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Friday, August 9, 2019

Jesus' Nine-Word Sermon

The very first sermon Jesus preached was only nine words long - “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”.  The bible tells us that throughout his ministry, Jesus did two things.

(1) He healed the sick, cast out demons, etc – that is, he helped people. 
(2) He proclaimed the good news of the kingdom.

What does that mean – Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand?

We are part of a kingdom.  God’s kingdom.  God created all that is in the universe and therefore all that is in the universe belongs to him – including you and me.  It is his kingdom and he is its Sovereign King.  He is sovereign. He is majestic – high and lifted up.  He is Holy.  Because he is holy, he requires his subjects to also be holy.  Because it is his kingdom, he requires his subjects to be loyal and obedient.

God’s kingdom is at hand.  He is returning and when he does, there will be judgment for all who have not been loyal.  The King demands loyalty and obedience and will punish all who do not submit to his authority.

That may offend you, but if it does, it only goes to prove that we are ALL rebellious at heart.  We have all already failed in such a way as to deserve judgment and punishment.  That is why we will all eventually die and why eternal punishment in hell is our destination.  But it is also why Jesus preached that there is “good news” about the kingdom.  That good news is the grace and forgiveness that is offered through Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  His death on the cross made our forgiveness possible.  His resurrection makes our resurrection possible.  We can avoid the punishment of hell and look forward to a resurrected, eternal life in the Kingdom of God.

But here is the tricky part.  God did not send his Son to die on the cross so that you may escape punishment and continue to live your life according to your own will and pleasure.  As King, he still demands your loyalty and obedience.  Jesus’ first sermon began with REPENT – and that repentance requires a complete forsaking of all the things we need forgiveness from in the first place.  God still demands our loyalty.  He still demands our obedience.  And he still demands that we be holy.  None of us will ever reach perfection in this area and so that obedience can never save us - only our faith in Jesus can do that.  Hoever, an unwillingness to even try to live according to his standards – to worship him, to gather with other believers in worship, to learn and grow in faith, to serve him by using your gifts to build the body of Christ – is merely evidence that you either did not understand the prerequisite – repentance – or you are still just as rebellious as  you ever were.  Either way, Jesus’ words are still relevant… repent.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Dear Christian, Stop Saying That!

You've seen the memes all over social media.  They are memes intended to encourage Christians to not give up.  They are meant to lift one another up.  The details may vary, but the bottom line is that they are all trying to say this:

God will not put you in circumstances you cannot bear

It seems well and good.  It feels well and good.  And perhaps the intentions are good.  But there is a very big problem with these meme's and this statement: 

It simply is not true.

I get it.  We know that "with God" we can endure anything, and I realize that is probably the intent behind the memes.  However, when we say it like that, we are being dangerously misleading.  Nowhere in the Bible does God teach us that we will never experience circumstances that we cannot endure or bear.  In fact, the Bible teaches us exactly the opposite of that.  Consider this statement made by the Apostle Paul concerning his own circumstances:

As Christians, we need to understand what Paul is saying here and know how to apply these truths to our lives.

First. Paul's circumstances were bad.  Really bad.  Listen to what he said later in 2 Corinthians 11:25-27.

25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.

By his own admission, Paul's circumstances were such that he was "burdened beyond [his] strength".  Paul's circumstances and his testimony are evidence to us that we also need to be prepared to handle circumstances that burden us beyond our strength.  When we claim we will never see such circumstances, and then they come, it blind sides us and can cause us to falter - which brings me to the second point.

Second.  Paul despaired of life as a result. Do not misunderstand what that means.  Paul's circumstances were so terrible that he wanted to die.  Suicide is a major cultural problem, but it is not a new one.  How terrible it is for us as believers to make the claim that God will never give us anything we cannot endure when all around us people - yes, even Christians - and yes, even pastors (have you read the news lately) - are committing suicide.  Do not get me wrong.  Mental health issues are *very* real.  It is highly likely that you will face circumstances that cause you to despair of life, and there are many Christians who will seriously contemplate suicide as a viable option to their pain and suffering.  You may know one contemplating it right now.  You may be contemplating it yourself.  How horribly insensitive for us to say God will never give us circumstances we cannot bear when so many are facing those circumstances every day.  When we believe God will never allow us to face these circumstances, and then we do face those circumstances, it rocks our faith to the core and actually makes us *more* susceptible to suicidal thoughts.  Suicide is *never* the answer to these circumstances.  Which brings me to the last point from that passage.

Third. Paul was put in those impossible circumstances so that he would trust in God.  In his words, "to make us rely not on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead."   Do you get that?  He wanted to die, but through faith in God, God raised him up from that pit of despair and for all practical purposes raised him from the dead as well. 

When we say that God will never give us anything we cannot bear, we are saying that we are strong enough to deal with anything.  We are saying we can rely on our own strength.  We are saying we can deal with everything by ourselves.  We are saying we do not need God.  That kind of thinking is not mature thinking.  Rather, it is more like the three year old child who defiantly proclaims "I can do it myself!"

We are not meant to do it ourselves.  Trust me, I cannot deal with the things life has thrown at me  - at least not without God.  The reason God allows us to face such dire and unbearable circumstances is so that we will trust wholly and completely on Him.  Be sure, these are not the actions of a narcissistic, megalomaniac god.  Rather, this is a Good, Good, Father who cares enough for his children to do what is best for them and grow them in their faith.  We were created to live in fellowship and dependence upon Him and these circumstances grow us in our ability to do both of those things.   By nature, we really are the rebellious, three year old child who ignorantly believes in her own independence, and these memes just reinforce that childish mentality.  If you really want to make sure you survive those unbearable circumstances, then consider one of the most well-known Proverbs.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.  Proverbs 3:5-6

Maybe someone should create this meme...

You will face difficult circumstances.  You might not be able to bear it.  You may even despair of life.  But take heart.  Trust in God who raises the dead.  He will carry you through it.