Friday, September 27, 2019

Light - Dark - Truth - Lies

Read 1 John 1

Light and darkness—a contrast that we don’t know as well as we once did.  How many places can you go where there is absolutely no light.  There is always some ambient light it seems.  It may be some plant or rock that absorbs light energy in the day and has something of a glow at night. 

It might be that night light in the hallway that never gets turned off.  It could be some luminous strips designed to guide you safely out of a building or for some other function when the power fails.

If you wake up in the middle of the night, you can probably see well enough to get to the bathroom because it’s not totally dark.  Coming from light into darkness leaves you blind for a while until your eyes adjust.

But with John the apostle, his words intend a stark contrast.  There is light and there is darkness.  Light permeates darkness.  Darkness cannot permeate the light.  And so, John reminds his readers that the Light came into the world.  God incarnate was known to him and others and they testify to his life.

But if they or we continue in darkness, we do not have fellowship with God or each other.  We can’t claim to be people of the light and live in darkness.  We can’t claim to know God but live as a friend of the world. 

If our words say one thing and our life says another, we lie. The truth is not in us.  We want to be people of God but we become liars.  Our lives are full of dissonance.

But if we walk—if we live—in the light, and John would bring analogy into this metaphor saying as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another.  The blood of Jesus has made that atoning sacrifice for us and we get to enjoy this thing called fellowship. 

John doesn’t use the word here, but we must repent.  We first must turn away from the darkness of the world.  We must leave behind the old ways, old thinking, and outside-in motivators.  Do you remember Psalm 15 where we talked about the truth that comes from the heart?
Living in the light is an inside-out process. 

Think of David who cried out to the Lord in psalm to create in him a clean heart.  David wanted to live in the light, to walk in the Lord’s ways not because he was a great rule-follower but because God had made him clean once again.

David needed and knew he needed what the blood of goats and bulls could not give him.

Do we not know this experience?  Do we not know this thing that John called walking in the light?  I am not asking if you have been sin-free since you professed Jesus as Lord.  I am asking do you know what it is to walk in the light?

I think that we all have a taste of it.  It’s good but still we struggle.  Still we sin.

We say that we sin, to which I say good.  I’m not saying sin is good.  I am saying that we know we sin and we confess that we have sinned.  That’s the good part.  We don’t fake it.  We have sinned.  We confess.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

The truth is not in us.  We have been talking about truth for several weeks but when we claim that we have not sinned, the truth is not in us.

We have been made right with God.  We live in the light and yet we let darkness in where darkness can’t come.  We have dissonance that can only be resolved by confession.

We know that we are to live in the light as he is in the light and yet, we let the world creep in.  So, what do we do?  We confess.

Do we upset God when we confess to him time and again?  Do we wear out his patience?  What?  This guy again!  Didn’t we just go through this?

I think God would be upset with us if we stopped confessing, if we stopping trying to live in the light, if we gave in to the darkness.

We know that we fall short and we know that God is faithful and just to forgive.  His faithfulness continues through all generations.  His faithfulness continues.

It’s as if he knew that he made us from dust and blew spirit into us to make as a living soul, that we are a unique creature among all creatures, made in his image but subject to human frailty, much of which comes from having this thing not labeled in the Bible, but that we come to call free will.

God knew that we would need forgiveness.  Our sin is no surprise to him. 

We need to understand that this dark world is still trying to find its way where it doesn’t belong.  In him there is no darkness, but we still wrestle with living up to the righteousness that we have been given. 

So, today, I challenge you to self-examination and confession.  That’s not exactly accurate.  I challenge you to examination by the Holy Spirit and God’s holy Word—both are within you—and to confession.  Self-examination is subject our own biases and there is a whole bunch of that going around these days.

Let the Holy Spirit and God’s word do their work.

I challenge you to understand the power of confession.  God will push back the darkness.  God will purify us.  We can walk in fellowship with one another once again.

The battle of God over everything that opposes him—wickedness is won.  God wins!  God has won.  We wrestle with darkness and falsehood and when we lose a skirmish, we must understand that God has already won the battle for us.

We are called to confess so we can get back to living in fellowship with one another.

For those who seek him, for those who profess Jesus is Lord, God is not going to run out of light or out of grace; so let’s confess our sins and receive the purifying power of God’s love.

Let’s confess and walk in the light.

I could stop right there, say amen, and we could go eat.  But I want to challenge you a little more.  Do not be afraid to be a light in the darkness.  Do not be afraid to be people of love in a world of indifference.  Do not be afraid to stand in stark contrast to a dark world. 

Do not be afraid to share the good news in a world that doesn’t want to hear it.  Be so bold as to invade a godless world with light and with love.

We are to let our light shine in the darkness.  We don’t hide it and we don’t let it go out.  When we confess, our light is still shining.  Do not be afraid to confess.  God is faithful and just to forgive.  Our light which comes from living in his light keeps shining.

Do you know what the penumbra is?  It’s that partially dark and partially light area around a shadow.  Seldom is there a perfect distinction between light and shadow.  You might call it a gray area.

Why is this important?  We are talking light and darkness.  If our light does not shine in the darkness, we won’t have this penumbra.  If we do not live in the light, how can we witness to those in the darkness?

Most of our ministry reaches those in this area.  They are not consumed by evil but do not seek good.  They live in a state of apathy or are ambivalent about just about everything.  This is our mission field, but to work this field, we must walk in the light.  We must let our light shine in the darkness. 

Paul noted that he became all things to all people so that some might be saved.  The toughest word in this sentence for me is “some.”  That some might be saved.

We might not reach everyone, but some might be saved.  I don’t think that we reach very many if we don’t walk in the light, confess when we stray, live in fellowship, and let our light shine before humanity.

I conclude with John’s words as he prefaced what God’s Spirit had inspired him to say what we have discussed this morning.

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.  We write this to make our joy complete

Let us live in the light, enjoy fellowship with each other, trust in God’s faithfulness as we confess, and know joy even in the midst of a dark world.


Sunday, September 22, 2019

Speak the Truth to Each Other

The guy flies by you in his fancy sports car with a duct tape fix on his left rear taillight then swoops right in front of you.  What was wrong with the two miles of empty interstate ahead that he couldn’t have gone a couple more car lengths before he changed lanes.

Now you find yourself on his bumper and you are angry, so you anger lingers and you ride his bumper for the next 22 miles before you have to get a better station on the radio or pick out an 8-Track tape and lose you interest in the yahoo leading this pairing of knuckleheads.

Fortunately for me, my new car will back off when an idiot armed with a car cuts in front of me.  It keeps a safe distance.  I don’t let my anger burn for very long.

We can get angry and then not be angry a short time later, often the transition goes unnoticed by us.  It’s some yahoo, some idiot, some stranger with whom I have no other relationship with other than we share the same road.  Anger passes.

When you deal with loved ones, anger can be more intense and sometimes more lasting.  Most people hold in their anger for a long time and put up with a whole lot, until one day OMG!  Here comes the anger and everything built up behind it.

It was sort of like that with God.  He loved his people.  He put up with much apostacy.  He warned his people and they did not listen.  He warned and they did not listen.  He warned and they did not listen.

Some of you might be thinking of raising your teenagers.  Others might be thinking to their own teenage years.  Warned but did not listen.  Warned but did not listen.

OK, for some it was their thirties and forties before they listened.

God showed much mercy and grace to his own chosen people until he decided that enough was enough and stood back from protecting them from the nations around them and let them be scattered to Syria and Babylon.  

Others fled the pagan conquerors to parts unknown.  But even this judgment executed by the pagans was God’s love.  He would not forget his people or let them grow even farther away from him.

Enough was enough and many of God’s people went into captivity.  And then God thought that enough was enough and he returned them to the land that he had given them.  But what relationship would God and his people enjoy?

God kept the enemies away and sent rains in season and the people began to prosper once again.  The people started feeling good about themselves once again, but did God feel good about them?

Would they return to their former ways?  Would the sinful and selfish human heart rule them once again? 

God, through the prophet Zechariah, sent words of counsel.

“Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts; do not plot evil against each other, and do not love to swear falsely. I hate all this,” declares the Lord.

We don’t see God using the H-word too much in our Bibles.  God hates the practices of the Nicolaitans.  God hates divorce.  God hates falsehood.

You want to anger your heavenly Father, then reject truth and embrace falsehood.  We will always be his children and he will never stop loving us, but that does not mean that he likes everything that we do.

We will never know his wrath—his condemning anger that will one day be poured out on an unrepentant world—but we should heed his warnings nonetheless.

God speaking through the prophet to his chosen people said speak the truth.  These words were for his chosen people, people who traced their bloodline back to Abraham.

We should heed this counsel not because of our human blood but because of the divine bloods shed for us.  God wants good for us and his words are for our own good.

So, when God says speak the truth we must understand that it is for our own good. 

But how can I speak the truth in a world where the truth is seldom to be found?  Television, Facebook, Twitter, and other media seem so imbued with bias that even if you get the facts the truth is often obscured in the telling.

How can I speak the truth?  I will give you the only counsel that I remember about public speaking.  Put on the best clothes that you have and talk about what you know.

I’m sure that the former is lesser than the latter.  That is, the clothing is less important than talking about what you know.

But how do I know what is true so I can speak the truth.  Are the Russians meddling in our elections?  Of course they are and so are the Chinese.  The Chinese are better at it and more patient but we are not called to be media referee when we speak the truth.  We must speak what we know to be true.

What?  That I made my kids peanut butter sandwiches for lunch today?

What?  That I still need to do laundry.

What?  That I don’t care what a she-shed is?

Is that the truth that I am to speak?   That’s what I can say with certainty.  Is that to be the extent of my conversation?

How about this for things that you can say and they are the truth.

God is good.
God is love.
God loves us.
We are to love one another.

I could continue but I won’t.  You can continue that list.  We have wristbands that can help you with that truth.  God loves you.  Love one another.  We can say these things and know them to be the truth.

Seek justice.  Love mercy.  Walk humbly with your God.  Can we not advise each other in this truth from the Lord. 

Zechariah would say render judgments that are true and sound.  Don’t plot evil.  Don’t love falsehood.

OK, I get the don’t plot evil and don’t love falsehood but I haven’t been called for jury duty in 30 years and I got out of that one so I don’t know about rendering judgments. 

There may come a time when you are called and do serve as part of a court, but most here hold court many times a week.  If you have children, you hold court.  Render judgments that are sound and true.

There is much that we can say that is the truth and never turn on the television and log on to the internet.  I know it’s hard to resist jumping into those online melees.  I usually don’t.  There is no real discussion there.  You like something or you don’t but the posted exchanges resemble artillery barrages more than sound discussions.

Sometimes I jump in anyway.  How could I not.  If people would read my post, that would settle everything.  How can you still think that way?  You read my post.

The prophet advised his people that one day their feasts would truly be those of joy and gladness.  The more his people obeyed the instructions God had given them, the more they would know happiness in this life.

We have the same promises in this age.  Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.  Seek his kingdom and his righteousness and he will provide all of those things that the pagans have made into their gods.

Come to God.  Bring your burdens.  Receive his rest.  Take his yoke and learn from him.

The truth is and we must speak it daily is that God loves us very much.  We should be more concerned about taking that truth to this lost world than any political, social, or religious discourse that will not endure the age.

Speak the truth.  Begin with God loves you.  Help people get to Jesus is Lord!  Help them study the word and live as his disciples, who just happen to be known by our love.

Let’s consider the full clause as we find it in the prophecy.  Speak the truth to each other.  We should always speak the truth but it will often fall on deaf ears in the world that rejects God, but it will be encouragement to those of us who seek him.

Speaking the truth may be countered by the world’s falsehoods, but among believers it is received with joy and gladness by God’s people.

It is important that we speak the truth and beneficial that we speak the truth to each other.  God hates falsehood.  We must be people of the truth.  Speak the truth to each other.

A few facts and much speculation make gossip and rumors addictive.  

Being the first to know seems to give us power.  Thinking that we have some information that somebody else doesn’t seems like it gives us a leg up on our competition.  But these things are not about truth.

Speak the truth to each other.  We know so much that is true.

God is good.
God is love.
God loves us.
We are to love one another.

The directions that God gave us are for our own good.  How do we keep these things in the forefront of our minds?

Here’s a thought that God gave to his people a long time ago.

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

God not only gave us directives for our own good but direction on how to internalize these directives.

Let’s be people of the truth.  Let us speak the truth because of who we are.  Let us make an extra effort to speak the truth to one another.

Regardless of what the world says, speak the truth.


Monday, September 16, 2019

Speak the truth from the heart

Read Psalm 15

The fool declares in his heart that there is no God.  We get that.  Or at least we think we do.  We see and hear atheists espousing their theories of anything and everything.  Their babble has become more and more acceptable in this modern world.  We know it not to be true, but that does not stop the endless spewing of nonsense.

But the psalmist knows that truth resides in the heart.  The fool not only says with his lips that there is no God, he actually believes it.  His heart compels him to share what he believes to be true.

There are plenty of atheists out there today that know they are on shaky ground.  Their lips say one thing but their heart is tugging at them to wake up.

The fool has no such dissonance. 

We are not talking about the physical heart.  This is not about pumping blood.  We are not talking about emotions.  Emotions can lead us astray.  We are talking about the core of our being.  Is it the same as our soul, perhaps?  At least the distinctions between the two are difficult to discern.

The psalmist knows that truth comes from the heart and if your heart tells you there is no God, then you are a fool and the truth is not in you.

But what about those of us who are certain that there is a God.  He is Creator.  He is sovereign.  He is just.  He is holy.  He is Redeemer.  He is Friend.  We know him best through his Word and his Spirit.

We come to him through the mercy and favor we know in Christ Jesus.

We declare not only with our lips but we believe in our hearts there most certainly is a God.  He is a God of love, love so great he paid the price for our sin in his own blood.

We speak the truth from the heart.

I know that I promised you analogies from my vehicle wreck where I totaled my truck and from hitting a deer and from having my heart stopped, but those will probably have to wait until 2020.  They have to  have time to marinade or percolate or whatever other metaphors account for the internal process to take place to get these experiences into a sermon.

So, this morning, you get yet another Marine Corps analogy.  When young men and women arrive at boot camp, they are greeted as soon as they get off the bus.  It’s sort of the Marine Corps version of the Welcome Wagon.

These young men and women are met with people enthused about what they do.  How do I know?  They get right up in the face of these new arrivals and start screaming commands and compliments in the face of these recruits.  

Sometimes they go straight for the ear so none of the message is lost.

Within a few short hours, everyone who has not had a mental breakdown has learned basic obedience.  You do what the crazy man in the round hat tells you to do and you had better do it correctly and immediately. 

It’s quite the welcome aboard event that you might expect.

It takes a very short time to get obedience, but obedience is not the goal.  What?  Of course obedience is the goal.

Actually, instant and willing obedience is the goal.  Simple obedience is driven by outside forces.  Instant, willing, obedience to orders only works from the inside-out.  Instant, willing obedience takes longer to achieve but you can see the difference.

This instant and willing obedience comes from the heart.  It is who these young men and women are now. Yes sir, aye-aye sir, and overwhelming motivation to accomplish the order are these young Marines trademarks.  It’s who they are now.

Who can enjoy the presence of the Lord?  The one without blame and who does what is right and, who speaks the truth from his heart.

What comes from our heart is our identity, our character, our very being.  God receives those who speak truth from the heart.

The psalmist says, here’s some examples. 

You don’t slander others.  The command says don’t bear false witness.  The psalmist says, don’t do the passive-aggressive thing either.  Don’t smile in my face and slander me behind my back or with generalities.

You don’t wrong your neighbor.  You don’t put down your fellow man.

You don’t subsidize those with vile intentions.  The extent of your discussion with these folks is repent, and believe the good news.

We stand with those who honor and revere the Lord.  We don’t say good luck with that when they come under attack. 

Our integrity is not inversely proportionate to our pain.  Our yes is yes and our no is no and there are no gray areas.

We are honest in all of our personal financial transactions.  If we loan our neighbor a hundred dollars, we don’t tell them to pay back two hundred or even a hundred and ten. 

We also are not swayed by money or power or anything else that would cause us to deal unfairly with another person, especially one with little means to defend themselves in the arena of the world.

The psalmist is not making an all-inclusive list.  Much of what he offers up in psalm you know from the Decalogue or the Proverbs. 

He is also not saying that doing these things makes you truthful.  He is saying that if the truth is within you and finds its way to your lips, these things follow naturally.

This is not an outside-in outcome.  It is completely inside-out.

Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
    Who may live on your holy mountain?

The one whose walk is blameless,
    who does what is righteous,
    who speaks the truth from their heart;
    whose tongue utters no slander,
    who does no wrong to a neighbor,
    and casts no slur on others;
    who despises a vile person
    but honors those who fear the Lord;
    who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
    and does not change their mind;
    who lends money to the poor without interest;
    who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.

Whoever does these things
    will never be shaken.

Whoever lives with the truth in his heart is disposed to trust the Lord.

Whoever speaks the truth from the heart is not disposed to give in to her own understanding.

Whoever is governed by the truth acknowledges the Lord with every step.

Whoever rejoices in the truth will know the path the Lord has set before him.

The truth must reside within us.  We must speak it.  We must live it.  The truth is a huge part of who we are now.