It’s Right There In The Bible! NOT! Part 5

Here is one of the most challenging things that simply are not in the Bible. You may want to don your Personal Protection Equipment for this one:

God wants me to forgive others, but He doesn’t expect me to forget it.

See, I told you this was the most difficult one–and it’s one that I struggle with perhaps the most. It definitely falls into the category of “Things I wish was not in The Bible!” One of our justifications for believing this is that God gave us the ability to remember, so surely He doesn’t expect us to forget when someone wounds us. But then, there’s this Text that fits my definition of “Things I wish was not in The Bible!”

Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32)

And how does God forgive us? Just look at Jeremiah 31:34 to see: “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” Tough and hard, isn’t it? So we come to another justification to alleviate our duty and responsibility: “He’s God and I’m not! God can forget, but I just can’t!” Granted, we cannot just forget–a truth I was painfully reminded of last week when an old wound opened up.

But there is a way to forgive and forget. It’s in how we treat the memory of the wound. Let me tell your a true story–a short one. I was only 6 years old when my Papa Burbank died. I was sad when it happened. But when I remember “Papa Banks” (that’s what I called him), the memory is me with him in his blacksmith shop. I remember him turning the bellows handle–the coals getting hotter–and the smell of that coal and coke. I not only smell it, I can taste it. Remembering him doesn’t make me sad, it makes me smile.

My point is, it’s not in the forgetting but in how we respond to the memory. When we remember how someone wounded us, we choose how we respond to that memory. We can either open that wound back up and feel the heat–and like I watched in Papa Bank’s smithy shop–the let all that resentment and bitterness grow and glow hotter. OR–we can respond by remembering how God has forgiven us.

We choose how we respond to our memories. It’s about maturing to the point when we remember the wound–but without the pain. It’s about releasing our pains to the One who was pained by us as He hung upon that Cross. It’s not easy to get to this point–trust me; I still struggle. Not easy–but it is possible. It will happen as we allow God to work ON us and IN us. We’re not the finished product–yet. But as we learn to think more like Jesus and less like us–we arrive at the point where we have forgiven them just like God has forgiven us–when we choose to release that pain. And God does expect us to release that pain. OUCH!

Who Deserves Forgiveness?

It doesn’t matter how sanctified, sanctimonious, or goody-two-shoes you are. Yet He forgives and blesses us–and He expects no less from us to show others–when those others deserve neither to be forgiven nor blessed.

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My brain operates on a level different from most. Of course you who know me, have heard me preach, and read my thoughts here on this blog have been aware of this for a long time. I offer no excuses or justifications for the way I process my thoughts. I own it! And with all the humility I can muster, I must say that I am quite proud of it. And I’ve discovered that sometimes God actually uses my “unique” ways of thinking. Who woulda thunk it? Certainly not my critics, or even myself most times.

And this morning, I find that it’s amazing how mortality and the death of my sister, have been churning my thoughts. And though I have an advanced affliction of random thoughts, there is nothing random about this line of thought. It hit me on the morning (perhaps the word should be mourning) after my sister’s death as I sat alone on Dad’s front stoop dreading sharing the news of her death with him.

That dark morning around 4:30 a.m. I was hit and hit hard with the names of 3 people. My thoughts about these 3 individuals were not kind; I repeat myself–NOT kind nor gracious. One of them had wounded me over 3 years ago. Honestly, I thought I was over that wound–but it appears I’m not! The other two individuals, their wounds are fresh and still bleeding profusely. And no, these two are not, nor have they ever been, my enemy. But if I was a prolific song writer like David, I could write a scathing imprecatory song about all 3 of them.

And what I am still struggling with (and I ask for your prayers so that I will change my feelings about them) is that…can I be honest with you? To you who just nodded your head in the affirmative, thank you for letting me be real with you. I do not want to forgive them. Yes, this pastor and proclaimer of Grace, is fostering and nurturing one old wound, and two new wounds. I know, I know, that holding tightly onto resentment and grudges as if they were my only friends, serves only to hurt me and open those wounds even more–adding more bleeding and unbearable pain.

And the Holy Spirit led me to this Very Intentional Thought: Who Deserves Forgiveness? Knowing that it’s the enemy who wants me to feel this way doesn’t really help me. One of my theme Bible verses that often describes me is this: “But I need something more! For if I know the law (or as in my case, knowing it’s the enemy polluting my mind with such thoughts) but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.” (Romans 7:17-20 The Message; EMPHASIS MINE)

And even this Monday morning, the Intentional ThoughtWho Deserves Forgiveness?–is playing in my mind like a kid in a mudhole. And PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, don’t tell me how sorry you are that I’ve been wounded–even by some closest to me. It won’t help me–it will only fuel my resentment and bitterness. And I have reached an answer and come to a conclusion–No one deserves forgiveness! Not these 3! (And here is the bitter pill I am trying to swallow even as I write) NOT EVEN ME!

And if The Spirit hasn’t poked and prodded me enough, yesterday as we headed home, 2 very good friends of ours wanted the four of us to break bread together before we returned. They had come to the visitation and attended the funeral; so how could we decline. In fact, we were looking forward to that sacred meal. Oh, their names are Jim and Grace; yes “Grace” is her real name–and she lives up to that namesake. They are members of the church I previously served–and we have stayed connected as fellow Disciples of Jesus Christ. Their faith and witness are powerful!

In their conversations they mentioned they had recently been to a Revival Service, and one night the preacher, another good friend of mine, was preaching about the very issue I am toiling with–Forgiveness. Mark, my friend and fellow preacher, said that not only are we to forgive those who wound us, but we are also to pray for God to bless them. I knew that The Father arranged this meal without me being aware of it! Sneaky Grace is what I call it! The nerve of my Heavenly Father doing such a thing! He wants ME not only to forgiven them–but to ask HIM to bless THEM!

I don’t know which text Mark used, but right now I am remembering some words of Jesus Himself, words I wished He had never spoken: “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.” (Luke 6:27-28 NLT; EMPHASIS MINE) None of us deserve forgiveness. It doesn’t matter how sanctified, sanctimonious, or goody-two-shoes you are. Yet He forgives and blesses us–and He expects no less from us to the same toward others–when those others deserve neither to be forgiven nor blessed.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have some work to do–I mean–a LOT of work to do on me! Random Thought: I wonder, if there are others out them who are struggling with this same issue?

Grudges And Garbage

Today’s thoughts will be short. I am heading back home to be with my family. My sister is still near death–and I need to be with my Dad. So here goes. The idea that is in my heart and mind is this: The Fragileness Of Life. In just a couple of days–a couple of minutes–a couple of seconds–in an instant, what was isn’t anymore.

One of the most precious gifts, after the gift of Jesus and The Kingdom, is family, followed by friends. Yet relationships are broken, not by death–but by Grudges! Fortunately my sister, Jacque and I, we don’t have any Grudges. And for this I am most thankful. But not everyone in life can say this, and it’s sad–so very sad. I’ve seen it lot–and still see it today.

It’s not just hard, but impossible to deal with Grudges when one party isn’t able to communicate with the other. Grudges is just another word for Garbage! Why do I say this? Think about it. It piles up big over time. It’s useless. It’s ugly. It stinks! We expect someone else to take care of it. And it pollutes environments.

And the stinkiest stench is from those who call themselves “Christians”. If you really listened to Jesus, how can you hold a Grudge? His mandate is clear: FORGIVE! And I am amazed at how some Christians, think they have found loopholes that allows them their Grudges. Here’s a few:

  • “I’ll forgive but I won’t forget!” Okey Dokey! Does God remember every single sin of yours that has been forgiven? Do you really think that Jesus is still carrying around that rugged old cross?
  • “Well, they just hurt me too much!” Oh? Really? Do you really think that the Cross didn’t hurt Jesus too much? That Jesus carrying all of your sins while suspended on the Cross was only slightly painful? Maybe a 2 out of 10 on the pain scale?
  • (This one is the biggest pile of Garbage) “Well, I do love them, I just don’t like them, and I’ll never have anything to do with them ever again!” OK buckaroo! You’re about to fall out of your saddle. Is that how Jesus treats you? Is that how God loves you? They will say, “Of course not!” Then what about these words?

Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, JUST AS GOD through Christ has forgiven you.

Ephesians 4:32 (NLT)

To you who make the intentional choice to hold a Grudge and refuse to mend the fences–listen to this one who is about to say goodbye to his sister–Life is fragile, too fragile to hold Grudges. You really haven’t forgiven anyone if you still hold a Grudge. And that, my friend, is the antithesis of Jesus. Your Grudge isn’t paying the other person back what they deserve. It isn’t punishing them. You are punishing yourself–and you are being covered up with stinky, ugly, disgusting Garbage–and the odor is on YOU!

Slip And Fall

Have your feet ever slipped out from under you? Maybe ice was the culprit; or maybe it was snow; or perhaps water on the floor; or like me, maybe it was mud. I’ve slipped more times that Carter has little pills (maybe you have to be from the South to understand this analogy). About 2 months or so before the slip and fall I’m thinking about right now I had shoulder surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and move a large bone spur. One particular Saturday my wife Debbie wasn’t around–and the leaves in the back yard were taunting me.

So I did what I had no business doing–I grabbed my leaf blower and went to work. I was blowing them into an old pond but the pile got so big, I need a rake to finish the job. I got the rake and went to work. I got to the edge of that old pond (there wasn’t much water in it) and carefully–I said CAREFULLY–began raking the leaves into that old pond. Then it happened! Between the leaves and the mud, my feet refused to stay underneath me and down I went.

I was younger back then, so in an instant, quick as a flash, I extended my arms including the left one which had the aforementioned surgery. I don’t know why we do that–I mean–extending the arms as if they would soften the landing. Get the picture? Both arms experienced Newton’s Third Law. Something popped in that left shoulder–and the pain could be described as. . .well, it can’t be described. And almost as quick as the extension of my arms, I looked around to see if anyone saw me. Why do we do that? No one saw me fall, and through the mega voltage of pain in my shoulder, I was thankful no one did.

There’s another kind of “slipping” that is far worse. It’s when we spiritually slip and fall. We do the same things as in a physical fall–we extend our arms hoping to soften the landing (it doesn’t help) and look to see if anyone saw us fall. In spite of our best intentions as a follower of Jesus, sometimes we slip and fall–and hope no one saw or heard us. But God both saw and heard. The last one we wanted to see us fall, saw it all.

So what can we do as followers and disciples of Jesus? We have a choice. We can do a Simon Peter. . .or we can do a Judas. Remember Peter denied Jesus and Judas betrayed Jesus–neither men were “less” sinful than the other. If we ever fall (we call that sin), the choice is ours. We can put ourselves back in the presence of Jesus–or we can completely avoid His Presence. Peter was restored, but Judas wasn’t–but he could have been.

I call your attention to a particular passage of Scripture to remember when you fall. I’ve used it numerous times and can testify that it works! It’s found in 1 John 1:9–“But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” God sees us every time we fall. So, instead of looking around the next time you fall, look up. Own your mess. Tell God you were wrong–and that you want to change. And HE will be faithful to forgive you and help you back up again!

It’s A Wonderful Life Because It Matters Who You Know!

Knowing Jesus Will Provide Us With That Never-Ending Supply Of God’s Acceptance, Mercy, And Forgiveness.

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If you can remember only 1 thing from today’s message, this is it:  Knowing Jesus Will Provide Us With That Never-Ending Supply Of God’s Acceptance, Mercy, And Forgiveness.

There are certain clichés you hear all through your life that when you look closer, are false.  They are so ingrained in our consciousness you can probably say them along with me. For example:  It takes money:  To Make Money.  But there’s Sam Walton and Bill Gates.  Neither one was wealthy when they began their career.  Both men discovered it doesn’t always take money to make money; you can make money through hard work and innovation.  Another one:  You can’t fight:  City Hall.  Sonny Bono opened a restaurant in Palm Springs, got mired in the red tape of local politics, and he fought and won.  He also ran for mayor and won, and then became a U.S. Congressman before his untimely death in early 1998.  Of course, his story reminds us of another cliché: If you can’t beat `em: Join `Em.

Another cliché we hear from time to time is:  It’s not what you know it’s:  Who You Know.  Unlike the others, we all know of cases where this cliché is painfully true.  Each each of us has had the experience of being excluded from something—maybe a club, a job, a business opportunity, and you never got a chance because you weren’t “in” with the right people.

At the time it may have seemed absolutely unfair.  Today we’re going to examine how this cliché works in your favor.  In Acts 10, Peter had a vision that changed his entire outlook on life.  Like most of his fellow Jews, he believed that God a showed special favoritism to them.

But in the vision, he saw a large sheet lowered down to earth, filled with all kinds of critters.  A voice told him, “Get up Peter, kill and eat.”  Peter was caught off guard.   He said “Surely not.  I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”  Peter had always adhered to the strict Jewish dietary laws, which prohibited eating things like shrimp, pork, fried catfish, and so on.  Then the voice said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”  

Peter had this same vision three times in a row; it was obvious that God was about to teach him something new.  Right after this vision, Peter was invited to speak to the household of Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile who lived in Caesarea.  Peter accepted the invitation.  When he gets there, Cornelius gets carried away and starts to bow before Peter.  Peter gets him up and sets him straight.  As he looked across that room, Peter had that light bulb moment and now he understood the meaning of the vision.  Now, let’s pick up the story in Acts 10:28-43 (NLT)

28 Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you.  But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. 29 So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. Now tell me why you sent for me.” 30 Cornelius replied, “Four days ago I was praying in my house about this same time, three o’clock in the afternoon.  Suddenly, a man in dazzling clothes was standing in front of me. 31 He told me, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your gifts to the poor have been noticed by God! 32 Now send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter.  He is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.’  33 So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come.  Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you.”

34 Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. 35 In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right. 36 This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee, after John began preaching his message of baptism. 38 And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.  Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.

39 “And we apostles are witnesses of all He did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem.  They put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross, 40 but God raised Him to life on the third day.  Then God allowed Him to appear, 41 not to the general public, but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be His witnesses.  We were those who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. 42 And He ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead.  43 He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in Him will have their sins forgiven through His name.”

This brief but powerful message can be summarized like this:  “It Doesn’t Matter What You Know, But WHO You Know!”  He told them that God’s great love is available to everyone, regardless of race, nationality, or social status.  He told them that God loves everyone the same.  We’re looking at this thought:  It’s A Wonderful Life.  It’s not perfect, nor is it always easy.  But it is promised to be Wonderful.  Today, we’re going to take a look at Peter’s sermon to find another reason why It’s A Wonderful Life

1.  God Accepts Everyone The Same.

Years ago singer-songwriter Mac Davis penned a song titled:  “It’s Hard To Be Humble When You’re Perfect In Every Way.”  This is the attitude many religious Jewish people had.  In the Old Testament we see the people of Israel were designated as God’s chosen people.  Most thought this meant they were his favorite people, that God loved them more than the others.  They believed that God had no use for Gentiles.  

It was this kind of racial prejudice that God wanted Peter to overcome.  He wanted to use Peter to tell the world something new:  God Is Not Only The God Of The Jews, He Is The God Of All Creation—and God loves us and accepts us all the same.  Vs. 34—“I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism.”  Some are born with greater opportunities than others, a better family, more money, more talent, more intelligence, more resources.  

There Is Only One Place In This World Where True Equality Exists:  In A Relationship With God.  God accepts everyone the same.  He doesn’t show favorites.  He doesn’t favor America over all other nations, He doesn’t favor white people over all other races, He doesn’t favor men over women, or the poor over the rich.  It doesn’t matter who you are, God loves you as much as He loves everyone.  

This is good news, because The Only Thing That Really Matters In Life Is A Relationship With God, And It’s Equally Available To Anyone.  Anyone can Know Him.  Anyone Can Talk To Him.  Anyone Can Experience His Love.  Anyone Can Be Forgiven.  Anyone Can Do His Will.  Anyone can Live A Life That Brings Him Glory.  In all of the inequality that exists in our world, it is great to know that it doesn’t matter who you are because God accepts everyone the same.  

2.  God Judges Everyone The Same.

The Bible says that Jesus is our friend, our brother, our advocate.  Peter reminds us that Jesus is also our judge, vs. 42b—“Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead.” There is no other judge I would rather have.  Think about it.  When you stand before the judgment throne to give an account of all you’ve done, who do you want to face?  Your high school football coach?  Your boss?  Your mother-in-law?  Your ex-spouse?  Do you think they would be able to judge with both fairness and mercy?  

The Bible teaches that God is a fair and merciful God—not at all like a human judge.  Some have argued that the rich have the advantage over the poor, and white men have the advantage over everyone else.  But it doesn’t work that way with God.  Human courts fail at administering justice, but God won’t.  He judges everyone the same with absolute fairness.  This means two things: 

  • There’s no personal privilege you can invoke that will get you off the hook.  
  •  It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve done, or who you did it with. 

It’s not going to work for you or against you.  God treats everyone the same— with the same grace, mercy, love!

3.  God Offers Salvation To Everyone The Same.

Without exception, we all are guilty.  He won’t let you off the hook just because you are who you are, but—here’s the good news—He Will Let You Off The Hook Because Of Who He Is.  His purpose for sending Jesus into the world was to save us from our sins. Peter said in vs. 43—“He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in Him will have their sins forgiven through His name.”

Nothing you will ever do will make you worthy enough to stand in the presence of God.  So Jesus died on the cross for you.  If you believe in Him you can experience God’s forgiveness, you can live in God’s presence, and you can be filled with God’s power every day of your life.  This is how you begin the Christian life—by believing in Jesus.  He Accepts You No Matter Who You Are; He Will Show You Mercy No Matter Where You Are; He Will Forgive Your Sins No Matter What You Have Done.

And this is how you live the Christian life.  Coming To Jesus Is A Matter Of God’s Grace; Continuing In Jesus Is A Matter Of God’s Grace, Too.  When we put our faith in Him we are covered by His mercy.  We will make mistakes along the way.  And He still forgives us as we choose to live like Jesus.  It Doesn’t Matter What You Know Or Even Who You Are, It Only Matters Who You Know.

Sin is a serious matter and must be dealt with in a serious way.  God has already done this for us.  God offers you acceptance, mercy, and forgiveness.  Knowing Jesus Provides Us With That Never-Ending Supply Of God’s Acceptance, Mercy, And Forgiveness. If you want to have A Wonderful Life, it all comes down to this:  It Takes The Surrendered Life To Jesus, And It Only Happens One Way—When you do 3 things:

  1. Admit That You Resist Total Surrender.  The old nature—that nature of sin that attacks our life—resists surrendering to God.
  2. Ask Him For His Power To Enable Your Unconditional Surrender.  The Resurrection of Jesus happened because of His Unconditional Surrender to dying on the Cross for all of us. 
  3. Then Operate With The Confidence That His Resurrection Power Is In You.  It’s more than just liking Jesus; it’s about The Deepest Commitment Of Your Heart.  It’s facing those battles head on because His Resurrection Power—whether you feel that Power or not—you know it’s there because HE SAID it’s there.

And because we can’t follow Jesus and stay where we are, here is our Next Step:

Decide To Give Jesus All Of Your Life.  Admit it!  There is a part or parts of our life we haven’t given over to Jesus.  Here are some examples:

  • A wound from a past hurt that you refuse to deal with;
  • A secret shame—from years ago or just last week;
  • Refusal to forgive someone;
  • An area of personal pride—you’re good at something or you have really achieved recognition for something good—and you’re holding on;
  • Here’s just one word:  Time—you see it as yours and that makes you want to spend it on you, for you and make it about you;

This is what it takes, all it takes—it’s the one thing you haven’t offered to Him—AND It’s The Only Thing He Wants From You Right Now!  Have you made—I mean really made—I mean absolutely made—Your Decision To Surrender Your LifeTo The ONE Who Made You, Who Loves You, And Can Take Your Surrendered LifeAnd Make It A Wonderful Life!

Monday Musings–It IS The Cross

As I am sitting here at my desk, wondering what to write this morning, I admit I was at a loss for words. Yes, mark this day on your calendar that this Wordsmith had no words–doesn’t happen very often. But then I turned in my chair towards my right. I don’t know why; it must have been my Best Companion, The Holy Spirit. And there it was on that wall.

My wall of crosses. Each one is different. Some I purchased. Others were gifts to me. Yet, each one tells the same Wonderful Saga–of the God who went searching for me–breaking through the barriers that kept me away from Him. And for a brief moment, I forgot…forgot that when I feel like I have nothing to say–I have much to say about The Cross.

I had nothing to say at first this morning–but I have so very much to boast about. It’s nothing about me–but all about HIM! And here’s the verse the my friend, The Holy Spirit, gave me to share with you this morning:

Galatians 6:14-18
14 As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died. 15 It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation. 16 May God’s peace and mercy be upon all who live by this principle; they are the new people of God. 17 From now on, don’t let anyone trouble me with these things. For I bear on my body the scars that show I belong to Jesus. 18 Dear brothers and sisters, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

When you are at a loss for words, remember these words of Paul–Boast About The Cross! It was supposed to be me, supposed to be you on that Cross, but Jesus took it FROM us, FOR US! So love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM, by boasting about the Cross of Jesus!

God’s Doorway!

(Part 4 of my current series “The I Am Sayings Of Jesus”

Here we are in week 4 of looking at the Boldest Statements Jesus ever made—those places and moments where He categorically identified Himself as Yahweh—The Great I Am.

When I am working on a message, I usually look at several different translations, and usually find one that fits the bill for what God is leading me to share.  Our text is John 10:1-10.  My favorite is to read from the NLT.  As I was looking at the different translations, I found that the NLT and more recent translations uses the word “gate” and the KJV and the New King James Version uses the word “door”.  There’s something about the image of a door that pushes me deeper into today’s passage.  Let’s look at it together and I will be reading it from the NKJV:

1 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the Doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear His voice; and He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 And when He brings out his Own sheep, He goes before them; and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice. 5 Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”6 Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them.  7 Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am The Door of the sheep. 8 All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.9I Am The Door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.  I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

There are all kinds of doors.  There are hollow core doors, solid core doors, wood doors, metal doors, folding doors, pocket doors, sliding doors garage doors, cellar doors, screen doors, storm doors, front doors and back doors. Doors can be inviting entrances to relationship and fellowship.  Doors that are inviting lead us into joys and experiences we otherwise will not have.  These doors can open up a whole new world for us.  These are the kind of doors we want to see.  But there’s another side to the image of doors.

Doors can also be intimidating.  They can deliver the message to keep out and stay away.  They become barriers that keep us out and away from potential hope, and even a future.  Some doors may even seem scary because we are unsure about what lies behind them.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that doors can be entrances to a much deeper and better life, or they can keep us locked out—locked out from the life that God truly wants every person to live and experience.  Such is the case in today’s passage.  Just before this Jesus had healed a blind man on the Sabbath.

How dare Jesus do something actually good on the Sabbath Day.  Who in the world would ever do something good on a day like the Sabbath?  It’s supposed to be a solemn day, a quiet day.  There’s a time and a place for everything, and a way to get things done because that’s the way they’ve always been done.  Then this Jesus comes along and does something that has never been done that way before. 

Well, all this makes for is chaos and confusion.  We can’t have someone claiming to be the Messiah making mud packs for the blind and then telling them to wash it off so they can see.  Things like this are not supposed to happen that way.  He could have healed him on one of the other six days.  If that man couldn’t get healed then, well, he just didn’t need healing to begin with. And the Pharisees go on the attack against Jesus, again.  They question—His Ways, His Methods, His Teachings, And His Authority.  Jesus isn’t playing nice with the Pharisees and they don’t like it one little bit.  Sabbath days were designed by God to remind us of that all-important connection with God.

Among the Jews there was one day every week that was Sabbath—a way to remind them of their need for God.  Then they had Seven Feasts that were also called Sabbath days—to remember God’s faithful presence and His everlasting promises.  God designed the Sabbath to be a time for the people to remember their connection to Him.  Sabbath was to be the open door into the presence of God.

But what was designed as a door to enter God’s presence became a barrier.  The Pharisees had devised 39 different categories of activities that were prohibited on any Sabbath.  Any activity which changed the appearance or nature of anything or anyone was prohibited.  If it required 2 or more items to make—prohibited!

And just look at what Jesus had done.  He had made a mud pack—prohibited!  Told the man to wash it off—prohibited!  Then Jesus changed the nature of that man by giving him his sight—that really was prohibitedAll these rules and regulations were standing between God and the people He loved.  So Jesus didn’t care about their rules and regulations.  This Man Needed To Know That God Knew Him, Cared About Him, And Loved Him Enough To Change His Nature—even on a Sabbath.

So Jesus boldly proclaims:  Yahweh!  I Am The Door!  Their laws were a door that became the barrier to God’s presence.  Jesus wanted to open that Door into God’s presence.  And He did, and He still does today—He’s not the barrier to God, but the entrance into God’s presence.  Let’s look at a few ways that Jesus is the Door To God:

1.  He’s The Door To Forgiveness

People get some crazy ideas about forgiveness.  Some think that before they dare ask God for forgiveness, they need to clean their act up more.  It’s like they feel that their life is such a mess right now, that there is no way God could forgive them.  So they work on trying to be better and do better.  I mean, no one wants to go out to eat at a fancy restaurant wearing dirty work clothes.  You want to look your best.  We think that God is like that 5 star restaurant where He won’t let us in unless we have on a coat and tie. 

Some people think that they are simply too sick for God to accept them.  So they need to find another way to get feeling better.  Let me ask you a question.  When do you go see a doctor?  When you’re sick or do you wait until you feel better?  If you wait until you’re feeling better you won’t go.

And that’s what happens when we try to fix ourselves.  If we actually do manage to look better on the outside by being nicer to others and developing some good habits, then we start feeling like, “Well, I’m not so bad now.  I don’t need for God to forgive me anymore.”  That kind of thinking is wrong on so many levels. 

God’s Doesn’t Turn Anyone Away Because They Are Dirty Or Sick.  If anything, He welcomes them because He’s been waiting for them.  Jesus didn’t die on the Cross for nice people.  He died for sick and broken people like me!  You bring it all, all the junk and the sin and the dirt and the filth, and lay it all out before Him.  And do you know what?  God will not turn away from that disgusting sight.  Do you want to know why He won’t turn away from your pile of sins?  Because He has already seen it—seen it when they were put on Jesus as He hung on that Cross.  God won’t turn away from YOU, because He turned away from Jesus as He paid that awful price for us.

2.  He’s The Door To Peace

When life gets unsettled, well more than unsettledIt’s Hard To Relax When We Can’t See Our Way Through.  When the pressures and demands of everyday life tries to stress us out; when we see our plans unraveling at the seams; or when we can’t even get our plans together and we are more than ready to panic—but we are in full panic mode, we need that deep abiding peace

We need more than for someone to say to us, “Oh, it will eventually be OK.  You can’t control everything, so just relax.”  It’s hard to feel like everything is hunky dory when things just aren’t working out like we planned. 

There have been times when my life has felt like I’ve been in the spin cycle of a washing machine that’s been turbo-charged and running on jet fuel.  Doing the ordinary things, then extra stuff needed my attention.  I remember February 2012. I had been pulled into the Disaster Recovery efforts after the 2011 tornadoes had ravaged our district. I wanted to honor God with this work. I had received a call from a group in Arkansas that wanted to frame and “get in the dry” 2 homes for 2 families of my choice. All I had to do was to get the foundations ready–they would do the rest. Oh, and they were to arrive in the middle of March. It seemed that after I got started on that project, everything was going wrong. Things were not falling into place on either home. Then my Mother was admitted to the hospital. I was stressed out, and I got mad at God and told Him, “Look, I’m trying to do this to honor You. Why is everything going wrong?” 

Me and God had a serious talk, actually, several of them.  But I finally heard God say to me, “I am still in control.  And Randy, I am going to honor the desire of your heart for me.”  Not everything is fixed instantly.  And when I want to panic, I remember, I remember God’s promise to me.  God keeps His promises. 

He doesn’t always work things out in our time schedule, but He does work things out.  Jesus Is The Doorway To Peace Because He Stays With Us Through Thick And Thin.  In good times and bad times—He will never abandon us.  I confess I haven’t always remembered this, but when I do remember it, the peace always comes back to me.  Do I ever get a bit stressed even now?  Oh yes, but I’m not worried any more.  God is going to take care of me and because of His love expressed in Jesus, and He is going to take care of you.  That’s our peace.  Peace is not the absence of any conflict or problems—but it is the unending presence of Jesus.

3.  He’s The Door To Liberty

Jesus gives us two kinds of liberty.  First, He Gives Us Liberty From The Power Of Temptation And Sin.  Jesus took on the worst that Satan could throw at Him every time and every time Jesus was the Victor. 

This same Jesus wants to live in us with every bit as much power as He did when He walked this earth in our flesh.  If we fight temptation on our own, then we lose.  But the Jesus who faced Satan in the wilderness, the Jesus who faced Satan through His enemies, and even at times through His closest friends lives in us. 

The Jesus who faced Satan in Gethsemane, the Jesus who faced Satan on the Cross, the Jesus who faced Satan in the tomb—and who won every one of those battles, resides in the heart of every believer who trusts Jesus and only Jesus.

Then His Liberty Also Gives Us The Strength, Courage And Wisdom To Live A Life That Brings Him Honor And Us Immeasurable Joy.  He sets us free to live out our relationship in ways that makes changes in the world, makes changes in people’s lives.  He gives us the liberty to become who we are created to be. We don’t have to be bound by people’s labels or our own fear of failure.  We can dare to do great things for God because Jesus—who gave sight to that blind man—will take up residency in our hearts with every bit as much power as it took to open that man’s eyes!

4.  And That Makes Him The Doorway To Real Life

Life Is What God Wants Us To Experience.  All the laws, rules and traditions of the Pharisees took the life right out of the people.  Jesus is The Door—the ONLY Door that takes us from the deadness and emptiness that comes from living with the wrong purpose. 

He is The Door to the life you have been created for.  This life is more than you can see, think or imagine.  It’s the life where God gets all, I mean ALL the glory.  It’s The Life Where He Shines In Us And Through Us.

Are you loaded down with guilt?  Is chaos and fear running a marathon in your mind and heart?  Do you feel imprisoned by demands and unrealistic expectations?  Does your heart ache for a real life? 

And Here’s the one thing you need to remember:  Life Is Lived In And Through Jesus, Or It’s Not Lived At All! Because of God’s great love for you, The Door has been opened.  Come to Jesus.

Next Steps

  1. Is There Some Guilt You Have Been Carrying, That’s Been Weighing You Down?Your next Step is to step towards  Jesus.  We are not made to carry guilt.  The Door is always open for those who need forgiveness.
  2.   Are You Overwhelmed?  Your next step is to give all your fears, worries and anxieties over to Him.  He is The Door to inner peace.
  3. Does Your Ordinary Days Feel Like A Prison Sentence? Your next step is to reclaim the Joy of Living.  He’s The Door to Liberty—that fills your life with Great Joy.  God wants you to live with an uninhibited, open Joy in your life.
  4.  Does Your Life Feel At Best Ordinary Or At Worst A Drag? Your next step is to begin living our His purpose for your life.  One of two of the things that keeps people from their purpose is fear—fear of the unknown—or fear of failure.  God walks with you in your God-Given Purpose and opens The Door that gives you the freedom to truly live—to live life the way He designed it.

I Found The Wayside!

(I must insert this disclaimer at the beginning of this blog that by no means do I consider the people in this community to be fallen, forgotten or obsolete.  It’s only an illustration of my point.)

Wayside.  Are you familiar with that word?  Usually it’s connected with 2 statements:

  1. Gone by the Wayside
  2. Fell by the Wayside

I’ve wondered where in the world is Wayside?  Well, I found it.  I noticed it the very first time we traveled down to see our new pastoral appointment.  I’ve been meaning to do this post, but wouldn’t until I stopped and got my proof.  Well, Saturday on my motorcycle pilgrimage, I stopped and got these pictures as proof I know where the Wayside is located.  Think about the previous 2 statements concerning the Wayside.

Gone by the Wayside.  This means that something has become obsolete, like those heavy “brick” looking cell phones, which by the way, was my very first cell phone.  Fell by the Wayside.  This means to fail to continue or to drop out.  Obsolete.  Dropping out.  These images are used to describe some values and people.  I’ve always wondered where they went, and now I know.

When people “fall by” the Wayside, often they are either treated with great disdain or completely forgotten.  People shake their head with a degree of sadness and leave them there, by the Wayside.  And when long-standing Christian-Judeo values are considered “gone by” the Wayside, people shrug their shoulders, forgetting those values and declare they are now more enlightened than their superstitious ancestors.  So, the Wayside becomes the place of the forgotten.

I know where the Wayside is, but does Jesus know?  Absolutely He knows!  The fact is He does far better and far more work in the Wayside than in many sterilized and sanitized sanctuaries.  Jesus leaves no one behind.  He came back for Peter after His Crucifixion, though Peter denied 3 times that he knew Jesus.  Remember the Angel’s message to the women that first Easter morning?  Mark 16:7 (NLT) records:  “Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.”  He would have come back for Judas, if Judas had not given up too soon.

The work of Jesus and the Kingdom of God is for people who have fallen by the Wayside.  Paul reminded the Corinthian church of this fact in 2 Corinthians 5:18 (NLT)–“And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.”  Look again at the bottom of this sign welcoming people to Wayside:

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“A Little Bit Of Heaven”.  If you feel like you have fallen by the Wayside, hold on to that last line.  Wayside is a little bit of heaven because it’s a place filled with God’s grace that will forgive, redeem and restore anyone and everyone who has fallen.  Jesus doesn’t hesitate to go by the Wayside because it’s filled with those for whom Jesus insisted on dying for.  And where should the church be today?  Well, I think that other sign says it all:

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What if we all became the Church for The Wayside?  It would probably be a bit messy, but it would also be a bit of heaven.  Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Postscript:  Don’t consider yourself obsolete if you embrace and try to live by the values of the Kingdom of God.  And don’t consider His Values obsolete.

My Apology: “Why does HE Eat With Tax Collectors And Sinners?” (Like me?)

(This post is for those I wounded last week.  I am truly sorry.)

 

 

 

 

15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Him and His disciples, for there were many who followed Him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw Him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked His disciples: “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  Mark 2:15-16 (NIV)

We know the Pharisees, A.K.A. The Religious Police, loved to ask questions.  Many of their questions directed to Jesus were attempts to discredit Him or find just cause to put Him to death.  So today we often ignore and disregard their questions.  But this question…this question is a great question and deserves our full attention.  Regardless of their motives, it is a question that should be allowed to roll over in our gray matter.  And I believe the answer says something, not about the nature of the Pharisees, but about us and the very nature of God, Himself.

Sharing a meal in their culture was a very important moment.  Meal time was a moment of sharing life with friends or showing hospitality to a stranger.  It was deep and intimate, even sacred.  Perhaps in our day of take out, eating in front of the TV, families eating in shifts, meals don’t seem to be sacred moments.  And the images of the Walton Family around the dinner table are forgotten memories.  But when this question was asked, it shows the significance of the dinner table.  Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners, like ME?  Who are we to have Jesus share such an important moment?  Look at the people who would have been around that table that evening.  Better yet, look at ourselves as being at that meal.

  • Like the tax collectors, we can driven by greed
  • We become overly obsessed with our feelings
  • We put others down for our own reasons.  Yes, the Pharisees put down those tax collectors and sinners.  Don’t you think they did the same toward those Pharisees?
  • We allow ourselves to be over-inflated with a sense of self–self-importance, self-righteousness, selfish-desires
  • We make poor choices in our life
  • We do not consider the consequences of those choices
  • When wounded we lash out at even our friends in anger
  • We manipulate people for our own ends
  • We allow labels to become our sole identity
  • We point out the faults of others while ignoring our own
  • We ignore what matters the most
  • We close our eyes to the needs around us
  • We find all kinds of good excuses for our sins
  • We put blame on the doorstep of others
  • We gossip
  • We smear the good name of others
  • We withhold forgiveness when hurt and tightly hold on to our grudges
  • We give in to our lustful desires
  • We point out the problems without offering solutions
  • We worship idols of our own making, misuse God’s name, excuse ourselves from weekly worship, dishonor family, kill both literally and figuratively, violate God’s sexual ethic, take what is not ours, lie to and about others, and we want what our neighbor has
  • I know I missed some more of mine, and in case I missed your sin, fill in the blank here_____________________

I know that I am truly the least deserving of sharing a meal, of eating dinner with Jesus.  I fail Him more times than I care to admit.  I mess things up.  I assume.  I forget.  I become careless.  I surrender to the wrong things.  I fail to fight the right things.  I am sitting at Levi’s table.  And there HE is, passing me the mashed potatoes, smiling at me and my fellow sinners.  Laughing at our jokes and telling his own.  Why in the world does HE seem to enjoy sitting at the sinners table?  I hide it, but inside I’m twinging at the thought that here I am, eating a meal with Pure Holiness, with God Himself.  Inside I’m cringing, desperately wanting to run out the door and hide in my shame.

And then I overhear the Pharisees question: “Why does HE eat with tax collectors and sinners, like him (pointing that finger at me)?”  Or am I pointing my own finger at me?  (Heavy sigh, and some tears right now.)  “Why, Jesus, why?  Why me?  Why now?  Can’t you see what a mess I am?  I can’t stand to look at myself in the mirror.  I am a man of unclean lips!  Why are you smiling at me?  Why?  Why?  Why?  Quit looking at me with that smile, I’m unfit and worthless.  I’m a failure!”  But HE keeps on smiling and says, “Would you like some more bread?  Here, let me refill that cup.”

More bread?  Refill the cup?  Me?????  Now I really want to run out that door and hide and bitterly cry.  I could, I should–I ought to run away now!  “Run, Randy, Run!”  My hands are shaking as I take the bread.  My legs are shaking as I take that cup.  Were I to stand up now, I feel like my legs would collapse.  So I stay at the sinners table, holding the bread in one hand, the cup in the other, and my eyes locked into the eyes of Jesus.  I just don’t understand, why?  I am so small, so unfit and unworthy, such a mess.  I feel like this failure is final and fatal.  Washed up and washed out.  But then HE says, “Eat that bread, I know you’re hungry.  And that Cup has the finest wine ever.  You should taste it.  It is really good.”

Could it be true?  Does Jesus still care about me?  Dare HE forgive me?  A fresh start?  Is there unfinished business that this sinner needs to do for HIM?  I’m still unsure, uncertain when He reaches out and touches my hand with HIS hand.  And I see it, clear as day–the Scar!  It’s the exact size of those spikes used by Roman Soldiers to nail someone to a Cross.  I have to ask, “Jesus, does that scar still hurt?”  He keeps on smiling and gently says, “Not anymore.  In fact, I’m rather proud of that scar.  I have a few more I could show you, but not at the dinner table, Randy.  And I’m just as proud of them, too.”  Vainly I hold on to my question, “But why?  Why Jesus?  Why me?”

The smile is gone but the look is serious, like urgent business, like something important needs to be said, MUST be said.  His lips begin to move and HE says, “Randy, just eat the bread, son, and drink the wine.  It really tastes great.  None better, I tell you.  If that doesn’t answer your question, then ask ME again.”  That scarred hand lifts my hand holding the bread to my mouth as if to say, “It’s OK.”  I taste that bread, and tears roll down my cheeks; not tears of shame I had been holding back.  They were tears of release.  With that same scarred hand, HE guided my hand holding the cup, and I drank.

There was a flood of relief coming over me.  Oh, I still had some uncertainties about the future, but I knew those scarred hands were holding me now and would not fail me later.  And reality hit me back to the moment; the moment of that question:  “Why does HE dine with tax collectors and sinners like Randy?”  Those disciples looked terrified.  Why don’t they put those Pharisees in their place?  I wanted to jump up and shout, “Hey!  Why don’t you just ask Jesus?  You cowards!”  The word cowards being directed at both the disciples and the Pharisees.

But it was like Jesus knew what I was about to do.  His hand gently pushed me back into my seat, at the sinners table.  HE leaned into me and whispered, “Don’t be so hard on My disciples there.  They don’t know what you know.  Not yet, but they will, they will.  Besides, I’ve got this.  And about last week?  If you had given your pain over to me, I would have handled it, too.  Excuse me for a moment, I need to say something.”

“Guys, you are right.  I am here eating with tax collectors and sinners.”  His scarred hand now rests on my shoulders, as if to say “Like this one”.  He continues talking, every eye in the room on HIM, including mine.  What will HE say?  “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. And these people around this sinners table?”  Now HE is looking at me, and smiling again.  “Unlike some, they know they are sick.  So they have come to the Doctor, all in hope that they could become whole again.  Now, if you will excuse me, MY patients are waiting for me and I don’t need to keep them waiting any longer.”

And as for me?  I don’t have to ask why anymore.  The wonderful taste of that Bread and that Wine are still in me.  He IS right, the taste is good, great, and wonderful.  I should have trusted Him last week.  I was just thinking, “You know, Randy, if you had done that last week you wouldn’t be sitting at the sinners table now.”  But, I thought again, “No, I need to be at the sinners table at every meal, because I am still sick and need what this Doctor alone will give me.”  Now excuse me, Jesus is about to tell another joke and I do not want to miss a word He says…

Communion Is A Time to Dance!

One time, back in the day when dancing was considered taboo, a Methodist bishop was asked, “Can Methodists dance?”  He thought for a moment and said, “Well, some can, and some can’t.”   Dancing is certainly biblical.  King David danced in a parade as the Ark of Slide1God was brought to the city of Jerusalem.  King David created the first line dance.  They would take a step, then David danced.  Another step and David danced some more.  This went on until they arrived in Jerusalem.  Man, talk about Extreme Aerobics!  The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that “There is a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

Our text for today, has something to say about dancing. The author, David, tells us his personal story.  It is a personal that moves from proud self-sufficiency to lonely distance from God and then ends up on such a joyful note that he feels like dancing.  Look at Psalm 30

1 I will exalt You, Lord, for You rescued me.  You refused to let my enemies triumph over me.  2 O Lord my God, I cried to You for help, and You restored my health.  3 You brought me up from the grave, O Lord.  You kept me from falling into the pit of death.  4 Sing to the Lord, all you godly ones!  Praise His Holy Name.  5 For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime!  Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.  6 When I was prosperous, I said, “Nothing can stop me now!”   7 Your favor, O Lord, made me as secure as a mountain.  Then You turned away from me, and I was shattered.  8 I cried out to You, O Lord.  I begged the Lord for mercy, saying, 9 “What will you gain if I die, if I sink into the grave?  Can my dust praise You?  Can it tell of Your faithfulness?  10 Hear me, Lord, and have mercy on me.  Help me, O Lord.”  11 You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.  You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, 12 that I might sing praises to You and not be silent.  O Lord my God, I will give You thanks forever!

In the first 6 verses David confesses his proud self-sufficiency.  When I was prosperous, I said, “Nothing can stop me now!”  In other words, David felt safe and secure in what he had earned and built with his own hands.  Haven’t we all felt like that at times, or I am the only one?  We’re doing really well, acquiring some stuff, making a good salary, with some insurance.  Our security becomes virtually independent of God.  That is the very point when we get into trouble.  Adversity is not the greatest enemy of faith.  Prosperity is the greatest enemy of faith.

If you can remember only 1 thing, this is it:  God Loves To Watch Us Dance!

David drifts from God’s presence because he thinks he’s in charge.  Then Boom, it hits him that God isn’t there anymore.  “You turned away from me, and I was shattered.”  Have you ever felt the absence of God?   Being confident and comfortable in your own strength and your accomplishments is to be standing on thin ice.  When you rely on yourself or anyone other than God, eventually like David, you become shattered—and there is collateral damage.  When our lives become shattered we hurt and wound others.

Then David takes us to another level.  He tries to bargain with God. David says to God (this is another Burbank paraphrase; one day I will have my own paraphrase; look for it on the shelves of your local bookstore) “If I die you will lose a good advertiser.  You better look out for me because that will be good business for you.”   Have you ever tried to bargain with God?  It sounds like this:  “Lord, if you’ll just fix our marriage, I’ll give 10% of our income to the church.  Lord, if you’ll get my teenager on the straight and narrow, we will be there every time the church doors are open.  Lord, if you’ll get us out of financial trouble, I’ll volunteer for anything.”  But He doesn’t bargain with us.  God doesn’t play “Deal Or No Deal.”  His righteousness is not negotiable.

But David comes to his senses.  He simply throws himself on the mercy of God. “Hear me, Lord, and have mercy on me.  Help me, O Lord!”  In other words:  no excuses, no deals, no bargains; just a humble David bowing before the powerful, gracious God.  Are you aware that most of us are not fair with God?

For the most part we are blind to many of God’s presence and His ways.  We take the good things for granted, assuming we deserve them.  The health we have, the fact that we almost never worry about the necessities of life.  Someone cared enough to lead us to Jesus.  We gather here in church without the slightest fear that the government is taking our names and might harass us because we were here.  Every Day Brings Hundreds Of Blessings That We Take For Granted.  But We Give God Plenty Of Credit When Problems Come Our Way:  like a child’s developmental problems, a failed marriage, cancer, the loss of a job, or other hardships.

There is a bird in Europe called the chaffinch.  It’s about the size of a robin.  It has a beautiful song, and people keep these birds in their homes to hear them sing.  But the chaffinch has a peculiar characteristic—it can forget how to sing.  If it does not learn how to sing again, it becomes depressed and dies.  There is only one way for it to relearn.  The bird must be taken back into the woods where the wild chaffinches sing.

Followers of Jesus sometime forget how to dance.  It is in such times as these that we need to gather with other Followers who still dance with God.  We let Satan tell us the lie, that when we don’t feel like dancing we should stay away from worship, stay away from God’s people.  But the exact opposite is true:  It’s WHEN we forget how to dance that we need the most what can only be found in the fellowship of the body of Christ.

And it is in those times we can’t dance that we need what the Sacrament of Holy Communion gives us.  During Holy Communion, God mysteriously re-teaches us chaffinches how to sing and dance.  Allow me to show you 3 reasons how Communion teaches us how to dance again:

We Dance Because We Remember!

We remember that the Cross is deeply rooted in the mercy, grace and love of the Father.  His grace isn’t limited to just once in a lifetime experience.  We remember that even if the Tennessee River runs dry, God’s love endures forever.  We remember that the Father’s arms are always open, always ready for us.  God never says to us, “Sorry, I don’t have time for you right now.”  Communion helps us remember that God is always there, always ready, always with open arms to receive us.  Do you want to try to exhaust the supply of God’s grace?  Take a bucket, go to the ocean and try to empty it.  You will empty the ocean long before grace runs dry.  If He loves us enough to die for us, He also loves us enough to live for us, through us and in us.  We dance because we remember God’s grace.

We Dance Because We Are Reclaimed!

In this Holy Meal, we the sinful, are once again cleansed and reclaimed as God’s chosen possession, His people.  We are made for a relationship of love and intimacy with the Father.  We have been bought and brought into the relationship because of the sacrifice of Jesus.  As we receive these powerful symbols of bread and wine, God is whispering to us:  “You are my child.  You are the joy of my heart.  With my help you are becoming once again, a reflection of my image.”  This Holy Meal is our assurance of God’s acceptance and His promises to us and for us.   We are brought out of our darkness and into His light.  We no longer belong to Satan, we belong to God—and he dares and delights in calling us His children.  We dance because He has reclaimed us.

We Dance Because We Are Revived!

When your proud arrogance shatters your life, God makes you whole again.  When your self-righteousness leaves you hollow and empty, God makes you holy and restores your life.  Even when you desert God for any reason, God does not desert you.  No situation is ever so bleak that God cannot redeem it.  God specializes in releasing prisoners and delivering captives.

When David realized the width and depth and height of God’s grace, he realized this glorious fact:  Even When God Seems Absent, He Is Powerfully Present.  And then David began to dance.  Dancing alone, dancing with your selfish desires, dancing with smugness is sad and tragic.  But the Good News this morning is that God renews us, revives us, rekindles the flame of His love, the Fire of the Holy Spirit.  We dance because we are Revived!

When you consider what God has already done, you will be convinced that He can do it again.  And He will make you feel like dancing!

You Make Me Feel Like Dancing

You’ve got a cute way of talking
You got the better of me
Just snap your fingers and I’m walking
Like a dog hanging on your lead
I’m in a spin, you know
Shaking on a string, you know
You make me feel like dancing, I’m gonna dance the night away
You make me feel like dancing, I’m gonna dance the night away
You make feel like dancing
I feel like dancing, dancing (whoo, whoo!)
Dance the night away (yeah!)
I feel like dancing (whoo!) dancing, aah!
Quarter to four in the morning
I ain’t feeling tired, no, no, no, no, no
Just hold me tight and leave on the light
‘Cause I don’t want to go home
You put a spell on me
I’m right where you want me to be
You make me feel like dancing, I’m gonna dance the night away

Just Like He Said He Would

Mark 16:1-7 (The Message)

1-3 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so they could embalm him. Very early on Sunday morning, as the sun rose, they went to the tomb. They worried out loud to each other, “Who will roll back the stone from the tomb for us?”

4-5 Then they looked up, saw that it had been rolled back—it was a huge stone—and walked right in. They saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed all in white. They were completely taken aback, astonished.

6-7 He said, “Don’t be afraid. I know you’re looking for Jesus the Nazarene, the One they nailed on the cross. He’s been raised up; he’s here no longer. You can see for yourselves that the place is empty. Now—on your way. Tell his disciples and Peter that he is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You’ll see him there, exactly as he said.”

One of my favorite children’s story writers is Dr. Seuss. The best character Dr. Seuss ever came up with has got to be Horton the elephant.  I love that guy.  Remember that flaky duck mother who left her egg with Horton and said, “Would you watch this egg please?”  She leaves that egg and hits the road.  Horton stays with that egg until it hatches.  He’s a wonderful mother.  Remember that great line Dr. Seuss gives to Horton?  He says, “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant is faithful 100 percent.”

It’s devastating when people break their word.  It can feel like betrayal.  It crushes the spirit, drains the hope and often the joy of living right out of us.  This is where those first disciples were on that Sunday…

When Jesus came on the scene preaching the Good News of God’s Kingdom, people found hope.  Many believed in what Jesus was saying.  It seemed to ring so true in their life.  Incredible as it seemed, somehow they knew, deep down inside—man, this is the real stuff.

Many believers abandoned their old lifestyles and followed Jesus full-time; a few even gave up very lucrative careers, all to follow Jesus.  And they did it without regret or remorse.  But then it happened.  Jesus was arrested—fairness was nowhere to be seen.  He was delivered into the hands of Roman authority—Justice was thrown out the window.  And when that wasn’t enough—the religious leaders incited the crowd to cry out for Jesus’ crucifixion.

They saw him after the Roman soldiers had beaten Him; bleeding stripes on his back, with chunks of flesh missing or just hanging there.  They saw him led to Golgotha, and they watched the spikes being driven into His hands and feet.  They watched as he hung in agony, and then—die!  As bad as it was to watch the death of Jesus, it was even worse for them—for their hope and peace and joy died also.  Maybe some of them felt betrayed by Jesus.  They thought he hadn’t kept his word to them.  We all need people who will keep their word.

When you experience a person who keeps promises, it’s a life-changing experience.  Some of the greatest historical moments have been moments where people kept their words.  In May of 1942, when the United States evacuated Corregidor, a submarine came to take General MacArthur and his staff to Australia.  Before MacArthur got on that submarine, he made a very famous promise: “I shall return.”  MacArthur had a flair for the dramatic.  But it went deeper than that.  When the war in the Pacific turned, American troops began to fight their way back toward the Philippines.

Some advisers in the Pacific theater felt it was foolish to try to go back. They said, “Just bypass the Philippines, and go on.”  But MacArthur felt a sense of history—a promise had been made. He went back to Leyte Gulf, and you may remember the famous Life magazine photograph as MacArthur stepped on the beach to keep a promise.

What you need to remember this Easter and for the rest of your life is this:  God Meant What He Said And He Said What He Meant.  God Is Faithful 100 Percent!  He promised Abraham that all nations would be blessed through him.  And He kept that promise.  He promised Moses that He would deliver the people from slavery.  And He kept that promise.  He promised Joshua that He would fight for them.  And He kept that promise.

He promised David that he would be king.  And He kept that promise.  He promised through the Prophets that the Messiah would come.  And He kept that promise.  He promised Joseph that Mary’s child was the Messiah.  And He kept that promise.

Easter is a wonderful time to remember that God keeps His promises to us.  Easter isn’t about new clothes and dinners and egg hunts.  Easter is about Jesus—The One who keeps His word to us.  There’s not a single promise that God makes to you that He doesn’t keep.

The angel says to the women, “He’s alive.”  Jesus of Nazareth is alive.  There’s no mistake about it. It’s not a phantom-spiritualized-Christ that the angel is talking about.  It’s Jesus of Nazareth.  This is the historical name of our Lord—His name, plus the city, Nazareth.  Jesus of Nazareth is alive.  He has conquered death.  And He kept that promise.  He will meet his friends in Galilee, as he said He would.

Everything that Jesus had told them—it’s all true!  Tell his disciples and Peter that he is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You’ll see him there, exactly as he said.”  That’s what the angel said. Jesus keeps his word.

I want to reflect upon the amazing fact that Jesus still keeps His promise.  God meant what He said, and He said what He meant.  God is faithful 100 percent!  This Easter and for the rest of your life, you need to remember:

He Loved Us Then, He Loves Us Now, And He Will Always Love Us—Just Like He Said.

Before the Cross, Jesus said in John 15:12-13, This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.  There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  The fact of the Cross is nearly 2000 years old.  If He loved us while He hung on that Cross—and He did love us—do you really think at any point now he will stop loving us?

Nothing you can do will make God love you more than when Jesus hung on the Cross.  And nothing you can do will make God love you less than when Jesus hung on the Cross.  His love is given to you without any conditions.  His love never has any small print.  There are no exclusionary clauses.

You can count on God’s love.  1 John 4:16 says, “We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.  God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.”  God is offering us all a love relationship because He is love.  God meant what He said and He said what He meant.  God is faithful 100 percent.—Just like He said He would.

God Will Forgive Us—Just Like He Said.

On that Cross He said it.  In the middle of that pain, He said it.  While people were mocking Him, He said it.  While soldiers were gambling for His clothes, He said it.  While those who were closest to him were doubting and giving up hope, He said it!  What did He say? Luke 23:34 “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”  And if there is sin that has not been confessed and if there are sins you haven’t repented of, Jesus says it to you:  “Father, forgive him, he doesn’t know what he is doing.  Father, forgive her, because she doesn’t have a clue.”

Forgiveness was extended from the Cross to all those who were inflicting that pain and mocking his Mission.  His forgiveness is not just to those around that Cross.  This to us as well.  It’s this Word that Jesus still speaks today.  He speaks it into every broken heart—every filthy-sin-stained heart every moment of every day.  And if there is anyone here today who thinks that they have gone too far to be forgiven, remember—God meant what He said and He said what He meant.  God is faithful 100 percent. —Just like He said He would.

Finally, God Will Stay With Us—Just Like He Said.

Tombs are memorials and markers to what used to be; monuments to the past.  They are designed to remember what was is not forgotten.  But The Tomb on that first Easter was empty then because He was alive.  There’s all kinds of speculations about where the tomb of Jesus was around Jerusalem.  Some say it’s The Church of The Holy Sepulcher, and others day it’s The Garden Tomb.  Several spots claim to be that place, but know what?  That doesn’t matter—because He’s not in tomb.  Tombs are for dead people.

Jesus said in Matthew 28:20, “And be sure of this:  I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Stalin is buried in Moscow.  Mohammed is still in a burial vault in the city of Medina.  But I don’t care about which place Jesus was buried.  Truth is, He’s alive.  He conquered death, and now He seeks to live in the hearts and lives of those who accept Him.  Jesus Lives Today, and He comes to live in us by the Holy Spirit because God meant what He said and He said what He meant.  God is faithful 100 percent.

Can you really walk away this morning, of all mornings, when you remember that God meant what He said and He said what He meant?  God is faithful 100 percent?  Can you really put off going deeper in your relationship with Jesus?  How can you hold back a part of you knowing that God meant what He said and He said what He meant?  God is faithful 100 percent?  How can you pass this off as just another holiday and go back to life as usual knowing that God meant what He said and He said what He meant?  God is faithful 100 percent?  He was faithful to those first Followers, and He will be faithful to YOU 100 percent.

And the beauty and wonder of all of this, is that He doesn’t expect you to understand 100% how He will transform your life back into the glory of His Image.  Because He is faithful 100%, He doesn’t give up on His plans when you try to make changes to that plan.  And because He is faithful 100%, He will not stop loving, forgiving or transforming you when you mess up or want to give up.  God meant what He said and He said what He meant.  God is faithful 100 percent!

Give Up The Guilt! 

Romans 8:1-4 (NLT)

1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature.  So God did what the law could not do.  He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have.  And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

There’s nothing worse than a guilty feeling, is there?  Maybe you can go back to a time when you were younger, and you were just waiting for Mom or Dad to find out what you had done.  You wanted to avoid that conversation more than anything else in the world, but you knew it was coming.  Perhaps recently or in the past you made a mistake at work that was just inevitable someone was going to notice, and you’d have to answer for it. And then, once someone uncovers your mistake then you have to live with the fact that whatever discipline comes down on you because of that, it is your fault and if you had just not done that one thing, you could have avoided all of the bad from that situation that is now in your life.

By nature we live under a cloud of guilt because we’re born knowing that there is a God, a God that demands a perfect life from us.  We also know that in so many situations we have failed to live up to his perfect ways.  So there we sit, like a child waiting for Mom and Dad to see the destruction that one marker can make on freshly painted walls, hoping the day of punishment never comes.

But in this situation, it is so much worse because we’re not talking about being grounded from TV for a few nights; we’re talking about our soul’s eternal welfare.  And if you can remember only 1 thing tonight, this is it:  Jesus Paid It All For Our Deliverance From Sin!

These words in chapter 8 are a continuation of that thought in chapter 7.  Paul has just wrestled with his own inclination to sin in the famous words of Romans 7:15-19 “15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.  18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.

Paul finds himself continually facing sin because of the sinful nature that dwells in him.  He can’t get rid of it, despite feeling like an alien part of himself.  He wants to be freed from it, but can’t be.  And guilt keeps hanging over him.  And it hangs over us.

Despite all of that, though, Paul says clearly and confidently, “So now there is no condemnation.”  So what happened?  The law didn’t lose its bite; God didn’t stop caring about sin. The difference is that So there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

How does Jesus do that?  What is so remarkable about what He did on the Cross that it causes God to remove the Guilt and then the power of sin over us?  We still can’t overpower sin.  God still demands holiness.  How does the guilt go away?

Allow me to share with you 4 insights into why we can give up guilt.

  1. He Suffered In Our Place

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NLT)

Jesus became our substitute.  Anyone here ever watch Major League Baseball?  In the American League there’s this person called the Designated Hitter.  He doesn’t play any position in the field, just bats.  Why?  Because pitchers are not known for being good hitters.  They are paid to throw strikes, not hit home runs.  So the Designated Hitter takes the place of the pitcher in the batting order.  I know this is not a good analogy—but it is an image of what happened on the Cross.

We need to be punished, every one of us, for our sins.  Punishment isn’t being put on probation or writing 500 sentences that says, “I will not do that again.”  It’s receiving the wrath of the Holy God and then separation from Him.  This is exactly what Jesus did for us.  And the thing is, Jesus had the choice—to accept this or walk away.  And as mind-blowing as this is—The Father had a choice.  He could have stopped this whole thing—and been well within His authority.  Guilt is taken away because Jesus carried it for us while on that Cross.

  1. He Breaks The Curse Sin Has Over Us

21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind.  This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am!  Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God!  The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Romans 7:21-25 NLT)

The Curse is that knowing that no matter how hard we try, we keep messing up.  It’s a constant battle where we lose again and again and again.  None of us are good enough, strong enough to resist the power of sin in us.  The curse of sin is that it reminds us of our failures.  It points out again and again where we mess it up.

Oh, we may win a skirmish or 2 along the way.  Who knows, you may win enough skirmishes with sin to make you say, “Hey!  Know what?  After looking at how other people are living, I’m not so bad.”  Sure, everyone here looks better than Charles Manson.  And if being better than Charles Manson was the standard?  Hey, we got this.  But it’s not about comparing our lives with someone else’s life.

You will always find someone who appears worse than you, and you will always find someone who is better than you.  The measuring standard for us is to be just like our Creator.  Sin shows how much we miss that mark, because sin’s curse prevents us from being Holy.  By dying on the Cross, Jesus delivers us from the curse that we can never be good enough.  Jesus is good enough—for God and for us!

  1. He Reconciles Us To God

19 For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, 20 and through him God reconciled everything to himself.  He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20 NLT)

In the Greek, there are 2 different words that are translated RECONCILE.  One word is “katallassō” and it describes an exchange, such as currency.  It describes a transaction that produces the same results on both sides of it.  But the word here in Colossians is “apokatallassō” and it means to restore completely.

In this “transaction” it is God who is providing the means and the process.  There isn’t some kind of ladder of things to do that you climb up to get to God. There is only one way—that’s Jesus and He is able to fully reconcile a man to God.

All we bring into this act of restoration is to accept God’s offer.  Since God has taken away the barrier to peace with Him through Jesus dying on the Cross.  Where’s the guilt?  It’s Gone!  Gone with the Blood of Jesus!  One more thing:

  1. He Breaks The Power Of Sin In Us

14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 In this way, He disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities.  He shamed them publicly by His victory over them on the cross. (Colossians 2:14-15 NLT)

Every person born after The Fall of Adam and Eve was dominated and controlled by sin.  Adam and Eve did not foresee that consequence, but Satan did.  And until the end of everything we now know, it will remain this way.  But Jesus broke sin’s power by nailing my sins and your sins to the Cross.

Jesus and only Jesus breaks the chains that sin puts on all of us.  We remain the prisoners of sin until we allow Jesus to set us free.  We are now free to live righteously.  We are free now to pursue the life of Holiness—where we honor and glorify God through Holiness of Purpose, Holiness of Heart, Holiness of Spirit, And Holiness IN Community.  It’s both personal holiness AND social holiness.  Redeeming our hearts and redeeming society by pursuing love, hope and justice.

In the end the Roman authorities and the Jewish council wanted Jesus dead.  He was a political, social and religious trouble-maker.  But what made the death of Jesus more significant than the countless other crucifixions carried out by the Romans and witnessed outside the city walls by the people of Jerusalem?

Jesus was far more than a political, social and religious radical. The death of Jesus was part of a divine plan to save humanity.  The death and resurrection of this one man is at the very heart of the Gospel of The Kingdom.  For followers of Jesus, it is through His death that their broken relationship with God is restored.

(For a bit of context, worshipers at the Good Friday Service were given a nail to take home with them.  For my readers, I want you to find a nail, any size will do.  Remember that nail represents what really held Jesus on that Cross.  It was our sins that held Him there.  Think about that kind of love as you look at that nail.  Friday is dark.  But God has an answer to that Friday!)

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