The Nature of God’s Love

As we read through the book of Romans there seems to be some common themes that we see over and over again. The common topics are: The Law, Sin and Grace. And in case you are thinking those are probably common themes throughout the Bible, or the New Testament or even Paul’s letters, they are, but we see this combination more in the book of Romans than anywhere else in the bible.
The topic of the Law is broached 250 times in the 27 books of the New Testament 50 of those incidents are found in the book of Romans. Grace is mentioned 13 times in the book of Romans as compared to 70 times in all the other New Testament books combined. And in the New Testament every third time the word sin is used we find it in the book of Romans. What does it tell us, other than Denn spends way too much time counting words in the Bible?
It tells us that Paul was trying address a couple of problems in this book that appeared to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. On one hand it seems that there were some in the Church in Rome who were struggling with legalism. The law was supreme to them, they were still trying to dot every “I” and cross every “T”. And I would suspect because people are people are people and there really has been very little change in people over the past 2000 years, that not only did they expect themselves to follow the Old Testament law but they expected everybody else to as well.
And there are all kinds of issues that arise when we condense our relationship with God down to simply following a set of rules. For one thing it removes it from the area of a relationship and turns it into a contract and it becomes something we earn not something we are given.
Then at the other end of the spectrum from Legalism was Liberty, in this case liberty to sin, it would appear that as often happens it takes a while for the pendulum to find the centre and as it swings away from one extreme it misses the middle and ends up on the other side ( video or PowerPoint)
And so on one hand you had those who were in bondage to the law, and you don’t have to investigate very far to find that the law of the Jews really was bondage; it dictated what you could do, when you could do it and who you could do it with.
And that wasn’t the intent of the law. The law was put into place to protect us and to protect others. It was there to hold together the fragile ties of society and relationships but leave it to people to mess it up. And so the commandment to respect the Sabbath and avoid work on the seventh day became a complex series of regulations defining what work was and what work wasn’t. How far could you walk, how much could you carry and on and on it went. And so much time was spent on the minutia of the law of God that they never got to know the God of the Law.
And so there were still those who thought that if they were going to please God it wasn’t dependant on the relationship they had with him, instead it was dependant on how good they were and that at the end of the day it was going to come down to a tally sheet and they would need to have more in the plus column then in the negative column. And it was to them that Paul wrote Romans 3:27-28 Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.
And on the other hand you had those who felt there was no need to follow the law at all, not only had they thrown out all of the excess of the law they had thrown out the law as well. And so they used grace as an excuse to do what they wanted to, they used the gift of heaven to justify living like hell. The thought was that if the sacrificial death of Christ was able to grant us forgiveness from the sins of yesterday the same sacrificial death of Christ would be able to grant us forgiveness from the sins of tomorrow.
And as a result for some it was like it had been written in Judges 21:25 . . . all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. And it was this error that Paul addressed in Romans 6:1-2 Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?
And so the analogy that Paul uses is slavery, some were slaves to the law and others were slaves to sin, but they were all slaves to something and time and time again he comes back to grace, the grace of God that frees us not only from the bondage to the law but can free us from the bondage of our sinful nature that compels us to rebel against God.
And so it bring us to the last nine verses of Romans Chapter 8. Which begin with that words: Romans 8:31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? For 30 verses Paul has been talking about the grace of God, the strength that the Spirit gives us, that fact that we are not slaves to sin but the children of God and all that implies, that we are his heirs and that we are destined for glory. And so Paul writes Romans 8:31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? So it starts with a Premise. The Premise
of God’s Love: The premise is that we win because God is in our corner. Does it mean we will always get the better job, that our marriage will be perfect, our kids will never rebel? Does it mean that we will never be sick, never be down, never be poor?
No, but it does mean that as we move through the arena of life that we won’t have to do it alone, that our comforter, our coach our encourager will be none other than the Creator of the Universe, the master of all things. That when we stumble and fall he is there to pick us up, to brush us off and to assure us that we are loved and that he still believes in us.
As much as we love our kids we can’t put them in a bubble and protect them from everything, as much as we might want to. If legislation keeps going the way it is it won’t be long before bubbles are mandated for all children under the age of 18. And as much as we want to we can’t protect our kids from every bad thing or bad person who comes their way, but does that mean we love them less. And we can’t protect them from bad choices they make, but does that mean we love them less? But we can be in their corner, and we can cheer them on and that is what God does for us.
How disappointing when someone you think is special and cares for you doesn’t defend you or stick up for you. Even when you know you were wrong you still want someone in your corner. You need the “atta boys” before the “you jerks”.
So how do we know that God is in our Corner? What assurance is there that God is for us? Paul continues to write in Romans 8:32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? So here we have The Proof
of God’s Love: How do we truly know that we are loved? By what is given up for us. Right, what sacrifices are made for us. Children know their parents love them by the sacrifices that are made for them.
You understand that don’t you kids? Your parents do what they do for you not because they have to but because they love you. Whether it is paying for your hockey or your music lessons or
summer camp, all of those things require sacrifice and they do it because they love you. I’m sure there are all kinds of other places they could spend their money not to mention the time sacrifices that are made to attend hockey games, school concerts and to help with your homework, the countless miles that are driven getting you to and from places that is love. Ordering pizza with just pepperoni because you don’t like the works, that’s love.
And we do it in relationships in a hundred different ways when we sacrifice what we’d prefer for our husband or wife. Wives you don’t seriously think your husband enjoys chick flicks do you? Conditional love or love that says “I’ll love you as long it doesn’t cost too much” is a little suspicious. Kind of like the guy who wrote the not to his girlfriend that said “For you I’d climb the highest mountains, I’d cross the hottest desert, I’d swim the deepest ocean. PS if it’s raining Saturday I won’t be over.”
And so Paul says “How do I know God loves me? Romans 8:32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?
What greater sacrifice could there be than this. If you stopped and thought about it there are probably some people in your life out there that you’d be willing to sacrifice yourself for. Perhaps even someone who would sacrifice themselves for me.
But I would suspect that not one of you here would be willing to sacrifice one of their children for me. If someone offered you the choice: If you aren’t willing to sacrifice your child then Denn will have to die. You might apologize but I am sure it would be Hasta la vista Denn, adios, Auf Wiedersehen
And I wouldn’t blame you. To be truthful if I had to make that choice the only way you could survive is if I allowed Stephen or Deborah to die you wouldn’t stand a chance. Sorry, that’s just the way it is. But the scriptures tell us that is how much we are loved by God, John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. And Romans 5:8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
The bible comes back to this time and time again, God loves you so much, you, you dirty rotten scoundrel, God loves you so much that he willing surrendered his only son, for you. That’s how I know that God is in your corner.
And so we have the premise, God is in your corner, if God be for you who can be against you? And we have the proof of that, God loves you so much that he willing gave up his Son for you. But what does that mean? What is the “So What”
After all we’ve all seen undying love that went south, that didn’t last until the signatures on the marriage licence were dry. So listen to what Paul tells us: Romans 8:35-37 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
The Promise of God’s Love: It’s easy to look around when life is rough and think “Where is God now? What have I done to deserve this?” Those were the same questions that were asked of Job. You remember Job don’t you? There is an entire book written about him in the Old Testament, how the Devil was able to test him and torment him. How he lost his wealth and his family and his health, all that he was left with was a nagging wife and three friends who tried to convince him that all of his problems were his fault, but they weren’t. Through it all Job lost what he had, but he never lost who he was or who’s he was.
We have succumbed to that same heresy today, that only bad people have troubles and if you have enough faith and love God enough and, and, and that you will never have any problems or worries or concerns. And that is a lie. Two thousand years ago Paul asks that very same question. Does it mean he (God) no longer loves us when things go wrong, when life isn’t fair, when we are sick and people are picking on us? And then he answers his own question Romans 8:37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
Life for the early Christ followers wasn’t easy, they were persecuted, they were tortured some of them were killed for their faith, and Paul is saying, I know how the story ends; We win. All too often all we can see in life is what is happening right now, and sometimes right now isn’t pretty but Paul is saying in the big picture we win.
And as an aside, it is when we focus on the right now that we become tempted to quit, because it’s all we see right now and we can’t see beyond the present reality to the preferred future, and so because our marriage isn’t great, right now we quit. And because our job isn’t satisfying right now, we quit. And we try to solve short term problems with long term solutions. That was free.
And now we come to the great passage that ties this all together, we have seen that God promises to be with us, we have seen how that is proved by the fact that he sacrificed his only son for us, we have discovered that his love is not revealed through our circumstances and we arrive at Romans 8:38-39 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is for you folks, this is The Protection of God’s Love. This is one of those great scriptures that we as Christians hang our faith on and this is where Paul has been heading. We have the promise of this great love but what if we somehow lose it or it is taken away from us? But that’s not going to happen. The first line says it all, everything after that is just window dressing. Romans 8:38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. And he could have stopped there. But he is ready to answer the questions that people were waiting to ask. Hey Paul what about angels and demons, do they have the power to separate us from God’s love? Nope! And about when we die are we separated from God’s love then? Nope! What about when life dumps all over us, what about then? Nope. And the power of hell can’t do it, and whatever is in the sky can’t do it and whatever lurks in the abyss can’t do it, nothing, nothing, nothing can separate us from the Love of God.
But there is one thing conspicuous by its absence. One thing that Paul leaves out, one wild card that is able to do what the powers of hell can’t do. And you know what it is don’t you? Deep in your heart you know the one power in all of creation that is capable of separating you from the love of God.
Jesus tells a story in the book of Luke about a young man who asks for all of his inheritance from his father. Do you remember the story? We refer to it as the Story of the Prodigal Son. Often time we use prodigal as someone who turns from God and then returns. Nope that isn’t what prodigal means, prodigal describes his behaviour when he spent all his wealth on partying. The New Living translation says he wasted all his money on wild living, the King James calls it riotous living, but you get the picture. And you know the story, how when his money ran out so did his friends, and how even though he was the son of a wealthy man he ended up working in a pig farm and barely surviving. It was then that he swallowed his pride and returned to his father who had been waiting for him to return. We all know the story.
You see the Father’s love hadn’t changed, even though his son had rejected him and all he stood for he still loved his son. But the son had separated himself from his father’s love, he did what no outside force could do. Oh his father still loved him but he had chosen to not avail himself of that love.
You see what angels and demons, the heights of the sky and the depths of hell can’t do, you can and that is separate yourself from God’s love. Has God’s love changed, nope not at all, he still loves you and he wants to extend his love and grace to you, and like the prodigal’s father God is standing waiting to see you
The promise is not that you can’t walk away; the promise is that the Father will be there with his arms wide open waiting for you to return.

We are all Gonna Die

It’s interesting what we worry about in life. Most of us, at one time or another, have probably worried about how our lives will end and wondered what we might do to extend the time we spend on this earth. If you watch the news, you may have come to the conclusion that this is a fairly violent world we live in and a disproportionate number of people die as the result of criminal acts and armed conflicts.

But according to a World Health Organization study, done in 2002, fewer than 3% of people died as the result of an intentional act. Seriously, of the 57,029,000 people who died that year (give or take a few), 1.5 % were suicides, 1% died as a result of criminal violence and only .3% were killed in armed conflict; that would be war. So, statistically speaking, out of every 100 deaths recorded, fewer than 3 were intentional, 30 were related to cardiovascular disease, 12 were the result of cancer and 6 were accidental.

But the reality is this, it doesn’t matter how you die, because you will die, what matters is that you are ready to die. Are you? Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

The Nature of our Nature

Wow that was depressing. I would have expected more from Paul, but this just sounds like whining. I half expected him to check himself into a rehab centre by the time I got to the end of this section.
But at some time in our Christian life most of us could probably identify with what Paul is saying, we want to do good things and we don’t want to do bad things, but that isn’t the way it always ends up. It seems like it is a constant struggle and we end up berating ourselves for blowing it yet again.
Really, wouldn’t it be great if it was as easy to do the right thing as it was to know the right thing to do? And wouldn’t it be great if it was as easy to the do the right thing as it was to resolve to do the right thing?
I’m not going to ask for a show of hands but how many of you have experienced this struggle in your Christian life? You do something, and then you hate yourself because you did it? Kind of feel like that old Roger Miller song that said “Dang me, dang me they oughta take a rope and hang me.” In each verse of the song he talks about the rotten things he does and in the chorus he talks about how sorry he is for what he did, but he keeps on doing them in the next verse.
Different people take different views of this scripture, some take the view that Paul was writing about his present situation and that he is describing a flawed Christian experience, something that he struggled with on a daily basis. I don’t take that view.
Instead I like what Adam Clarke wrote about this passage of scripture almost 200 years ago. “It is difficult to conceive how the opinion could have crept into the Church, or prevailed there, that “the apostle speaks here of his regenerate state; and that what was, in such a state, true of himself, must be true of all others in the same state.” This opinion has, most pitifully and most shamefully, not only lowered the standard of Christianity, but destroyed its influence and disgraced its character.”
Others like Clark challenge that assumption, saying that Chapter 7 finishes with the distress of the sinner and that chapter 8 begins with the joy of the saved. That Paul was talking about the past, what he had been like before meeting Jesus or early in his Christian walk.
That it is not just the turning of a page but the turning of a life. It is the description of a man struggling to live under the law of Moses and then the victory of the man who has discovered the grace of God described throughout the first part of this letter. And that of course would be reflected in what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth: 2 Corinthians 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
And so to properly understand the struggle that Paul describes in these verses we need to understand that Paul’s thought line does not end at the conclusion of Chapter 7. Chapters and verses are arbitrary division put in by men to make it easier to find specific points in the scripture.
So instead of drawing our conclusions at the end of chapter 7, we need to read on into Romans 8:1-2 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. In other words, that is what was and this is what is, that was old this is new. Paul has spent the previous chapter talking about sin having control over his life and over the decision he makes and then he dismisses the entire previous 25 verses by stating “the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” I wish he had added though, “If you choose to let it.”
Reminds me of a story of two older men who were talking about this very subject, doing the right things or doing the wrong things. And one of them says “It’s like there are two horses pulling on me, and one is pulling me to do good and the other one is pulling me to do evil”
His friend asked: “and which one wins?” to which the first one replied “Whichever one I say giddy up to.”
And you know that you’ve been there yourself and you’ve had to decide: which one do I want to win? Which horse do I encourage? And that problem is at that stage is we make two mistakes.
1) We over estimate our own power and ability We think we are in control when we give into temptation.
2) We underestimate the power of sin We forget how strong the pull of sin is.
And so we try to be good people, we try to live a good life we try to do the right thing and when we fail we say “I just couldn’t help myself” and you are right. You can’t help yourself. Paul couldn’t help himself either which is why he wrote in Romans 7:18-20 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
And we think, “Well then, that is it, there is no hope I will just continue to live the way I have been living, doing the wrong I don’t want to do and hope for the best.” And that would be your choice, but I would counsel against that course of action because the same Paul who wrote that scripture also wrote Romans 6:16 Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.
Paul is not talking about the victorious Christian life in chapter 7 he is talking about the defeated Christian life but in chapter 8 we read about the victorious Christian life and we get to choose: do we want to be a winner or do we want to be a loser?
And do not be deceived it will be your choice. And before you decide to take a gamble and throw the dice in favour of trying to limp along as a defeated Christian listen to this caution: Romans 8:7-9 For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God. But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) Not to mention Romans 8:12-13 Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.
Let’s go back to the previous chapter where Paul writes Romans 6:19 Because of the weakness of your human nature, I am using the illustration of slavery to help you understand all this. Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy.
We sometimes see slavery as an isolated part of human history. We talk about slavery and our thoughts immediately go to the American South prior to the civil war, almost as if slavery had been invented by plantation owners. But you’ll remember from my message last week that way back in the book of Genesis that Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. If you know you African history then you’ll know that long before white folks began buying slaves slavery existed throughout the continent, when tribes fought the victors took slaves. And even in North America before Europeans got here slavery was common among the first nation people, those of us who were educated in New Brunswick know the name of John Gyles and his ordeal. And even today, although most of us ignore it slavery exists around the world, the experts estimate that there are 27 million slaves worldwide, more than at any other time in human history. Check out www.freetheslaves.net. And that’s why the Wesleyan Church is still involved in stopping human trafficking and why Isaac McWhinnie has a web site at http://web.me.com/somesweetday/Free_the_slaves_2009_10/Welcome.html and sells his art to raise funds for www.freetheslaves.net Way to go Isaac.
But that was what is technically referred to in preaching as a rabbit trail.
And so Paul looks around society as he knew it searching for an analogy that would reveal an existence devoid of any sense of control. An existence where you do what you do not because you want to but because you have to, because you are compelled to. And in the same way an existence where you don’t have the opportunity to do what you would want to do, that isn’t even an option. And he settles on the institution of slavery.
An institution that Paul’s readers wouldn’t have studied about in history books but instead was a part of their everyday lives. And in that day and age there would have been good slave owners and bad slave owners but at the end of the day there were still in control of the lives of their slaves.
So with that being said, let’s look at slavery.
How Did We Become Slaves? There are a couple of different ways that slaves became slaves A)
You were acquired as a slave And so if you fall into this category you could be captured or purchased. Or sometimes both, you might be captured by your first master and then sold to your next master. In that scenario you had once been free. Remember the story we told last week of Joseph and how he was sold into slavery by his brothers. The second way is that you were Born a Slavery, by the time of the War Between the States most of the slaves in the US had been born into slavery. Their parents had been slaves and maybe even their grandparents. For those who are born into slavery they have never known what freedom is, they may have heard about it from others, they may have seen it but they had never experienced it.
From the bible we discover that we are born as slaves to our sinful nature. The other day I watched as a parent carried their screeching child from a store and as they tried to soothe the little monster, I mean child, the kid was screaming and hitting them. Pummelling them with their little fists, obviously not doing any damage but not for lack of trying.
And you know and I know that at two years old nobody had taught the child that behaviour, they hadn’t been playing violent video games, hadn’t been subjected to the mindless brutally of prime time television. They hadn’t been taught to do that, they simply hadn’t been taught not to do it. Might have damaged their self-esteem or sense of self-expression if someone had of actually corrected them. If you missed it that was what is technically called sarcasm.
And so our birthright is original sin, it is our nature, we are born as slaves to our sinful nature. The question is asked “Is a dog a dog because he barks or does he bark because he is a dog?” And the follow up question then is “Are we sinners because we sin or do we sin because we are sinners?”
And so, if we have been born into slaver to sin 2) How Do We Escape Slavery. The first way would be to simply escape, to attempt to run away and take control over our lives. And that is the struggle that Paul talks about, we try to combat our sinful nature ourselves, we are trying to escape, but it just doesn’t seem to work, we don’t have the resources or the strength or perhaps ultimately we don’t have the desire to escape. It was Aristotle who said “The worst thing about slavery is that the slaves eventually get to like it.” Perhaps not like it but to accept it as their fate, not knowing any better they prefer what they know to what they don’t know.
Which would explain what Peter Marshall meant when he wrote: “We are too Christian really to enjoy sinning, and too fond of sinning really to enjoy Christianity. Most of us know perfectly well what we ought to do; our trouble is that we do not want to do it.”
And if you have tried on your own to break free of the sinful nature you know how hard it is, even when you put on the veneer of freedom you know deep inside that your nature is what it is.
Over a hundred years ago John Ruskin wrote “The distinguishing sign of slavery is to have a price, and to be bought for it.” The other way that you can escape slavery is to be bought and given your freedom, and we are told in 1 Corinthians 6:20 for God bought you with a high price. And again in Ephesians 1:6-7 So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.
The interesting thing in this context is you have to choose to be purchased. You can choose to remain a slave of sin or you can choose the freedom that God gives. But you have to choose, nobody else can choose for you. Mahatma Gandhi wrote “The moment the slave resolves that he will no longer be a slave. His fetters fall… freedom and slavery are mental states.”
The difficult thing for some people is that with that choice you need to align yourself with a new master. Here is something to think about: (Play: You Gotta Serve Somebody)
The question is who are you gonna serve, because you gotta serve somebody, two thousand years ago Jesus said something very similar when he stated Luke 16:13 Jesus said “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
You will serve God or you will serve something else, where does your loyalty lie? Do you ask yourself “Will this please God, yes or no?” It’s a simple question. And the answer becomes easier when we realize that God’s requirements are not to spoil our fun but to protect us and protect others. If we live our lives choosing to do what God would have us to do in the end we will be better people.
Remember Romans 6:16 Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.
You say “Well I just want to serve myself.” America playwright Natalie Clifford Barney wrote: “To be one’s own master is to be the slave of self. You say, ‘Well I’m my own master.’ In which case you are also your own slave.”
Do you want to be free today? Free from your sinful nature, free to choose to do the good and not the bad? Then you need to discover the same thing that Paul did Romans 8:1-2 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.
So here is your promise for today, May 23rd 2010. John 8:34-36 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.

 
 

The Nature of Grace

 It seemed to make perfect sense: If the “Grace of God” was a good thing, and if the “Grace of God” was demonstrated through the forgiveness of sin, then the more we sinned than the more the Grace of God would be demonstrated. It seems to make perfect sense but it didn’t. It was an absurd argument that Paul addresses in the first verse of the scripture that was read earlier.
Paul had spent the previous four verses talking about God’s Wonderful Grace and then he seems to anticipate the response from some folks in the church because he asks the question in Romans 6:1 Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace?
This seemed to be an ongoing discussion in the church at Rome because Paul had addressed it earlier in Romans 3:7-8 “But,” someone might still argue, “how can God condemn me as a sinner if my dishonesty highlights his truthfulness and brings him more glory?” And some people even slander us by claiming that we say, “The more we sin, the better it is!” Those who say such things deserve to be condemned.
It is a twisted logic that leads us to the rationale that our sinful behaviour actually becomes a public service by introducing more of God’s grace into the world. And so Paul asks the question: Romans 6:1 Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? And then he answers it in the very next verse by stating Romans 6:2 Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?
This type of argument and debate was common in the era that Paul was writing and was referred in Latin as: Reductio ad Absurdum And the definition of that term is: The process of refuting an argument on the grounds that absurd – and patently untenable consequences would ensue from accepting the item at issue. In other words reducing it to the absurd.
For example, sometimes someone will say something that just doesn’t make sense or is unlikely to happen. “If I won the lottery, all my money problems would be over.” And I will respond one of two ways, both of which fall into the class of Reductio ad Absurdum. So I will either say “And if wishes were horses beggars would ride.” Or I will respond “And if my grandmother had wheels she’d be a wagon.”
So taking it to the extreme, if we do continue to sin it is an opportunity for God to demonstrate his grace over and over again, however we are told that God hates sin and the ultimate consequence of sin is spiritual death and so while it provides the opportunity for grace it ultimately leads to our destruction.
But what is this grace of which Paul speaks and which others would use as a licence to continue in their sinful behaviour? Well we have defined it before as God’s unmerited love. That is love that we don’t deserve and that we can’t earn. It is spelled out in Ephesians 2:8-9 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
You’ve heard me define it time and time again by saying Justice is getting what we deserve, Mercy is getting less than we deserve and Grace is getting something that we don’t deserve. For example if a certain cleric was stopped by the local constabulary for speeding in their little red car, remember this is just an example, justice would be getting a speeding ticket for doing 73 in a 50. However if the office said that instead of issuing him a speeding ticket he would simply issue him a ticket for failing to obey a traffic sign which would mean the fine would be over a hundred dollars less and there would be no loss of points and the imaginary cleric would not lose his licence for a week, that would be mercy. However if the officer had of said, “Hey don’t worry about it and I’m on my way to Tim Horton’s, follow me and I’ll buy you a coffee” That would have been Grace. In the story the fictional cleric would have been shown mercy.
For those who like numbers in the New Living Translation the word Grace is used 88 times in bible, only 5 times in the Old Testament and 83 times in the New Testament. Of the 83 times the word grace is used in the New Testament 13 of those instances are in the book of Romans. And the word Grace is not used in any of the four Gospels.
It is easy to define grace but that doesn’t always bring us any closer to understanding it. So let’s look at Grace in action.
His Name was Joseph and he began his life with a silver spoon in his mouth. His father was Jacob, Abraham’s Grandson, who had become a wealthy land owner and farmer and Joseph was his favourite son. From the time he was just a child it was evident that he was favoured, and perhaps a little bit spoiled, or actually perhaps a lot bit spoiled, actually there was no perhaps about it, he was daddy’s favourite and Daddy wasn’t afraid to show him or his other children how he felt about Joseph.
I don’t know what the final straw was, maybe it was the beautiful coat that his father bought him, or maybe it was when he had the dreams about his brothers bowing down to him and worshipping him. Maybe it was when the rest of his brothers had to tend the sheep out in the field and Joseph stayed at home. Or maybe it was just that opportunity presented itself. Joseph had gone out to the fields to check up on his brothers for his father, and the brothers saw their opportunity. The threw Joseph into a dried up well and then to add insult to injury they sold him into slavery.
From favourite son to slave and the story doesn’t end there. Joseph was taken to Egypt and was sold to a man named Potiphar. If we follow the story along we discover that Joseph was able to gain the trust of his master and eventually became manger of everything that Potiphar owned, but when he refused to give in to the advances of his masters wife she framed him for rape and he ended up in prison.
From favourite son to slave, from trusted servant to prisoner, you really know the path to downward mobility don’t you Joseph? Well it’s pretty obvious Joseph, if anyone needed grace it was Joseph, what was it they say “If it wasn’t for bad luck Joe wouldn’t have had any luck at all.”
If Joseph started from the top and worked his way down Moses started from the bottom and worked his way up. The people of Israel had become slaves to the people of Egypt and when the pharaoh began to feel threatened by the growing number of Israelites in his country the Bible says he decided to make their slavery even more bitter. When the harsh working conditions didn’t break their spirits he issued an order to the midwives to kill the baby boys of Israel as soon as they were born. When the midwives refused the Pharaoh ordered all the newborn boys to be thrown into the Nile River. And it was into this climate that Moses was born.
His mother hid him for three months and when it became apparent that she could hid him no more he was placed into a floating basket and placed in the reeds at the edge of the Nile in hopes that someone would find him and take pity on him.
And don’t you just love it when a plan comes together? Because that’s exactly what happened and the story gets better because he wasn’t found by just anyone he was found by the daughter of the Pharaoh. Who promptly feel in love with this beautiful little baby boy. And the story gets better and better, Moses was adopted into the royal household and enjoyed all the perks and privileges of growing up the adopted son of the most powerful man in the country.
What an opportunity to help his people, to make a difference in his world, to impact society. There was so much that he could do, but did he? No. As a matter of fact we find no indication that Moses even acknowledged his roots until he was forty years old and on that one occasion he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite and he killed the Egyptian and buried his body in the sand. Nasty temper Moses, obviously you never read anything by James Barrie because he said “Temper is a weapon that we hold by the blade.”
Moses, what were you thinking, you had the power the prestige and the position to make a difference in your world and you blew it. Obviously you weren’t thinking were you? You let anger and pride get the best of you. Could there be any hope for a man like Moses?
Some called him King, others said he was a man after God’s own heart, she called him honey. David was Israel’s greatest King. He had taken the Jews from being nothing more than a collection of Nomadic tribes to being one of the most powerful nations in the known world. It was under David’s leadership and direction that Israel reached the high point of her history. Economically, politically and spiritual Israel was at its peak. And David was riding high on the crest of popular opinion.
Now I don’t know if David got bored or if he was going through a mid life crisis thing or what happened but one day when his troops had all gone off to war, David stayed home. And you know what they say, “Idle hands are the devil’s hands.” Well David should have kept busy doing what he was supposed to be doing.
The bible tells us that one afternoon that David has just gotten up from taking a nap, a little old for nap time aren’t we Davey. And that as he’s strolling along the roof top of the palace he notices that one of his neighbours is taking a bath in the buff in the backyard. Well this lady was not hard to look at all and David sent someone to find out who she was. The answer came back that she was Bathsheba and that she was the wife of one of David’s soldiers, a man named Uriah.
David didn’t waste any time, he had Bathsheba brought to his home, I don’t know what he was thinking, perhaps he didn’t know what he was thinking, perhaps he wasn’t thinking. David could probably identify with the lyrics from the Dierks Bentley song: “I know what I was feeling, but what was I thinking?” Maybe it was all innocent and he wanted to compliment her on her beauty, or maybe he wanted to warn her that when she bathed in the buff in the backyard that it wasn’t nearly as private as she thought it was. Or maybe he knew all along where this would lead It was Scottish writer Margaret Opliphant who so wisely pointed out “Temptations come, as a general rule, when they are sought.”
Well it may have started out innocent but it didn’t end innocent, I think David had adopted the policy “always yield to temptation, you never know when it will pass your way again.” The bible says they slept together and if that is all they didn’t there wouldn’t have been a problem, but the next time David sees Bathsheba she had some news for him, she said something like “Hi Daddy.” David, David, David. What have you done? Well we know what he did, but why did he do it?
Well David begins to think, and scheme after all he didn’t get to be King for nothing. And he sends for Uriah thinking that Bathsheba could seduce her husband, although he had been away from home for awhile so there probably wouldn’t need to be a lot of seduction, and Uriah would think the child was his, he must not have been real good with math.
But that isn’t the way it happened. Uriah refused to go home; his fellow soldiers were out defending the country it wouldn’t be right for spend the night with his wife. Oh drat, it’s on to plan “B” then so David invited Uriah to dinner, proceeded to get him drunk and then sent him home, but still Uriah refused. Well if you can’t blame hubby then get rid of hubby, and that’s what David did, he had Uriah’s commander send him deep into enemy territory and Uriah was killed.
So let’s see, David; you slept with another mans wife, and then you had her husband murdered. Hope she was worth it. David you were thinking with your hormones and not your head. You let your lust and envy get you to this place, is there any hope for you?
For three years Peter had walked with Jesus. For three years Peter had listened to Jesus. For three years Peter had been Jesus closest friend. And in three statements he dismissed those three years as irrelevant and non existent.
The story began when Jesus celebrated the Passover Feast the twelve apostles the night before he was to be crucified. An event we call the Last Supper. Jesus knew what was going to happen but the rest of them didn’t, so at the end of the meal he tried to bring them up to speed. When Peter heard Jesus talk about how things would turn out he tried to reassure his friend that he wouldn’t be alone. He made statements like: even if I have to die for you I’ll never desert you. And Jesus looked at him and said “Peter the truth is, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”
Well, you can’t say he wasn’t warned. I’m sure that most of you know the rest of the story. Jesus is arrested and hauled first before the High Priests and then before Pilate, the Roman Governor. Peter who had been so filled with bravado just hours before followed from a distance and found himself huddled for warmth around a fire with servants of the high priest. As the flickering flames lit the faces around the fire one of the servant girls looked at Peter and asked if he was one of the disciple, “nope, not me.” He replied, “must be someone who looks like me.” At the words another person looks up and says, “She’s right, I’m sure that you were with the one they call the Messiah” and again Peter shook his head and denied it. It wasn’t long and someone said “you were with them; you even talk like a Galilean.” And with that Peter began to curse and swear, denying that he had even met the carpenter.
I wonder what Peter was so afraid of? These weren’t people of influence, they had no authority, they weren’t even making accusations, they were just curious. But in Peter’s mind they held his freedom if not his life in their hands. Ernest Hemingway had it right when he said “Cowardice, as distinguished from panic, is almost always simply a lack of ability to suspend the functioning of the imagination.”
And then the rooster crowed. Peter, fisherman, apostle, coward. How could you do that to your best friend. Peter, you’ve painted yourself with such a bright yellow? Peter you are a coward what are we going to do with you? Is there any hope for you at all?
Have you ever felt like you were without hope in your Christian walk? Have there been times that your behaviour has been less then admirable? Perhaps like Joseph you just can’t seem to get it right, and you know that God must be angry at you or you wouldn’t have such rotten luck. But the story hasn’t been finished yet. Joseph eventually became the second most powerful man in Egypt and because of his position he was able to save his entire family during a famine that affected the entire Eastern Mediterranean. He summed up his life in a conversation that he had with his brothers in Genesis 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. That is Grace!
Maybe like Moses you have a temper that needs to be brought under control, and let there be no doubt about it, if you have a problem with your temper it will need to be brought under control. But Moses story didn’t end with him on the lamb, instead God brought him back to Egypt to deliver the people of Israel from slavery to freedom. That was where the original Passover celebration came from. When the writer of the book of Hebrews was listing all the heroes of faith in the bible he gives Moses five verses, more space than anyone else on the list. This is only part of it Hebrews 11:27 It was by faith that Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger. He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible. That is Grace!
Have you struggled with moral failure like David? Figure that you’ve blown it and there is no hope for you? Don’t know that you can fall much further than David fell, and yet in Psalm 51 we read David’s prayer of repentance Psalm 51:1-2 Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin… And? Well in 2 Samuel 12:13 David is talking to Nathan the Preacher who confronted him with his sin, and this is a part of that conversation: Then David confessed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “Yes, but the Lord has forgiven you, and you won’t die for this sin.
The story wasn’t over. In the New Testament Jesus is referred to as the Son of David on at least 15 occasions. That is Grace!
Do you ever feel like Peter? In your life, or your behaviour or your words you have denied knowing Jesus. You can’t imagine that he could ever love you or forgive you after your betrayal. And yet it was after Peter’s betrayal, after his denial that Jesus gave him three opportunities to express his love. One affirmation for each denial. And then Jesus looked at him and said “then take care of my sheep”, entrusting the early church to Peter. If we read through the book of Acts we discover Peter preaching in front of thousand of people, and when he was arrested and pulled in front of the authorities who commanded him to stop never again speak or teach about Jesus listen to what he said, Acts 4:19 “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him?
That is Grace!
It was that great American philosopher Yogi Berra who said “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”
If you feel like you’ve failed in your Christian walk Jesus is there to pick you. Listen to the promise of the Bible, this is for you this morning, I don’t know where you are at but this promise is for you.
1 John 2:1-2 My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world. And that is Grace.
We are going to close this morning with a song that most of us could sing without the words, and sometimes that’s a problem because we sing the words but we really don’t hear the words or think of the words. So this morning as the worship team comes to lead us in Amazing Grace, listen to the words again and sing the words as if they were written not by John Newton over 200 years ago but as if they were written by you and about you.

I’m Loving It!


I spoke with a lady a while back, who told me she had never eaten at a McDonalds, ever! Never, not even once. She had never eaten a McChicken, a Big Mac, an Egg McMuffin or McDonalds’ Fries. I didn’t know that such a person existed in Canada. I mean, think about it, how could you go eighty-two years without ever having darkened the door of a McDonalds? I have always believed that when I got to heaven, that just inside the Pearly Gates, there would be the Golden Arches. And so I did what any caring individual would do, I took her to the closest McDonalds.

I am sure there are others out there, who have never tasted McDonalds’ food and that is a shame.

Do you know there are people in our community, who have never been inside a church and they have never tasted God’s grace? And that is a tragedy.

If by some bizarre choice, you have never experienced McDonalds fries, your loss is temporal, although you might get to try them in heaven. But if you’ve never experienced Christ’s forgiveness, your loss will be forever. And forever is a long time, especially without a Big Mac and Fries. Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

The Nature of Character

Having Mother’s Day fall during Discover the Word can be a challenge because it is really expected that on Mother’s Day you will speak to Mothers. But when you are focusing on a specific book it can sometimes be hard to find the hook to work with a specific topic.
If you were here a year ago you might recall that we were focusing on the book of Acts and for Mother’s Day we looked at the Mother of John Mark and some of the things that defined her.
The book of Romans, not so easy, I did consider Romans 16:13 Greet Rufus, whom the Lord picked out to be his very own; and also his dear mother, who has been a mother to me. And I thought I could use it as a spring board into: what it would mean to be a mother.
But then I thought that was a bit of a stretch especially seeing as how the entire focus of Discover the Word is about learning about the particular book we are studying. So I went back to the drawing board and stumbled on the passage that was read earlier this morning, in particular Romans 5:3-4 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.
And the light came on, the light that is the passion of every Preacher’s heart the realization that “yes this will preach.” When I was growing up whenever I grumbled about having to do something I didn’t want to do or whined about the way a particular event ended up my mother would tell me “It’s good for you, it helps develop character.” I tried the same sage advice with my children only to be told “But I don’t want to be a character.” Somehow it seemed to have lost its meaning. Nevertheless that’s where this morning’s message is taking us. Last week I spoke on “The Nature of Sin”, this week we are going to look at “The Nature of Character” What it is and what it ain’t. And I think these are things that your mother would want you to know, how’d you like the “Mother’s Day” segue?
What Character Isn’t. Often we confuse a person’s reputation with their character. We see how a person acts when they are around us or around others and we define their character by those observations. We think: Well, they are kind to animals, keep their lawn mowed and don’t tell dirty jokes so they must have a sterling character.
There is a story told in the Old Testament, Saul had been king of Israel, but because of a series of sins and acts of disobedience another King is to be chosen. God gives direction to his prophet Samuel to go to the town of Bethlehem and that it is there he will find the next king. God had revealed to his prophet that his chosen would be the son of a man named Jesse, so he travels to Bethlehem meets with Jesse and says “Trot the boys out so I can have a look at them.” Or something like that. We pick up the story in 1 Samuel 16:6 When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!” Don’t know what Eliab looked like but it must have been kingly because Samuel immediately jumped to the conclusion that he was the one who should be king, and they hadn’t even tried on the glass slipper yet, sorry wrong story.
Samuel seemed to have forgotten the qualifications that the last King, Saul, possessed. 1 Samuel 9:2 Saul was the most handsome man in Israel—head and shoulders taller than anyone else in the land.
Let’s pick the story up back in Bethlehem, 1 Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
And twenty five hundred years later the story is still the same. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
But isn’t that the easiest thing to do? To judge by outward appearances? We are warned to not judge a book by its cover, but when you don’t have time to sit there and read through the book you often make that first decision based on the cover. Most of you know that I am a prolific reader, I read at least one novel a week plus what I’m reading in the office and sometimes I start a book based solely on how cool the cover looks. When I was working with my publisher on the Penn of Denn he stressed how important the cover design would be if we wanted to get people to at least pick up the book.
The reality remains that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and often you have to make at least your initial judgement based on what you can see. And a person’s reputation is important but it’s not their Character. There are times I start reading a book because of a cool cover and get into it and realize that it isn’t the book I thought it was and so I stop reading and close the book. And sometimes we are impressed by the perception of who someone is until we get to know them, and when they don’t measure up to their cover we stop reading and close the book.
It was Abraham Lincoln who said “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”
So if character isn’t your reputation, If it isn’t what people see when they look at you then what is character. Good question, so let’s look at What Character Is You ready for this, because it’s deep, do you have your pen out? Reputation is who people think we are, character is who we are. Character is who we are when nobody is looking, when nobody is around and we think there is no chance we will ever get caught, how we behave then, that is our character.
Character is the very essence of who you are, not who you are when you everything is going well, not when the kids are all behaving and you have more money than you know what to do with. But character is who you are when you are tired, angry, stressed or jealous. Character is who you are when the doctor gives you bad news, when you lose your job and your kid ends up in jail.
The word that Paul uses for character here surprisingly enough is a Greek word, who would have thought? Paul uses the word δοκιμή
dokimē and it means, proven or tempered. William Barclay says this of the word dokime. “Dokime is used of metal which has been passed through the fire so that everything base has been purged out of it. It is used of coinage as we use the word sterling. When affliction is met with fortitude, out of the battle a man emerges stronger, and purer, and better, and nearer God.”
Henry Ward Beecher an American preacher and author from the 1800’s wrote “A man’s character is the reality of himself; his reputation, the opinion others have formed about him; character resides in him, reputation in other people; that is the substance, this is the shadow.”
Marva Collins wrote “Character is what you know you are, not what others think you have.”
Thomas Paine said something very similar two hundred years before that “Reputation is what men and women think of us. Character is what God and the angels know of us.”
And when Ronald Reagan was President he stated “You can tell a lot about a fellow’s character by his way of eating jelly beans.” And I have no idea what that means.
And it doesn’t matter where you are or what you are doing. Your character travels with you and it’s there when you work and when you play and it’s there when you interact with your colleagues, with your friends and with your family.
Your reputation may take you as far as your coffin, what people think about you and how they perceived you, but you will know whether those perceptions were justified, only you will know who you really are, well you and God. But at that point all you will be holding in your hands when you stand before God won’t be what people think you are it will be what God knows you are, it will be your character. Heed the words of Jesus to the Church in Sardis in Revelation 3:1 “I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead.”
Most of us can figure out how to develop our reputation, do this, don’t do that. But often it is doing or not doing what can be seen by others. And so we are advised to Dress for Success, and politicians are told to never be photographed with a drink in their hand, and pastors are warned about being careful to avoid even the illusion of impropriety.
But the question today is How is Character Formed? Character is formed by the choices we make. And not just the choices we make today but the choices we made yesterday. It was Anne Frank, who spent most of her teen years hiding from the Nazis in war torn Holland and dying in a German concentration camp who wrote in her diary: “The final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”
Character doesn’t just happen it is a process, so based on what Paul is telling us here without the things that shape character, character doesn’t happen. Let’s go back to our scripture again Romans 5:3-4 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.
And so if we go back to the original word dokimē we discover that the tempering process happens in the fire. A piece of metal is refined, purified and hardened through a process that if metal were alive it probably wouldn’t enjoy very much.
It usually isn’t the good times in our lives that form who we are, they are fun but they don’t shape our character. And so my mother was right, those things that I did that I didn’t enjoy developed character. And when we go through the tough times and make it through to the other side we are better for the experience. Which explains why Helen Keller who lost her sight and hearing as an infant was able to write “I thank God for my handicaps, for through them I have found myself, my work, and my God.”
And yet others in similar circumstances become withdrawn and bitter, it has been said that we will go through our problems or we will grow through our problems and in the end they will make us better or they will make us bitter but the choice will always be ours. You will never know how strong you are until you face adversity and you will never know what you can do until you walk through the fire and the deep water.
It was author and speaker Cavett Robert who said “If we study the lives of great men and women carefully and unemotionally, we find that, invariably, greatness was developed, tested, and revealed through the darker periods of their lives. One of the largest tributaries of the river of greatness is always the stream of adversity.”
I have a friend who works out of our denominational headquarters with pastors who are starting new churches and Chris does a great job, he is able to come along side of those men and women and guide them through the problem areas and encourage them and teach them. And he can do that because he started not one church from scratch but two. And the first one Country Side Community was a church planting success. Started in a small city in South Dakota it took off and flourished, within a couple of years they had a couple of hundred people worshipping with them and today they average well over a thousand on Sunday morning, people have been touched and lives have been changed.
And because of that Chris was recruited to start another church this time in Madison, Wisconsin. Everything pointed to Madison being even more of a success then what happened in Spearfish. But it wasn’t.
The new church struggled and limped along, Chris’ wife had to go to work to help support them and then Chris had to find work outside the church. And the church in Madison never really developed but I tell Chris that he could never do the work he is doing right now without Madison. The story would never have been complete with only Spearfish.
There is a reference in the psalms that says Psalm 105:19 Until the time came to fulfill his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character. Remember Joseph? He was the favourite son of Jacob, but if you follow the story you would know that as a young man he would not be described as having strength of character. Perhaps the spirit of arrogance, of pride, of entitlement, but not character. And then he was thrown into a well by his brothers, who then sold him into slavery, and he was taken to Egypt where he was sold to a man named Potiphar, falsely accused of rape, thrown into prison was forgotten after doing favours and emerged as a very different person.

 Remember Psalm 105:19 Until the time came to fulfill his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character. Joseph discovered that it wasn’t all about Joseph, and he discovered the secret of a scripture that wouldn’t be written for 600 years. The prophet Isaiah records the words of God in Isaiah 43:2 When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. Four times in the story of Joseph, each time after something bad happened, if you consider things like being sold into slavery and thrown into prison for something you didn’t do as bad, we read the words Genesis 39:2 The Lord was with Joseph, . . .

 And regardless of what you are going through, the flood, the deep water or the fires, whatever they are, if you are a Christ follower he will be with you.

So you have developed your character what now? Well the scary thing is the reality is that along with being built your character needs to be protected. So here is the question: How is Character lost? And the answer is the same as it was for: How is Character is formed? Character is lost by the choices we make. And not just the choices we make today but the choices we made yesterday. Character is lost easier than it is found but it is still the result of choices that we make.
It was Aristotle who wrote “Character is that which reveals moral purpose, exposing the class of things a man chooses or avoids.” And I would suspect that the lack of character reveals a lack of moral purpose, exposing the class of things a person chooses or avoids.
Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15:33 Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for “bad company corrupts good character.” Who are you hanging around with and how are they affecting you? We all know that the people our children hang out with will influence them, so why do we think we are immune from those same threats?
Here are a couple of thoughts to close with the first is from Stephen Covey, the author of “The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People” “Our character is basically a composite of our habits. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character…
And the second closing thought comes from Paul who wrote in the book of Romans 5:3-4 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.
On Friday, at the Leadercast Tony Dungy was interviewed. Dungy of course was the coach who lead the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl victory in 2007, and it was mentioned that when Dungy was scouting for the team that he had a category on their evaluation form labelled DNDC. Asked what that stood for Dungy said it stood for Do Not Draft Because Of Character. Dungy went on to state, “In the draft, there are only a few things that will knock a player out of consideration for our team, and this issue of character is one of them. We have a category on our evaluation form that is labeled ‘DNDC’—Do Not Draft because of Character.”
So here is the question to end on: If there was a category on the evaluation form for you to get into heaven that was marked DNDC how would you rate?

Rat? What Rat?

It has been said that one man’s meat, is another man’s poison and obviously one man’s art, is another man’s graffiti.

A clean-up crew was dispatched by Melbourne, Australia’s deputy mayor, Susan Riley, to clean up an alley, after residents complained about the dirty conditions. Part of the crew’s mandate, was to remove all graffiti from unapproved sites, simple enough. Obviously, they went about their work with a passion to do not just a good job, but to do a great job and in the process they painted over a parachuting, goggle wearing rat. And not just any parachuting, goggle wearing rat, but a parachuting, goggle wearing rat, which was created in 2003 by world-renowned British graffiti artist Banksy, one of the world’s best graffiti artists; a recluse who refuses to use his real name. Needless to say, city officials are a little embarrassed.

How often in our lives and our relationships, are our problems simply a matter of miscommunications? “I thought you meant get rid of all the graffiti, even the parachuting, goggle wearing rat.” Really, wouldn’t life be easier if we all just said what we meant and meant what we said? Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

The Nature of Sin

The night air was as thick and as silent as velvet. When suddenly the stillness was broken by the soft flapping of leathery wings. Out of the gloom came anger, his already contorted features twisted as he saw the man. Anger’s cohorts were already there, perched on one shoulder was despondency while alcohol clung to the man’s back.
Knowing that it wasn’t right the man tried to shake the demons free but they were too strong for him to combat on his own. And still anger sat there, waiting, biding his time. Despondency dug his claws in deeper and as he rode the man alcohol twisted his mind and brought his will to submission.
And as anger watched and mused he planned his attack on his helpless victim. Once the twin demons of despondency and alcohol had broken the man’s will then and only then would it be anger’s turn and anger would make the man dance to his tune. Oh yes, then he would be in control. And the things that anger could do in co-operation with the twins. Who would the man vent his anger on, his family, perhaps slap the kid around a bit, teach him some respect. Or maybe it was time that his wife knew who was boss. Maybe it would be a friend, someone who tried to help him break the ties of alcohol, yes now wouldn’t that be fun, he could show that wimp what a real man was made of.
And there it was the perfect opening, alcohol and despondency had been joined by self-pity who was reminding the man of all the abuses, both real and imaginary that had been heaped upon him. The time was right and anger swept in his wings beating furiously in the air, and he had the man in his grip. Helplessly the man struggled in the grips of his own private demons unable to do the right that he wanted to do but compelled by forces beyond his reach to do those things that he hated. Once again good had lost the fight and in anger he struck out at the ones he loved.
What a great story, it’s super fiction but rotten theology.
How does sin affect us, how does sin control us? What makes us sin? And what is the result of our sin? The mania that swept the Christian world after Frank Perriti had published the novels “This Present Darkness” and “Piercing the Darkness” in the late eighties would have us looking in every corner and behind every door for the demons who twist and distort all things good and drive us to do the things we hate. But is it scriptural to blame demons for our sins, or is that simply a cop out. Thirty years ago the comedian Flip Wilson would defend his actions by saying “The devil made me do it”. Have we accepted that as a valid excuse in 2010?
Let’s look at sin. The passage that was read earlier is one of the best known references to sin (Romans 3:21-26) and it’s found in the book of Romans. Romans is the sixth book in the New Testament and the first of what we call “The Epistles” now contrary to popular belief the Epistles were not the Apostles’ wives. It’s just a fancy word for letter and the rest of the New Testament is a collection of letters. Some of the them personal, for one person and some of them were corporate, they were meant to be read aloud to a church. The book of Romans falls into that category. The book was written by Paul who we were introduced to in the book of Acts. The book was written around AD 57 to a group of believers, most of them Gentiles in the capital city of the Roman Empire. Thus it is addressed to the Romans, if it was for a group in Halifax it would have been the book of Haligonians.
Why was it written? As you read through you discover a couple of reasons. So Paul could introduce himself to the Romans and to encourage them.
The very first question has to be: What Is Sin? Good question, let’s start by going out on the street and seeing if we can find an answer. Video what is sin
Collins dictionary defines sin as “the breaking of religious or moral law, especially through a wilful act.”
While the Old Testament never formally defines sin the concept is “anything contrary to the known will of God”.
The word used throughout the New Testament is ἁμαρτάνω hamartano
literally means “to miss the mark.” that is certainly testified to in Romans 3:23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.
Now I am sure that we could enter into all kinds of legal definitions of sin at this point, is this sin, how about this. And if we do that we end up like the preacher who declared that there were 748 sins and after the sermon people were lined up to get a copy of the list. In its simplest definition sin is disappointing God through our disobedience. That’s sin.
The second question then has to be: “Why Do We Sin?” and that is a good question why do people sin? Well the most elementary answer is “because”. You see we sin because that is the nature of the beast. Adam was created in the perfect image of God, but when he chose to sin in Genesis 3 that image became distorted, not destroyed simply distorted. When I was in college a friend of mine accidentally knocked a photograph of my sister onto the floor. In the fall the glass broke, and while the image of Dianne was still there it was distorted because of the cracks in the glass. The same thing happened at the dawn of time when the first man and first woman chose to wilfully disobey God’s commandment the perfect image was distorted not destroyed just distorted. The legacy that Adam and Eve have left us with is the legacy of sin.
I’ve mentioned it several times but it bears repeating, nowhere is original sin more clearly defined then in children. Have you noticed that you don’t have to teach children how to say no, won’t, don’t and other negative words, but you have to teach them how to say please, thank you and you’re welcome. Never had to teach a kid how to throw a tantrum, how to cry how to rebel. But kids have to be taught how to be polite, and pleasant, how to obey.
It was through Adam and eve that sin entered the world and it became their gift to us, along with the punishment for disobeying God’s will Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
When Paul gives us a list of specific moral sins in Galatians 5 he begins by saying these are the acts of the sinful nature. The human nature. But he tells us that they should not be the actions of someone who is a child of God because he says quite plainly in Galatians 5:19-21 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
Well then the third question is: if we sin because we have to sin How Do We Not Sin? very frankly it’s impossible. You do not have the power to not sin. If you are a people and most of you look like you are a people then for the very reasons that we mentioned above you cannot not sin. Even when we try our hardest to please God, and do all the good things that we could possibly do the prophet Isaiah tells us in Isaiah 64:6 We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.
Well preacher that is really depressing, first you tell us that we are all sinners then you tell us that because we are all sinners we are all gonna die, and then you tell us that there isn’t a thing that we can do about it, thanks bunches you made my day. Even though it’s true that there is absolutely no way that you can not sin, don’t forget that if you have been born again there is a difference, or at least there ought to be, Paul tells us in Romans 7:5-6 When we were controlled by our old nature, sinful desires were at work within us, and the law aroused these evil desires that produced a harvest of sinful deeds, resulting in death. But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.
Paul talks about our sinful nature in the past tense, something that used to be but isn’t now. He backs this up in Romans 8:4 when he says that we no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the spirit.
You see what we once were and what we are now should be two different creatures completely, 2 Corinthians 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! Does that describe you, has the old gone has the new come? Christ tells us in Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
You cannot serve both God and your sinful nature, either you will hate the one and love the other or you will be devoted to one and despise the other. Romans 8:8 That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.
But How Do We Conquer The Sinful Nature? How do We get on top of it? Job asked that very question in Job 34:31-32 “Why don’t people say to God, ‘I have sinned, but I will sin no more’? Or ‘I don’t know what evil I have done—tell me. If I have done wrong, I will stop at once’?
The answer of course in found in Galatians 5:24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.
That statement concerning crucifying the sinful nature indicates an act of the will. The main reason why Christians don’t crucify the sinful nature is that they don’t want to. They enjoy the sin they are dabbling in. We hate to admit it but it’s the truth we sin because we want to sin.
During my fourth year of college I attended an ice hockey game that went until 2:00 o’clock in the morning, it was the only time we could rent the ice. The next morning I just couldn’t convince my body that we should get up at seven so I could be to my eight o’clock class, even though it was my favourite subject. Later that day I ran into my professor and apologize for not being there, “I really wanted to be there Dr. Kanzelmar” I told him. His reply has stuck with me now for over twenty five years because he said, “Denn if you had wanted to be there you would have been there, because you do what you want to do.” profound isn’t it you do what you want to do. “Preacher you don’t really believe that do you?” sure do.
That philosophy fits right into the reality of Philippians 4:13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.
You see what we can’t do on our own, we can do through Christ. What you can’t do on you own Christ can give you the power to do. And that is in all areas of your life. But the decision to obedience to God is a conscious decision. It’s something that you decide to do.
There are times that we fall, but they tell us that the difference between a pig and a sheep, and I wouldn’t know haven’t never owned a sheep or a pig. However they tell us that the difference between a sheep and a pig is that if a pig falls into mud, he gets right into it, wallows and plays and stays in the mud. However if a sheep should fall into mud they immediately get out. How do we react to sin, if we slip do we get right out or do we play around in it.
Falling into sin isn’t fatal, staying in sin is. A lady asked an old fisherman who was standing on a wharf, “if you fell in the water here would you drown” “naw” he said “falling in the water doesn’t drown anybody, it’s the staying under that does the drowning.” falling isn’t fatal but staying down is.
Let’s go back to Galatians 5:19-21 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
Paul is being very straight forward, if we live in a sinful manner, that is continuing to sin, if we stay under, we will not inherit the kingdom of God. No ifs, no ands, and no buts. And what it comes right down to your choice, not mine, not your parents not your spouses, nobodies choice but yours and yours alone. You will choose to serve God, or you will choose to serve your sinful nature. But make no mistake about it, it will be your choice.
But what about the demons? What demons, oh right those demons. The ones with the leathery wings, and contoured features. You know between you and me, I think we give the demons credit for a lot of stuff that we deserve the blame for. “Oh preacher I couldn’t help myself it must be the demon of lust.” that’s rubbish. Most of the people who get hyped up on demons use Ephesians 6:12-13 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armour so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.
And so we talk about the powers of the dark world, and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. But don’t forget vs. 13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armour so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.
Vs. 13 says that we are going to win, that we stand, that we don’t give in. The greatest demon you will have to fight will be the demon of self. You will only commit sins that you are willing to commit. Do I see a few raised eyebrows and detect some doubt among the faithful? One of the greatest promises of the bible is 1 Corinthians 10:13 The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.
God did not say that we wouldn’t be tempted, even Christ was tempted. But God did say that you would never be tempted by something that you couldn’t resist. Our problem is that many of us are like Augustine who prayed save me God but not yet. We want to have our cake and to eat it too. We want to be Christians, we want to go to heaven but we want to sin as well. We want everything that this life can give and everything the next life can give.
But God doesn’t want anything less then everything. You can’t say this 95 percent of my life is God’s and this five percent is mine. Doesn’t work that way, not at all. You don’t plant a garden and then reserve a corner of it for weeds. Cause if you do the little green monsters soon want it all. No man can serve two master. You can’t serve God and self. You can’t serve God and sin. You can’t serve God and the devil. Because you will either love one and hate the other or devote yourself to one and despise the other.
If you play with fire you will get burned. And if you play with sin you will get burned. Remember sin will always take you further then you want to go. Sin will always keep you longer then you want to stay and sin will always cost you more then what you want to pay.
You will never be sin’s master it will always be your master. Sometimes I hear people tell me that they have mastered sin and I think of what Augustine said: To abstain from sin when one can no longer sin is to be forsaken by sin, not to forsake it.
Galatians 5:16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The secret The secret is letting the Holy Spirit guide your life. And how do you do that? Well probably the first step is to admit that you can’t do it alone. As long as you are trying to live a sinless life by yourself you will blow it can’t be done. If you were to go to an a. a. meeting you would hear people get up and say “my name if Bob and I’m an alcoholic, or my name is Alice and I’m an alcoholic.” now they may not be drinking, may not have taken a drink for twenty years but even as a sober alcoholic they acknowledge that they have a problem with alcohol. Maybe in church we need to stand up and say “I’m Denn and I’m a sinner, or my names Jason and I’m a sinner” that doesn’t mean that we have to continue to sin, but it does mean that we know who we are and what we are. And we can’t do anything to change the fact that we are sinners.
But the apostle John tells us in 1 John 2:1 My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous.
Catchy isn’t it, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But then John goes on to say if we fall it’s not fatal when he says I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous.
The bottom line is not following a book of rules, or a list of do nots instead it is being obedient to God. And he promises that he will give us all the help we need in being obedient if we want it. But it is our choice. Because bottom line is this the bottom line is not following a book of rules, or a list of do nots instead it is being obedient to God. And he promises that he will give us all the help we need in being obedient if we want it. But it is our choice. Because bottom line is what Jesus said in John 14:23-24 Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them. Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me.