Thursday, November 30, 2006

Lamentations 3:19 – 26
“The Power of Hope”

“And hope does not disappoint us...” [Romans 5:5a]

“Suffering produces perseverance; [4] perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5:3b, 4]

The first theme we will look at this Christmas season is “hope.” It is one of the missing elements in our country and church right now. Let’s make three observations about this text.

I. Life can hurt. [vv 19 – 20]

A. [v 19] There is pain given to us by other people and life.

1. “Affliction” refers to distress with mental or bodily pain.

a. Verbal abuse = mental pain, when we are told we are of no worth.

b. Physical abuse = physical pain.

2. Some people use general cruelty as an attempt to build themselves up.

3. Sometimes it is the circumstances of life, beyond our control.

B. [v 19] There is the pain we cause ourselves.

1. “Wandering” refers to the image of someone who has left home (e.g. the “prodigal” son).

a. There is the misery of being alone (sometimes even when married).

b. There is the misery of having nothing (even when rich).

c. The spiritual analogy:

“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way...”Isaiah 53:6a
“...Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd.” Zechariah 10:2b

2. Chastisement is the Eastern understanding of “bitterness and gall.”

a. This is the natural result of sin.

b. It is “self-inflicted.”

c. It is God correcting us, before it is to late.

C. [v 19] There is pain give to us by sin.

1. “Bitterness and gull.”

a. “Bitterness” is the word for a bitter herb (wormwood).

b. “Gall” is the bitter secretion of the liver.

c. We get a double dose. “Bitterness” is ingested (created externally) and “gull” is produced internally.

2. Bitterness has consequences!

“See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Hebrews 12:15

a. “Trouble” means to be disturbed. This is a lack of harmony and gives us a picture of EMOTIONAL problems.

b. “Defile” gives the idea of being poisoned or polluted. The picture it gives is of SPIRITUAL problems.

D. [v 20] Pain that accumulates.

1. “Down cast” is the image of sinking or being thrown down.

a. It is an Old Testament image of being depressed.

b It is an Old Testament image of being in despair.

The Bible says, “...heartache crushes the spirit.” [Proverbs 15:13b]
The Bible says, “An anxious heart weighs a man down...” [Proverbs 12:25a]
The Bible says, “...a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” [Proverbs 17:22b]
The Bible says, “A man's spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” [Proverbs 18:14]

2. There is a good sorrow (leads to repentance) and a bad sorrow.

a. In “Pilgrim’s Progress,” Pilgrim gets off the path and ends up imprisoned in the “Dungeon Despair.”

b. What do you want when you get to this point?

1.) The trouble is that we want relief from suffering.

2.) The cure really is in God.

***** In God there is “hope” not relief! An hope does not disappoint us. *****

II. Love can heal. [vv 22 – 24]

A. The Lord’s great love.

1. The Lord’s love protects us. It is our “heat shield.” (Ill. Space shuttle)

2. The Hebrew word is “(c)hesed” and it refers to a covenant and unfailing love. It is possibly the most important word/concept in the Old Testament because it is the basis of all that God does and requires (in the Old Testament).

3. This “loving kindness” is the foundation of the New Testament word/concept of “grace.”

4. God’s “(c)hesed” is undeserved, unearned, unmerited. It is God’s “want too.”

B. [v 22] God’s compassion:

1. It never fails, never comes to an end.

a. Even when we deserve the worst, God wants to give and do the best.

b. [v 32] “Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.”

c. Also see Romans 8:35 – 39

2. The key issue is wether we TRUST God... (Someone has said the reason we sin is because of the “sneaking” suspicion that God is not good... in other words, that we can not trust God.)

C. [v 23] God’s mercies are new every morning.

1. NOT yesterday and NOT tomorrow.

a. You cannot live today off yesterday’s lunch.

b. You can not dream of the future and fail to live today.

2. “Todayness”

Jesus said, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” [Matthew 6:34]

III. The Lord is good [vv 25 – 26] so there are three things to do.

A. [v 25] DEPEND on God.

1. “Hope” means to look for, expect. It is not “wishful thinking.”

The Bible says, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. [18] So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” [2 Corinthians 4:17 – 18]

The Bible says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” [Romans 8:18]

2. The circumstances of right now will not last. (Ill.) A famous preacher was once asked about his cerebral palsy said, “it is life-long but temporary.”

3. Why can we depend on God? God is good, all the time.

B. [v 25] DEEPEN your relationship with God.

1. “Seek the Lord.”

The Bible says, “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. [13] You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” [Jeremiah 29:11, 13]

2. Two tools:

a. Read the Bible!

b. Pray!

C. [v 26] DEVELOP trust in God.

1. [v 26] Wait quietly before God.

a. It is good to wait quietly in contrast to our know-it-all and mindless activity. It seems everyone has an answer, but only God has the solution.

b. Salvation comes from depending on God, not our efforts for salvation (ours or others).

2. Stop thrashing! (Ill.) “Quick sand” is only about waist deep. We get in trouble when we thrash.

a. Don’t panic. Panic loses perspective.

b. Don’t fear. Fear is a weapon of the enemy.

c. Give up self-effort. Depend on God’s kindness.

3. We are “programed” to not trust.

a. We tell our children “don’t talk to strangers” (for safety in today’s world, this is important).

b. We know “don’t let the salesman get a foot in the door.” (Ever let a Kirby or Rainbow sales rep. in your house?)

c. The TV commercials blare, “don’t pay more than you have too.” (It is proven that people will complain more about a $2 burger than a $20,000 car.)

4. We have to deliberately develop trust in God.

1. Life can hurt. This hurt can be given to us or self-inflicted. In God there is hope because of His love.

2. Love can heal. God’s love is unfailing/covenant love. God’s love is found in “todayness.” The healing power of God’s love comes from God’s goodness.

3. Three things to do: DEPEND on God. DEEPEN your relationship with God. DEVELOP trust in God.

Friday, November 17, 2006

1 John 2:1 – 11
“Paid in full”

The IDEAL is to not sin. The REALTY is we do sin.

Confusion: One German poet wrote, “I love to sin. God Loves to forgive sin. Really, this world is admirable arranged.”

The Effect:

1. Some people give up because they are discouraged or frustrated. They think they can never be “good enough.”

2. Some people enjoy wallowing in the guild.

3. Some people us it as a license to sin. (They feel, since it is not possible then there is no point in disciplining ourselves.)

4. Some people get stuck in a cycle. (The book of Judges demonstrates that this cycle is a downward spiral.)

Confusion: One person giving a testimony said, “I ain’t what I ought to of been. I’ve stolen hogs, and told lies, and got drunk, and was always getting in fights, and shooting craps, and playing poker, and I’ve cussed and swore, but I thank the Lord there’s one thing I ain’t never done; I ain’t never lost my religion.”

PROBLEM: we put sin on a hierarchy and say some are worse than others (we recognize there are greater social implications... say between murder and lying). However, sin is still sin.

***** So how do we deal with this spiritual conflict? *****

I. We have a defense lawyer – Jesus [vv 1 – 2]

A. The “advocate.”
1. This is an image of a court room setting, we are on trial.

2. The Father is the judge and the Son is the defense lawyer.

B. The defense lawyer has already paid the penalty.

1. KJV = “propitiation” which means Jesus has satisfied the wrath of God.

2. NIV = “atoning sacrifice” which means Jesus as made full payment for our sin by being our substitute.

***** Jesus is our substitute. He took our punishment and paid the price for our sins.” *****

II. We have a pattern for our lives – Jesus [vv3 – 6]

A. God’s Word.

1. We see God at work.

2. We see God’s love in our lives.

3. This does not mean things will not go wrong or feel uncomfortable.

***** Often it is the pressure of things not going right that motivates us to follow the pattern closer. *****

(Ill.) High School shop class, learning the jig saw. We were given templates to follow. If we did not follow the template we would have a duck with no head.

***** When we get off track – sin – we need to be able to understand that there is a pattern to follow. This pattern helps us get back to where we need to be. It gives us direction. *****

B. “Walk as Jesus did.”

III. We have a basic test – our brother [vv 7 – 11]

A. Jesus identified His disciples by saying they would love one another.

1. Remember that person you’ve had a hard time with may be your neighbor in heaven (for eternity).

2. John filled out the other side when he wrote: “But whoever hates his brother is in darkness...”

a. “Brother” is singular... one (not many) become the rule not the exception.

b. In other words, it only takes one to prove that we are a liar.

B. Notice the choice is either - or between two extremes. (Love -v- Hate)

Abraham Lincoln once said “the only ground between right and wrong is battle ground.”

It is not possible to be neutral. The problem is that we would like “gray area” where we don’t have to love the person but also feel it is not right to hate the person. So we create this neutral area were we are not responsible for pro-actively loving but we are not guilty of hating either.

Conclusion: If we sin:

1. We can be forgiven. We have the best defense lawyer BLOOD can by in the Lord Jesus Christ.

2. We can get back on pattern by obeying God’s word and by imitation Jesus.

3. We can do a gut check in our attitude and behavior toward our fellow Christians as a test to see where we are...

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Matthew 5:11 – 12
Persecuted in America

I. Expect external pressure.

A. Three things Jesus mentions:

1. Insult (name calling)

a. This is childish behavior.

b. The aim is public perception.

2. Persecution (government intervention)

a. These are legal attacks.

b. There is the physical use of force. (e.g. Darfur)

3. False accusations (slander)

a. These are made up stories.

b. In reality, it is a mythology surrounding Christians. (e.g. Romans believed Christians were cannibals because of communion.)

B. The situation today in America.

1. Insult

a. Christians have been called “flat-earthers.”

b. Christians have been called “hatemongers” (e.g. a Light and Life magazine article interviewing a big name Christian author who accused Free Methodists of being “hatemongers” because we see homosexuality as a sin, along with many others.)

2. Persecution

a. Students sent to the principals office for praying (silently) before meals.

b. In CA, FL, WA, anti-Christian bias in the court system is being used in custody battles.

c. Battles over the potential of church property seized for commercial interest.

d. Judge More removed from his state supreme court for the public display of the 10 Commandments (actually a Jewish symbol).

3. False accusations

a. Dobson/Focus on the Family was sued for the tragic murder (all murders are tragic) of a gay man in Nebraska (even though the crime was committed by non-Christians).

b. Creation scientists are openly discriminated against.

c. “Value” voters are told not to vote.

d. Woman fired from library for “insubordination” for not working Sundays (which she had never done in 36 years).

II. Understand what underpins the hostility is a hatred of Jesus.

A. Anti-God behavior is historic.

1. Jesus said, “they persecuted the prophets.”

a. Jesus said, “Men love darkness rather than light.”

b. light/truth will never be tolerated by those who control oppressive systems.

2. Persecution - around the world - is accelerating.

a. It is said that more Christians have died in the last 10 years than in the history of the world. (e.g. Darfur is ignored because it is CHRISTIAN)

b. The good news is that under persecution, the church expands rapidly. (e.g. A pastor in Bagdad tells how his church has grown since 2001.)

B. The reality: persecution is not about us.

1. John 15:18 – 21, Its about Jesus.

a. The would “hates” Jesus.

b. We do not belong to the world.

2. 2 Timothy 3:12, Its about lifestyle.

a. Wanting to live godly lives makes others nervous. (If someone is able then others are without excuse.)

b. Godliness is the opposite of what is wanted.

III. How should the Christian react to persecution?

A. Jesus said to “rejoice and be glad” (Matthew 5:12)

1. The Apostles were imprisoned and beaten... their response?

“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. [42] Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.” (Acts 5:41 – 42)

2. It has been said that the mortar that has built the church was the blood of the saints.

B. Jesus said to love and pray for them. (Matthew 5:44)

1. Christianity (and the church) is simple (not easy):

a. Love God. (Matthew 22:37)

b. Love others. (Matthew 22:38)

c. Serve in love. (John 13:34)

2. Other things Jesus said to do:

a. Go the extra mile. (Matthew 5:41)

b. Turn the other cheek. (Matthew 5:39)

c. Do to others what you want done to you. (Matthew 7:12)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Isaiah 43:16 – 28
Something Old, Something New

Two hunters flew into a remote valley in Canada to hunt elk. On the way home the pilot saw they had bagged six elk. He insisted they could only carry four. The hunters protested. “The plane last year was exactly like this one. It had the same horsepower. The weather was the same. We had six elk last year.” Hearing this the pilot agreed to try.

As they stumbled from the wreckage, the one hunter asked the other if he knew were they were. “I’m not sure but I think we’re about two miles from where we crashed last year.” [Source: Unknown]

I’m not sure if trying the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity or stupidity. Isaiah looks at the past but recognizes that God is doing something new.

I. God has done an awesome thing. [vv 16 – 17]

A. Israel’s history – crossing of the Red Sea.

1. God delivered them out of the bondage/slavery of Egypt.

2. God destroyed the power of the enemy.

B. The Christian’s history – the death and resurrection of Jesus.

1. God delivered the believer out of the slavery of sin.

2. God destroyed the power/dominion of sin in our lives.

C. The is both a command to remember and command to move forward.

1. We need to remember because we are so quick to forget.

2. We need to “fix our eyes on Jesus,” which is to move forward.

William Bennet said, “The reason America is great is because we tend to forget and move forward. The reason America is not great is because we tend to forget and move forward.”

D. Living in the past tends to excuse us from:

1. Attempting BIG things for God today. Thus, we do not have an impact on today.

2. Expecting great things from God today. We reason they are miracles because they don’t happen often.

3. Taking responsibility.

II. God is calling us to a new awesome thing. [vv 18 – 19]

A. Israel move from slavery into the Promised Land

1. How can slaves be transformed into a nation? The Law!

2. How can slaves acquire land? The power of God!

B. The believer today.

1. The believer is now free. Now what?

a. How do we live like freed slaves? Through the power of the Holy Spirit!

b. How are we transformed into a “royal priesthood” [1 Peter 2:9]? Through the power of the Holy Spirit!

c. We have the “power of the resurrection.” [Philippians 3:10]

2. The Bible says, “because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life sen me free from the law of sin and death.” [Romans 8:2]

C. The desert and wasteland are being transformed!

1. Israel was/had become a spiritual wasteland. God intended to change them.

2. Transformation occurs by the power of the Holy Spirit. The law could teach but it could not transform.

III. God allows us to frustrate the new thing.

A. We can ignore God. [v 22]

1. “not called” (encountered)

a. They did not respond to God.

b. They did not pray.

2. “not wearied yourselves for me” (wearied = “to gasp, exhaust”)

a. They put no effort into their spiritual life.

b. They kept up the externals but not the faith. They looked like they were alive but were dead on the inside.

B. We can withhold what God requires. [v 23]

1. “not brought burnt offerings, ... sacrifices.”

a. Tithes and offerings were not brought. The first and most sure sign of spiritual decay is when God’s people stop bringing their tithes and offerings.

b. Time and ability were not used. The second and sure sign of spiritual decay is when God’s people break the Sabbath and do not put their abilities to use for God’s glory.

“This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways. [8] Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored," says the LORD. [9] "You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?" declares the LORD Almighty. "Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house.” [Haggai 1:7 – 9]

2. Meanwhile, we make all sorts of demands on God. External things have become more important than God.

C. We can disobey God. [v 24]

1. “Sin” refers to habits that are offensive to God.

2. “Offenses” means perversion with fault.

3. “Transgressions” [v 25] means rebellion.

4. “Transgressed” [v 27] means to break away from.

Eventually externals become pointless.

Even when we frustrate the work of God in our lives... God is still at work. We just keep ourselves from enjoying the blessing and the good things God wants to do for us.
To Do:

1. Rejoice in what God has done. It is the foundation of the future, not the completed work.

2. Be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

3. Check the steps we take away from God. The best cure is to respond to God.