Sermon 18 Feb 2018 “Father forgive them…”

 

Scripture

 

Luke 23:34

 

Core Idea and purpose

 

Core
Idea: God offers His forgiveness and we simply receive it through faith in Jesus


Purpose: To encourage people to accept God's forgiveness and know that they are saved.

The Sermon Summary

As a pastor, you will never hear me say, "If you ask for forgiveness, God will forgive you." This probably sounds very strange to you. Many Christians make this claim. So, why would I not say it? I choose not to say it because this sentence is not the most accurate way to describe God's forgiveness.

When you say, "If you ask for forgiveness..." you're implying that God is not already offering forgiveness for our sins. This is not true. God offers forgiveness for our sins before we know we need it. Once we realize our need for God's forgiveness, we don't need to ask for it. We simply receive it through faith in Jesus because God is already offering it to us. It is, therefore, much more accurate to say, "God offers His forgiveness and we simply receive it through faith in Jesus". I will repeat this sentence again and again.

Do you see the depth of God's love here? God has decided to offer us forgiveness before we ever repent. When we do repent, we simply receive God's forgiveness and enjoy a re-established loving relationship with God. We don't have to do anything but receive what is already being offered to us.

Jesus demonstrated this on the cross. It started when the High Priest, Caiaphas, ordered the temple guards to arrest Jesus. When they arrested Him, the guards mocked & beat Jesus and then brought Him before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin (Jewish ruling council). There Jesus endured the mockery of a trial and was thrown into a dark pit. He probably spent the night with little if any food or water. In the morning they brought Jesus in front of the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, who placated the Jewish leadership by ordering the whipping and crucifixion of Jesus. The Roman Soldiers gave Jesus 40 lashes with a whip that had stone or metal shards embedded in the leather designed to tear the flesh off his back. Then Jesus stumbled through the city streets until he reached the place of the skull, right outside the city gates. There they nailed Him to a cross. As He hung on the cross, dehydrated, emaciated and weak from loss of blood, Jesus talked with His Father and said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing."

The people crucifying Jesus had not yet repented. They did not even know how evil they were being. Yet, God decided to forgive them. This is probably the most obvious example of grace in Scripture. God says, yep, they are forgiven. All they have to do is receive it.

How many of us are like the High Priest, Sanhedrin, Roman Governor and Roman Soldiers? How many of us commit sin without even realizing it? How many of us understand that once we realize our sins, all we have to do is receive God's forgiveness.

We all, however, must be aware that receiving God's forgiveness is the beginning of change. Once we receive God's forgiveness through faith in Christ, we begin a restored loving relationship with God. As we walk in a relationship with the Father through faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit works to change our hearts to make us more holy & loving like Christ. This is what it means to be 'born again' or a 'new creation'.

Receiving God's forgiveness and desiring to change are intimately linked. This desire to change is called repentance. Receiving God's forgiveness and repentance must go together. If you receive God's forgiveness without desiring to change, you remain in your sin and your relationship with God remains broken. If you desire to change but don't receive God's forgiveness, then you will attempt to change yourself without God's power. You will fail and your relationship with God will remain broken.

As previously stated, God has been offering us forgiveness before we even knew we needed it. The ball is in your hands. What will you do with it? Will you demonstrate your desire to change by receiving God's forgiveness or will you stubbornly cling to some sinful attitude or habit?

John Newton, the author of "Amazing Grace", knew what it was like to receive a forgiveness that was offered to him before he even knew he needed it. He first professed his faith in Jesus in 1748. This occurred right after experiencing a severe storm while aboard a ship. He cried out to God and God saved him and the ship from the storm.

John avoided profanity, drinking and gambling but soon became a Captain of a slave ship. He was actively involved in the slave trade until 1754. During this time he did not realize he needed God's forgiveness for participating in such an evil enterprise.

In 1788, Newton went public with his anti-slavery views and published "Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade". Sometime between 1754 and 1788 John Newton realized his sinfulness for participating in the slave trade and received God's forgiveness. This changed Newton and that's when he became an abolitionist. Perhaps this happened in 1779, when he wrote "Amazing Grace". Notice the words of the first verse of that hymn, "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I'm found, was blind but now I see..." While working as a slave ship captain, John Newton was blind but God's grace opened his eyes so that he could receive God's forgiveness and become an abolitionist.

We all may have a sinful attitude, desire or belief that we are too blind to see. If that is the case, know that God has already decided to forgive you. Ask God to open your eyes so you can see the sin that has captured you. Then receive the forgiveness that God has already offered you.

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Sermon 04 Feb 2018 What is your true desire?

Core Idea and purpose

 

Core
Idea: To obey God's law we must ask: What is my true desire?


Purpose: To encourage people to prayerfully and honestly look at their hearts to discern their true desires.

The Sermon Summary

"The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9) We lie to ourselves. It's part of our sinful nature and it's called rationalization. The word 'rationalize' comes from two words: 'rational' and 'lies'. Put the two together and you have 'rationalize'. We tell ourselves intelligent sounding falsehoods in order to justify bad behavior. This is a hard truth that's not easy to hear. We're all guilty of lying to ourselves.

I remember using rationalization to convince myself to buy a lottery ticket. Although buying a lottery ticket is not necessarily a sin, it is hypocritical of me to buy one because I disagree with having a state lottery. A few years ago, while serving a different congregation, I was driving down I-95 while thinking about my congregation's tight financial situation. I started to imagine what I could do if I won the lottery. I told God how I would use the money to build up the church's ministries to serve His kingdom. After thinking on this for about 30 minutes, I found myself pulling into a gas station to buy a lottery ticket. I told myself I was buying the ticket because I wanted to help the church but, in reality, I bought the ticket because my faith was wavering and winning the lottery would alleviate the church's financial burdens. (By the way, I didn't win anything.)

We often deceive ourselves when it comes to our desires. We may tell ourselves that we desire a certain, noble outcome when we really desire something much more selfish and sinister.

This is true when it comes to gossip. I hear many people say, "I know this is gossip but you need to hear this." or "I know this is gossip but we need to pray about this." People who make these statements tell themselves that they desire good for the person being talked about but, in reality, they just want to gossip.

That little word 'but' is packed with meaning. Whenever we use that word, we probably shouldn't do what we're about to do. We need to stop and ask ourselves, "What is my true desire?" Of course, our hearts are deceitful. So, should go to God in prayer and ask God to reveal to us our true desires.

This is why our Savior & Lord teaches us to be mindful of our true desires. While explaining what it really means to follow God's law, Jesus said, "Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.' But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one" (Matthew 5:33-37).

 

Jesus is obviously telling us to be honest. It goes along with the 9th commandment not to bear false witness against your neighbor. There is, however, a deeper meaning. It goes to our desires. What is our true desire when we feel we must swear an oath?

 

We often swear an oath in order to manipulate people. When we want someone to loan us money, we might say, "I swear on a stack of Bibles I'll pay you back". When we want someone to trust us with valuable equipment, we might say "I swear on my momma's grave I'll take care of it". When we want a mother to trust us with her child, we might say, "I swear to God I'll look after him"

 

We make these swear statements not because we desire to be really honest but because we desire to get what we want. If we desire to be trustworthy and nothing more, we would simply say what we would do without any swear statement. We add the swear statement when we want to manipulate people. So, our 'yes' should be a simple 'yes' and our 'no' should be a simple 'no'.

 

The purpose behind God's law is love (Matthew 22:37-40). Our desire behind everything we do should be to demonstrate genuine, unconditional love. This means we should desire the best for every person we encounter. If we desire anything other than love, then we are breaking God's law. In order to follow God's law, we must be mindful of our desires. Go to God and ask: What is my true desire in this situation?

 

Over the last five weeks we looked at God's law through the eyes of Jesus. We learned that the law is a God given gift that keeps us in the river of unconditional love and connects us to the river of life. We also learned that following the law is not a matter of following a long list of regulations but is a matter of the heart. In order to follow the law, we must ask: What rules my heart? What has my attention? and What is my true desire? Answering these questions will help us determine if we are motivated by unconditional love. Go to God in prayer and ask God to reveal the answers to these questions. In this way, we can follow God's law.

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Sermon 28 Jan 2018 Whatever Has Your Attention Has You

 

Scripture

 

Exodus 20:14-15

Matthew 5:27-30

Philippians 4:8-9

Core Idea and purpose

 

Core
Idea: Obeying the law is a matter of focus. Whatever has your attention has you. To obey the law we must ask: What or who has our attention?


Purpose: To encourage people to prayerfully look at what or who they pay the most attention to so that they can better fulfill God's law of love.

The Sermon Summary

Whatever has your attention has you. In the novel, Moby Dick, Captain Ahab's attention was on the great sperm whale, Moby Dick. The whale had him. The story ends with Moby Dick sinking his ship, killing his entire crew and killing Captain Ahab himself.

Whatever has your attention has you. In 1990, there was a 15 year old boy whose attention was on a 22 year old female teacher. She had him and was able to convince him to murder her husband. This is a true story. Just google: "Pamela Smart murder of Greggory Smart". Whatever has your attention has you.

Admittedly, most of us will not become so infatuated that we commit murder. Many of us do, however, give our attention to annoyances or aggravations. When someone does something we don't like, we go over it again and again in our minds. As we contemplate the annoying act, we become angrier and angrier. This anger can easily lead to hatred and hatred can lead to hurtful acts – even murder.

William Arthur Ward stated, "Whatever gets your goat gets your attention. Whatever gets your attention gets your time. Whatever gets your time gets you. Whatever gets you becomes your master. Take care, unless a little thing horn in and gets your goat." These are good words to live by. They say pretty much the same thing Jesus taught over 2,000 years ago.

When Jesus taught about the law, He warned us to take note of what has our attention. While explaining the commandment not to commit adultery, He said, "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell."

Obviously, Jesus wasn't being literal in everything He said. If He were, none of us would have any eyes or hands left. He was using figurative language to warn us to take note of what has our attention. Be mindful of what we gaze at with our eyes and be mindful of how we use our hands. The sin of adultery doesn't begin with the actual act itself. It begins when we keep our attention on a beautiful lady and imagine what we would like to do with her.

This, of course, applies to a lot more than just adultery. Focus your attention on money, you will become greedy. Focus your attention on sexually explicit material, you will become lustful. Focus your attention on something that makes you angry, you will become hateful. Focus your attention on yourself, you will become selfish. All these things – greed, lust, hate & selfishness – lead to suffering and it all starts with focusing your attention on the wrong thing.

Focus your attention on God, you will become holy & loving like Jesus. This leads to joy and peace and it begins with focusing on the right thing. The Apostle Paul reiterated this truth, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-- think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-- put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you."

Whatever has your attention has you. We must focus our attention on God. Obeying the law is more than following a long list of regulations. It is all about loving God, neighbor and self with God's type of love and it begins with focusing our attention on God.

How many people here have a spouse with some type of annoying habit? I happen to have a wonderful wife named Donna. We love each other tremendously but we can annoy each other.

Donna annoys me with the television remote control. She'll pick up the remote control, use it and then keep it in her hand while she does household chores. After a while, she'll absent mindedly put it down somewhere in another room. Then, when I want to turn on the television, it's nowhere to be found.

I annoy Donna when I leave the kitchen cabinet doors open. When I put dishes away, I open all the cabinet doors but then I forget to close them. I also leave the food pantry door open. When the food pantry door is open, it blocks the doorway from the garage to the kitchen. Donna will often come home to find her entrance blocked by the food pantry door and then find all the cabinet doors left open. Needless to say, she finds this very annoying.

If we focus our attention on each other's annoying habit, we would become selfish and angry. We would find ourselves thinking only about our own desires instead of remembering how much we love each other. If left unchecked, our anger would boil over into yelling and maltreatment.

As soon as we experience annoyance, we must re-focus our attention on God. This is done primarily through prayer and recitation of Scripture. We then realize that we're getting upset over something that is stupid and insignificant. (Having to look around for the remote control and close cabinet doors are not big deals) We may also reflect on how blessed we are to have each other. I remember that she misplaced the remote while doing a chore to make my life a little better. She remembers that I left the cabinet doors open while putting away dishes.

Following God's law is not a matter of obeying a long list of regulations. It's a matter of loving God, neighbor and self with God's type of unconditional love. Love must rule in our hearts and this begins with the right focus. Whatever has our attention has us. So, we begin each day with prayer, devotion and maybe a little Bible study. We continue to pray throughout the day. With every annoyance, we talk it over with God. Then we end the night with prayer and maybe even going over some memorized Bible verse as we fall asleep. Sometime during the week, we attend worship and a small group Bible study. In this way, we focus our attention on God and that is the beginning of obeying God's law of love.

Remember: Whatever has your attention has you.

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Sermon 21 Jan 2018 What Rules your heart?

Scripture

 

Exodus 20:12-13

Matthew 5:21-26

Core Idea and purpose

 

Core
Idea: Obeying the law is a matter of the heart. To obey the law we must ask: What or who rules our hearts?


Purpose: To encourage people to prayerfully look into their hearts to determine how well they follow the law and then ask God to change their hearts.

The Sermon Summary

When I was between 10 and 15 years old, I had a very bad temper. I'm not sure exactly why but I think a large part of it was my insecurity. I felt like a puny wimp if I allowed people to say or do something I didn't like. So, I lashed out in anger whenever someone did something that I thought was hurtful towards me. At that point in my life, I was not strong enough to return hate with love.

I often found myself upset, crying and getting into fights because of my anger. I didn't realize how much I was allowing anger to take control of my heart and dictate my words and actions. Anger, rather than love, ruled my heart.

One time, at Boy Scout Summer Camp, I went on an overnight wilderness survival trip. I was paired up with an older Scout from my troop. We met up with a pair of Scouts from another troop. Like us, one Scout was older and more seasoned while the other Scout was young and inexperienced. The older Scout from the other troop kept calling me a wimp and continuously insulted me. I spent that night boiling over with anger. The next day I yelled back at the older bully and challenged him to a fight. His young sidekick jumped in front of me and threatened to beat me up. I was ready to tear into that little kid but the older Scout from my troop intervened and kept us from fighting.

At that moment in time, anger dominated my heart and this anger turned into hate. I hated the two Scouts from the other troop. I wanted to see both of them get hurt. If they had fallen into a fire and received 2nd degree burns, I may have laughed at them. I even hated the older Scout from my own troop. We were good friends but when he broke up the fight, I hated him and wanted to hurt him – at least for the moment. So, I started off with anger. The anger turned into hate and the hate turned into a desire to hurt people. Anger causes a chain reaction that ends with evil consequences.

In the movie, "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace", the great Jedi Master, Yoda, warned young Anakin Skywalker, "…..Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." Anakin did not heed this warning and eventually became the evil Darth Vader.

There's a great lesson to be learned here but it's not a new lesson. Over two thousand years ago, our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, taught us not to allow anger to control our hearts. While explaining God's law, He stated, "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca, 'is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell."

Jesus was explaining the sinister sequence that starts with anger. Once we allow anger to take root in our hearts, we find ourselves saying 'Raca' to our neighbors. The term 'Raca' is an expression of contempt. When you hold someone in contempt, you hate that person and think of that person as being without value. Once we think of a person as having no value, we label that person as a fool or nigger or bastard or scum or gook or bitch or slut or some other sub-human category. Once we do this, evil acts, such as murder, are not long in coming.

An historic example of this is the holocaust. The Nazis accused the Jewish people of causing Germany's defeat and economic disaster. This produced anger towards the Jews. It didn't take long for the population to say 'Raca' to their Jewish brothers and sisters by labeling them as an inferior race. Once the Jews became inferior in the minds of the German population, mass murder – genocide – wasn't long in coming.

Truly obeying God's law is not about following a long list of rules. It's a matter of the heart. To obey God's law, we must ask: What or who rules my heart?

  • If anger rules my heart, I may find myself hurting someone – possibly even committing murder
  • If greed rules my heart, I may find myself stealing, cheating on my taxes or swindling someone to get more money
  • If jealousy rules my heart, I may find myself stealing from the person I'm jealous of or I may gossip about that person
  • If lust rules my heart, I may find myself cheating on my spouse

 

When I had anger issues, fear ruled my heart. Do you remember Yoda's quote? He said, "…anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." That was the second half of the quote. The first half states, "Fear is the path to darkness. Fear leads to anger." I have found this to be true. I thought of myself as a rough & tough man but was afraid of not appearing tough. When people said or did something I didn't like, I was afraid I would look weak if I didn't do anything about it. So, I reacted in anger which, of course, led to other hurtful actions.

As stated two weeks ago, the purpose or spirit behind God's law is unconditional love. In order to follow God's law, our hearts must be ruled by unconditional love. That can only happen if the indwelling Holy Spirit reigns in our hearts.

In every situation, we must look at our hearts and ask God, "What or who rules my heart?" Is it unconditional love (The Holy Spirit) or is it something else? When we discern the answer and discover it is something other than unconditional love, we must ask God to re-capture our hearts so that unconditional love can once again rule our hearts.

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Sermon 14 January 2018

Scripture

 

Exodus 20:7-11

Luke 13:10-17

Mark 2:27-28

Psalm 1:1-3

Core Idea and purpose

 

Core
Idea: Obeying the law keeps us connected to the River of Life. Keeping the Sabbath brings healing.


Purpose: To encourage people to obey God's law not as a burden but as a gift that keeps them connected to life.

The Sermon Summary

One of my favorite movies is the "Karate Kid'. It's an underdog story about a teen named Daniel LaRusso who faces some bullies in a Karate tournament. Daniel's trainer is Mr. Miyagi who uses some unorthodox training methods. Mr. Miyagi instructs Daniel to wax his cars, sand his balcony, whitewash his fence and paint his house. Daniel had to use a specific movement to perform each task. After doing all this work over a period of several days, Daniel finally loses his temper and confronts Mr. Myiagi. Mr. Myagi then instructs Daniel to mimic the movements he made while doing the work. As Daniel mimics the movements, he throws some punches and kicks at him. Daniel automatically deflects the attacks with the moves he learned from doing all those chores. Daniel finally realizes he had been learning Karate all along.

Daniel thought Mr. Myagi was using him as free labor. In actuality, Mr. Myagi cared deeply for Daniel and was teaching him karate. When it comes to our relationship with God, many people make the same mistake Daniel made.

We often think of God as a killjoy who demands our loyalty and gives us the law to insure our servitude. In actuality, God cares deeply about every one of us and gives us the law, not as a repressive instrument to keep us in line, but as a gift to bring us life. The law keeps us connected to the river of life.

Throughout Scripture, rivers symbolize the life giving presence of God. In Genesis, a life giving river runs through the Garden of Eden. (Genesis 2:10-14) Then, in Psalm 46, there is a life giving river running through the City of God. (Psalm 46:4) Finally, in Revelation there's a river flowing from God's temple bringing healing to the nations. This description of the River of life is particularly beautiful, "Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations." (Revelation 22:1-2)

The first Psalm teaches us that the law keeps us connected to this River of Life. It states, "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers." (Psalm 1:1-3)

The law is not something forced upon us by a tyrannical dictator. It is a gift that connects us to God and brings us abundant and joyful life. We often forget this and become legalistic holy rollers, condemning people who we think are not following the law. Jesus, however, constantly reminds us that the law is a gift to be valued, used and nurtured so that we may experience life to the full.

A prime example of this is the fourth commandment, "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy" (Exodus 20:4). The religious leaders of Jesus' day were zealous for the Lord. They wanted to serve God perfectly. So, they created hundreds of rules to follow to ensure no one worked on the Sabbath. Then, when someone broke any of these rules, no matter what the reason, they condemned that person for breaking the Sabbath. Jesus was constantly explaining that the Scribes and Pharisees had it all wrong.

Jesus stated, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27) God gave us the Sabbath for our healing so we can experience life.

This was illustrated when Jesus healed a lady on the Sabbath. Jesus was preaching in the Synagogue and a lady who had been bent over and crippled for 18 years was there. Jesus called her forward and healed her. The Synagogue rulers accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. Evidently, demonstrating compassion was work according to their hundreds of Sabbath keeping rules. Jesus responded, "You hypocrites! Doesn't each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?"

God gave us the Sabbath as a gift so that we can rejuvenate and be healed. This better connects us to God and the River of Life. By observing the Sabbath, we experience more of the joy of life.

The Sabbath is a day that we set apart to relax, better connect with God and enjoy ourselves. For most Christians, the Sabbath is Sunday. Most of us begin the Sabbath by focusing on God with corporate worship but then do we continue to observe the Sabbath Sunday afternoon? Do we get stressed out with running errands or do we enjoy ourselves?

As a pastor, I try to observe Sabbath on Friday. I must confess, if I told you I always observed Sabbath on Friday, my wife would stand-up and call me a liar. Out of all the 10 commandments, Sabbath keeping is probably the one I fail the most at keeping. So, this sermon is directed at me as well as to everyone else.

We need to think about our Sabbath days and figure out how we can maintain it as a holy day set aside for our healing and rejuvenation. What activities do you find relaxing? To one person, a specific task may be work while another person would consider that same task to be relaxing. For example, I would consider gardening to be work while other people find gardening to be relaxing. For those who find gardening to be relaxing, that would be a good task to perform on the Sabbath after spending time with God in worship, prayer or Bible study.

Think about and practice your Sabbath and receive the healing and rejuvenation God means to give you. Remember, the law is God's gift to keep us connected to the River of Life.

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