

Here’s what I really think Jesus was getting at and what we should take to heart as well: “I want you to think in a different way.” The Pharisee always seemed to be at odds with Jesus and I think this is one of the main reasons why, they didn’t think like God or in this case, Jesus, did. The Pharisee’s put their worth in their own holiness and their own actions and because of that, they missed the real point of why Jesus came and what the gospel is all about. The gospel changes, or should change, the way we think. Here are 3 things that the gospel should change the way we think about certain things.

  • About ________

First, we need to let the gospel shape the way we think about God. We have thought that we are the ones pursuing God and yet, the reality is, that God is pursing us.  Our thinking says that we are the ones that must go and find God. God is always looking to build his relationship with us.

“For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” 2 Chronicles 16:9

2 Chronicles is the story of Asa king of Judah.  He did not follow God’s ways and built alliances with other nations.  He wasn’t trusting God he was trusting in the strength of other nations and men.  Verse 9 tells us how God is pursuing us and looking for us, for those that want to build their relationship with God. His desire is that we trust him. But notice he is pursuing but its more than just looking for us, it’s looking and caring for us. David recognizes this in Psalm 8:4:

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” Psalm 8:4

Here’s the thing: God has a goal and it’s you! He wants you.

Ex. Ever set a goal and go after it with everything? My goal to hike 1,000 miles a year.  I go out in rain, in cold, in the early morning, if I miss a day I make it up, etc. I am goal driven and I work hard to achieve the goals I set.

How much more with God; his goal is people, it’s me, it’s you! Now, how far was God willing to go? 1 John 4:10:

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:10

God’s goal is to have a full relationship with you and he will do everything in his power, and his power is so much more than ours, to see that happen. The pinnacle of that is that God sent his Son, a part of the Triune Godhead, to live among us, show us he is real, and to die for us. He doesn’t want anyone to perish without knowing him. He was even willing to die for the things we did. And that is the gospel story, not that we follow rules and a list of things that we can or can’t do but that we know, accept, and embrace his compassion and gift of salvation.

  • About ___________

The second way the gospel shapes and changes our thinking is about ourselves. God loves us and because of that, we can love ourselves. God says we are valuable and we are worth it. In our passage the Pharisee had put the law above people. Their list of rules and laws to follow were more important than people themselves.  Right after this interaction Jesus goes into the temple and there is a man with a withered hand. The Pharisee’s try to trap Jesus by asking about healing the man’s hand. Jesus points out that in their thinking, keeping the law is more important. In God’s eyes, people are more important  but the Pharisee’s will break the law if it’s important to them, like  if one of their sheep fall into a ditch. Here’s how Jesus shows them to change their thinking, verse 12:

“How much more valuable is a person than a sheep!” Matt. 12:12

The gospel is that people are more important than any other created thing. You are more important to God than any other created thing. God loves us so much that love is expressed through our love for his son Jesus. John 16:27 says:

“The Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” John 16:27

We should be careful not to put ourselves down, but to realize our value and worth because he loves us so much.

Ex. Many of us put ourselves and down. We look at our deficiencies and the things we don’t like about ourselves or the things we do wrong and put ourselves down. That can be another source of pride in a way.

Here’s a little test that might be a red flag that we are not thinking like God thinks. Tell me the subject of this sentence:

The dog ran around the yard.

The bridge is newly painted .

The boat sped across the lake.

 

Ok, I think you get it.  Now continue that with these sentences:

I am not good enough

I have sinned too much

I don’t deserve God’s love

Ok, you get it. When “I” is the subject that could be a flag your focusing too much on yourselves and you need to change that to be thinking more about God and allw  him to define who you are.

  • About __________

And third, the gospel changes our thinking about others.  In our passage today the Pharisee’s only concern was themselves. Jesus is pointing out that our thinking needs to change so that we think about others. We need to be concerned about others, concerned about their lives and their salvation, concerned enough to realize that we are all sinners and that God still chooses to love all of us and that part of our thinking should be to love others. Jesus iterates this in John 13:34 where he states:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34

Jesus tells us to love other the way he loves us; that’s unconditionally, with open arms, with joy, and it should be the root and core of who we are. Jesus changes the extent of love by his example. He willingly gave his life for us and he raises the bar on how deep love goes. In the story of Matthew 12 the Pharisee did not love others but consider themselves the law keepers and the enforcers. Christ’s new model of love is expands the depth of love we are to have.  The Old Testament law was to love your neighbor as yourself. Now we are called to fulfill that law by loving others not as ourselves but as Christ loved. In fact, in loving people as Christ did, we are fulfilling the law, Romans 13:8:

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” Romans 13:8

Notice the call in this verse, it comes at the end and you may want to circle the word fulfill.  We are called to not keep the law of love but to fulfill the law of love.

God’s Focus

What we have learned is that God’s focus is us. Remember the words from verse 7-8:

“If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Vss. 7-8

Mercy = compassion. God’s focus is us. The message of the Gospel is that God wants a relationship with you, and he wants you to change your thinking. Stop worrying about keeping the law but worry about fulfilling it.

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The Good News!

The Good News!

Ephesians 2:8-10

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faithit is the gift of God

Getting Into Heaven 

Mr. Jones goes to his Sunday School class and asks the children this question:

“If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into Heaven?”

All the children yell out in unison, “NO!”

So he asks them a second question.
“If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would that get me into Heaven?”
Again, then children yell out, “NO!”

So he challenges them with a third question.
“Well, then, if I was kind to animals and gave candy to all the children, and loved my wife, would that get me into Heaven?”
Again, they all yell out, “NO!”
“Well,” he continued, “then how can I get into Heaven?”
A five-year-old raises his hand and answers, “YOU GOTTA BE DEAD!”

Only from the mouth of kids! Right? Today we are beginning a series on The Gospel and the difference it makes in our life and in our church. Today, we will start by looking at the gift of the Gospel and we will read Ephesians 2:8-10. If you are able, please stand as we read God’s Word.

Read Passage – Ephesians 2:8-10 

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. 

The World’s Misconception 

How do you get to heaven? I could tell you accept Jesus and our going to heaven and most of you will probably agree with me and probably believe that.  And that is the message of the Christian church. Even though that is our message, the world still has this misconception about going to heaven and what a right relationship with God looks like. Here are a few examples:

Muslims – 8 laws to follow, i.e. respect and obey your parent’s, don’t kill innocent people, do charity because it reduces your sin, etc.

Mormonism, everyone gets to go to Heaven, but it is divided into different neighborhoods. Only good Mormons who followed all the rules and paid all their tithes get to go to the Celestial Kingdom, the first class of Heaven. Good people from other religions and Jack Mormons go to the Terrestrial Kingdom, which is the middle class Heaven. Bad people like serial killers, smokers, atheists, and coffee drinkers go to the Telestial Kingdom, the slums of Heaven.

Jehovah Witness – teach that salvation is possible only through Christ’s ransom sacrifice and that individuals cannot be saved until they repent of their sins and call on the name of Jehovah.  Salvation is described as a free gift from God, but is said to be unattainable without good works that are prompted by faith. The works prove faith is genuine. Preaching is said to be one of the works necessary for salvation. They believe that baptism as a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses is “a vital step toward gaining salvation”, and that people can be “saved” by identifying God’s organization and serving God as a part of it. They believe in different forms of resurrection for two groups of Christians. One group, the anointed, go to heaven while the other group, “the other sheep” or “the great crowd” will live forever on earth.

General thought: If you do enough good and your good outweighs your bad, you get in.

Christian – Believe in Jesus Christ and declare him Lord.

Thought: I know that to be true but I still add stuff to it, like: read your Bible daily, go to church, pray, treat people well.

Ex. Lately I have been visiting someone who is in a convalescent hospital and dying of cancer. I have to be careful that I don’t think I am better than anyone else or even doing it because it might somehow get me in better standing with God.

Good News Not Good Advice 

See the misconception creeps into the church too even though we supposedly know better.  The reason I bring this up is because we need to realize that we are to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world. Getting good advice can be helpful in getting through life. We get financial advice, relationship advice, childrearing advice, work advice, even religious advice.  But what is our real calling? We ate called to follow Jesus example which we see in Luke 8:1:

Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.” Luke 8:1

Here’s the point; we are called to proclaim the Good News and the Good News is to tell others what Jesus did for us and that salvation is found in him.

The Gospel’s Good News 

But what are the essential elements of Gospel’s Good News? In the Bible, the Good News is the declaration of what Jesus has done to save us.  Timothy Keller in Center Church defines the gospel in 4 chapters.  Let’s look at the 4 chapters of the Gospel.

  1. Where Did We Come From?  Answer:__God____ 

Chapter 1 answers the question: Where did we come from? The answer: God. There is one God and he created us. We believe the Bible is God’s Word to us and in Genesis 1:27 it says:

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27

The world is not an accident. You and I are not accidents. God, one God in three persons the trinity God, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, created all that we see. He always has been and always will be.  We see this again in John 1:1-4:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

John 1:1-4

So, where did we come from. God. He created us to share in his love and service. God is triune, therefore love, friendship, and community are intrinsic to him. He created us to share in that love, friendship and community.

Ill. Lately I have had a more real sense that I am God’s creation and that I am his child. When I sense that and feel it deeply, I realize that I am loved, God’s child, and in community with him so I feel a greater sense of self-worth and sense of purpose.

2. Why Did Things Go Wrong?  Answer:__Sin____ 

The second chapter answers the question: Where did things go wrong? The answer: Sin. We were all created with freewill and have choice.  We can choose to accept God’s love and purpose for our lives or we can reject it.  Part of that freewill is that we all at some point choose sin, something that separates us from God. We rebelled against his authority. Romans 3:23 says:

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” Romans 3:23

Instead of living for God and in love, we basically choose self-centeredness. We have broken that relationship with God and the result is spiritual, psychological, social, and physical decay and breakdown. We strive to live for ourselves and instead of making God our hope and object of our love, we have put other things in his place; things like money, career, family, fame, romance, sex, power, comfort, social or political causes, or anything else we put as the object of our love. This brokenness has a result, Rom. 6:24:

For the wages of sin is death…” Romans 6:24

The ultimate result of sin is death. We are not just suffering because of sin, we are guilty because or sin. Notice it says wages. Because we have sinned against God we have a debt.

Ex. I hurt my wife and I try to make it up by apologizing and giving her a gift. It’s like I try to buy my way out of it.

But no gift or anything we can buy or do can repay the debt we owe for our sin.

3. What Will Put things Right? Answer:_Christ____ 

The third chapter is to answer the question: What will put things right? The answer: Christ. Jesus puts things right by leaving heaven and coming to earth, showing us God in flesh, and being crucified and dying for our sins, and then raising again to show us that death is not the end of the story but the beginning of eternal life. 1 John 2:2 says:

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:2

Notice the verb “atoning.” Jesus takes the wrong and puts it right. The first time Jesus came to earth was to suffer for our sins. But he rose again and when he returns for the second time, it will be to judge the world and put an end to evil, suffering, decay and death. The real work of Christ is to renew and restore our souls and our bodies. And why did God put things right? Romans 5:8:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

Because he loves us. He loves us so much that even in our sinful state He wants to prove his love and demonstrate that by having his son pay the price for our sin. So I am transformed because of Christs’ work, not because of what I do.

Ill. The Choice: to live in God’s love and not in sin through confession and getting rid of the sin.

4. How Can I Be Put Right? Answer:_Faith_____   

The fourth answers the question; How can I be put right? The answer: Faith. (Switch verses) Galatians 2:16 says:

“…know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.” Gal. 2:16

What this verse is saying is that our works don’t put us right, faith does.

Faith – putting our trust or confidence in the work of Christ.

This is more than saying I’ve sinned, I’ve confessed it, and I am going to try harder.  That is still putting faith in yourself. Real faith is not about what we do or even will do, it’s about putting our trust and confidence in Jesus. See it’s not about trying harder, it’s about living in. No one lives a perfect life. Even our best is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6)

Ex. It doesn’t matter how many times I read through the Bible, how many times I visit someone in the hospital, if I pray before each meal, etc. Those are all good things and I want to do them but not because they will save me or give me better standing with God.

This goes to the motive behind what we do.  Many people still try to earn their salvation even though they have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior.  We don’t do good works because it will somehow put us in good standing with God, we do it because of what God has done for us and in response to his love and forgiveness. Eph. 2:10:

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” vs. 10

What’s The Difference? 

So what is the difference.  Let me explain by comparing what “religion” says compared to what Jesus proclaimed in the Good News.

Religion              Jesus

 

_Believe______Believe___

 

_Obey________Saved____

 

_Saved_______Obey_____

Religion, which is adherence to a set of ethics and rules says that you believe, and then you obey, and then you are saved.  Jesus says it in a different way.  He says you believe, then you are saved and then you obey in response to your salvation.

 

The source of this material is taken from Center Church by Timothy Keller.

 

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Beauty For Ashes

Beauty For Ashes

Isaiah 61:1-3

“…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes…” vs. 3

Renovations

There is an area of San Francisco that used to be important in the early to mid 1900’s because of the shipping industry, it’s called China Basin.   By the 50’s and 60’s it began to fall into disrepair and by the 70’s and 80’s was pretty much a waste land. I remember driving through there and not feeling really comfortable. You definitely wouldn’t walk around there or hang out in that area and, in fact, there was very little traffic through there at all. In the 90’s something happened, the San Francisco Giants wanted to move out of Candlestick Park and the area they settled on was China Basin, this rundown, empty, unkempt area that seem like it was good for nothing. It was a surprise to most that this area would even be considered. Well, as the stadium was planned and the work began, the area really changed; businesses moved into the area, condo’s and apartment buildings started going up, and his run down area was renovated into something that is now a bustling, active area that is a tourist spot and an important part of the San Francisco scenery. It not only changed that area but areas around it as well  like the Embarcadero’s.  It really is a quite a transformation.

Today, that is what we are going to look at; renovations and restorations, but not of areas or buildings but of people, of you and me. Today we are continuing our second part of Isaiah 61:1-3. If you are able, please stand as we read God’s Word.

Read Passage – Isaiah 61:1-3 

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

Living with a Broken Heart

Isaiah prophecies at a time in history when Israel when the nation is a going through a lot of changes, many for the worse. Last week we saw how the people felt brokenhearted and we are continuing that thought. Isaiah says in verse 1:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…” vs. 1

The word for poor here is also translated humble, afflicted, or brokenhearted. The Jewish community had been broken up and the northern part of Israel had fallen and ceased to be a nation. The people who overtook Israel took all the people with skills and worth and made them slaves and took them back to their homelands.  What was left was a dispersed group of people who had very little and were not thought of as important of valued in any way. In this verse Isaiah calls the “the poor.”

One important point, they brought this on themselves. They choose not to follow God. They choose to give themselves to idols and things that God told them to stay away from.  That’s what sin does, sin impoverishes, it takes away real joy, it ruins the good and leaves things in disarray; and in the end it destroys. Where does that leave us? The answer is feeling alone, sad, “poor” in spirit, and powerless. When you discover you are powerless to change things you can turn to God.

God’s Plan for Restoration – He Turns…

These words of Isaiah are encouraging and uplifting because they remind us that God is a God who restores. He takes the brokenness and the feeling of emptiness and he fills those places in us with something new. He turns them into something new.

  • Ashes to Beauty

The first restoration is that he takes the ashes of death and turns them into beauty; he says in verse 3a:

“…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes…” vs. 3a

Ashes refer to destruction, the remains of what once was. There is a hopelessness to them because you cannot rebuild from them. Look at the dispersed people of Israel again. They were living around the ruins of Jerusalem; this was before Ezra and Nehemiah returned to rebuild the temple and the city. Their cities and temple had been destroyed and they are living around the rubble and brokenness and ashes.  They were living day after day without hope. It was a constant reminder God had left them and was no longer looking favorably on them. It’s said that not even one stone was left on top of another; the place was completely demolished. They felt the lost-ness and alone-ness and were probably also suffering from spiritual depression.

But here is where the story changes and God turns the tables. The word beauty is translated in the Hebrew as ‘embellishment.’ When you look back at once was, God declares that right now it may look like nothing but ashes, but when I get done with it, and bring it back to life, I won’t just embellish it, it will be greater than it ever and more beautiful than it was before! Psalm 113:7 says:

“He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap…” Psalm 113:7

Ill. You may know the name Susan Boyle. Susan was raised thinking that she had been briefly deprived of oxygen during a difficult birth resulting in a learning disability.  However, she found out later that she had been misdiagnosed and has Asperger syndrome with an IQ “above average”. Boyle says she was bullied as a child, and was nicknamed “Susie Simple” at school. She took singing lessons but gave up her chance at a singing career to take care of her ailing mother. At 48, on April 11, 2009, this Scottish woman appeared on Britain’s Got Talent. Much of the world just looked at her and didn’t give this woman a chance. However, she took the world by storm singing “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables and her career took off.  Now the world knows her

We may think it’s too late, we were dealt a bad hand, things can never happen for you, it’s too late, and you feel your sitting in an ash heap, but I have news for you, God turns your ashes to beauty.

  • Mourning to Joy

The second thing God restores and turns into something lese is your mourning; verse 3 b:

“…the oil of joy instead of mourning…” vs. 3b

Not only were the Israelites living in the rubble of what once was, they were living with death. They saw their fellow Israelites enslaved as their country was conquered, they saw some killed by the sword, and those that were left they saw dying from starvation and disease. Mourning was not a once in a while thing, it was a constant occurrence. Mourning does more than just kill the body, it leaves those left behind in bewilderment, disillusioned, and hurt. When death happens, we usually can’t stop thinking about it.  It’s always on our minds.

God turns that around and says that mourning is not going to last.  He will change that by anointing you with the oil of joy. Anytime the Bible references oil, it speaks of anointing.  In this time, anointing was really only used for two types of people, the temple priests to seal their service to God and for royalty, mostly to confirm kings. Anointing was a calling of God’s spirit and presence on the individual. Anointing oil is sweet and aromatic. You get it on you and it lasts all day. Anointing is the calling of God’s Spirit and presence on you wherever you go. So understand this from this verse, the sting and stench of death and the emptiness we feel is replaced by the oil of joy meaning that we bring the sweet smell of God and his presence with us wherever we go. One of the most recognized passages of Scripture is Psalm 23, and in it David says in verse 5:

“You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Psalm 23:5b

God is affirming that death is not the victor, it won’t last, because he brings a new, sweet, beautiful smell and that oil of joy is the Holy Spirit living within us. See we can’t change death, but in God we find new life.

Ex. The death of my friend Mike. I felt hurt, I struggled, it was hard.

Ill. Walk around the congregation and use the anointing oil and let them smell it.

  • A Spirit of Despair into a Garment of Praise

And the third restoration is that God takes our spirit of despair, that very core of who we are, and covers it with something beautiful, a garment of praise, verse 3c:

“…and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” vs. 3c

Despair is despondency or depression and hopelessness. In their time they had people who were professional mourners who wore particular clothing to indicate mourning. You were expected to show others you were in mourning too. You put on sackcloth, a burlap type of material and you shaved your head and might put an ash mark on your head. Burlap is itchy and uncomfortable and a constant reminder through discomfort and irritation. This indicated to everyone around you that you were in mourning. You also would walk around with a look of dread and heaviness on you.

Ex. Job

God takes that spirit and restore it by clothing you with a garment of praise. Praise   is thankfulness. God takes that outward dread and despair and covers it with something beautiful, a garment that is exquisite. These were the kind of garments they wore at their festivals of thanksgiving and celebrations of joy. Not only were they comfortable and made of the best material, but people would look at them and be in awe. David put it this way in Psalm 30:11:

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.” Psalm 30:11

God takes that itchy, uncomfortable, and irritable burlap sackcloth and turns it into something of joy and beauty and that causes us to praise and be thankful.

Ex. Trading Places with Eddie Murphy (show pictures of old and new)

Oaks of Righteousness

So what is the end result of God’s restoration, se find that in verse 3d:

“They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” vs. 3d

The picture that Isaiah paints for us is this, when we admit that we can’t, he can, I think I’ll let him, that we are a picture of God’s splendor and strength. The oak tree is a symbol of strength and stability. And it says a planting. That means that God planted us in the exact place and time we are at to be his spokesman and his glory.

Although Isaiah lived before the time of Christ, we have a greater understanding of these promises because of the work of Christ. Notice how much of this passage has overtones of death. Jesus showed us that death is not the victor and sin is not forever. Through him, we have new beauty, new joy and They saw their fellow Israelites enslaved, they saw some killed by the sword, and those that were left they saw dying from starvation and disease are covered in beauty because of what he did for us.

 

So how does this restoration take place? It happens inwardly. It happens by not listening to the world and the things that seek to deceive you and bring you down. It happens by not putting our worth in circumstances. It happens by meditating on God’s Word, by filling our lives with God’s truth and not the worlds lies, it’s by ridding ourselves of sin and filling us with the Spirit of God.

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Finding Real Freedom

Finding Real Freedom

Isaiah 61:1-3 (Part 1)

“…the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news…” vs. 1

 

What’s the Message? 

I thought we would have some light-hearted fun this morning by looking at a few signs, that are real places, where the sign might be sending a mixed message.

-Do Not Enter – Entrance Only

-Curve Left, Turn Right

-Stop Sign, No stopping anytime

-Left Turn arrow, no left turn

-Puppies, Puppies, Puppies, Parking for Chinese  Food Customers

-Wendy’s, Beat Diabetes Buy 5 Frostys for $1

-McDonald’s, Parking for Drive-thru Service Only.”

 

Obviously, someone has not thought out completely what they are trying to communicate in these instances.  But…have you ever thought about what message you might be sending to people about Christianity or maybe what the message of the church sends to those who don’t believe? Isaiah addresses this in Isaiah 61:1-3 so if you are able, please stand as we read God’s Word.

 

Read Passage – Isaiah 61:1-3 

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

 

God’s Messenger 

Verse 1 starts with something that Isaiah is keenly aware of and that he mentions several times throughout the book that bears his name, he says:

 

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” vs. 1

 

Isaiah was certain of something; God had called him to be His messenger. That’s a great thing to know exactly what God wants you to do. Here’s something you might not have grasped before, you and I have the same calling as Isaiah. Jesus told his disciples in John 20:21:

 

Again Jesus said, Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.

 John 20:21

 

So Jesus sends the disciples out but the call is also for you and me. God did not say’ “Okay, accept my Son,” and then zap you are out of the world. NO he chooses to use us to be his messengers of Good News. The thing is, sometimes the world doesn’t hear it as good news and many times they feel that the church gives them a mixed message. Isaiah has some great insights, 4 in fact, that should be part of the message we bring to the world. These four things are freedoms that we bring the world. We are looking at freedoms and yet I think the world hears restrictions from us more that the freedoms.

 

The Freedom of Jesus Message 

The real message of freedom is found when we look to Jesus. Interestingly, Isaiah’s message to Israel is the precursor to the message that Jesus gives. So if we take the message of Isaiah from chapter 61 and match it to Jesus message, we see four freedoms.

 

  1. Freedom from Division 

The first freedom is found in verse 1b:

 

“…the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” vs. 1b

 

Notice that Isaiah points out the anointing of the poor.  Why the poor? We tend to divide ourselves and the rich tend to have what they need and they get special privileges in our world. But Isaiah brings the message that a time is coming, a time in God’s kingdom, where the poor are given dignity, the poor are given equality, things even out between the rich and the poor, and that God’s love and salvation are  not just for the rich, the well to do and the privileged, but for all people.

 

Jesus said in Matthew 5 “Blessed are the poor” and in Matt. 11 5o proclaim the good news to the poor, in Matthew 19 that we should give our things to the poor, and in Luke 14 to invite the poor to our celebrations. Jesus brings the message that all people matter to God and that there is no favoritism. Jesus is giving us insight into the kingdom of God.  What is the kingdom of God like? Glad you asked. Let’s look at the kingdom of God revealed to John in Rev. 5:

 

with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Rev. 5:9b

 

In God’s kingdom there is not division and we bring that same message to the world. The church is to reflect God’s kingdom where every people, every tribe, every language, every culture, every social status, everybody is welcomed and accepted.

 

2. Freedom From Brokenness 

The second freedom that Isaiah states in his message is that God’s message brings freedom from brokenness. He says in verse 1c:

 

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…” vs. 1c

 

Notice that it’s not just freedom from the brokenness but healing as well.  He states that he was sent to “bind” the brokenhearted.

Ex. Let me use an example to help illustrate what Isaiah is saying.  Think of it as breaking a finger. The best way to heal the broken finger is to tie it or “bind” it to the finger next to it so that it heals straight and so that the hand works as a whole, the way it was designed.  So here is what the message of freedom is, we bind together to support, help, encourage, and heal one another. We bring the message of healing. The ultimate bind comes when we bind ourselves to Jesus Christ. Jesus also sent the message of healing to the world and he did more than speak it, he made it happen for people. Luke 9:6:

 

So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.” Luke 9:6

 

Our message to the world is and should be one of healing. The ultimate healing comes when we go to be with God and we are healed forever; no sickness no sadness, no tears, no problems, no death. Everything is put right by God.

 

3. Freedom from Darkness

The third freedom is in verse 1c:

 

“…to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…” vs. 1c

 

The picture Isaiah paints here is the one where you are held captive. In their day, jails and captivity are in dungeons and cellars; away from the light. It’s dark and dingy and cold. Darkness brings up feelings of uncertainty, it’s scary, there is an uneasiness in it, and really it’s not good for us either. I would even go so far as to say that we were not intended to live in darkness. Jesus spoke these words in John 8:12:

 

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  John 8:12

 

Notice the picture Jesus gives us when it comes to light.  Jesus says we will never walk in darkness; that sense of uneasiness, that sense of the unknown and the hidden, the uncertainty that is there in darkness. No, Jesus makes everything open, clear, and everything is made plain.

 

4. Freedom from Judgment 

The 4th freedom that Isaiah highlights is the freedom from judgement.  The reality is we will all face a day of accountability. Isaiah says in verse 2a:

 

“…to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God…” 2a

 

Isaiah talks about the Year of the Lord’s favor, the OT equivalent of  the Year of Jubilee where freedom was granted. In the OT there was a precedence in place where you could enslave yourself to get out of debt.  At the 7 year mark you were granted your freedom.   and the day of vengeance The really neat thing about this verse is that it is the Year of the Lord’s favor in comparison to the day of Judgement. The Judgment Day in eternity is something we all face but it’s only a day. In comparison, God’s favor is a long time, a year. And here is the bottom line, mercy will win. We often stress the judgement of God when it may be more effective to stress God’s mercy.  James says in James 2:13:

 

Mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:13

 

In God’s realm, mercy triumphs over judgement.  Mercy: kindness given to someone in a bad situation or kind and forgiving treatment to someone who could be treated harshly. I am not saying we overlook sin. What I am saying is that the world has come to see the church as someone who can’t wait to tell everyone what they are doing wrong and many times treating them improperly. If God is willing to forgive and restore and show kind treatment when we should be treated harshly, we can do and should do the same. He does it for us, for you, so we should do that for others.

Jesus: The Ultimate Messenger 

We have seen how Isaiah’s words reflect Jesus and Jesus even quotes Isaiah. After quoting Isaiah in Luke 4 Jesus says this in verse 21:

He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:21

Jesus is the fulfillment of these freedoms for us. In fact, I we only know true freedom from division, brokenness, darkness and judgement through Jesus.  We try to find it in many different forms and ways but ultimately these freedoms are only found in Christ. We may experience parts of these in a small portion, but the ultimate freedom comes in Jesus. That was his message, and that is the message we should be bringing to the world. Jesus gives us this charge in John 20:21:

“Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’”

John 20:21

Jesus message is our message.

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A Nation In Crisis

A Nation In Crisis (Lessons From Isaiah)
Isaiah 1:1-9
“I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.” vs. 2b

I’m Voting for Bobby!
Can you name the year?
Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated
The Vietnam War is not going as well as hoped
Anti-War protests grow and happen across the country
The U.S.S. Pueblo intelligence ship is captured by the Koreans
The Apollo 6 Mission
Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated
Pres. Lyndon Johnson’s administration falls apart and he chooses not to run for reelection

Yes, that was 1968. I was in second grade and I remember going to my friend
Mark’s house to spend the night. Mark’s father had come home from work and
was reading the paper and watching the news. I saw Bobby Kennedy on the
television and I told Mark’s dad that Bobby Kennedy would win the presidency
and that if I were old enough I would vote for him. He chuckled at me and said
something like, “What does a little 7 year old know about politics!” He also said
something like this, “With all that is happening in our country, it’s a crazy time and
our nation seems to being going to hell in handbasket.”

48 years later and I think a lot of people might be saying the same thing about our
country right now. The Presidential race is not only dividing our country but seems
to get more crazy and whacky by the day. It seems we have more killing of
innocent people than ever. Mass murder seems way too frequent. Internet scams,
elder abuse, etc. and the list goes on of all the things that make it seem that our
country is on the verge of collapse or at least falling apart at the seams. But you
know, we aren’t the only ones that feel that way and many times in the past
countries have felt the same way. What do we do. We are going to start a short
series on messages from the prophet Isaiah. Today, we will start at beginning of
the book that has his name on it. If you are able, please stand as we read God’s
Word from Isaiah 1:1-9.

Read Passage – Isaiah 1:1-20
The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns
of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. 2 Hear me, you heavens! Listen,
earth! For the Lord has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have
rebelled against me. 3 The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel
does not know, my people do not understand.” 4 Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose
guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the
Lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. 5 Why
should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is
injured, your whole heart afflicted. 6 From the sole of your foot to the top of your head
there is no soundness—only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with olive oil. 7 Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste as when overthrown by
strangers. 8 Daughter Zion is left like a shelter in a vineyard, like a hut in a cucumber field,
like a city under siege. 9 Unless the Lord Almighty had left us some survivors, we would
have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.

Israel and Judah Out of Whack
If we think we are out of whack and everything is going crazy, I think the nation of
Israel in the Old Testament may have had it a whole lot more than us. Let me
explain. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt for 400 years. God heard their cries of
oppression and chose them to be his people. He led them out of slavery, took them
to a land that He choose for them, gave them victory over the peoples of those
lands and virtually provided for all their needs. He gave them honor and respect
and then choose them to be the people that would carry on his name. They loved
taking all the blessings and good things that God gave them. But, as they settled
and established themselves, they became more self-centered, more concerned
about what they wanted rather than what God wanted for them and even rebelled
against God. For the next couple of hundred years, they go through this time of
moving toward God but then rebelling again. God wanted to be their God and he
wanted them to be his people. He likened it to a Father-Child relationship. In verse
2 Isaiah shows how unstable that relationship had become and how God viewed it:

“For the Lord has spoken: ‘I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled
against me.’” vs. 2

That’s where Isaiah comes in. These people kept falling away from God, so God
would send prophets to try to warn them and guide them and correct them to get
their relationship with God back on track. A good picture of this comes from one
of the kings that Isaiah prophesied to, Jotham. He was actually a pretty good king
and did some good things but still do all that was necessary. It says about him in 2
Kings 15:34-35:

“He (Jotham) did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Uzziah done.
The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and
burn incense there.” 2 Kings 15:34-35

So he did well to follow God, but didn’t take care of everything. He still let these
false gods and worshippers do their thing in a kingdom that was supposed to be
totally dedicated to God. It’s a good lesson for us that we can be true and faithfull
to God but that if we let evil and false gods into our lives, even a little, it could
have terrible effects.

How Bad It Had Gotten
So, what happened was that if continued to spiral downward. This is how bad it
had gotten, verse 3:

“The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my
people do not understand.” vs. 3

It had gotten so bad they were worse off than animals, and not just any animals,
animals that we associate with stubbornness and not being too bright. These
animals have no sense of right or wrong, no sense of intelligence, no sense of even
who owns them and feeds them. And Isaiah is saying that these people had spiraled
down below those animals. That’s bad. Isaiah is saying about the Israelites that
they didn’t even know their own dad. It got so bad that God eventually let their
enemies destroy them and only kept a remnant of people to carry on his name.
Now you might think, wow, this is going to be a short sermon cause all we have to
do is stop doing things wrong and everything will correct itself and work out okay.
Not so fast. We have a lot to learn from Isaiah.

Signs You’re Out of Sync with God
In fact, Isaiah has some things to teach us that have a dual application to them. We
not only can apply them to our nation but to our individual selves as well. What
Isaiah show us is three things: 3 signs that you are out of sync with God.

1. Turned Your Back on God
The first sign that you are not in sync with God is that you have turned your back
on him. Isaiah says in verse 4b:

“They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their
backs on him.” vs. 4b

What is he really saying when he says they have spurned the Holy One and turned
their back on him? It’s this: Where do you find your truth and what determines
your ethics and values? God wanted the Israelites to trust him, follow him, and
trust his plan for them. They were trusting in themselves and their king and
basically turned their backs, they turned away, from God.

We have the same choice; who do we trust, who do we follow, what determines
our values and ethics. It used to be that God values were the basic building blocks
of our country and of people lives. No anymore. That was even true in the 60’s like
we talked about earlier. Even if it wasn’t trusting God it was following a religion, a
set of laws or rules that were to guide people. Today it is not that way at all. Today
the teaching is to trust ourselves. That we have the answers, we have the
knowledge and experience to determine all that we are.

Here is where Christianity differs from other religions and other strains of thought;
we don’t follow a set of rules or laws or even trust in ourselves. Our belief is in a
person; in a relationship with God and his Son Jesus Christ. Jesus urges us to
follow him in Luke 14:27:

“And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:27

So the teaching of Isaiah is to learn from Israel and not turn our back to God but to
turn toward God and follow him.

2. A Hardened Heart
A second sign that you are not in sync with God is that your heart has hardened.
Isaiah warns in verse 4a:

“Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption!” vs. 4a

Notice his words “whose guilt is great.” Guilt is an emotion we have that is meant
to guide us and help us. Guilt is a feeling that is caused by knowing or thinking
you have done something wrong. That feeling is a guide for us. It should cause us
to consider our actions, to consider what we have done and to help us move toward
doing what is right. When we don’t, we end up where Israel ended up; with a
hardened heart. It no longer affects us. Ever wonder how some people can do
something wrong or evil and not feel bad? That’s a hardened heart. We are
endanger of hardening our hearts when we no longer feel guilty about our sin and
about the things that displease God.

We see that happening as a nation right now. We don’t do all we can to protect the
downtrodden, the homeless, the less fortunate. We see the rich getting richer and
the middle class disappearing. We don’t feel guilty when the innocent die or when
the homeless go without food and the basic necessities. The guide is God, His
Word and His call on our lives. But following God takes effort and work.
Jeremiah, another prophet to Israel, put it this way in Jeremiah 29:13:

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

Too many of us take a lackadaisical effort in following God and that can lead to
indifference and a hardening of our heart.

3. Full of Hurts
And the 3rd sign that we are not in sync with God is that we are full of hurts. Israel
found themselves hurting and not understanding that they were causing their own
struggles. Isaiah put it this way in verse 6:

“From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness—only wounds
and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with olive oil.” vs. 6

When we hurt, we become numb to other things in life. Hurt consumes us. It takes
our mind off the things we need to focus on to be in health and keep us a good
place.
Ex. Abbey’s injury at UPS. Hurt her wrist that led to hurting her shoulder, which led
to hurting her leg, which led to hurting her hip which led to her hurting her back
which led to her not working this kind of a job again.

Here is another thing about hurt, it is the result of sin. Sin might feel good at the
moment, but eventually we feel the hurt and pain of not following God’s plan.
God takes no pleasure in seeing us hurt and the real deceiving thing about it, is that
sin, which Satan wants us to fall into, causes us hurt and we in turn blame God.
Satan has the ultimate deception going on here.
Ex. The deception that things like cancer, diabetes, heart issues, etc. are caused by
God.
But that is not God’s plan. God’s plan is to preserve and restore. Psalm 36:6 says:

“Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. You,
Lord, preserve both people and animals.” Psalm 36:6

Sin entered the world and corrupted things and has caused us hurt ever since. But
God’s desire is to bring restoration and preservation.

Turning the Tide
So where does that leave us? Hopefully not down and hopefully not without hope.
No, there is a sense that the tide needs to be turned. There is an awesome passage
that ends this chapter and it brings hope and promise, not only to Israel but to us as
well. It comes in verses 18-20 and it says:

18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord,
“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land:
20 but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.
” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

The only thing that can bring real restoration and real preservation is to turn the
tide of sin and know that God’s ways and his plan are the best for us and the thing
we need to move forward in life. That restoration and preservation comes in what
Jesus did for us. God saw the problems we would have and provided the solution
for us through Jesus Christ. Notice what Christ does for us, the sin that is so dark
red, like scarlet and crimson, very dark reds, are made clean, white, white as snow
and as white and pure as wool.

Notice the effort on our part, to be willing and obedient, and not to resist and rebel.
This does not guarantee our country will turn the tide, that this will save our
country. Here is how it does speak to us; that we can have a full restored
relationship with God, that if our country is to turn, it starts with us individually.
The church needs to be the instrument of change not because of what we can do
but because of what Jesus has done for us. That is represented by this table in front
of me and the opportunity and joy we have in celebrating communion this
morning.

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Integrity

Integrity

James 5:12

All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.”

Do You Go To Church? 

A lady was sitting in her beach chair on a Florida beach when the little boy, in his swimming trunks, and carrying a towel, came up to her and asked her, “Do you believe in God?” She was surprised by the question but she replied, “Why, yes, I do.” Then he asked her: “Do you go to church every Sunday?” Again, her answer was “Yes!” He then asked: “Do you read your Bible and pray everyday?” Again she said, “Yes!” She began to wonder where the question were leading to when The little boy gave a sigh of relief and said, “I finally found the right person. Will you hold my quarter for me while I go in swimming?”

Trust and integrity are huge issues. Today we are going to look at one simple verse that James uses to challenge the 1st century church to a life of integrity, honesty and straightforwardness.  If you are able, would you stand as we read God’s Word from James 5:12.

Read Passage – James 5:12 

“Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.” 

Let Me Sum It Up For You 

In the greater scheme of things when you look at this verse James is trying to drive home the point he has emphasized in the this chapter about the importance of our relationships and our words and how those impact our walk with God.   He starts the verse with the words:

“Above all, my brothers and sisters…” vs.12a

“Above all…” In Greek that is pro panton.  That word is not one that is used to denote coarse of profane language but one that says, in light of everything that is said, “pay attention” to this or even, “but finally…” He wants the readers to realize that his letter is about to come to an end and they really need to pay attention to the end and not lose track or lose heart.  When you read something its easy to skim past the end or hurry through it. He wants them to realize the importance of this and really hear what he is saying to them.

Trying to Get God Involved

Again, this is not a passage about using profane language. It’s about the oath’s we take and the trustworthiness of our words. Can people trust what we say and do they find us credible. In fact, James is probably thinking about a passage he would have memorized as a kid when going to the temple for school from the laws found n Leviticus, more specifically, Lev. 19:12:

“Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.” Lev. 19:12

This passage is really a bridge of two thoughts; the ones that come in verses 7-11 about the patience we need in tough times and verse 13-20 about our prayers to God. Commentators disagree which section it goes with but I would suggest that is does very well standing on its own and bridging the thoughts about our relationships with others and our relationship with God. In either relationship, we need to be trustworthy and honest.

The warning that comes at the end of this verse in Lev. Is meant to caution us about bringing God into our oaths, especially when we know they are not true. When you make a false oath and you try to bring God into your lie, you are mixing oil and vinegar.  They don’t mix.  Neither do lies and God because in God there is only truth.  So don’t bring God into your lies. You don’t because as is says at the end, “He is the Lord.” You are not deceiving God but you might be bringing dishonor to his name. So don’t!

James and Jesus Teaching on Integrity

James also does an interesting thing here, he uses the very words of Jesus to drive this point about integrity home.  He actually almost word for word uses the teachings of teaching from the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5:34-37. A close look at these two passages together help us understand James message much more clearly.

One thing that may have crossed your mind is that you don’t see the word integrity in either passage.  That’s true.  But let’s look at how integrity is defined and that will help us launch into this passage.

Integrity: adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty. (Dictinary.com)

In a word, James is directing us toward two moral values that should be evident in our life: honesty and truth. Those are also two Godly character traits. So, what do we need to know about integrity?

  1. Be Aware of Dishonesty

First, it is important to be aware that dishonesty is out there and more directly, we can have a propensity to be dishonest, especially if we are trying to build ourselves up, get an advantage, or even defend ourselves. James says in 12a:

“Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else.” vs. 12a

As we saw in previous passages, notice that he is talking to fellow believers and the church because he addresses this to “brothers and sisters” and he personalizes it by saying “my brothers and sisters.” Dishonesty and lies are not to be part of the church but as we see in the headlines often, the church has often been thought of and found to be dishonest and not trustworthy.  Now notice how hjesus put it in Matthew 5:34-35a:

“But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne;or by the earth…” Matt. 5:34-35a

Earlier we studied how James taught that words are important.  We like to think that words are just words but they really are important and we need to be aware of our words, the weight they carry, and the potential for good and destruction that they carry. Often Jesus would say things like, “Truly I tell you…” (Matt. 5:26)

Ex. Most all of us have at one time or another been duped by someone’s dishonesty. Scam’s by phone callers about taxes, lost grandchildren, etc.

How does that feel.  You feel used, hurt, taken advantage of, etc. So when the world hears the church being dishonest, it experiences those same feelings and hurts. The church is meant to bring healing and good news to the world.  Dishonesty bring just the opposite.

  1. Live In/With Integrity

The second point that James beings to our attention about integrity is that we should be living in and with integrity. There is a simple way to do that, he says it in verse 12b:

“All you need to say is a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’” vs. 12b

These words are almost word for word the exact words of Jesus.  I have put them next to each other for you to see.

“All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’” Matt. 5:37a

The point here is clarity. There should be no doubt about our words to others so that they can find us trustworthy and honest.

Ex. Every so often my wife will ask me a question and I will answer with— (a question) or (a vague answer)> So here is what Claudia says to me; “Answer me yes or no” She lives this passage and hold s me to it too.

The world looks to the church for answers to life’s issues and wants to know if we are honest and truthful.  Too often we have not been and then when they find the truth, and it’s different from what the church has said, they won’t hear the other things we say.

Ex. I recently was watching TV and saw a preacher telling the viewers that God wants you to be well and if you’re not, it has to be sin.  He also said that the solution was to buy his “healing water” and you could wash away your sin and be healed. Those kind of things mislead people. Yes, God does want you to be well but to promise healing through this “special water” or to say it’s your sin that is causing your sickness is not Biblical. Job did nothing wrong and his issues were not because of sin.

When we are untruthful and misleading, the world will not listen to us anymore and they will not hear the Good News of salvation through Jesus.

  1. Honesty Is a Serious Matter

And finally, third, James reminds us that honesty, trustworthiness, and integrity is a serious matter. James says in verse 12c:

“Otherwise you will be condemned.” vs. 12c

Those are hard words but Jesus words are even stronger in Matt. 5:37:

“…anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Matt. 5:37

Here is what James and Jesus are both getting at: you have to decide who you are aligning yourself with. If you are aligning yourself with God, God is truth. John 3:33 says:

“Whoever has accepted (Christ) has certified that God is truthful.” John 3:33

So this is a hard choice we have to make; to follow God or to follow Satan. If we follow God, we choose not to lie and on the occasion that we do, we don’t try to bring him into it by saying things like “I swear to God.” Then we are bringing him into something that is totally foreign to him and has nothing to do with him. On the other hand, when we lie, we are aligning ourselves with Satan. John 8:44 says:

“When he lies, (Satan) speaks his native language, for is a liar and there is no truth in him.” John 8:44

Satan is the Father of lies.  The question is: Who’s your Father? God Almighty or Satan? Speaking the truth and living in integrity is so important, so serious, that it tells others who we are living for and who is our Father.

Hope and Confidence

So it is important to note two things about integrity, honety, trughfulness and the oaths with take;

  • If we are always truthful, we will never have to “swear” or take oaths because there is never a reason to doubt our integrity or honesty.
  • But…more importantly, two, it may appear at times that evil prevails. That people who lie get ahead, that dishonesty has its rewards. But go back to verse 12c:

“Otherwise you will be condemned.” vs. 12c

Look at that last word. Condemned. A judgment day is coming. A day when we will stand before God and have to give an account for what we have done. It’s at that point that we realize why Jesus came and died on the cross; for our forgiveness. If we align ourselves with God, accept Jesus gift of salvation, there is no condemnation for us. But if we align ourselves with Satan, the Father of lies, though we may get away with things now, we will not at the judgement seat.

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Let Love Prevail

Jeremiah 22:3

“Do no violence to the stranger, fatherless nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place.” Jer. 22:3 KJ21

Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas

This week we lived through some of the most discouraging and frustrating times as a nation. We saw the senseless killing of people and the struggle with understanding any of it. We see opposite ends happening; people being pulled apart by what is going on and people being united by what is going on.  You might be surprised this morning because you thought we were going to continue our study of the book of James. I was surprised too because I felt God calling me to address this issue and that to bring some peace, some understanding and some perspective to these times.  A quick review of the weeks events:

July 6th – Philandro Castile and his girlfriend were pulled over for a traffic violation. He tells the officer he has a gun but has a permit to carry it. The officer tells him to get the permit and when he reaches for it, he is shot 4 times while sitting in the passenger side of the car, while his girlfriend is witnessing and recording the whole event.

July 7th – Alton Sterling was selling CDs early Tuesday outside the Triple S Food Mart in Baton Rouge, when a homeless man approached him and asked for money.

The man was persistent, and Sterling showed him his gun. “I told you to leave me alone,” Sterling told the man, according to the source. The homeless man then used his cell phone to call 911. The police came and apprehended Sterling and while laying on the ground subdued by police was shot and killed.

July 9th – While protests were taking place in downtown Dallas over the killings of Castile and Sterling, an ex-military trained — shot into crowds of protesters at police who were monitoring the event killing 5 policeman and wounding 7 more.

We need to understand that the world needs to hear the message of Christ  more than ever; that if change is going to take place, one of the first places it needs to happen is with the church. We need to be in the world, bringing the message of the love of God to all people and see this senseless killing stop. For direction, we are going to read Jeremiah 22:3 this morning. If you are able, please stand.

Read Passage – Jeremiah 22:3

“Do no violence to the stranger, fatherless nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place.” Jer. 22:3 KJ21

Killing and Murder

Some people think this is a new epidemic.  It’s not. Unfortunately, our nation has had a history of abuse of people; Native Americans, Asian, Hispanic, Black, and the list goes on. I think on a greater scale with technology, understanding and education, and with the perspective of God, our nation is now being held more accountable and greater change is need for us to move forward.

It is important as we embark on this subject, that we understand God’s Word and what it really says. So let’s go back to Exodus 20:13 to begin, it says:

“You shall not murder.” Ex. 20:13

So the first thing to be clear about is God’s command that we not murder.  In fact, God even put in place regulations and laws about those who murder. For example in Genesis 9:6 he states:

“Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.” Genesis 9:6

God early on established the sanctity of life and the need for us to be held accountable. He also made it extremely clear that we are not to be murdering others. One of the main reason is that we are made in the image of God and we will touch on that a bit later. So how do we define murder? Here is the definition from Merriam-Webster’s dictionary:

Murder: the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought

That sounds pretty clear but it might make us ask the question; “Then what is killing? It is also important to note that there is a difference between killing and murder. Let me give you this statement:

All murder is killing but not all killing is murder.

So let me explain by giving you some aspects of killing that are not murder.

-Unintentional

You’re out hunting with some friends and you think you see an animal in the bushes and you shoot. You kill someone. You didn’t mean to do it, it was unintentional, an accident. Even God understood that accidents happen and when he established Israel he provided “Cities of Refuge” for people to go to and live and be safe if they killed someone unintentionally. This way the relatives could not take revenge. Now you couldn’t leave the city, if you did, you were fair game, but a way to protect those that killed unintentionally was provided.

-Self-Defense

Someone breaks into your house and is assaulting you and you know it is your life or theirs and you kill the intruder. It wasn’t planned or done with malice, it was self-preservation.

-Capital Punishment

Now there is some debate on the next two and some of you may agree or not agree with these next two. Capital punishment. Someone is killed because they have taken the life of, murdered, someone else and the consequence of their actions is to have their own life taken. Again, I realize some of you make think capital punishment is wrong so realize that there is some disagreement here.

-War

And with this reason as well, war. When someone is called upon to defend their country and have joined the armed forces, and they kill, many consider that an act of killing and not murder. Again, I realize some of you make think war and killing in war is wrong so, again, realize that there is some disagreement here.

I hope these have helped you be able to tell the difference of thought between what murder is and what killing is.

Why The Commandment “Do Not Murder”

In light of what has happened this week, we need to talk about these things. I believe God told me to talk about them. And…I believe God has strong feeling about this to and we really need to understand what His Word tells us and how it guides us in all of this. I focused on 3 areas that are important to God and, as the church, we should look at them as important too.

  1. Murder Lessens the Sanctity of Life

Now first, I have touched on it briefly but let me do a little deeper with this, murder lessens the sanctity of life.  God from the beginning established that every life is important and that every person has value and is valued by him. Part of Jesus discourse on the Sermon on the Mount was just that, that we are valued by God and that he cares for each of us.  Jesus said in Matthew 6:26:

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matt. 6:26

Now God cares for each of us and the question might be; “why?” Two reasons:

  • We are his creation. When I make something, I am proud of it and I want to take care of it. Even if it’s not all everyone else thinks it should be. I made it. It’s of value to me.

Ex. I made a painting and some people laughed at it. It’s not professional, not going to be in a museum, but it’s mine and I am proud of it.

  • We are made in his image. You and I are made in the image of God Almighty. We were fashioned after God himself.

And let’s not forget John 3:16:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

 

Jesus died for all people, everyone. Not some, not just the good, not a selected few, but all. Whoever believes in him. All are welcome.

  1. Murder Usurps God’s Authority

Secondly. Murder usurps God’s authority. Usurps is a fancy way of saying that we are trying to take the authority away from God and assume it ourselves. Let’s go back to the beginning in Genesis 2:7 where it says:

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Gen. 2:7

God made us. He decides who has life and who does not.  It’s his creation not ours. And it’s not ours to take away from him. When we murder, we have moved God out of the picture and put ourselves in his place, and it’s not our place. The Bible is very clear that God is the one who gives life and that God is the one who determines how long we live.  We want desperately to make those decisions ourselves and yet it is not our decision to make. We have gotten to the point that we feel we have the right to make those decisions. No! Job in Job 14:5 says:

“A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” Job 14:5

We want to assume the control and yet it is not our control to have. We have to stop playing God. When someone decides to shoot innocent people and take lives, whether they are law protectors, civilians, someone with a grudge, someone who has been wronged or hurt, etc. they are playing God. Even revenge, God says “Revenge is mine.” We are not to put ourselves in God’s place.

  1. Murder Reflects Your Heart

And third, murder is reflective of what is in your heart.  This is a harsh one because we all want to believe that we would never do such a thing, but it seems many people have the capability of this and they don’t realize it. Jesus said in Matt. 15:19:

“For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” Matt. 15:19

I look at that list and I go; “No, not me.” But I have to realize that I am capable of any of those things. Pastors say a lot of things sometimes without really fully explaining them.  One is: Have Jesus in your heart.  SO here is the explanation of why we need to fill our heart with Jesus; because if we don’t, it can be filled with things like murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony and slander. I don’t want those in my heart. And if what is in my heart comes out, what better thing can you fill it with than Jesus, his words, his example, his way of doing things.

Let Love Prevail

That is why we land here this morning on this issue: we, the church, need to let love prevail. I was really proud of Philandro Castile’s girlfriend.  She had just witnessed one of the most horrific things a person could, someone she loves killed right in front of her. Listen to her words in a statement made the next day:

“Not just blacks, not just whites, not just Asians, everyone, this affected everyone.” No one deserves to be taken away.”

We, the church, need to be in that place.  That all lives matter. We do that by living like Jesus. We do that by following God’s Word.  We do that by adhering to Godly principle like the following:

Kindness and compassion

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Eph. 4:32.

Love, joy, peace, kindness and goodness

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.” Gal. 5:22-23

Peace

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” Col. 3:15

Jesus not only taught it, he lived it. 1 John 5:11:

Jesus

“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.”

1 John 5:11

That’s how we are to roll in this life, how we are to live in a world that is lost and confused. We move in love not hatred. We live in peace and kindness and with God’s peace ruling our hearts. We need this because the only way our world will change is to realize that we have the chance to live forever with God in eternity and that the only way to have that assurance is through Jesus Christ because he died for us and covered our sin.

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Sticks and Stones

Sticks and Stones
James 4:11-12
“Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Col. 3:13

Hurtful Words
There are companies that make their money using hurtful and untrue words; that make their living putting things out there and dealing with the consequences later. I was reminded of this the other day when I was in the store and I saw a pretty famous tabloid and right as I was reading the headline and thinking if anyone would buy this publication, the lady in front of me turned around, grab one, and threw it onto the belt with her groceries. It was almost like she could hear my thoughts. Well, it got me thinking about lawsuits and people who have to dal with that kind of stuff. So, here is a list of the top 5 celebrity lawsuits. (taken from insidecousel.com)
5. Cameron Diaz – Sued a tabloid because it claimed she was having an affair with another celebrity when, in fact, both were in relationships of their own and were not having an affair.
4. Robin Williams – Williams sued his celebrity look-alike who, with the help of his agent, was pretending to be the actual Robin Williams. Under false pretenses, the look-alike was cheating charities under Robin Williams’ name and causing serious damage to his reputation.
3. Kiera Knightley – The Daily Mail published accusations that Knightley had an eating disorder and had been responsible for the death of a young lady with anorexia. The actress went to court and was awarded several thousand dollars which she handed over to a charity.
2. Sharon Stone – Plastic surgeon Renato Calabria let two U.S. magazines know that Stone had received a facelift. Stone claimed the accusations were false and had defamed her resulting in difficulty in finding work. She sued the surgeon for damages and won.
1. David Beckham – A magazine printed an article claiming that Beckham had hired a prostitute, so he sued. Since Beckham could not prove the magazine acted maliciously, he lost the court ruling and his $25 million lawsuit was tossed out.

The most famous libel lawsuit is…Hulk Hogan. You know, it’s hard when someone says something about you that is not true and really is out and out a lie. But it happens, and probably more often than we care to admit. As we continue through the book of James, he addresses this very subject and how we, especially within the church, should not be a part of such things. If you are able, please stand as we read James 4:11-12.

Read Passage – James 4:11-12
“Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?”

It All Comes Down to 2 Laws
James is really taking the thoughts and ideas of Jesus here and asking us to put our faith into action by considering how we are treating one another. God has always been concerned about how people are treated. We are God’s creation and he doesn’t like seeing his creation treated improperly. God helped us by giving us the 10 Commandments as a rule and guide for living. In Leviticus and Deuteronomy those laws are expanded so that we have guides for almost every kind of situation in life. And if that wasn’t enough, he sent prophets to help along the way in the O.T. as well. There is a period of almost 400 where God was silent but then he broke that silence and sent his son Jesus Christ. In Matthew 22 the religious leaders are trying to test Jesus by asking him which is the greatest commandments to follow. (Really God wants us to follow all of them.) But Jesus, he tells them that it all comes down to 2 laws:

“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matt. 22:37-39

So Jesus really simplifies it for them, he says it is all about two laws or ethics; one, your relationship with God, and two, your relationship with others. They were trying to trap him but Jesus wasn’t falling into their trap, he just simplifies things for them, and for us too. You might recall Jesus words from Matthew 5 right after Jesus had given the multitudes The Beattitudes:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matt. 5:17

Jesus wants to make it clear that he is not contradicting anything from the past or changing what God has previously given, he was coming to fulfill the law and was showing us what it looked like to live out those laws in our lives.
Ill. Can you imagine if they had tabloids back then? The Jerusalem Star – headline: Jesus Claims; “I fulfill of the Law of God” 🙂

The Pitfalls of Slander
James stresses very strongly in this passage that slander should not be part of who we are. So let’s make sure we have a good clear definition of slander so we can apply what he is saying.

Slander: to make a false spoken statement that causes people to have a bad opinion of someone (Meriam-Webster Dictionary)

Notice the two aspects of slander; 1) it’s a false spoken statement; and, 2) it’s having a bad opinion (How we view people in our head)
Let’s be clear as well as to whom James is saying this, verse 1a:

“Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another.” vs. 11a

Be careful here and notice; James is talking to the church! He is using the term brothers and sisters because he is addressing those within the church. It would be best if we didn’t have this kind of attitude at all but even more so, this should not be something that is part of church life. As family, God’s family, false statements and bad opinions should be checked at the door. This is so important because as family we are to love one another and build each other up (1 Thess. 5:11) as Paul says. God loves us and we are his children. We should not be tearing each other down, period! It’s important to know why; because we are not acting as God’s children or as family when we do so and it stops s from having unity and effective worship.
Ex. A parent saying “That’s not how we act in this family!”

*It Puts You Above Others
James point out three pitfalls of slander. The first pitfall is that when we slander, you put yourself above others. James says in verse 11b:

“Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it.” vs. 11b

It’s interesting that in our culture today we have a high value on “no judging.” You often hear people say things like, “I’m not judging you,” or “We are not to judge others.” It’s more severe in the church. When we judge, we are telling our brother or sister that they don’t belong in the church. That’s not our call. God already made it clear that is not our job to decide who is in and out, that’s his call. In a sense we are saying that we are better than you and that God’ wants us more. No! God’s law is that all are welcome.

*It Puts You Above the Law
The second pitfall is that when you slander, you put yourself above the law, verse 11c:

“When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.” vs. 11c

There is a subtle yet import thing to grasp here, that when we slander we are declaring that we know best, that we know better and that our way is the way. God didn’t give us laws to pick and choose which we think are correct and which we want to follow. No, we are to follow the whole law and Jesus, as we stated earlier, came to fulfill the law meaning that we need to be even more intent on keeping his word.
Ex. Do not lie. He didn’t say don not lie when it is convenient or when you think it is best or when it is for the greater good. No, we are called not to lie and many people try to justify their lies.

Don’t put yourself above the law.

*It Puts You Above God
And the third pitfall is that when you slander, you put yourself above God, verse 12:

“There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?” vs. 12

This is harsh but very true, when you slander, we have put ourselves in God’s place and we are assuming power. God has the power not us. We somehow live in this illusion that we have the power. That goes back to Satan’s words to Eve in the garden where he entices her and says that “you will be like God.” We fall into that thinking that we are like God. We are not.
Ex. My call to the phone company and asked to speak to a manager. The operator aske dhow she could help. I asked “are you a manager?” She said no. She was assuming the power but she didn’t have the power. We should not be assuming God’s power.
Steps To Avoid the Pitfall

In order for us to put James’ words into action, we have some big decisions to make so I challenge you to make some tough decisions this morning.

1. Desire Peace Not “Winning”
First, what is more important to you, having peace with each other, or winning? Many of us can be competitive and stubborn. We are more concerned about being right and getting our way, winning, than we are about having peace. God’s message to us is to get along and to build each other up and ultimately to live in peace with one another. Romans 12:18 says:

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18

I have at times been approached about being a mediator of sorts for people. Sometimes it is a married couple, sometimes a parent and child and sometimes just two people who are in disagreement. Here is usually the way I’ve been asked to mediate; “Pastor we have a disagreement. Will you listen and tell them I am right? Within the church, we should be more concerned about peace yet “winning” has become more important. And this isn’t just in individual cases, this is in churches as a whole and denominations.
Ex. Last week we talked about the top causes of disputes in the church; worship style, decision making, length of service, etc. Isn’t sad that we are more concerned about winning and having our way than having peace within the body of Christ?

2. Remember God Loves All People
The second decision is to decide if you are going to love all people or just the ones you decide to love. Now don’t get me wrong with this, we are not called to be best friends with everyone. And, there are some people that you just don’t click with. That’s okay. It is important to remember that God makes it clear that he loves everyone. This took me back to some verses I memorized as a kid, John 3:16-17:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:16

The challenge is to remember that Jesus died for anyone who will take his free gift. He doesn’t die for just a few, just for the good people, just for the rich, etc. He died for all and when we slander, we lessen the work of Jesus Christ. Remember this is written to the church and if the world sees the church back biting, slandering, talking behind each others back, etc. They will not want to be a part of that church. That’s why James starts with the question in verse 1 of this chapter what causes quarrels and fights among you? People see enough of that in the world.

3. Commit to Personal Integrity
And the third decision is really one that is a tough one that you have to make internally, are you going to commit to personal integrity? They thing about slander is that it tears you down and it becomes a stumbling block to worshipping God and to being the person God created you to be. In fact, slander can lead you away from God and make you miserable. You need to commit to personally being committed to God and his ways and allow him to lead you and change your heart. Jesus is addressing a crowd in Mark 8 and he challenges them with this thought in verse 36:

“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Mark 8:36

See our decisions and the way we live have eternal consequences. Personal integrity is being fair and honest with yourself and it’s a state of being complete or whole. We are only whole when we allow God to lead and when we follow his ways.

Get Out of My Chair
Let me challenge you with this thought about that? Whose in your chair? We all have a heart and soul and we have this space there. Some call it a hole or a void or something like that, but for our purpose today I am going to call it a chair. (Kind of like a throne) Who is sitting on the chair of your heart and soul? Is it God? Is it you? God is asking us to allow him to be the one that sits on the chair. Let him guide, direct, etc. His ways are the best and he only wants the best for us and when we let God sit in the chair, He can change even the worst of people to someone beautiful. Many of us refuse to get out of the chair. We like being in charge and in control. In fact, when it comes to our brothers and sisters, we are called to allow God on the throne and tell us how we are to handle those relationships. His way is found in Col. 3:13:

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Col. 3:13

We are called to bear and forgive. There is only one reason why we need to do this; he did for us through his son Jesus. Because Jesus died and rose again, God has forgiven us. Because of his grace and gratitude, we are called to do the same. Lead into communion.

Communion

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