Tag Archives: repentance

REFLECTION: Romans 7:14-25

I know what I WANT to do, but I keep messing up. I want to do what is right. But my natural sinful tendencies are always with me. So like The Elephant & The Executive , I have to constantly choose to follow my head (where God’s will is clearly known) rather than my gut level natural reaction (which is always run by my sinful nature ).

The ONLY way to do that is to continually keep going to Christ… He alone can make a difference. That’s why David’s prayer pf repentance in Psalm 51 keeps emphasizing that which only God can do for him: have mercy, wash, cleanse, create, renew, restore, & save.

God has to CREATE something new in me. There will be NO pure heart without HIS involvement. It’s not about self-help or my will or my commitment. It’s me going back to Him constantly!

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End of Year Review

As I write this, the calendar still reads “2015.” My usual end of the year pattern is to review what I have (or haven’t) been able to do during the year, so I can look ahead at the new year and make plans. As a Christian, that also means some serious time praying as I do my end of year tasks.

I’ve also been looking at my mistakes and mess-ups in 2015. I know it’s a shocker to most, but I’m not perfect. (It shocked me too!) As I’ve looked back at some of my choices, I’ve been reminded that I, like everyone, needs to ask forgiveness at times. If it wouldn’t cause more harm, we need to ask forgiveness of individuals we have hurt by our behaviors, choices, and mess-ups. But we also need to be asking God for forgiveness.

The other day I sat down at the piano (I can only play one note at a time… and very slowly at that!) and just started looking for a hymn that would be about repentance… you know, saying “I’m sorry for my sins, Lord, would you please forgive me?”

I stumbled into # 351 “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior” and was captured by the second verse:

Let me at Thy throne of mercy

Find a sweet relief,

Kneeling there in deep contrition;

Help my unbelief.

 

And its refrain goes like this:

Savior, Savior, hear my humble cry;

While on others Thou art calling

Do not pass me by.

 

The Christian idea of forgiveness, requires that we first repent of anything God calls sin. And that idea of repentance requires that we are actually sorry and intend to not repeat that sin. That’s the idea of “contrition.” You are so sorry that you did that sin (whatever it was), that it hurts you to even remember that you did it, AND you desperately want forgiveness from God.

I just sat there at the piano and continued to pluck out tunes as I “walked through” the next couple of dozen hymns and then I realized that even the titles alone help to remind us of the process of repentance and forgiveness:

    “It’s Me, It’s Me O Lord, Standing in the Need of Prayer” (# 352) Too often we’re busy looking at the others around us who REALLY need to repent… But we are responsible for ourselves and how we stand before God.

     “I Surrender All” (# 354) If we really want complete forgiveness, we need to repent and surrender completely. We can’t hold anything back from God.

     “Just As I Am, Without One Plea” (# 357) I can’t wait until I get my act together before getting right with God, I need to come just the way I am and then (through the surrendering) he will change me into what he wants me to be. We see that in the physical when we don’t expect people to get all cleaned up   before they take a bath or a shower. Jesus is the one who makes us clean spiritually, AFTER we come ‘just as we are.’

     “My Hope Is Built” (# 368) I can do all this because my hope for forgiveness isn’t based on the number of prayers or good deeds I do in order to earn forgiveness. Rather, my hope is built on the idea that Jesus took care of the requirements for me to be forgiven… assuming I really want to be forgiven (there’s that repentance again).

     “Blessed Assurance” (# 369) If I confess my sins and repent, I AM forgiven! I don’t have to wonder IF I’m really a Christian or IF I will go to Heaven, I can have assurance of it!

     “Victory in Jesus” (# 370) As I continue this process of repenting when I sin, and surrendering my ways to His ways, then I can face temptations and possible sins and find that I don’t have to “fall” every time I’m  tempted. I can have victory over sin!

With the spiritual “new start” and clean slate” that comes from repentance, starting a new year can truly be a new start as well!

Happy New Year!

 

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Following the Preparation

These are my speaking notes from Tuesday night’s Baccalaureate at the Commodore Perry High School. Prior to the message, we read the entire book of Jonah as a reader’s theater with myself as narrator, four of the seniors as the captain of the ship, as Jonah, as the King of Noinevah, and as God, while the audience had a follow along ‘script’ and read all the parts of the sailors.

Here, then, was my message…

BACCALAUREATE SERVICE
Commodore Perry High School

June 2, 2015

CONTEXT:

Jonah………………………… Prophet in northern part of the ancient kingdom of Israel, following decades of Assyrian cruelty and brutality. HATES the Assyrians!

Assyrians……………………The bully nation in the ancient Middle East when Jonah was alive. They would not only conquer nations and exile their people, but they enjoyed being cruel and brutal.

Ninevah……………………..Capital city of the Assyrian Empire. According to the Bible, there were about 120,000 people living in the city when Jonah arrived there.

MESSAGE:

In chapter 1 we met Jonah. He has spent the time and effort to prepare to be a prophet for God and he has become God’s right hand man in the area where he lives. He’s ready to do whatever God asks… to go give God’s messages to whomever, and wherever, God sends him.

But, even though Jonah works for God, he has some reservations about doing his job whole-heartedly. He HATES the Assyrians. He HATES their ways and customs and cruelty.

So when God tries to send Jonah to give a message to the king and the capital city of the Assyrian Empire, Jonah LIKES the idea that God’s “gonna get them”!

But Jonah also knows that, despite all the talk of judgment by God, God always responds to repentance… God goes out of His way to look for a reason to NOT give sinners what they really deserve… In the church we call that “mercy”… Someone deserves to be punished, yet they aren’t given that punishment because the judge (in this case, God) decides to show them mercy. And with that mercy, they get another chance to do what’s right.

Jonah is certain that God will forgive them if they repent, so he decides that he will NOT warn them about the coming judgment God has threatened. If they aren’t warned, then they can’t repent. If they don’t repent, God will have no choice but to carry out the judgment. So Jonah runs away from God.

You, like Jonah, have been preparing for your life after graduation. But no teacher or administrator has ever been able to make you have the right attitude as you learned. If all you’ve done is do whatever was needed in order to graduate tomorrow night, instead of learning the deeper lessons and attitudes of being a responsible citizen, then life will be harder for you and you will need remedial education… And that comes from the school of hard knocks where you fail to learn from others and have to make ALL your own mistakes, and pay for your own mistakes.

You know, when you do get into your dream job, or the school you’ve selected, there will come a point when someone in authority will ask you to do something you don’t want to do. Running away or quitting is NOT the solution. Jonah learned that the hard way. Try not to have to learn that one the way he did.

Well, later in chapter one, there’s all these bad things happening to Jonah and everyone he happens to be around, because God is trying to get Jonah’s attention. Remember, you may be able to run away from a task or quit a particular job, but you never outrun God or outrun yourself. If you don’t deal with your own attitudes and emotions, you’ll find that you’ll keep having the same problems no matter what job you have or what school you’re in. And God will still be there trying to get you to let Him lead you in better ways than you could ever do on your own.

Chapter one ends with Jonah fessing up to the captain and others on the ship that he is the one that’s stirred up all the mess that they’re in. And he finds himself in the sea… and the ship is released from the storm and a big fish (yeah, it never says it was a whale) … a big fish comes and swallows Jonah whole.

It’s important to remember that sometimes, when we’ve messed up, we need to simply admit our mistakes and our sins and face the consequences.

Chapter two is a prayer that shows us what Jonah was thinking and feeling as he comes to regret his attempt to run away from what was right. He confesses it to God and God orders the fish to spit Jonah out on the beach.

When you do find yourself on the receiving end of consequences that you deserve, use it, like Jonah, to make things right… to the best of your ability. And that starts by admitting your mistake, or whatever it was… admit it to yourself and to God… for that’s when you will be able to see the hope.

In chapter three, Jonah DOES go to Ninevah and preaches the exact message God had sent him to proclaim: “Forty days from now Ninevah will be destroyed!”

Something a lot of folks miss here in this book is that Jonah is like the most successful preacher, pastor, prophet, evangelist ever! He is sent to proclaim God’s message to 120,000 people and THEY RESPONDED TO HIS MESSAGE! They repented of their evil ways and God, in verse 10, sees the change of heart these people have had and decides to offer them mercy.

Jonah is truly successful! Sometimes we can be successful, and still not have things right in our own lives… Jonah was still hoping to see God bring fire and destruction down on those people.

That’s where chapter four comes in, with the rest of the story. Jonah starts complaining to God… accusing God of not being fair. After all, if God was fair, everyone would get the punishment we deserve, right?

Jonah still hopes God will zap the Ninevites and destroy them… so he goes and waits to see what will happen. He sets up his tent (ok, it says a “shelter”, but for us that would be like a tent) and waits. God decides to teach Jonah about mercy and causes a shade plant to grow up to make it easier for Jonah as he waited. Jonah had a heart of gratitude over that.

But the Bible goes on to say that “God also arranged for the worm.” The very next morning after the plant grew up miraculously, there is now a worm that GOD sends to destroy the thing that Jonah likes.

Sometimes, God, or an employer, or a professor, has to do something or challenge something in order to try to get us to see things from the right perspective. Our minds always start from the idea that “of course I’m right.” Sometimes we need help to see a new perspective or to get a clearer picture of the reality around us.

Jonah SO needs a new perspective!

God even sends a blazing hot scorching wind! And the Bible says that Jonah was so disheartened that he wished he was dead. All in God’s attempt to get Jonah to face up to his bad attitude regarding people that God loves.

You know, when we set ourselves up against others, whether it’s in little ways or big, we set ourselves up against God. When we find ourselves hating someone, or an entire population of someones, we’re on shaky ground. Because the Bible tells us that God loves those others that we can’t stand.

Jonah learned that it’s not enough to be prepared for a task, you need to obey and actually do it.

Jonah learned that when you’ve made a mistake and everything seems all messed up, you need to own up to the mistake, face the consequences, and turn to God for help in turning your life around.

Jonah learned that just doing the minimum requirements of the job might produce results, but you don’t really get to enjoy those results.

Jonah learned that, in the final tally, it’s the way we treat others, our attitudes and our choice between hatred or love, that really make the difference… and WE will be the ones experiencing that difference… and even God will notice, and honor, that way of treating others…

It is my prayer, and my hope, that you, the class of 2015, will learn from Jonah’s mistakes and not necessarily have to personally make all those mistakes yourselves.

Face the future you’ve prepared for without running, with courage to own up to your own actions, to do the job required of you, and to always look at the people around you and how you impact and influence them.

And you will have a blessed and successful life, no matter what comes your way.

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A Man After God’s Own Heart

“I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.”  –God, in Acts 13:22b (NKJV)

When I sat down to read the Bible this morning, I stumbled onto a devotional in the Spirit Filled Life Bible titled “A Teachable Spirit.” It is the account of Paul, before the synagogue in Antioch, Pisidia, sharing how Jesus is a continuation, and fulfillment, of the Jewish people’s encounters with their God. After sharing about Egypt, the wilderness, the conquest of Canaan, and the judges, he recounts the way Saul became, and then was removed as, king.

Which brings us to David.

Let me quote from the “Kingdom Dynamics” devotional note found at Acts 13:22…

Only one man in the Bible enjoys the designation of being a man after God’s own heart–David. To outward appearance, David is more readily remembered as a gross sinner. He committed adultery, murdered, lied, betrayed his nation, made severe mistakes in judgment, was a poor manager, and finally was unable to manage his home. Yet God said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will” (v.22). Almost every time we read about David, he was doing something wrong, yet God commended the heart of his leadership. How do we explain it? The answer is in the fact that with every mistake, David repented; and of equal importance, he learned from his mistakes. Not only was he humble and teachable, but he listened to his critics and his enemies as well; and, foremost of all, he heeded the prophets of God. This teachable spirit is the trait that caused God to classify him as Israel’s finest leader. (Spirit Filled Life Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991, page 1651)

Two parts of that JUMPED out at me. First, “Almost every time we read about David, he was doing something wrong.”

I don’t know about anyone else, but I am my own biggest critic. I end many (or perhaps even most) days mentally reviewing and replaying the mess-ups and mistakes I’ve made in that day… and the day before… and the week before…

There are many days when I feel like God’s never going to really be able to use me as much as He wanted to because I blow it so often. So this sentence about reading how David, “almost every time,” messed up is eye-opening. Because God still loved David, still used David, and still had a future filled with hope for David despite the mess-ups.

That means there is hope for me too! (And every one of us, by the way…)

So how did David journey from mess-ups and mistakes to being recommended by God as an example? That’s the second quote that caught me: “with every mistake, David repented” and then “learned from his mistakes.”

Part of our national sin sickness in our day and age is the fact that we don’t believe there are sins. We have a message from God (the Bible) that explicitly identifies the behaviors God considers to be “sin.” That is to say, those behaviors are against what God wants and disappoint God and in many cases, actually are detrimental to us as human beings. But we now-a-days try to rationalize away the sins listed or discount those passages of Scripture.

Recently, in a Bible study group on the Gospel of Mark, we came to Mark 3:20-30, where the Jewish leaders opposed to Jesus start to claim that Jesus is casting out demons by tapping into the power of Satan. Jesus’ response (in verses 28-30) is to start talking about an unpardonable sin. For years that made no sense to me. Why didn’t he just tell them how they were wrong? Or at least call down lightning or something?

But the passage is clear that the reason he talks about an unforgiveable sin is “because they said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.'”

Jesus was using the power of God’s Holy Spirit to heal, to cast out demons, and more. They were claiming Jesus was empowered by Satan or at least by a demonic (“unclean”) spirit. They were claiming that something good and godly (the Holy Spirit) was evil. The flipside then  would be to claim that something God says is evil (like sin) and then call it good and godly and blessed.

Even if the Bible calls a certain behavior sinful, there’s NO forgiveness available for us if you and I don’t really believe it’s a sin!

In my life, it’s usually the sin of gluttony that I’m struggling with. I LIKE food, and  I’ve had too much through the years. And while addicts can sometimes lick their addictions by going cold turkey, I can’t, I HAVE TO eat. (and the cold turkey is part of the problem!)

Does that mean there is no forgiveness for me? No. First John 1:9 explains that “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The problem is if we claim we’re not sinning, then there is no way to confess and repent… so no forgiveness either.

That’s where we return to David and this devotional. Even though he messed up A LOT, “with every mistake, David repented.”

If we are willing to admit our sin, repent (you know… turn away from doing that sin), then there IS hope for us as well… even though we mess up again later. And, like David, as we repent, we get the chance to learn from our mistakes.

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What is the Church?

These are my notes for Sunday, July 7th’s sermon at the Clarks Mills United Methodist Church (Clarks Mills, PA).

Please understand these are SPEAKING notes, which means they have commas, elipses, spacing, italics, and bold print to help me, the speaker, to remember to pause or emphasize certain areas. NO attempt has been made to properly punctuate or to use rules for proper grammar. 

ALSO, I refer to God in accordance with the rules of English which speak of masculine pronouns being used to denote masculine objects or objects which have no gender. (It is the same reason I use the Spanish la (the) with casa (house)… not that “the house” is a feminine object, but rather because that’s what the rules of Spanish specify.) I do NOT believe God is a man or male in substance, any more than I believe a house is feminine, even in Spanish.)

SERMON: “What is the Church?”

There is a story about a new pastor who is just out of seminary at his very first church.
First week…preaches about helping the poor and reaching out to the needy…


PEOPLE’S RESPONSE?     “GREAT sermon…”


2nd week… again, a great sermon… but it’s word for word the same thing as week one…


3rd week…SAME sermon again…


Emergency board meeting is called to address this problem!


When asked, the pastor’s response: I didn’t want to move on until we had done the stuff from the first sermon… Wanted to wait until people “got it” & “did it”


OBVIOUSLY, the pastor and the people had different ideas about what the church was supposed to be about…

The people wanted a nice “presentation” each week… The pastor wanted to see people reach out. Nobody had moved from their seats… the gospel didn’t really affect them…

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

One of the ongoing struggles between pastors and their people, between different denominations of churches, between the theologians and seminarians alike, is how exactly do you define “church.”

IN SOME PLACES, THE CHURCH IS SET APART BY A FAMOUS DEFINITION THAT SAYS THE CHURCH IS WHERE YOU GO TO RECEIVE THE SACRAMENTS… That’s pretty much the definition you hear from the I.R.S. as well… a “real” church has the administration of the sacraments and a “real” pastor is one who has those “sacerdotal” duties… he or she administers the sacraments. If that’s it, then why do we have YF groups and PrimeTimers or daycare or United Methodist Women or missions? And why bother with sermons and music? Just come and receive the sacraments…

And the church would never be outside these walls around us.

Thank God, there’s more to the church than just the sacramental duties… Those things happen, but it’s not the whole reason we’re here.

IN SOME PLACES, THE CHURCH HAS BECOME A SOCIAL GROUP… You go to church because that’s where you meet some good people that are fairly trustworthy and would make good friends… or future spouses… or potential customers for your business.

In reality, that’s not so much “church” but rather a group like the “Rotary” or the “Grange” or the “Lions Club” or any number of other very good, very respectable organizations organized for good friendships and community service…

Thank God, there’s more to the church than just friendships and community service projects… Those things happen, but it’s not the whole reason we’re here.

IN SOME PLACES, THE CHURCH SEEMS LIKE NOTHING MORE THAN A ‘PROPER GENTLEMEN’S CLUB’ … the members of their group felt like they were “above” those who weren’t members… you had to have the right credentials and the right skin color and the right status to become a member… and if you were a member of the right club then you were really something…. Prestige, honor, respect… and power… were yours…

In some places, it seems the church has become like that… If you belong to OUR church then you’re REALLY going to Heaven… If you are baptized the right way or do communion the way we like it, then you’re on your way…. If you line up with our doctrines in the right way and If you say the right prayer with all of the right words in the right order, and know exactly when to stand up or sit down, then you’re one of us…

…AND IF YOU DON’T, then you’re obviously going to Hell… and it serves you right!

Thank God, there’s more to the church than just doctrines and beliefs and prayers… Those things happen, but it’s not the whole reason we’re here.

IN SOME PLACES, THE CHURCH IS DISTINGUISHED BY WHETHER OR NOT THEY WORSHIP IN THE RIGHT WAY… Do you sing the old songs or new songs… (and the “old songs” might be hymns or for others the “old songs” are more like Gregorian chants out of the Middle Ages… and “new songs” might mean choruses written last week or a 500 year old hymn like “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”) Do we have the right rituals? DO we do things in the right order? Do we use the right version of the Bible…

Is worship led by the right people… maybe it’s led by a liturgist, or the organist, or the pianist, or a worship team, or maybe even the preacher himself…

But in that kind of church, it had better be done right!

Thank God, there’s more to the church than just pleasing people with our rituals and music… Those things happen, but it’s not the whole reason we’re here.

I’D LIKE YOU TO TURN WITH ME TO THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW to the record of one of Jesus’ encounters with the Pharisees… and I believe we’ll see one of the main reasons we’re here as a church… Listen and see if you can spot Jesus’ example for the church in this passage… FROM Matthew 9:9-13…

SCRIPTURE READING: MATTHEW 9: 9-13
Now understand, it’s the Pharisees that really get rankled by Jesus when he doesn’t do things the way they think they should be done… They spend their time at the synagogue, and later the Temple, watching to see what He’s going to do wrong next… They’re watching for mistakes… They’re focusing on form alone… and they find exactly what they’re looking for… Because Jesus couldn’t care less about the form of their worship… Or their rules… Because Jesus is concerned about the relationship with God the Father. That’s supposed to be the focus of worship… Experiencing God… connecting with Him as we praise HIM… and as we pray to Him… as we meet with Him and turn our thoughts to Him.

And if someone comes into worship with a need… spiritually or emotionally or even physically, then as they connect with God the Healer, Jesus sees it as perfectly acceptable to heal them…

And if they show up and have made a mess of their lives and are broken hearted or have had lives full of sin, then Jesus welcomes them into his presence… Because that’s his specialty… He is known as one who hangs out with sinners…

Jesus’ answer to those Pharisees, the religious leaders of His day, when they accused Him of eating and drinking with sinners is one of my favorite Biblical images of the church. The writer of Mark tells of Jesus’ answer this way: His answer simply was: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).

I used to be an orderly in the Olean General Hospital and worked a few months between terms of school at the St. Vincent Health Center in Erie. When I get to this passage here in Matthew, and the corresponding spots in Mark 2 and Luke 5, the questions and concerns about “what is the church?“ start to fade away… BECAUSE THE CHURCH, AT LEAST IN PART, IS SUPPOSED TO BE LIKE A HOSPITAL!

In a hospital, there are supposed to be sick people and they are tended for by nursing staff and doctors who are subject to the very same maladies and destructive habits as the patients… and yet the sick can still go to a hospital to find healing and hope.

In a hospital, often the healing doesn’t come about in the same way the patient expected it to at their arrival, and sometimes, some people never are completely healed.

The church is like that….

The church is supposed to be a place to meet the Healer…. The one we call the Great Physician…. And those of us who man the stations and work the desk, are like those doctors and nursing staff at the hospital… we DON’T know everything that will cure or help and we may fall into the very same sins and addictions that you have come here to seek healing for… But together, like at the hospital, we the ones who are experiencing healing can help reach out to those who still need healing.

And that healing might come in the least expected ways, through some of the least expected people… but in the church… there’s hope for healing!

If the church is like a hospital, then we are called to be both a welcoming community and a healing community. We cannot help heal, if those in need of healing don’t feel welcomed to come in.

As a pastor, like a doctor in the hospital, I see my task to be to help the “patient” recognize the extent of their illness or injury and how they might begin to be healed. And just like in a hospital, I can help to facilitate that healing, but it will be God and the sick person that actually do the healing.

A COUPLE OF OTHER SIMILARITIES JUMP OUT AT ME AS WELL… You see, in order to be treated in a hospital, a patient has to actually physically show up at the hospital. ALSO, the patient has to actually recognize and admit that they really are sick or wounded and in need of healing.

A patient healing in the hospital also has to allow, and participate with, the life sustaining and restoring remedies doled out by the physicians and therapists.

In short, the one in need of healing must be willing to be healed.

Without that initial desire to be healed, to be made whole, no healing can happen, no matter how open and welcoming the hospital is.

I find the same to be true in the church. The church has opened its doors and welcomed all to come in.

For the one who suffers because of their own sin, repentance and a willingness to change will be the starting point for healing.

For one who has suffered a woundedness through the sins of others, the healing process will be more complicated, yet still possible, as issues of justice and forgiveness are sorted out and resolved.

Either way, healing can be painful, and still requires a willing participation by the ‘patient.’ But without a recognition of the need for healing and a willingness to participate in the healing process, there is little the church really has to offer that one.

That doesn’t limit anyone’s coming to the church, any more than not admitting illness or injury block’s one from visiting a hospital. There just simply is no way for the hospital to treat a visitor with its healing remedies, because the hospital visitor doesn’t allow themselves to become a patient.

To be healed, requires participation, not visitation or spectatorship.

Likewise, in order to receive all that the church has to offer, we must participate, in the remedies of repentance and forgiveness, (Ps. 51: 16-17).

As a pastor then, like that doctor, I must recognize that sin is a reality and not turn a blind eye when I am aware of sin, whether it is done by, or to, one of the “patients” or in our case, one of the parishioners.

Now understand, there’s a stark warning goes hand in hand with this view though: if you do not like being around people who are sick or wounded, then you really should never plan on going to a hospital for any reason… or to a church for that matter.

For these are places where the ill and injured are not only welcome, but they are the very ones who are expected.

The very existence of the church, like the hospital, is designed for the weak to become strong, the wounded to become well, and the sick to be restored.

Hospitals are not associations of whole people trying to keep from being injured, weak, or sick, although there are ways the hospital can help facilitate those very activities after healing has begun.

In the same way, the church is not designed to be a place where “good people” avoid sin, sickness, and woundedness, although once healing has begun, the church can assist each other in remaining free from inflicting or receiving the negative effects caused by sin.

But rather, a hospital, and a church, are both designed as places where sick people go.

A further comparison is possible between the church and a hospital. In a hospital, because virtually all are there have something wrong with them, it is almost always a place where you can accidentally be infected with someone else’s sickness, and where the wounded become even more susceptible to developing illness along with their injury.

Staff and patients alike must be on guard against the further transmission of disease. The church as well, being filled with sinners, runs the risk of “rubbing off on someone else” with their particular sinful tendency, thus creating more sickness, hurt, or injury from within the very midst of the healing community we call the Church.

So what does that mean for us today?

It means that we have to be very intentional about our ministry… Our focus can never be just about details of worship services or particular programs… Our focus must always be experiencing God ourselves and helping others come to that place too… For that, my friends, is a place of healing.

It also means that church is “messy” sometimes…. Things don’t go as planned… just ask an emergency room nurse about how often things go as planned in an E.R… but by their very flexibility to help each person wherever they are, in whatever situation they are in, they are agents of healing…

Can we as the church, be that flexible? Can we meet people where they are… or must they line up with the way we want to do things? Can they come “Just as I am” like we’re always singing?

Ultimately, there is more to the church than just being like a hospital, but one of our traditions I’m told is to not have three hour worship services… so this is enough for this day. But on and off, as the Holy Spirit leads, we’ll be talking throughout this next year about God’s leading and God’s expectations for us as a church… and for every church. I haven’t been here long enough to know what does and doesn’t apply to us yet, so be assured I’m not throwing darts at anyone…

But it just seems fair from the very beginning of our time together that you know and understand that part of the vision and burden that the Lord’s placed in my heart, is to see the church as a place of healing where people are accepted and where all can encounter this Healing God we serve.

For that is WHAT the church is… people worshipping God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And as we do that, we will also find healing.

How do we make sure people see us as a place to find healing… rather than just a place to play softball or eat great food or to take care of kids?

How can we reach out and make everyone feel welcome here?

I believe it is by doing all of those other things WITH A HEART OF DRAWING PEOPLE INTO THE CHURCH ASSEMBLED SO THEY TOO CAN FIND THE HEALER.

Jesus offered healing… and people who needed healing came to him because they knew him… and people who needed healing knew him because he hung out with those people… And hanging out with Jesus as one of his followers was like being in a hospital emergency room… never predictable, never boring, always surrounded by the injured and the sick… the really, really sick…

And that’s what I believe we the church are to do in order to really be the church.

And that’s not just a preacher thing… any more than a hospital is just about one doctor… Rather, we all together, open our hearts, and our minds, and our doors to those who need Jesus… and in so doing we find ourselves welcoming those who need help and there’s room there for you and me as well in that group isn’t there?

WHAT is the church?

The church is a lot like a hospital!

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The Homecoming

This was the second of the two part series I preached looking at the parable of the prodigal son.
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“The Homecoming”

Luke 15:14-20a

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Last week, we visited this text in Luke 15, where Jesus uses parables, and particularly, this parable of the prodigal son, to emphasize our relationships to the Father, God, and to our fellow believers, the Father’s family. Our visit then, focused more on the older son; our focus today will be on the younger son… the one that walked away, and eventually, repented and returned.

Let me start with a definition of repentance. It is one of those words that we all would probably claim to know the meaning of. Yet, I have found it hard to give a definition, and I suspect I’m not the only one. So… I looked it up.


Repentance comes from the Greek word METANOEô which means literally “to perceive afterwards, … in contrast to pronoeô, to perceive beforehand, hence METANOEô signifies to change one’s mind or purpose… involving a change for the better…and …of repentance from sin.”


The best definition I have found wasn’t in a dictionary, it was in story in Leadership Journal. There, Brian Weatherdon, tells how:

Wabush, a town in a remote portion of Labrador, Canada, was completely isolated for some time. But recently a road was cut through the wilderness to reach it. Wabush now has one road leading into it, and thus, only one road leading out. If someone would travel the unpaved road for six to eight hours to get into Wabush, there is only one way he or she could leave–by turning around. Each of us, by birth, arrives in a town called Sin. As in Wabush, there is only one way out–a road built by God himself. But in order to take that road, one must first turn around. That complete about-face is what the Bible calls repentance, and without it, there’s no way out of town.





Even I can understand that. Repentance is like I’m going one direction and then realize I’m going the wrong way and so I turn completely around and face the other direction. And start moving away from my previous destination.

So that’s repentance. But turning around can be hard. Just think back (or ahead) to your driver’s license exam. And the three-point turn. It’s not always quick and easy. And if you happen to be in a big vehicle, say a school bus or a semi, and on a small road, say one made of dirt, it takes a lot of time and careful deliberation and consideration of what will happen if I turn this way or angle the wheels that way. And it requires a complete, 180° turn. You cannot go both ways. And you cannot stop halfway through the turn-around.


Sandwiched in the middle of this parable, Jesus tells of the process of how the prodigal son came to repentance… and had a homecoming with his father’s family. And I believe the principles of repentance are included there for our benefit as well.


First, how does this repentance start? The prodigal son has been heading down the road of sin and separation from the family. The more time that passes, the more things turn sour. He finally realizes he’s on the wrong road. How? What was the occasion that caused him to realize this was the wrong road? It wasn’t running out of money and it wasn’t the famine. Jesus tells us that “After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.” But still he didn’t want to leave the independent life he had chosen. He still thought he could take care of the problems all on his own. He did want not feel he needed his father’s help nor counsel. The next verse tells us his response to his new poverty and the famine: “So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country.”


How many times do we, the people who claim Jesus Christ as our Savior, how many times do we struggle on in a desperate situation and remain convinced that we don’t need help? And all the while, Jesus is ready to help and waiting patiently until we are ready to allow him to help us.


How many times, especially as parents, do we see our children trying so hard to accomplish something, and we can see that they are not going to be successful, but they are convinced they can do it on their own. And even if we offer to help, they adamantly refuse. You cannot help someone who is convinced they do not need help.


But we don’t need to throw up our hands in despair, for where there is life, there is hope. The grace of God can soften the hardest heart. But we have to come to that frustration moment when we cry out in desperation.


I remember as a child being so intent that I could do something that I would become almost obsessed with it. One time in particular comes to mind, when I was probably about eight years old and I wanted to find out how this mechanical type toy of my little brother’s worked. I remember intently working on that thing, removing screws, springs, gizmos, and gadgets in order to find out how it did what it did. When I got it all apart, it still didn’t make much sense to me. Well, I couldn’t put it back together properly. There were more springs to put back in than what I remembered taking out. And there weren’t enough holes for all the screws I had. I tried and tried and tried. And became more and more frustrated and angry and teary eyed… and scared that my folks would find out.


I was just like that prodigal son headed down the wrong road and didn’t know it. My error began when I decided I was going to secretly do something I knew was wrong. But all the way through the tearing apart process, I wasn’t worried, nor afraid. I was convinced I could take care of any problem and still fix everything like it was supposed to be…as does this prodigal as well.


He runs out of money and he’s still convinced he’s OK. He encounters a famine and runs out of food and he’s still convinced he’s OK. It wasn’t until he had to wallow with pigs and found that NO ONE was willing to help, that he realizes there’s a problem. Just like I didn’t realize that I had a problem, until I tried to put that dumb toy back together.


The prodigal’s desperate situation causes him to begin examining his situation and considering the options. THAT’S when we begin to change. When we consider how bad our situation is and how much better it could be if we repented and returned to the family.


Notice in verse 17, he doesn’t start considering his return because he’s hungry. It’s because, as the King James says: “I perish with hunger.” He’s not just hungry. He’s hungry and no longer sees any way of changing that situation. That’s when he remembers his father’s house and how he had had it good there, although he hadn’t realized it at the time.


What follows in the next three verses is the crux of my message this morning. It follows the boy’s train of thought from the moment where he realizes that there is a place where he wouldn’t have to live in such a bad situation to where he decides to return to his father’s house.


Look with me at verses 17-19 in Luke 15:


14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.


17 “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’


20 “So he returned home to his father.


The King James Version puts the boy’s decision like this: “I will arise and go to my father.” He will not spend any longer in this deplorable condition, but will immediately arise and return. Even though he’s in a far country, a long way away from his father’s house, yet he will return. When we walk away from our Father’s house, and our heavenly family, we too will find that there are many long walks ahead before we undo the damage we’ve done.


The son begins to determine what to say and how to approach the father when he gets back. Let’s look at what he purposed in his heart to say:


“Father, I have sinned…”


The first step after we recognize our need to return to the family and the father, is to admit that we have sinned. Without that confession, no matter how much we try, we will not be able to return. And we will be stuck in our sin, even though we won’t admit it. And we’ll pay the consequences.


But the son doesn’t stop there. He says “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.” He not only admits he has sinned, he acknowledges that he has sinned against his father and against God. It is important to remember that when we offend someone else, or treat them wrong, we are also sinning against God.


Next, this son acknowledges that by his own choice, he has forfeited any right to the privileges of the family. Verse 19 reads: “I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.” He had already demanded, and received, all the portion of the inheritance that would rightfully belong to him. To return does not guarantee that he will receive more of the same. But he hopes that he can at least serve his father as a hired man for no reward other than his daily provisions.


And, still, the story of his repentance is not finished.


He has finally realized, through his frustration and anguish, that he needs to repent and return to the father. Then he purposes what he needs to do. And then, in the beginning of verse 20, he finally does it: “So he got up and went to his father. “


So many times we make a decision to respond to the Lord in one way or another, but then don’t ever quite get around to actually doing what he’s asked us to do. Unlike us, this prodigal decides what he’ll do, and then gets up and does it right away.


And the father, while the prodigal is still far off, sees him coming and runs to meet him. God, our Father, as soon as we start back to the family, runs to meet us and welcome us home as well. And as the story continues, not only is there provision for the son, there is a feast as well.


When we first addressed this parable last week, we emphasized the fact that this boy was already a member of the family before he walked away from it all into his sin. And we spoke of how there are many of us in the Christian family, and even in our local church family, who have, by their own choice, chosen to walk away from both God and the family of God.


I want to stress that. Because the whole turn around in this story today, is not limited to sinners who have never known the Lord. They cannot remember how great it was in the Father’s house, because they’ve never been to the Father’s house; Never known the Father; Never eaten at the Father’s table.

There’s still a need for non-Christians to repent, and they too must realize their need, confess their sin, and go to the Lord. But this story is an even stronger message for those of us who are already in the family. Because we may come to the place sometime where we feel we want to walk away from the family, because of whatever imagined reason. And, according to what this story seems to say, God the Father will let us go and do what we want. And will let us reap the rewards and consequences of sin. And will allow us to rot and starve in a far away land until we, like that prodigal, acknowledge that we need the Father, and the Father’s household, and then confess our sins and return to the family.


And, according to statistics, there are many of us in Christianity that have already walked away, even though we are still in the pews on a lot of Sundays. Leadership magazine quotes George Gallup, the famous pollster as saying, “There’s little difference in… behavior between the churched and the unchurched. There’s as much pilferage and dishonesty among the churched as the unchurched.”


How many of us have already hired our souls out to evil in a far country, far from the spiritual realm of the Father and the Father’s house? How many of us say we believe this and that, but yet, our hearts are full of the pleasures of sin and the telltale signs of bitterness, anger, judgmentalism, and hatred?


We need to willingly return to the Father and the family, BEFORE we face afflictions, or it becomes too late.

For the Father is just waiting for us to turn around so that he can welcome us for our coming home.

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Prodigal Sons

This is a sermon I’ve preached, building on the text of Luke 15:11-32.

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“THE PRODIGAL SONS”


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Our Scripture passage this morning is one of those Bible stories that even non-Christians have probably heard of. The Prodigal Son. Turn with me if you will to Luke chapter 15. We hear Jesus telling parables, nice everyday stories that the everyday person can relate to, yet revealing Godly lessons. This time, like so often is the case, Jesus has a crowd gathered around him; there are his disciples, there are a group of Pharisees trying to catch him in a twist of the tongue, and then there are hundreds of confused, spiritually hungry normal, everyday people– all listening intently to Jesus.


He tells a story of a lost sheep, one of 99, that gets lost in the wilderness, and how the shepherd leaves the rest in their safe pen and goes and finds the lost one, and brings it home, and then Jesus tells of the rejoicing that follows.


He then tells of a lost coin that is desparately searched for and found, and the rejoicing that follows.


And He tells of the prodigal son. Let’s look at Luke 15, starting at verse eleven (New Living Translation).



11 To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. 12 The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.


13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. 14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.


17 “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’


20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.[a]’


22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.


25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’


28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’


31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

This parable of the prodigal son shows the nature of repentance and the Lord’s readiness to welcome and bless all who return to him.


In so many ways, this is the perfect story of God accepting us back as sinners. But I want to challenge that idea just a little bit. While the acceptance and love of sinners is certainly a part of the meaning, I believe there’s a message there for us as Christians. For those of us that the Bible calls “the adopted sons of God.” You see, the way I read this story there were two sons. This is not a story of one good son and someone from the muck and mire of the streets that joins the family. At the very beginning, they were both sons. And I believe the problems and choices involved in this prodigal face us today.


This prodigal, as a son, while enjoying the benefits of being in the family, becomes restless. He finds the rules and rigors of being in the family too constraining, and wants his freedom. He wants the “fun” that he has never experienced. He longs to move from being just a son to being master on his own. Like the angel Lucifer before the creation of the world, he longs to stop serving and become his own master. A restlessness of this nature is the first step in becoming a prodigal.


In verse 12 we see the younger one say to his father, `Father, give me my share of the estate.’ He demands his gifts from the father, his inheritance, as if it were owed to him, even though estates and inheritances are not ours until later. They are not ours to demand on the spot when the will happens to hit us. How many times do we see Christians approach the Heavenly Father in the same way. God becomes like a giant vending machine. All you have to do is claim the thing and believe it will be given to you and, lo and behold, you unloose heaven’s gates and presto, you will receive. I submit to you, this kind of attitude is an attitude of a developing prodigal. There is danger of falling away.


Then of course, we read in verse 13, “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.” The Scriptures let us know that time passed where he was in possession of all that was “his” yet still living as a member of the family. But, having all that we want, coupled with the attitudes of “I want to be my own master” and the attitude of “God owes me” makes it nearly impossible to stay in the family long. And the rest is downhill.


How many times do we see Christians, and even ministers, be blessed of God and exalted to high places, only to read about them on the front page later, exposing their wild living? How many times do our career minded Christians go from a heart desiring God, to being blessed and exalted in their career, and then those Christians are absent from the church for decades, and unfortunately, separated from God as well?


However, the other son, the older one, has a prodigal attitude as well, and ends the story as a prodigal, although he didn’t think so I’m sure. Look at his part of this parable again.


Luke 15:25-28a (NLT)
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in.




Listen to him arguing with his father as to why he will not go into his family.


In verse 29.we read, “Look! All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused a single thing you told me to.” First, he boasts of his own virtue and obediance. His brother had started with a heart attitude of wanting to be his own master, this son starts with a heart attitude of “I’ve already done all that I need to do, I’m already good!”


The older son then begins complaining. Look at verse 29 again:
“but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends.”

He reveals how far his heart is from the family already in his complaint. He laments that he never got a goat for a party with his friends. A goat would be a very small token of the father’s love, yet it is what this son longs more than a fatted calf, because he doesn’t want to party with his family, he wants to party with his friends.

And then, in verse 30 we read:

“… when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!”

He looks down his self-righteous little nose and tries to set the younger son in as negative a light as possible. He had no way of knowing what the younger son had done with all his money. He hadn’t even known that he was home, let alone to hear his stories about what had happened. But he was willing to spread the filth anyways, in order to appear more righteous. And he doesn’t even acknowledge the younger one as his brother. He refers to him as “this son of yours.”


How many times do we Christians look down on the prodigals in our midst? We see that God the Father has welcomed them home and renewed their position in the family, yet we refuse to call them “brother”…first, only in our hearts, but then, out loud, and even to the Father’s face. And we go out of our way to make sure that others see them in the worst possible light. What arrogance!


Well, the father’s dealing with each son is similar. He goes out and meets them before they reach the house. He shows his acceptance and willingness to include each, but only one son will bow his heart enough to allow the father to do so. And when the story ends, the younger son, who had sinned deplorably, is included inside the house, in the party, amongst the family. And the older son, the “righteous” one, yet the one who had never dealt with the brother or the family in truth, is on the outside, turning his back on all that he had known. And not even the father cannot even convince him to rejoin the family.


As Christians, as “sons”, we need to see the message of this parable. For we need to remember that even as members of the father’s family, we are all still sinners. There were two boys. Of the two, the wayward prodigal is by far the most likable, the most attractive, the most honest and open. Both were equally lost–the prodigal amongst the pigs and the other in his pew. The father loved them both. Yet they each chose their own way of responding. But where were they at the end of the story?We overlook it quite often, but there is as much prodigal son in him as his little brother.

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