Today we are continuing our series called the Light of the World. Last week, we heard that Jesus, the Light of the World, shines against the Darkness. He shines against the darkness or terrorism and racism, cancer and car crashes, guilt and shame.
But maybe, last week, you got done thinking:
That’s right pastor! You tell ‘em. I’m gonna take your message and share it with all those people who living in darkness out there.
I will share it with that guy who cut me off in the Belk’s Christmas Wrapping station line.
I’ll share it with that woman who honked her horn, waved her finger at me and cut me off in the mall parking lot.
I’ll share it with my brother who told me that he doesn’t want to spend time with our family at Christmas. He’s being the darkness and he needs to hear about the light.
To be fair…
That all may be true.
But today, Jesus says worry less about the Darkness out there; worry first about the darkness inside here. Our goal is to get help identifying the darkness in our own hearts, reconsider the uplifting message of Jesus and get some guidance on how to let our light shine this Christmas season. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Darkness that Was…
The lesson for this morning comes from Ephesians 5:8-14. Ephesians is a letter written by a Jesus’-commissioned pastor named Paul to Christians living in Ephesus. Look at what he writes: You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. (v.8)
The reality is that no one’s heart is naturally filled with light.
Apart from Jesus our hearts are filled with darkness.
To prove that point – let’s think about it logically and then anecdotally:
Logically speaking, God creates Adam and Eve. They are sinless. Their hearts are filled with light. But then, before they have any kids, they sin. They choose to step into the darkness. They become greedy, selfish, prideful, liars. Their hearts become filled with darkness.
Then, these humans with sin-darkened hearts have children.
And just like crocodiles give birth to crocodiles…
And reindeer give birth to reindeer…
Humans with -sin-darkened hearts give birth to children with sin darkened hearts.
Darkness passed on.
Think of it like a Christmas light chain. If the first Christmas light goes out, then what does that mean for the rest of the Christmas lights? The whole thing goes out! The chain has been broken. The first light is not able to provide the power to power up the next Christmas light. The result? They are all darkness.
It’s the same with humans.
The first humans sinned.
All are sinners.
All have sin darkened hearts.
Including – you.
Anecdotally Speaking. Do you know the story of Scrooge? The Charles Dicken’s Christmas Carol classic. There are many different versions of it. I, personally, enjoy the Muppet classic. In all of these versions, Scrooge is not very likable. He’s grouchy. He’s gloomy. He’s mean. He’s greedy. He’s Scroogy. You know you’re not doing too well when a verb is developed after your name that essentially means: “being a jerk.”
But here’s the thing about Scrooge. Scrooge is perhaps the most-easily-able-to-be-identified-with-character in Christmas mythology.
Because the difference with Scrooge and all of us isn’t that Scrooge was mean and we aren’t.
The difference is that Scrooge was just worse at hiding it.
Think about your heart.
Are you always MERRY and BRIGHT?
Or do you get unnecessarily angry at that coworker because if he did his job better you’d have more time for Christmas stuff?
Do you think things at your kids that you would never repeat in front of these good church folk here?
Do you have a hard time not wanting to gaze at the Victoria’s Secret window at the mall – even though you aren’t a woman and you aren’t shopping for your wife?
Do you think, “Man! Why do I have to buy a lousy gift for that lousy guy – They deserve a punch in the face. If only I could figure out how to box it…?”
Here’s the truth.
Humans hearts are naturally filled with darkness.
Our hearts are naturally filled with darkness.
The most urgent issue isn’t out there.
It’s in here.
II. The Light that is…
But look again at our text: You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. (v.8)
Fellow believers, pay careful attention to the verb tenses to teach about what you are.
Those of you who don’t believe, pay careful attention to what the verb tenses teach about what you could be.
Meaning before Jesus.
Meaning before faith.
Meaning that was the case, but….
It is so no longer.
Meaning this is your NEW reality.
You are LIGHT.
And you aren’t light because you figured out how to go from light to darkness on your own.
It isn’t because you scrounged up your spiritual lighter of trying hard.
Or you rubbed a stick of “let’s do better” together with a stick of “try harder” in your heart and some kind of spiritual ‘good works’ fire was built.
You are light in the Lord.
Because in Jesus is forgiveness.
Forgiveness for the dirty sins of your hearts.
Forgiveness for the secrets you want no one else to know.
Forgiveness for those sinful thoughts you are deeply embarrassed that you ever thought.
In Jesus is forgiveness.
He cleans out the darkness of guilt.
He leaves us with the bright light of holiness.
It’s like a Christmas tree. When you light that Christmas tree up, even the wall next to it shines brightly. Think about it. That dead space of darkness that would otherwise be darkness becomes brighter when light shines upon it.
The same thing happened in our fellowship hall. We moved out the preschool stuff, freshened up the paint, and put a brighter color on it. Now, the light reflects off those walls and they are brighter than ever before!
Christ is the Light of the world.
You are light in Christ.
III. A “What Now” for Shining this Christmas
With all of that in mind, God gives us some very specific commands this Christmas. You might call it a host of “What Now” commands for shining this Christmas season.
It starts with this:
(1) Live like Your Dad!
Ephesians 5:9 says this: “Live as children of the light.” Because children tend to do what their family does.
Think about the royal family! They gather in Buckingham palace. They dress in the finest British fashions. They drink their tea with their pinky in the air and celebrate the Christmas season in a royal affair. If one of them wore one of those ugly Christmas sweaters to the ball at Buckingham palace, well…they’d be told: “Live as a royal child.”
Or if one of your kids comes home and says, “My Friend, Jonny said that his the Tarheels are the best! They’re house is covered in Baby Blue. They have coach bobbleheads throughout. I’m thinking for Christmas I want a Tarheel jersey.”
And you say: “Nope. You’ll get the Coach K Biography – and like it.”
Essentially God says to us:
You are my child.
You are my son.
You are my daughter.
You are a part of my family.
Live like you are a part of my family.
And how do I do that?
(2) Find Out What’s on God’s Christmas List
Look at what Ephesians 5:9 says, “the fruit of the light consists of all goodness, righteousness and truth, and Find out what pleases the Lord.” (v.10)
Because if you don’t know what’s on someone’s Christmas list then it suddenly gets harder to get them what they want. Christmas lists help you know what they want. It tells you that Cindy Lou wants a Rainbow Dash doll and little Bobby wants a Pokémon watch. Christmas lists prevent you from making the fatal mistake of getting Uncle Dan a Cabbage Patch doll.
The same thing is true with God.
We need to find out what he wants and give him the gift of living accordingly.
Because too often we think to ourselves:
“I know what God wants. God wants me to be happy. And what makes me happy is writing a nasty email to my coworker. Just living as the light God!”
“I know what God wants. God wants me to unstressed. So, he’s cool with me losing it on my kids – as long as I don’t leave a bruise.”
“I know what God wants. God wants me to be with my soul mate. So, I’m going to go ahead and cheat on my wife because it makes me happy and that’s what God wants. Just down here being the light of the world God.”
Find out what God actually wants…
Not what you want God to want.
And you can find it out by examining God’s Christmas list.
“Pastor! That sounds nice. But where would I find some kind of Christmas list. Surely, God didn’t write it down and preserve it for centuries for me to clearly and easily read.”
Yes, he did.
It’s called the Bible.
In it, you literally have a list.
A list of Ten Commandments.
Plus, all kinds of other insights – ways to please God and live as the Child of Light that He has made you.
But you have to read it to know what it says.
You have to study it to know what God wants.
Make that a key part of your Christmas preparation.
Spend time in God’s Word.
Here at worship.
At home on your own.
Have everything to do with Godly deeds and then…
(3) Have NOTHING to do with Dark Deeds
That’s exactly what verse 11 says, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness.”
Because if you’re going to bear fruit of righteousness, unrighteousness is fruitless.
If you’re are going to bear fruit of goodness, badness is fruitless.
If you are going to bear fruit of truth, deception is fruitless.
Notice it doesn’t say:
Have some to do with evil.
Or, a bit to do with.
Or even, mostly nothing to do with.
But…NOTHING to do with.
Block the old boyfriend on Facebook that always makes you think…just for a minute of leaving your spouse.
Getting rid of the alcohol that will cause you over the edge.
Avoid that party that’ll just lead to dirty jokes and four-letter words.
Drop that grudge that’s been ruining your family Christmas for years.
And in this area – give special attention to the deeds done in secret. Verse 12 says, “It is shameful to mention what the disobedient do in secret.”
This shouldn’t surprise us.
It’s easier to do dark deeds in the literal dark.
It’s easier to do dark deeds when no one is watching.
Hear God’s Word to you right now – don’t just clean up your public life.
Clean up your private life.
(4) Expose the Darkness to the Light
And…maybe you’re in the midst of a dark deed.
Maybe you’re dealing with an addiction or a vice or some kind of sexual impulse.
Maybe you know it’s wrong and you want to stop, and you yearn to stop, but…
…you just can’t.
Listen to God’s Word in verse 13:
Everything exposed to the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.
There’s a man who I once worked with who came into my office.
His eyes were bloodshot.
His hair was amuck.
He was downtrodden.
He took a deep breath. And said. “Pastor, I’m addicted to drugs.
And I can’t stop.
no one knows.
My family doesn’t know.
My friends don’t know.
I’ve wanted to stop, but I just can’t! And I’m so sorry.
I just feel like such…darkness.”
And I said.
You aren’t in the darkness.
You are forgiven.
You are in the light.
Because here’s the thing – now that he told me. I could offer forgiveness. I could encourage him in what he was doing. I could remind him of his desires. I could check in with him. I could connect him with others who could do the same.
He took the deed out of the darkness.
He took it into the light.
By God’s strength, he conquered that addiction.
Do the same.
Expose the dark deeds to the light.
Like mold that grows in the dark, but dies in the light, your sins will die.
Confess to God.
Confess to others.
And if someone confesses to you, don’t hold it against them.
Don’t withhold help.
That’s amazing they trusted you with that!
Share God’s Word.
Help them stay in the light.
Because you and I friends – we are a part of the light! Jesus made it so. That’s why Paul concludes:
Wake up, O Sleeper! Rise from the dead. And Christ will shine in you. (v.14)
Because beating these sins can seem like a daunting task.
They might seem like a challenging task.
It might seem like something that is absolutely impossible to do.
But you aren’t doing it alone.
Christ will shine in you. (v.14b)
That’s the one who defeated sin.
That’s the one who defeated death.
That’s the one who did the impossible for you now working to do the impossible through you.
Think back to the Christmas light chain. If the first light is dark, the whole chain is dark. But if you take that dead, broken light out and you replace it with a new, working light – then? The whole chain becomes bright. Every light that is connected to the first light is empowered to give light.
You are connected to Christ.
He is the Light of the world.
Therefore, you too, are light in the world.
Live as the light of the world. Amen.
Joshua bristled at the bitter boldness of his morning coffee.
It was stronger than normal, since he was a bit drowsy. It had been a long couple of days. They had marched around Jericho for a whole week, seen the walls topple down, entered into the city and completely destroyed it. They toppled every wall, killed every citizen and burned to the ground every building.
Then, they partied.
Today, it was back to work.
Today they were attacking the next city in Canaan.
Ai was a much smaller city. Located in the countryside to the west of Jericho, it lacked the fortification of Jericho. In fact, there’s not even a reference to any kind of wall. And when spies came back to report on it, they recommended that Joshua give most of the men rest. They would only need 2 or 3 thousand soldiers to easily take the city.
If taking Jericho was a miracle…
Taking Ai was expected.
So, Joshua had the trumpeters gather the small group that he would send against Ai. His speech was simple: “We took the great city of Jericho – this won’t be that hard. Let’s go in, get the job done, and get back to celebration.”
So, the army marched to Ai.
They marched boldly.
They marched confidently.
They marched directly into a route.
About three thousand men went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, who killed about thirty-six of them. (7:4-5)
How can they go from conquering Jericho – a huge city with a gigantic double wall – to getting routed by the agricultural community of Ai?
Before we take a look at the reason and learn a few very important lessons about sin, let us pray: Strengthen us this morning by the truth, O God. Your word is truth. Open our eyes to see what YOU want us to see. Open our ears to hear what YOU want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what YOU would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Route of Ai
Take a look at verse 7. We’re going to find out what happened at the same time that Joshua found out what happened. Because -- take a look at Joshua’s words – he is absolutely dumbfounded as to why Israel was unsuccessful:
Joshua tore his clothes because he was so upset.
He fell face down on the ground.
He stayed there weeping.
Then, he spoke: “Alas Sovereign LORD, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! Pardon your servant…what can I say?" (7:7-8)
Why did you do this if you just wanted us to lose?
Why the escape from Egypt?
Why the splitting of the Jordan?
Why make the walls of Jericho tumble?
Why all the promises?
Why did you do this to us?
And in response,
God let’s Joshua finish.
Then, He clears his throat:
The LORD said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant.” …They have taken some of the devoted things.” (7:10-11)
What were the devoted things? In chapter six, God mentions this to Joshua again and again. Unlike some of the other cities coming up – which God would allow them to reoccupy and use what’s there – Jericho was God’s. As such, it was to be completely destroyed. All the people. All the animals. All the buildings…and the few things not destroyed: Gold and Silver were to be saved for use in religious ceremonies.
God said, “Keep away from the devoted things... Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction.” (6:18)
So, what does this mean when God tells Joshua that Israel had taken devoted things?
It means the loss at Ai wasn’t God’s fault.
It was Israel’s.
TRUTH #1 -- You can’t blame the results of sin on God.
I bring this up because humans do this all of the time.
My wife and I are feeling disconnected. You must not be blessing our marriage God. And no, I don’t think it has anything to do with the porn that I look at on my phone.
Work is hard. No one likes me. That’s on you God! Not on the fact that I’m a total jerk.
My boyfriend left me! And I feel terrible. God why do I have such emotional pain? It certainly has nothing to do with the fact that I was living together with him and sleeping together with him – long before we were married!
The reality is that the results of sin are not God’s fault.
The results of sin are on us.
Just like the results of sin – the loss at Ai – was on Israel.
II. Achan’s Story
And Joshua should have known that.
God wouldn’t have broken his promise. If they lost at Ai, the only option was that Israel had sinned! It’s why God tells Joshua to “Stand up!” He needs to quit moping and start acting.
And God has a plan. He tells Joshua to bring all of Israel out together -- a mass meeting. Then, Joshua would cast lots. He’d assign a number to each tribe and then roll a pair of dice. The number that was rolled would represent the tribe that was at fault – and so on it would go down from tribe to clan to family to man.
His heart skipped a beat.
No, no, no. They know someone took the sacred things? I was careful. I made sure no one was looking. I…I… I’m sure this won’t work. There’s millions of Israelites. That game of chance will not reveal me. Better to stay hidden.
And the first lot was cast.
Ok…That’s coincidence. There’s a 1 in 12 chance. It’s unlucky, but Judah is the biggest of the tribes. There’s still hundreds of thousands of others. I’ll be fine. Just stay calm. Stop sweating. Breathe deeply.
What!? Don’t panic. Another lucky guess. That’s all. There’s still hundreds of other people. There’s still hundreds of other chances. No one knows what you did. No one…
Except maybe God. O I hope he takes my brothers. Maybe I could frame him. Or my cousin? He’s been in trouble before. Please don’t let that lot fall to me. Please don’t let that lot fall to me. Please don’t let them find out it’s me!
And Achan fell to the ground.
God had been behind that investigation.
God had revealed the culprit.
And Joshua approaches, “Son, give glory to God and tell me what you’ve done.”
And Achan stops hiding.
He stops pretending.
He’s been caught.
I have sinned.
TRUTH #2 -- You can’t hide sin from God.
To be fair – you can hide sin from your pastor.
You can hide it from the elders.
You can hide it from the other people at church.
But not God.
You can hide it from your family.
You can hide it from your parents.
You can hide it from your spouse.
But not from God.
In fact, Scripture says this, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13)
And laying it bare means ‘it’s uncovered.’ It’s like if you have a bunch of mold under your sink, but you cover it up with all kinds of bottles and cleaner and always keep the door shut. That way no one knows about it.
But God is like the Home Inspector who comes in, walks right over to the kitchen sink, throws open the doors, takes out the bottles and shines a light on the mold. God has a way of making sin known.
Whether it’s through the rolling of dice in Achan’s fault or whether it’s through internet search history, phone records, stories that don’t match up, funny receipts on the credit card, or just plain that “weird feeling about him,” God will make sin known. Or whether it’s through the divine fiery judgment of Judgement Day, God will make hidden sin known.
III. God’s Mercy
So, don’t hide your sin; but confess it.
Because in Achan’s case, it was God who revealed the sin and God who held Achan accountable.
Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan, the silver, the robe, the gold bar…and all that he had. Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. (7:24-26)
Which might seem harsh…but remember:
(1) Wages of sin is death.
(2) He had repeated opportunities to confess.
(3) His sin led to the death of 36 people! 36 involuntary manslaughters.
But I think there’s one more thing that’s important.
One more thing that’s missing.
There’s no call for mercy.
No call for God’s love.
That’s striking. Had Achan confessed rather than been caught, does the situation change? Maybe.
It certainly does for you. That’s what God tells us in 1 John: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us all of our sins.”
(1 John 1:9)
Why trust this? Because: TRUTH #3: God is the ultimate eradicator
In fact, may that be motivation for your confession. Because the reality is that God already knows all of your sins. He already knows what you’ve done. He knows and, in fact, he knew. He knew and he went to the cross for you. “He himself bore our sins” (1 Peter 2:24) in his body on the cross.
Jesus died for every last one of your sins.
He took your sin in his body on the tree.
He brought them to the cross for eradication.
When you confess, all your trust is in his eradication abilities. It’s like signing the dotted line for the Terminix man. When you do that, you trust that he’ll be able to poison, burn, trap, and eradicate every single pest that you have in your house.
Trust in Jesus to do the same.
He'll go under the floor boards, look in the cupboards of your heart and eradicate the sins that even you didn’t know were there!
Jesus eradicated every one of your sins.
Jesus will eradicate their eternal consequences.
Confess and trust in his mercy.
III. What Now?
(1) Eradicate Temptation.
Because God didn’t eradicate the consequences of your sin, just to leave you in sin. God wants you to eradicate sin from your lives. That’s what Israel does. They eradicate Achan and the stolen devoted things.
You do the same.
Get rid of the unrestricted access to internet porn.
Set limits on late night with boyfriend so you aren’t tempted to sin.
Throw out the alcohol.
Flush the drugs.
Stop the late nights that prevent you from church in the morning.
“Break up” with the group of ladies that wants to sit around and gossip.
Whatever the sin might be – eradicate the things that tempt you to do it.
It’d be like the exterminator telling you that the reason you have so many rats in your house is that you have been stacking your half-finished pizza boxes in your living room.
Get rid of the pizza boxes.
Get rid of temptations.
Be free from sin, guilt and shame.
(2) Watch God Work.
After the Israelites do all of this – God says, “Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged…Go up and attack Ai.” (8:1)
Which if I was an Israelite, I’d probably think, “Don’t be afraid? We just got our butts kicked. God, you didn’t help us. It was our fault, but how do we know that sin is really forgiven?”
But God promises.
So, they trust. They attack Ai. They are more than victorious.
Trust God to eradicate sin.
Trust that he already eradicated its consequences.
Trust that He will eradicate its power.
Trust that he will enable you to eradicate temptation.
It was a grandiose concert hall.
Beautiful aesthetics. There were chandelier like lights hanging from the ceiling, a perfect shape for the best acoustics, and stained glass windows depicting beautiful Biblical stories with such artistry that you could stare for hours – losing yourself in them.
Up on the stage – an orchestra. Hundreds of professionals set to play for this worship service. Violins, cellos and a golden glint shining off of the brass section.
It was impressive.
And then they played. Fantastic melodies traversing beautiful harmonies. A smorgasbord of sounds for your ears. Melodious highs mimicking the shimmering of snowflakes and trammeling lows – beckoning to the quiet sleep of the manger scene.
I remember my friend look over at me. He smiled. He said, “Now, that’s worship. This is Christmas.”
I’ve thought about that since then. Was he right? Was that worship? And are other forms of worship – forms without chandeliers and hundred member orchestras…are they worship?
If so, I suppose we need to shore up thousands of dollars in the church budget to hire a professional orchestra.
But then again – maybe there’s something more to worship.
Maybe – it’s always been something more.
Today we are going to continue our series called Old Fashioned Christmas. We will look at how people worshipped in preparation for the Savior – long before the first Christmas. We’re going to look at God’s Word and do two things: (1) identify a common worship pitfall (2) learn a few key traits about Old Fashioned Worship that we can put into practice this Christmas. Before we do that, join me in a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. An Old Fashioned Worship Pitfall
We are looking at a worship scene from 2 Samuel 6. This takes place right after the death of King Saul. Remember Him? We talked about him about a month ago in our sermon God & Voting. He was the king that the people chose to be their king – right after God warned them about a human king. God had said – A human king will be sinful. A human king will make sinful choices. A human king will have sinful effects on your life.
Guess what? God was right.
Especially in the area of worship life. Under King Saul, the worship life of the Israelite people became dreadful. The tabernacle – an ancient, portable church (very beautiful) – had been forgotten about. It’s altar furniture had been lost throughout the countryside. Worship was the last things on people’s minds – and King Saul tended to turn to psychics rather than God for comfort.
And worst of all -- the Israelites had lost the Ark of the Covenant.
Ever heard of that before? It makes a cameo in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s the box that the bad guys open up at the end – which causes them all to die.
Of course, that’s fake. (Indiana Jones – not the ark.) The ark was very real and very sacred. It was a box made of beautiful cedar wood. It was 4 feet long by 2 feet wide by 2 feet high. It had golden angelic statues which sat atop it’s cover and jewels encrusted in its etchings.
As holy sounding as that was, it was even more holy sounding inside.
It contained a jar of manna – heavenly bread that God had rained down on the Israelites as they were in the desert.
There was also a staff from Aaron, Moses’ brother. It was a staff that was originally a dead stick of wood, but God had caused to blossom with plant life.
There were also two giant tablets with the Ten Commandments written on them – commandments etched by the very hand of God.
In short – the Ark of the Covenant had been the center of worship for Ancient Israel. It was the connecting point between the Almighty, Holy God of heaven above and his people. It was the dwelling place of the one who didn’t need a dwelling place.
And it was missing.
So when King Saul’s successor, King David, came to power – he decided to bring the Ark back to Jerusalem. He located it in a dusty backroom outside the main part of the city. He arranged for a cart to hold the ark. (Think the most divine, holy Macy’s Thanksgiving Day float you’ve ever seen). He gathered together 30,000 men to protect the Ark and also cause a big enough commotion to draw attention to every small village they passed by in this glorious parade of divine proportions.
Things started well enough. The Ark was set on the new cart. (v.3) They began walking. (v.4) The men began celebrating – with castanets, harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums, and cymbals. (v.5)
It was a sight to behold.
A glorious scene of pomp and circumstance.
Now that’s what I call worship.
…A bump. A jolt. A shift in the weight of the ark.
And it began to slide. Slowly at first – then picking up speed. Making it’s way to the edge of the cart – about to fall onto the ground and bust open this divine furniture.
Uzzah was walking alongside the ark.
Uzzah saw it start to slip.
Uzzah thought, “I can be a hero.”
Uzzah reached out his hand to stop it.
Uzzah caught it.
Uzzah stopped it from falling down.
Only…something else did.
v.7 The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died.
The procession was quiet.
The soldiers stopped marched.
The percussion stopped drumming.
The sistrummers stopped sistrumming.
And David stopped being joyful and started being frightened: “Just who is this God that we’re worshipping?”
Does it sound a bit harsh? Remember – we said the Indiana Jones things where the people die for touching the ark wasn’t real. But the writers didn’t come up with that on their own. They come up with that from this verse. Uzzah is struck down by God!
But it’s not so much for touching the ark.
It’s not so much because he tried to save it.
It isn’t because God had a beef with Uzzah anyway and this was his way to get at him.
v. 7 The Lord’s anger burned…because of Uzzah’s irreverent act.
Irreverent is a key word then. What does it mean?
It means to not take seriously.
It means to not think deeply about.
It means to treat as more ordinary than you ought.
Which is so strange! Because this was such a huge festival. It looks like a big deal. Thousands of men. Hundreds of instruments. A grandiose parade.
But that seems to have been all it was.
What was there to distinguish it from the victory parade of the army?
Or from the parade downtown when the Jerusalem Cubs finally won the World Series after 108 years?
The answer isn’t: CW pg. 15.
It isn’t: a better liturgy.
It isn’t: A long white robe.
It isn’t: organ music.
It isn’t: Chris Tomlin’s greatest hits.
It isn’t: an electric bass.
It isn’t: hands waving in the air like they just don’t care.
It’s the heart.
Jesus said this, “Out of the heart comes…sin.” (Matthew. 15:19)
Out of the heart comes irreverence for God.
Out of the heart comes Uzzah’s sin
Out of the heart includes David’s sin.
It wasn’t necessarily caused by any external forces.
(Pause as the preacher gets down on a knee. Bows his head and appears to be praying)
That looked really reverent, right?
It wasn’t! (I was thinking about whether Papa John’s or Domino's makes a better pizza!)
Irreverence isn’t something you put on.
It’s something you put out.
That’s huge. It means we can’t just boil it down to – You need a more traditional worship style. Because you might do what I’ve done plenty of times in a service like that – zone out and think about what “Thee” and “Thou” even mean.
It can’t just boil down to – You need more excitement in your worship style…Because you might do what I’ve done plenty of times in services like that – zone out and think about what kind of hair gel the pastor has in his hair.
The biggest pitfall with worship back then and the biggest pitfall with worship right now – is our own, sinful, distracted, irreverent heart.
II. True Worship
That was the problem in this 2 Kings procession. And as David stared sullenly at the limp body of Uzzah, he took a break. The parade dispersed. The people went home. The ark went to a nearby home for three months.
And David thought out the situation.
He thought out his own struggles.
He thought about how He hadn’t went to the Bible to learn of how God would have the ark transported.
He learned that the ark was never transported by cart, but by poles – held by four priests.
He learned that the ark was a symbol of God’s holiness and a connection to his power – one to be approached with reverence.
He learned that the Ark pointed to God’s mercy – it was covered with a seal – a visual portrayal of God’s mercy – sealing away God’s holiness and righteous anger against “not holiness”.
He reflected that this mercy seat reflected the truth that God – in mercy – would cover his own sins.
His sins of irreverence.
His sins of transporting the ark irreverently.
And David tried again.
This time there is no mention of thousands of soldiers.
There is no mention of a beautiful, new cart.
There is no mention of an ancient orchestra.
There are priests.
There are sacrifices.
There is David – in a linen ephod – ancient underwear – dancing before the Lord with all his might.
And there in this less grandiose scene.
There in this seemingly irreverent scene.
There is reverence.
And what caused it is this. The house that the Ark was being stored at for those 3 months was being blessed by God. God and his mercy was poured out on some guy named Obed-Edom!
David saw God’s mercy.
David remembered God’s mercy to him.
David remembered God’s promise of mercy – that one day – “a Savior will be born – He is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2)
Brothers and sisters – this is the key.
It isn’t more tradition.
It isn’t less tradition.
It’s more God.
True worship comes from the heart focused on God.
Because that heart sees God’s incredible might – that He created mountains and controls hurricanes.
Because that heart sees God’s incredible knowledge – that he created our DNA, antibodies, and white blood cells.
Because that heart sees God’s incredible holiness, that he hates even the slightest of sins.
Because that heart sees God’s incredible love – that he sent his only Son to live perfectly, die innocently, and rise triumphantly for the forgiveness of all our sins.
Because that heart sees God’s mercy – that he says to you and to me. “I forgive you. I forgive you for your irreverence.”
It’s kind like NFL Films. Have you ever seen their team year in reviews? I’m a Packers fan and every time I am feeling down about the way that they play – like this year (5 - 6 isn’t too grand), I look up the film on Super Bowl 45. I watch Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and company win. I watch them score touchdowns. I watch the confetti fall from the sky.
And I’m pumped.
It’s the same for you. If you want to get pumped up for God again – you’ve got to review his victory. See him crushing the devil. See him crushing your sin. See him winning eternal life…for you.
III. What now?
(1) Focus on God
I mean really focus. Scripture says this, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength.” That’s what David did as he danced that Ark into Jerusalem. He danced “With all his might.” (v.15)
That’s really important in our age of no focus. We have this thing. It’s called a cell phone. It’d be better named a cellular distractions device.
Has it ever happened to you that you sit down to read God’s Word on your phone and you start reading John 3:16 and you reflect, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish, but…” Oh look! A new funny cat video!
At Chick-fil-A they give away free sandwiches if you can put your cell phone away for an entire meal and talk to your family. In his church, God gives away a distraction free, peaceful, reflection on his love if you put your cell phone away for an entire visit with your Dad.
(2) In Variety
I think it’s interesting – this is something that Lutherans – coming from a rigid, proper, German background – don’t do very naturally – David does: He dances for worship!
It doesn’t say what kind of dance that he does.
It doesn’t say if it’s a polka.
It doesn’t say if he waltzes.
It doesn’t say if he whips and nae-naes.
He simply dances from the heart.
1 Corinthians 10:31 says this, "Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do—do it all for the glory of God."
It’s the same with worship. Because (and this might be surprising to you), did you know people are different? They like different things. They like different Christmas cookies, different Christmas traditions, and different Christmas eggnogs.
They even like different styles of Christmas worship.
Some like traditional, organ style.
Some like contemporary, worship band style.
Some like R & B, Gospel style.
Here’s the deal – all these forms are valid. The validity comes from the focus. That focus comes from the heart. Are we focused on God? Good. Then we’re worshipping.
That’s glorious. Because our God shows us that there are so many different ways to worship him.
It’s like watching the preschoolers color a picture. I could demand that they all use the color grey always – always—and always. And throw away any coloring page that had any other color on it.
But I don’t. You probably wouldn’t either. As a result, we see some beautiful creativity. Unhampered creativity.
That’s what Jesus wants from you. A heart worshipping him. A heart worshipping him in a variety of forms. A heart worshipping him in your own, incredible, you way.
This is important. Because we are a church. When we gather together, we worship together. God says we need to worship together for accountability, for encouragement, for prayers, and for fellowship.
But it means we will be worshipping with people who don’t all like the same things.
Be gracious. Because that’s ok.
Remember God’s grace – he lovingly, kindly, patiently waited for us to return to him after we have sinned! That’s amazing. Practice God’s grace --- lovingly, kindly, patiently endure a worship style that you don’t love (but isn’t even a sin), because of His grace.
It’s necessary in our worship. We have kind of a blended worship. We have some traditional, some contemporary. Some services are more one or the other. Soon…the elders and the leadership are working on creating two services – one that highlights traditional styles and one that highlights contemporary styles.
Fight the sinful urge to be angry! Be gracious.
That means if you don’t love organ, you take a breath – remember your God – and belt out that hymn to God’s praise.
That means that if you don’t love guitar, you take a breath – remember your God – and sing the refrain to God’s praise.
Besides – God says to Love your neighbor as yourself. This means a heart focused on God – is going to be thinking of his neighbor, not just himself.
It’s going to be gracious.
(4) Ignore Haters
David had to do that. 16 As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.
Afterwards, when David came back sweaty and short of breath, she got in his face.
How pathetic! How foolish! What an absolute disgrace you are for the way that you worshipped today.
Ouch! That would hurt my feelings.
Maybe you’ve had something like that said about the way you worship.
Maybe you’ve said something like that about the way someone else worships.
But look at David’s thoughtful response. “It was before the Lord….that I did this. I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes…for the Lord.”
David ignored the haters. David focused on God. David worshipped with all his heart.
You ignore the haters. You focus on God. You worship with all your heart.
Like Jimmy. You ever hear of his story? Jimmy had down syndrome. But Jimmy wanted to be a part of his school’s Christmas worship program. He tried really hard, but he couldn’t get the words quite right. The night of program – he struggled. He fidgeted. He fumbled on words. He was (as some people put it) – a distraction.
But while other kids were hanging out afterwards, eating their Christmas candy from the obligatory Christmas candy bag – they couldn’t stop talking about all the toys they were going to get. About how great it would be to get out of church. About how great it would be to stop singing Christmas songs.
But then, they stopped…because it was hard to hear each other.
Jimmy was passing them by, ignoring their looking, refusing to hear their snickers, focusing on his God and singing as loudly as his voice could carry:
“Happy Birthday Jesus! I love you! Happy Birthday.”
Now that’s worship.
What could I do?
I was on I-85. Driving back from our Pastor’s Conference in Roanoke, VA on Wednesday evening. Pastor Lange from Ascension in Jacksonville was with me. We were cracking some kind of funny pastor jokes when traffic started slowing down. Up – ahead of us – was a minivan, flipped upside down.
There weren’t any police cars yet, so we stopped. We got out and jogged toward the scene. There, underneath the wheel well was a woman.
I don’t need to get into the details, but it was gruesome. Gruesome and quiet. There were about 12 of us who had stopped. And after the lady in nursing scrubs began whispering to her gently and I called 911. We all looked around thinking the same thing…
What can I do?
Have you ever felt like that? Not so much at a car accident, but have you ever seen a friend who was in real spiritual trouble? In such a scenario, what do you do? Should you just walk right on by? It’s not your responsibility, right?
Today we are continuing our series called BREATHE and we are going to learn about how our God has equipped and empowered us to offer Spiritual life support to others.
Take a look at John 20:20-21. This takes place on Easter Sunday. It’s after Jesus rose from the dead, after he appeared to Mary Magdalene, after he appeared to his disciples, and right after he let them touch his hands and side.
I imagine they had some questions:
What was death like?
What were you doing during those ‘death’ days?
Did you go to heaven? Did you see my Aunt Edna? How does she look?
But Jesus had other plans:
“Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Have you had anyone breathe on your lately? That’s not usually polite. Maybe with mints, definitely not with garlic.
But Jesus didn’t breathe on them to have them check his breath. He commissioned them to do a job. He sent them to continue his work. As God the Father had sent Jesus from heaven to save humanity, Jesus was sending his disciples into the world to save humanity. Which really makes us – disciples -- rethink our purpose.
Because…What’s our job as Christians? Attend church? Sing songs? Put fish symbols on the back of our car bumpers? Is it really our job to help sin burdened spirits?
Yes. According to this passage Jesus has commanded his disciples – disciples means followers, so if you follow Jesus this is talking about you -- to help save souls.
Now – if you’re gonna save souls, you need the right equipment to do so. The fireman needs his firehose. The police man need his police gear. The surgeon needs his scalpel. And the Christian needs to be armed with the very tool for saving souls that Jesus has given him:
If you forgive anyone their sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.
Matthew 16 speaks similarly. In it Jesus tell the disciples that he has given them the keys to heaven. What is the only way sinful human beings like you and me are getting to heaven? It’s God’s forgiveness. That’s the key. We need God’s forgiveness to unlock the gates of heaven. This whole forgiveness thing – forgiving or not forgiving – is something that the Christian church has called the KEYS. The keys to salvation. The keys to heaven. The keys to saving souls. There are two keys.
(1) THE LOCKING KEY.
Take a look at the first key. It says, "If you do not forgive someone, that is pass on God’s forgiveness, they are not forgiven.” The word “forgiveness” here paints the picture of loosening or untying bonds. Not forgiving, then, means to tie up, to tighten, to bind. It means to take the spiritual key that God has given you and tightening the chains of unforgiveness on someone.
I hope you’re thinking HOW IS THIS HELPFUL? Since when is tying someone up any kind of way to heal anyone? That’s not usually the way I approach healing the cold. Some tea? Yes. Orange juice? Sure. Tying someone up so they can’t move? Not so much.
But take a look at 1 John 1:8. It says this, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
It’s kind of like a toddler. You’re in your living room after a long day’s trip –watching The Land Before Time 8 and she keeps nodding off. Falling asleep. It gets so bad that her head is literally slumped to the floor.
You say, “You should go to bed.” She says, “NO! I’m not tired!” She’s claiming to be without tired. She’s deceiving herself. The truth isn’t in her.
Same thing with people and sin. If anyone claims to be without sin and “cool” with God on our own, probably getting to heaven because “I’m not so bad,” they are wrong. God’s Word says differently.
Binding someone’s conscience by proclaiming “That is a sin. Repent.” is important. It speaks the truth to them. It causes them to rethink their actions. It usually hurts their feelings.
Pastor are you suggesting that we hurt people’s feelings? That sounds kind of mean. In America, we don’t say anything that might hurt anyone’s feeling at any time.
Understand this: We aren’t hurting people’s feelings for the sake of hurting people’s feelings. We are hurting their feelings for the sake of their salvation.
Like in Corinth. Corinth was an ancient town with a young Christian church that had been formed there by the Apostle Paul – Paul was one of Jesus’ disciples. He had been going around telling people that Jesus was their Savior. Many people believed in Corinth and they started a church there. They probably had some kind of opening ceremony. They probably ate a very large potluck. They probably hugged and were excited to be in God’s church.
But after awhile they had problems. One of the problems was that there was a man who was sleeping with his father’s wife. A sin that Paul said “was so bad that even the pagans – people who don’t remotely believe in Jesus – do not tolerate.” A sin that – I can’t imagine any of you, believer or unbeliever would be willing to say “That sound pretty morally right.”
So how did Paul want them to deal with it? He wanted them to expel them to call him out. He wanted them to hurt his feelings. He wanted them to even expel him from the congregation.
“Hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”
Think about that phrase? Destruction of the flesh. It describes what happens when you hear about your sins. You get a gurgly feeling in your tummy. Your muscles tighten up. You feel stress. It isn’t pleasant. I know this for a fact –when Julianna calls me out for something – I don’t usually say, “Oh thank you so kindly.” I get upset! It hurts.
But that was the point! This binding, this hurting was necessary to show the man his sins that he might turn to his Savior and live.
Same thing for us. When someone is sinning, when someone is living a sinful lifestyle, when someone is unrepentant, it is our duty to bind them, to show them their sin. To lock up their conscience not because we enjoy seeing people squirm, but in order to save them.
Because if we don’t turn them, if they don’t realize their sins, if they don’t turn to their Savior, their feelings won’t be hurt, but one day – their soul will hurt…
We don’t want that. We want people in heaven. In fact, that’s why we lock people up. We lock people up, so that we can set them free.
2) THE UNLOCKING KEY.
Can you imagine what it is like to be bound up?
To have sin and guilt weighing down your every move?
To constantly be concerned that God hates you?
To be convinced that you have done too much wrong to ever be forgiven?
Imagine the joy of being able to use the second key to a guilt trapped conscience. If you forgive anyone their sins, they are forgiven. That word “forgive” literally means “to loosen, untie, unbind.” It means to “release!”
And if you think it's nice to be set free from some ropes that have been holding you captive, imagine what it’s like to be set free from guilt that has been holding you captive?
That’s the message we get to proclaim. Not just “I forgive you,” but “God forgives you.” God forgives you because Jesus lived innocently without any guilt. God forgives you because Jesus died innocently in your place. God forgives you because Jesus rose triumphantly to prove that God’s forgiveness is yours.
Of course, sometimes, sometimes this is even harder than pronouncing forgiveness. “Pastor, I don’t want to forgive him. I don’t want to forgive him because his sin was against me. We should forgive all the other sinners who ask for forgiveness, sure…but not that guy. Pastor, I want you to kick him out of the church and never let him in because his sin was against me.”
Remember the Corinthians? Remember how Paul told them to expel the man who was sleeping with his dad’s wife? They did. They expelled him. And it worked. The man was cut to the heart. Guilt overtook him. He stopped sleeping with his dad’s wife and asked for repentance.
But the church wasn’t giving it to him. He had been an embarrassment to them. He had caused the Apostle Paul to write a letter that would be written down for 2000 years and give the Corinthian church a bad name. Why should they forgive them?
So Paul wrote them another letter. 2 Corinthians. Look at what he wrote, “Forgive and comfort him so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow...Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven…I have forgiven in the sight of Christ.”
This really transforms forgiveness doesn’t it? Think about it – if someone has sinned against you, you have the unique opportunity to share God’s love. Usually we want revenge. Usually we want to yell. But God has gifted you a chance to show incredible Godlike love, Godlike forgiveness that may save his soul.
Now, I get it. This might sound unnerving. It might sound intimidating. I can’t tell someone their sins are endangering them to hell. I can’t comfort someone with God’s love – I don’t know what to say.
Look back at what Jesus told his disciples – Receive the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is all powerful.
The Holy Spirit is all wise.
The Holy Spirit is always present.
The Holy Spirit is God.
God is with you. You have him. He will not leave you to do this on your own.
I felt this at the car crash. After I had called 911, the firemen and paramedics came quickly. They got out the jaws of life and they began saving the woman.
I looked over – and next to me was a man who looked very frantic. It was one of those things – this tragedy caused him to open up to a stranger. He said, “Life is so fragile. It’s so quick. I don’t know if I was able to do all I could to save her. In fact, I haven’t been there for my wife. I haven’t been there for my kids.”
I put my hand on his back. He sobbed. The Holy Spirit took over.
“Friend, that's why we've got Jesus. He defeated death. He defeated sin for us. He offers forgiveness."
May God enable you to see the opportunities to share his Law and Gospel...to offer spiritual life support.
Silent night. Holy night. All is calm. All is bright. Sleep in heavenly peace.
Is that usually how you feel during Christmas? Peaceful. Calm. Quiet.
I don’t know about you but I often think that song would need to be rewritten to cover my Christmas:
Busy night. “Things need to get done by next Tuesday,” night.
Not so calm. My heart’s filled with fright.
Because baking, wrapping, and decorating need to be finished before Grandma comes in.
Did I buy the Christmas cheese? I need a break from Christmas please.
I don’t think that’s supposed to be the tone of the season. Yet – it is so easy for Christmas to become so complicated that our hearts are filled with stress and anxiety rather than peace and joy.
How do we stop that?
Over the next couples of weeks, we will be going through a new sermon series called A Simple Christmas. Our goal is to learn from God how to make this Christmas season – the simple, peaceful, reflective season that it’s meant to be. We want to recapture that simple joy of the shepherds, the simple peace of the Mary, and the simple song of the angels.
There’s no better place to start when you’re trying to make things simple, than with your schedule.
I. Schedule Complicators
What I mean is this. Take a look at my Google calendar. Here’s what it looks like around October. I’ve got a good game plain. There’s a few events. But in general, things are nice and easy.
Then, November comes around. I make a few additions here and a few additions there. Then, suddenly….my calendar looks a lot more like this. It’s so loaded and so full that I have to schedule time to interpret my calendar into my calendar!
Check out this warning from Jesus in Luke 21:34 “Be careful,” he says, “or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.”
Anyone here like shopping at the mall? Did you ever notice that you can travel a lot more quickly at the beginning of the mall run than at the end? Once your arms are weighed down by bags from Macy's, Nordstroms, Best Buy, the Apple Store, and Spencer’s – you can’t move as fast as you used to. You may even have to sit down at one of those nice benches and watch the kids sit on Santa’s lap.
The same thing is true spiritually. When we weigh our hearts down with things and stuff – things and stuff that might not even be inherently evil – the things and stuff make it more difficult to prepare our hearts. They slow us down when we’re running to God. They distract us in hearing his Word. In fact, they might even prevent us from ever getting to the peace of God altogether.
Every holiday season there are a few culprits that repeatedly fill up our schedule. Watch out. These things aren’t bad. But when they become more important than seeking God, then there is a heart problem.
I already mentioned this one as an illustration. (And no, dads, this isn’t your excuse to say, “Hey, I don’t have to get anyone any gifts. Pastor said so.”) Gifts are just fine. Gift giving is a godly trait. Gift giving is a fine tradition.
But when scouring through the Toys ‘R Us catalog is more important than scouring the pages of the Bible, when a search of your internet history brings up the Word “SALE” thousands of times, but the name “Jesus” – once — in the form of a cross for sale at Hallmark. Then, isn’t it possible shopping has become a distraction?
I say this with all the love in my heart, because I am a person who loves baking. Not actually slaving over the oven, but eating what comes out of the oven. Baking is not a bad thing.
Yet somehow, somewhere, we got it ingrained into our skulls that a successful American Christmas has gingerbread, pfeffernusse, sugar cookies, peanut butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies, cookies in the shape of Santa, cookies in the shape of a star, peanut brittle, bon bons, pralines cookies, peppermint cookies, and those little pretzels covered in dyed green chocolate to look like a wreath and two little red M&Ms to look like a bow.
Ya’ll – we have to skip Advent devotion tonight because I’ll be too busy baking. Problem?
Again – decorating isn’t bad. But we live in a society where there’s more than a few reality TV shows bent on showing us how real Americans celebrate the holidays by disguising their house as a light up pinball machine. And Martha’s Stewart’s magazine Real Simple gives us article after article of 20 step directions for hanging the perfect wreath next to the perfect garland leading up to the perfect mistletoe.
I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to miss that Advent service at church because the little lights on the ceramic church in my Christmas village aren’t working right.
Oh parties. There are lots of parties. Parties with family. Parties with friends. Parties with coworkers – for your job and your spouse's job. Parties for the kid in PreK with the birthday. Parties for neighbors. Parties at that big old mansion down the street that perhaps you were invited to on accident, but you don’t want to miss that party because you've always wanted to be inside the mansion.
Parties aren’t bad. But when we party simply for the sake of partying (or better yet) simply for the sake of telling people “Look at all the parties I have been to.” Isn’t there something wrong?
Thanks for the invite to Christmas Eve service pastor, but…I’m invited over to “the coolest guy at work's” house. You understand, don’t you?
5) Social Networking.
I put this one up here, because the honest truth is that this is a huge problem in society. We are convinced that we are the busiest people in the history of generations on earth. Why? Because of Social Media.
Tasks that should take two minutes – I’m gonna check to see if that place is still having a sale – become hours. “But as I was looking for the sale, I found a good deal that I felt I should SHARE on Facebook with my friends. Which led me to TWEET about how the sales aren’t any good anymore. And then I saw this video condemning how Facebook distracts us all from the true meaning of Christmas, so I thought I’d share it—on Facebook.”
“No, Pastor, I just don’t’ have time to read through the Gospel of Luke in preparation for Christmas. I’m #TooBusy.”
Read the warning from Jesus again. Luke 21:34 “Be careful,” he says, “or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.” That day? It’s not referring to December 25th, 2015. It’s referring to a Day that’s much more important than that. A day that will only happen once and if you aren’t ready for it there won’t be a chance for you to shape up and try it again next year.
Jesus is talking about Judgment Day. The day when all people are judged. The day when people are sent to heaven or to hell. Not just for a day. Not just for the time it takes to go to a bad office party.
Brothers and sisters, there is nothing more important that you can do this Christmas. Then, prepare your hearts for the coming of the Lord. Today God’s Word says, Be careful. Don’t get distracted.
Don’t be Lot’s wife.
Do you remember the story? Lot was a believer. Lot and his family lived in a city of unbelievers. A city that hated God. A city that proved their hatred for God by acting in defiant opposition to everything that God had to say.
A city that God was going to destroy.
But an angel fo the Lord came to Lots’ family. He warned them. He said, “Follow me. There’s little time. We must get out of the city. We must run outside of the gates. We must run to safety and not look back. God is going to destroy this place with fire from heaven. There is no time. Pursuing God’s command right now is the only thing that should be taking up your time.”
His daughters ran.
His wife ran…and stopped. It was too hard to leave her things, her stuff, her friends. She longed for earthly things more than the things of God.
She turned around…and became a pillar of salt.
II. God’s Simple Schedule
I’m not suggesting that you’ll turn into a pillar of salt. But I am suggesting that if things and stuff keep us from following God, we will be punished.
Repent. Confess your sins of filling your time with things and stuff and dropping God from your schedule. Ask for forgiveness.
And know that he gives it.
How do we know that? Because your forgiveness was a part of God’s simple schedule. Take a look at this passage from Galatians 4:4 “When the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” Notice the simple two part schedule that God planned.
Might I add that this has been a part of God’s schedule since the beginning? Did he not say to the devil in the first few days of this earth’s existence – “I will put enmity between you and the woman..and one of her offspring, will crush your head.” (Gen. 3:15)
Romans tells us that when the time was just right. Eve’s great, great, great, great, great, great (many times over) grandson, her offspring Jesus, was born. Born of a woman.
God didn’t get distracted. He didn’t let questions like – “How can your Son be the Savior? He’s God. He isn’t held to the same restrictions as humans. He can’t trade in his perfect life for their perfect life because they aren’t on the same playing field.” “And How can he be God? If he is born of a human, he needs a mommy and a daddy. But then, he wouldn’t be God and your plan wouldn’t work. He wouldn’t be aable to save human beings.”
God did what he did. He sent his Son. Born of a woman. Born of to a woman who had never had sex. Born to a husband who knew that she had never had sex. Born of God’s miraculous power.
2) Save the World
And he was born, to save you. It says, “to redeem those under law.” That’s us! We were the ones who were to be punished for not putting God first. We were the ones who had missed the boat because we were spending our time pursuing our own fleshly desires.
But God came to save you. That was part two of his simple plan. Live perfectly. Die Innocently. Rise triumphantly. Save you.
God didn’t get distracted. He didn’t get distracted by our wants. He’s not like Santa Claus who gives us what we want. “I want a New Transformer toy that I’ll play with twice and then get bored with and leave in the bottom of my toy closet.” Nope. God gave us what we needed. He didn’t come to get us a million dollars. He didn’t come to get us a challenge free life on this earth. He didn’t come to make sure that our Christmas trees are fully decorated with hundreds of gifts beneath it.
He came to save us from sin, death, and hell.
Scripture says, he came to “redeem us who were under law.” To buy us back from the punishment we deserve. He came to win forgiveness. He did this to “give us the full rights of sons.” We have the right to have peace with God. We have the right to have joy this holiday season. He gave us the right to heaven.
He gave me the right to say “You are forgiven.” And for it to be true.
III. A Sample of a Simple Schedule
Peace, joy and God’s love must be what predominates our Christmas schedules. We do that in three simple ways:
Specifically. Meditate on his word. Read Romans 13:14 “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.”
There are a lot of ways to dress for Christmas. When I was younger, my mom insisted on dressing me up in a matching velvet suit coat to my sister’s matching velvet dress. Some people love wearing Christmas sweaters.
Jesus reminds us to dress up in Him. In his righteousness. In his purity. In his forgiveness. You do that by meditating on his Word.
It’s so much easier to dress, of course, when it is the only thing you are doing. It’s hard to dress when you are doing the dishes OR to dress while you are hanging tinsel.
It’s the same thing with studying God’s Word. Set aside time to put it on your schedule. Make it as a part of your day as getting dressed is. Put on the LORD Jesus Christ. First thing in the morning. Do it in the afternoon. Do it in the evening. Literally go into your schedule and mark it in permanent marker. Make it the one part of your schedule that you will not and cannot give up.
In the section we were reading from Luke earlier, Jesus offered this is a second way to prepare. He said, “Be always on the watch and pray.” (Luke 21:34)
Can you imagine what it would be like if we spent as much time in prayer as we do on our iPhones?
“This is exciting. Rather than post it on Facebook, I’ll say a prayer of thanks.”
“This is challenge. Rather than complain via mass text, I’ll say a prayer asking for God’s help.”
“I feel terrible. Rather than soothe my conscience with pictures of dogs dressed up in Santa costumes, I’ll ask God for forgiveness.”
Pray brothers and sisters. Know that God hears you. It is a “right of sons” to talk to their dad and it is a right that God has given you through Jesus Christ.
Isaiah 63:7 says, “Tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is praised.” This is probably the hardest one for us. It’s the one part that we dread.
But it’s so important.
Think about it. There is no better gift than the message of salvation. Salvation doesn’t get old. It doesn’t wear out. The batteries don’t die. It is one size fits all. You don’t need to take it back to the store. There isn’t a salvation 3.8 set to come out next year – so why bother on it this year?
Salvation is one of kind because it comes from our eternal Lord. There is no better gift than that.
We need to do that together this Christmas. We need to invite others to come hear this message – it’s why in the back of the bulletin you have a worksheet to help you determine who to invite. Please read that. Please partake. This is one of the MOST important things for you to do this Christmas! So important that God promises to go with you as you share.
IV. The Time is Now
Jesus told them this parable. “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” (Lk. 21:29-31)
God's kingdom is near, but we don't know how near it is. Share His message with others and keep it a SIMPLE Christmas. Amen.
The Pharisees were the most religious looking people of the time. They dressed religious with long flowing robes and ornamented sashes; they talked religious – about the Bible, about God, and traditions. They walked religious – with a stoic, appropriately respectable jaunt! It wouldn't be surprising if they smelled religious – a soothing combination of incense and oil with a hint of sweat (because they had been praying so hard)
The Pharisees even ate religiously. With big motions so that everyone could see what they were doing, they walked over to a nearby jug. They spoke words of Hebrew blessing. They dipped their hands in the water and gave them a ceremonial washing from the tip of the pinky finger to the crook of the elbow.
Then, they sat down, expecting to see everyone’s eyes filled with amazement at just how devoted to God they were.
The people weren’t looking at them. An upstart group of men who had been gaining quite a following recently had the crowd’s attention in the corner. Their leader was called Jesus and the men that followed him – disciples. They seemed like decent people who knew the law and knew religion. The Pharisees were interested in talking with them.
But as they approached the disciples, they noticed something appalling.
THEY DIDN’T WASH THEIR HANDS!!!
So, like a Preschooler, excited to tell mom and dad about the bad thing that he caught his brother doing, the Pharisees asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
Now – this wasn’t a germ issue. It wasn’t a "when did you last use the restroom issue." It wasn’t a matter of physical cleanliness at all. It was a religious issue – a matter of spiritual cleanliness.
It’s important for us too. Today we are interesting in finding out if we are clean. (No, I’m not asking if you took a shower recently and if you used soap and if you washed behind your ears). I want you to consider if you are spiritually clean.
I. Where NOT to Measure Cleanliness
We going to start by taking a look at Jesus’ response. He emphasizes where NOT to look for the answer this question:
6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’"
Wouldn’t it be really awesome to find out that a long time ago someone had prophesied about you? Wouldn’t it be pretty cool to find out that you would be a prophet? Or you’d walk on water? Or you’d become President of the United States?
Jesus was telling the Pharisees that there was an Old Testament prophecy that talked about them. But I don’t think they were too happy to find out. Because the prophecy painted them in a horrible light!
“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” 7 They worship me in vain.” That word “vain” means “empty; worthless; without any substance to it.” The Pharisees sang the praises of God, sure. They followed God’s rules, absolutely. In fact, there probably wasn’t anyone who followed God’s rules better than the Pharisees.
But in their hearts? These godly actions weren’t being done for God. These actions were being done for themselves.
“Isn’t it awesome how much I serve at church? I love having people say, “You do such a great job.”
“God – notice how I didn’t drink any alcohol at the party tonight. I’m a little better than all those people who did, right?”
“God, did you see that check I just made out for charity? It’s ok if you didn’t. They’re gonna put my name on the donor list. You can find it there."
We can’t look to Godly actions to identify ourselves as “clean.” The motivation may be far apart!
The Pharisees had taken it a step farther. "Your teachings are but rules taught by men.” The Pharisees didn’t just follow God’s rules. They followed a collection of Rabbinical writings that their teachers had written down. These teachings were supposed to take it to the next level. These teachings were supposed to subscribe another level of holiness to the Pharisees!
God says, “Rest on the Sabbath.” I won’t just rest; I will also make sure that I don’t even take 1000 steps on my pedometer.
God says, “Give a tenth of your harvest to me.” I’ll go one better and make sure I give a tenth of the salt I put on my fries to him.
God says, “Fast every once in awhile.” I’ll fast today and tomorrow and the day after that (Just as long as everyone sees the hunger in my eyes and they know how godlike I am.
But what’s Jesus saying here. These laws didn’t make them cleaner. In fact, they had no relevance whatsoever on their status before God. They were mere human laws! Teachings taught by men.
How many of you went school supply shopping recently? Did you pick up some erasers, number two pencils, a 64 pack of Crayola crayons, 2 packages of tissues, a painting smock, Play-doh, a Dora the Explorer backpack, and Fruit Roll up Snacks?
How many of you got those things for your college kid? You wouldn’t. That would be mixing up the two supply lists.
When the Pharisees were fulfilling their own man made laws, they had God’s supply list all messed up. Yes, they did things that they themselves had thought of, but they failed miserably at things that God had thought of. Things like mercy, fairness, and love.
Don’t get caught in the same trap. Don’t measure cleanliness via human actions either.
II. Where TO Measure Cleanliness
Where then should we look to for cleanliness? Listen to what Jesus says, “15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come.”
Ask yourself this question:
Where does the murderer plan his murder?
Where does the adulterer decide to sleep with his secretary?
Where does the boss figure out ways to cheat his employees?
Where does the pornographer think, “I should look at pornography?”
Where does the gossiper decide, “I’m going to tell everyone how much of a loser that person is?”
The answer is simple. It starts on the inside. In here (our brains) and in here (our hearts.) Spiritual uncleanness is measured in the heart!
So…how clean is your heart?
Here’s a test. Jesus next gives a list sinful things. Take a look with me: “21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
You ever done any of those? Then, your heart is unclean.
Think that you never have? Then you're full of deceit and arrogance. Your heart is unclean.
Yes, but pastor…I’ve only struggled with it a little bit. I don’t do those things all that often.
What if I told you that the Organic, GMO free, farm raised chicken was missing a key ingredient? Mercury! Maybe it’s not as clean as you thought, huh? Or what if you opened up a bottle of pure, fresh from the mountains clean Aquafina water and brown came out? Probably not drinking that one.
If your heart produces, has produced, has ever produced any kind of unclean actions, then your heart is unclean! You are unclean.
This is a big deal. It’s a big deal because God is a connoisseur of holiness! He loves his human lives to be completely devoid of any impurities. None in action. Nothing sinful in words. Nothing sinful in thoughts.
He has the palate to tell the difference! We might not; but God does. God does and when God finds impure hearts, do you know what he does? He throws them away. From his presence. Forever.
That’s a very real threat of our very real Holy God!
III. How Do I Get Clean?
1 John says this, “The blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purifies us from all sin.”
If you needed a blood transfusion, because your blood went toxic, do you know what would be valuable? Using blood that isn’t toxic. Similarly, it wouldn’t do any good if you needed a new lung to take the lung of the 30 year smoker with cancer.
Unclean things don’t fix unclean things. We, who are unclean, cannot make our hearts, which are unclean, clean!
But Jesus, He is. Jesus lived a life that was completely pure in every way. His actions were God pleasing always. His words were morally upright always. His thoughts were completely in line with God’s way of thinking always.
Granted, it probably helped that He was God. Did you know Jesus claimed that? He claimed to be God’s Son, the Lord of heaven and earth. If it’s true, that would explain why Jesus is as holy as God wanted – because He was God….who is holy.
But that’s hard to believe! Do you know what else is hard to believe?
That Jesus could make a blind man see with only his hands – but he did.
That Jesus could make a lame man walk with only his words – but he did.
That Jesus could calm storms. That he could walk on water. That he could change water into wine. That he could die a tragic death on a cross in front of hundreds of people, be buried and assured of his death by the many involved with placing his body into the grave, ONLY to come out of that grave, a grave sealed shut with a giant stone and guarded by the Navy Seals of that day, ONLY to come out of that grave ALIVE! And to appear to hundreds in various times, at various places, and in various ways.
Jesus did God things. Which is proof that he’s God. Which is proof that He’s miraculous.
Which is proof that he cleans hearts.
1 John 1:9 says this, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us all our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Granted, this is a faith thing. I don’t have a giant, divine X Ray machine to show you how Jesus cleans souls. It doesn’t have visible proof.
But, we do have the very words of God written down right here. If you confess your sins, God is faithful and just He will (he has forgiven you) and He will (He has cleansed you) from all unrighteousness.”
It wasn’t long after Jesus made these statements that this whole Him having the power to cleanse people thing got put to the test.
A woman approached him with tears in her eyes. She was stressed. She was appalled. She was at her wits end.
Her daughter was possessed by an evil spirit. (Talk about unclean.) The evil spirit controlled her. It led her to speak hate. She hurt herself. She tried to drown herself. She had put her mother through misery. Her little child, her daughter, was in agony.
“Lord, can you help!”
“For such great faith, go. Your daughter is healed.”
The woman returned and she found her daughter returned. Healed. Freed. Cleansed.
Stop trying to clean yourself. Turn to the One who cleans all hearts. Put your faith in Jesus. Be clean. Amen.
WORTHY OF JUDGMENT.
They were right. She felt the shame. She had been feeling it for months now. Secret rendezvous. Hidden moments. Lies. To her husband. To his wife. To her own children.
Now it was at the forefront. She’d been caught. The secret she had worked to protect was now public knowledge. What would everyone think of her? What would her husband think? What would his wife think? What would her own children think? She wanted to die.
Then, there was a commotion. The men were distracted. Someone was joining the mob.
It was Jesus.
The mob was excited, “Join us! This woman is guilty of adultery. Join us! Let’s give her what the Law deserves. Let’s rid the earth of her.”
The woman shed another tear.
Jesus responded calmly. “OK – why doesn’t the person without any sin, throw the first stone.”
It was quiet. The men looked at one another. They looked at the woman. They looked at Jesus. Then someone threw the first stone…on the ground.
Today we’re going to continue our series on Counter Culture by talking about Purity. The heart of purity is found in the Sixth Commandment. Anyone? “You shall not commit adultery.” Some might call it a no fun commandment. Or that God is a prude.
But God made us sexual beings. God made us to reproduce. God gave us the gift of sex as a special blessing to connect to human beings together in a special way that they won’t connected with anyone else. It’s a lot different than a handshake. It was aimed to seal and connect you intimately to your spouse.
But the greater the blessing, the greater the pain when it is abused. There is pain, hurt feelings, guilt, and shame. (They are a lot worse than when you steal someone’s pencil when they aren’t looking).
And unlike many other sins – this one affects your own body. It changes the chemical reactions in the brain. It reprograms you to have a connection with someone you aren’t married to. It confuses you. It makes you feel icky. It makes you avoid contact with someone else because they make you feel guilty.
God didn’t want you to have any of that. So God made this command for your good. God wanted to protect your purity. I guess you could say, "You shall not cause yourself and your neighbor all kinds of pain, shame, and terrible heartache."
What then does it take to be pure? Let’s discuss definitions.
I. Defining Purity
1) The World’s Definition
When I first started working on this sermon, I thought the best way to define the world’s definition of purity might be: “Do whatever you want.” That’s what we tell each other. It’s what the media preaches. It’s what the Facebook videos with the sappy music teaches us. Just let people feel, love, and do what they want.
Then, a certain Vanity Fair magazine cover came out.
And people had opinions. People like Chris brown. Chris Brown who, in his music, proclaims to have slept with hundreds of women and in his Instagram photos is grinding and twisting against all kinds of scantily clad women, tweeted very negatively about Jenner. In his mind, Jenner was the definition of sexually impure.
Then, Chris went right back to rapping and partying and sleeping around.
Chris Brown embodies the world’s definition of purity. It’s the definition that the Pharisees had. Sexual purity is “not doing the sexual sins that I don’t do.” If that’s the definition of purity, guess what? You’ll always pass! Because you’ll always have not done the sins you have not done.
Be careful that you don’t fall for the world’s definition of purity. It can happen while you watch TV. Suddenly, the TV portrays a homosexual encounter. You look away “That’s sinful! I can’t believe they show that on TV.” Then, you change the channel and settle on the TV show where the nice young detective is falling in love with the burly cop. They aren’t married, but it’s ok...who hasn’t done that?
TIME OUT! Where’s the outrage? That’s a sin too!
But maybe we don’t have the same outrage, because if we did, we’d have to outrage our own sins.
And we don't want to.
So we fall into the trap of defining purity by the world's standards.
2) God’s Definition
Brace yourself for moment. Then, when you're ready take a look at God’s definition of purity in Ephesians 5:3. “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality…”
Listen again and write it down. God’s definition of purity means not even a hint of impurity. Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or any kind of impurity, or greed -- because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking which are out of place!”
If purity were food, God wants his wholly organic! He doesn’t want even an ounce of a contaminate in his selections. He doesn’t want anything, not even a modified Food Starch here OR a bug repellant there to have ever touched his tomatoes.
God doesn’t want any kind of sexual immorality to ever touch his children.
When you compare your life to that definition, how does it match up? Can you really tell God that you haven’t ever had an action, a motive, a word, or a thought that is impure?
If you can’t, if even an ounce of impurity has ever touched you then…you are impure! Remember God's a stickler so even a 1 night stand or 1 explicit lyrics rap song or 1 inappropriate website on your browser history ruins the whole shebang!
Maybe you now understand what the woman was feeling a little better.
She was bracing herself with her eyes closed because she knew her punishment was coming. She knew she was about to face her Maker in all of her sin!
She closed her eyes and waited.
Then she opened her eyes. The crowd was gone. The only thing remaining was a pile of stones and Jesus.
“Did no one condemn you?” he said. “No one sir,” she breathed.
“Then, neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.”
If you have left an impure life in the past and are seeking his forgiveness, then hear Jesus’ words to you. God’s Word says to you, “Neither do I condemn you.”
How does that work? All who have hope in Jesus purify themselves, just as he is pure. (1 Jn. 3:3) It’s just like that children’s lesson we did. God’s power is like Clorox bleach. It destroys and rids our souls of all impurities from before God. It’s God’s promise in Baptism. In your Baptism. Baptism is like God’s permanent divine Clorox bleach that remains running throughout the soul veins of your body. It purifies you from all sin!
Do you believe this? Then you are pure…Live in purity.
II. Why Live in Purity
But you might be wondering – what’s the point? Our world is so sexually driven – it’s everywhere. You get very little judgment for sexual escapades. Guys get a high five and women get a giggle from a friend. Why should we strive for this “not even a hint” definition of purity!?! It’s darn near impossible!
Here are 5 reasons to strive for purity from Ephesians 5.
1) You are God’s Child
Check out verse 1. It says, “Be imitators of God, as dearly loved children.”
Did you ever want to be like your parents? I think that’s pretty natural for children. Girls want to wear dresses like their moms. Boys want to throw the baseball like their dads. One of the reasons I became a pastor was to be like my dad.
Spiritually speaking, God is your dad. He’s an awesome role model. He’s holy. He’s good. He’s never evil.
Do you want a good role model? Don’t make it some reality TV star who gets a bunch of girls or that woman from 50 Shades of Grey. Make it your heavenly dad and don’t let even a Hint of Impurity be in your life!
2) Christ Loves You
Verse 2 says this, “Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…”
Did you hear how much Christ loved you? He was willing to give himself up for you. He suffered extreme pain on the cross so that you won’t have to suffer any pain in eternity.
Porn -- doesn’t love you. That steamy romance author? Just wants your money. That television show? Just wants ratings. Your boyfriend…may love you…but not selflessly…in the moment…he may just want to use you.
Jesus always loves you and has your best interest in mind. Follow him and his direction. Don’t let even a hint of impurity be apart of your life.
3) Lust is Idolatry.
Check out verse 5. “An immoral, impure person…such a man is an idolater.”
Idolatry is a first commandment issue. In it’s simplest form, it refers to worshipping a small statue as a god.
But it doesn’t have to be a small statue. If you run to the internet for relief...if you run to the sights of the gym for enjoyment…if you study your romance novel more than God’s Word – who is really your God?
Don’t worship your own sinful desires. Worship God. Don’t let even a hint of impurity be a part of your life.
4) There’s No Impurity in Heaven
This is probably the scariest and most difficult reason for a pastor to relay to his people. But it’s also the most obvious reason and I’d be a pretty terrible interpreter of the God’s Word, if I failed to mention this one. Read verse 5 in its entirety: “Of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”
You’re welcome to object. “No way that’s true.” But verse 6 continues, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such impure things, God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.”
Brothers and sisters, I want you in heaven. God wants you in heaven. Don’t let even a hint of impurity be a part of your life.
5) You are Light.
As scary as verse 6 is, verse 8 is filled with comfort. It says this, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” In other words, you were once surrounded by the darkness of sinful lusts. Your lives were filled with erasing your internet browser, sneaking to hotels, making sure no one saw you looking at that magazine in the magazine aisle, and hoping no one noticed that you slept over at your boyfriend's house last night.
But now you know Jesus. Now you know the light. Now you are surrounded by the light of His presence. Now you are forgiven. Now you live for God.
Don’t let even a hint of impurity be a part of your life….Live as children of the light.
III. How to Live in Purity
So…how do you do it?
In America, we often approach these issues in the same way: “OK God…How far can I go?” How far is too far with my boyfriend? How long is too long for me to stare at the woman on the side of the road? How short is too short for this sexy shirt I’m wearing? How steamy is too steamy for this television scene I’m watching?
Stop asking how far you can go from God, but how far you can go in serving Him.
How can I stay pure as I go about dating? How can I serve my boyfriend with the way I dress? How can I serve my girlfriend with where I spend the night? How can I serve my spouse with the way I look at the internet? How can I serve my husband with my reading choices? How can I serve my children with the televisions shows that I choose to watch in their presence?
In short – Start asking how can I rid my life of impurity? Ephesians gives us three guidelines to keep in mind:
1) Come into the Light.
Look at what Ephesians says next, “Live as children of light…Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness…Expose these dark deeds. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.”
Isn’t it true that these kinds of sins often take place in the dark? Or at least when others are in the dark about that? Behind closed doors, when others are away, when the kids are in bed.
Jesus is saying here – stop hiding your struggle. Share it with a friend.
Yes – it’s a scary thought to ask another Christian for help. It’s humbling. But it’s also freeing. Ask someone for help. Ask an elder here. Ask me! Ask for help and---if someone asks you for help, don’t hold their struggle against them. Don’t be the Pharisee – “Ugh, Ugh, you struggle with that?” Don’t belittle them. They are coming to you for help – so praise God they are struggling and help them!
2) Be Wise.
In the book of Proverbs, King Solomon talks about a time he looked out his window and saw a young man walking down the street. As he was walking down the street, he saw a prostitute waiting for him. King Solomon thought, “Walk on the other side of the street. Get away from her! You’ll be safer away from the temptation.”
Instead, the young man walked right by her. She seduced him. He went with her.
Ephesians 5:15 says, “Be careful, then, how you live—not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”
If this is a struggle for you, don’t be foolish. Use common sense. If you struggle when you’re alone, make sure you aren’t alone. If you struggle when you go to the gym, don’t go to the gym. If you struggle with a certain kind of book, don’t get that book at the library. If you struggle with a certain kind of television show, don’t watch that. If you struggle with a certain kind of website, don’t go there. In fact, block it! Use internet software to police yourself. If you are more prone to struggle with all of this when you’re drunk, don’t get drunk. Don’t spend the night alone with your girlfriend if you can’t control yourself.
Be wise and God will bless you with victory after victory.
3) Be Filled with the Spirit.
All of this serving God and struggling against sin takes energy. It's like a battle. An athletic context of divine proportions.
That means you're going to need to replenish your spiritual electrolytes. Therefore, you need to keep yourself hydrated with the time tested, proven, spiritually reenergizing Gatorade:
"Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
If you want to live a pure life, you need to be filled with the pure Word of God. You need to be filled with his pure law for guidance. You need to be filled with His pure Gospel for the pure comfort of having a Savior who purified you from all sins.
Come back to our Gospel scene one more time that woman had heard Jesus’ precious words of forgiveness. She was filled with the Spirit as Jesus spoke words of forgiveness. She knew of God’s love when she didn’t deserve it.
Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.”
You are not your sin. You are not an adulteress. You are my child.
Jesus changed her identity with one awesome sentence of Gospel.
Hear the same thing that God is speaking to you: You are not perpetually stuck in sin. You are not a sex addict. You are not disgusting. You are not a pornographer. You are not a homosexual. You are not an adulteress.
You are not your sin.
You are God's child. You are loved. You are forgiven.
You are PURE.
What do you think the disciples felt after watching Jesus ascend to heaven?
Jaw-dropping awe? Certainly.
But I also wonder if they didn't feel a sigh of relief?
Matthew, the tax collector says, "Phew. Now that he's gone, I can finally get back to work. I've fallen behind on my work and I gotta catch up on my collecting."
Peter might have chimed in, "You guys have no idea how long my wife's 'honey-do-list' is. I need to get to work on that."
James says, "Hmmm. That speech ran a little long. Now I gotta book it in order to get little Avram to swim practice at the Sea of Galilee on time."
Simon the political Zealot says, "I can go back to devoting my time to politics. There's a protest at Pontius' Pilate's palace tomorrow and I need to get a few witty signs painted before then!"
I think it's a fair assessment that they had thoughts like this. After all, the disciples were human. Humans struggle to stay focused. In our age of hyper-busyness and attention span shortening SmartPhones, this couldn’t be more true. Even (or perhaps “especially” is better) with spiritual things!
Now we can’t go the Ascension mountain to test this theory out, but...consider for a moment how well you focus on spiritual things for an hour in church on a Sunday morning.
Listen to what it says in Colossians 3:1-3 "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God."
Hidden. That word jumps out at me. This section explains that when our hearts are set on Christ above, then we are hidden with him.
But we don’t usually hide in Christ. In fact, this is one of the big reasons that we are so focused on earthly pursuits. We want to hide. We have failures, guilt, terrible past decisions that we cannot get past. So we find ourselves trying to 'cover up' our past sins with earthly solutions:
"If I just finish this bottle of whiskey, then the 'booze fog' will cover up all the things I've done wrong in my life and I won't have to think about it."
"If I just have another sexual experience, it'll be the only thing that makes me stop feeling guilt and shame from the last sexual experience I had."
"If I just get a respectable enough career, then I will no longer be remember in my family as the black sheep that I was in my younger days."
“If I just make enough money, then it doesn't matter that my marriage is a mess.”
“If I just keep myself busy with extracurricular activity after extracurricular activity for the kids, then I can hide myself from the feelings of inadequacy and failure from the early years in raising this child.”
When I went to Wisconsin where I grew up last week, I have to admit that I was doing a lot of this. I caught myself thinking, "I'm a pastor. I'm respectable. I can't wait for my former principal and Kindergarten teacher to see me and comment things like, "How respectable that man is."
But as respectable as I thought I was, it didn’t stop me from feeling guilty as we passed a classroom that I used to cause a ruckus in. It didn’t stop me from struggling to look the teacher in the eye whom I had been disrespectful to in high school. It didn’t stop me from looking down in shame after seeing a former classmate whom I had not been all that nice to.
Here's the problem: Covering up our pasts with earthly pursuits is like taking a blanket and tossing it over your head during a game of hide or seek. It doesn't work. Sometimes, in front of people, yes, it does. But before God? Not at all.
God can see past a blanket. And God can see past your earthly pursuits to the very core of your soul. He sees and knows who you are. Raw. Pained. Sinful. Rebellious.
Do you feel confident standing before the all holy, divine, all powerful God in the cesspool of your sins? Because he can't stand sin and threatens eternal hell for it!
There is a better way. Rather than turning to earthly things in order to set ourselves right before God, Scripture urges us to turn to God himself!. "Therefore, set your hearts on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God."
Note what it says: "your life is hidden with Christ in God." Not "part of your life." Not "the first three years of your life." Not "the smaller moment of your life." Not even "most of your life, but you need to do some good things to help fill in the gaps of this eternal blanket of love."
Your life is hidden with Christ in God. Every part of it. The sins of your youth. The repeated sins of your teenage years. The dark sins that you can't even hide from yourself no matter the amount of pursuit you put in to earthly things.
All of your sinful life is hidden in Christ!
How does that work?
Well, how does it work that a human being could be talking out on a hill. Then, without any wires or tricks of the camera. Without any smokes and mirrors, he is lifted up above the clouds?
For that matter, how does it work that the same man healed people with incurable diseases simply by speaking? How does it work that he stopped storms with his words? How does it work that people died and he raised them with his touch? How does it work that he died and rose again!?!
It worked because Jesus is God! And through faith in Christ, your life is covered with Christ, because you are being covered with God!!!
Sometimes, when I'm getting dressed for the day, I put on a sweater vest. Not because it looks good, but because it covers up wrinkles, a missing button, or a mustard stain. No one can see these things!
Covered with God. Covered with Christ, your heavenly Father cannot see your sins. Jesus completely covers up every sinful stain and every guilty wrinkle. In Jesus God sees you only as “without guilt” and he promises to give you the reward of heaven in the future.
That's one of the biggest problems with setting your hearts on earthly things. You never know if they will come true.
Will I ever get my dream job?
Will I ever get the raise?
Will I ever have the 5 kids, 2 dogs, and a cat that I desire?
WIll I ever retire in the Outer Banks like I hope to?
Maybe. Then, again maybe not. Or maybe you accomplish your goal, but then it isn't what it was cracked up to be or it only lasts for awhile. It's temporal.
With faith in Jesus, God gives you a promise for the future that is CERTAIN and EVERLASTING. "Set your minds on things above...When Christ who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory!" (v.2 ,4)
Listen to the certainty of God's promise! When Christ appears, whether it's at your death or at the last day of this earth, you will appear with him.
It doesn't say, "You might appear with him." Not, "You could possibly appear with him." Not even, "Let's Hope you appear with him." Through faith in Jesus, you will appear with Jesus. In glory!
Brothers and sisters, that's heaven. The eternal escape from the guilt of our sins, the pain of our past, and the struggles of the present life.
And heaven lasts forever! It's not your dream home that one day needs repairs. It's not your dream relationship that grows farther apart from the dream. It's not your dream job which becomes obsolete. Heaven lasts forever! It is yours through faith in your ascended Savior!
So, friends, set your heart on things above!
I have a friend named Georg that I visit on Fridays. He has been coming religiously to a Bible Study that I hold at a retirement close to this church. Afterwards, he tells a joke. We talk about politics and he appreciates the banter.
But not the other day. The other day he had a tear in his eyes. He told me it was an anniversary. The anniversary of his wife’s death.
They had been married over 60 years. He told me how much he missed her. He told me how much he loved her. He told me about what she was like.
Then….then he told me something that I will never forget.
He said, “This is why I come here. This is why I learn about Jesus. Because the only way I’ll see her again, is through Jesus.”
Talk about setting your heart on things above.
Brothers and sisters, set your heart on Jesus. Set your kids hearts on Jesus. Do it this summer when you will be pulled in hundreds of different earthly directions. Come to church. Read your Bible. Listen to devotions. Pray with your kids. Teach them about Jesus. Surround your life with the Lord. Set your heart on the One above. The One who set his heart on you.
This week I'm trying to get in shape. Yesterday went alright. The workout called "Insanity" was tough, but I felt good after it. I was looking forward to this morning's workout and feeling the exercise endorphin high afterwards.
Not so much.
Maybe, it was the power squats. Perhaps it was the leg kicks. I know that the walking pushups certainly had something to do with it. Regardless, at the end of the workout I couldn't move. My stomach hurt. My
legs were sore. The only thing I could do was lay and soak.
My dog was amused.
Immediately, I began thinking, "I need to stop this. There's no point. This isn't fun anymore. I think I'm done with Shaun T."
Ever have that happen with church?
You enjoy the first Sunday you attend. It's all about God's grace. The second Sunday is fun too. You are reminded that God is with you every step of the way.
Then, there's that Sunday where the preacher seems to be talking directly to you. He challenges you with a sin that you have been struggling with. Then, he uses God's Word to back it up. Now God is against you.
You don't like it. You feel uncomfortable. It isn't fun.
Time to quit?
"All Scripture is god-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness."
Notice that this verse never makes mention of Scripture always being fun. In fact, it can be difficult! Scripture calls us to deny ourselves. It tells us to fight against our natural bodily urges. It tells us that some things we love are in fact dangers to our eternal welfare!
But just because it isn't fun, doesn't mean it isn't of extreme importance. Because these words of Scripture drive us to repentance. They turn our eyes to the Lord. These spiritual training sessions causes us to fall to our knees in prayer for God's mercy. They turn our hearts to the only way for salvation -- Jesus Christ our Lord!
Then, God gives it! Like a Blue PowerAde after an exercise, God pours out the Gospel of his Son Jesus Christ into our tired hearts. He promises forgiveness of sins, grace, eternal salvation, and his never failing love to those seeking him.
Our spirits hurt. But God heals them. They are now stronger than ever before. Spiritual exercise (aka studying the Bible in church, alone, in a group study) is full of benefits. Pride is cut. Faith is strengthened. Knowledge of God's goodness is increased. Courage mounts. Hope renews. Doubts subside!
Even though I didn't have a lot of fun, I think I will return to working out tomorrow. The benefits are simply too great to not continue.
May I suggest that you return to the Word as well? Make your way back into spiritual exercise - no matter what your reasons were for stopping.
The benefits are simply too great not to!
From Luke 1:26-38
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
1. How do you think Mary felt before the angel spoke to her. (Keep her recent engagement in mind).
2. What about the angel's message might have caused her to feel even more afraid?
3. At the end, Mary seemed to be at peace. Why?
4. How are you doing with trusting Jesus right now? What things do you trust him for? What things make you afraid?
5. What promises of the LORD can you remember to help you find peace in this busy season?
PRAYER: LORD forgive me for being too frantic during the Christmas season. Forgive me for all of the times that I get nervous about not having enough money for Christmas or worried about how seeing family again will go. Instead, help me to look forward to Christmas with confidence --knowing that your all powerful hand is with me. The same All Powerful hand that removed my sins on the cross. Give me Mary's courage today and always. Amen.