Monday, June 29, 2015

Yesterday, we heard part 3 of our series on failure.  We looked at Jacob, and his failure in his walk with the Lord.  But, once again, we see God's grace in spite of his failure. To hear this message, click on the link.

Love Wins?

            Much has been written about the Supreme Court ruling this past Friday, legalizing gay marriage in the United States.  I’d like to say that I was surprised by this decision, but that’s far from the case.  In all reality, I expected it.
            Even though I’m saddened by this decision, and even though I’m saddened the reality that our nation is turning further away from the Lord, what saddens me most is the reaction of much of the church to this decision.  I’m saddened most by the reaction of many who claim the name of Christ to this decision.  Disregarding the clear teaching of Scripture on this issue, many in the church celebrated this decision.
            I saw many in the church, some of them friends, who rejoiced in the legalization of gay marriage.  They rejoiced in it, adding the phrase: Love Wins! They rejoiced in the fact that two people of the same gender, who love each other, are now able to get married like a man and a woman.  They insisted that, by embracing gay marriage, our nation is no longer rejecting homosexuals by discriminating against them.  But is this true?  Has love truly won? 
            Love has not won, in this ruling.  Sin has won.  Again, the clear teaching of Scripture is that homosexuality is a sin (Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Leviticus 18:22, etc.).  And, although God certainly loves homosexuals and desires their salvation, he does not accept their rebellion. 
            According to Romans 1:32, the acceptance of these behaviors is also sinful.  It’s a sign of man’s rejection of God.  After all, how can the heart that loves God accept those things that he’s deemed sinful?
            The truth is that, by accepting homosexuality, by celebrating it, we are not loving them.  Instead, we are leaving them to their sin.  We’re leaving them to their condemnation.  We are providing them with a false sense of comfort.   We’re attempting to remove the conviction necessary that they might see their need for a Savior and be drawn to Jesus in faith.
            In Romans 3, starting in verse 19, Paul writes: Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
            Scripture teaches that all of us are sinful, both gay and straight.  And the purpose of God’s Law is to hold us accountable. It doesn’t provide us with the way of salvation, because we’re unable to earn God’s blessings.  However, with the Law comes the knowledge of sin.
            When we’re confronted with the Law of God, we clearly see our sin.  We see that we’re guilty in the eyes of God.  And we’re confronted with the penalty we deserve.  We come to the understanding that we’re lost and that we have no way to save ourselves.  We find that we’re in need of a Savior.
            This Savior, of course, is Jesus.  It’s he who took the penalty of our sin, dying on the cross.  It’s he who rose from the grave, defeating the power of death.  And it’s by faith in him that we’re saved.
            If we, then, try to remove conviction, we’re not benefitting the sinner.  In fact, we’re bringing him to harm.  We’re bringing him to a place where he isn’t confronted with his sin.  We’re bringing him to a place where his sin is accepted and where he has no need of a Savior.  And, without this, he will not look to Jesus in faith and receive forgiveness.
            Much of the church, today, shies away from this truth.  Even if they don’t go as far as accepting sin, they don’t want to say or do anything that might make people feel guilty.  They reason that, if people are made to feel guilty, they won’t come to church and hear the gospel.
            We often fail to realize that, by doing this, by trying to remove conviction from the equation, we’re denying people the message of the gospel.  Even if they come to church every Sunday, they are not hearing it.  They’re not hearing it because they don’t understand from what they’re being saved.  They’re not hearing it because, apart from conviction, they have no need of salvation.
            It may sound obvious but, if we’re being saved, there’s something from which we’re being saved.  And Scripture is clear that Jesus came to save us from sin.  He came to save us from the consequences of our sin.  Unless we understand this, unless we understand the consequences we deserve, the gospel is meaningless. 

            This isn’t, of course, an excuse to beat up on gays.  It isn’t an excuse for our portrayal of them as worse sinners than the rest of us.  We are all sinful, and this is a penalty that we all deserve.  Even if we don’t struggle with this particular sin, we need salvation as much as them, or anyone else for that matter.  But, if we truly love homosexuals, we won’t accept their sin.  We won’t try to make them comfortable in their sin.  We’ll, instead, bring to them the truth of the gospel.  

Monday, June 22, 2015

Not As Strong As We Think

As most of you are aware by now, the focus of my messages, this summer, is on failure.  We’re looking at the failure of the great men of faith in Scripture, and on the grace of God given to them in spite of their sin.  We’re doing this as an encouragement for ourselves, that we might not grow discouraged, but trust in Christ alone in the face of our own shortcomings.
            Returning from Annual Conference, news reports were circulating about the moral failure of yet another prominent pastor.   Prior to my departure, we saw incessant reporting on a moral failure of a well-known Christian family.  And every time we see these reports, we’re shocked.
            We’re shocked because those who fell seemed so strong in faith.  They seemed to have it all together.  And we’re left wondering if it was all an act.  We’re left wondering if they are the people we always believed them to be.
            Although these feelings are normal, we really shouldn’t be shocked in the least.  We shouldn’t be shocked because we’re all failures.  As Paul tells us in Romans 3:23: “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”
            This is why Paul gives us the above warning.  He begins 1 Corinthians 10 using the people of Israel as an example for us.  He begins the chapter, saying: For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.”
            What he’s telling us is that the people of Israel had received the redemption and the provision of God.  They were led by God, as he went before them in the pillar of cloud.  They were rescued from slavery, as God brought them miraculously through the Red Sea.  They were baptized into Moses, they emerged as a new people, as they were separated from the Egyptians by the cloud and the sea. They also received life through the miraculous provision of Christ.
            Yet, even though this was true of them, even though they had received these great blessings, they fell time and again.  They fell into idolatry.  They fell into sexual immorality.  They tested the Lord and they grumbled against him. 
            Paul says that these things are written for our instruction.  They’re examples for us.  If we think that we stand, we must take heed lest we fall.
            When we read about the failure of Israel, and when we hear about the failure of prominent Christians today, our immediate reaction is one of judgment.              We think that, knowing the blessings God has given them, they must be stupid to fall into these sins.  After all, how could they risk these blessings when God has given them so much?
We tell ourselves that we’d never do such a thing.  We tell ourselves that we could never fall in such a way.  Even acknowledging that we’re sinners, we think that we’re above such things.
            The reality, however, is much different.  We are all sinners.  We all possess a sinful nature.  We all face great temptation every day of our life.  And, because of this, the possibility of our failure is ever present.
            No matter how strong our faith, none of us is above the failures of others.  In fact, when we start believing that we are above it, when we start to believe that we stand, we are most susceptible to sin. We’re most susceptible to sin at this point because we’re looking to our own strength. 
We’re the safest when we look not upon our strength, but when we look upon our weakness.  Only then will we fully depend upon the grace and the provision of God.  And, as Scripture tells us time and again, we receive God’s blessing not because of anything in ourselves, but through faith.

            Let us, then, take heed.  Let us be aware of our own weakness.  And may we look to Christ, and to Christ alone, for the forgiveness of our sin and for the strength to live for his glory.
As I was at the AFLC Annual Conference last week, I never posted my message from June 14.  I began a new series, that week, looking at failure.  Each week, we'll look at a man of faith, in Scripture, who failed.  And more importantly, we'll see the grace of God given him in spite of his failure.  The first message of this series looked at Adam & Eve.  To hear this message, click on the link.

This week, we heard about the failure of Abraham, and of the grace God gave to him in spite of his sin.  To hear this message, click on that link.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Blessing of Rest

"The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
(Mar 2:27 ESV)

            This verse came to mind as I was driving home from Florida this past week.  Even though I’ve served for only two months, my new congregation allowed us some time away.  And this break was much needed after a year of work, along with the stress of our transition and move. 
            The Sabbath was made for man.  In other words, the Sabbath is God’s gracious gift to man.  But why did he give it?
            When we look to the giving of the Ten Commandments, in the book of Exodus, we see why.  In Exodus 20, we’re told that it’s a time of rest.  As God worked for six days and rested on the seventh, he gave the Sabbath to us.  So the Sabbath is a rest from our labors, something which all of us require.
            In Deuteronomy 5, we find that it’s not only a day of rest. It’s a day of remembrance.  It was a reminder to the people that they were slaves in the land of Egypt and that God had set them free.  The opportunity they had to rest from their labor reminded them of this great blessing which was denied them during their time of bondage.
            Further, we see in in Leviticus 23:3 that the Sabbath was a day of holy convocation, or a day of sacred assembly.  In other words, the Sabbath was a day for corporate worship.  The people were to gather in worship of the God who both made them and redeemed them.
            In addition, God also commanded several holidays that were to be celebrated by the people.  Again, no work was to be done.  The people were to worship God.  And each of these celebrations were remembrances of God’s salvation and provision.
            However, as we look at Mark 2, we see that, in the time of Jesus, the Sabbath was no longer being used for its intended purpose.  The religious leaders had made it something other than a day of grace for God’s people.  They had made it burdensome.  In fact, it was hard work to keep the Sabbath.
            One Sabbath, Jesus and his disciples were walking through the grain fields.  As they walked, they plucked heads of grain.  They were then criticized by the Pharisees for working on the Sabbath.
            Even though the New Testament is clear that we’re not bound to certain days or months when it comes to our rest, many in the church think and act just like the Pharisees.  They say that all we can do on Sunday is go to church and take a nap.  If we do anything whatsoever, we’re criticized for working.
            For this reason, Jesus gave the above reminder to the Pharisees.  He told them that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  In other words, the Sabbath is God’s blessing to man.  It’s not another burden for his people to bear.
            This is the blessing I recently enjoyed during my vacation.  I was able to rest from my labors.  It wasn’t a burden, it was a blessing.  I didn’t have a set of requirements to follow.  I was able to simply get away from my day to day work.  And the same is true of my day off each week, and during our holiday celebrations.
            I don’t have to worry, with everything I do, that I’m violating the Sabbath.  I can simply enjoy my time free of labor.  I can sleep a little later.  I can enjoy my family.  I can enjoy activities for which I have no time during my regular work week.

I thank God who’s given me this gift.  And, as I rest from my labors, I’m reminded of the rest God has provided for me in Christ.  I’m reminded of the fact that I don’t have to work to receive God’s blessings, because the work of Christ has accomplished it for me.