Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Joy of the Cross: The answer to the Ultimate Question

Psalm 24

The Joy of the Cross: The answer to the Ultimate Question


[Ill.] A game show where questions were asked.  The host would ask, “Is that your final answer?”  It has been said, to know the answer you have to have the right question.


This Psalm may have been written for when the Ark of the Covenant was moved into Jerusalem by King David.  It has prophetic implications referring to Jesus entry into the temple.  It also has practical applications to our spiritual journey.



I.                   God is awesome!


A.                 God is the hand-on creator of the earth.


1.                  One theory of God is that he is like the clock maker who designed the earth, wound it up, and left it.


2.                  Jesus is described as the creator: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” [John 1:3]


3.                  God the Father sent Jesus the son: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.” [John 1:10]


B.        God is the hand-on owner of the earth.


1.         God is actively involved today. “For God so loved the world that he gave                 his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have             eternal life.” [John 3:16]


2.                  God’s ownership and activity is based on the fact He made                         everything.


Sometimes in our spiritual journey we make little progress.  The effort seems to not pay off.  Some quit or loose heart.  Others stumble and find it difficult to get up.  Everyone at some point feels drained. 


Which brings us to the question: “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?”  Spurgeon noted that the Christian life is uphill.  It takes energy and effort to overcome the gravity of sin.  What skills are needed?


David suggests four disciplines for a successful spiritual pilgrimage.



II.                How can anyone seek God?


A.        “Clean hands” [v 4a]


1.         Hands symbolize the work we do.  “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” [Colossians 3:23]


2.         This is holiness.  It is applied holiness in the form of behavior that conforms to the will of God.


B.        “Pure heart” [v 4a]


1.        The real test of the behavior is what comes from the heart.  “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these things come from inside and make a man unclean.”  [Mark 7:20 – 21]


2.         Motivations and thoughts, which only God can know.  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You cleaned the outside of the cup and dish but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence... You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.”  [Mathew 23:25]


C.        Undivided loyalty.  “…does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.” [v 4b]


            1.         What is an idol?


a.         An idol is a false “god.”  Sometimes a false “god” is symbolized by a physical object, such as a rock.


b.         Technically, anything that is more important than God is an idol.  It may be stuff, life-style, comfort, pleasure, etc…  There is a lack of exclusive relationship to God.


c.         The first commandment is: “You shall have no other gods before me.”  [Exodus 20:3]


            2.         Allowing what is false in our lives divides our loyalties.


a.         Swearing by what is false is taking an oath (making a promise) with no intention of doing what you said.


b.         The intent to deceive and lack of integrity undermines our spiritual efforts.


D.        Submitted will.  “Lift up your heads…” [vv 7, 9]


            1.         Prophecy meets invitation.


                        a.         The desire of Israel was to see the Messiah enter Jerusalem.


                        b.         At the same time, it is expected that we allow Jesus to enter.


2.            Here is the ironic twist: With all our effort to apply all spiritual                      disciplines (which is good) we discover that God has been outside            the gates all along… waiting for us.


a.         Through cleans hands, pure heart, undivided loyalty we       learn the discipline of a submitted will.


                        b.         We are on our spiritual journey to find that Jesus is at the                                     door.  While we have been intimidated to approach God,                                     God has taken the step toward us.



III.             The secret to achieving your goal.


A.        You must be saved.  [v 5]


            1.         Blessing is root cause for joy.  Blessing is not arbitrary.


            2.         “Vindication” means given righteousness “from God his Savior.”                                    [v 5]


                        a.         Who do we really trust for our salvation?  Do we trust                                       our own works or God, through the blood Jesus spilled on                                       the cross? 


                        b.         God takes the initiative; we respond… that response is                                      always uphill because sin, like gravity, is always trying to                                      drag us into the pit of hell.


B.        You must be seeking. [v 6]


            1.         While God has taken the steps (offered the gift of eternal life), we                         need to put some effort into our spiritual journey.  Why?


                        a.         We are more likely to appreciate the gift if we actually use                                     it after it is given.


                        b.         What good is the gift if we do not  use it?


2.                 You will pursue something/someone.


a.                   We may not always recognize what is most important.


                                    b.         Ask yourself, if your life was one item in a box… what                                                  would that item be?


“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” [1 Corinthians 2:2]


“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” [Philippians 1:21]


“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection…” [Philippians 3:10a]


Hands, heart, mind (undivided loyalty), spirit (submitted will)… all for Jesus and all on the alter.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Joy of the Cross: Forgiveness

Psalm 32

The Joy of the Cross


1.         David has committed sin, concealed the sin, and finally confessed the sin.


                      His relationship with God has been strained, broken, or forfeited.


                      Three categories/types of sin and their remedies.


                        A.        Transgression means willful rebellion. These are REMOVED through forgiveness.


                        B.        Sin means error or falling short. Sin is COVERED, put out of God’s sight through Atonement.


                        C.        [v 2] Iniquity (NIV “sin”) means either foolishness, defilement, or perversity. Iniquity is OVERLOOKED (for the lack of a better expression)... “whose sin the LORD does not count against him.” (Righteousness not sin is “imputed”... for those who need a theological expression.)


                      What is wanted and needed is a right relationship with God. The reality is sin has strained, damaged, broken or forfeited that relationship.


2.         Silence equals suffering!


                      There are two way to deal with a sin situation: Silence or repentance.


                      God uses “conviction” to direct us back toward a right relationship. The trouble is that conviction is uncomfortable. The natural tendency is to fight against that discomfort.


                      Struggling against conviction is conflict with God.


                      What hinders us from repenting? Pride, self-deception, busyness, lazy, stagnant, comfortable, careless, wrong view of God.


3.         Suffering forces a decisive choice.


                      Silence as deliberate denial, reasoning away, or suppression has serious consequences.


                      These consequences can be physical.


                      These consequences are spiritual.


                      These consequences are emotional.


4.         Repentance rights relationship.


                      Jesus paid the penalty on the cross. (The penalty could not just be removed or covered or overlooked... the price/justice must be paid.)


                      God wants to and can forgive you because you are more important than your offense.


                      In fact, during the Lent season we remember and celebrate that you are more important to God the Father than the life of Jesus (God the Son).


                      The hardest step is the first one: ADMIT to yourself and God (this is called “confess”) your sin.


“If we CONFESS our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” [1 John 1:9]


                      Confession is honest, transparent, fully and freely given. Confession says:


                                  I have willfully crossed the line in rebellion to God’s known law.


                                  I have fallen short of God’s holiness, righteousness, and glory. [see Romans 3:23]


                                  I have acted foolishly, defiled myself, and indulged myself (perversity is willful rebellion).


5.         The decisive choice bring change.


                      We are called to pray [v 6] “while you may be found.” Opportunity (from our perspective) for repentance is not necessarily open and unlimited. We can be stubborn, rebellious, and unwilling to repent... so opportunity is seasonal.

“As has just been said: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” [Hebrews 3:15]


                      Prayer brings blessing!


                                  Peace – we move away from self-delusion to God’s protection. [“You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble...” v 7a]


                                  Freedom – we move away from self-sufficiency to God’s songs of deliverance. [“... and surround me with songs of deliverance.” v 7b]


                                  Hope – we move from being weak and self-directed to trustful surrender to God counsel and will. [“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” v 8]


                                  Confidence – we move from shaky self-thought to God making us intelligent. [“Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding.” v 9a]


                      Salvation is something that is done FOR us and IN us as guilt is removed and joy is given.


6.         Choosing God brings celebration.


                      Sin is pardoned. See vv 1,3,7,10.


                      Blessing (joy) is offered to us.


                      Rejoicing is the result. [v 11]


          How is all this possible? Because of the Lord’s “unfailing love.” [v10]

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Words for Living #8 (published in "The Community Voice" January 30, 2008)

Someday, I might get to tell you the story of our dog that bit me. Almost took my eye out, and I got a whipping for instigating the attack.

The cat that we lost two islands away that made its way home after six months is a fun one. Truly, that cat had more than nine lives; I think he used at least nine lives surviving a “fall” into our open well.

I was also bit by a monkey at a zoo and was rewarded with rabies shots. You know the kind where the needles are two feet long and go into the stomach. One cat I owned hunted and apparently killed dogs. Poor thing was hit by a car while chasing a dog across the road.

I could tell you about the people who couldn’t go on “pilgrimage” so they would stone our house instead. The day before, the leaders would warn us, assure us they would make sure the stones were small, and invite us to the huge party afterwards. We went to the party and the next day they cleaned up the yard and fixed anything the stones broke.

I’ve also lived through a communist coup, had a .45 held to my head by a crazed neighbor, and was riding in a car mistaken for one driven by a cop killer. Over all, it’s been a boring life compared to some of your stories.

Some stories are funny; others may be interesting or terrifying. Then there are the ones that change your life. I remember standing in front of a church sanctuary, watching the most wonderful woman in the world walking toward me, and thinking “What am I doing?” I remember the excitement when my son was born. I got home from the hospital praising God, saying “I have a son!” And God said back, “I had a son, too.”

I remember hearing about God the Father who loved me so much that He sent Jesus, His only son, to take my punishment and give me eternal life. Trust me, at that point in my life; I was well acquainted with guilt and punishment. I remember personally accepting that gift and asking for forgiveness for my sins. Something happened at that moment beyond imagination or explanation.

I walked away from the alter and saw, for the first time in my life: colors. I don’t know if this ever happened to anyone else, but that’s my story. The real question is; what is your story? Have you been to the point where you felt the personal and living love of God for you? Have you accepted responsibility for the wrong things you did and ask God to forgive you? Have you said “yes” to God?

I haven’t been flawless since then. Like everyone else, I mess up. I only have a promise. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” [1 John 1:9]

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Just a Thought

Valentines Day tends to be a celebration of love.  It’s a day to tell someone special, “I love you.” 


Philosophers have debated the concept of love.  To understand it, we put it in some sort of polarity.  The opposite of love is (fill in the blank).  One answer is “hate.”  After all, if love is irresistible attraction then hate is insurmountable repugnance.  We see tribal conflicts, the practice of protecting or attacking religion, and politics.  Where divisions flare to life, there is only one truthful word for it, hate.


Another answer is “fear.”  Every guy has experienced it.  We screw our courage up when we have met that someone special and declare our attraction.  They have given off the right “signals.”  The coy smiles and suggestive dress all scream one thing: “Buy me chocolate!”  We stammer, shake, and sweat like a pig.  Finally we blurt out “I think… I think… I like you.”


At that point three types answers are possible.  First, we hear this loud cracking sound similar to the sweet sound of the riffle bringing down a 12-point buck.  Then we feel the fire.  Our face, at least one side is on fire.  After the slap, something registers that she has just slammed the door and we are not going to get out of the way in time.  The second answer is more painful.  The object of our affection doubles up with laughter.  Tears are running down her cheeks.  It’s the funniest thing she’s every heard.  Possibly the scariest answer, in retrospect, is a passionate kiss.


Why?  Frankly ladies, we have no clue what we’ve gotten ourselves into.  It’s taken all our metal and physical abilities to say the “L” word.  Admitting we are “in like” is well beyond our emotional potential.  Knowing how to nurture that relationship is possibly scientifically impossible due to the cranial capacity of the male of our species.  Trouble is when men think love, we think cooking, cleaning, laundry, and other good stuff.  Females think love, relationship, and other gushy things that make a man cringe.  Seriously, it’s the only explanation possible.


So guys, I offer one word of advice: Chocolate.  Apparently chocolate has chemicals that make a person feel good.  It imitates the “L” feeling and, rumor has it, it’s also a vegetable.  So buy her lots of chocolate and you can skip the yearly horror of using the “L” word again.


Aren’t you glad God didn’t skip it?  The Bible says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  [Romans 5:8]  God didn’t just say it, He lived it.  On the cross, Jesus did something for us that all the chocolate in the world could not do.  He demonstrated what the Bible calls “unfailing love.”


When one declares their unfailing love for another, there is an implied question.  I love you, do you love me?  God has taken the initiative, will you respond and love Him back?

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Words for Living #7 (published in "The Community Voice" January 23, 2008)

[Church this Sunday was canceled due to the blizzard. Check for a sermon next week.]

Systematically securing sea shells on the sea shore certainly sounds sincerely silly and splendidly stimulating. I once found the perfect sea shell. Seriously, this sea shell had stupendous shading and shape. I selected and stored it with my other spoils. (Had enough?)

As we were leaving the beach, I couldn’t find it. My big brother explained that the shell was eaten by the other ones. I was mostly young, not stupid, so I didn’t believe him. His next try was that it had crawled off. How does that saying go? “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” There was no way I was buying the second explanation.

No way, until he pointed out my wondrous shell crawling down the beach. My stubborn self ran it down, picked it up, and put it in my pocket. I knew there are times when it doesn’t hurt to look. My brother discovered that when he put a shoe on and something large and hairy tried to crawl out. That’s how we learned the hard way that some Tarantula’s are not poisonous.

From then on, our family had a law. Simply put, it was, “always look.” When I put the shell into my pocked, I didn’t look. Ever see a kid drop his pants for no apparent reason? My brother thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen. When the shell moved, I panicked. I knew two things; there were scorpions around and their sting was painful. Bruised self-esteem is better than self-inflicted pain.

After he finished laughing my brother said, “I told you so.” That is a very bad thing to tell a person standing on the beach without their shorts. It sounds even worse coming from “the brother.” Even worse than worse, he was right. Maybe self-inflicted pain is better.

The culprit was a “hermit” crab. I call them clowns because they provided lots of entertainment. These creatures played “peek-a-boo,” which entertains small children and when annoyed grab stuff with their claws, which entertained young boys.

One trip to the beach, I had buried most of myself when a hermit crab crawled across my face. Apparently walking around something is not in their nature. I sat up in time to see, what looked like, the sea tossing its shells. Zillions of them scampered across the beach making sounds only horror movie buffs can appreciate. I made the mistake of trying to get out from under the sand seconds before I was swamped with zillions of creepy-crawlies who saw no reason to walk around a young boy.

Every now and then, you will be swamped by something foul, scary, or hurtful. People ask me, “Why did this happen to me?” Maybe they think God is being mean to them. Fact is, “life happens” so get over it. Let your zillions of hermit crabs teach you: “I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him will I trust.” [Psalm 91:2]

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

God rejoices over you!

Zephaniah 3:14 – 17

God rejoices over you.

We do a lot of responding to God. Sermons are about responding to God. Worship is about responding to God. This is all ok. Let’s look at the other side now, God responds to us!


I.         What God has done [v 15].


            A.        Punishment Removed


                        1.         God’s salvation in Jesus is a “full, perfect, and sufficient” pardon.


                                    a.         This pardon is granted by God’s grace, not our merit.


                                    b.         “While we were still sinner, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:8b]


                        2.         This means a change in status.


                                    a.         We move away from the world and toward God through the cross.


                                    b.         We move from being an “enemy” of God to being an “heir” of God.


            B.        Enemies Removed.


                        1.         Sin is the “killer virus.”


                                    a.         As a predator sin goes after and victimizes the weak.


                                    b.         As a predator sin stalks us, knowing our weaknesses, and patiently waits for the right time and opportunity.


                        2.         Jesus broke the bondage.


                                    a.         “(Jesus) gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age.” [Galatians 1:4a]


                                    b.         “So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” [Galatians 4:7]


            C.        Presence Returned.


                        1.         God gives us His everlasting presence... (already, not yet)


                                    a.         “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit...” [Acts 2:4a]


                                    b.         Lyrics from “Constantly Abiding”

There’s a peace in my heart

that the world never gave

a peace it can not take away....

Constantly abiding, Jesus is mine.

Constantly abiding, rapture divine.

He never leaves me lonely,

whispers oh, so kind.

I will never leave thee,

Jesus is mine!


                        2.         The older order has (and will) pass away.


                                    a.         Read Revelation 21:1 – 4.


                                    b.         Notice that death, mourning, crying, and pain will not exist in the presence of God.


            D.        Peace Returned.


                        1.         There is no more fear.


                                    a.         We tend to fear a lot of things:


                                                1.)       Relationships breaking or failing... so we do not trust and we build walls.


                                                2.)       The political year fears.


                                                3.)       The possible dark things that can happen to our children.


                                    b.         Problem: what we fear controls us.


                        2.         Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” [John 14:27]


II.       God rejoices over you [v 17].


            A.        “He is mighty to save.”


                        1.         Literally “the Mighty One/Warrior who saves.”


                                    a.         God is not a sissy. (As He is commonly painted.)


                                    b.         God is THE Almighty!


                        2.         There is a joy God has in providing salvation.


                                    a.         God likes to do the impossible so there is no mistake who did it and who gets the glory.


                                    b.         Basic philosophy of a warrior is to be better every day... God’s heart is to offer salvation to more and more every day.


            B.        “He will take GREAT DELIGHT in you.”


                        1.         “For the LORD takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation.” [Psalm 149:4]


                                    a.         Do not spiritualize the idea of rejoicing/delight.


                                                1.)       We think we have a theological or theoretical obligation.


                                                2.)       We then think God is barely able to tolerate us because of or natural tendency to waywardness...


                                    b.         Fact: “at every point we doubt ourselves, we really doubt our Lord.” (Mike Mason)


                                                1.)       Why? We project our inadequate images of ourselves onto God.


                                                2.)       We end up creating God in our own (or some corporate/business) image.


                        2.         Most contemporary/modern stuff is people oriented.


                                    1.         Yes, we do need to respond to God (or at least what we know of God.).


                                    2.         However, we need to take some time to listen to God.


            C.        “He will quiet you with His love.”


                        1.         Image of God’s people needing quieting...


                                    a.         “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.” [Psalm 23:2 – 3]


                                    b.         It is hard for us to admit we are fussy like a needy baby.


                                                1.)       Babies fuss when they are hungry, uncomfortable, lonely, hurt, feel sick, or have a messy diaper.


                                                2.)       We fuss when we neglect the spiritual food of Gods Word (hungry), are not content (uncomfortable), need someone to value us (lonely), hurt from the natural course of life, sick in dealing with outside pressures and influences, and sin (messy diapers).


                        2.         How does a parent/grandparent quiet the fussy child?


                                    a.         Personal contact, not just dealing with the need.


                                    b.         Humans are designed to be in personal contact with God.


            D.        “He will rejoice over you with singing.”


                        1.         Can you hear the music?


                                    a.         Not necessarily music as we think of it.


                                    b.         Still, the distinct voice of God....


                                                1.)       Not necessarily spectacular, giving direction, or correction.


                                                2.)       Communicating the distinct presence of God.


                        2.         Have you heard God rejoicing over you?


                                    a.         Tender and strong.


                                    b.         Unmistakably perfect.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Words for Living #6 (published in "The Community Voice" January 16, 2008)

Remember the first time you saw or did something? When was the first time you saw a mouse? Don’t say the “Tom and Jerry” cartoon.

The first time I saw a mouse was at a dinner party my parents were hosting. The furry critter scampered out from behind the refrigerator and pandemonium broke loose. Several guests jumped onto chairs screaming in panic. My big brother, having probably watched too much of the previously mentioned cartoon, started throwing silverware. Mom grabbed a broom and went into warrior mode. Dad flipped one of the serving containers upside down and started stalking the terrified creature.

Finally they managed to evict the invader and explained that mice were dangerous disease carrying vermin. It was there and then that I decided we needed a cat. After all, if this was fun, then a cat would be way more entertaining. A cat would rid us of the mice and I would get the bonus of making my malevolent dog’s life miserable.

So I started to adopt stray cats. Stray cats were easy to find, most of them were starving, and someplace in my kind twisted heart I reasoned that I was doing them a huge favor. It didn’t matter that Mom was deathly allergic to cats and Dad was a dog person. The only one that seemed happy with the new cats was my brother who took to cleaning his “BB” gun. Notice I said “cats.” Mysteriously the cats I brought home would vanish. It didn’t bother me; I just picked up a new stray. Still, a mystery is a mystery that needed to be solved. I blamed my dog, my brother, and my parents for obvious reasons. Eventually the truth became clear; my neighbors were eating them. I would bring them home, fatten them up, and they would cook them up in the middle of the night and eat them. I knew this because they were stranger than my brother.

My brother was a regular pain. He was twelve years older than me and acted like he belonged to the family. Seriously, we sent him off to boarding school in another country so I figured I was wanted and he was not. He’s still fond of pulling out the tape the family was recording to send back to the USA. I interrupted the conversation and said, “What do we need him for?” Today, I know the neighbors didn’t eat the cats, I have a spoiled dog, and I love my brother.

The Bible says, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” [Romans 13:11] Apparently childish behavior was causing people to behave badly in church. Paul’s solution was “love.”

When we love someone else, we set aside our preferences and prejudices. We give the other person the benefit of the doubt. We trust them. Childish behavior kills churches. What’s in your church.

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