May 21, 2013
This series was birthed out of a desire to understand what we mean by blessing. We throw that word around a lot. We get a raise, we get a new car, something rather fortunate happens to us, and we say, “I was blessed with...”
The problem arises when we look around the world at so many other people who are whole-heartedly seeking after God, and they have none of the comforts we would call blessings in the United States. Yet Christians everywhere would talk about being blessed by God. We must be careful in how we define and use the word “blessed.” We can make it seem like millions of people who suffer from war, famine, poverty, and sickness are not as loved or blessed by God simply because they were not born in America.
So I started digging, and I have come to the conclusion that it is not so much God’s goodness or blessing that is in question, but how we measure it that is causing all the problems. His blessing is so much deeper than our material possessions, though those are included.
The problem comes when enough is not enough...
Relevant Online recently ran an article titled, “The Socially Acceptable Sin.” It names gluttony as the church’s and America’s most acceptable sin. The author writes, “There’s one sin in particular that has pervaded our society and churches so silently we hardly give it a second thought, and that is the constant hunt for more over what is enough. Or, in an uglier terminology, what is known as gluttony. And gluttony has never been merely an addiction to food. If we look its original definition and context, gluttony hits closer to home than we’d like to admit...At its simplest, gluttony is the soul’s addiction to excess. It occurs when taste overrules hunger, when want outweighs need.”
Have you seen the AT&T Commercial where the guy interviews the children, and the one girl says, "I want more! I want more! I want more!" That commercial says it all...doesn’t it. It describes what could be the most overlooked sin of our culture and one of the biggest blocks to our ability to receive God’s blessing...the sin of never enough.
We want more...we want more...we want more...Every television, newspaper, and billboard ad is designed to encourage a desire for more than we have and more than we need. And we have obliged...
We live in a very wealthy country. Even our poor, globally, are better off. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the poverty line for an individual in United States was $10,830 in 2010, but our poverty line places them in the top 14% of income earners globally.
And no matter how little or how much we make we see a desire to get and consume more...
The U.S. represents 4.5% of global population and consumes 30% of the total GDP.
U.S. household consumer debt profile:
Average credit card debt: $15,204
One of the major contributors to the housing bust was when people who were not making as much as they should have been were given credit for home that cost way more than they could or should afford.
I am not a subscriber that all debt is bad...most of us would be uneducated, walking and homeless if we didn’t have some debt. Many business owners couldn’t operate if they didn’t carry some debt...but I think we would all agree that too often we have taken on debt and trouble in our lives because of our desire to get and have more. We wanted more than was necessary or adequate...and it got us into trouble...or is getting us in trouble.
But over and over again, the Bible reminds us...
Our desire for more causes us to miss the blessings of God.
So often we miss out on God’s blessings because we suffer from the sin of never enough when God is in the business of blessing us with enough.
As I studied for this message, I was struck by how often the Bible talks about God’s ability and desire to satisfy or to make us full. The problem often comes when what God provides does not satisfy because we are not content with enough...
Ecclesiastes 5:10, discussing money, says, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.”
You see that desire for more than what is necessary causes dissatisfaction with what God provides. When John D. Rockefeller was asked “how much would be enough?” he answered “just a little bit more.” At that time he personally controlled 2% of the wealth of America.
That author of Proverbs 27:20 says it like this, “Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are human eyes.”
Have you ever been window shopping? Maybe you were watching one of those Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous type of shows?
I have a bad habit of window shopping, and there are times when my desire for more creates such a dissatisfaction with what I have that I cannot enjoy the blessings God has already given me. What the desire for more creeps in it doesn’t matter how much good stuff is going on in our lives...it just isn’t enough.
That is what greed, lust, and gluttony do...they plant dissatisfaction in our lives, and what we already have is not enough. That car isn’t good enough...we need the new one. Our house isn’t good enough...we need that house. Our job isn’t good enough...we need another one. And more than likely...they were good enough...until we saw the better one...and the desire for more crept in and took root.
Another thing that happens is...
Our desire for more keeps us from being a blessing to others.
We are going to spend more time on this idea next week from a different angle, but listen to James 4:1-3,
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
“You do not have receive, because you ask with the wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures...”
Every time the Bible talks about God giving us more than we need...it immediately connects it with God’s call for us to live open-handedly toward others. When God gives us more than we need it is meant as an opportunity to extend that blessing to others...and receive more blessing in the process.
God’s blessing is so deeply connected to our willingness to bless others, and when we allow our desire to have and consume and keep more than what satisfies and what is necessary we cannot fully enjoying the blessings of God. It causes us to hold on to what we have and not let it go, and we miss out on the extended blessing of giving.
But, you might say, I know a lot of stingy people who have plenty of money and want for nothing in this world...and seem to have a lot of blessings from God. You are right. They have a lot in the way of finances, but remember God’s blessing is more than just the number of dollars in our bank account.
God’s blessing is first found in a deep satisfaction with He has provided...with what is enough. And secondly, it is found in the blessing of giving generously from how God has blessed us.
When we learn to live within the bounds of enough, the Bible says that so many things are taken care of...
God’s ultimate goal is to satisfy.
The Bible often uses the word Saba to mean to satisfy or to fill up, and the Bible is full of examples of God’s desire to fill us up...to satisfy our deepest longings.
For many in the Bible it included food and shelter because they needed their basic needs met, but it meant so much more...
Isaiah 55:2 is a good example of this, “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.”
Isaiah is talking about more than just food. He is talking about God’s desire to meet our deepest needs...those things that cause our hearts to ache and cause us to stay awake worrying at night. His desire is to satisfy.
John 10:10 says this, “The Thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy, but I have come that you may have life to the full!”
Psalm 145:16, “You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.”
Psalm 107:9, “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.”
These are the promises of God...that He will give us what we need. He will satisfy and fill us. God is in the business of giving us enough, and when the sin of gluttony, lust, and greed creep in...we lose the blessings of God because we begin thinking that enough is not enough.
To close, I want to give you a few starter steps for learning to live with enough...
Look at what you have not what you don’t have. Make the most of it. Learn to be content with what you own.
Don’t make comparisons. The minute you compare yourself to someone else or what someone else has...that is the minute greed and lust and gluttony all slip in. You find yourself comparing your worst to their best and feel insecure. You feel as though you are not enough.
Accept your imperfections. No one is perfect. No one has it all together. Accept them and work on them.
May 20, 2013
Amy Rees Anderson is an entrepreneur who recently wrote an article for Forbes.com. She tells how when speaking on leadership and business at a university she will often ask the students, “What career do you want to pursue,” or, “What business do you plan to begin?” After listening to their answers she will then ask, “Suppose I gave you a check for $10 million dollars today and told you that you could pursue any career path or start any business you wanted to, with no expectation that you would ever pay me back or generate a return on my investment – in fact, I couldn’t care less if the business never makes a dime. Now tell me what career you would pursue or what business would you want to begin.”
The answers, she says, are always different. The students choose the perceived safest way to steady income, and the area they are most passionate about does not provide that security or that income.
Marketing and business guru Seth Godin does something very similar. He first asks, “If you could do anything at all with your life and money wasn’t an issue, what would you do?” Then he asks, “Why aren’t you doing that now?”
Sometimes we are lucky enough for those two things to coincide...being able to do something we are passionate about and making enough money with our passion to support ourselves and our families.
Sometimes they don’t coincide. Einstein’s Miracle Year where he wrote four groundbreaking works including his most recognized Theory of Relativity took place while working as a file clerk for the Swiss Patent Office. He did physics as a side project. In fact, when he finally got a full-time academic position he simply worked out the implications of the work done in the boredom of the patent office.
Franz Kafka is regarded as on the most influential authors of the 20th Century who influenced the work of writers like Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. Throughout his life, his passionate pursuit of writing was squeezed into spare time left over after he working for an insurance company.
I would say that most people live in that realm...squeezing their passion into the spare moments of their lives; while a few people are lucky enough to make a living while pursuing their passion.
We are currently in a series called Blessed*. We have been looking at some of the unexpected ways of viewing God’s blessing in our lives. God’s blessing is not always what we expect! Who would ever consider that the point of our deepest need is the point where God’s largest blessings happen? It is not a common thing to hear that our biggest blessings come when we obediently and generously give.
We can also make the mistake of spiritualizing things to the point where we see our passions as something completely separate from God’s desire to bless us and those around us.
- We might have a passion for art, and wonder how God could ever use such a passion for Him.
- We might have a passion for business and leadership and never see them as possibilities of blessing.
- We often have a love for something that leaves us asking how God could ever use it to bless us and those around.
But God gives us our passions as a way of blessing us with a purpose.
Moses is one of the greatest leaders known to Israel. When relaying their history Abraham, Moses, David and Elijah take primacy over all others. And of them, Moses is most associated with all that God wanted to do in the salvation of Israel and the giving of the Law.
They revered Moses. Years after his death someone wrote in Deuteronomy 34:10-12, “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.”
To say that Moses is important to Jewish history, Jewish religious history, and to the heritage of our Christian faith can not be understated.
Most of us are aware of the story of Moses, the burning bush, and God’s call for him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. As a shepherd, Moses was out with the sheep when he saw a burning bush and went to explore. There is always something about guys and fire! When he got there, he saw that while the bush was on fire it was not being consumed by the flames. A voice, the voice of God, spoke to him out of the bush, and called him to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.
Most of us see this as the beginning of Moses’ call to do something for his people...to free them from slavery. But Moses’ passion for his people started way earlier than this.
In Exodus 2:11-12 it says,
“One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.”Moses’ passion to free his people started as a young man. He had grown up in Pharaoh’s household, and watched as his people were beaten and abused. He wanted to do something, but we often make the same mistake Moses made.
Our Passions Require Patience
We can get our photographs in an hour; even less if we simply print them at home. We can use the express lane at Walmart for 20 items or less...and, if you are like me, you start counting the items in everyone else’s carts and fuming if they have more than 20! You can get up-to-the-minute stock quotes, sports score, and breaking news on your smartphone. We can get full meals in a matter of minutes at MOST drive thrus.
We live in an impatient society. We want what we want and we want it now! And that attitude can slip into our relationship with God.
Just because we have a desire to see something come about. Just because God gives us a passion to see something happen. Just because we have a gifting in a certain area doesn’t mean we have the go ahead to see it become a reality...when we think it should.
Moses had a desire to free his people. We know that God later commissions him to lead them out of slavery. But Moses got into trouble by trying to do things outside of God’s timing and outside of God’s methods.
Moses, in an attempt to fulfill this passion, takes a very common tactic still used in modern society...force. He killed an Egyptian.
Exodus 2:13-14 continues,
“The next day Moses went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?” The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?”
There is a wrong way to do the right thing. The ends do not justify the means.
So often we are guilty, in our impatience, of attempting to do what God has called us to do...but in our own strength and in our own way. Moses needed time to learn to lead not with force and fear, but with loving and firm guidance. His attempt to do things his way lead to wrong kind of outcome.
Exodus 2:14-15 says,
“Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known.” When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian...”
When Moses attempted to do God’s will in his way...it lead to fear, shame, and rejection.
So often we attempt to do God’s will...we attempt to fulfill the passions God has placed within us...using means and methods that are not Gods.
Our Passions Require God’s Methods
When we attempt to fulfill God’s call using our own methods we wear ourselves out physically, emotionally, and spiritually by living outside the boundaries He sets for us. It happens all the time...we sense God leading to do something...but when things get busy we neglect to care for ourselves physically. We don’t care for our bodies with enough rest or exercise. We stop nurturing ourselves spiritually and distance ourselves from our time with God and His people. We stop feeding ourselves intellectually because we just don’t have time.
We find ourselves burned out and at wits end because our methods do not work
We find ourselves frustrated because our expectations are not being met.
Moses believed his show of force would be welcomed and accepted by the people...but they weren’t. Learning to use God’s method required an educational process. He had to learn HOW to lead the people with wisdom with the power of God. There was no better place than living the life of a shepherd in the household of a priest.
“Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father’s flock. Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock. When the girls returned to Reuel their father, he asked them, “Why have you returned so early today?” They answered, “An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds. He even drew water for us and watered the flock.” “And where is he?” Reuel asked his daughters. “Why did you leave him? Invite him to have something to eat.” Moses agreed to stay with the man, who gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage.
The Biblical ideal for leadership is rooted in the shepherd. Before Moses was given permission to lead and guide God’s people he had to LEARN to lead.
There is an educational, learning process to all our gifting. When I received the call to ministry I started making plans to attend college with thoughts of Seminary. Someone in the church said, “I don’t know why you need to get schooling! If God has called you that should be enough!”
That is one of the stupidest things I have ever heard in the church.
Our passions often require a training and learning process. Spiritual gifts and passions are given in seed form...they need care, they need training, they need work. Just because God gives us a passion to see something does not mean it will happen automatically. It doesn’t mean you won’t need training because we are so tempted to do things our way and not God’s...even after the training...there were time when Moses needed to relearn that lesson.
When Moses submitted to the methods of God, only then was he able to see the miraculous. His way was force and violence and murder. God’s methods led to some amazingly miraculous things!
Exodus 2:23 sums the time of waiting, training, and preparation for Moses by saying, “During that long period...”
It was 40 years before God called to Moses from the Burning Bush and commissioned Moses to do what He felt a desire to do so many years before. 40 years!
Our Passions Require Commitment
When Moses finally submitted to the learning, growing, time-consuming process then and only then did He receive God’s call and commission to fulfill the desires he felt as a young man.
Be assured, God will call. God will commission us. God will ask us to use those passions and desires and dreams, and commit ourselves to see them through to the end...and that is the hard part!
We impatiently jump in too soon, but then we are often too quick to bail out.
We may not see the results we thought would come of that passion as soon as we would like. Things are tougher than we planned.
We may have expected to support ourselves using our passion, and we find ourselves working multiple jobs to support our passion instead.
There will be times when we feel there is no use to go on...
Doubt will creep in...
But just as God calls us to start...God calls us to finish. It took Moses 40 years of preparation before God allowed him to assume leadership of Israel, and it took another 40 plus years before Moses was able to lead them to the edge of the Promised Land.
The Israelites complained, whined, attempted a coup of Moses’ leadership, the rejected Him...it was a mess. But Moses hung in to see God fulfill His promises!
We too must hold on. We are called, but if we truly believe that God has placed the passion in our lives then it is our responsibility to submit to the time it takes to train and prepare, we are to be faithful to do it the way God has called us to it, and we are called to finish and see it to completion no matter what challenges we face. Because when we see it through to completion...that is when we see the ultimate blessing of God!
May 13, 2013
We use that word a lot in the church, like we do a lot of words, without thinking about what they mean. Today we are looking at a passage that talks about tithing and God blessing us in relationship to our tithing.
Money is a touchy subject. Most people feel the church always has its hand out asking for money, and in trying to create a church that emphasizes God’s grace, His patience, and allow people time we take a very laid back approach to our offering. I truly believe that forcing or guilting people into something may work for a short time, but does not build a healthy, spiritually robust person in the long run. Many of us suffer from the carry-over effect of spiritually abusive or legalistic church backgrounds.
When I was growing up, tithing and giving was never really taught about in a healthy way. Tithing was encouraged with a healthy dose of guilt during the time of offering that would go on and on until they felt like there was enough in the plate. I once suffered through 20 verses of an offeratory, the song played while they collect the offering, and then 20-30 verses of Just As I Am while they waited for someone to come to the altar.
Sometimes they would preach verses like today’s passage with the underlying message of “You are not doing enough!” They would emphasize the harsher sections of the passage...obviously guilt and shame and pressure were part of that.
I believe we need a message on tithing not because I want you to give more money to the church. We have some very generous people here, and God provides the resources for what He wants to accomplish. We need a message on tithing because understanding it is part of a healthy Christian walk.
I have seen how it works in my own life. It is as an act of worship. It is a response to all that God has given and done for us in my life. And when we give it opens us up as a person...I am more generous not just toward God and His church, but toward other people around me who are in need.
Today as we look at this passage, we are not breaking away from our commitment to the 2 Corinthians 9:7 passage where it says, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” It isn’t honoring if it is done grudgingly or if it is compelled!
Our goal is to first and foremost help you become better followers of God...not better members of a church. I think part of following God is being part of a church and all that it entails...but first and foremost we are followers of God. So let’s look at our passage today, and see what we can learn...
“Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.
“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’
“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’
“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.
The first part of this passage sounds very...mean...It sounds like God is VERY angry...and He is. He is talking to a group of people who proudly announce they are His followers, they act as they though they are on board with all He asks, and really they are only interested in appearing to follow Him. Despite only appearing to be obedient they wanted God to fulfill everything He promised to those who would faithfully obey Him.
Have you ever made a deal with your children, a bribe? If you will clean your room I will take you to get ice cream. After you have been parenting awhile you will use any ploy you can to get some things done. Your child goes into their room for 5-10 minutes, then returns and proudly announces, “My room is clean!”
We are not dumb. There is no way they cleaned up the remnants of the hurricane that hit their room. You walk in, and toys and clothes are stuffed under the bed. You open the closet door and need the help of a search and rescue dog to get out from under the avalanche...but the floor, the middle of the floor is clear...so in their mind the room is clean.
The people of Israel were pretending to be obedient, acting as though they had their act together, and were demanding that God take them for the promised ice cream...so needless to say, God’s tone is a bit stern in this passage.
We have to be careful when using this passage as a teaching passage to look at the principles of tithing that we don’t carry over that tone if it doesn’t fit the situation. We are looking to be better followers of God...to recognize something about tithing out of this passage...we are not looking to misrepresent ourselves to God as His faithful followers while hiding behind unfaithfulness. So we can draw some principles out of this passage without being guilty and receiving the tone of the original.
What we see in this passage is that in tithing...
We recognize God's ownership.
““But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’ “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you? In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me.”
The Israelites were saying, “We are doing everything right, God! Why aren’t you blessing us?” And God’s response was a stern, “No, you are not doing everything right!”
God calls their refusal to tithe theft. Which brings up the question, “How is it theft?”
Psalm 24:1-2 says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.”
You see everything in this world belongs to God, and it is on loan to us. When God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden, he told them to care for creation...to tend it...the imagery is that of a steward or care-giver. Someone placed over something for the owner.
I remember the first time I was asked to housesit for someone...I was excited and scared to death all at the same time. I was going to be staying and living on my own with no adult supervision for the first time in my life, and yet I was at someone else’s house and didn’t want to mess that up. So I actually cleaned up after myself. Picked my clothes up off the floor. Put stuff away...unlike how I treated my first apartment.
I was taking care of someone else’s home. It wasn’t mine, but I was responsible for it.
God places us in charge of His stuff here on earth, and gives us the responsibility to care for it. He gives us talents and abilities. He gives us financial resources. He gives us a home, property, relationships...all things that have to be cared for...
What we have been given does not belong to us, ut belongs to Him. When God asks us to return a percentage to His house for Him to use in supporting His work He is simply asking us to relinquish resources that already belong to Him. Refusing to return what rightfully belongs to Him and pretending as though we have given it to Him, he calls theft.
I know those are some strong words, but we use similar metaphors all the time. I will often buy a bag of candy or something for Bri when we are out. I don’t want a whole bag. I just want a couple of bites. She is usually very good about things, but there have been times when I bought something and asked for a bite. She responded by saying, “No! This is mine!” And I have had to remind her that while it is in her possession, that I am the one who bought it.
When we tithe, we are simply acknowledging God as the rightful owner and ourselves as His caretakers. Remember God is speaking to people who claim to follow Him. He is not talking to people who are just beginning to seek after Him, or are not yet following Him. He is laying the weight of this metaphor on people who claim to be following him whole-heartedly, and are rejecting Him by lying and stealing from Him.
The second thing, it that through tithing...
We participate in God's mission.
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.”
In those days, tithing was done mostly with grain, wine, livestock, and produce from the fields. This was not a monetary based society. So when the people brought their tithe into the church it was “food”. That food would then be distributed to those who had need, traded for other goods, etc. Gold and other articles were often given too. In the New Testament we see that money was more common so people gave that way.
But the idea behind this verse is that the giving of the people supports the work of God in the church. It was to be the place where priests and Levites led the worship of the people, taught them God’s ways, and helped them understand God’s Word. The tithe of the people supported God’s work.
Our tithes still support the work of God through His church...Over the past year we have served more than 10,000 people with God’s love. We have bought groceries, paid bills, done numerous acts of kindness, and much more in our community. All because of your faithfulness in giving.
Last year a couple of us got together and made a dream list of over 100 ministries that could be part of this church. I dream of being able to do so much more in our community...we are praying for a more permanent location...a place where we can have regular classes, a food pantry, ministry to help in many different situations...There is a lot that God wants to do through us, but the reality is that it requires money and it requires time and leadership.
When we look at all that needs done and the money involved, we often think in terms of giving up...we are giving up money we could use for something else. Instead, we should be thinking in terms of investment. We are not sacrificing anything...we are investing in what God wants to accomplish with the money, time, and talents he has freely given us!
People will be able to have food on their tables because we are investing in a church that is outward focused.
Marriages will be saved because we are building a place that reaches out to them and helps them survive the storms they face.
Children will have a safe place to learn and grow closer to God.
A few years back, my nephew started showing ability to play the piano. He took a couple of lesson through his school, and grew quickly in his ability...beyond just the normal taking lessons. He picked it up rather naturally. When my sister couldn’t afford lessons for him, a longtime family friend stepped in to pay for his lessons. She said, “I see this as an investment in his future that I won’t get to benefit from, but others will!”
What God has called us as a church to do here in this community we may never get to see the end result of it all, but we are making an investment that others will get to benefit from down the road!
The final thing is that through tithing...
We open the doors of God's blessing.
“Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.”
So often this passage is seen as a mean, or guilt driven, or something...When the bulk of this passage is a simple statement about God’s desire to bless His people when they obey! More than 50% of the passage is about God’s desire to do something great for His people, but their lack of obedience and open-handedness keeps Him from being able to bless them.
God wants to open the floodgates and pour out blessing on those who follow Him, but they have shut Him off!
One of the enduring principles of the spiritual life is that God never forces us to take something we are unwilling to take. Closely connected to this is the idea that by refusing to be generous and loving and forgiving we can actually shut ourselves off from receiving generosity, love, and forgiveness. So when it comes to this principle of tithing, when we hoard and assume ownership of something that is not rightly ours we shut ourselves off from the blessings God has for us.
If you do what you are called to do then God will do what only God can do.
Our obedience to God opens the doors to His blessings in our lives. As we mentioned last week, blessings are more than just financial, but they certainly include God’s care and provision for us in financial ways. I have seen God time and again provide for those who follow Him and live in obedience. It may not come in our timing and in the way we want it, but His blessings do come.
Sometimes it our financial needs are met with a better job we didn’t expect! Back in August, I was happily employed as a restaurant manager when the opportunity came for me to work at a school in Fairborn. Little did I know my time at the restaurant was coming to an end. God provided.
Sometimes our blessings come in the form of learning to make wiser choices. We stop spending beyond our budget.
Sometimes our blessings come because the emphasis and direction of our lives change and we are no longer going in this direction. We find fulfillment in another direction.
God brings blessings from some of the most unexpected places!
We serve a God who gives and gives and gives. He leads the way for us. No matter what we give, God gives more. He demonstrated the extent of His giving by giving His Son, Jesus Christ. The ultimate sacrifice of giving!
No matter what we give to God...monetary gifts, talents and abilities, time...we can’t outgive God!
Charles Spurgeon once said, “God has a way of giving by the cartloads to those who give away by shovelfuls.”
April 16, 2013
The idea of the asterisk at the end of the word Blessed is that being “blessed” is not always what we think it is. We all ask God to bless us, and he does bless us, but not always the way we think...or even want.
When you and I start thinking about what it means to be blessed...
we think of financial security...bills paid for, living comfortably, not paycheck to paycheck, savings in the bank for emergencies, some other for retirement...
we think of a comfortable home...Lori and I driving around looking at homes dreaming of a dream home that isn’t a cookie-cutter Huber Home.
we think of cars that run the way they should run...
we think of a nice house, nice neighborhood, and nice schools...
If someone has all of these things in their life we would say...they are blessed.
The reality is that we live in a fallen world, stained by sin, and not everyone gets to live this idyllic life...and yet, if the Bible is true, we can all live a truly blessed life. It will require us to redefine our understanding of being blessed...not in some ostrich-head-in-sand-denial sort of way, but by seeking to understand what the truly blessed life is about.
So over the next few weeks we are going to look at what it means to be blessed in biblical terms, hopefully realizing that we are truly a blessed people, and we are going to look at what some of the responsibilities are that come with being blessed. Because our blessings are not just for our benefit...they come with responsibility.
So let’s begin by looking at what can be the most confusing passage about blessing in the Bible...Matthew 5:1-12
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.This is not the list I would put together if I were talking about blessed people!
Poor in Spirit, Mourning, meek, the hungry and thirsty, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted!
This doesn’t even sound like a list most of us would want to even be on!
Every culture has its people, behaviors, and states of being that let signify who the in-crowd really is...who the blessed ones are. In our culture the people on this list are not it. Wealth and fame, or something that looks like wealth and fame is what gives you standing. Our culture values success. It values disposable income. It values big toys. It values beauty and youth.
If we are not careful, those of us who follow Jesus adopt our cultures approach to blessing and attempt to make it our own...we read our ideas into passages like Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” We start thinking this about me on an individual level and God wants to prosper me and give me a hope and future! And we forget He is talking about His plans to bring about salvation and to restore the entire world to its original purpose.
For years I heard the Beatitudes preached as a spiritual to-do list. If you want to be blessed then you should become meek...hungry and thirsty for righteousness...pure in heart...peacemakers. But there are some pretty big interpretive jumps when we start talking about becoming poor in spirit...or mourning...
Rather than another list of things you have to become, Jesus is actually giving us a list of people who are valued by the Kingdom He is establishing. This annoyed the Pharisees of Jesus day because they only invited the wealthy, the powerful, and the influential to their dinners...We too want a list with all the good and nice and beautiful people, but Jesus says the ones he really wants to bless are the ones outside the normal realm of earthly blessings...
Being blessed is rooted in our biggest need.
In Genesis 12 God calls Abraham to leave his family and country and travel to a land God would give him and his descendants...then in verses 2-3 God says,
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”The problem was God’s blessing was promise required Abraham’s barren wife Sarah to have a child. Barren...she couldn’t have children. She wanted children...desperately wanted them...but couldn’t have a child. She couldn’t force that to happen. Certainly Abraham and Sarah were responsible to do their part...the nice dinner...the roses...the bottle of wine...but there was limit...they were only in control of so much.
Our blessings are rooted in our biggest need because we must recognize our dependence upon God! We can’t do this on our own.
The poor in spirit are dependent upon someone else to give them a Kingdom...the poor are not going to accomplish and conquer on their own. They have no authority. No standing...they have nothing.
Those who mourn are unable to comfort themselves...they need someone else to give them comfort. When someone who is mourning attempts to comfort themselves they become withdrawn and caught in a spiral of depression and sadness.
The merciful are dependent upon someone else to show them mercy. They open themselves up to abuse by others by being merciful...it requires someone else.
The list goes on and on...Our blessings are rooted in our biggest need because we must recognize our dependance on God to meet those needs.
We too often fail to see our blessing because we are trying to doGod’s part. We arrogantly believe we can do it all. God helps those who help themselves! Right? So we tire ourselves out...we get frustrated...we worry...we get depressed...and there is nothing we can do about that part.
That is the problem with worry as a parent. I worry about Brianna. What kind of friends she will make. Her walk home from school by herself most days. What kind of woman she will grow up to be...but my worry accomplishes nothing. I am responsible for my part....and the rest is not up to me,
Being blessed means we know what we can do, we do that, and we leave God to do what only God can do!
Being blessed means receiving what we need most.
There is an older country song by Garth Brooks titled Unanswered Prayers. In the song he tells how he and his wife ran into his high school sweetheart at a football game and how he remembered praying for God to make the relationship last.
Then Garth sings:
And as she walked away and I looked at my wifeYou see...we are notoriously bad at knowing what we need. We think our problem is one thing, and our very knowledgeable heavenly Father say, “Nope. That’s not your problem...here is your problem.”
Then and there I thanked the good Lord
For the gifts in my life
Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers.
We have some financial struggles...so we start looking for a better job that pays more. In reality our financial struggles are not always a result of not making enough money...sometimes the blessing comes by learning to trust and depend on God rather than our ability to make more money. God has often supplied financially for His children from unexpected places and by helping available resources go further than they should.
It might be that our need is not more money, but to confess a greed or lusting after more that has crept into our lives and keeps us from appreciate what we have. We think we need more money because we have bought more than we need.
It might be that our deepest need is to spend what we do have more wisely. God isn’t going to give us more if we are not using what we have appropriately.
You want that relationship to work out...to find healing. The problem may not be with the other person. It may be a lack of forgiveness on your part. Maybe you are not seeing the wrong you are doing. Maybe God wants you to be gracious in the midst of the barrage they leverage at you. The problem may not be what you think it is...maybe the relationship needs to be severed.
So often our blessing comes as we recognize what our need really is...all the other stuff fades away and we gain perspective.
I found this clip a couple of years ago...it is hilarious, but challenging to our perspective...
Being blessed is about our attitude, not our situation.
Being blessed means knowing what we and are not in control of...knowing who is ultimately in control...and trusting that He is working to heal our deepest needs, and that should change our attitude.
Philippians 4:12-13, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Paul was able to look beyond the situation to see that God’s blessings were not simply about security and safety...he wrote from inside of a prison and was ultimately beheaded for the faith...so security and safety were not the standards Paul would use.
Being blessed starts with recognizing that no matter what our situation...we are blessed. The old cliche “There is always someone worse off than you.” Is meant to be a reminder that knowing we are blessed starts with our attitude. There is probably some poor sap for whom there really is no one worse off for him...But our blessing does not rest in the idea that someone is worse off than us. Our blessing rests in the promises and character of who God is.
This morning you may be struggling with something...a fear, a worry, a need that keeps getting in the way of you experiencing the blessings God has for you. Maybe its time you stopped trying to do God’s part for him...you have been working to make things work and it is just more stress and hardship than you can really take...It is time to let go.
Maybe you have been treating symptoms rather than the actual problem. We hate when our doctors do that, but we do it all the time. We would rather make more money than adjust our lust for more. It is time to let that go.
Maybe it is our attitude...we need confidence that God wants to bless us and take care of us...and our attitude or mindset gets in the way.
April 2, 2013
There is a scene in Shawshank Redemption where Andy breaks into the Warden’s office, locks the door and plays music over the loud speaker for the entire prison to hear. The Warden sends him to solitary confinement for his actions, but once he gets out be says it is the easiest time he has ever done in the hole because the music gives hope, and hope is most needed in a place like Shawshank.
We live in a world bereft of hope, and yet that is when we need hope the most! We need hope, in the midst of all that is going on and going wrong around us. We need hope because it brings meaning, purpose, and a confidence that better days are on the horizon.
For those of us here this morning, we must know the hope we really need can only be found in Jesus! When the world going to Hell around us, and there is little reason to believe that things are going to get better...we have hope because we have a Savior who was not defeated by death, but was raised to new life! That is the hope we need most.
Sometimes our church background gets in the way...We believe Jesus rose from the dead, but then talk about it as though it’s only applicable to our spiritual lives. That just doesn’t seem like God! Jesus’ resurrection is meant to give us hope with the everyday things we face; not just some future by and by.
When everything is going wrong...that is when we most need the hope Jesus’ resurrection provides.
We need hope when we are unemployed or under-employed, and there is a stack of bills sitting on the counter and a barrage of collection calls?
We need hope when all the guilt and shame of our past mistakes keep washing over and dragging us below the surface like a surfer being drowned beneath the ocean waves?
We need hope when our most earnest prayers seem unanswered and the one who promised, “till death do us part” walks out the door never to return?
We have access to the hope we need if we just tap into it in the resurrection of Jesus Christ...
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
It is easy for us to look back, knowing the end of the story, but if we could transport ourselves back to the time of the disciples, and put ourself in their shoes; experiencing what they had experienced over the past week...we too would sense the depth of their despair.
Jesus, the one they believed to be the Messiah entered Jerusalem to a rousing crowd cheering and shouting. He spent the week confronting the religious leaders and teaching about the Kingdom of God. The disciples expected Him to start the Revolution that would overthrow the Roman government and establish the Kingdom of God Jesus had been teaching about.
That is when it all went horribly wrong...Jesus was betrayed, arrested, mocked, beaten, crucified, and buried in a tomb...with a large stone and guards...it was over!
This wasn’t just their teacher. This was the man with whom they had spent 3 years of their lives...studying, preparing, laughing, and caring. They were broken and defeated. Peter, the disciple who said, “I will follow you even if it means death!” was so overwhelmed he denied Jesus 3 times. The rest of the disciples fled fearing for their lives. At one moment they are sure about the future and where it is headed...and the next everything has been taken away.
But here Luke begins...“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning...”
This is a whole new day! Things are about to get real!
1. Hope Heals our Past
By the time Luke writes this passage, the darkness the disciples felt had passed. The three days between the crucifixion and the resurrection were when all the loneliness, sadness, abandonment, and discouragement set in...the realization that there was no Kingdom...there was no revolution...Jesus was “not the Messiah they were looking for.” They left everything to follow Him, and now there was nothing.
But the resurrection changed all of that! Jesus’ resurrection took the pain and despair of those few days and vanquished them and filled them with hope. All of the the hurt and pain the disciples experienced was transformed by the resurrection.
And when we surrender our lives to Jesus, we are given access to the same transforming power that raised Jesus to life!
Romans 6:5-7, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.”
When we surrender our past hurts, sins, disappointments, and failures to God...the Bible tells us in Psalm 103:11-12, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
He does not hold our past against us! He desires to free us from all the baggage we carry!
A pastor received this letter: "I'm 31 years old and divorced, though I fought the divorce bitterly. I feel bad. I have no hope for my future. Often I go home and cry, but there's no one holding me when I cry. Nobody cares. Nothing changes, and I continue to fail. I'm stressed out emotionally, and I feel I'm on the verge of a collapse. Something is very wrong. But I feel so hurt and embittered that I can scarcely react or relate to others anymore. I feel as if I'm going to have to sit out the rest of my life in the penalty box."
The tragedy is many people live life like this. They can't get on with the present and the future because they're stuck in the past. Guilt or regret ties them down. Sometimes they're letting a former relationship mess up their current relationship. They say, "I guess I'll just have to live with this the rest of my life."
The resurrection is God’s way of saying our past doesn’t have to define our present or our future!
No matter what sin you have lurking in your past...
No matter how often you have failed...
No matter what hurts and pains you have experienced...
Jesus’ resurrection gives hope that you can have freedom from your past and start again!
2. Hope helps our Present Problems.
I love football...especially Ohio State football, but I’m usually busy when the games are on so I don’t get to watch it. So that is why God gave me a DVR to record them. I do find it impossible, though, not to peak. But I have found, if I know my team is going to win the game, I don’t get as tense and upset when I’m watching the dvr’d game and they fumble the ball....I already know they win.
When we take the power of Jesus’ resurrection into our lives...it is like knowing our team wins. It puts our current pain into perspective. Jesus declares that nothing will overcome those who place their trust in Him...this gives us a tremendous advantage in handling our current problems
To often we say things like “My life is out of control.”
I feel powerless to change the situation…
I feel powerless to break that bad habit…
I feel powerless to save a relationship…
I feel powerless to get out of debt…
I feel powerless to manage my schedule...
What we need is a power greater than ourself. You were never meant to live life on your own power...disconnected from God.
Our Present can seem unmanageable because we have not tapped into the power Jesus makes available to us.
Ephesians 1:18-20 says, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you...and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead...”
Some of us came crawling in here—you've had a tough week, a tough month, a tough couple of years, and the idea that God can do something about our present circumstances may sound as nonsensical as the women’s description that day to the disciples, but God wants you to hear this: "Don't give up."
No problem is too big for God. No situation is hopeless if you'll turn it over to him.
Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
It does not says, "I am ready for anything through the power of positive thinking"? It doesn't say, "I am ready for anything because I psyched myself up"? It doesn’t say, “I am ready for anything because I can tough it out!” No.
It says, "I am ready for anything because of the strength of Christ who lives in me."
That strength is available for you today!
3. Hope means our future is secure
Jesus’ resurrection means that in the end...He wins. Pain, suffering, death, sin, evil...they don’t win. They don’t get the last word. God has spoken against the injustice in our world...and about the injustice in our lives! Despite everything we see around us screaming to the contrary....the pain, the turmoil, the heartache...even in the death of His only begotten son...something good will come of this.
When we are faced with a hopeless situation...we can rest in the promise of Romans 8:28, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Our future is uncertain...not one of us here knows what will happen to us...we can live in fear of that future...we can worry about all the stuff that MIGHT happen...we can allow the pressures to overwhelm us...or we can trust that the same God who raised Jesus from the dead will bring life to our future, and take care of us no matter what the world throws at us.
I love 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14. I use it often when doing funerals. It says, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”
You see, we don’t have to fear the future...least of all do we have to fear death. Because one day, Jesus will raise us from the dead to live in His presence in the Kingdom of God in realm where pain and tears are wiped away, and joy and celebration replace all the heartache. We do not grieve as those who have no hope, because we are certain that God is working everything toward the ultimate goal of His Kingdom.
Your future is not uncertain...God holds it in His hands!
I love this quote, “The Christian gospel [Jesus’ death and resurrection] asserts that...God moves to fix messes he didn’t create, pay debts he didn’t incur, forgive the guilty for wrongs they couldn’t undo and bear burdens humanity piled onto itself.”
God, as revealed in Jesus Christ, shows us a different God than many have come to believe exists. We have a Savior who left heaven, surrendered His God-ness, and took on our humanity...suffered alongside of us...took on our infirmities, as the Bible says, all so He could rescue us.
Today, maybe you walked in here struggling with baggage from your past...that doesn’t have to define your present or your future...If you are willing to surrender it to Jesus, he can give you the strength you need to make it through.
Maybe you are just slammed with all kinds of present problems. You feel your life is unmanageable and out of control. You are struggling just to maintain...You don’t have to do that under your own strength.
Maybe it is the future that frightens you. You live in fear of what might or might not happen...I invite you to place your trust in the God who promises to make everything work out to the good.
But let’s be honest...most of what we mean by forgiveness should maybe just be called forbearance. When you have human beings going through life we are going to bump into each other, and that needs a little forbearance...putting up with each other’s idiosyncrasies.
True forgiveness happens when one person causes us to suffer in such a way that our previous way of relating is impossible now. The suffering creates separation in our relationship because the actions have been damaging. We can’t do that any more, because it hurts too much.
I believe most every person, at least conceptually, understands the power of forgiveness. We understand its need. We understand that not forgiving hurts us more than it hurts them. We know all of this, and yet there always seems to be that one time, that one act, by that person where forgiveness is so much harder. Their action sticks with us. It even seems to have this mystical power over our lives, and we simply can’t break free.
We talk about it constantly.
Our minds wander to it when we are quiet.
We try to get away, but just can’t seem to break its hold.
Lori and I were hanging out with a friend and his wife a long time ago...we had worked for the same hard driving boss, and every time we got together the stories and the time spent together seemed to dwell on what had happened way back then...It was like our relationship was defined by our shared suffering.
One time after a whole evening of this, Lori and I were driving home, and I said, “I don’t want that time in my life to define me. I don’t want to be sitting around with my friend years from now still telling the story of that person over and over again.”
What I really needed was to learn how to forgive.
This morning we looking at a scene from Jesus’ crucifixion. I know it is Palm Sunday, and people traditionally talk about the Triumphal Entry, but we are going to look at a scene from Jesus on the cross and how he continues, even at his deepest and darkest moment to offer forgiveness to those around Him.
Let’s read Luke 23:32-39
32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.
33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Forgiveness can be difficult as it is, but now Jesus raises the bar, so to speak, by forgiving the people who are in the act of crucifying Him. I can’t imagine what it must have been like. I can’t imagine how He was able to accomplish such a thing.
And here we see Jesus offering forgiveness right in the middle of the worst moment of His life. Jesus is able to forgive because
1. Jesus prayed for their forgiveness.
His entire ministry Jesus forgave the sins of others, taught His disciples to forgive, and actively prayed for his people to receive forgiveness. It was to be the hallmark of the Messiah’s ministry.
One of the most powerful teaching passage of Jesus is the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. In Matthew 5:39-48 Jesus teaches about turning the other cheek, and in a passage that speaks directly to this, Jesus talks about loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us.
Long before he actually dealt with a crucifixion, Jesus made the decision to pray for those who were crucifying Him, and that is where it must begin for us...praying for those who hurt, offend, and want to do actual harm to us.
I don’t know about you, but praying for the people who are in the process of killing me does not sound like an easy thing to do. In fact, we live in a culture that says, “I will kill you before you can hurt me!” Our American way of doing things make this seem like the stupidest of responses! How dare he just take it! And then to wimp out and pray for those who are hurting Him? There are all kinds of psychological terms for the damage being done, and yet Jesus does exactly that...he prays for them...he forgives them.
In one church where I youth pastored, there was a lady who seemed determine to undermine my leadership and make me look bad. She went so far as to lie about me to my pastor. Luckily, I had called her to explain the situation from his phone with him standing next to me; so he had witnessed it all. He, however, saw what the strain was doing to me personal, and practically mandated that I begin praying for her...and not just praying she drop over dead or something. He challenged me to pray for God’s blessing on her life...and that act alone transformed my heart toward her, and my ability to respond to her even while it never changed the situation.
What seems like a moment of weakness is actually a moment of strength for Jesus. Jesus is doing this for them. His prayer, here on the cross, is just a verbal expression of what his crucifixion was all about...the forgiveness of those who most need it.
Jesus made a decision to love His enemies and to pray for those who persecuted Him in the same way he calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
2. Jesus sets the example for us to follow.
Luke is the author of our passage today and also the author of the book of Acts. In Acts he records the beginning of the church, and some of the persecution the people faced. In one place he tells the story of Stephen. A young man given leadership in the church who soon faces persecution because of his belief in Jesus.
The people are so angry they beat Stephen; many calling for his death. As the people begin to beat him to death with rocks, Stephen prays, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." (Acts 7:59,60).
Jesus life is meant to be our example, and Stephen understood this. It is our call as well. We are called to love our enemy and to pray for those who persecute us.
We often make excuses for why Jesus’ way simply will not work. Our world is too violent to respond with this kind of approach. If we do it this way, people will walk all over us. We can come up with a million excuses as to why Jesus’ way will not work in our modern world, and yet His call does not waver...there is no exception to the rule.
Bt is as Elizabeth O'Connor said, "Forgiveness is a whole lot harder than any sermon makes it out to be."
When we have to put rubber to the road, responding as Jesus would have us respond is not easy. Often what is harder than the act of forgiving is convincing ourselves we should even forgive in the first place.
3. Jesus knows the power of forgiveness.
There are several powerful spiritual principles at work when it comes to forgiveness...even when, maybe especially when, we are forgiving some of the most horrific things in our world.
A. Forgiveness frees us.
This isn’t just about the other person. In fact, the people around Jesus that day, for the most part, wanted nothing to do with His forgiveness. The people stoning Stephen wanted nothing to do with forgiveness. In many ways forgiveness isn’t isn’t about the other person...it is a way of freeing the forgiver from to the damaging effects of the sin done to them.
Philip Yancey says, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.”
I think I like the vividness of Anne Lammott’s statement even more, “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”
So often we refuse to forgive because it “will let them off the hook.” But really, we have to let ourselves off the hook. We have to stop nursing that pain. Like the bruise on our arm that we keep touch even though it hurts...we do that with out pain.
Facebook gives us insight into the minds of many people. One of the things I have noticed over and over is how it allows people to wallow and never get past the sharpness of their pain and anger. Not that people will ever get over certain events in their life, but certainly the human spirit is resilient and the pain softens over time...unless we keep nurturing the pain, caring for it, reminding ourselves of the painfulness of the pain...
When we refuse to forgive we remind ourselves over and over again how much we have been hurt and how painful it is and so it continues to cause us pain.
In reality what we need is to forgive because the pain is actually killing us. We have drunk the rat poison and we are waiting around for the rat to die.
B. Forgiveness enables us to receive forgiveness.
In the prayer we call The Lord’s Prayer, we say this line “Forgive us our transgressions as we forgive those who transgress against us.” What we often miss is that this means, “Forgive us in the same way we forgive others.” Our forgiveness is bound to our ability to forgive. We cannot receive the forgiveness God or others offer to us if we are harboring unforgiveness.
C. Forgiveness enables us to release the past and move into the future.
I wrestle with forgiving. My father left before I was born, and I saw him about 5 or 6 times my entire life. A couple of years ago I learned he had terminal cancer and had only a month or so to live. I struggled with whether to even go see him or not, but I so much wanted an apology from him before I could forgive.
So I finally went up, and after some time there we went out on the back porch to talk. He started off with what I thought was going to be an apology for not being part of my life, but instead turned into an apology for it not working out with my mom. It was probably his way of apologizing, but it wasn’t what I wanted...but somewhere in there I realized what I really wanted was a life with a father in it, and it was already too late for that...and no apology was ever going to do anything about it.
Anne Lammott has another great quote on forgiveness, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a better past.” And that is what we have to do. Our past hurts will kill our future. They will squeeze the life out of it.
Our ability to forgive enables us to move on...to move forward.
In 1977 “Reaksa” Himm was just 14 years old when the Khmer Rouge invaded his Cambodian village and slaughtered his friends and family. Reaksa, along with his father and brothers were dragged to the edge of a mass grave and slashed with machetes, beaten with clubs, and then tossed into the grave.
Miraculously Reaksa survived. He came to in the pit, and managed to crawl out unseen. As he hid in the nearby jungle, he watched as they dragged his mother and sisters and family members to the pit and murdered them.
Reaksa says, “As the soldiers threw dirt on the people who were my entire life, I swore revenge. I was alone, hungry and scared and in the coming weeks I made my way across the jungle, avoiding soldiers by day and sleeping in trees by night to escape roaming tigers.”
He spent several years living in the squalor of refugee camps before immigrating to Canada. There he was introduced to Jesus Christ. He says, “Through years of Bible study and communion with God, I started a new life in the west but could not release myself from the prison of hatred, anger and vengeance. I discovered that forgiveness truly is divine and that as the years passed, my blood oath and all consuming ire were in direct conflict with my new nature.
“The anger against the killers was as great as the grief for my family and it burned inside me like a great ball of fire. For years I cultivated elaborate fantasies in which I tortured and murdered the killers again and again, projecting all my rage and pain I bottled inside myself in my plans for what I would do to the men when I found then. I realized that I would never know true peace until I had dealt with this as well. I had to find a way of forgiving them, before the bitterness inside destroyed me.
If you’ve been deeply hurt, it isn’t easy to forgive but we can learn a lesson from Jesus, who forgave those who crucified him.”
So often we turn forgiveness into something about the other person, when it is has a significant impact on us, our healing, our freedom, our ability to receive forgiveness from others and especially from God! We want them to pay, but we have place ourselves in the prison thinking that will teach them.
March 19, 2013
“I grieve for you, how I mourn for you, who are so very dear to me, but again I can rejoice within my heart, not for nothing have I labored, neither has my exile been in vain.”
Long before he was associated with Green Beer, which no self-respecting Irishman would ever drink, or wild celebratory partying, Patrick was a missionary who baptized thousands, ordained many priests, and recruited men and women as monks and nuns. Although he wasn’t martyred, Patrick endured hostility and imprisonment, but sticking it out, his love for Ireland made him synonymous with that country. He loved Ireland so much he endured a great deal to reach them with the love of Christ.
His statement reminds me of today’s passage.
Luke 19:41-44 says,
“As [Jesus] approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”We are in a message series looking at Jesus’ reaction to those who are broken, and sinful, and in need of forgiveness. As people who profess to follow the way of Jesus, our lives and our responses to human sin and the need for forgiveness are to reflect those we see in Jesus. And today we see Jesus so moved with compassion for his people that he wept!
There are only two times in Scripture where we see Jesus crying. One in John, where Jesus weeps at the death of his friend Lazarus. The second is here in Luke as Jesus looks at the capital city of His people, and weeps over them.
The Gospel of Matthew uses the word compassion to show Jesus’ emotional response to those who are hurting. But here the emotion is much deeper. Jesus weeps almost uncontrollably.
The word used for weeping here is 'klaio' which means audible weeping. This is more than the typical manly excuse of there is “something in my eye” or “my eyeballs are just sweating!” It is also different from the word John uses when Jesus wept over Lazarus. This is violent weeping that seized him. He lost control and cried out in anguish. It burst through with visible, audible emotion. He was gripped with a pained passion for His people.
This is the opposite reaction most people felt as they looked at Jerusalem.
Last summer Lori, Bri, and I went to the Grand Tetons for vacation. As we came through the mountain pass out of Dubois, Wyoming we saw the Grand Tetons for the first time. I felt such awe and overwhelming joy at their grandeur and beauty. They were gorgeous! I tried to capture it with a picture, but it just didn’t do it justice. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it can’t contain the joy, and awe, and emotion of seeing something like that for the first time!
As the Jewish traveler came over the ridge and Jerusalem came into view, their emotions would have been overwhelming! Emotions similar to what I felt as I saw the Tetons for the first time. Jerusalem was the City of God. It was Abraham’s Mount Moriah, David’s Mount Zion, it was the home of the High Priest Melchizedek and the future home of Israel’s Messiah. At the center of the city, rising above the other buildings, they could see the earthly residence of God, the Temple, and they were here to worship! Their hearts leapt with joy over this place.
If there were tears, it was excitement and joy that caused them...but that is not why Jesus wept over Jerusalem.
Jesus shed tears of anguish; tears of a broken heart. Jesus wept because he could see the deeper reality of things.
Jesus wept because they were blind.
This story follows the Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into the City. He is welcomed with great fanfare. People shout and cheer. They throw palm branches and their cloaks on the ground. But in the midst of all this excitement they are blind.
In our passage Jesus says, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.”
John 1:11 says, “[Jesus] came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”
What the Jews had longed for and searched for so long to find was right in front of them...and they just couldn’t see it! They longed for the coming of their Messiah. They longed for the Shalom or peace of God. The very name of their capital city, Jerusalem, had the word Shalom or Peace in it symbolizing that God’s presence was the way to this true shalom. Jesus, the bearer of all they desired, was right there in front of them...and they were blind to it!
How many times does that happen today? The answer is ready and available, and people reject it.
People in need of love and community...reject the church.
People who need help and compassion...reject even speaking with a Christian.
People who need healing and hope in their lives...turn away from God rather than toward him.
The Church has not always done a great job at presenting Jesus well, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Jesus really is the way to true peace and forgiveness and hope in our world. Jesus is what Jerusalem needed, and Jesus is what our world needs today!
Our neighbors who struggle to keep their marriage together can and should be able to find hope in our marriages and in the Lord we serve.
The people who work with us should be able to see a different kind of employee, a different kind of attitude, a different kind of person in us...because we know Jesus is the hope our world needs.
People should be drawn to the hope found in Jesus simply because they come into contact with us, and by watching our lives, their eyes are opened to what Jesus can do for them!
So Jesus wept because of their blindness, but
Jesus wept over the coming destruction.
Our passage says, “The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
Jerusalem had always been the center of political turmoil. Because it was located on the busiest trade routes in the ancient world, every major world power wanted to control it. The Babylonians had conquered and destroyed the city near the end of the Old Testament. Eventually the Romans had conquered it, but even they couldn’t control the turmoil in the city.
What Jesus saw as the coming destruction would take place about 30 or so years later in AD 70. Jewish factions started to revolt. Titus, who would become Rome’s next Emperor, surrounded the city, destroyed every living tree surrounding Jerusalem to build a siege wall, and allowed no food or water to enter the city for 9 months.
The elderly, the weak, the poor, and the young were some of the first to die from thirst and starvation. Moral declined as the bodies of their neighbors piled up in the streets. Eventually Titus broke through the walls of the city and destroyed almost everyone inside.
The Jewish historian Josephus writes,
“The slaughter within was even more dreadful than the spectacle from without. Men and women, old and young, insurgents and priests, those who fought and those who entreated mercy, were hewn down in indiscriminate carnage. The number of the slain exceeded that of the slayers. The legionaries had to clamber over heaps of dead to carry on the work of extermination."In his anger, Titus destroyed the Temple, not leaving one stone on top of another, and sacrificed a pig on the altar, the abomination of desolation spoken of in Matthew.
This is the consequence of Jerusalem’s rejection of their Messiah, and at the heart of Jesus’ weeping that day. Jesus isn’t weeping because of the people have simply committed sin...he is weeping because of the devastation sin causes in the lives of those whom he loves! For Jerusalem, their sin and their rejection of the Messiah was leading to a day of actual destruction.
For many people around us...their sin has consequences that either has brought them into some destructive consequences or it will one day.
Jesus wept because he saw the destruction sin causes.
These are the same tears a parent cries when the son or daughter they love reaps the consequences of their drug use.
These are the same tears shed every time an innocent child is molested or abused and suffers at the hands of someone else’s sin.
These are the tears shed when a marriage is destroyed and innocent children suffer the consequence two adults have thrust upon them.
These are the tears of the spouse who has been betrayed and cheated on.
Sin has devastating consequences.
Jerusalem's rejection of their Messiah means they forfeited peace...the Shalom they so desperately needed and wanted. They just didn’t see it. He still weeps.He looks at the pain and agony, the consequences people suffer due to rebellious sinfulness and weeps.
Some people have this idea that Jesus gets really excited about being people’s judge. He is holy and gets to give them what they deserve, but if this picture of Jesus is correct, Jesus weeps when humans reject the peace and the hope he has to offer.
In Ezekiel 33:11 God says to the Prophet Ezekiel,
“Say to [Israel], ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’”
2 Peter 3:9,
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
Jesus wept for this city, and in within the week they executed him. His love compelled Him to attempt over and over and over again to win them...even to the point of sacrificing His own life.
The challenge for us is to be moved with this same passion. As followers of Jesus, as His ambassadors in our world, do we weep for the those who are hurting and struggling with sin? Do we see our family, our friends, our neighbors, our city, as something worth weeping over because of their distance from God?
Often what we have to overcome is something more like indifference.
In 1994 there was a massacre in Rwanda. Hutus massacred somewhere between 500,000-1,000,000 of their Tutsis neighbors in about a month and a half.
Hotel Rwanda is based on a true story about a hotel manager who rescued as many Tutsis refugees as he could. After watching a reporter's video of the atrocities, the manager believes this will cause the world to get involved. The reporter says, “They will say, “Oh my god! That’s horrible!” and then go on eating their dinner.” And that is exactly what the world did in that case...absolutely nothing.
If we are not careful, the church can sit by watching people as they are carried off in the horrific consequences of sin.
For us that means taking seriously out call to be a witness. To live out the Jesus life in front of the people around us. To take each God-given moment to share about the hope we have within us. To speak up. To act and care on behalf of those who are hurting. To feel this same sense of purpose and drive to reach the lost. To weep for those around us who need desperately need the shalom Jesus offers.
Who are you weeping over?