Friday, July 13, 2018

We are the people of Whosoever Will not Whatsoever Goes

Let’s talk about this homosexual question.  Today the practice of homosexual relations is accepted as normal in many cultures around the world.  The world will be the world that’s nothing new.  What is new is the position that many churches take on this issue, namely that homosexual relations is no longer a sin.

We could start in Leviticus with a couple instances directly aimed at this matter.  In fact, such homosexual relations were deemed worthy of the death penalty, but in fairness so were many other transgressions. 

But let’s start a little farther back by jumping forward to the gospels.  In Mark, Jesus states:

“But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

The original design was for a man and a woman to be united as husband and wife.  Two become one.  One man and one woman. 


The world might say that this whole one man and one-woman thing was to populate the world, and the world has more than 7 billion people.  So what does a little same-sex sex, no chance of having kids, matter to God who now that he has a whole bunch of people?

The world might say, if it doesn’t hurt anyone, who cares?

The world might say, you guys never seem to get it right, why bother us when we try something different.

The world might say, what I do in the confines of my own home or my own stall in a restroom is nobody’s business.

That’s the world.  What is the church to say?  Are some of the 613 laws not applicable anymore?  Not all of the decrees and laws really impacted everyone to begin with.  If you didn’t’ raise livestock or grow crops, some of the laws were just nice to know.  If you were not a priest, you could just say, “I hope he does everything right when I bring my sacrifice.”

Here is the first and foremost thing that the church must say:  Love one another.  That statement is made without qualification.  That means we love those whom we like and agree with, those who disagree with us, strangers and aliens, the poor and homeless, those in prison, even our enemies, and those who just come across our path.  Our mission is love.

Yes, that includes showing God’s love for the homosexual.

But we also show God’s love for the thief and the adulterer. We love the guy whose language is filthier than two sailors in a cussing contest.  We even love the murderer.  Jesus said love your enemy.

The key factor in all of this is us and our love not the condition of everyone else.  We who are in the body of Christ have an extra special love for each other, but no one is excluded from our love.  Love one another comes without qualification.

So, is it no longer a sin to engage in same-sex sex?  Nothing in God’s decrees has changed.  Jesus said that not one pen stroke of the law would disappear.  These decrees still convict our hearts.  They still point us to our need for a Savior.  They still lead us to Jesus.

The heart of Leviticus is to be holy as God is holy.  This mindset continues into the New Testament.  Be holy as God is holy.  God gave his people these laws for their own good.  He told them that the people in the land that they were promised and would soon take possession of, had practiced these things.  His own people were to be different.  They were special to the Lord.

Their charge, and it’s ours now too, is to be holy as God is holy.  Do we practice everything in the law?  No.  We are counseled that living a life governed by love fulfills the law.  Such a life does no harm to others and brings glory to God.

We live by love.  What does that mean in our relationships with homosexual people?

We love you but won’t lie to you.  As we grow in God’s grace, we are called to speak the truth in love.  So what is the truth in this situation?


If a person told us that they were about to murder someone, would we say, “That’s OK, there’s plenty of other people in the world?”

If someone was about to embezzle several thousand dollars from their employer, would we say, “That’s OK, she has plenty of money?”

If someone came to us and said that she had committed adultery, would we say, “That’s OK, everybody does it these days?”

So why would we say, “Same sex relations—sexual relations not friendships—are OK.  Everybody is OK with that these days.  It’s not really a sin anymore.”  Why would we make this the exception?

We share something with every other human on the planet.  We all fall short of the glory of God and Christ died for all of us.

So, if the law indeed points us to or leads us to salvation in Christ, why would we deceive others?  If the law shows us our brokenness and makes us receptive to the wonderful gift of grace, why would we tell others that their transgressions are no longer transgressions?  Are we empowered to say: “God wasn’t serious.”

Why would we try to lead people away from grace instead of speaking the truth in love and bringing them to this wonderful gift of God?

So that’s the reason why we shouldn’t tell people that homosexuality is no longer a sin; but how do we truly love our neighbor when we know they are sinning?  I think we already know.

Do we have neighbors who lust in their heart or cheat on their taxes?  Do we have neighbors who use the name of God in vain?  Do we have neighbors who neglect the tithe and greater offerings?  Do we have neighbors who covet our new boat or motorcycle?

I’m sure we do.  This is a covetous world.  It is a world that tells us it is all about you.  Why don’t we tell them that those things no longer displease God?  If we could do that then the preacher could just tell us fun stories and show cool videos.  He could preach to our itching ears.

Part of the problem in churches wanting to say that same-sex sex is OK now, is that many churches have gone to the other extreme.  Their main message is just how bad homosexuals are.  They have signs and rant against their conduct.  They want to make sure that everybody knows they are going to hell.

They feel an obligation to condemn sin.  When I see preachers that do nothing but fill their messages with the condemnation of sin and the judgment of sinners, I must wonder:  Did God not do a good enough job?  Were his decrees insufficient?  Why must some groups gather with signs telling homosexuals that they are going to hell.  The sign is not enough.  They must yell at those who pass near them.

Nothing quite says that God is love and he loved you so much that he gave his one and only Son to die for you like a Go to hell sign.  Do not pass go and do not collect $200.

The tendency of many churches is to swing the pendulum the other way and declare that same-sex sex is not a sin.  This is a natural human tendency.  But God’s law does not sway with our infidelity.  It is human nature to say, “that’s not really a sin anymore,” but it is not God’s nature.

God’s nature is mercy and forgiveness that we don’t deserve.  There is no need for either if we get to decide what misses the mark and what does not.

It’s like a marksman that hits the edge of the target, perhaps a deuce too high to mark for the marksmen among us.  By any standard, the shooter gets a 2 instead of a 10.  But if by his own desire and the consent of some others who really don’t like practicing, they declare that a hit anywhere on or near the entire target to be worth the same as hitting dead center, then there is no transgression.  Everyone hits the target and receives full credit whether they get close to the center or not.

So some churches seem to rail against the depravity of this one act and others have taken it to the highest court of public opinion and overturned God’s law.

So, what about us?  What about those who do not want to take matters into our own hands to vent our anger against a single transgression or retreat to the apathy and ambivalence of the world and just say whatever goes?  What about us who want to be a faithful disciple of our Lord, Jesus Christ?  What about those of us who want to be equipped for every good work?  What about us?

The Lord commissioned us to share good news.  Sin is not the end for usThe blood of Jesus took away our sin.  Now we should want to be holy as God is holy and we don’t have to worry that we are going to mess up something so badly that our get out of hell ticket will be voided.

God is faithful and just to forgive.  We who have professed Jesus as Lord are to confess.  He is faithful and just to forgive.

So, preacher, if a homosexual person comes to worship, what will you do?  Welcome him or her and preach good news.

So, if a homosexual couple—they might even be married—come to worship, what will you do?  Welcome them and preach the good news.

So, if two men or two women come to you to join them in holy matrimony, what will you do?  Direct them to a secular venue.  To join the two together is to participate in a commitment to go on sinning.  We don’t conscript people into Christ’s service.  If people choose to live in the world by the ways of the world, that is their choice.  I will speak the truth in love to them, and thus not subsidize their worldly choices by providing a godly blessing on an ungodly act.

We welcome people in whatever their state of brokenness they arrive.  The world would counter that these people are not broken.  That’s just the way that they are.

Some say, that’s just their nature.  If God made them that way, why would he make it against the rules to live that way?

My human nature is to live by an eye for an eye.  Actually, I would rather live by two eyes for and eye and throw in a couple broken bones on top of that if you wrong me.  But God calls me to live by love and forgive.  That’s not my human nature, but that carnal man has given way to the new creation that I became when professed Jesus is Lord!  I don’t always get it right the first time, but I am without excuse to just say, that’s my nature.

We preach good news about forgiveness of sin and life abundant and everlasting in Jesus Christ.  Everything that we do should bring them closer to God, to holiness, and to real life in Jesus Christ, and not to help anyone deny their sin by telling them that it’s not a sin any more.

So, how is this different from an alcoholic who wants to join the church?  I don’t help the alcoholic continue drinking to excess with the blessings of the church.  I don’t add legitimacy to sin.  He or she may relapse.  They may never fully recover.  With God they can but so many struggle to accept his way.  But the alcoholic or drug addict or divorced person or thief or even the murderer who comes to follow Christ will be welcomed.

To marry same sex couples is to participate in solemnizing a commitment to turn away from God and turn towards the world.  It’s like blessing reverse repentance.  It is to give legitimacy to sin.  That does not help anyone.  It is not kindness.  It is deceit.

We must not only speak the truth in love but live the truth in love.  We love without condition.  Sometimes that means speaking the truth in love that something acceptable to the world is a sin before God.  We must not condemn but must be ready to help those who want to turn away from sin and seek the one true God whom we know in Christ Jesus.

If we say that a sin is not a sin because the world accepts it, we help people remain in the world.  We subsidize their sinful state.  We become a willing partner in the deceit brought forth by the enemy.  We make it harder to receive the grace of God.  We become a stumbling block for those who need God’s grace. 


If we who follow Jesus as Lord speak the truth to the world, we will be declared to be a stranger and an outcast in this world.  Jesus tells us not to worry about that part.  We are keeping company with the prophets.

Unfortunately, we now face the same treatment within parts of the church that have conformed to the patterns of the world despite very direct counsel no to do so.  We do not belong to the world.  We belong to the Christ.  We lead people to the Christ.  The law helps us fulfill our commission.

Deceit is as old as the Garden of Eden, but is not our way, even if it makes things easier in this age.  What the world is selling as kindness—that homosexuality is not a sin—is deceit.  It is not kindness.  It is apathy and ambivalence and we should have none of it.

Our heart must be like God’s heart.  We desire none to perish.  We long for all to turn away from sin and receive the grace of God through Jesus Christ.
To do this, we must be ever so truthful.  We do not condemn. We love and love helps us take the good news to everyone because we all fall short of the glory of God.

We are the people of Whosoever Will not Whatsoever Goes.  Knowing that we fall short of the glory of God helps us realize how much we need the atonement that comes through Jesus and we have become people of hope.

Let’s not cheat anyone out of what we hold so dearly.  Let’s not get in the way by doing what the world expects.  Let the law do its work so all may come to know the glory of God through Christ Jesus.


Amen!



Transformed

Who are you?

The world says that you are 5’10” with blonde hair, slightly overweight, sunburned, and well dressed.

Maybe 6’1”, bald, but in need of a haircut, skinny as a rail, and dressed for winter as a homeless person.

Maybe you’re the guy with the 2019 Porsche.  Can’t remember what you look like, but you’ve got a nice car.

The world will size you up by the world’s measures and standards.  So is that who you are?  If I have to describe you to the police sketch artist, that’s probably how it will come out.

If I do have to describe you to the sketch artist, I might just go a different route.  

She is fearfully and wonderfully made.

He is completely loved by God.  I’m not talking 99 and 44/100ths loved.  I am talking 100% loved by God.

She is the salt of the earth.  He is the light of the world.

These people were worth dying for.  The blood of Jesus was shed for them.  God created in him a pure heart. 

These are the people who don’t’ stumble because they have God’s word as a lamp unto their feet.

She is created in the image of God and being made into the image and likeness of Christ.

When the police sketch artists asks me if I could give them something more useful, I’ll reply:  Well, I could give you their name and address, but where’s the fun in that?

Who are we?  Does it depend on whether we throw on a shave that day?  Are we the clothes we wear?  Are we our intellect or our physique?
Are we the degrees and titles that we hold?  Are we the cars that we drive or the investments that we own?

Anyone every try Kimchi? It’s fermented cabbage.  The traditional stuff is put into a container in the ground and taken out just when the Kimchi Master decides it’s fit for human consumption.  If you have never tried, don’t’ be afraid.

It will give you a new identity.  For the two weeks following your Kimchi meal, you will become known as Kimchi Breath.  No amount of mouthwash can change that.  No breath mint can alter your new identity.

We have an identity.  It is love.  We belong to the Christ and we are to be known by our love.  That’s from John’s gospel.  Paul very much parallels these thoughts on love.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

Jesus said, “They will know you are Christians—my disciples—by your love.”  We have talked about love for half a year.  We have a church motto that is GOD’S LOVE IN ACTION.  We believe that we have great fidelity to that motto.  It’s not like we came up with it out of thin air.

In everything that we do, we must be motivated by love.  We must continue our journey to become love as Christ is Love.  If there is vengeance or retribution due to another person, we trust God with all of our hearts and do not lean on our own understanding that justice will be satisfied.

All of these things are so easy to do because that’s how we have always lived.  Well, not exactly!

Even if we were brought up in the way that we should go since birth, the world taught us a lot.  Hate and prejudice, selfishness and overindulgence, and of course the It’s all about me way of thinking came out of our worldly mentors.

But we are not content to remain that way.  God is not content to leave us that way.  His Spirit is always at work in us.

We are charged to move this transformation along as well.  We have a part.  This is discipleship.  We are called to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

We pray with much listening.  We read our Bibles anticipating that God’s own Spirit will illuminate these living and active words.  We put these words into action.

God’s Spirit is working with us as we listen, read, meditate upon God’s holy word, and take what is in our minds and put it into practice.

We are making our minds new.  Out with what the world says.  In with what God says.  It is surely a trust in the Lord with all of your heart exercise that we should engage in daily.  Our own understanding replaced with God’s wisdom and love.

We are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind; yet, this is not an academic exercise.  For our mind to be renewed we must put these words of our Master into practice.  Otherwise, we are just thinking about thinking his way.  We perform the finest functions of metacognition without the essential element of trusting fully in him and thereby never seem to get around to putting his words into practice.

We are hardly transformed if we can’t convince ourselves to do what the Lord requires.  But to the one who has been transformed by the renewing of the mind:

We trust fully in God when we set aside our own understanding and put his words into practice, and without hedging our bet.

Sometimes this is simply a cup of cold water or a meal for someone in need.

Sometimes it is speaking the truth in love.

Sometimes it is much more.

All the time we will know what we are to do.  How is this possible?

Listen to Paul’s words once again.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

We will be able to know, and test, and embrace what God wants us to do—the good and pleasing and perfect things that he wants us to do.  And it is all so easy.  Well, sort of…

My yoke is easy and my burden is light does not mean that suddenly life becomes free of conflict.  It does mean that what Christ calls us to do is not such a heavy burden that we should be afraid of it.  And it does get easier the more we put his words into practice.  Which brings us to wind sprints.
I have shared this analogy with some of you before, but I had to run them so you get to hear about them again.

Once upon a time, I was going into my sophomore year in Mangum, Oklahoma.  We had arrived in the Mangum area from Texas about a week before, just in time for summer two-a-days.  Those were the days.  A gulp of water and 14 salt tablets and back to the practice field you went.  That was sports medicine in the 1970’s.

We lived out in the country on a farm that we had bought years before and now we had come to live on it,  and I was sure that nobody knew me except the guys on the football team, but out of the blue, I got a phone call from the girl that lived a quarter of a mile down the road asking me if I would go with her to the dance.

I didn’t even know there was a dance.  I had played baseball the summer before in Texas, didn’t have a summer job other than two-a-days, so I didn’t really have any money.  I didn’t have a license, was pretty sure I didn’t know how to dance, and did not have my own car.  Considering all of these things, I said yes!

I had to confess that I didn’t have a car.  Her reply was, “Oh my mother wouldn’t let you take me by yourself anyway.”  That part of the logistics was settled, and I was wondering if I had a reputation before I had my first date here in Oklahoma.

Her mother probably just didn’t want to see us as episode 15 on 13 Reasons Why some 40 years later.  In any case, I had a date for Friday.

Friday came and her mom got us to the dance.  When the music started, I looked around at the other people making strange contortions on the dance floor and decided I could dance too.  Here are some other facts of interest.

The dance ended at 11:30 pm
Football curfew was 11:00 pm
My football coach was also the faculty chaperone for the dance.
My date’s mom came to pick us up at midnight.

Come Monday, at the end practice which was always wind sprints and all the gut-wrenching sounds that go with that exercise, my coach called out, “All dancers back on the wind sprint line.”  Nobody knew what he was talking about, well, except for me.

So, while everyone else was getting some water and another dozen salt tabs, I was doing wind sprints.  I was exhausted before the regular winds sprints.  Now I had more.

After half a dozen 40-yard sprints, my coach imparted a little wisdom.  “A horse will run until it kills itself.  You will pass out first.”  Now there’s some reassurance.

I set my mind on finding out if I would die or pass out and ran the next sprint as hard as I could, and lived.  I did the next one the same way.  And the next one and the next one.

And at the next practice when it came time for regular wind sprints, I was yards ahead of everyone on the line.   I played tackle, end, and linebacker so that’s where I ran my sprints.  After a few sprints, I slyly switched over to running with the backs and outran all but one.

These were guys that half of them could outrun me before practice.  When we all had nothing left, I left them in the dust.  By the end of the week, I outran them all.

When the last sprint was done, I wanted one more!  Just one more, just one more wind sprint.

I had been transformed from a kid that dreaded these end of practice rituals to an athlete that looked for challenge after challenge.  A lot can happen when a girl asks you out on a date.

The prescribed analogies for transformation direct us to the root word of metamorphosis which is μεταμορφόω  (met-am-or-fo'-o) and the example of the caterpillar and butterfly.  It’s a good example, but we have example after example that we see in our own lives and the lives of our children and those in the community.

I was privileged to witness a type of large-scale metamorphosis as a series commander at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina.  To watch a bunch of—I’m sure that even this term is politically incorrect in some circles now—a bunch of momma’s boys be transformed into United States Marines was a sight that I observed every 13 weeks for about 3 years.

I witnessed many a young man who didn’t have a clue what was happening in the moment much less in his life, be transformed into a person of character and purpose and selflessness.

I have observed many inmate clients come to my office door, knock, have a momentary epiphany, and say, “You are going to ask me if I get what I want, will it get me any closer to my goal?”  They walked away having counseled themselves.

I spent a lot of time talking to inmate clients about efficacy.  Efficacy is the power to effect desired change.  Self-efficacy is the power to effect desired change in ourselves.  Understanding efficacy is powerful in itself.

We have the ability to transform ourselves into something better.  With God, we can be transformed into the image and likeness of Christ Jesus.  By renewing our minds, we can accelerate the process.

God is already at work on us.  We are being transformed.  Some of us are fighting the process.  Once we accept that we grow in God’s grace and are being transformed, we begin to see God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will.

Once upon a time, wind sprints didn’t seem as tough as they used to be.  In this time that we live in now, the more we seek this transformation, the more we desire the next step in the process.

Having embraced the transformation process, we are ready to serve God in everything that we do.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

We are ready to be who God wants us to be.  We offer ourselves—everything that makes us who we are—to be a living sacrifice to God.  Our very lives—how we live—is our sacrifice and service and pleasing offering to God.

We are being transformed.
We are growing in God’s grace.
We are being made into the image and likeness of Christ Jesus, who is the image of the invisible God.

We are turning away from the ways of sin and the ways of the world and sprinting towards the ways of God.

We do this trusting fully in him and not our own understanding.

Have you ever walked into one of those hair places where the styles are in pictures on the wall or they have a book that they give you to pick from?  All you have to do is say, “Make me look like that.”

I tried that once.  I was told, “Sir, you don’t have enough hair for any of these.”

But the God of all creation doesn’t care about my hairstyle, clothing, or the car that I drive.  He sees my heart and says, “Let’s make your heart just like mine.”

He says, let’s do this transformation thing!  Renew your mind.

Study my word.  Listen to me when you pray.  Put my words into practice.
Be transformed!

God loved us exactly where he found us, but he loves us so much he will not leave us there.

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind!


Amen.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Love like it matters!


Teachers and coaches are sometimes greeted by a student from long ago.  It may be a decade or two or three, but the student or the athlete has something he or she must say.  They are simple words.

You made a difference.  You made a difference in my life.  You will never know how much you meant to me.  You motivated me, challenged, or encouraged me, and…

I finished school.
I never quit.
I served 20 years in the Air Force.
I wrote a book.
I got my doctorate.
I became a missionary.
I became a brain surgeon.

Somehow, God used you—teacher, coach, mentor, servant of God—as a vessel to love another person like it really mattered, because it did.  It did.  It mattered in this lifetime.

These are words of affirmation to teachers and coaches and other mentors.  Sometimes they come with hugs or tears or hugs and tears.

You made a difference.  What powerful words—what emotional words are these?  What powerful words!

The Teachers of the Law were trying to trip up Jesus.  They had tried earlier and failed asking him about paying taxes to Caesar.  “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s” sent them away with their heads tucked between their legs.

The Sadducees tried to trick him as well, but they were silenced.

The Pharisees wanted another shot at tripping up this Rabbi whom everyone was so interested in, so they put forth one they considered to be an expert in the law.  So, he asked:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Understand that is a very legitimate question.

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.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Some of the Pharisees knew this answer as witnessed elsewhere in the Bible, at least the part up to all the law and the prophets hanging on those two commandments.  They didn’t really understand it but they knew it.  Love God with everything that you are and love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.

The religious leaders were about rules.  God is about love and he wants all who call upon his name to be about love.  He wants all who have received the gift of grace through Jesus Christ to call him not only Savior but Lord.

To belong to Jesus is to call him Lord.  You are his.  You are being shaped—your heart is being reformed—in the image and likeness of God’s own heart.  We love God and we love each other.

It’s all about love and relationships.

Some of you still don’t know why I make sure a big deal over Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets.  We don’t do sign-ups.  People have called me and asked what the hours are for our food pantry.  I tell them that we don’t have hours for a food pantry but if you are hungry come see me and we will give you some food.

I have eyes to see small things that make the church transactional.  We must not be transactional.  We are called to be transformational.  We are people of love not stuff.  We connect with people.  We have relationships that matter with people.  Our love matters with people.

We give out more and more food and help with bills and stuff that people need to negotiate this world every year.  It’s more each year.  But the transactional nature of it lessens each year.

Answer me some simple questions.  Please be precise.

How many ears of sweet corn have you eaten in the past 5 years?  If you are allergic to corn, that’s probably an easy answer.

How many oil changes have you done on your vehicles in the last decade?  Yes, those that you paid someone else to do count.

How many cans of popcorn, nuts, cookie dough, Sweetheart Dinner tickets, and rolls of Blue and Gold Sausage have you purchased since the turn of the century?  I know, that’s a long time to keep track of—so go ahead and round up to the nearest hundred in your fundraiser purchases.

How many people, let’s say in your lifetime, outside of your family, do you hold dear to your heart?

The first three questions were probably something that nobody keeps up with, nor should they.  This last question was likely very easy to answer, and names—not numbers—started to pop into your mind.

The first three questions were of a transactional nature.  It’s just stuff that you do or give or take that usually does not have a lifelong impact on you.  This last one was about transformation.  At some point, these people became special to you.

Jesus wants us to have relationships not transactions.  Our relationships are based on our love for God and for each other.

“‘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.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Transactions come and go.  You might have to keep up with some of them for your taxes, but relationships are what life is about.

Our love for God is first and our love for each other is a very close second.

“‘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.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Let’s love like it matters, because it does!


Amen!

Friday, June 29, 2018

It's VBS Sunday, and time to talk about the Assurance of Pardon

Read 1 John 1

VBS…  Wow!  It’s a week like no other in the year.  We pack in Bible verse, prayers, stories from scripture that come alive in the telling, great snacks and games, and just good fun make up what for many might just be the best week of the year.

And, of course, there is the pool party.

And then there is the Sunday after Bible school.  I am thankful that the VBS leaders could wake up this morning.  There is tired and there is VBS tired.  Some are already taking kids to camp.  Things really happen around here.

I am also thankful that there are some here this morning that are usually not in attendance.  I know that most of you came to see your kids, but I want to let you know something.  God is love and God loves you.

If you have read very little of the Bible, I am going to give you some insight into things that you probably already suspected.

First, all of this—creation—is no accident.  The Apostle Paul told his readers to look at the evidence of creation itself and know that there is a Creator.  We know this to be true.  We know one true God and we know him best by his Son, whom today we call Jesus.

We know that God created us as the best part of everything.  He even made us in his own likeness, in his own image.

On top of that, he let us make our own choices.  That part didn’t seem to work out too well for us much of the time for we often made bad choices. Not all the time, sometimes we made very bad choices—terrible choices.  This is what we need to understand.  God loved us then and loves us now and will love us tomorrow and love us forever.
That does not mean that there are no consequences for our bad choices.  It means that God will never stop loving us.

A lot of people think, that If I am as good as the next person, I can go to heaven.  They may think that, but it is not in God’s word.  That’s not what he told us and as he is God, it might be good to know what he told us.  He is, after all, the Creator of Heaven and Earth.

God knows that we can never be perfect without him.  He allows us to try.  And even though we know inside that we can’t be right with God all on our own, we still try to live the way we want and hope—no wish—that everything works out for the best.

Anybody here ever been short on money and when it came to your bills you just wished for the best.  You knew that you should make a budget and stick to it, but you just wished for the best.  If you are not careful, the water and electric get cut off while you wish for the best.

A lot of people look at life the same way.  I’ll just hope for the best.  If there is a heaven, surely they will let me in.  If there is a hell, oh well, I should have lots of friends there.  We will take over the place.

Let me tell you this morning that there is a heaven and there is a hell and God desires that no one go to hell.  He desires that all come to know him and the abundant life that he has in store for us now and forever.  That is the desire of God’s heart.

But he lets us make our own decisions.  Except for one.  God decided that he would make us right with him.  He would do the one thing that we could never do on our own.  He shed his own blood to take away our sin.

I’m not going to cover how God’s people used to make sacrifices for their sins.  They did.  They were temporary and they could not truly make us right with God.

But God did.  By the blood of Jesus—a divine sacrifice—we are in good standing with God.  Jesus paid it all.  We are saved.  We are reconciled to God.  We are ransomed.  We are rescued.  We are his!

And we should live the rest of our lives in grateful response to God.  We should live exactly as we were made to live—as holy and righteous people.

But we don’t.  We still fall short, but we never fall out of God’s grace.  Grace is undeserved forgiveness.  It’s unmerited forgiveness from God.

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Humankind was not getting better.  We were anchored to our sin; yet, God himself made the sacrifice for us so that we could live forever enjoying the God who made us.

But we still fall short, and so we come to the memory verse for this year’s VBS.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Life still has struggles, and trials, and things that come out of left field that we make a mess of, and yet, God loves us.  We do not lose our right-standing with him.

We cannot undo what Jesus has done!  We can live being ungrateful for what he has done, but the blood of Jesus is more powerful than your worst sin.  Jesus paid it all!  He set us free from sin and we will know eternal life with our loving God.

But we still mess stuff up again and again.  So, what are we to do?

Confess!  Confess to God what you have done.  Let him know that you know you missed the mark.  He already knows.  This lifts the burden from you. 

God wants you to get back to living a full life.  He tells us to give him these burdens that we try to carry on our own.   He has paid the price for our sin and he wants us to live to the full.  He wants us to live an abundant life.

If you know Jesus as Lord and have sinned, confess.  It is just that simple.

The promise—the assurance—that we have is that he will forgive us.  He will forgive us.  There is no deliberation over the matter.  He will forgive us.

Now that’s cool beans.  God’s love is so great that he forgives us time and time again.  Once you have professed Jesus as Lord, you need not worry about any sin that you commit.  God has given us his assurance of pardon.
That doesn’t mean that we run amuck.  It means that we do our best to please our Heavenly Father, but when we falter, we confess and get back to doing the best we can.

His forgiveness is promised to us.  His pardon is assured.

If you do not live with this assurance because you have not yet received the gift of life abundant and life eternal through Jesus Christ, do not hesitate to make that decision today.

You will still have trials and temptations and problems, but you will be forgiven and will be in good standing with God.

Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved!

Do not hesitate to know the forgiveness of God, the peace of the Lord, and his assurance of pardon.


Amen.