Sunday, July 15, 2018

SERMON: HEALING FORGIVENESS




I.  Introduction
      -- turn in Bibles to Matthew 6:9-15

Matthew 6:9-15 (NIV)
9 "This, then, is how you should pray: "'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.'
14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

      -- as you know, I took off a few days last week to carry my mother to West Virginia to see her family -- we stopped off in Greensboro, NC, and visited with my uncle and his family -- and then we carried him with us on to West Virginia -- and, even though I mostly went on this trip for her, it meant a lot to me, too, because this is the first time I’ve been to West Virginia in at least 40 years -- my parents had been up there a few times in recent years, but this was my first visit and my first time to see relatives up there in almost four decades
      -- and what was really surprising to me is how it felt like going home -- I recognized a lot of the area -- I had more memories of the places and of the stories than I thought I would -- and it felt comfortable and right sitting with my great-aunt and uncle and cousins and just visiting and talking with them
      -- it turns out family is still family, no matter how distant -- and being family means we’re a lot alike -- even though I haven’t been around these people in 40 years, I saw myself in them in a lot of ways and they recognized themselves in me -- I can’t tell you how many times I heard someone compare me to Uncle Bill and comment on how my humor is just like his -- or how we’d be talking about something and realize that we all had the same thoughts or the same habits in that area -- I guess that’s what people mean when they talk about family traits being carried on through the younger generations
      -- one family trait I noticed that we did all share was the ability to hold a grudge -- when someone wrongs us or hurts us or hurts one of our family members, we remember -- we don’t forget -- and that’s both good and bad -- it’s good from the sense that we are faithful and loyal and fiercely supportive of our family -- it speaks to the backbone of our family and what we hold dear
      -- but, this family trait to hold a grudge is negative when it leads you to not forgive someone when they wrong you -- unforgiveness -- even unforgiveness concerning a justified wrong -- can build up in your heart and lead to a bitterness in the soul that affects who you are and your relationship with Christ and with others

      -- I saw that trait in my life clearly this week -- after I got back from West Virginia, I went out to eat lunch with someone from the office -- and while we were waiting in line, I recognized someone coming in the restaurant -- it was a guy I went to high school with -- a guy my sister graduated with -- I knew him well -- I knew his family -- we grew up together -- he had been in my house and I have been in his -- we even went to the University of Georgia together -- it should have been a moment where we reconnected and spoke to one another and caught up on each other’s lives
      -- but that didn’t happen because, in my mind, this guy had wronged my family -- several years ago, we needed help and we had gone to him for assistance -- it’s what he did for a living -- and even though we were friends -- even though we had known each other and each other’s families for our whole lives, he looked me in the eye and said, “No” -- he refused to help us when we needed help desperately
      -- and, even though that happened almost 10 years ago, I just couldn’t forget -- I just couldn’t forgive -- and even though he stood in the line behind me to order his meal, I kept my back turned to him and never once said a word -- bitterness filled my soul -- because I had not forgiven him for the wrong he had done, I was filled with hatred and animosity towards him, and it affected me more deeply than it would ever affect him

      -- this morning, we are going to be talking about what it means to forgive -- a lot of times when we talk about forgiveness in the church, our focus is always on the forgiveness of Christ for our sins -- the forgiveness of the cross
      -- but we can never forget that we, who have received such forgiveness from Christ, are commanded to live out that love and that gift by forgiving those who have wronged us
      -- Jesus told His disciples that the world would know them by their love -- and that love is no more evident than when we forgive someone who has wronged us
      -- in fact, we see this command to forgive others right here in one of the most familiar passages of Scripture in all the Bible -- the Lord's Prayer -- how many times have you heard this prayer in church? -- how many times have you prayed this prayer yourself?
      -- and, in all of those times, how often did you stop to think about what you were asking God in verse 12? -- look back at verse 12 again

12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

      -- this version says, "forgive us our debts" -- others say, "forgive us our trespasses" -- but it means the same thing -- forgive us when we do something wrong -- forgive us when we sin against you
      -- that's the basis of our faith in Christ, isn't it? -- that's the message of the Cross -- Christ has forgiven us of all of our sins and our acts of disobedience -- all of our debts and trespasses
      -- but, have you ever noticed the second part of that verse?

12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

      -- in my opinion, this is one of the scariest passages in the Bible, because the implications are profound -- Christ is literally telling us here that if we do not forgive others -- if we do not forgive those who trespass against us -- those who have wronged us -- those who have sinned against us and hurt us -- then we will not be forgiven by God
      -- Is this what Jesus is actually telling us here? -- is He actually telling us that we will not receive forgiveness from God if we harbor unforgiveness in our heart? -- the answer, as best I can tell from my study of scripture, is "yes"
      -- and, in case you didn't get that from verse 12, Jesus said it again in even stronger terms -- look at verses 14-15

Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV)
14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

      -- stop and think about that for a moment -- think about what that means in light of your salvation
            -- as the authors of "Truefaced" point out, "if we harbor unforgiveness in our hearts towards others, how can we even pretend that we are truly desirous of His forgiveness toward us?"
            -- the Apostle John said something similar in 1 John 2:9 -- "Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness."
      -- in other words, how can we say that we are in the light -- how can we say that we have truly received Christ's gift of forgiveness if we refuse to forgive those who have wronged us?

      -- consider the context of this passage and how it would have been received by the people who actually heard Jesus speak these words -- Matthew tells us that Jesus gave the Lord's prayer and this amplification of His thoughts during the sermon on the mount -- He was speaking to first century Jews -- a people chosen by God to be His voice and His light and His deliverance to the world
      -- the Jewish people had been severely wronged and harassed and persecuted over the ages -- in fact, when Jesus spoke these words, their country was in bondage to the Romans -- they may not have been slaves, but their very lives were controlled and restricted by these foreigners who had taken over their land
      -- as a result, the Jews resented and hated the Romans -- according to one scholar that I read, the Jews were a people who sought revenge for trespasses and rarely showed forgiveness to others
      -- but, in this petition, Jesus was calling them to a higher state -- He was calling them to put aside their hatred and their resentment and calling them to forgive those who had wronged them -- He is calling us to the same -- Why?
      -- I think He gives us the answer in the way He links our forgiveness of others to the forgiveness from God

      -- our ability to forgive others is a sign of God's love and forgiveness in our life -- it is a proof of our salvation -- a proof of our sanctification -- a proof that God has worked in our lives and changed us from who we used to be into people who live with the knowledge and power of God's grace and forgiveness in our lives

      -- the Jewish people claimed to be the Chosen of God -- they were proud of the fact that God had established a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob -- they knew they were the keepers of His word and that the promise of eternal life rested with them -- but, instead of showing God's love and grace and mercy to the world, they showed resentment and hatred and unforgiveness
      -- in the same way, a lot of us Christians claim to be filled with God Himself -- we claim to possess within us His truth and His light and His love, but then, rather than showing that love and mercy and grace to others, we turn our backs to them and give them our resentment and hatred and unforgiveness

      -- I think that what Christ is trying to get us to see in this prayer is that if we are truly God's people -- if we have truly been touched by God's mercy and grace and forgiveness -- then we will live out the commandment to "love our neighbor as ourselves" by pouring out God's mercy and grace onto others -- by forgiving others for the trespasses that they have committed against us even though they don't deserve it
      -- if we find that we cannot forgive others, then it may be that we have never actually accepted forgiveness ourselves -- we may be like the Jewish people in Jesus' day -- claiming to represent God while not truly loving and serving Him with our whole hearts
      -- as one scholar has said, "no one can reasonably imagine himself to be the object of divine forgiveness if he is deliberately and habitually unforgiving towards his fellow men"
      -- there is no question about it -- if you are a Christian -- if you have been forgiven by Christ for your sins -- for all the debts and trespasses against Him -- you must forgive others when they trespass against you -- you must live a life of gracious forgiveness

      -- but what does this mean? -- what does this look like?
      -- I think one reason why Christians refuse to forgive is because we really don't understand what forgiveness is -- we have a misconception of forgiveness based on how the world defines it
      -- a lot of us think that when we forgive someone, we are just letting them off the hook -- we're just saying, "don't worry about it -- it was nothing," and we pick right up and go back to the way things used to be and just pretend like nothing ever happened
      -- that is not forgiveness  
      -- forgiveness is not about restoring a relationship -- restoration and reunion may eventually come through forgiveness -- but that is not the primary purpose of forgiveness

      -- I want you to listen to this -- I want you to understand this -- the primary purpose of forgiving -- the reason God calls us to forgive others -- is to heal the hurts and the scars in our heart that were caused when someone that we trusted trespassed against us and sinned against us and wronged us
      -- forgiveness is not something that we do for others -- it is something that we do for ourselves -- forgiveness is something that happens within us -- within our hearts -- and it doesn't have to involve anyone else
      -- true forgiveness is one-sided -- it occurs when you make the choice to heal the hurt that is within you -- when you decide to let God heal the hurt that another has placed in your life
      -- you can forgive someone and never, ever restore your relationship with them or even let them know that you have forgiven them

      -- let me show you an example from the Bible
      -- In two of Paul's epistles, Philemon and Colossians, we learn about Demas -- a friend of Paul's -- a fellow-worker for Christ -- someone who Paul had shared the gospel of Christ with and led to faith in Jesus and who was travelling with him and ministering with him throughout Asia
      -- Paul closes his letter to the Colossians in Chapter 4 by mentioning all those working with him and he says in verse 14, "Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings" -- Demas was a trusted friend and brother to Paul -- but, Demas trespassed against Paul and wounded him deeply

      -- flip over to 2 Timothy 4:9-18

2 Timothy 4:9-18 (NIV)
9 Do your best to come to me quickly,
10 for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia.
11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.
12 I sent Tychicus to Ephesus.
13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.
14 Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done.
15 You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.
16 At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them.
17 But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion's mouth.
18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

      -- Demas had abandoned the faith and deserted Paul when Paul was first arrested -- he refused to stand up for Paul and instead left him alone and in prison
      -- but, in this closing to the second letter to Timothy, we can see how forgiveness in the life of a Christian should work -- Paul had evidently forgiven Demas for trespassing against him -- for wounding him and violating his trust
      -- look at the second part of verse 16

"May it not be held against them."

      -- Paul had forgiven Demas -- he was no longer holding a grudge against him -- he was no longer harboring unforgiveness in his heart 

      -- but, note that this forgiveness was one-sided -- Paul forgave Demas in his heart -- but Paul did not attempt to restore their relationship -- he did not attempt to reach out to Demas and bring him back into the fold of Paul's closest confidants -- Paul's trust had been violated and he could no longer trust Demas in the future -- in fact, it seems as if Paul is warning Timothy to watch out for Demas and not to trust him if he comes to Timothy
      -- forgiveness does not mean restoration -- when someone hurts you -- when they wound you severely and violate the trust that you had in them -- then you may never trust them again -- in a lot of cases -- such as in the case of Demas and Paul -- such as in the case when a wife forgives an abusive husband -- you probably should never trust them again -- but, you can forgive them -- not for their sake, but for yours

      -- you see, there is only one real reason for forgiving someone else when they trespass against us -- yes, Jesus does tell us that we should forgive others because it is a commandment of God -- but, it is a commandment of God for the same reason that we should go ahead and forgive on our own
      -- when someone wrongs you -- when they sin against you -- it is like they have wounded your heart -- they have damaged your heart -- and you will never be well -- you will never be whole again -- until you have repaired the damage that they have done to you
      -- hearts damaged by others keep us from loving God as we should -- it keeps us from loving others as we should -- it keeps us from living life as we should
      -- hearts damaged by others gives Satan a stronghold into our lives -- and Satan fills up these damaged places in our hearts with anger and hatred and resentment and bitterness and a desire for vengeance -- things that hamper our Christian life

      -- I've heard it said that unforgiveness is a poison we drink hoping the other person dies -- unforgiveness hurts us more than them
      -- that guy that wounded me so greatly -- that guy who wronged my family and that I felt such bitterness and hatred towards at lunch the other day -- I bet he doesn’t remember -- I bet he’s completely forgotten what he did -- it’s not bothering him a bit -- but, apparently, it has been a bitter seed in my own soul this whole time -- I’m the one who has been hurt because of my unforgiveness, not him

      -- so, when God commands us to forgive others when they trespass against us, it is a commandment for our own good -- it is a call for the healing of our hearts -- not for those who wronged us -- but for us -- to cut out of our lives something that is hindering our walk with Christ and that is keeping us from becoming who God wants us to be
      -- forgiveness is like the surgeon's knife that cuts cancer out of our body -- God uses this process of forgiveness to heal us and to make us whole once again

III.  How do we forgive?
      -- so, how do we forgive? -- what is involved in forgiving someone for trespassing against us?

      -- before we can begin to forgive, we need to recognize that there is a need for forgiveness and we have to have a desire to heal the hurts within us
      -- this takes time -- when we have been hurt -- when we have been violated -- it may take months, or even years, until we reach the point where we are ready to forgive the other person for the hurt that they inflicted in our hearts
      -- it is okay to be angry at what happened to us -- in fact, we should be angry at what happened -- because someone we trusted violated that very trust in our lives -- and it is through that anger that our desire to heal should come

      -- and, we should keep in mind that forgiveness is a process -- it is not something that happens just once and is over -- we may forgive and then find ourselves feeling those same hurts once again -- we may find that we have to continually forgive the wrong that was done to us -- that is okay and it is part of the healing process

      -- in his book, "The Art of Forgiving," Lewis Smedes outlines the three steps to forgiveness that we follow when we truly seek healing in our life:

      -- first, we begin the process of forgiving when we start separating the person who wronged us from the wrong that they did to us -- when someone wrongs us, in our minds, they become the wrong that they did to us -- we say things like, "he is nothing but a cheat -- he is nothing but a liar" -- we look at them and all we see is the sin
      -- but, as Smedes points out, when we begin the miracle of healing, we begin to see our enemy through a cleaner lens, less smudged by hate -- we begin to see them as a person who did something wrong -- not as wrong itself

      -- when God forgave us, the first thing He did was to separate us from our sin -- we were not the problem -- it was the sin that was the problem and that needed to be dealt with -- so God provided a way to cover our sins -- when God sees us, He doesn't see the sin any longer -- He sees the person underneath the sin, cleansed through the blood of Christ
      -- the first step to forgiveness, then, is continuing to hate the sin but not the person who committed the sin against you

      -- the second step to forgiveness is to surrender our right to get even -- when we are first wronged -- when we are first hurt -- we want to get even -- we want the other person to suffer like we have suffered and to know that they are suffering because of what they did to us -- we call this "vengeance"
      -- when you start on the road to forgiveness, you are releasing your right to vengeance -- to hurting the other person unjustly -- keep in mind, though, that there is a difference between vengeance and justice -- vengeance is our pleasure of seeing someone who hurt us get hurt back -- justice is making sure that someone pays a fair penalty for wronging another -- vengeance is personal satisfaction -- justice is moral accountability
      -- forgiveness does not do away with justice -- someone who wronged you may have to pay for the wrong that they have done -- but, forgiveness does mean that you don't desire them to be hurt in an unjust way simply as revenge for what they did to you

      -- the final step to forgiveness is when you revise your feelings towards the person that wronged you -- you no longer hate them for who they are and you even can hope that God's grace might fall into their lives
      -- this does not excuse the wrong that they have done -- it does not mean that we are going to tolerate them trespassing against us again and it does not mean that we are going to restore our relationship with them
      -- but it means that you no longer have a desire for them to suffer because of what they have done to you -- and it means that if God was to reach out and touch them and change their lives for the better, that you would be happy to see that happen
      -- when you have reached this stage of forgiveness, you can know for sure that the hatred and the bitterness are now removed from your life and that your heart has been healed and restored by the miraculous power of forgiveness

      -- you need to know this takes time -- forgiveness is a process -- and you may find yourself having to forgive someone over and over again -- that hurt was real -- it’s not going to magically go away
      -- you may go through these steps and forgive someone for what they have done and then see them or remember them and feel that hurt all over again -- you may feel bitterness or hatred towards them again -- that’s normal -- just recognize it and forgive them again -- go back through the steps of forgiveness so you won’t let a root of bitterness build up in your heart again -- remember, you forgive for your own health and benefit -- not for the other person

IV.  Closing
      -- forgiveness is a gift from God -- through Christ, God forgave us for the sins that we committed -- He refused to pour out His vengeance and wrath on us but offered His very Son as a sacrifice to ensure that justice was done -- and, once justice was served, God poured out His blessings on us -- on the very people that once had trespassed against Him
      -- in the same way, God calls for us to forgive others that have trespassed against us -- He knows that our hearts have been hurt and damaged by others -- and He knows that these wounded hearts can keep us from loving Him and loving others as He wants
      -- so, He encourages us to offer forgiveness to others in our hearts -- so that in the process of forgiveness we might find healing from the hatred and bitterness and resentment that we have built up in our lives

      -- there is power in forgiveness -- and that is why Jesus commands us to pray daily, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us" -- we have to continually forgive -- we have to continually show mercy and grace -- we have to continually love in this way -- if we want to be who Jesus is calling us to be

      -- as we close now, I want to encourage you to take a moment in the quiet of this place -- search your hearts and speak to the hurts and the sins and the trespasses that have been done against you -- and offer up forgiveness to those who have wronged you in the past -- not for their sake -- but for your sake -- receive the healing that God offers you as you forgive those who have trespassed against you

      -- let us pray

Sermon Video: Spiritual Amnesia








Saturday, July 14, 2018

NEW POSTS COMING

For any of you who have been following this blog, you may have noticed that I have not posted in quite a while.  

We have had some life changes recently, including taking a new church, and we've had some other issues with sickness and extended travel that have prevented me from blogging or posting any sermons.  On top of all of that, I had a computer crash, which required replacing my system and I'm just now getting back up and functional to where I was.

With that said, I hope to start posting sermons very soon, and I plan on trying to post at least one non-sermon blog post per week each Thursday.  

I apologize for not keeping up to date on this site, and I do want to thank all of you who do take the time out of your busy schedules to read these sermons and posts.  I especially want to thank those who comment back, because it gives me the encouragement to know that I am reaching someone with these thoughts.

If you ever have any suggestions or comments or thoughts, just let me know by commenting on any post.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

SERMON: BREAKING FREE OF THE RUT



20 May 2018

I.  Introduction
            -- turn in Bibles to Acts 2:1-4

1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.

            -- I want to begin this morning by sharing with you a true story about a woman named Annie -- now, Annie was a fan of Do-It-Yourself TV -- she would watch all the DYI shows on the Home and Garden Network and the Learning Channel and all the others -- she’d watch as these normal, everyday people transformed their houses into showplaces all on their own, without having to hire others to do the work -- and Annie caught the buzz
            -- you see, Annie wanted to tile her kitchen floor, but after watching all of those DYI shows on TV, she came to the decision that rather than paying over $700 to an expert, she could do it herself -- so, she went out and bought a "do-it yourself" tile kit from Home Depot -- this kit was perfect -- it laid out the procedures step by step and all you had to do was follow it and your tile would be laid in no time at all
            -- Step One was simple -- just spread the powerful glue on the floor -- done -- Annie was proud of herself -- then, Annie went to Step Two, only to slip and fall face-first into the slippery glue -- and, before she knew what had happened, she was stuck to the floor
            -- when Annie's Yorkshire Terrier saw her lying on the floor, she did what all dogs do when their owners are in trouble: she went over to lick her owner's face -- so now both Annie and her dog were stuck in the glue
            -- But luck was on Annie's side, because her two daughters -- ages 9 and 10 -- were home -- she yelled out for help, and when they came running and realized what had happened, they began laughing hysterically -- But eventually, with their help, Annie got unstuck from the floor and was able to go on to Step 2 and lay the tile -- mission accomplished -- But she still had glue all over herself, and didn’t know what to do -- they never covered this on TV -- so she called a glue emergency hotline, but no one answered.
            -- now, as Larry Munson used to say, “Get the picture” -- While she was waiting for someone on the hotline to pick up, the glue on her body finished hardening, such that:
            (1) her right foot became stuck to the floor
            (2) her legs became stuck together
            (3) her body became stuck to the chair, and
            (4) her hand became stuck to the phone
            -- Finally, she managed to hang up and had to dial 911 with her nose.
            -- When the rescue personnel arrived they found Anne still stuck to the chair and the floor and the phone -- sitting there, wearing only her underwear.
            -- Fortunately, the rescue crews were serious, competent, highly trained professionals, who laughed until they cried -- After they recovered, the rescue crews were able to free Anne with solvents, and everything was fine -- Anne got her new floor and saved herself $700 
            --  So, what is the point of this story? -- well, just like Annie, we sometimes find ourselves stuck -- we find ourselves in a rut, unable to get out -- we find ourselves just doing the same old-same old in the same way, every day -- and, this can happen in our spiritual lives, too -- even though we’re Christians, we can get caught up in a familiar old sin, and find ourselves just unable to get loose -- or, maybe we’re just stuck going through the motions and we feel like our faith is not what it used to be
            -- this morning on Pentecost Sunday, I wanted us to talk for a few moments about breaking free -- about getting out -- about getting unstuck and out of our ruts and into the life God has planned for us
            -- for, you see, that’s really what Pentecost is all about -- that’s what the Holy Spirit can do in your life -- if you let Him

II.  Pentecost
            -- let’s touch on the story of Pentecost from Acts 2 -- everyone in here is familiar with this story -- with this seminal event that is the true birth of the Christian church
            -- as we read in Acts 1:3, after Jesus rose from the dead, He spent a period of forty days with His disciples -- teaching them and showing Himself to them and giving convincing proofs that He was alive -- this was a crash course in Christianity for the men who would become the leaders of His new church
            -- and, at the end of these forty days, when the time was right, Jesus called His disciples together and told them that He was leaving -- but, He said, “do not leave Jerusalem...wait for the gift My Father promised which you have heard Me speak about -- for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit”
            -- and Jesus led them out to the Mount of Olives where He ascended into heaven, physically and visibly, before their eyes
            -- the disciples left the Mount of Olives and returned to the place where they were staying, and a few days later, on the day of the Jewish festival of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to the disciples as promised -- He didn’t come upon the disciples as He did in the Old Testament with the prophets and the kings -- temporarily resting upon them for a time and a purpose
            -- no, when the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost, He came to indwell the believers -- to fill them with His presence and His power -- to live within them -- and us -- forever more
            -- this is the story of Pentecost -- this is the story and the event that we are celebrating and recognizing today
            -- with this backdrop in place, I want us to go back to our original concern that we opened with -- what do we do when we find ourselves in a rut? -- trapped in the familiar? -- in the same old-same old of life -- both physically and spiritually? -- and what role does the Holy Spirit play in helping us break free from this place of bondage?

III.  Breaking Free from the Same Old-Same Old
            -- I want us to answer that by looking at a story from Mark 10:46-52 -- the healing of blind Bartimaeus -- because I think we can find an example of breaking free from the actions of Bartimaeus in this account
            -- look with me now at Mark 10, starting in verse 46

46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging.

            -- so Mark tells us that Jesus and His disciples had come to Jericho -- we don’t know how long they were in the town, but we have to assume they were there for at least a day -- we don’t get the impression they just came to the city and walked through on their way to somewhere else
            -- they were there long enough for a large crowd to gather -- which kind of implies that Jesus had been teaching and preaching and maybe even doing some miracles and works in that place -- He had done enough that He had caught the attention of the people, and now they are walking with Him as He is leaving their city
            -- Mark tells us that as they were leaving, they passed by blind Bartimaeus, who was sitting there beside the road begging -- Bartimaeus was in a rut -- he was the epitome of being in a rut -- for his life consisted of sitting there in that same place day after day after day, begging from those who passed by
            -- every day, Bartimaeus would get up, roll out of bed, and make his way to the gate of the city where the largest crowds would filter through -- every day, he would find his spot -- the same old patch of familiar ground where he sat every single day -- and he would begin to beg -- calling out to the crowd for money to support him -- and every day, after the crowds dwindled down and as the gates were starting to close, Bartimaeus would get up and maybe go to the market and buy a loaf of bread and a flask of wine from the vendor and go home and eat and go to bed -- knowing that tomorrow was going to be the same -- every single day exactly the same
            -- kind of like that movie, “Groundhog Day,” where Bill Murray’s character experiences the same day over and over again -- that’s the way Bartimaeus was going through life
            -- maybe that’s the way that some of you are going through life -- maybe that’s the way your secular life looks -- just getting up, going to work, coming home, going to bed, and doing it all again the next day
            -- and maybe that’s the way some of your spiritual lives look -- your faith has turned into a routine where you just get up and come to church on Sunday and sit in that same seat you’ve been sitting in for years and years and years and sing the same old hymns over and over again and you hear that same old preacher just droning on and on about a passage you’ve heard preached before and then you get up and you go home and nothing changes and you come back next week and do it all over again
            -- that’s where we are at at the start of this story -- that’s where Bartimaeus is at -- maybe that’s where some of you are at, too

            -- verse 47

47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

            -- so Bartimaeus is sitting in his same old familiar place, doing his same old familiar thing, but today, there’s something different -- but today, there’s Jesus
            -- what a great phrase! -- what a great thought! -- but, today there’s Jesus -- we can have that thought, too -- it changes everything -- look what happened to Bartimaeus
            -- when Bartimaeus heard the noise of the crowd, he knew something different was going on -- he asked those around him what was happening -- why were all the people there -- what was different? -- they told him it was Jesus of Nazareth -- so Bartimaeus began to shout out in a loud voice, “Jesus, have mercy on me”
            -- here we see the first step in breaking out of our ruts -- in getting unstuck from the spiritual glue that bind us -- we have to open our eyes and see the possibilities around us -- we have to open our eyes and see what could be
            -- this week I listened to a commencement speech from David Foster Wallace, an author I am currently reading -- and this speech just really resonated with me -- in this graduation address, Wallace encouraged those young men and women to get past the mundane -- to get past the self -- to not allow themselves to get stuck into a prison of their own making, but to open their eyes and look around them and see the possibilities -- to choose to live differently from the world
            -- that’s what’s going on with Bartimaeus here -- he may have been physically blind -- he may have been trapped in his same old-same old rut, but when he heard Jesus was walking by, he realized what that meant -- he had heard the stories of the healings -- of the miracles -- of the great prophet and teacher who taught with authority and spoke the word of God to everyday people -- he knew that Jesus had healed others -- and, if Jesus was walking by, then why not cry out for that same healing for himself?
            -- now, think about this from your standpoint -- if you find yourself trapped in a rut this morning -- physically or spiritually -- open your eyes -- look around -- and look within -- for Jesus may not be walking by for us as He did for Bartimaeus that day, but He is present within us -- we carry within us the capacity for change -- the means of a miracle -- the ability to get out of our ruts once and for all -- all we have to do is open our eyes -- believe it is possible -- and cry out to the Holy Spirit for help

            -- verse 48

48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

            -- there’s that same old story again, this time from the world -- that same old defeatist attitude -- “stop calling on Jesus -- nothing is going to change -- just be quiet -- accept who you are -- accept where you are -- and just get on with your life”
            -- the second step in breaking free is to stop listening to the voices of the world that tell you that you can’t -- that you won’t -- that you aren’t able
            -- drown them out -- don’t listen to their voices -- but cry out all the more to Jesus, just as Bartimaeus did -- Mark says when the crowd rebuked him and told him to be quiet, he just yelled all the more for Jesus
            -- someone once said that we can’t solve the problems of today by using the same kind of thinking that created them -- you have to think differently -- you have to stop listening to the voices of the crowd and believe that things can be different when Jesus comes by

            -- verse 49

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.”

            -- Jesus stopped -- read that again -- “Jesus stopped” -- Jesus always responds to the cry of a true believer -- He always responds to someone who calls out to Him in need
            -- when He heard the cries of Bartimaeus -- when He saw his persistence and his insistence, even in the face of opposition from the crowd, Jesus stopped and said, “Call him -- bring him to Me”
            -- step 3 in breaking free is persistence -- we have to keep on, keeping on -- don’t let the world get you down -- don’t listen to their voices -- but believe that Jesus hears your cries and that He is going to respond -- know that the Holy Spirit who indwells you is working within you to intercede on your behalf -- and that by crying out in Jesus’ name, He will stop and move heaven and earth simply because you ask

            -- verse 50

50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

            -- now, don’t miss what is going on in this verse -- when Jesus said, “Come,” Bartimaeus leapt up and threw his cloak aside and ran to Jesus -- that cloak was important -- that cloak was more than just a piece of clothing -- it was a symbol of his position -- it was a symbol of his need -- it was what he sat on, day after day after day, as he begged for his survival -- it was what he wrapped himself in to protect himself from the elements -- it was his comfort and his protection and his means of making a living
            -- but when his eyes had been opened -- when he realized that Jesus was offering a different way -- he left the old behind -- what need did he have of a cloak when a miracle was waiting? -- what need did he have of reserving a spot to beg in tomorrow if his eyes would be returned today?
            -- step 4 in breaking free is to cast off that which is hindering you -- to cast off and leave behind the same old-same old that has you trapped -- and to step out in faith into the possibilities that Jesus has for you
            -- it’s like the quote in your bulletin from Joyce Meyer -- good intentions aren’t going to get you out of a rut -- good intentions are not going to effect a change in your life -- the only way to get out of a rut is to jump up, cast off that which is hindering you, and take action -- that’s what Bartimaeus did by running to Jesus and looking for His power to change his life -- that’s what we can do as Pentecost people, knowing that we have the Holy Spirit within us
            -- the power to break free is with you daily -- all you have to do is believe and take action

            -- verse 51

51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”


            -- why did Jesus ask Bartimaeus, “what do you want Me to do for you?” -- because Bartimaeus was facing a choice -- he could have chosen the same old-same old -- he could have said, “I need money -- please give me some food -- please fill my cup for today” -- but, that would have put him right back in the same place tomorrow
            -- but Bartimaeus chose to break free of his rut and to ask for that which would make a true difference in his situation -- he chose to seek the extraordinary over the ordinary -- “Rabbi, I want to see”
            -- with that request, Bartimaeus demonstrated his faith -- he believed Jesus could heal him -- he believed that Jesus could make a difference -- he believed that Jesus could set him free from the bondage he was in
            -- to paraphrase the old cliche -- he asked for more than just a fish -- he asked Jesus to teach him to fish
            -- with eyes, he would no longer have to beg -- with eyes, he would no longer be trapped in the same old-same old -- with eyes, he could do that which was impossible at this moment
            -- when we come to Jesus -- when we ask the Holy Spirit to do something in our lives -- make sure you are asking for something that is not just temporal or temporary -- ask for the stars, because the Creator of the stars is waiting for you to do so

            -- verse 52

52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

            -- with a word, Jesus healed blind Bartimaeus -- his eyes were restored and he received his sight -- but still, a choice remained
            -- what was Jesus saying when He told Bartimaeus to “go?” -- what choices were laid before him?
            -- he could have chosen to go back to his old life -- back to Jericho -- maybe not blind, anymore -- maybe with more opportunities to do things -- to make a living -- to change his life -- but his world would still be limited -- he would still be there among the same old people that he knew -- walking the same old streets that he walked every day -- doing the same old things in the same old way again -- and, before you knew it, he would be back in another rut of the familiar
            -- but, Bartimaeus chose differently -- he chose a different road -- he chose to follow Jesus into the unknown and to live a life of unexpected blessings and opportunities in gratefulness to the Savior who had saved him
            -- what will you do with your freedom? -- when Jesus reaches down -- when the Holy Spirit works within you and changes you and opens your eyes and offers you a new way, what will you do?
            -- what road will you follow?
            -- Bartimaeus chose the road with Jesus, and it made all the difference

IV.  Closing
            -- reading this story on Pentecost Sunday made me stop and consider where I am in life -- the choices that I make -- the things that I do
            -- I couldn’t help but think of Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”
            -- I had to read this poem in school, but I never really appreciated it until I was much older and was out in the real world where we are faced with decisions and choices every day
            -- if you don’t mind, I’m going to read it to you right now -- it’s not a long poem, but I believe it does bring home the point of this passage when it comes to choosing a different way -- a different path -- of choosing to break free from our ruts and in choosing to receive the possibilities that the Holy Spirit opens for us

The Road Not Taken
Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

            -- Frost tells us in his poem that the two roads he faced were entirely different -- one was well-traveled -- the other was not -- one was the path taken by most of the people -- the other one  was selected by the few
            -- that’s the choice that is before us as Christians today -- we are faced with so many choices and so many decisions in our lives -- where do we go? -- what do we buy? -- how do live? -- what should we do?
            -- the example of Bartimaeus urges us to take the less-traveled path -- the path that leads out of the same old-same old and into a life worthy of the calling of God -- this is the higher path -- the better way -- a way filled with opportunities and excitement and adventure

            -- because of Pentecost -- because of the sending of the Holy Spirit to indwell us and to fill us with His power and His presence -- we have the choice to break out of our ruts -- to break free from our same old-same old existence -- and to step out into a new life with Jesus
            -- choose today to do different -- choose today to be different -- open your eyes -- cry out to the Holy Spirit -- receive the impossible -- and follow Him down the road where He beckons
            -- if you’re lost -- if you’re trapped in a spiritual rut -- if you’re unsure of where you are with God at the moment -- do what Bartimaeus did -- cry out to the One your heart seeks -- go back to your first love -- begin again by seeking God, because God has promised if we seek Him, we will find Him -- if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us -- begin by seeking Him through His word -- by crying out to Him in your heart -- and running to Him through the word and through your prayers -- this is the way you find yourself again in God -- this is the way you break free of your spiritual ruts
            -- let us pray

Sunday, May 20, 2018

SERMON: TRAINING UP A CHILD

[Sermon Video Link here]

Mother’s Day Sermon
13 May 2018

I.  Introduction
            -- turn in Bibles to Proverbs 22:6

Start children off on the way they should go,
    and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

            -- a London editor was working on an article about Winston Churchill and wanted to focus on how his teachers had influenced him and transformed him into Great Britain’s most celebrated Prime Minister -- he compiled a list of all the teachers Churchill had in his life and sent it over to him for review -- Churchill returned the list with this comment: “You have omitted to mention the greatest of my teachers -- my mother.”1
            -- well, in honor of our mothers on this Mother’s Day, I wanted to share with you a few of the things my own mother taught me that have stuck with me to this very day:

            -- My Mother taught me about ANTICIPATION..."Just wait 'til we get home."
            -- My Mother taught me about RECEIVING...."You are going to get it when we get home!"
            -- My Mother taught me LOGIC..."If you fall out of that swing and break your neck, you're not going to the store with me."
            -- My Mother taught me MEDICAL SCIENCE..."If you don't stop crossing your eyes, they are going to freeze that way."
            -- My Mother taught me HUMOR..."When that lawn mower cuts off your toes, don't come running to me." -- I'll let you think about that one for a minute
            -- My Mother taught me how to BECOME AN ADULT..."If you don't eat your vegetables, you'll never grow up."
            -- My Mother taught me about GENETICS..."You're just like your father."
            -- My Mother taught me about my HERITAGE... "Where do you think you were born? In a barn?"
            -- My Mother taught me about the WISDOM OF AGE..."When you get to be my age, you will understand.
            -- And my all-time favorite... my mother taught me about JUSTICE..."One day you'll have kids, and I hope they turn out just like you....Then you'll see what it's like."

            -- in the familiar proverb that we opened with, we are reminded that if a child is trained in the way they should go -- if they are raised up and started off in the right direction -- then when they are older, they will not turn from it
            -- this verse has been a comfort to parents of wayward children from time immemorial -- it promises that our children who have strayed will come home again -- that no matter how far they have strayed from the fold, they will find their way again -- much as the prodigal son found his way from the pigpen back into the loving arms of his father -- this proverb has given hope to worried and anxious parents since it was first written down
            -- but have you ever considered that this proverb is contingent on an action? -- it doesn’t just happen -- children don’t just miraculously come home because their parents are waiting for them -- no, the proverb says that children must first be trained in the way they should go so they will know the path they should be following -- and, who is responsible for this training? -- for the most part, it is our mothers
            -- I think we all would agree with Winston Churchill that our mothers were a major influence on our lives and on who we are today -- our mothers were our first nurturers -- our comforters -- our protectors -- our providers -- and our teachers
            -- more so than anyone else in the formative years of our lives, our mothers were there with us -- guarding over us and providing us with a foundation of life that continues to this day
            -- so, this morning, on this Mother’s Day, I wanted us to stop and consider the enormous influence that mothers have on their children -- and how you, as mothers and grandmothers and godly women, can continue to influence those around us

II.  Training a Child
            -- have you ever wondered what the writer meant here by the term “training a child” in the way they should go?
            -- the word “train” that is used here is actually a gardening term -- it refers to the practice of taking a plant and shaping it so it grows in the way you want it to -- the easiest way to consider this is to think of grape vines
            -- here in south Georgia, everybody has seen grape vines growing out in the wild -- if you’ve ever walked in the woods down here, I guarantee you that at some point, you have tripped over a grape vine -- in the part of our yard that we are letting grow naturally, we have grape vines growing all over the place -- they cover the ground -- they crawl up the trees -- they cover the bushes -- they get entwined in the branches of our azaleas and shrubbery -- you know what I’m talking about -- you’ve seen that, right?
            -- now, have you ever been to one of the wineries in our local area? -- or have you ever seen pictures of the vineyards in California or France or one of those other places? -- or in someone’s garden where the vines are on a trellis? -- what do the vines look like there?
            -- they’re orderly, right? -- they are growing along the wires and the frames and the trellises -- they’re not on the ground -- they’re not crossing the paths between the rows -- they’re growing where they are supposed to -- and, do you know how that happened? -- because the gardener “trained” them where to grow
            -- when vines began to stray and to grow outside the area where they were supposed to be, the gardener would take that tendril and put it back on the wire or the trellis -- they would wrap it around the wire -- “training” it in how it should grow -- and, over time, that tendril and branch would grow in the right way and in the right form to produce fruit
            -- that’s what the proverb writer is talking about here -- he’s talking about “training” our children in the right way -- and that’s more than just verbal instruction -- that’s practical training and shaping -- that’s walking with them every day -- demonstrating to them the right way to live and to interact with others -- teaching them what it means to live as godly citizens in this community -- and correcting or training them when they go the wrong way -- sometimes that is merely through instruction -- other times through discipline or punishment -- but, the idea is that we continually monitor our children as they grow -- shaping them and training them and keeping them on the right path -- then, the proverb writer says, when they are old, they will not turn from it -- it will have become who they are
            -- that is our calling as Christian parents -- and that is especially the calling of a Christian mother and godly woman
           
III.  Continuing to Train
            -- so, the lesson for today is that when your children are grown, your jobs as mothers is done, right? -- no! -- there is still so much to do -- there are still so many opportunities for you to influence other generations and to train them up in the way they should go
            -- several years ago, there was a phrase going around in politics that you might have heard: “it takes a village to raise a child” -- now, the reason this political party chose to use that phrase was as justification for the Government to have a greater influence in the lives of families -- to the point where the Government would be able to dictate how a child was taught and how they were to be trained
            -- I disagree with that premise and with the assertion that the Government should impose itself directly into your personal lives in this way, but I do agree with the overall concept that it takes a village to raise a child -- I think this is something that we have forgotten in the church and it’s something we need to recapture

            -- when we become a Christians, the Bible tells us that we are born again -- we are born into a new spiritual family -- the family of God -- this means that our allegiances should shift from the old to the new, in much the same way as the allegiances of a newly married couple shift from their parents to each other as their primary relationship -- now, certainly, we are still part of our old, biological families -- but what being born again into a new family means is that we have new relationships with new family members -- and this carries it with it inherent responsibilities
            -- we are no longer just responsible for the well-being of our biological families -- but we are responsible for the well-being of our spiritual families -- the members of our faith communities -- our churches
            -- that means that we are responsible for nurturing and teaching and training the other members in our new spiritual families in the way they should go -- as Jesus put it in the Great Commission from Matthew 28:18-20, we are to make disciples and teach them to obey all the things He has commanded us to do -- we are to train them in the way they should go
            -- so, what does that look like? -- turn over to Titus chapter 2 and we’ll end there
            -- Titus 2:1-5

1 You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. 2 Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.

3 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. 4 Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

            -- in this pastoral letter to Titus, the Apostle Paul instructs Titus on how to encourage the members of his church to teach and to train one another -- the older men and women are to train the younger men and women and teach them how to live godly lives in relationship with their spouses, their children, and those around them
            -- specifically, in regards to the older women, Paul says in verses 4-5 that they are to “train the younger women to love their husbands and children” -- to train them “to be self-controlled and pure -- to be busy at home -- to be kind -- to be subject to their husbands” -- so that the word of God would not be maligned or disrespected
            -- what Paul is saying here is that our responsibility to train others in the way they should go does not end when our own children are raised -- but that we are to continually train and teach those in our faith communities and in our churches how to live holy and godly lives
            -- this means that we model for others what a godly woman or man is to look like -- we model for others what a godly marriage relationship is to look like -- we model for others what a godly parental relationship is to look like -- and we mentor and guide and train them when we see them straying from that path
            -- and that includes the children in our churches -- even though a child is not part of your biological family, they are part of your spiritual family -- and it is your calling and your responsibility to speak life into them -- to nurture them and protect them and train them in the way they should go
            -- I would also say this includes other children you come into contact with -- children you may have a relationship with in some fashion -- maybe children in your neighborhood -- or children of friends or coworkers or others
            -- you can be a godly influence on them -- you can help shape their lives, even if just for a moment -- who knows? -- that kind word -- your comforting hug -- your loving smile -- your nugget of wisdom -- may affect them and shape them for the rest of their lives
            -- my goal here this morning is to help you see the enormous power you have as godly women and mothers and grandmothers -- more so than the men here this morning, you have the ability to speak into the lives of children and to shape them and train them for greatness
            -- it has been said that behind every good man is a good woman -- we assume that is referring to his wife, but in reality, it probably speaks more of his mother’s influence than anything

IV.  Closing
            -- I want to close by sharing with you the story of basketball great Richard Jefferson, who played most of his career with the New York Nets2
            -- when Jefferson was born, his mother, Wanda Johnson, was a single mother with two other kids living in Los Angeles -- a high-school drop-out, she didn't have a job and survived on welfare -- and in that neighborhood, with its high crime rate and rampant joblessness, Wanda knew that she was going to have to do something, or her kids would have no hope or future other than what they had known all their life
            -- so, when Jefferson was six years old, Wanda moved her family from Los Angeles to Phoenix because of its lower cost of living and lower incidence of crime and violence -- already a Christian, Wanda became heavily involved in a charismatic church in the area, and began to turn her life around
            -- rather than accepting her condition and allowing her kids to follow her path into poverty, Wanda started turning her life around -- she began trusting that God would provide -- that God wanted more for her and her kids than what they currently had
            -- she got a job and got off welfare -- she remarried -- and went back to school, earning her GED and then going to college -- eventually completing her PhD in English and serving as a member of the teaching faculty at a community college in Phoenix
            -- but, that's not all she did -- at the same time she was clawing her way out of welfare and poverty, she did all she could to serve God -- going on mission trips to Kenya and other countries and becoming a leader in her Phoenix church along with her husband
            -- today, Wanda Johnson is a changed person -- a far cry from the single mother of three on welfare living in the slums in Los Angeles
            -- but, the most remarkable part of her story is the impact that it had on her children -- the power of a mother's life can result in significant changes in the life of their children -- and as Richard Jefferson watched his mother change her situation -- as he watched her start to believe in herself -- he began to believe in himself, too
            -- he quit making excuses -- he started working hard -- and he became one of the best players in high school and college and eventually began playing professional basketball -- if you ask him today, Richard Jefferson is quick to give the credit to his mother's influence in his life -- if not for her, he would not be who he is today -- if not for the power of his mother, he might be just another statistic
            -- because of her example -- because of the influence and her intentional shaping and training -- Richard Jefferson is highly successful and well-respected by all who know him, not only for his playing ability, but also for his behavior and his Godly lifestyle -- and he owes it all to his mother

            -- that's the thing about the ability of a godly woman who lives out her calling to teach and train up her children and grandchildren and those around her -- she can affect lives forever -- even if she does nothing more than serve as a godly role model, her example can influence and change the lives of those around her
           
            -- so, as we leave here today on this Mother’s Day, let me first say, “Thank you,” to my mother and to the mothers in this place -- thank you for your love and for training and shaping us into who are today
            -- and let me encourage you to continue to love and train and shape those around you -- to speak into their lives -- to model for them what a godly woman and mother and grandmother and wife looks like -- so that they may learn from you and follow the path that God has laid out before them
            -- let us pray




1 Green, Michael P.  1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, Baker Books
2 http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/06/sports/pro-basketball-nets-jefferson-follows-mother-s-example-succeeds-through-positive.html?pagewanted=1