Posts Tagged ‘sin’

This week we’re looking at Ezekiel 18, relating to how God deals with sin, grace and forgiveness and how the church treats new believers. For an illustration, I am looking at the way some in the media and social media, Christian and non-Christian are reacting to the conversion of Kanye West.

I hated algebra. No two ways about it, I hated it, and while I am sure some of you mathematicians will want to correct me, I have not used it once since the day I left drafting school and even then it was only to prove I knew it. There was one thing I learned that I sort of remember, order of operations. When working through an equation there are certain functions you must do first or you will throw the whole problem out of whack.

There’s an order of operations for Christianity too and this one is painfully easy to remember, though people show me all the time that they don’t know it. It goes like this:

Jesus ALWAYS comes before repentance.

So often we in the church seem to believe it can happen the other way around. That people will clean up their collective acts and then they can come to Jesus. This is never the case. Ever. Oh people can have a change of heart, or people can feel drawn to Christ, but it’t the Holy Spirit that leads us to true repentance, not an act of the will. I know this seems like I’m mincing words but let me show you why this is an important distinction. I once heard of someone who told a parent their child was going to hell because of a sin they were committing. The implication was clear, that person needs to stop sinning so they can get into heaven. You may agree with that, but the person doesn’t have the power to stop sinning on their own. They need the help of the Holy Spirit, which means they need Jesus. Most of the time the best place to find Jesus is within the Body of Christ, the church, but it’s hard to get people into the church when the church tells them they’re going to hell.

For the record, when I preach, I do preach about sin and I do preach about repentance, I even preach about hell, but to tell someone they are going to hell, well that is not my job. Rather my job is to teach people about the One who laid down His life to free us from the stuff that will ruin and destroy us. He is the righteous judge. He said “let Him without sin cast the first stone,” so I couldn’t stone you even if I wanted to (and for the record, I don’t). My job is to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Our job as the church is to love people, speak the truth in love, and point them to the One who leads us all to repentance. In this broken world this is not easy but it is and always will be right.

In some of our churches, we need to take down the “no sinners allowed” sign and put one up that says “come in and find freedom.” It’ll get messy, but it’ll be worth it.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you may remember that I got my call to ministry at a Promise Keepers Event called Stand in the Gap… It’s been nearly 20 years since that day in 1997 and I am thinking we may need to revisit it. See if any of this sounds familiar. From Ezekiel 22, my devotional reading this morning…

26-29 “‘Your priests violated my law and desecrated my holy things. They can’t tell the difference between sacred and secular. They tell people there’s no difference between right and wrong. They’re contemptuous of my holy Sabbaths, profaning me by trying to pull me down to their level. Your politicians are like wolves prowling and killing and rapaciously taking whatever they want. Your preachers cover up for the politicians by pretending to have received visions and special revelations. They say, “This is what God, the Master, says . . .” when God hasn’t said so much as one word. Extortion is rife, robbery is epidemic, the poor and needy are abused, outsiders are kicked around at will, with no access to justice.’

30-31 “I looked for someone to stand up for me against all this, to repair the defenses of the city, to take a stand for me and stand in the gap to protect this land so I wouldn’t have to destroy it. I couldn’t find anyone. Not one. So I’ll empty out my wrath on them, burn them to a crisp with my hot anger, serve them with the consequences of all they’ve done. Decree of God, the Master.”

Who will stand in the gap? Maybe it’s time for our art to get prophetic. Not in the wildly symbolic sense, because while that’s great and I love it, a lot of people don’t get it and so they make it mean what they want it to mean. No, I’m talking more blatant, in your face, straighten up and fly right art, that challenges people to holiness and righteousness.

Who will stand in the gap?

My new presentation, Forgiven, deals with sin, repentance, grace and forgiveness. I did this a few months back at St. Thomas Independent Church of the Brethren in Mount Pleasant Mills, PA. They recorded the message and set it to pictures of me in action. Please check it out and if your church could benefit from hearing this presentation, please contact me.

creachermemenew3It probably is improper to assert that God has a problem. But if He did have a problem it would be with Public Relations (P.R.). Actually it’s not God who has the problem, so much as it is the people who are entrusted with handling His P.R., the church.

In 2 Corinthians 5, We are called Christ’s Ambassadors. (18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.) We are entrusted with this message of reconciliation, telling people how to be reconciled to God through Christ. Somehow I don’t think we’re doing it right. People have this picture of God that says He is a mean, malevolent being who hates us and sits on a cloud with a lightning bolt waiting to pick us off at the first sign of error. People get this picture because some of us wave signs telling people God hates them, and because more people are so locked in on sin, that they forget to love.

Of course there is another side of it. People have this idea that God is a universalist who lets anything and everything go. He’s sort of like Santa Claus, up there just waiting to make all of our dreams come true. The problem with this way of thinking is that the first time something doesn’t go just the way we think it should, God is an illusion who cannot be real because we had a problem. It’s a false image. God is not some marshmallow, pushover, He is the holy and righteous Creator.

It’s a pretty massive P.R. Problem and it is our fault. We need to put forth a better picture of God. So let’s paint a better one. The true one reflected in Scripture. God is love and He loves us all. He loves us so much that He gave His only Son to die in our place to save us from our sins. What God hates is sin and Hates sin because He loves us. Sin separates us from God and God loves us perfectly and profoundly. So when we say He hates people because they sin, we lie and give a false picture of God. The Bible says “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” If He hates us because we sin then he hates us all and we are without Hope. That’s a false picture of God.

And when we try to redefine sin to make ourselves and our society feel better about our sin, we lie and that lie keeps us in our sin separated from God. Another false picture of God.

So what is the true picture of God? A loving, perfect Father who gave His only Son to erescue us and adopt us into His family. A loving Father who teaches and cares and at times corrects, all for our good. A loving Creator who made everything and knows how it all works, what doesn’t work and what will hurt or kill us. Then like any loving Father, He warns us about the things that will hurt, kill and destroy us. He lovingly calls those things sin and warns us to stay away from them.

Once Jesus was asked “What is the greatest commandment?” He replied, ““‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” What He was saying was this. If we love God in that way, we will try with all that is in us, not to do the things that break our Father’s Heart and we will strive to stop doing the things that put Jesus on the cross and if we love our neighbors, we will live out this faith in a way that shows them the God that loves them.

God doesn’t hate anyone. God hates sin, because He loves us.

Today my message will be on David and Bathsheba. It’s a story of grace and it’s a story of consequences. Most people equate grace with the removal of consequences and this is completely and utterly wrong. Science tells us for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. I believe this could be equated with sin and it’s consequences. Sometimes we receive grace from the consequences of our actions, most of the time we don’t.

David sinned with Bathsheba, that was bad enough, but the attempt to cover his actions placed him on a slippery slope to an eventual murder. The prophet Nathan confronted David with a parable, a symbolic story to show David what he’d done. David not realizing he was hearing a parable, pronounced his own judgment declaring what should be done to a man who did such a thing. “The man deserves to die,” David said. That was in fact what David’s sin deserved at that time in history, maybe even today. Instead David, when he realized he was the man in question, confessed and received grace and was forgiven.

That being said, the consequences still came to call. Everything God said would happen to David, still happened. Consequences are not a sign that God has removed his grace, as a matter of fact it’s just the opposite. God allows us to experience the consequences of our actions by His grace. Consequences are designed to turn us back to him, to bring us to a place of repentance, because it’s in repentance that we turn to Jesus and find grace and forgiveness.

Consequences are not a sign that God has given up on you, they’re a sign that you are on the wrong track and need to turn back to God. Remember sin and God are on opposite ends of a continuum. To turn to one is to turn away from the other. Consequences are designed to turn us back to grace.

Bridge Out: A Modern Day Parable
There once was a young man driving down the road of life, going too fast and in the wrong direction. People tried to warn him that the bridge ahead was weak and wouldn’t sustain him, but what did they know? They hadn’t been down this road, and even if they had, it was long ago.

Finally one day, he came to the bridge. It looked fine and he charged ahead. The bridge failed under the weight of his speeding car and he plunged into the pit below, falling to the bottom with a mighty crash. When he regained consciousness, a mysterious stranger was helping him out of his car and then helped him to climb out of the pit.

Hurting and broken but wiser, the young man made a decision. He would be the bridge’s last victim. He would honor the man who helped him by keeping people out of the pit. Day after day he positioned himself just up the road from the bridge trying to get people to turn around. He would wave his arms and yell and do what he could to get them to stop. “The Bridge is Out!” He cried. Some looked at him as if he was crazy. Some gave him the finger. One stopped and said, “Who are you to tell me what to do? Who gave you the authority? Who are you to tell me to turn around?” Everyone who passed him felt totally justified as they plummeted off the cliff.

Most of the time it felt like thankless work, but the residual pain of his own injuries and the memory of the mysterious stranger compelled him to continue. Occasionally someone turned around and that made it all worthwhile.

How do I know this? I am that man. Challenge:Yield Challenge: Yield

I think it really is this simple. God loves you, wants what’s best for you and His way leads to life. To turn from that way is to really mess you up.

Joshua, near the end of his life challenged the people of Israel and he said this…
if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

This one made me think of the old joke:
Q: “How do you keep an idiot in suspense?”
A: “I’ll tell you tomorrow.”
I know it’s a little mean and yet it’s funny in a strange sort of way. It’s a little deception, a little bait and switch, a set up. You bite on this one thinking you are going to hear a funny joke, but you don’t realize that if you fall for the joke, you will be the butt of it. Fall for it and you get burned.

That’s sort of how sin is. You bite on temptation thinking you are going to experience some pleasure. but if you fall for it, you get burned by it. There are lots of set ups in life that aren’t funny at all. Be careful what you fall for. Temptation can leave you feeling like an idiot.

Sometimes we make life out to be so darn complicated and when it comes to right and wrong, good and evil, sin and righteousness, it’s not difficult at all. I got this illustration on my prayer walk one morning and I think it sets it up very nicely:

(Can’t see the illustration? Click here)

For the believer (at least) it’s pretty much this simple—God and sin can’t coexist. Therefore sin and God, good and evil, righteousness and sin are opposite sides of the same line, the same continuum. This means to go to one is to turn your back on the other. The two paths will never meet. To turn to God is to turn away from sin and to turn to sin is to turn away from God. Yes it really is that simple.

The problem is that we (even the strongest believers) find ourselves going in the wrong direction and often and that is NOT okay. Praise be to God there is a solution. He gave it to us when He gave us His Son Jesus Christ. Remember life is a continuum, you’re headed either in one direction or the other. So if you find yourself headed in the wrong direction, all you need to do is turn around. That turning around is called repentance.

Which direction are you headed? If you’re going in the wrong direction, the solution is really easy.

Turn around.